_ #45 (2018/05/07)

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#45

by stanley lieber

He wasn’t Cameron, or Andrew, or Shinji, or Carmine, or Stan, or Daisuke, or Daisuke’s boss. He wasn’t even himself. He knew that now. It had all been built up, on top of him, to provide him with a framework in which to answer the questions they wanted to ask.

The interrogation never ended. The interrogator never left. The questions were always still being asked.

He tried to remember each phase, the details, but already it was all slipping away. How was he supposed to tell the interrogator what he wanted to hear when he couldn’t even keep track of the construct used to pry it out of him? It was all he could do to respond, at all. He simply didn’t know the answers.

Let’s try again: Cameron and Andrew, dead. Shinji (sorry, Carmine), dead. Shinji... he didn’t know. Stan, back at the Post Office (unless he was at home, or out on his route). Daisuke, doing some job for his boss. Daisuke’s boss remained a mystery.

He was pretty sure that he had gotten all of that right, but there was never any indication of how the interrogator was taking what he was saying. Just more questions. The cell door would creak and he would be alone again. The cell door would creak and he would have company. After a while he stopped trying to distinguish the two states. To him, it was all the same.

Geo sat on the floor.

The frame dissolved.

Plot concludes.

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new stripes by mitch trale, used without permission.






_ #44 (2018/05/07)

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#44

by stanley lieber

He was given full run of the half-pipe for one hour a week. Privileges could be, and were, revoked over the slightest infractions, perceived or otherwise. He was never explicitly told the rules, but he was able to piece together a working definition through a process of trial and error.

Back to his cell.

They were trying to convince him he was someone else. They would ask the second person questions about the real him, get him talking about himself in the third person. Cute. He wondered what they really wanted to know. At some point he decided that he was not going to give it to them. Immediately, his life took a turn for the worse.

No more skating for Geo. They’d broken him down, built him back up again without the desire to skate. His new focus would be the mission. Because of this new configuration he wouldn’t even miss it. Besides, with his pending workload about to explode, there just wouldn’t be time for hobbies.

His thriving business likewise fell away. All that remained, all that he could see his way clear to think about, was the mission.

Details of which arrived presently.

And it was all too much. The data dump overwhelmed his ability to file the incoming bits. He couldn’t perceive, couldn’t interpret. How was he supposed to secure the objective?

He attacked it like a skating problem: plan the approach, gauge his time in the air, figure out where the wheels would touch the ground.

Skate the gap.

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_ #43 (2018/05/03)

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#43

by stanley lieber

Geo wasn’t certain when the interrogation had begun. Searching his memory it seemed that the interrogator had always been there. He strained upwards, craning his neck toward the aperture centered far above his head. Save for this solitary shaft of light, the tall narrow cell was completely devoid of illumination.

Geo felt around on the floor, his hands trailing through damp puddles. He realized now that he had wet himself, maybe several times.

How long had he been down here?

Always?

The interrogator was apparently taking a break. Geo used this opportunity to get his story straight. Whatever this was about, Geo had had nothing to do with it. It would be easy for him to sell this explanation because Geo honestly had no idea what he had done.

Had he in fact done anything?

The cell door creaked.

Day after day he kept track. He gave up trying to count after he noticed that he’d filled every available surface with marks. It seemed to him now that the only life he could remember was his life in the cell. His only friend was the interrogator. Was this how they’d planned it? With him able to recall only his captivity? The interrogator asked questions that pertained only to his previous life. At this point Geo just didn’t know.

What if the interrogator was himself? Geo had approached this most prickly proposition several times, but the environment always colluded to distract him. What could it be they wanted him to tell himself that he didn’t already know?

The cell door creaked.

Geo was led outside, into an implausibly bright, sunlit half-pipe, seemingly constructed to competition standards. The guard issued him a blue plastic skateboard with chunky yellow wheels. Geo just didn’t get it. What was he supposed to do? He rubbed his eyes.

The guard withdrew, locking the exterior door behind him.

Geo was alone.

"Skate," his little voice said.

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_ #42 (2018/05/02)

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#42

by stanley lieber

    PERSONAL INVENTORY

    - I don’t fall down.  Others shatter against me and fall down.

    - I am not hurt.  I feel nothing at all.

    - I don’t know what any of this means.

Geo felt that there must have been a reason why he was chosen as the custodian of these remarkable powers, but he had no idea why someone like himself should have been chosen.

It didn’t matter. His schedule was full of meetings and he didn’t have time to think about it. He’d shoulder the burden and sort out the philosophical questions when he had a moment of spare time. Which would be never.

It was funny, he realized that this was the decision he was making, even as he made it. Call it a rare moment of honesty with himself. He terminated the inventory.

