In his office at the shipping firm, Mr. Dio was cleaning out his desk. The top was clear except for carbons of trucks requisitioned and drivers hired. In the bottom drawer, he paused to cynically access all the bottles he had accumulated. Hard to believe the organization had let things get this far. Quite openly, he had asked his secretary to call drivers, carbon the requisition lists, and make location point maps showing each man where to dump his load of dust. She had done everything without comment, except for one pleasant remark that the drivers seemed a goodly crew. He had let her leave early for the weekend. By now, the drivers all had their instructions, pay in advance, and suggestions for dumping procedures to be used at various bridges, depending on localized construction techniques. It was only a matter of hours now before…
Mr. Dio took his bottles by the neck and placed them neatly in a plastic supermarket sack, mildly annoyed that it had no steadying cardboard bottom. He checked his office for personal effects and found none. In the beginning of his corporate life there had many photos and objects. Gradually, that changed. He lived so long in so many offices the very atmosphere became as comforting as a home without the necessity of decoration. In fact, he had come to resent any intrusions into the indigenous office ecology; the personal touches of plastic frogs or onyx eggs. Even his apartment resembled the anonymity of his office. It bore none of the homey touches of compromise. White lights reflecting off white walls bore out the motto hung in his reproachless nursery: UTILITY IS BEAUTY. Always conciliatory, never anticipatory, was the way he had lived his life. NO MORE COMPROMISES, he thought with conviction Sandy had not inspired. At the end of his career, he could clearly see his origins in more than the spider ring incident. Obscure childhood memories were vague clues to what a certain character might choose for his fixation. He was the man he was born to be.
Psychology was barely adequate. Mr. Dio picked up the bottles in the plastic sack, turned out the lights, and closed the door of his office. He proceeded down the hall to a side door marked EXIT and descended steps into the alleyway in back of the building. There, with caring precision, he proceeded to smash each bottle.
The Anarchist met Wayne at the door of the shop. “We’re changing our laser mode.”
Wayne wrote his objection: THE HELIUM-NEON TYPE IS THE CHEAPEST. After he showed the Anarchist the note, he knew he should have said safest. Lately, economy had lost its priority with the Anarchist. Boxes had been arriving daily to the shop.
The Anarchist held out a pinkish metal rod, as if Wayne’s note didn’t exist.
“Pretty, isn’t it? Aluminum oxide sapphire with five hundredth percent chromium, why it’s pink.”
“More powerful, too. One mm kilowatts. Let Sandy say we’re ineffectual, now.”
The Anarchist held up a glass cylinder and some sheets of tin. He talked about “oscillators,” pointing out the place the bazooka shell would be fitted with tin reflectors. He indicated where the ruby rod would be held in place, and how an arc lamp would charge the whole thing.
It was this “oscillator” mechanism which worried Wayne. It was supposed to alternate the pulsing waves of the laser. But the mechanism seemed very makeshift, even for a workshop model.
SAFETY DEVICES, Wayne wrote, HAVE YOU CONSIDERED…
The Anarchist held his hand up to the pad for Wayne’s attention. In it he held a box bearing an address in Plainsville, New York. Inside were two pairs of gloves and goggles. Wayne tried on a set and awkwardly wrote: IF THE LASER WORKS, DO YOU THINK THESE WILL BE SUFFICIENT?
“You’re a pessimist, boy!” the Anarchist smiled. ”If the mess explodes, we just run like hell was in back of us!”
Wayne didn’t like it. He liked it even less when the Anarchist showed him the glass cylinder which went inside the black bazooka. It was beyond him to speculate how the cylinder would fit inside, how the Anarchist would secure mirrors on either side of the weapon case. What was a bazooka meant for anyway? Dictionary definitions always made Wayne feel secure. He reached for the Webster’s near the printing press and read: BAZOOKA:
l. A crude musical instrument made of pipes and a funnel.
2. A light, portable shoulder weapon consisting of an open-breech smoothbore firing tube that launches armor-piercing rockets.
The definition was less than enlightening. No drawing illustrated the original appearance of a bazooka, and he couldn’t imagine what an armor-piercing rocket was. Wayne would have to trust the Anarchist’s ingenuity at adaptation, the same ingenuity with which he had obtained a genuine ruby crystal for the laser. From his own research, he knew the value of this type of laser; a peak power of one to one thousand megawatts. They would need it. Laser weapons functioned best in the vacuum of space, where beams could not be blocked by clouds or objects within the atmosphere. Still, how it would actually function at six A.M. at Federal Hall was beyond his calculation. The Anarchist might laugh, but Wayne would like to know just how they were to control the pulsing of the laser.
I DO NOT KNOW SPECIFICS ABOUT THE RUBY RED LASER. DO YOU HAVE AN OUTLINE?
The Anarchist handed Wayne some Xerox sheets newer than the Times’ helium diagram. The heading of the first sheet read:
PROJECTION POINTS FOR RUBY RED
1. Excitation energy will be derived from a xenon arc flash lamp placed in a highly reflective housing so as to focus the lamp emission on to the ruby red.
2. The pulse of the normal mode laser output is, in the first approximation, about equal to the length of time that the xenon flash lamp would be excited.
3. The duration of the current pulse in the lamp is determined by the time constant of the inductive cap which derives the flash lamp circuit.
