Unified Murder Theorem, Part I
PrologueThey killed him that night and somehow he felt it coming. In all other respects it was a typical Thursday night gig. Getting killed was something he was prepared for, so it was no big deal.
The dark bar he was killed in was filled with noisy patrons drinking beer, hard liquor, wine, or expensive mineral waters in clear glass bottles. In the center of the smoky hovel was an elevated stage. Merely four feet by six feet, the stage gave him plenty of room for his Thursday night solo guitar gig, but fitting a whole band up there was like putting a dolphin in your goldfish bowl.
The guitarist was medium height, brown haired, slightly slovenly, and unremarkable in remarkably many ways. He could, however, play the hell out of his instrument. The Thursday regulars attentively listened to his cascades of chords and flurries of arpeggios. Not only did his playing hold their attention: the guitarist's instrument itself was a special custom job, a focal point.
Yes, all guitars have a fretboard, strings, and body; but this guitar always projected a strangely luminous blue light which emanated from its hollow body; it was simply a modified instrument, some people in the audience thought. Most people didn't pay much attention to the light, preferring to assume it was nothing special, or assume that they really knew what the light was, when they really did not. Like so many other mysteries in life, the audiences usually chose to ignore the phenomenon rather than explore it. Only a few people -- maybe one out of every dozen -- would ask about the blue light. How could he get that light to pour out of the hole -- in synchronization with his notes? The guitarist would never fully answer such questions. It is just a light, he would say, a very ordinary light.
That Thursday night two guys who had been standing in the back, against the wall, made their way up to the stage as the guitarist was finishing his first set. He didn't get a good look at them because as he lifted his head up from staring down at the fretboard the taller of the two guys pulled out his thirty-eight and fired two shots through the guitarists head while mumbling, inaudibly, the words "goodbye from Nattasi."
The advancement of science is not comparable to the changes of a city, where old edifices are pitilessly torn down to give place to new, but to the continuous evolution of zoologic types which develop ceaselessly...The sun was too hot, the shady grass too cool; the breeze was too brisk and the baked sidewalks too dormant; but, taken as a whole, the day was perfect.
--Jules Henri Poincare
At three o'clock in the afternoon of a sunny, mid-November California day, an accordion instructor named Jack Cruger looked through the windows of his stuffy first-floor practice room into the parking lot of Del's Music World. High School kids floated through the parking lot like twigs down a river. Some moved fast, some slow, and some clumped in a living, breathing circle of conversation that resembled a whirlpool.
Jack Cruger sat in the practice room waiting for his next accordion student, a new kid. He hoped the kid had some ability; any amount of ability would be greatly appreciated. Most of the kids he got were forcibly sent by their parents in order to satisfy some twisted ethnic family tradition. He could hear the parents now: "we want Johnny to be able to play polkas at the family reunion," or "teach him to play the Beer Barrel Polka for Oktoberfest."
That's why these miserable little students Cruger got were so pathetic: almost none of them were acting of their own volition. Forced to play the accordion, nature's most hated instrument. What could be worse?
Up in San Francisco, forty miles away, a law was on the San Francisco ballet, proposition P for Polka, known as the "use an accordion and go to jail" proposition. Times were tough for accordionists.
This accordion law (even though it was a joke) surprised Cruger - - San Franciscans should know better, and some of them did. Concurrently San Francisco, the city supervisors were ready to appoint the piano accordion as the official instrument of the city, since the piano accordion was invented in San Francisco, in 1907 by Colombo Piatenesi and Pietro Dieiro.
In fact one of San Francisco's leading literary icons, Mark Twain, had been an accordionist. Not for long, though. Jack Cruger -- being a fan of Mark Twain's -- recalled Twain's acerbic notes on the subject of playing the accordion. Cruger's nearly photographic memory (which he called his "pornographic memory") for enjoyable quotes and images pulled in the choice memorable quotes like a fisherman hauling in his nets. Twain had said "After a long immunity from the dreadful insanity that moves a man to become a musician in defiance of the will of God that he should confine himself to sawing wood, I finally fell victim to the instrument they call the accordion." Even Twain maligned the instrument; the accordion, always good for a laugh. And what else had Twain said: "At this day, I hate that contrivance as fervently as any man can, but at the time I speak of I suddenly acquired a disgusting and idolatrous affection for it. I got one of powerful capacity and learned to play 'Auld Lang Syne' on it."
As the story went, after being thrown out of various residences, Twain was eventually pressured to give up the instrument. He even wrote a rude statement of defection. "When the fever was upon me, I was a living, breathing calamity... desolation and despair followed in my wake. I bred discord in families, I crushed the spirit of the lighthearted, I drove the melancholy to despair, I hurried the invalids to dissolution and I fear me that I disturbed the very dead in their graves... with my execrable music."
Cruel was the capricious twist of public sentiment. Back when Cruger was a teenager, playing the damn thing was almost hip. Of course, these misguided people, much as Mark Twain obviously had become, were forced into a reactionary hatred of the instrument that only spoke of some underlying passion, some real human emotion, that surrounded their feelings for the instrument. Cruger could see this -- seen through the facade of ridicule, hatred, and name-calling. Deep down, he knew they must actually like the accordion.
The real problem was half of Cruger's students didn't have any talent. Little Billy Weymuts, the student that had just left, was an exceedingly bad student who hated the accordion. Billy either never practiced or had an almost disconcertingly powerful lack of talent.
This day, after three minutes, it had become clear that Billy couldn't play his lesson assignment, a C major scale.
"OK, try again Billy, starting on the low C."
"The one here, this key?" Billy asked, as if he were searching for the optimum spot to split a 80-carat diamond.
"No, two keys to the left, there."
Billy plodded through a few notes, then hit a clinker.
"You know," Billy said, "This isn't so important. I want to get into sports. Chicks dig a jock."
Cruger scratched his head. There was something about an eleven- year-old saying chicks dig a jock.
"Who told you that?"
"Told me what?"
"About chicks digging a jock."
"My brother, Ronnie. Told me I should just be a jock, or at least play guitar, ya know, like Beejee King."
"That's B.B. King. Do you even know what a jock is?"
Billy Weymuts brought his shoulders to his little elfin ears and dropped his eyes. "I guess not."
They got back to the C major scale but didn't get far before time was up; so much for Billy's lesson.
But it was a living. With twenty-one, no, make that twenty-two students, plus gigs, plus a workaholic nurse for a wife, his was a workable career.
That's what was holding him back, Cruger thought. This was all too easy, much too easy. His students, clients, and wife were all very willing to shell out enough money to make Cruger's life very comfortable. No, he didn't drive a Porsche with personalized plates saying "MONEYBAGS" -- these yuppie pursuits were of no interest to Cruger. But still, he wanted more, just because it was all too easy.
Challenge, discord, friction. Friction; that's it. You couldn't climb a mountain if it weren't for friction. In a world lacking friction, you would slide back down into the saddle of your equilibrium -- be it for better or for worse. Where is the friction in my life? What are my battles, my defeats, my failures? If it weren't for friction, no heroes would ever live.
Cruger glanced at the practice room wall clock -- the new student's time slot was about to start. Cruger began to recall the initial phone conversation with the boy. The student had said I would like to hear about playing the accordion. A strange thing to say. Not a simple I want to learn how to play or I would like lessons in . . . not the usual.
Three minutes after the hour a young blond teenage boy knocked softly on the studio door and then entered.
"Hi, I'm Tony Steffen, I talked to you the other day." The youth's voice was low, slow, and punctuated.
Cruger reached over and shook Tony's hand. "Good to meet you, Tony," he said, "have a seat."
Cruger was impressed with Tony's maturity. What is it about this kid, he thought? Tony stood about six foot one, more than a few inches taller than Cruger, and had a wiry, muscular build. But, Cruger thought, it is more than his height - the kid has presence. The surfer blond hair, long arms and legs, erect posture and resounding voice combined to create a seamless package; the kid reeked of self- confidence. What the hell is he doing here? Most of Cruger's students were from Nerd Squad. Tony didn't fit the bill.
Cruger looked at the dusty brown case that Tony held by the handle. "I see you already have an instrument."