He’d think back to that original costume sewn while watching TV. Had some random show or commercial influenced him? He supposed that this was a general question rather than something specific to the context of his career as a super-hero. To be honest he couldn’t remember most of the shows he had watched back them. Busy with his work, he had only occasionally glanced up at the screen.

The modern version of his logo had, of course, been modified from that original design. Let’s say streamlined. It served well enough.

One of his minor annoyances was constantly being asked to explain the symbolism. Why had he chosen the American flag motif? As if it should need to be explained. He guessed that it did. And so he would suggest that it had all been a joke. This usually worked. His interrogator would laugh, wink at him, and then move on to something else.

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_ #39 (2018/04/30)

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#39

by stanley lieber

Of course, no number of boards would ever be enough. After his bedroom was full he began stacking them in the garage. This drew complaints from his mother, who aside from the space considerations also had questions about some of the deck graphics. Geo promised to get rid of (some of) them.

This led to his part-time business buying, selling, and trading skateboards. If anything, it only exacerbated the problem. Now he also needed a large work area where he could package up and label the boards. His mom gave up complaining when he started paying for his own food and clothes.

Geo’s best customers were his friends. They had made fun of his super-hero costume, but now it had become a sort of group mascot. He devised a logo based on the costume and had it made into a rubber stamp for marking the bottom of the decks he sold. It was popular with his friends.

Presently, Geo’s biggest problem was that he was getting bored with skateboarding. Not the business. The business was fine. But with skating itself. He told no one about this crisis of faith, and the profits continued to pour in.

When Geo finally gave up skating it was for health reasons. His knees, his back, his hips; none of them were working as well as they used to. It made him sad, but what was he supposed to do?

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_ #38 (2018/04/27)

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#38

by stanley lieber

Geo was patriotic, sure. He had integrated the flag into his costume. Beyond that, he tried to stay out of politics. People just couldn’t get along. He tied the flag bandana around his head to signify that freedom was ever on his mind.

Other constituents of his costume included: football pads, cleats, fingerless gloves, rock t-shirt (stretched and ripped by the pads), loose-fitting cargo shorts. He figured that just about every interest group was represented, somehow, in his ensemble. At this age his view of the big picture was necessarily somewhat constrained.

"America first!" hollered Rolly, as Geo faceplanted, shredding his American flag do-rag on the pavement. His friends found the costume amusing. "These colors don’t run," Wheels observed, as blood from Geo’s fresh wound stained the solemn bandana. "Oh, say, can you see?" asked Kickflip rhetorically, gesturing to Geo’s predicament. On and on in this vein. The comments eventually trailed off as it became apparent that the joke had run its course.

The fact was that no one believed him. Every time he had contrived to demonstrate his new powers, some interruption would occur, like the cops rolling up on their spot, or someone’s mom calling them home for dinner. Even he had to admit that it all sounded like bullshit. But. Ever since he skated that gap something was different. He couldn’t feel pain. He couldn’t feel much of anything. Also, when he was on his skateboard, he could fly.

Like, in the sky.

Ultimately he decided to keep it to himself. No one had believed him anyway. He’d tried being honest but none of his friends had heard him, almost as if they couldn’t perceive the idea. From now on he would proceed under a cover of secrecy.

But... what was there to do? From whence, and to where, was he proceeding? And how would he get there?

First of all, he had to get a new board.

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_ #37 (2018/04/26)

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#37

by stanley lieber

Geo’s plastic skateboard had been a gift form his father. He didn’t want to be seen riding it in public, but it was all he had. The plastic had ablated as he cleared the gap over the nuclear reactor(?), leaving only the now very hot magnesium trucks, which also promptly melted and fell away. Geo wasn’t sure what to think, and he was never quite sure how he had made it to the other side.

Gaining access to the facility had been easy. All he had to do was wait in the parking lot of The Cellar until it was time for the usual Friday night delivery of seventy-five-odd pizzas. He crouched in the bed of the delivery truck under some boxes, then, while the driver unloaded the order, he snuck through the temporarily open gate.

Once inside there were numerous options. Geo skated several small outcroppings before he discovered a large concrete mound that terminated in an attractive gap over... what was it, anyway? You know what, who cared.

It took a few minutes for him to work up the courage, but that gap was calling out to him. Not audibly, don’t be ridiculous. He could see the jump unfolding in his mind. He knew exactly how to handle the approach. He only hoped that the inferior construction of his plastic board was up to the task.

It all happened more or less as he had imagined. Except for the part where his board melted. Geo didn’t know what to think about the fact that no one had challenged him the whole time he was on the base. Eventually he ran out of steam and climbed back over the fence, then hitched a ride back into town.

The next day he knew something had changed. When Matt went to "trade punches" with Geo by hitting him on the arm with his fist, Matt broke his hand. "F-fuck, George," Matt had said. In response, Geo punched him through a wall.

