The Potential Man
by Carl Ross Beideman
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
The old man twisted a dowel, opening the shades with unsteady hands. The room bathed in film-noir sunset shadow. A bar of light striped Bix’s face, his blue eyes shinning like crystals, his hairless brow unfurrowed.
Bix observed a painting of a sailboat on black background beside the window. Bix was conflicted: did the boat navigate in space or were the white flecks stars reflected on the sea? The old man spoke toward the sunset. “No better place to remember humanity than Earth. I suppose you’ll need a starship, eventually...”
Bix was listening beyond the old man’s voice. Greer’s quavering hands were conducting, his stooped shoulders with winged blades were singing of toil; his very wrinkles were orating. But how much of this storytelling was conscious? And how much did it matter whether or not it was conscious? Did the message count, or the intent?
Sifting this innumerable data was a mail-room job. Bix oversaw the process by putting markers on datum-of-concern to indicate conditional filing for easy retrieval and rerouting.
Greer’s datum-of-concern accreted into a story of want and unfulfillment, despite that he was speaking to Bix about the joy of sailing. His voice blended into the symphony of communication that was Greer, who had held himself together for humanity, Bix concluded. They were gone, and Greer slid into disease as a tired soul slides into bed.
Bix released a deep philosopher’s sigh, rose without creaking the chair and walked out. He closed the door and stood on the other side, listening to Greer gulp sweat-seasoned Scotch. A glass shattered on the other side of the door, and Bix walked away.
Bix ran his fingers along the wall. The paint felt to his microsensors like the texture of brick.
Outside, the air changed. Puffing wind carried information. Bix enhanced distant objects: Miami and Nassau. He discovered his inability to magnify the sun or see beyond the sky. The vibrancy of the world was gaudy in contrast to spartan corridors. Outside was unruly and less predictable.
He bellowed, tracking the outward expansion of ringed sound waves. He got a response. Bix traced the rings back to a second-story window. Greer.
“Bix! Put some goddamned clothes on, you idiot!” The old man dropped a wad of clothing before shutting the window and drawing the shades on the world.
Bix collected a brown hat and gray coat, fatally married, scented with pizza grease and machine oil. The coat fit his musculature. The hat was unrakish and upright.
Empty buildings. Mooring bells pealed. Animals flit in his periphery. Bix smelled charred launchpad. He walked as if he were waiting for someone. In the absence of artificial lighting, the stars winked in triumph. Bix knew their systems, their distances and composition. He scrutinized Earthbound evolution. Ignorance of the stars would be discomforting, he thought.
Howling. First, one lament. Then others joined. Bix’s approach startled the dogs, loyally engaged in their grief. One greeted the impostor. Black with a white blaze. Bix turned toward the beach. The dog followed. Bix read Arrow on his collar.
The dark, tormented ocean rose. Surge breakers lurked behind Bix like giants. He walked on grass and sand but could not appreciate their agreeable sensation. He noted traces: expectorant, tobacco, rubber, ammonia, salt.
Bix approached an unconsciously chosen destination; sub-processes aggregated, becoming intuition. Humans and robots. B-series and himself. In terms of circuitry, they were nearly identical. Humans and bonobos are nearly identical. Bix reasoned what a B-series would do with REMEMBER US. FIND US. SAVE US. It proved an arduous mental exercise.
Walking along Cathedral Square, Bix decided the B-series would discard their commands. Humanity existed now in probabilities. As they stretched further in distance and time, the odds of encounter became astronomically insignificant. “SAVE US” would be considered a joke, mathematical hyperbole. Point three repeating.
Bix browsed curio and tourist shops. Arrow followed him inside. Some were locked. Mailrooming, Bix rerouted HABIT from COMPULSIONS to DEFENSE MECHANISMS.
Arrow’s tail crashed ceramic while Bix wound a tarnished pocket watch. He held it close to his face, catching his reflection in swinging glass.
Bix left the shop. While calculating the stress resistance of the hexagonal wall surrounding Havana, the image of a particle accelerator flashed, superimposed. An epiphany. Collider City in the Holy Lands. Pilgrimage.
Bix gathered grocery-store bags of kibble and gallons of water. “Arrow.” He called the dog away from licking dumpster grease. Arrow cocked his head at the four hundred pounds of kibble stacked neatly on Bix’s right arm. He followed Bix toward the salt and fish.
Bix stood atop the surge wall and judged by wave height the vessel he would need. He scanned for storms. In the harbor were submarines, container ships and a listing nuclear aircraft carrier. Bix recalled Greer’s painting. He chose a six-hundred foot barnacled container ship that had survived the age before B-series and starships.
He inspected it fully: checking the double-bottom tank for ballast, the hull, ribs, cell guides. He struggled to prepare the ship the way an infant learns motor skills. After meticulous hours in the engine room, the motor turned over.
Bix maneuvered the rusty bulk out of the harbor. The storm-weary hull whined hollow as she rocked in the swell. Empty shipping crates were lashed across the deck in parallel stacks. Bix tasted salt wind. His coat flapped. Gulls taunted.
He steered by magnetism and barometric pressure. He noticed how fresh air affected Arrow. Sometimes Bix’s face reacted to disturbances like seawater in the eye. Sometimes he slipped on a wet deck or got cut in the engine room. Sometimes he looked at the sky, hoping the B-series would return.
Most nights, there were no stars and, the farther he sailed, the heavier the sea became. Bix sensed pressure-dropping storms on either side.
Another ship, miles behind his wake. He cinched his trenchcoat and turned the vessel. Bix tried to identify the other ship, but his archives yielded no match. “Homemade?” he asked Arrow. Gazing shark-eyed at the white ship he widened the search parameters to include spacecraft. A hit: LUNAR CLASS ESCAPE POD.
Copyright © 2016 by Carl Ross Beideman