"Yes," Tony said. "In fact, that's what I really wanted to talk to you about most." Tony swung the case out in front of him. Quickly popping the two aluminum latches on the front of case, he reached in and pulled out a small and ornate accordion. Polished cherry wood. Corrugated side panels and engraved trim gave the old instrument a stately look.
"It's beautiful," Cruger said.
"Yeah. It's been, um, passed down to me. A really special instrument, I've been told."
"I'm not knowledgeable as a collector, Tony, but I can tell you that they don't make them like that any more."
Tony smiled a wide smile that radiated light and warmth. "I wonder if you would play it a little for me?"
Cruger had been anxious to do just that; now he needed no excuse to grasp the accordion and give it a try.
"I'll play it a little Tony, but, it's you who we need to get playing it."
Tony nodded unconvincingly and watched as Cruger gently moved his arms and pressed his fingers across the keys of the fine instrument. The "Too Fat Polka" reverberated throughout the small practice room. The instrument had a smaller, darker tone than Cruger was accustomed to. He was into the second eight bars of the tune when he jolted slightly at the sight of a strange luminescence rising from the belly of the instrument. Blue streaks of light, entwined like yarn across a cat tree, flickered their surprising veneer within the accordion's belly. Cruger could see down into the cavity through a three-quarter inch opening directly above the keyboard. Shock notwithstanding, Cruger had continued to play down the solid Polka. When he stopped, the strange light did likewise.
"What's that light?" asked Cruger in a coarse voice ringing with disbelief.
"That light," Tony said, "is the reason that I had you play that box." Tony seemed satisfied with that answer, but, Cruger clearly was not.
"What do you mean?"
"The box will only do that, what we just saw, for you," Tony said.
"Are you trying to con me or something -- you calling this magic?" Cruger didn't know whether to laugh or let out his true feelings. He gave Tony a hard, defensive stare.
"I know that this is all confusing for you, ah, Cruger. Is it all right to call you Cruger?"
"Anyway, I need to get this into your head, and I know it won't be easy. All I want to do for now is tell you to please play this instrument every night, for at least a little while."
"I still want to know what this is all about."
"Can you please just take it home and play it a little at night? I will come back and explain everything to you in a day or two," Tony said.
Cruger looked up at the ceiling of the small practice room. Small styrofoam polygons covered the ceiling; Del, of Del's Music World, certainly wasn't using the high-quality foam soundproofing material. With accordions being played, you'd think he wouldn't skimp on it.
But what should he do? Cruger was scared of his inaction. What should he tell the kid? What the hell would friggin' Clint Eastwood do in this situation? This is just plain bizarre. Is the kid a nut case, on drugs? Thoughts sprayed through his mind like machine gun fire.
"Oh, by the way," Tony said, "Don't tell anyone about this, please. "I know you won't," he said as if to assure himself.
"Later," Tony said as he swung out of the cheap folding chair, opened the door, and walked briskly down the musty, narrow hall.
Cruger had no response. He slumped forward and stared at the strange small instrument that rested on his forearms. Shaking his head from side to side he smiled as he rehearsed, in his head, telling his wife for the very first time, "had a tough day at the office, dear."
Cruger's wife, Corrina, was prone to the scientific approach. Since Jack and she had decided to try to make a baby, their sex lives had undergone a change.
For one thing, they now made love three times a day. Three times a day had previously loomed as a mythical figure to Cruger. Not since their brief and carnal Honeymoon had the prospect of such frequent intercourse seemed plausible. Yet, now, it was three times a day whether or not Jack liked it, just like the self-help fertility manual said on page twenty-four.
They had been trying for four months. No periods had been missed yet. Even so, Corrina continued to support the home pregnancy test-kit industry with frequent testings. Rabbits dying were yesteryear's method of test; vials of water needed to turn a rich blue color or little tablets needed to spell plus or minus. Four months of pale water and minuses -- the equivalent of live rabbits -- was not considered a long time by most people.
Cruger thought it was a long time. His lower back thought it was a long time.
When Cruger walked in his front door that evening, his own accordion case in one hand and Tony Steffen's in the other, Corrina was anxious to talk with him.
"I'm going to start monitoring my ovulation cycle," she said. She was excited, her bright eyes on fire, lighting the room.
"Just as long as you don't make me count all my sperm every day."
"Listen silly. What I do is take my temperature every morning and I can then chart when I start ovulating. Then we can make sure to make love a lot just before and during my ovulation."
"Sounds wonderfully romantic. Out of curiosity, along with Bolero, did Ravel ever write any music entitled Symphony to Ovulate to, in G minor?"
"Did anyone ever not tell you that you're a smart ass?" she said.
"People who have never met me generally don't."
Corrina sighed. "Ah, the lucky ones."
"Listen, let me get this straight. When you're not ovulating I take cold showers, keep to a low testosterone diet, and occupy my mind with Baseball scores. Then for a week each month I eat oysters, beat my chest like a gorilla, and jump your bones every time the wind shifts?"
"You've got it, partner -- but you don't always have to wait till I'm ovulating," she said. "We can just practice the rest of the month."
"What, you think I'm a machine, a love-making machine; switch me off, switch me on," Cruger said, "like clockwork?"
"You've done well in the past. And, if your batteries need recharging, I've got a few tricks up my garter belt."
Cruger believed what she said. In her late twenties and athletic, Corrina was still a head-turner, even a 'real fox' as one of his buddies annoyingly called her. Trim, tan, with mid-length auburn hair, she was extremely attractive. No tofu thighs or belly rolls like Cruger saw on so many women at the beach and around the neighborhood. Corrina didn't need help to get his libido into high gear.
"All I have to do is think of you in your string bikini. My circulatory system does the rest," he said.
Corrina walked over to Jack and gave him a soft kiss on the lips.
She said, "All I have to do is think of you getting into my string bikini."
Then they began to try to make a baby. No oysters necessary.
Later that evening Cruger accepted the inevitable: he would have to play Tony's accordion. From good sex to accordions, isn't live full of dichotomies, he mused. And why play the thing? First of all, the kid asked him to. Second, the thing was exciting and strange and unexplained. Lastly, it had a nice sound and a good feel. Why not?
He closed the study door so Corrina would not easily walk in on the strange sight. The warm, softly illuminated study was lined on one wall with bookshelves full of Cruger's favorite reading as well as a few shelves dedicated to Corrina's anatomy, physiology, and nursing textbooks. Cruger allowed his eyes to scan the shelves that were like friends to him, holding up parts of his mind, parts of his past, books that had become a part of his world view -- part of his most private self. On the top shelf, a little Hemingway, some Fitzgerald, everything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The shelf below, invoking a more philosophical mood, housed some Kafka: The Castle and The Metamorphosis, Huxley, Plato, Koestler. The next shelf had the high- speed fantasies of Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Sturgeon, Clarke. Then Cruger's eyes stuck to the next lowest shelf, full of the reading of the college years: Joyce, Proust, Mann, Elliot, Beckett, Conrad; even some sixties classics jumped out at him -- Mailer, Malamud, Pynchon, Barth. Catch 22 was there, and others equally important.
Cruger wanted to reach around and pat himself on the back for his literary achievements, at the same time saying: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I read all of these and more. But, please hold the applause, save the awards, because I've done nothing with them but file them away in my mind, my selfish head; they are now stashed deep into the brains of an accordion instructor who is merely a consumer of knowledge, not a provider, a processor, a manufacturer or a designer.
Unlatching the old case, he pulled out Tony's exotic instrument. Caressingly, carefully, and tentatively, he began to play a few warm- up scales.
Inexplicable blue light notwithstanding, the strangest thing was this: Cruger began to play things he never played before. After a few requisite Polkas, he launched into a snappy rendition of Malaguena, a song he had heard but never played before. The instrument's mysterious, resounding overtones echoed in Cruger's mind as its blue sparks and beautiful notes rang out into the energized, tranquil air.
Chapter ThreeAs promised, Tony called Cruger at home the next evening. Tony thanked Cruger for practicing the instrument as he had requested.
"How do you know that I actually played it?" Cruger asked.
"Oh, I know, it's obvious."
Cruger was only slightly disturbed by the fact that Tony seemed to know this for certain, somehow. Other more disturbing questions were still unanswered. As if a witness to Cruger's silent thoughts, Tony said "I'd like to come over to fill you in on some facts."
"I think I would enjoy that."
"How about I come over after I'm out of school tomorrow, like around four thirty?" Tony said.