Being a super-hero was shit, and Geo didn’t adjust to the change in lifestyle right away. He designed a costume for himself one day during study hall. He had no idea what to do with it, so he ended up wearing it to skateboard.

It was a bad decision.

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_ #36 (2018/04/25)

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#36

by stanley lieber

RIN

"I am strong." Daisuke’s mind smashed through itself. He was ready.

PYO

"I am me." Daisuke discerned the light. It was bright.

TOH

"It’s okay." On this day, Daisuke gave a shit. Really.

SHA

"I am healed." Daisuke went through the motions, contentedly.

KAI

"I know what you’re thinking." Daisuke gulped. The words were stuck in his throat.

JIN

"You don’t know me at all." Daisuke was sure. Right?

RETSU

"I know what I’m doing." Daisuke’s third eye opened upon a curious vista. He focused.

ZAI

"Words I manifest." Daisuke performed a freestyle vocalization.

ZEN

"Now I’m nothing." Daisuke’s face drained of color and he climbed down off of his desk. His last day at the office would leave an impression. The operator withheld comment until Daisuke had taken his small box of belongings and vacated the office. At which point he turned in his swivel chair to gaze down upon the city, whispering to himself, "What was that all about?"

There was no one left to respond.

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_ #35 (2018/04/24)

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#35

by stanley lieber

The boy on the skateboard had attracted attention not because skateboarding was inherently interesting, but because he had wandered into a restricted area. The operator decreed that his progress should be monitored indefinitely, even after he left the restricted area. Daisuke worked out the details and the surveillance was commenced.

This kind of thing was becoming more common. The operator would fixate on some random civilian whose activities obviously contained no intelligence value. But the record would be created. After all, orders were orders. From time to time Daisuke would catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, and, wouldn’t you know it, it was all there. He guessed that the operator really did know what he was doing. Summaries were the purview of a totally different department, so each time he caught a glimpse Daisuke would shrug and shortly forget all about it.

He thought back over the last few years and tried to remember how long he had been working in the office. It was no use. He gave up.

The collapse of his conception of history had been gradual, and he hadn’t noticed it happening at the time. The shape of his thoughts now flattened into a schematic view of a singularly focused event: present time, present day. He checked all his connections and everything seemed to be in order, but there was no orderly progression from A to B, no sequential coherence he could discern in the arrangement of constituent parts, only a continuous, everlasting moment that always seemed to be happening at the precise instant he attempted to observe it. He felt dumb. Was this heaven?

Moments later he was distracted by a comment from the operator. He was obliged to laugh.

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_ #34 (2018/04/23)

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#34

by stanley lieber

No, there would be no New Era. Daisuke dropped the pretense he could return to his old life. Japan or no, he was much too busy with each day’s fresh batch of problems at work.

The operator had moved him to a desk inside his own office. Sitting there, watching his boss breathe, Daisuke found it difficult to concentrate on his work. It didn’t seem to matter. The operator liked having him within earshot, just in case he decided to say something that required an immediate response. Daisuke had faced more challenging work in the past.

Much of it was listening to the operator talk on the phone. He spent a lot of his time chatting with one particular fellow, Slate, or Snake, or something like that. Very deferential. Totally unlike the way he spoke to people in real life. He could only imagine what the other guy must have been saying during all those calls.

Daisuke worked in the office for five, maybe six years. He began to forget what it had been like in the field. The moment-to-moment hustle and bustle conspired to grind all the reflection out of him. He was left with a smooth, matte surface. Blank. By the end of each day he wanted nothing more than to lay down on the floor and never get up again. That, he imagined the operator covering the phone with his hand and saying to him, could be arranged.

Daisuke had begun corresponding with former employees. One in particular, a man named Stan who had returned to his previous job as a mail carrier, had become a good friend (or at least someone who would answer Daisuke’s frequent letters). From Stan he gradually pieced together a clearer picture of the events that had taken place shortly before he was hired. Daisuke was surprised at what he learned.

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_ #33 (2018/04/20)

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#33

by stanley lieber

Daisuke did not particularly miss the business. In recent years the demands on his time had become a nuisance. None of the trappings, none of the people, were essential to his purpose. The operator provided him with direction. His internal monologue ceased.

When a ticket came in he would place it in TAKEN status, then consider the best way to respond. Often he did not need to leave his chair. The operator’s organization had established a policy of minimizing unnecessary travel. He only left the compound when circumstances demanded manual intervention.

One such situation obtained. Daisuke started his mission, exiting the compound and affecting travel via public transportation. He browsed a magazine to pass the time. Once the bus arrived at his stop, Daisuke resumed the street and hiked on foot to his destination. He found that the mechanical aspects of his present employment agreed with him. Every modular action fitted snugly alongside the next. No daylight was visible between modules.