4. Two types of safety precautions have to be taken: against electrical shock and against laser radiation. The first type involves disconnecting all the electrical sources furnishing current to the laser system. The second is concerned with preventing exposure to a laser beam by looking directly at its reflections. All systems have to be grounded with safety interlocks. The tube is in danger of imploding if damaged or cracked by rough handling.
NOTE: Laser beams are 10,000 times brighter than the sun’s rays and much more hazardous. When a beam of radiation from a laser is absorbed by living tissue, the extent of the damage caused is dependent on several things– the energy level of the radiation and the type of tissue, wave-length of the radiation, and the time of exposure to the radiation.
The Anarchist picked up the other pair of goggles and tapped the lenses under Wayne’s nose for attention.
“The human eye,” the Anarchist lectured, “is most vulnerable because it is not clothed. The tissue in the retina is particularly susceptible to damage, because the lens of the eyeball concentrates and focuses the laser beams on the retina. These goggles are the best!”
Wayne inspected the manufacturing label: BROOMER RESEARCH CORPORATION MANUFACTURERS OF PRECISION OPTICS, BEAM SPLITTERS, REFLECTORS, AND COATINGS.
”The ruby rod with the flash-tube trigger electrifies from the reflector. It’s really very neat.”
Wayne read on, unconvinced by the Anarchist’s precautions and enthusiasms and distrustful of his own fascination with the Ruby Red’s potential power.
5. In a 3-level laser, the method of obtaining population inversion between the middle and ground state is somewhat inefficient. Very little of the electrical energy, which is supplied to the flash lamp, ends up as pumping photons. Carefully designed reflectors around the ruby rod are essential. The intense pumping flash is brief, and care must be taken to prevent it from overheating. Continuous pumping is possible if the device is cooled in liquid nitrogen.
Wayne wrote: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS AND THE HELIUM SYSTEM WITH THE COOLING ACTION, I DON’T GET IT.
The Anarchist crumpled Wayne’s note with an impatient gesture.
“The helium is a 4-1evel system, we’re dealing with a 3-level, which is much simpler. All the elements are contained. The ruby rod is surrounded by the spiral of the flash lamp, the trigger electrode, and the reflectors on either side of the cylinder. Simple.”
RIGHT, Wayne thought in large letters, reading down the page with increased confusion.
6. Voltage amplification is accomplished by an oscillation mechanism, which converts the DC voltage to a pulsation–pulsating in a direct current and then magnifies and feeds the high voltage to the flash lamp when the trigger mechanism is activated.
7. The ruby rod is about 1 centimeter in diameter and 15 centimeters long. When this ruby rod is illuminated by a high-intensity lamp light, such as that from a photoflash lamp, the rod fluoresces with a pink color. The fluorescence persists as long as the photoflash light persists. This is not a laser radiation, but an optical characteristic of the emitter, which is made of aluminum oxide (sapphire) coating. In laser radiation, the ends of the ruby rod are highly polished so that light can pass through almost without absorption.
Wayne wrote a note: I’M GETTING IT NOW. THIS LAST ONE MADE SOME DESCRIPTIVE SENSE.
“Good. Then while you’re reading, you can polish this thing. Learn by doing and all that.”
Wayne held the rod between his legs and took the finely-grounded metal dust that the Anarchist handed him and a pair of gloves. He began to rub the points of the rod.
8. A mirror is placed at each end of the rod and aligned perpendicularly to the principal axis. When the rod is illuminated with an intense photo flashlight, it emits a fluorescent light which reflects back and forth between the two mirrors with an increase in intensity. The phenomenon, known as light amplification, is produced by the oscillation of the ruby light with an optically resonant cavity formed by the rod and two reflecting surfaces of the mirrors. The light in this resonant cavity is known as a laser.
9. If the flashlight illumination (pumping) of the ruby rod continues for a few minutes, the energy cumulated within the rod will be so great it may crack or shatter into pieces. Accordingly, the laser energy must be removed as fast as it develops in the resonant cavity. The removal of the radiation from the resonant cavity is accomplished by making one mirror 100% reflective and the other mirror partially reflective. This allows some of the laser light generated within the resonant cavity to pass through as a laser beam of the same diameter as the ruby rod.
Wayne read no more. For the first time, amidst his murky conceptions of the weapon, he had a glimmer of what it was. He sat down on the unused press-bed stunned by the immensity of the weapon. He was joined by the Anarchist, who was exceedingly happy that the miscellaneous pieces of equipment would soon be united.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE IT OUT?
“Easy,” the Anarchist said, ”I was a wiz at fixing the fridge, and the telly, and…”
Wayne waved his pad, YOU ARE KIDDING.
The Anarchist looked at Wayne with no small self-doubt.
“Don’t know that I have. Still, it’s only words! Any printer knows words have two dimensions: what they mean and the space they occupy. That’s all I had to know.”
Wayne regarded the pieces to be assembled with new excitement, if not comprehension. The contraption was clever. It would appear like a hand-held missile launcher, but fit between their two shoulders, held in place with two long, black shoulder straps. It would look, on the street, like an old WWII bazooka. The Plexi-molded cone at the head masked with a rubber nozzle would allow it to pass as an art object. Inside the apparatus would be the glass cylinder and the ruby rod in the center surrounded by…Wayne halted his enthusiasm, suddenly realizing that the whole project was active madness. His research, the Anarchist’s enthusiasm, they were facets of a “can-do” ethic rendered wildly inappropriate. He would stop it, tell the Anarchist…
Well-coated in his black suit, with firm hands and total concentration, the Anarchist set about his task. The diagram might be simplistic, but the time was tight. He placed each object on the work bench in order of assembly and ceremoniously signaled Wayne to take a place by his side.