"That's fine, I'll be back here by quarter after four. And you better have some good explanations; this whole thing is really weird," Cruger said.
"Oh yeah, must be totally weird for you. Don't worry, see you then."
Cruger hung up and thought about this High School "dude" who was "totally" messing his mind. This kid was the strangest thing to ever happened to Cruger. Being a true skeptic at heart, he still felt that this was some kind of hoax, some strange setup. He expected the hidden camera to pop out from behind the wall at any minute: "Surprise, it was a joke, you're an idiot."
Cruger realized that, according to the apparent behavior of most people, he should have been jumping out of his skin with curiosity. Most people would have been more affected, Cruger thought. But he evidently had a high tolerance for ambiguity.
He wondered if anyone really knew anything anyway, so why should he worry about his silly predicament. He meant really knowing what was going on, as in having positive, scientific proof of existence. Besides, a little excitement was what he thought he wanted. A small little challenge had presented itself, and he now accepted the challenge, on its (or Tony's) terms.
So like people, he thought, to accept challenges that find them while never choosing a challenge on their own. Playing the game is so much easier for people than inventing it.
Cruger now waited for Tony to play his next move. What had Kierkegaard said? Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Cruger now waited to live his soon-to-be-explicable future.
Cruger tried to put Tony out of his mind and found Corrina in the living room doing aerobics. He asked his wife for a dinner date and she kindly accepted. Corrina had the day off after working a week of day shift, so she was rested and ready to go out to dinner. The new Cajun place on El Camino Real, Louisiana Pot, was their choice.
The restaurant was located in a mini-mall that also had a dry cleaner, record store, sandwich shop, crafts store, and Pizza place. You could have your clothes cleaned, buy some overpriced CDs, stock up on yarn, and eat anything from pizza to a tofu burger all without reparking your car. Great.
The Louisiana Pot was New Orleans moved 2,000 miles west. Dixieland music played, people drank like fish, and the Gumbo was excellent. Corrina waited for her blackened prime rib and Cruger waited for his blackened catfish.
Corrina told Jack about her patients, in particular a young girl with MS who was a sweet kid with serious problems. In a way, the toughest of patients.
A tape of a Dixie band played "Here Come the Saints." Cruger felt himself floating in and back out of the conversation with his wife. He wondered if the whole function of entertainment, evenings out for tasty dinners and movies, where nothing more than a way of escaping from the harsh reality we all see when we're alone. At the restaurant, Cruger could see his pretty wife and well-dressed waiters and pretty waitresses and laughing couples with nice clothes. He could hear Dixieland music and the intoxicated laughs of young men and young ladies who had just downed their "authentic" New Orleans Hurricanes.
If this were more real than playing his instrument or reading or sitting around the house, then it only seemed more real because restaurant scenes are what you see in the movies and on TV and what you read about in the newspaper. Everyone, without exception, was at least moderately young and moderately well-dressed. Bright colors and patterns that seemed to say: I'm centered, I have money, do you too? These people are all sheep, Cruger thought. They could be trained to accept nearly anything as reality.
The waiter arrived with the prime rib and the catfish. Both the fish and beef were spiced and burnt black in an iron pan. For all he knew, the meal was highly carcinogenic. Cruger looked around as people eagerly awaited their burnt-to-a-crisp twenty dollar entrees. Like sheep.
"You think this blackened stuff causes cancer?" Corrina said.
Cruger was surprised. Either his thoughts were printed on his sleeve or she was as cynical as he. She's a worrier like me, he thought, that's why we're married.
"Un huh," he said. "But don't worry, what we did this afternoon was an anti-carcinogen."
"And good exercise too," she said.
They ate their dangerous meal and Cruger tried to pay attention to her discussion of patients and hospital politics.
"You really help these people -- I'm proud of you. At least one of us is making a contribution for the better," Cruger said.
"Oh come on, you're making a contribution -- you're a teacher," Corrina said. She had her nose screwed up that way it got whenever she became mildly annoyed.
Cruger realized that he was preoccupied and in a self-pitying mood. At this rate, he would not be a very good date.
What she just said was true. Yes, he was a teacher and that was generally considered a noble profession. Unless you teach accordion, in which case, he thought, people thought of you like they thought of the neighborhood crack dealer: forcing horrible habits on young, impressionable kids.
Self-pity aside, honesty was sometimes the surprisingly best policy: "It's just that I'm afraid I'm not doing enough with my life," he said. " I've been worried about not making a contribution, not giving enough."
Corrina looking him straight in the eye, her pretty and open face telling him as much as her words. "You're worrying too much. Just face it, you're a good person, a great guy -- why else would I have married you? Just accept that and quit punishing yourself."
And maybe he should let well enough alone. Did every action that every person did on every day necessarily contribute to the course of the future? Cruger thought that might be so; but, playing that weird accordion with the blue light must be something important, a substantial contribution, because there was something about it that felt magical. He was somebody now, playing that weird accordion.
Whatever the flashy little thing really was.
Our daughters and sons have burstTony showed up at Cruger's doorstep the next day, as planned. Cruger was relieved and excited to see Tony, although he wanted to appear nonchalant about the situation.
from the marionette show
leaving the tangle of strings
and gone into the unlit audience
"Can I get you anything to drink? Cruger asked.
"A Coke or Pepsi, if you got it, thanks."
Cruger popped a can and poured two glasses full, on the rocks. He motioned for Tony to sit at the kitchen table.
"So, you think the accordion I gave you is cool or what?"
"You only lent it to me, and, yes it's cool." Cruger's use of the word cool came out as a mockery of Tony, and Cruger regretted it immediately.
Tony said, "I have a lot of things that need to be said, and I'm afraid you will need a really open mind to hear them."
"My friends tell me I'm open-minded," said Cruger. "And my enemies tell me that my mind is so open that everything has leaked out."
"Great, you'll need room in there for the stuff that I'm going to lay on you." Tony flicked a wisp of his long blond hair out of his eyes, as if the motion were a precursor to any serious discussion.
"Starting with an explanation of the blue light, I hope," Cruger said.
"Yep. Did you look down into the belly of that box when you were playing?"
"And you saw those blue strands of light sort-of moving around, creating different patterns and stuff."
Cruger nodded, wondering if they were going to play a guessing game or if Tony would just tell him what was what.
"Well, what was happening in there was significant. Each one of those blue lights -- or strings, I would call them -- each represents a path, a possible outcome. As you saw, there are millions of those things wiggling around when you play.
"I contacted you because you were chosen as someone who will do a very good job of making, or, as I like to call it, spinning these strings."
"What is the point of spinning these strings, and why are you involved?" Cruger said, the questioning leaping out automatically before he fully comprehended what Tony had just said.
Tony began to explain everything, or, at least, quite a bit. Cruger was being offered a job. Tony belonged to an organization that looked for people who had special talents and abilities: abilities that were a match for the special needs of the company that Tony worked for.
Cruger, mainly because of his musicianship, was one of the dozen or so people in the world chosen for this job of "spinning" the strange blue strings.
"So your company is an international company then?" Cruger asked.
"Oh yeah. In fact the company is a lot broader based than that."
Cruger frowned and Tony explained more.
"The Company, as we like to call it, has a bunch of responsibilities. The primary responsibility is to create and support all worlds, galaxies, and universes."
Cruger gave Tony a blank stare.
"It's a service industry, really," said Tony.
Tony laughed. Cruger pretended to laugh along with him. They both continued to laugh -- Cruger felt like a cartoon character, laughing, slapping his his knee; he would have even guffawed if he knew what a guffaw was.
"You're joking," Cruger said.
"No, I'm totally serious. I can understand that you don't believe me -- I didn't believe it at first either; but you'll believe it soon."
Tony explained more. The spinners completed a necessary function of determining the probable outcomes of all events on earth. Each string could be thought of as a possible plane of reality across time. The many parallel strings that intersected each other represented the large number of possible outcomes for any given instant.
"Couldn't God just toss some dice? I had always thought that's how it might work anyway."
"No," said Tony, "and we call him the Chairman, or the Big Guy, by the way. Just Him rolling the dice would be a poor way of spinning because it would be cold, mechanical, and lack the variation and natural beauty that people like you provide."
"Well, how could it be that I do a better job than, um, the Big Guy?"
