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IN THE END, NOTHING WORKS

stanley.lieber's picture

IN THE END, NOTHING WORKS
1296 words by Stanley Lieber

In spite of his back, Thomas was up early the next morning. It hurt to be out of bed. He slipped on his robe and dialed a reasonable temperature for his bones. The floor was cold under his feet, and a draft tickled his scrotum as he dragged himself down the hallway, robe swishing freely between his legs.

Thomas found no paper on the front step.

Therefore, he reasoned, no newspaper could actually exist.

The number of people required to produce such an artifact could, quite simply, never be brought together, never be entrusted to bring such a project to fruition. Thomas dismissed the idea as self-evident lunacy. As with other would-be conspiracies, this "newspaper" business, if it were ever even attempted, would immediately run afoul of man's signal inability to cooperate effectively. The whole endeavor would end in disaster. Thomas pictured the management team showing up at the office and attempting to corral the newsmen into some semblance of order. Let's put this edition to bed, the managers would say. Sure, the subordinates would reply, we'll get right on top of that, boss. And then they would go to lunch. The whole concept of a metropolis of workers, each synchronizing his movements to the other, all in an effort to compile some grand codex of halftoned words and photographs, ostensibly a periodical source of news and information... Implausible wasn't the word. It was like something out of a liberal arts college. Thomas understood that in the end, nothing really worked. Thus it followed that no newspaper would be delivered to Thomas' door on this or any other morning.

Thomas looked down. Perhaps he was surprised that the newspaper still wasn't where it should have been. He wiped condensation from the front of his visor and planted his feet in the doorway, fixing his gaze upon the concrete stoop. Why was he there? His eyes focused on a patch of masonry shaped vaguely like a copy of The New York Times. His lips were chapping.

What...

He tried to remember why he was holding the door open, facing into the street, but nothing came to mind save for an awareness of the relentless, frozen sheets of air blowing past his face. After a while, he was distracted by the sounds leaking from inside the house and so he retreated back into the living room, where he sat down by the fireplace and started to pull on the hair that sprouted from his chin. He affected this pose often when he found himself confused.

 

Presently, Eva came in with the tea.

Distracted, Thomas regarded her suspiciously, conjecturing that she must have prepared this tea herself, not simply poured it, pre-mixed, from a jug or bottle delivered by the government truck. It would later prove that he had guessed correctly. But Eva refused to discuss her inspiration. Why organic tea? He wrinkled his eyebrows with palpable irritation and stared at her, knowing perfectly well that his tendency to interpret simple results as the fruit of complex machinations should not distract him so long that his tea would go cold. I'm being silly, he though. Next he'd be accusing her of inventing, then hiding, the daily newspaper.

He resolved not to say anything about it for now.

 

The feed to his visor had gone dark, sometime, he thought, in the past week. The boys down at the switching station had gotten so wrapped up in their chatter and practical jokes that the equipment had simply ceased to be maintained. This group of teenage boys had allowed a number of router tables to become irretrievably poisoned. Obviously, the problem had yet to be amended. Unsupervised boys! There. Blunt common sense. No conspiracy required.

Though it could have been sabotage.

From the perspective behind Thomas' visor, everything had simply gone black. Neighborhood residents were skeptical that the city's plans for replacing the youths with middle-aged housewives would yield a network any more reliable than the one already extant. The real problem was that this new technology simply didn't scale. Thomas doubted if any demographic could keep it running without the assistance of Green helper apps. Of course, that would cost money. On a related note, did the Consortium really think that these middle-aged women were going to drag themselves in to work for lower wages than they could make at home? Such mind-numbing manual labor that didn't even result in new additions to the family? Like the aforementioned "newspaper" idea, it simply didn't wash.

How the networks had ever been built in the first place was also a damned mystery. The secret had apparently passed into the realm of myth -- an area where Thomas abstained from treading. Just what had inspired Jeff Bezos to invent the 1-click interface? The world might never know for sure. To be certain, claims had been staked out by all of the usual suspects: government agencies, atheist intellectuals, et al. But Thomas knew the real score. He knew they all made up stories that weren't supported by the evidence. Anyone who made a positive claim was only covering an angle. No one knew the real history of the Green. Or, at least, he was sure there had been mistakes in the recording.

Just as well then that young people not be misled by wild tales of human beings working together towards collective goals. Might make for a ripping yarn, fine, but it just wasn't going to happen. Not that he could see. In his experience human beings were incapable of effective organization, even if sometimes his mind liked to hallucinate cooperation amongst his enemies. It would make more sense if the networks had simply grown themselves.

 

You had to market your trash to the trash men, or else they would stubbornly refuse to take it away. Thomas knew this to be true, but still he couldn't find the time to arrange his various bags and receptacles pleasantly enough to attract attention. Instead, garbage would pile up for several weeks before he'd finally be forced to trudge down to the edge of the yard, spit on the road, and go to work creating a minimally effective layout. These city trash men thought they were critics. Thomas knew full well that as insiders of the waste reclamation industry, their own garbage would never be subjected to the judgment of their peers. Instead, their refuse would be hauled off periodically, sight-unseen. Thomas resented the situation because it just wasn't fair. He could feel his hate for the double standard solidifying in his back. Why did people let them get away with this?

 

"What's up, G?" Thomas asked.

"I dunno, man. Field trip around the sun, I guess."

Thomas fingered his visor until the face of his friend came into focus. Gordon had that look about him, as if he'd just been slipped counterfeit money. (Money. Another conspiratorial delusion. Thomas was undecided as to whether this particular fiction was of sufficient utility to warrant his playing along. Convenient, since he was usually broke.)

"What are you doing to your face," asked Gordon.

"What do you mean?"

"There, your face. Why are you moving your hand around as if you were manipulating some sort of device, or making some sort of minute adjustments to your eyebrows. There's nothing there. Just that wrinkly old skin wrapped around your skull."

Thomas slipped on the stair. He felt his hip go as he struck the hard stone beneath him. He put his hand down in the snow and groaned.

"Can you help me up, please?" he said. "Damn it."

Perversely, Thomas' visor clicked on. The settings were futzed, and he could see through Gordon's pants.

 

END BOOK ONE

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