There were mystic overtones to the Anarchist’s solemn, relaxed rhythm. He placed one object next to another in acts of perfect faith. Wayne couldn’t stand the suspense, the timetable, and the Anarchist’s obtuse ideology. He would confront him if he didn’t get some hard explanations; statements of purpose, at least. He stared unseeingly at the Anarchist’s diagram. The ideology was clear, though he had ignored that. Its form was imprinted on his memory.
Memory that played tricks, like now, when he was desperately trying to anticipate the Anarchist’s next move. All he could think of was the Llama, Sandy, and the AG. Though the Llama’s squad must have located him, he remained free. Maybe, Wayne speculated, the Llama had taken his report at face value and gone after Sandy. Yes, that was it! They would leave the basement and find their creation completely purposeless. With the Phoenix exposed, his remaining tasks would be to comfort the Anarchist and reunite him with the AG.
The idea that the laser would never be used soothed Wayne and steadied his hands. By second nature, he anticipated the Anarchist’s gestures and allowed his mind to wander to the AG. Unaccountably, for something imagined, his image of her was very vivid. She was at the club, very tired and distraught. If she didn’t contact him in another night, he would risk searching for her. Why hadn’t she been in touch? She had read him easily enough in the past, why not now? Wayne calmed his feelings of estrangement, allowing his thoughts to glide with his hands over the objects the Anarchist was assembling. He was soon calm enough to visualize the AG again.
Her dancing was rhythmically way off. She was heavy footed, strained, and unable to escape her immediate time-frame. It was awful to watch her try and suffer. Caught in her go-go cage, she was terribly aware of the stupidity of the act. Wayne could barely meet the pain in her insistent eyes.
“Where is he?” she asked, haunted.
”What do you mean?” he asked with a voice inside himself, despite the fact he was mute.
”Where is my Anarchist. You were going to watch over him. Instead, you’ve helped Sandy and encouraged him to a place from which he cannot return to me.”
The AG’s perfect mouth remained unchanged by her grief. Wayne kissed her mouth, as a tender statement of his own innocence. The point was well-taken.
“I’m sorry,” said the AG. “It’s confusing not to be able to tell what’s going on. I didn’t mean to accuse you, really. It just happened.”
Wayne no longer saw the stage, but the atmosphere of the dressing room. He could smell the sweet creams and acrid sweat. He could almost feel the greasy blotches on the wall. He took her hand and found it tangibly in his.
“I am watching the Anarchist,” he said, “but you must help me. Go the Pan-Am Building after Sandy is gone. Fix what she’s started. I’m hoping it won’t be necessary, but I won’t know until tomorrow. Neither will you. It won’t be easy to get there, AG! There will be dust everywhere!”
“You will watch the Anarchist?”
”That’s why you must go to the Pan-Am Building, there’s no other way I can be with him, all the way.”
“But, I’m not sure what you mean…”
“The postcard! I sent one for you. Come see…”
“You’ve been waving thin air at me!” the Anarchist said, slapping Wayne lightly on the wrist. “Pay attention, please!”
The dressing room receded from Wayne’s inner vision. He attempted to mask his preoccupation, but needn’t have bothered. The Anarchist was very excited. He placed the curved coil of a flash tube on the press. He raised it upright and played with a wire.
“This is the trigger electrode. I’ll wrap it around the coil. That other thing you’re holding goes inside this lamp. It’s beautiful. Let me show you.”
Wayne, fascinated and frightened, moved off the press bed. The operation, he reminded himself, would never get off the ground. It was too ridiculous. He sat cross-legged on the cold floor of the shop, sorry for the Anarchist, who was dragging out a grounded electrical cord. After some minutes, the coil of the flash lamp glowed strangely. In the dark, Wayne sat watching below the press bed, looking upward. He felt the marvel of a crude giant observing a miniature spaceship.
SALVATION BY THE AG
The AG was so upset, she left Joe’s Place without her customary refusal of Joe’s offer of a ride. She left the club oblivious to her surroundings and entered the subway off Pearl Street, heading toward Houston. The train was empty except for two teenaged boys with roadrunner haircuts and ‘50s dress suits. They reminded her of Wayne’s obscure rock’ n’ roll postcard, which she thought she might have understood. Poor Wayne, she thought, hiding made him terribly self-conscious. She could not decipher the mystery of his whereabouts from the card, but something of his presence had come through. She had been in her cage, trying to enter her trance state with little success, when she felt the grainy atmosphere of a strange storm lit like Christmas with red and green colored lights. Her cage was the vortex of that storm, and she was somehow at the command of someone else. Wayne had visualized 3D and given her a message about Sandy and the Pan-Am Building, but it was all very ambiguous. She found herself ambivalent about this vision, wondering if it were an active outgrowth of her suspicions of Sandy, or a genuine communication. The element of doubt made her twist and grimace, overly aware of being isolated in a lonely train at an hour too late for safety.
The AG changed from the LL to the Lexington line since it was a nicer train and went directly to Astor Place. It was a familiar change, made strangely noisy by her hyper-awareness of the rat-a-tat-tat momentum of train on track past the station, plunging into a tunnel, turning a cavernous angle just before a red or white light suddenly appeared on a dim or brightly lit platform, reflecting off orange plastic or green wooden seats. She could feel every twist and turn teasing the long track. Anxiety made her catch herself in the faces around her, in the stances of bodies vying for inches in the car — in the odd cage that moved so electronically through space encased in heavy glass.