"Originally everything was done by Him, like you say. But, then it became clear that a more personal way would incorporate the proper aspects of the human condition. I don't fully understand it, but maybe you can think of it this way: it's like the difference between computer-generated art and human-devised art -- an expert can tell the difference."
Cruger was either satisfied with that explanation or so immersed in thought that he failed to respond.
Tony continued to explain that the job of spinner would entitle Cruger to a family health plan, enriched musical talent, and a sense of accomplishment. Cruger just needed to play the special accordion every evening for at least thirty minutes. Playing more would do neither any good nor any harm. The job did not come without risks, however. Not everyone was a friend of the company. In fact, the company was in direct competition with what they referred to as the "Other Company." Tony reminded Cruger that he was most likely at least conceptually familiar with the "Other Company."
"If not for them, everything here would be perfect. Can you imagine, no hunger, no disease, no murder or greed?"
"So the 'Other Company' is responsible for everything bad?" asked Cruger.
"More or less. Death would always be with us along with the natural occurrences that some people think are bad, but, the Other Company pretty much has what we think of as the Devil's work as their charter."
"Somehow this translates to a risk for me?" Cruger moved the conversation back to what stuck in his mind.
"Yes. The Other Company has employees here just like we do. They can get involved in messing us up -- they have in the past. But, we keep a low profile. I am your only contact in the company. Just like you, I have only one original contact, my boss, and now I guess you, as an employee."
"Hah," said Cruger. "You come in here and tell me I can have a job with the rulers of the universe and my boss will be a high school kid who looks like a surf bum?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much what I'm telling you. I also know that you are going to accept the job," Tony said.
Cruger rose his eyebrows and felt his chin jerk involuntarily, demonstrating a small surprise reflex that he never knew he had. "How the hell do you know that?"
"It came down to me in a memo. It's determined already by other spinners. You're it."
"Then why did you even ask me?" Cruger said.
"Oh, we try to be polite in this business."
"And what about that family health plan you mentioned," Cruger smiled at the incongruous use of such prosaic corporate terminology.
Tony nodded and answered. "That means that you and your family will experience no illness or harm, except for what is beyond our control, like intervention from the Other Company."
"Now that sounds like a pretty good benefit."
"Yeah, well, we're a very competitive employer. We don't even ask for your immortal soul in return."
Cold, cold, cold. The frost was fall's thickest yet; the dried old leaves of Maples and Eucalyptus lined the streets. Most of all, it was cold.
Leon Harris had just started his morning jog. His blood had yet to flow to his extremities, which were as numbed from sleepiness as they were aggravated by the chilling morning breeze.
Harris glanced quickly at his black plastic, multi-function jogging watch, $3.95 from Service Merchandise. He had only been running for three minutes, two seconds, and fifty-seven hundredths. Usually the endorphin rush didn't kick in until fifteen minutes, at least. Harris imagined the feeling he would have when the sweat poured off his brow and the blood pulsed through his trunk and thighs. Running, it feels so good when you stop, he told himself in a clenched-teeth mantra. Morning runs are a lot nicer in the summer, but, think of the poor suckers who live were it really gets cold, he thought. The radio weather report that morning said currently forty- three degrees, warming to a high of sixty. Not too bad.
Harris usually got his run done by 7:05, into the shower, breakfasted, dressed and out the door by 8:00. He could be to work by 8:15, hit the weight room or Karate practice at lunch, leave work by 6:00 and get home around 6:30. Not that he lived by the clock.
At home, Harris would throw together microwaved leftovers or cook a quick stir-fry type dish: lean meat, vegetables, and rice or potatoes. He only drank alcohol when out with friends, keeping it to one or two drinks, which didn't have too much of an effect on his lean 6-3, 210-pound body.
Once at work, he would make out a list that described his goals for the day. A typical list looked like this:
8:30 Glass of Water, write listThen he would break the list down into sublists. Often the sublists generated sublists of their own, but Harris knew where to draw the line.
8:45 Investigate File System bug
10:00 Staff Meeting
11:30 Lunch workout
12:30 Debug, design next lib interface
His performance reviews at work usually commended him on his organizational, attention to detail, and ability to persevere on a problem until closure.
The man had no vices. Well, almost none. When given the opportunity, Harris could be an extremely inquisitive person, far past the point of simply being nosy.
When Harris' next door neighbor, Jack Cruger, began playing his accordion every single evening, Harris noticed.
Harris, a black man who grew up in the sixties and seventies, liked to listen to Stevie Wonder, James Brown, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and some Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, but not accordion music.
He would have been merely disgusted with Cruger and his instrument, if not for the flickering pale blue light that shone through the curtains when Cruger played every night.
Cruger was cooking dinner when he heard Corrina coming through the garage door.
"Back here," he said. "Your chef is at work creating another masterpiece."
He stirred the mushrooms sauteing in the butter sauce and sprinkled the minced green onions from the cutting block.
Corrina walked into the kitchen and put her purse down on the counter. She sniffed the air. She smelled Tarragon.
"Mmm, smells good."
"But of course," he said, mocking the accents of the French chefs that worked at restaurants more expensive than any he had been to. He sounded exactly like one of those temperamental little Cordon Bleu jocks.
"Was that supposed to be a French accent?" she said. "Sounded more like an Australian with lock jaw."
"You've got no ear, no ear. My accent is magnifique," he said, again sounding like an Aussie with lockjaw.
"Whatever." And then she put her arms around him and pushed her face into his neck. She whispered into his ear "we're pregnant."
Cruger forgot about his culinary masterpiece and bad accent. They kissed and hugged and she cried. He did too, a little, but worked hard to keep her from seeing it and himself from admitting it.
Cruger believed that whatever would happen, they were strong enough for it. The journey would begin again, a journey that, as opposed to some others, was not in itself the reward.
A baby, a baby, goddamn, I don't believe it. He hugged Corrina tight and close, eyes shut hard, leaking only slightly.
He and Corrina knew the fragility of life. Corrina had been pregnant a year ago. The baby -- not yet known as a 'he' or 'she' but most certainly not an 'it' -- was of course destined for greatness. Possibly a doctor, an astronaut, or maybe even President of the United States, the baby would most certainly be a special person.
The winter months of December and January passed. Then, for Corrina, she said it felt like a heavy period. Realization of the dreaded fact was more horrid than anything they had ever faced before. The robbery of a promised life was a malicious obscenity.
The Doctors gave Corrina a set of explanations. These thing can happen for many reasons: failure of the fetus to attach properly to the uterine wall, scar tissue, or hormonal imbalances. She had still been in the danger period -- just barely. The first trimester had nearly elapsed without incident. The integrity of the umbilical cord had been questioned; the doctors thought that the cord became twisted and then failed.
He and Corrina vowed to be brave and try again. Only a success could erase the miserable failure of their first attempt.
Cruger wondered if he would ever believe that a real life had not been lost. Sure, the first baby actually born to them would be the first child, but, hadn't their been a different life, a thoroughly different zygote based on different genetic material that had existed and then suddenly not existed? In practical terms, it didn't matter to him. In terms of the meaning of a life that has been thoroughly erased, the meaning was very special. The poor damned little umbilical cord.
He kissed Corrina again. Yes, we are brave enough for another shot at it.
And what type of world would they be bringing their baby into. Would they bring the baby into a world that he felt he had to apologize for? No, his child, all the children deserved better.
He vowed to try hard to make it better. For his baby.
Later that night, Cruger retreated to the den to play Tony's accordion. Cruger, admittedly, had never been an exceptionally good accordionist. His repertoire consisted of a dozen Polkas, some folk music, a few old swing standards, and "Lady of Spain." Anything else and he had to read the music; and he was not one of those expert sight-readers who could play anything perfectly the first time. Since he had been spinning alone in this room for a few nights, he noticed a change in his playing. The notes seemed to flow out more smoothly. The instrument produced a rounder, more musical tone. Cruger could play almost any tune he had ever heard before, his ear and instincts accurately leading him across the keyboard.
This night was no exception. His paying felt strong and full of life. He played Thad Jones's ballad, "A Child is Born." He had only heard the song once before on one of Corrina's old Thad Jones & Mel Lewis big band albums. But he knew the song now; he deeply felt the song and every one of its nuances and alternate chord changes. Life could be so good.
