a collaboration with Jeff Holland
(published ‘Odyssey’ 1997)
A STOCKY man came to sell me a pyramid. And I tried to sell him my teeth.
Neither the stocky man nor myself were successful in selling these things to each other so we both decided to purchase each other’s product (me his pyramid, he my teeth) in exchange for purchasing each other’s product.
After the stocky man left with my teeth, leaving me the proud owner of the pyramid, I was visited by a lucky lady. I could tell she was a lucky lady straight away since she was desperate to purchase a pyramid to suit her new religion.
“That’s a coincidence,” I said with a beam, “Because, lucky lady, I have a pyramid for sale right here.”
“Is it a praying pyramid?” she asked.
“It certainly is your lucky day, Madam, because this very pyramid has the most prayers of any pyramid in the western world.”
“In that case I have a personally signed holo of the president of all five galaxies. Are you interested?”
I examined the holo and could see no sign of tampering but, what the hell, you can’t these days anyway. We bickered and dickered for a while and in the end she bought the pyramid for 17 creds and the holo. What a mug! I knew I could get at least 320 creds for the holo. People like her should stay out of the commodities market. Unless, of course, her new religion did work. I’d probably shot my bolt anyway, regardless of any religion.
I decided that was enough for one morning. No use using a week’s worth of luck in one go and I only had two more hours to fill my week’s quota.
Perhaps now was the time to get out of commodities and try something else. I looked up at the screen to see what was on offer.
It was on ‘5’ and ‘soldier’ seemed like a good thing so I applied. The officer on the screen took my number and asked how many hours I had left.
I told him “Two,” and he explained I needed at least 168.
“I don’t mind waiting.”
“Report to section three on the third day of the third month. After your duty you will have another three month’s holiday.”
I spent three illegal and profitable months in commodities and reported to section three.
I knew I’d done the wrong thing straight away.
The stocky man was a loud mouthed sergeant and he wanted to get his own back. He set the lance corporal on me, snapping his teeth like he was real and not a holo at all.
JOANNA SAT back from her creation and said.
“Well, how was it? Did it gel?”
Thomas nodded. After all, he was the man in the centre of things. He was the “I”, quickly now becoming a “he”, as soon as Joanna stopped pulling images from the air.
“The stocky man? He was full of shit, wasn’t he?”
“He may have been. Like with all commodity broking, promises of goods are worth more than the goods themselves. You can sell on a promise, then build upon everybody honouring their promise - except you of course.”
“Joanna, so his pyramid was merely a promise, like if you put a razor blade inside the pyramid, it sharpens overnight?”
“Yes, I was the lucky lady, didn’t you recognise me?”
Thomas now allowed it to dawn on him exactly what had been going on. He had actually been gulled into believing...
But what about the creds and, yes, what about the years and years he had been a foot-soldier? That’s where the promises had become threats. He had been imprisoned within a vicious circle of false ambitions, ever eager for the next bend in the square-bashing until like itself became a triangle, then a...
Suddenly he had a vision of a three-cornered hat, towering like some film star’s obsession with a UFO landing-place. It was glorious. The sun glinted off like gold, spreading divinities into every nook. There was even heat.
Tommy desperately tried to escape the reality but even the thought eluded him until Joanna turned down the power. Even then the thought was impotent.
“Let me out!” he screamed but only the roar of the UFO emerging from cloud laden sky was heard.
Joanna switched off the reality and truth came flooding back.
“That was brilliant! How long was I under?”
Three days. But I did bet you sleep for four hours each night.”
“It felt as if I was away for years. What would have happened if I’d ‘died’?”
“I don’t know. I only programmed the computer, I don’t really know what it’s capable of.”
“Well, I’ve perfected the chip receiver. I’m sure I can come up with some way of injecting it into people from a distance. Perhaps it might work in food. Hey, that’s an idea. If I can get it in the food you can make them go and get a proper injection then. They’re ours forever. How many can one control?”
“As many as you like, as long as you don’t mind them having the same reality.”
“Joanna, I think we’ve just invented the ultimate pacifist’s weapon.”
JOANNA SAT back from her creation and said.
“Well, how was it? Did it gel?”
This time Tommy didn’t nod, afraid of some perpetual motion of realities within realities.
“Yes, Joanna, the ultimate pacifist’s weapon,” he continued, risking the possibility of unknown repetitions, “but also, potentially, the ultimate warmonger’s weapon.”
“Don’t forget the visitation,” said Joanna, “that encounter of the near-infinite kind. All that cream and doughnut mixture and so forth all coned up just waiting for peaceful comings...”
Tommy shrugged as her words drifted off. He realised he had just argued against himself, yes, against his own self from a previous reality who had only been too happy to assume the best of all possible worlds, a pacifist’s world where pyramids were perfect protection from any sky’s dangers. It was as if the carefully plotted angles allowed time to slip off on all sides without touching those within. But his skull felt as if it were sharpened into a bone spike.
He and Joanna were two of the prisoners inside a circle of straw and pig-shit walls. Soldiers marched round, with their helmets pointing at the sky, soldiers who guarded the entrance (or exit) to the next reality. There was to be no escape from this straw stockade, a stockade with broken teeth embedded in it.
Soon, Johnno Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, would goose-step towards them - but Thomas smiled. Although religious holos like Joanna and Tommy were credulous enough to be hurt by name calling, they could hardly have their bones broken to make brittle wigwams for holos of Red Indians to sleep in. Something more solid was required to attain reality. The first bit had worked, worked only too well, but now both time and reality were slipping away together into a cream-and-doughnut mixture that surrounded the spiked dome of now.
“You’ve lost it, Joanna,” said Thomas, “You’re back to what you had before. It doesn’t make sense and because of that I questioned it and…”
“Dreams are not meant to make sense, idiot!”
“I didn’t know I was \ he was dreaming. If he didn’t know that, then he questioned reality and because I knew that reality could be unreal he could see through it. Oh flick! That means that you can only use it once.”
“So? How many times do you want to win the same war? Once they’re in the programme we can do anything we like with them.”
“Like you mean we can make them forget what they were doing in reality? Give them false memories?”
Joanna looked at Thomas. “Were you celibate when you were a soldier?”
“No, of course not. Not for...oh, I see, you mean we programme the enemy to think they’ve fought the war for our ideals and have actually won. It’s not what you’ve made us do but what we think they think they’ve done. There are no false memories only memories of the prog, that are indistinguishable from reality if you don’t know reality has been altered. In other words, don’t tell them.”
“At last,” Joanna said, the exasperation clear in her voice. “You just hadn’t thought about it had you? How the hell do you think all your sexual feelings were right? Not from me, I can assure you. I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s like for you to have sex. I’ve downloaded the entire Encyclopedia Galactica into the programme. It’s as perfect as I can make it except that, as you say, it’s a ‘once only’ weapon if anyone knows about it.”
“Oh, my God, listen to you. Do you know what you said? What it means is that this weapon, if that’s what you want to call it, will not work on anyone who even knows it exists.”
“As I said, how many times do you want to win the same war?”
“No. Joanna, you’re missing the point. The weapon won’t work on us.”
‘‘But we’re not the enemy.
“We are now. We only have to tell Frank next door about it and it won’t work on him either. Do you get my drift?”
The blood drained from her face as realisation dawned. They had not only the ultimate weapon but they themselves were the ultimate defence against the ultimate weapon.
That night Thomas and Joanna crept quietly, along with their knowledge, into obscurity.