At Spring Street, the bored voice of the conductor announced, ”Will the guy playing doorman please let the doors close so this train can leave the station?” The doors open and shut several times, but no one appeared to hold them back. The cabman, apparently satisfied, resumed the ride past stops the AG could easily anticipate. She got out at Astor Place as the conductor announced the train had inexplicably become an Express. Passengers going elsewhere were to wait for a local. In an infinitely tired voice he added to invisible adversaries, “Please don’t play doorman! Let this train move!”
A boy, about twelve the AG guessed, jumped from the train onto the platform. He looked in his element, dressed in tight black jeans and a red satinette baseball jacket. An archivist of the subways, the AG fancied after noticing a spray gun barely concealed under his jacket, someone who knew the ages and origins of all the different trains. The boy was playing. He made a dodge over the yellow safety line and back. A friend in a blue satinette jacket rounded the corner from a trash dump. He dared him, saying, “Walk the edge, you can do it!” The boy teetered on the edge of the platform, enjoying his friend’s approval, before the rushing wind blew him onto the track, scrambling to climb out of the fetid gulley.
The AG leapt onto the track. The skirt of her hot pink costume under her arm was a bright dot in the engineer’s window. He saw it, thinking, that ain’t no beacon, knowing he had only a few seconds to react. Luckily, he had not gotten stoned at a party hours before. He was no longer irritated by the MTA’s wage scale. His reaction time would be okay if he decided to act quickly enough.
The AG knew death in the form of the train would painfully snap the threads which bound her to her body. She balanced one leg on the rails of the track, the other in the muck between. The boy said, “Say, babe, you crazy to come in here, let me help you get out…” The AG never laughed at bravado, she thought the comment was cute, especially since he could not touch the platform with his short arms. The AG tapped into the engineer’s mind set. Though he had forgone the Senegalese marijuana offered him earlier in the evening, he had taken enough methedrine to stay up the whole night. Speeding down the track, it was hard for him to judge distances. He was pure, high speed motion.
The boy’s worried friend lay prone on the platform, extending his arm.
“Chas,” he said, “you got to get out of there, man.”
“No joke,” said Chas. “I’m going to be the first human pancake.”
Slippery with the oily muck, Chas tried to boost himself over the rail and up the wall of the platform, but he wasn’t long enough to reach his friend’s hand. The AG saw how it could be done. She was a small woman, but she knew the way to use her body as a stair. A foot on her knee, a grip on her shoulder, and a quick leap to the platform would be possible. She made herself a bridge between the two boys as the red light of the train drew closer. Chas panicked, slipping off her knee, crying, “We’re dead!”
It might be true, the AG thought. The engineer’s sensory state made him want to ride the tunnel into infinity–he had lost all sense of self in the sensation. She had to make him stop. She had to make him realize infinity did not depend on speed. With a mesmeric voice, she injected a few thoughts into the Engineer’s mind.
“Do not rush, you may miss things. The time-space continuum is filled with unique phenomena. You will never be in this part of it again. This planet travelling through the universe will never pass the same star cluster, the same meteor shower. There are orbital shifts, but the voyage is never through the same terrain. You exist on one part of the spinning planet. I’m in your path. Have you ever seen me before? SLOW DOWN AND LOOK!”
The engineer focused on the shiny pink dot of the AG’s costume. What or who, on this deadly boring night, was sending him a message? It wasn’t methedrine paranoia, he decided, since the object was visible. If he wasn’t loony, it was a UFO in his subway. He slowed down his car just in time to see the AG’s ascent to the platform. Chas hit the platform a yard from his friend’s outstretched arm.
“Some angel,” thought the engineer of the AG leaping lightly onto the platform.
The AG saw his startled reflection through the window of the cab, knowing she had indeed entered his consciousness. She had experienced another’s essence, which was also her own, in the way she believed all people had souls. The message from Wayne, she decided, must also be real. She would not contact him, but wait until it was time for her to go into action—go to the Pan-Am Building and see what she was to do. She felt a small satisfaction that her ability was still in evidence. Sorrow and awareness of evil self-interest had taken a toll on her otherworldly self, but she remained, helpfully, the AG.
Chas and his friend stood shyly on the deserted platform trying to think of some way to thank the AG. He held his hand out. “Say, babe, even if you’re nuts, you got nerve.”
“They might be the same thing,” the AG grinned. “Can I borrow that?” she said, pointing to the spray gun on the platform.
Chas’ friend was annoyed. “How do I know if you run fast enough? You could get a few years for this.”
“You have any pink paint?”
“Look, lady, that train’s still here, and isn’t it late for you to be out?”
The AG took the gun, though it was filled with lime green paint. She sprayed a line parallel to the yellow one on the edge of the platform.
“What’s that for?” Chas asked.
“Safety. If you cross one, you don’t have to fall over the edge. There’s always the other.”
WAYNE AND THE ANARCHIST ON WALL STREET
At four A.M., waiting for the Lexington Line, Wayne and the Anarchist held the bazooka between them and hoped the damned train would arrive before a curious cop. They knew they looked suspicious, and worried that a delay increased their chances of being trapped underground by the dust dump at six A.M.