Leon Harris' beautifully landscaped front yard stood out as the neighborhood's best. The lush green carpet of his front lawn was thicker and greener than a billionaire's wallet. To the other side of Harris' driveway was an elevated Japanese Rock garden. The Scotch moss, red-tinged boulders, gravel, as well as the spherically-shaped Pyrocantha and Juniper bushes formed a visual retreat from the concrete and asphalt monotony of the maze of streets, sidewalks, and driveways that entangled the tightly-housed neighborhood.
As Harris had improved his yard, his impression of the neighbors' yards had diminished. At first his neighbors, both the Crugers and the Youngs on the other side, had what appeared to be perfectly adequate yards. By the time Harris had added the final fieldstone to his rock garden, the neighbors' small intermittent weeds seemed bigger, the rusted brownish grass more horrid.
The neighbor's yards had clearly become the landscapes from hell.
Harris didn't know any of his neighbors well. He said hello to the ones he passed when he was out for a run, and had only spoken briefly to the Crugers a couple of times. The Cruger guy was a pretty lazy dude, Harris thought. A musician. Somehow he had a babe of a wife. The guy must be twenty pounds overweight, a scarcely employed accordionist (calling him a musician was probably a stretch), and he's got a hot-looking wife who pretty much supports him.
He must not be as stupid as he looks, Harris realized.
But who knows what the hell this Cruger guy is up to now? Harris poured some boiling water over an herbal, caffeine-free tea bag. Ginseng root, good for sustained energy as well as sparking the immune system.
Harris didn't have any plans for the evening. He sat at the terminal in his home office and played with a few matrix solutions he didn't get a chance to try at work.
Later he went into the family room, were there was room to move, and practiced a few dozen low and high kicks, on left and right sides. He finished the quick workout with sixty-five knuckle and fingertip push-ups. Even this quick workout gave him a good healthy sheen of sweat. He peeled his shirt off as he entered the bathroom and, grabbing his toothbrush, began his fourth tooth brushing of the day. He concentrated on his gums -- the plethora of television ads concerning gingivitis had him worried.
From the bathroom, through the obscured view of the semi-opaque privacy glass, he could see the Crugers' house. A soft blue light radiated a sense of peace and contentedness from one of their bedroom windows. When Harris stopped brushing, he could hear the sound of the accordion. It was a faint sound; Harris thought it sounded like the old standard tune "Autumn Leaves," but he couldn't tell for sure. It definitely wasn't a polka, and Harris considered that much a great improvement.
The doorbell rang at 4:15, right on time. Cruger opened the door. Tony was wearing day-glow pink beach shorts, a black Megadeth tank top, and unlaced high-tops. He stood with one arm holding his skateboard and the other around the shoulder of a young lady friend who held her own skateboard. Her skin was tanned to a smooth medium- brown. A perfect match for Tony, Cruger thought. Her flaxen blond hair hung down to her shoulders and across her eyebrows. Baby blue skin- tight lycra pants, peach halter top and sandals completed the perfect young-California ensemble. She was beautiful.
"Cruger, this is my friend Sky," Tony said.
"Sky? Nice to meet you."
"Hi, shall I call you Cruger?" Sky asked between bubble gum snaps.
"Please. Are you and Tony in school together?" Cruger said.
"Yeah, Tony and I have three classes together." Sky smiled wide and lifted her big blue eyes towards her namesake as if having three classes with Tony was better than winning the lottery.
"I'll meet you later tonight, Sky. Cruger and I have some business." At the word business, Tony's tone of voice dropped to a deep growl.
"OK, later." Sky waved and slapped her board on the ground in a single fluid motion.
Cruger watched her closely as she sailed, on the small plastic board, down the driveway, swerving back and forth and then cutting a turn onto the sidewalk. A second later he caught himself staring and stopped.
"Very attractive young friend you have, Tony."
"I wouldn't have thought you of all people to be such a lech," Tony said.
"Lecher is too strong a word. Dirty old man will do just fine" Cruger said. He rolled his eyes and smiled.
"OK," Tony said. "Let's get to business here. Last thing I need is you giving me a hard time about Sky."
"Why is that? Is anyone else giving you a hard time about Sky?" Cruger asked automatically, unable to imagine what conflicts Tony would be having over a girl like Sky.
At that moment Tony instantly looked like a teenager again. Tony's shoulders slumped forward almost imperceptibly, yet, the slight lapse in posture illustrated a vulnerability that Cruger hadn't noticed before.
Tony dropped his eyes to the floor and said "Sky is in what you would have to call a 'sick' relationship. She's been going with this guy for a year, and she's tired of him, but she can't get out of it."
"Why can't she get out of it? Has she tried to break up with him?"
"Oh yeah. In fact she's told him that she wants out and she wants to date me. That just makes him grab on tighter and follow her around -- I think he's obsessive."
Cruger pondered Tony's situation, nearly breaking out into an inappropriate grin, thinking of the fact that Tony was such an extraordinary kid, plagued by ordinary problems.
"The thing is," Tony said, "she and I have a lot in common, and he -- his name is Rick -- doesn't have anything in common with her. The guy is a delinquent. Really, I'm not exaggerating."
Cruger wandered over to the family room couch and motioned Tony to follow. The plush carpet and late afternoon sun blended to create a calm atmosphere that clashed with Tony's mood.
Cruger said, "there must be something about this guy that's not allowing her to get away. Is she afraid of him?"
"Well, she might be afraid of him. He's sort of wacko acting sometimes, and that scares her."
Tony was truly a teenager; Cruger could see that now. Not only that, but, he was a sensitive young man who must feel like an outsider among his peers. Tony lived a secret life that he couldn't share with his friends. In the status-hungry phase of late high school, that must be a serious social burden.
"Well, enough of that," said Tony. "We need to get down to some business.
"OK. But if you want to talk about this or anything else like it again, feel free."
"Thanks, Cruger. I don't care what the Big Guy says, you're all right."
Cruger almost jumped off the couch: "Don't scare me like that -- I went to Catholic School, you know."
"Sorry," Tony said. "Now that we're being serious, I need to continue your orientation lecture. How's the spinning going so far?"
"Great, considering I don't know what I'm doing."
Tony paused for second, a look of concentration on his furrowed brow. "If you've got time, I like to shoot over the hill to the beach to think sometimes. We could talk there if you don't have to be back," Tony said.
"Actually, that would be fine. I don't have any plans this afternoon -- my wife won't be home until seven-thirty." One of the luxuries of being a musician who works few hours, Cruger thought. Makes up for the magnitude of pay, or the lack thereof.
"Cool. Let's go." Tony was heading for the door like a rocket, his surfer's body being pulled toward the beach by a nearly visible magnetic attraction.
They got into Cruger's car. Tony rifled off instructions before they had even left the driveway.
"Seventeen shouldn't have any traffic going towards Santa Cruz this time of day. Take Route One North when we hit it, and then we can go to Natural Bridges -- I like that beach a lot."
Cruger nodded and exhaled deeply, preparing himself for the fifty minute drive. Shooting over to Santa Cruz was a young man's move, but it felt good to be mobile, to live life to the fullest and get the most out of every minute. His back was starting to hurt from the drive already. He wondered where his bottle of aspirin was and hoped Tony didn't want him to buy some beers -- probably some wispy thin domestic beer that tasted like slightly used water but left you with a thick headache the next day.
They started to ascend, having passed quaint Los Gatos nestled in the foothills of the coastal mountains. The dense pine and Douglas fir forests jutted skyward on each side of the two-lane road, resting atop the smallish shoulders of the vertical clay-rock walls that encased the highway.
"I'm going to be a Physics major next year in College, man, I'm really into it," Tony said.
"I think I can understand your fascination with it," said Cruger, "In fact, I guess you have access to, what would you call it, inside information."
"Yeah. I mean, the way things work, the scientific method, that's everything. The only hope we have is to fully document and describe the physics of our environment and our lives, only then are we in charge -- you know, the masters of our destiny. Hell, I can't talk to people about this at school. If they knew that I skate home after school to review Schroedinger's equations, they'd peg me a nerd."
"So, is that where the 'Tony the GQ surfer dude' act comes from?"
"Totally dude; like totally," Tony said as he blew his hair out of his face.