At the end of his employment term Daisuke decided not to re-up. He still found the work agreeable, but perhaps it had distracted from his ongoing goal of gaining access to the Japanese market. In the years since he’d surrendered control of the day-to-day operations of his company, little evident progress had been made. It figured.

At any rate, the boss was back.

"I’m the boss, I can be late," Daisuke announced at the inaugural board meeting of the New Era.

No one present disagreed.

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_ #32 (2018/04/19)

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#32

by stanley lieber

It was a dumb way to think about it, but the signs were all there. The operator’s orders were coming from inside his body. Daisuke knew the setup well: interpret thyself.

He examined his motivations and realized that he’d already traveled some distance towards sympathy with the operator’s goals. Yes, he would follow this thread. The operator’s mind opened to him and he extracted the required information. On his way out he left behind the patterns that would attract the attention of the god. Careful...

He boarded his corporate jet, headed for New San Francisco. These days he traveled light, taking with him only what staff would be necessary to facilitate his mission. And what was that mission? Daisuke wasn’t yet sure. This was no way to run his business but it might yet yield the results he was after.

Once he arrived in New San Francisco he traveled by motorcade to the operator’s compound. The single file line of cars was bound to attract attention, and that was intentional. The operator would know he was on his way.

"I’m here about the job," Daisuke said, maintaining eye contact with the operator even as he settled into the plush leather seat in front of his desk.

"Ah, yes," said the operator.

Arrangements settled, Daisuke retired to his quarters. Thirty-six hours until he shipped out. He reviewed his orders and then tucked them into the secure pouch he carried on his person.

It had been a long day.

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_ #31 (2018/04/18)

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#31

by stanley lieber

Daisuke’s marketing plan was to franchise the skills he’d learned as a child. He preferred married couples for the stability they brought to the finances of his schools (the lazy occult symbolism was never discussed). Candidates could train for their own trips to Japan while simultaneously operating cram schools targeted at students further down the chain. Everybody got what they wanted and the money flowed uphill.

He didn’t ask for permission. Whatever the license holders in Japan might have preferred, this was America: freedom of speech!

Graduates of his program valued their investment, and tended to supply public relations gratis, effective at roping in yet more of the kind of people who sought out this sort of thing. Inside of a decade he had taken the operation global.

Except for Japan. There remained the question of who ultimately owned (or rather, controlled) the intellectual property. Daisuke had no solid claim on his style save for his improbable success. The Japanese had never tried to monetize the material overseas. To his way of thinking this meant that what he was doing was okay. For the most part, so far, the courts had tended to agree. But he wasn’t comfortable that the tacit arrangement would last if the Japanese started to raise objections.

He had to find a way back into Japan.

Back when he had been working contract hits for the Americans he had been hired to understudy for an aging, but unusually reliable operator out of New York. It turned out that he had never had to step in, but he had taken notes (strictly against protocol) on the operator’s Japanese connections. Searching through his notebooks he located the entries he remembered jotting down. The operator had moved freely between New San Francisco and New York, and pretty much anywhere else that he wanted to go. This lack of paperwork was ostentatiously suspicious, and Daisuke had made it a point to follow up on the item and find out what was going on.

What he discovered made his jaw drop. The operator was being manipulated directly by a god.

This could help with Japan.

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_ #29 (2018/04/16)

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#29

by stanley lieber

Daisuke gave up on giving up. He got out of bed and went through his junan taiso fitness routine. His calves hurt. So what.

It kept coming back to the money. He had to get out of Japan. He remembered suddenly a friend of his brother’s, Carmine bin... something or other, whose cousin lived in America, and ran some sort of charity for those too poor to fend for themselves. He supposed that he fit into that category, and wondered if the charity could assist him. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

But he wasn’t speaking to his brother. He had no idea how to reach Carmine... whatever his family name was. Another dead end.

It would be several more hours before anyone he knew would be awake. He decided to study his English School supplements. He skimmed the videos at 10x, defeating the purpose. Nothing stuck in his mind. He could only observe helplessly as the sense data skittered into and out of his consciousness. He couldn’t muster the will to interpret, or retain, or reflect.

After an early breakfast he walked to school, reciting in his mind the rhyme of the week.

    God damn

    Another fucking payback with a twist

    Them motherfuckers shot but the punks missed

It sounded better with the music. Daisuke had memorized the whole piece, for whatever that was worth. The other students didn’t seem to like the material, but he was like, whatever; it scanned.

He checked his messages for work. No alerts. Twice in the last week he’d booked a job only to have it canceled at the last possible minute. Of course, he still had to pay the fees. It cost money to make money, which seemed perverse.

It started to rain. Daisuke pulled on his hood and hailed a cab.

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