Train, come already! Get here! Wayne thought, annoyed at himself for forgetting how infrequent they were at this hour. He lit a cigarette from a pack he had bought as underground barter (cigarettes were always good tender for general info). Wayne was not a smoker, but he fervently wanted the old smokers’ superstition to prove true, that a lit cigarette was sure to bring a train post-haste.
Wayne and the Anarchist didn’t communicate beyond one man shifting more of his burden onto the other. The other redistributed his weight until it was his turn to shift. In this way, they passed the time, each alone with his thoughts. The Anarchist bewailed his foolishness in not investigating the trains available at four A.M. Wayne wished the Llama would stop the dust dump. He also persecuted himself for failing to prevent the Anarchist from building the laser.
The train that finally rattled to the Spring Street stop with one headlight missing brought much relief. The engineer, ready to speed down to the Brooklyn Bridge, had opened his doors at the last possible minute when he spied the two men on the platform. He noted the WWII bazooka and the two loonies with it, wishing the conductor wasn’t at the front of the train working his way down. The skinny kid with the spiked-out pompadour and the ghoulish older guy could mean trouble. They looked like stupid rock ‘n’ roll, sci-fi, end of the world flicks. From experience, the engineer decided he hadn’t seen anyone on the 4:15 train. It seemed the safest bet.
It was a clean dawn on Wall Street. The swept streets were still, except for the sea wind tumbling an evangelist’s forgotten straw basket, a fast food flyer, a discount clothier’s poster, and a bank receipt. Wayne noted these items with a sense of history heavy in his arm, he and the Anarchist carrying the laser lengthwise between them. Wayne felt alive with the immediacy of a passing tabloid headline.
The Anarchist’s vision was definitely catchy. It had influenced Wayne over the enthusiastic weeks of research and assemblage. Wayne, the passive recorder; Wayne, the would-be protector of the AG, had been converted to the Anarchist’s cause without understanding it. He got Food for Vendettas, but the laser was a symbolic gesture of what? He saw himself carrying this bazooka clad laser to tumble–a founding father, in reality an ignored figurehead of an ignored museum? Damn Denotational Analysis, imagination, personal sympathies, and any other idiocy which had led to this situation. The root of the matter was that he MUST stop the Anarchist, for the sake of the affection he bore him, for the AG, and for that odd sentiment–patriotism. The figurehead might be the most he recollected from grade school, but he had to save it, the mystique of heritage. What else was left of the elementary facts?
Who was Washington? A farmer, a politician, a soldier, a statesman? A spirit of egalitarianism, maybe? Wayne knew he had no idea who George Washington was, but he had a clear idea of the Anarchist, who was trying to destroy the symbol of revolution in himself. A self-effacement ritual to end his rebellious struggles to come to terms with his world, obliterate the contradictions d his life. Wayne believed in contradictions. In a wave of epiphany which went with the sunrise, he realized he believed in contradictions in nature, in national consciousness, in individual personalities. He might not understand how the full circle of seeming contradictions meshed in life, but it no longer mattered. He had a sense of the wholeness of the world and would stop the Anarchist for love and life.
Walking down Wall Street, the Anarchist perceived the gray-rose light as that of a shooting squad on an execution morning, not unlike the one he had been exiled in on a boat so long ago. It was again a morning of nemesis. He could almost imagine the mean goddess taunting him with his extravagant pride, fate and punishment. She held out a strong drink, a cup of megawatts travelling at the speed of light. The Anarchist shook off the doomful vision. The laser WAS necessary for political, not personal reasons. He didn’t have much time left to execute it, either. AFTERWARD? (The question arose despite his resistance.) Escape with the AG was no longer possible. No refuge existed for him. Anarchy didn’t mean chaos, but self-government in the highest sense, no directives from higher-up. Washington knew that.
The Anarchist put the bazooka down on the steps of Federal Hall, easing Wayne’s part of the load. He took a look at the water and decided drowning was definitely a possibility. Still, in his heart, he couldn’t bear the risk of another boat picking him up and taking him somewhere else to live a useless life. The Anarchist believed in utility, but of an eccentric sort. His usefulness as a printer and farmer had never been sufficient. His definition of useful was probably closer to essential. Of what real use was his existence? The concrete mundane usefulness of his occupations did not contradict this feeling of inadequacy. He had fled a terrible war and offered clean vegetables. The only act which would resolve his life was the one he was about to execute.
The Anarchist saw Wayne’s fear in the shaky way he erected the tripod for the weapon. The Anarchist straightened it easily, it was of his own design. He smiled encouragement and heartily remarked, “She’ll be at the Pan-Am building by now.”
“THE AG?” Wayne signed, unthinking.
“Sandy,” the Anarchist answered, perplexed, wondering how the AG had arisen in Wayne’s mind. How did he even known her name? “The AG’s home asleep with her fair self, I trust. We must hurry, Wayne. Soon the storm will be upon us. But gently, there, we’ve a dangerous charge.”
Within the dull black bazooka lay the bright ruby rod surrounded by reflectors. Wayne had helped the Anarchist empower the rod with the flash lamp the night before. Even through the optical company shades, he had been impressed with the coiled lamp. The rod within it glowed and pulsed with energy, but how was it to be regulated? The Anarchist wasn’t sure if the alternating device would work evenly, or at all. It was to control the force and direction of the laser waves, but was so crude Wayne couldn’t imagine the rudder-like device would register such minute shifts.