"But what else is at stake here? How about this stuff with humans being more in control because of the Unified Theorem?" Cruger said.
"That's the key. And when we get more control because of our particular technological approach, I want to be one of those in the know. The driver's seat will be for those of us who understand the theory. The theory of operation."
"And where does that leave a dumb old spinner, accordionist, good for nothin' like me?" said Cruger. "I hope not as corporate dead wood."
"Oh no," Tony said. "Think job retraining, the wave of the future."
The twisted smile on Tony's face was the kind of smile that reflects a sarcasm that is entirely too representative of the truth. Cruger tried to take no offense.
They arrived and Tony led them to the edge of the sand. Cruger could only see one person, a quarter mile away, on the deserted beach.
Waves mercilessly pounded against the shore, slowly grinding the fine sand particles into smaller and smoother pieces of sand. Natural bridges was a limestone structure that formed a bridge across a small ocean inlet. Through the center of the stone structure was large circular hole that people would walk through when traveling from one section of beach to another.
Cruger took off his shoes and socks and stepped into the cooling sand. The smooth particles massaged the bottoms of his feet, rolling across the top of his feet when he took larger steps. Cruger had always liked the beach, the winds, the sand, even the fog that accompanied most mornings on the shoreline. Now the cool afternoon breeze moved through his hair like an invisible rake though grass, the salty air massaging health and the robustness of the ocean into his scalp.
Why don't I come here more often, he thought. The same thought he had whenever he came, except for the times where he first had to struggle through hours of traffic. If you knew when to leave and when not to, that wouldn't happen.
Tony sprinted down to the shoreline, dipped his feet in the foamy water, and ran back to Cruger, covering the thirty yards in what seems like a couple of seconds.
"Need to get some exercise -- spent the whole day sitting on my rear in class," he said.
"Right," Cruger said, "a little exercise like that for me and you can call 911."
A gust of wind passed over them, kicking up sand, chips of water- logged wood washed in by the tide, and scraps of leaves and seaweed.
"You need to know some more things about the Company," Tony said. "The Company has a large, complex organization, but, I'll tell you what you really need to know. As you probably already guessed, a good percentage of the Company is composed of people right here from earth.
"Many of the executive positions are still held by Managers from elsewhere. The vast majority of these -- well, I'll call them foreigners, sounds better than 'aliens' -- most of them are from the same planet: Tvonen. You won't find this planet on any of your astronomy charts; I assure you, it's far away. Oh, by the way, the Chairman himself is a Tvonen."
Cruger raised his eyebrows. Now he knew the top dog was an alien, did that matter?
"These foreigners went through a process of evolution quite similar to what the humans have endured. However, there are a few major differences, and they're important differences."
Cruger noticed that Tony's ability to talk so matter-of-factly about these matters was surprising and frightening -- it even grated on him a little. How could God and the secrets of life that had previously seemed magical and immortal now be so prosaic?
"First of all, the Tvonens have creationist mythology that rivals the book of Genesis for entertainment value. The only irony is, their mythology is not allegorical like ours but entirely factual.
"It seems that the Tvonens were originally created as a tribe of androgynous beings; there were exactly twelve of them and they lived in a setting that we would have called Eden. It seems that their creator, and exactly who that was is something I will get to later, had quite a sense of humor. They were twelve Tvonens living in a perfect environment; all the food they needed grew in the ground and on trees, the atmosphere and temperature was very mild, although too high on the nitrogen side for humans, and there was no disease, poverty, pestilence, or taxes to pay.
"Well what's the catch, you'd probably ask? Like I said, they were androgynous; they had no way of reproducing. This did not turn out to be such a disaster, though. The original twelve didn't age. Their skins remained free of wrinkles and blemishes; their bodies stayed young, flexible, and healthy. Before they knew it, centuries of our equivalent time had passed and they were all still young and healthy.
"But, now I get to the part about the maker's sense of humor. It turns out that one day, one of the twelve who was called Remad, went a bit loony. He pulled limbs off tankas, or trees, and ran around in a wild circle of self-flagellation. When the others, who were entirely horrified, tried to stop Remad, he hit them and then continued on himself. The next morning, when Remad awoke, what do you think they found?
Cruger just shrugged.
"He had grown a sexual organ between his legs -- a penis." Tony laughed and shook his head.
Cruger scratched his head thinking that this, possibly the strangest story he had ever heard, was maybe the most important story he ever heard.
"This is a documented fact, dude. To this day a Tvonen can be observed to undergo 'the change.'
"Maybe you can guess the rest. Two days later, another tribe member misbehaved badly. The next day this Tvonen had become a she. Only four days of groping and rubbing and kissing and general boot- strapped sex education before she was pregnant by Remad. Actually it wasn't that easy to figure out: the female Tvonen has almost a half dozen sexual orifices. Only one is good for reproduction, and it varies from individual to individual. Trial and error.
This conjured up some wild mental images for Cruger. Sounds like a couple of sixteen-year-olds trying to do it in the back seat of a Volkswagen have it easy compared to the Tvonens, he thought.
"For the longest time the rest of the original tribe remained as they were -- looking younger and healthier every day, actually. Remad and his wife, Tvena, had twelve children in as many years. Strange thing is, Remad and Tvena were old, wrinkled and dead within sixty years.
"Three centuries later they knew that a special enzyme in their blood stream control the secretion of the hormone for sexuality. The sex enzyme was activated by exposure to environmental or emotional impurities. Centuries later a Tvonen could either have immortality, or a life of booze, drugs, sex, and procreation. Isn't that cruel?
"An interesting footnote to the story of the Tvonens is that their early history was characterized as something that roughly translates to: "The Fouled Fountain of Youth." Their culture does provide the sort of Fountain of Youth that humans have searched for in vain. When the Tvonens live in harmony with their environment and avoid violence, destruction, and pollutants, they live from that fountain. Once converted sexually and environmentally, they can never go back. What you see there currently, after millions of years of civilization, is a healthy mix of reproductive and immortal Tvonens. Of course they have preserved their environment, unlike earthlings, in order to give their people a choice between immortality and reproductivity."
Cruger had trouble believing what he just heard. The idea of androgynous and immortal sentient beings was hard to swallow. But, then again, the idea of technological and "logical" humans destroying their own planet was also a tough cookie to crunch.
"What is their civilization like now?" Cruger asked.
"Now they are what we would call a very advanced society. They have technology that seems amazing. But, keep in mind, they are a lot different than humans. For example, they never devised any digital electronics. Their entire technology is based on analog computing and mineral crystals. What they also have is terrific projective holograms that they can transmit with pinpoint accuracy. For clothing, they wear trained microorganisms that are self-cleaning and form-fitting."
Cruger sat there, the salt air blowing across his cool face, thinking about the Tvonens. Whereas the sand was beginning to stick to every square inch of Cruger's body, those small, coarse annoyances seemed to slide off Tony's tanned surfer skin, as if he were coated with teflon. Maybe the sand knew who its friends were.
"Normally science progress with one smallish advancement after the other. Each scientist stands on the shoulders of all his worthy predecessors. One thing that was never done before is to stand on the shoulders of alien scientists -- that is how we've skipped a few steps here and advanced so quickly," Tony said.
"You mean the Tvonens, they've helped us?" Cruger asked.
"Yes, the ones that are running the company. They've pitched in a few key ideas that have allowed us to tie together string theory with the singularities -- black holes and the Big Bang phenomenon. Without the little tidbits they provided, we would probably still be stuck for a decade or even a century or two."
The wind blew Cruger's thin, curly hair down across his eyes. He absently swept the hair away with his forearm.
Tony explained that the theoretical physicists had made some breakthroughs that even the company's R&D department didn't immediately understand. Einstein had proposed a theorem that the company engineers, the planet builders, had to check on to see if it was actually the equivalent of their method. The theoretical physicists of the '70s through now had come incredibly close to defining the time/space continuum, at least in human terms, in their "string theory" as it relates to the formation of planets, galaxies, and the universe. The work of Hawking and Penrose had brought the theory closer to full proof.
"I don't know what happened to the original universe builders because they are working on new projects. You know, the ones who originally built the earth and all the galaxies. They're entrepreneurial types. The maintenance engineers must check the relativity and string theory to see if we really have done the incredible: this planet itself has evolved a species to the point that it has defined or even surpassed the knowledge of its creator." Tony smiled proudly, his already bright eyes putting out a higher amperage gleam. "An incredible notion. Think about it, we're the student actually surpassing the teacher -- doesn't happen often."
