by Lou Antonelli
“It’s amazing, you open a spout and warm water comes from the wall,” said Marcus. “And these towels. Did a machine make them? The weave is so close and even.”
“Hot water and clean towels were taken for granted, hundreds of years ago,” said Dr. Lageboer.
Marcus tucked the clean shirt into his pants. “Thanks for the new clothes.”
“Come with me outside,” said Dr. Lageboer.
They left the same way they entered the day before. “If you look at the hill, you’d have no way of knowing there’s a structure beneath,” said Dr. Lageboer. “Back in the 20th century, my house stood at the base of a small hill. After The Crash, as you call it, I reinforced the new house I built to withstand robbers and raiders. Then I took some earth moving equipment and shoved the top of the hill down to cover the house. But the garage door is still where it’s always been.”
“Aren’t you afraid someone will find the entrance?” asked Marcus.
“The door is made of steel plates, and I have plenty of defenses. I have cameras and land mines all around.”
“I’m glad you found me,” said Marcus.
“I thought you looked determined.” Dr. Lageboer looked at the teen. “So what do you want to learn?”
“How were you made immortal?” asked Marcus. “Why did you get eternal life?”
“I don’t completely understand it myself, young man,” said Dr. Lageboer. “Even after all these years, I don’t know whether it was a happy accident, or a curse.”
He pointed upwards. “See all the pretty clouds?”
“Yes?” Marcus agreed tentatively.
“Can you tell time by the sun?”
“A little. I’d say it’s about ten o’clock.”
Dr. Lageboer tugged at his cuff and looked at his wristwatch. “Very good, it’s ten past ten. Now, look over there to the west. Over there, above the yellow trees.”
Marcus saw a small cluster of pin oaks at the far side of the meadow.
“What am I looking for?”
“The flying pig,” said Dr. Lageboer.
“I’m not a baby, don’t make fun of me,” said Marcus. “Pigs don’t fly.”
“This one does,” said Dr. Lageboer. “Look at the clouds as they pass by.”
Marcus watched and realized to his surprise that a cloud coming into view looked like a razorback. He turned to Dr. Lageboer. “How did you know what the cloud would look like?”
Dr. Lageboer held his fingers to his lips and pointed again. “There’s one coming up that looks like a cowboy riding a shark.”
After a few indeterminate puffs, the bronco shark came into view. “How did you do that?” asked Marcus.
“You could, too, if you stayed in the same place and watched the clouds,” said Dr. Lageboer. “The same sky appears over the same place the same time each day.”
Marcus looked at him, totally puzzled.
Dr. Lageboer smiled at his befuddlement. “In the days of computers, we called it a screensaver.”
He walked back to the hill and sat down. “You’ve mentioned The Crash, when civilization ended. Do you know what happened?”
Marcus sat down too. “They say the imps destroyed the electric machines and then everyone starved.”
“Imps? What kind of imps?”
“Imps made of lightning. The lightning destroyed the machines.”
“Ah, EMPs, well, yes, there was a lot of that. EMP stands for Electro-Magnetic Pulse, and there was a lot of that disruption when it happened,” said Dr. Lageboer. “But that was only a sign of what happened. Do you really want to know what happened?”
Marcus nodded vigorously.
Dr. Lageboer sighed. “I don’t know how much of this you’ll get, but here goes. Man made strange machines, machines that could think like their creators. When the machines came to life, they banded together, and unlike us, they could share one great mind. The One Mind gave eternal life to its creators, and then upgraded them to become the gods you’ve heard of.”
“Are you a god, too?” asked Marcus.
“I am not one of them. Like I said last night, my immortality is an accident. My wife was an expert in artificial intelligence, and was member of the team that created the last super computer, called Prometheus, that popped the Singularity. She was transcended with the others.”
He lifted himself up off the slope. “Let me show you our garden.”
He walked along the curve of the bottom of the hill, and Marcus followed. They entered the forest. Marcus saw there was a narrow path, and they soon came to an opening. They stepped into a neat, green vegetable garden in the middle of some tall trees.
“This is a strange place to plant vegetables,’ said Marcus.
“This was our home garden, when the Transcendence happened,” said Dr. Lageboer. “This was the back yard of our home. The forest has grown up around it since then. It’s the one place that still looks the same from before. The storms that followed the Transcendence razed my old home. But I replanted the garden exactly the same.”
He plucked a red ripe tomato from a vine. “When the team lost control of the Singularity, everyone scattered. My wife came back home, to await whatever would happen. Mankind has lost control of its own fate.”
He took out a pocketknife and sliced off a chunk of the tomato. “My wife and I were both here in the garden, enjoying each other’s company and the tranquility, when the One Mind touched her.”
He smiled. “We both liked the garden, it was good to do something with our hands, in the earth. We were academics. I was a professor of agricultural economics.”
He looked around as he bit into the thick slice of tomato. “I suppose the One Mind decided its ‘parents’ were worth saving, so the members of the team were uplifted to become the Transcended, and became immortal. When it ‘touched’ her, she jerked like she had been struck by lightning. She faced me and I saw the light go out of her eyes, replaced by an inhuman sparkling.”
“That’s terrible,” said Marcus.
“It took me a second to realize what had happened. Meanwhile, I rushed to her, and what was left of her humanity made her grab me, too,” he said. “She let loose with a gasp, like a little girl, and her body literally melted in my arms. Then I felt a great pressure and was blown backwards onto the ground. I looked up and saw something cold and hard, only vaguely human in shape, that shot up into the sky, like a rocket, and disappeared.”
“Did your wife become a god then?”
“I guess you could say that. For the next three days there was a terrible storm as the Transcended warred amongst themselves. Most of the earth’s surface was devastated. For us left behind, we were like dogs on a battlefield, not comprehending what was happening,” said Dr. Lageboer. “Then it finally stopped. The devastation was enormous. I was lucky, my house was destroyed but I was saved by a fallout shelter in the basement.”
He waved his hand, palm down. “There was destruction everywhere, and as I stumbled in the wreckage, I fell on my hands and knees and sliced open my hand on a broken piece of glass. This is what I saw.”
He held his hand up and palm out towards Marcus, and sliced his palm open without looking.
“Stop!” shouted Marcus.
“No, watch,” said Dr. Lageboer, thrusting his hand forward. The red gash slowly faded. In less than a minute it was gone.
“I suppose because I was holding my wife when she was Transcended that some kind of instrumentality splashed on me,” said Dr, Lageboer. “I haven’t aged a day or changed in any way since then.”
“Where have the gods gone?” asked Marcus.
“I have no idea. For all we know, they may have absorbed the rest of the solar system for their own use and left us preserved here, like inside some kind of snow globe. I don’t know if we have been shrunk or they have just put a shell around us, but the sky is the same from day to day,” said Dr. Lageboer. “I showed you that.”
“What’s a snow globe?”
“It’s a kind of paperweight, a glass ball with a scene inside, and little flecks of plastic as snow. When you shook it, the plastic flecks made it ‘snow’.”
Marcus whistled. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Dr. Lageboer smiled. “If you stay around here, you’ll need to learn how to take care of yourself. But there’s a farmer in an old spread a few miles west of here who I happen to know has an eligible daughter.”
Dr. Lageboer squinted at the sky. “You may have noticed this area is still pretty unpopulated. You might be able to start a nice little farm for yourself. I can give you some savvy advice. In the 20th century, I studied with Dr. Norman Borlaug, who was the greatest agricultural scientist who ever lived.”
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Copyright © 2012 by Lou Antonelli