“Move the tripod closer to the statue and steady it,” the Anarchist ordered. Wayne stood the tripod within a few feet of Washington and rested it on a parallel step. The Anarchist hoisted the bazooka onto a horizontal position on top of it. He opened the box from Plainsville, New York and ceremoniously handed Wayne his goggles. Wayne looked as if they were alien items.
WHY BOTHER? (It won’t work he wanted to say)
“Wayne, put them on!” the Anarchist insisted, excitedly putting the elastic band around Wayne’s head. ”We haven’t a moment, ya know!”
Wayne shook his head to indicate he didn’t understand the Anarchist.
“Don’t play dumb now! I know you get everything!”
Wayne wrote: I ONLY PRETEND TO. PUT ON YOUR GOGGLES.
The Anarchist was too tall for Wayne to force the elastic around his head. He placed his foot on the step above Wayne and reached for the manual lever. Wayne caught him around the ankle and sent him sprawling on the hard marble steps.
The Anarchist, blood on his mouth, jerked upward to the laser and threw the manual lever down. At an instant, Wayne knocked him aside and hurled the head of the weapon down onto the step. The Anarchist threw his arms around Wayne to send him after the weapon, when both men noticed nothing had happened.
“NOT A THING!” he groaned. The Anarchist’s fighting hold became a tragic embrace. He broke loose, approaching his dud of a mechanism as if it were a false shrine — defying his dead god to do anything, wanting to see the real light of the laser.
The beam pulsed suddenly, strange and strong, instantaneously dissolving two steps. With no apparent alternator function, no hands on controls, the laser had a life of its own. It. swiveled crazily on its step, dissolving the base of the statue three steps above Wayne; then the statue itself, which toppled headlong to the bottom sidewalk on Wall Street. Wayne pulled the Anarchist out of the statue’s way, using his body to cushion the impact of another fall.
“Where are you? I cannot see in the pain…” the Anarchist said, his face against Wayne’s. Wayne felt the lips move, but had no way of answering. He turned his head. Through the black glass of the goggles, he could see the thin beam of light cutting dents in marble, searing the air. 186,000 miles per hour, he thought. Does it kill long distance? Wayne crawled, legs first, out from under the Anarchist. Using arms and elbows, he inched his way, crawling toward the weapon. A good kick was all it took to send the bazooka down all the steps. He couldn’t hear the crack of the glass cylinder, but thought he may have done the job.
Wayne found the Anarchist. He put his arms around him, holding his head against his chest. He was happy, glad they were unhurt, as he watched the bright explosion dissolve the sidewalk in front of Federal Hall.
Pain was all the Anarchist uttered. His retina was destroyed. He lay long against Wayne’s chest, deciding he had died.
SANDY IN ACTION
At three A.M., Sandy woke up with a swollen eyelid, wondering if it were due to a bug bite, an allergy, or the beginnings of a fatal disease. This last worry amused her, especially when she considered the nihilistic content of this morning’s activities. Sandy settled on delayed Rose Fever as the cause and took an antihistamine resting into the subtle fog of half sleep. She could afford to relax her internal analysis procedures for a while. The Anarchist and Wayne were already progressing to their site, laser in tow. All other aspects of the Phoenix were in operation with the exception of herself. She had to be at Ad-A-Live at four A.M., so there were a few minutes to spare. Sandy used the leisure time for reviewing information Ralph had compiled under the heading: PROJECTED IMPACT REPORT. He had identified the stages:
1. City Hall frequently fears that some kind of terrorist group is in operation. International organizations with local ethno-religious affiliations are the usual suspects until further information is uncovered. There is also, simultaneously, the suspicion that an organ in the Federal system may have enacted the operation as a demonstration of the incompetency of the mayor or the city government.
2. The PHOENIX, which is not totally unanticipated, is operating at a disadvantage. Still, if it is executed swiftly, it may be very effective. Not only is the city’s communications network faulty under normal circumstances, but the police are spread out over a wide area. These systems will be fragmented by the nature of the PHOENIX. Strong winds will add to the commotion.
3. Local shows and national satellite broadcast systems will be dark. Still, the satellite systems will be the first to recover. They will use the word “situation,” designate the PHOENIX as an incident, not a crisis. Disaster in the vocabulary of local politics would be considered alarmist. It would also qualify the city for Federal funds, though such an ”unnatural” disaster would be questionable. “Situation” is comforting, since it means something capable of being contained. I recommend we pirate network communications and project a specific image, like our cornucopia poster half-charred, reading: FOOD FOR VENDETTAS.
4. This image will identify our organization, our operation, and the scope of our influence. Disaster will then be appropriate terminology, no matter what satellite programming may designate. Especially if we make our media strike before they recover capability. We will then achieve the historical status of “disaster,” invaluable for our intentions.
Sandy put aside the report. It was time to get dressed. She located her fatigue pants and camouflage shirt and put them on, relieved by the security of habit. Cost, availability, and general convenience had been the reason for her purchase of a wardrobe of combat clothes that had, ironically, become very fashionable. Today, they were immeasurably appropriate. Sandy found her jacket and zipped it, surveying the city from her rooftop just once before she departed for the Pan-Am Building.
A carpet of crisscrossed roofs were laid out below her. The Phoenix, like the shadow of a big bird, rattled in a lone truck on a tiny side street. Sandy could make out one of her trucks, a dump rental, filled with fine Arizona dust. The truck could emit, she estimated, a cloud about four feet high with an immeasurable circumference. She could perhaps estimate the effusive circles arising from all the trucks under the Phoenix’s wing, but such an activity would not be cost-effective. After sighting the truck, Sandy descended to the street. She knew it would be a good day.