"Yes, but if it's cliches you're looking for, 'those who can do, and those who cannot teach'," Cruger said.
"Mmm. That would be saying the creator can't create? I think, as a species, humans are self-taught. In a nutshell, that's what evolution of an intelligent species is: the slow education of a species over time. We could call it Intellivolution."
Tony grabbed a quick breath and then continued in a deep, confident voice. "A better analogy is the notion that someone like you could buy a fish tank, put in some fish, plants and food. You then come back to check on the tank a 'while' later -- remember the fragility of the notion of time -- and then the tank is full of smooth skinned little "fish" with arms that are telling you how the pump and filter work and what they want to be fed. That's the human condition," Tony said.
Cruger expected Tony to follow with the words 'Q.E.D' -- Tony had sounded formal and overly confident in his statements. Cruger grimaced during Tony's comparison of humans to fish but vowed not to take it personally.
Tony noticed Cruger's displeasure. "Hey, I am as human as you are, bud. I know it hurts. But admit it, we humans aren't God's gift, so to speak."
Cruger chuckled. He thought about what Tony had said, wishing that he had any kind of a background in science at all that would help understand the concepts that Tony wrestled with.
"Can there really be a complete Unified Theory?" Cruger asked. "I mean, everything seems so infinite, how can it all be explained or managed?"
Tony nodded his head. "Right, it's all mind-boggling. Another possibility that had been investigated was that there is actually no theory of the universe that describes all of the actions and behaviors in a scientific sense. It could be that an infinite series of different explanations exist that apply to each situation. Just like you wondered, it has been thought possible that there is really no theory of life and the universe. Events cannot be predicted beyond a certain extent; they occur in an random and arbitrary manner.
"Even if we were able to fully quantize the Unified Theory, for example in a series of algorithms on a computer, the theory would still remain undeniably separate from implementation. As an example, even if we completely understood every detail of the functioning of the human body, it would still take a long time to learn to actually create or 'build' that body.
"In the same way, understanding the entire universe and creation of universes would leave a lot of work to be done in implementing tools that implement the theory."
"But, they have the tools -- they've provided that step?" Cruger asked.
"Yes, I have converted their system into a human implementation that actually uses computers. Digital electronics is our big addition or contribution to this model," Tony said.
"That's hard to believe. What they originally used must work, right? Why would they want to convert to our technology?" Cruger could not imagine a computer running the show. Images of '50s science fiction films and the overused term 'computer error' popped into his mind.
"I can think of a few possible reasons. For one, in order for earth to maintain itself, it may need to have a system developed in its frame of reference, a human frame of reference. Another possibility is that since we were getting so close ourselves to cracking the code -- remember what I said about string theory -- that they may have just expedited our own destiny."
"Great. It also sounds like this 'promoting from within' was a factor. If you want humans to do the job, give them endemic, human- oriented tools," Cruger said.
"Tools that are user-friendly," Tony said, following his marketing jargon with a sardonic grin.
As the orange sun started to hide itself behind the lighthouse, beach cliffs, and twisted Monterey Cyprus trees on the horizon, they packed up, brushed off sand, and began the drive home.
"What about spinning?" Cruger asked while guiding the car over the twisted road across the Santa Cruz mountains. "Is there anything more that I should know or concentrate on when I do it?"
"No. I can't tell you exactly how to do your job, that would be prejudicing the future's outcome. You must simply do it the way you would naturally do it, without direction," Tony said.
A while later Cruger pulled car into his driveway. He and Tony said goodbye and Tony grabbed his skateboard. Hips swerving and knees rolling, he sped down Cruger's driveway, all the while whistling a small, nearly silent song that played hauntingly in Cruger's mind as his tired legs walked the front steps of his beckoning home.
Crouched along the fence, watering can in hand, was Cruger's neighbor, Leon Harris.
Harris had been curious about the young visitor that Cruger had entertained twice before. Explaining that he planned to work on documentation at home that afternoon, Harris sat by his bay window looking for anything out of the ordinary at Cruger's house. Luckily, he found it. What's with the blond kid, Harris wondered. And the accordion and the blue light at night?
Harris was cursed with the curiosity of a cat. He would not rest until he understood what was going on.
Cruger sat crouched over his accordion as he played. The notes he struck had a special warmth that night, a deep dark sound that reminded Cruger of the pounding Pacific ocean surf. The room was fairly dark, brightened only by a single lamp covered by its dark brown shade. Earth-tone light reflected off the warm, egg-shell- painted walls. He looked at his trusted, dusty old books in the large teak bookshelf as he carelessly flipped his fingers across the piano accordion's keyboard.
As he played, unbeknownst to him, babies were born, elderly and sick people died, and innumerable twists of fate and fortune ensued. Not all events were strings that were spun. Not all events that were spun were done by Cruger. The complex interplay of strings was ever changing, always evolving. Cruger would never know the exact results of his actions.
Within the next three weeks, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area. Part of the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed. The Highway 880 Cypress structure collapsed. New lives began. Medical breakthroughs were made.
A spinner in Iowa used his flour mill to do the special deed. One evening, he got into a fight with his wife over the subject of children. She wanted a large family of eight or ten children, he wanted to stop with three boys. Enough children, enough children, he thought.
He went in to the barn and began spinning. Blue threads of light ricocheted off the millstone and across the pale, straw covered barn floor.
That night, 700 miles away, a future President of the United States was conceived. A big night, even for a spinner.
A solitary spinner in Moscow sat in front of the his large wooden chessboard. Each exquisitely crafted onyx piece was an individual, telling a sordid tale of battle and emotions through their small scars resembling nicks and scratches found across their exteriors. The spinner, a Grandmaster -- only playing against himself, with this chess set, in the warm, dark room -- used the Karamoff defense; as he moved the Knight blue streaks splattered the dull plaster walls. "Checkmate," he told himself.
A man in California attached thirty-five large helium balloons to his deck chair; he wanted to see what would happen. What happened was: he floated into the sky. The air pistol that he brought along to pop the balloons, one by one, in order to smoothly descend, fell down between the chairs slats. He drifted up to 17,000 feet, waving to passing birds and airplanes indiscriminately.
Spinners could not be held accountable for everything every idiot did.
"It's close to school actually, only take a minute to get there" Tony said.
Tony wanted to show Cruger where he hung out when he was doing "company work." They got into Cruger's Honda Accord, started it up. The small engine purred like an overfed kitten.
The building was, as promised, a five minute drive from Cruger's house. Tony's office was rented space in a small office building shared by a Title Company, some Law offices, and Tony's facade business. The placard outside his office entrance read "Universal Properties, Inc."
Tony's office had a small desk sitting in the middle of the room. On the small desk was a thick blue cable weaving a circuitous path to a two-inch hole in the wall.
They sat at Tony's small, plain desk.
"We need to continue your training," Tony said. "You only got a small dose of it so far."
Tony leaned back in his office chair and kicked his legs up on the desk. "The other source of intelligent life that we know about is the Chysa planet. They are actually a totally different story than the Tvonens."
Cruger felt like a child listening to his father tell bedtime stories. But, he was no child; Tony was no parent; these were no bedtime stories.
Tony continued. "The Chysans are evidently really low-tech. If it weren't for the Tvonens, they would not have any representation on Earth or in the Company at all. No one has seen them in their real form -- "
"But you said they were on Earth," Cruger said. He had been trying to form a mental image of these people and their ways. If no one knew what they looked like, how could he imagine them?
"Yes, but what I hadn't mentioned yet is that they evidently can disguise themselves very well. I don't know for sure, but they seem to easily take on new forms or at least wear very good disguises."
"Are we talking about adding something like makeup to their faces, or are we talking about completely changing shape?"
"I don't know," Tony said.
Cruger wished he faced more absolutes, more certainties; all he could get so far were maybes.
"Then how do we know that they exist and are here?" said Cruger.
"You just have to take it on faith, my man. We have intelligence reports that say so."
Cruger wondered if these "low-tech" intergalactic hitchhikers were really so low-tech. Seemed like they had kept a pretty low profile so far. That takes a little intelligence, at least.