The street in front of the loft was too quiet as she exited. Much interrupted construction was in evidence. Cranes had clumsily knocked down parts of buildings. A gargoyle from a cornice almost tripped her, but she didn’t slow her stride. She would witness her event taking place. In a city of construction accidents, a country of technical failures, this was a planned incident that would succeed, no matter how it concluded. The fact it would take place was sufficient for Sandy’s satisfaction. She had expected to feel triumphant this day. Instead, she felt the unsettling conviction that she was a tyrant. She had known this before, but never been shocked about it. There was no time for such weakness. The solution was an all-night diner and a good cup of coffee. Then she would tackle her task at Ad-A-Line. Butterflies were for ingénues. She had been around the block.
The greasy spoon was very adequate. It was the kind of Midtown place that rarely served anyone’s mother, but wasn’t isolated enough to attract the really rough trade. At this hour, with businesses still closed and disco-dwellers downtown, Sandy had the place to herself. No one bothered with her but the one-armed Greek who refilled her cup each time she slid a quarter over. They understood one another.
Sandy went over the list of stations that would have power failures at six A.M. Duncan had helped her install a transmitter onto the board at Ad-A-Live. She would be the only show in New York City. Sandy had prepared her statement and was sure of the content, if not the appropriate time of delivery.
The statement declared the PHOENIX to be an alliance of non-aligned, nonobjective interests gathered together to point up the imminent destruction of the world, because of the faulty cleaning apparatus built into guided missiles. Sandy hoped that her operation would change her deportation orders to extradition. She wanted the city planners to consider the effects of short-term planning that had resulted in faulty cleaning apparatus. She wanted the world to consider how something as miniscule as dust could clog a city.
At four A.M., on schedule, Sandy had exchanged the greasy spoon for the comfort of her dark switchboard. She had two hours before the dust dump and her broadcast. Sandy brought out her map of the operation, the giant collage of flesh and geography. Motivation and desire, she thought, sounds like a supermarket romance. Yet it was real and she had plotted it!
All the pieces were in place. Sid’s ladies with Georgeanne in charge, rode the freeways to waylay officials. The Anarchist and Wayne were on Wall Street with the laser. Mr. Dio’s trucks were rattling to their dump sites. Vendettas volunteers with their backpacks were stationed at the spokes of the mandala to aid pedestrians and redirect motorists. Everything was in order. She had even arranged for Ralph to release her speech at a certain time, if she experienced a communications foul-up. His tape was good broadcast quality.
Sandy didn’t care, she admitted to herself, if Mr. Dio’s message came across, or the Anarchist’s. Who cared about missiles or the sacred nature of political icons? It was going to be her banshee voice on the air. Sandy, the mysterious lady behind the boards, the nihilist in love with negative potency. This operation was a kind of grisly compensation for her own deprivation, her own alienation from… remorse? Sandy felt a crisis upon her. Was there a cultural precedent? Medea and other femme fatales were insufficient, maybe later after their atrocious acts, not before. She hummed a bar of “Pirate Jenny,” deciding to make herself a context; a collage of reality. She took some old magazines from a stack under her board and began to cut out representative figures and place them on her map in appropriate positions.
An image of a girl from “Oui” magazine served the West Side Highway quite pornographically. A priest from a homeowner’s ad was easily substituted for the Anarchist on Wall Street. Mr. Dio’s trucks: MayFlower, Ritter, Mr.Softee, were easy to find. A child from a Prudential ad served for Wayne. When she finished her collage, she wondered if she should represent the AG, but superstitiously decided against it. She hadn’t seen the AG for a time, and wanted to keep it that way. It had been necessary to split up her relationship with the Anarchist, but she didn’t enjoy the changes in the AG’s face. Sandy had made her choices and was proud of them, but she couldn’t stand the deep bags under the AG’s eyes; the haunted vacancy that had replaced otherworldliness. Hopefully, the AG would sleep through the dust storm.
Sandy dismissed this sentiment for her collage. Self-actualization had become reality! Realizing her excitement bordered on hysteria, she put the collage away and calculated the next step in her part of the operation. Mr. Dio was to call from the Sherry Netherland Hotel. He would signal three times and hang up. This would mean his end of the operation was synched with the Vendettas crews.
The third time he rang, before he could hang up, Sandy plugged into the line full of impatience. “Mr. Dio!”
”Sandy, I didn’t expect to talk to you in person.”
“How are things going?”
“All fronts are synchronized, if that’s what you mean. The trucks are in position and readied at GO.”
“Great. Your message is represented on my tape.”
“What exactly are you saying?” he said, displeased.
”That wasn’t part of the deal,” Sandy reminded Mr. Dio. “You gave me total control, so I don’t need your approval.”
“I’d like to know what you’re going to say. It’s my statement as well.”
“Generally speaking, I stated this was a nonobjective demonstration underlining the real dangers of missiles and the absurdity of our safety balanced on something as inexact as Arizona Dust. The costs to the city will alert the nation to its real concerns.”
Sandy paused, listening to the reaction of air. Mr. Dio had hung up. She must have been less than reassuring. But what did he matter? The PHOENIX was more profound than any of its parts. She had transcended her own limits with competent megalomania.