"Is there any sure-fire way to know which ones they are?"
"No," said Tony. "I consider that an important area for future research. Especially since many of them may be involved with the Other Company."
The words fell on Cruger like a sack of rocks. He had begun to imagine these people, or whatevers, as playful, somewhat backwards magicians. He had wanted to think of them like cute sea otters at the zoo: swimming on their backs, doing flips, and generally mimicking human behavior in a delightfully anthropomorphic way. It now seemed that the Chysa were not so innocent and playful.
"Why the Other Company?"
"That may be how they were recruited by delinquent Tvonens. The Chysa have a tendency towards deceit and magic. This, in a way, parallels the philosophy of the Other Company. You know, they are totally into deceit and trickery. In the Chysa culture, this is considered to be exemplary behavior."
"The question is, do they really know what they are doing, or are they pawns?" Cruger said.
The luminance of the color computer monitor reflected a bright and diffused image off Tony's face. "We don't really know, but, it would probably be a mistake to think that they are mindless and don't really know what they're up to. Just because they are not more technologically advanced than us doesn't mean that they are stupider than us," Tony said. "In some ways, we are really stupid. We may be destroying our planet beyond help. We have, throughout history, committed genocide. We may be the most homicidal intelligent life form that ever lived. Maybe the Chysa aren't so stupid."
Cruger couldn't disagree. In one breath, humans were aspiring to godliness. In the next, humans were possibly the stupidest of the "intelligent" life forms. Contemplating the possibilities of combining stupidity and power frightened Cruger. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. How could he, of all people -- Jack Cruger, the laid-back musician -- be involved in what was starting to sound, disappointingly, a hell of a lot like politics.
Tony gave him a computer overview; Tony had accomplished a great deal on the computer so far. When Cruger's attention and energy level began to fall off quickly, they agreed to get together again Saturday.
The next day Cruger gave his accordion lessons as usual, except an extra sense of pride and meaning filled what must have been a void in his life. He was proud of himself, proud of Corrina, happy with what life had recently dealt him. Now he was giving something important back, possibly making the world a better place. Heck, maybe making the universe a better place.
The quote, we are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone popped into his head. How true -- who had said that? James, or maybe Emerson. Little did they know just how right they were.
The engaging back-beat of the legato bass-line anchored the solid, driving blues that Cruger coaxed from his accordion. He had developed yet another new technique: he played the bass line with his left hand while reaching over and playing the melody, higher on the keyboard, with his right hand. The bellows were pumped with his elbows while both hands worked out the dirty blues in synchronicity.
Next, he picked up the tempo and banged out a respectable arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee." Corrina would like this - - too bad she isn't home yet. The other night she heard him playing "Dolphin Dance" and "On Green Dolphin Street." Was he in a dolphin mood that night, whatever the hell a dolphin mood may be? She was as surprised as she had yet been in their three-year marriage -- wasn't she the one with the stack of Miles, Bird, and Coltrane albums, while he had the most unhip of old records ("The Schmucker brothers play the Catskills") piled in their wall unit?
"Hey, you're playing some good stuff, I can't believe it," she had said.
"Well, I'm just getting into some more jazz and classical to broaden myself. Your bebop albums are pretty good after all, now that I actually listen to them. I have to admit."
She continued listening from the kitchen, not yet seeing and questioning his instrument's secret blue sparks. Next he played Bach's Toccata in D minor. Very dramatic. He finished up with a rousing version of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Cruger clacked the keys for percussive effect and even nursed a hypnotic distortion from the box, blue streaks flying. Hendrix on accordion? Maybe this is pushing it a little, he thought.
Bright and blue beyond belief, the Saturday morning sky hung like a warm protective blanket across the wide sky. Tony walked to the front door of Jack Cruger's house. Just as he heard the slightest rustle of a sound, he turned to see something large, colorful, and horrible. It was on him in an instant. Tony was thrown hard to the concrete steps. As his clothes were ripped and torn, he felt immobile, suffocated, entirely constrained and helpless.
He was punched, kicked, crushed, pinched and groped. Every square inch of his body was touched, attacked, in some way. His clothes were torn away from his body, leaving him naked, exposed, humiliated.
Tony's sense of time bogged-down to the slow-motion rate of tragedy and disaster; the entire encounter really lasted only seconds.
He lay near death, only shock and the hallucinogenic aftertaste of violence spared him from terrible pain.
He swallowed the salty and fast-flowing blood that filled his mouth. A slow calm kept him from panic. He knew to conserve energy, to hug himself tight and construct a spiritual cocoon around his destroyed body.
Faint in the distance he heard the doorbell ring inside Cruger's home. He felt himself slipping closer to that dark, cold cave that filled his mind with images of pure fear. As if a brutal joke were being played, Tony heard the thin beep-beep-beep of his digital watch alarm -- telling him his time was up? Then, as if hitting an ice slick, he slid quickly into the cold and gloomy abyss of his nightmares. He was gone.
Friday had been a lousy looking day. The foggy and smoggy sky pasted a dull gray tint across everything below it. Clouds, trees, houses, birds, and cars absorbed the depressing dull radiation and emitted a picture of impassive apathy.
A rotten day.
Saturday was different. In a climactic zone that rarely had quickly-changing weather -- Cruger's friends on the East coast saw wild weather swings like this all the time -- Saturday was a big switch. The wind blew just strong enough to clear the skies to a bright blue. The smog count was low, the conifer pollen count high. Bright sunlight tunneled through Cruger's silky curtains, illuminating small dust particles, the kind usually never seen unless the light shines through them at a certain angle.
Cruger was home washing the dishes, Corrina just having left to work. Cruger never taught lessons Saturday. Some Saturdays he would play a birthday party, Bar Mitzvah, or wedding reception. Not today. He wanted to sit and think. Pulling himself away from the regular monotonous list of duties he usually attended to, he would figure out what was happening in his life. Too much -- he knew that at least.
The doorbell rang. Cruger dried his hands and walked to the front door.
Cruger's stomach compressed into a tight knot. The horrid wake of catastrophe flooded Cruger from his toes to his fingertips. Tony lay face down on the doorstep, a puddle of crimson liquid forming around his limp blond hair.
Tony's innocent exuberance for life was gone, wasted, spilt like a child's first glass of wine; spilled like Tony's blood across Cruger's doorstep.
Cruger reached down to feel for a pulse, but, he knew the answer before he even began to bend over. The realization of Tony's death hit him; the emotional collision with an overly harsh reality demanded some necessarily inadequate dissipation of unwanted energy. Cruger exhaled loudly "No . . .my God," and then sunk to his knees, not knowing what to do.
And that sound, what was that sound? Cruger then saw the black digital sports watch on Tony's wrist, chirping its annoying repetitious chirp over and over.
Leon Harris stuck his head out of his front door. He saw Cruger doubled over in front of his young friend, who lay in an entirely unnatural position, limp armed and limp legged. Harris ran across his lawn to Cruger's front step.
"What happened?" Harris said.
Cruger's heart fluttered like a bird's; his skin was flushed from the neck up.
"I don't know," Cruger said, "I think he's dead."
Harris bent down and checked both Tony's carotid and radials arteries for a pulse.
"Yeah ... I'm afraid you're right."
Cruger reached down and unstrapped the noisy watch from Tony's lifeless wrist. Using the heel of his shoe, Cruger stomped down on the fancy blue plastic watch a few times before it was silenced. He wanted to see a spray of springs and clamps and smoke pouting out like in the cartoons, but the watch only lay there, in the stark sunlight, like Tony: beaten, broken, and wasted.
To be continued...
Jeff Zias has worked at Apple Computer and Taligent. He enjoys spending time with his wife and two small children, playing jazz with Bay Area groups, writing software and prose, and building playhouses and other assorted toys for his children to trash. Having actually been a studious youth, Jeff has a BA in Applied Mathematics from Berkeley and an MS in Engineering Management from Santa Clara University. (Bio last updated in 1992.)
InterText stories written by Jeff Zias: "Unified Murder Theorem, Part I" (v2n1), "Unified Murder Theorem, Part II" (v2n2), "Unified Murder Theorem, Part III" (v2n3), "Unified Murder Theorem, Part IV" (v2n4).
The Unified Murder Theorem will continue next issue.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Jeff Zias.