Sandy seized a cord and called Duncan to give him the okay for the station black-out. True to his word, he used his considerable technical means to jam frequencies. Sandy watched the first clouds of dust float by her window in the Pan-Am Building, while a few existing lights were extinguished. Power failure. Everything was coming apart by plan. What Sandy didn’t plan was that Zeke had made it to the ninety-eighth floor of the Ad-A-Live headquarters past the wheelchair-bound vet who served as her guard. Zeke opened the door without knocking and faced Sandy with an outstretched cheesecloth for only a brief, necessary second.
MR. DIO AT THE SHERRY NETHERLAND
Mr. Dio looked aimlessly out of his hotel room. It was four o’clock at the Sherry Netherland. He went into the bathroom and took a glass from the cabinet. The medicine cabinet was empty except for one other glass. It was wrapped, like Mr. Dio’s, in a special paper wrapper, which signified that it had been hermetically sealed for hygiene. Mr. Dio peeled off the wrapper and held the glass in the light, interested in perfection. A globule had formed on the side; Mr. Dio was more fascinated than disgusted. He thought of analyzing it by isolating its components. He tilted the glass in different directions but there seemed to be nothing unusual about it — nothing he could readily identify. Did it come in all the glasses? He examined the second one. The wrapper was the same, but the glass inside looked spotless. He put the two glasses side by side.
Which was the pure, which the impure? Ostensibly, Mr. Dio mused, the glass without globule, but not necessarily. A maid might have breathed on it, or a dishwasher or the hermetic machine might have coated the glass with a thin layer of silicone that remained uncured. The globule might actually be a condensed purifying agent and not ordinary saliva. In any case, it represented a flaw, a snafu in the process, which somehow seemed significant to Mr. Dio. He put the precious glass on the sideboard with care. It was a special object, individual, and almost a relic.
Mr. Dio, early in his career, had designed precision ways to test precision devices. The “perfect” glass defied the rationale of reasonable doubt. He took the glass from the sideboard and held it to the light. The globule appeared to have evaporated to a smaller size. Otherwise, the surface of the glass was even throughout. Mr. Dio held it up to the light, enjoying its lovely reflective qualities for several seconds. His warm breath condensed in patterns on the surface before he crushed it with his hands.
He was surprised the glass was of fine enough quality for him to shatter it. He looked at the cut arteries, at his streaming hands, and saw no gesture of failure. Death was, after all, an anticlimax. This night, Mr. Dio looked through the windows of the Sherry Netherland with an objective. He would die.
The night lights were out all over the city. It was dawn and Sandy had blocked out communications; the dust was dumped. He watched the sky lighten as his blood drained into a clean towel. He was pleased his life wasn’t flashing before his eyes. No thoughts of past guilt or feelings of past happiness prepared him for the cessation of life. No childhood Freudian memories purged his psyche, no Jungian reconciliations brought him full circle with new knowledge of prenatal universal meanings. Mr. Dio’s thoughts centered on Sandy and the nature of the devil. He recalled some early Christian ethics, writings of gnostic mystics, Dionysian cults. All these theologies seemed beyond the point. Evil was the flipside of good. Death didn’t fit into either category. Despair was more to the point. Despair was always an antisocial act.
Long before he met Sandy, he had declared the terms of its expiation. The cause was rooted in failed expectations, a life of unfulfilled meanings. Mr. Dio was a man caught passively negotiating change. He had loved a hometown sweetheart but let her marry someone else, a fellow comfortable with life happening around him. Occasionally she sent him a postcard from her home in Los Angeles. He never answered her silent question. Why did he abandon her? It was easier, he thought, somewhere he could never acknowledge or say to anyone.
Mr. Dio’s suicide was not only an act of despair or disillusionment. He had carried his meanings inside himself, away from experience. Unfulfilled, he had no story to tell. Mirth, his own, uncensored, filled his being. At sunrise, Mr.Dio lay in a black lounge chair with a smile of beatitude on his face, Buddha-like, infinitely amused, if not joyous.
BLACK-GUT /THE OFFICE MAKES THE WOMAN
Out her kitchen window, the AG saw pigeons under the eaves of a neighboring roof. One sparrow-like bird landed heavily on the AG’s windowsill and shook its wing, dispersing a puff of yellow dust. Leaden with the stuff, the bird could not fly. The AG leaned out the window and picked it up, holding its wings still, its bill out of pecking distance. She calmy held the frightened bird, until it too was calm, and carefully sponged-off its caked torso. Freed of its burden, the creature wanted flight. The AG placed it back on the sill and opened the window, hoping it would not plummet.
Unfortunately, the bird’s lungs were filled with dust. It hobbled unsteadily over the chasm under the eaves, between the sill and the nest. The AG’s breath ceased with apprehension as she watched the bird’s leg and wing attempt coordination. The bird flailed a brief second before it plunged. A wild burst of forward motion aborted the fall, and the bird attained the safety of the sill, unconscious. The AG thought it might die. She could feel particles of dust choking it internally. Though she had done all that was possible, her empathy for the bird’s condition had not diminished. Its very helplessness mirrored her feelings earlier that morning.
She had not gotten up, as her body dictated, nor had she slept as her mind craved. Instead, momentous images flashed through her consciousness. She had entered Sandy’s time-frame for the PHOENIX. Trucks dumped dust, communications lines were down, arteries leading into the city were clogged. The AG had to stop Sandy. She would go to the Pan-Am Building in obedience to Wayne’s message. The directive was clear, though the lay-out of Sandy’s plan remained a mystery. The AG could see the city through Sandy’s eyes, but she could not access her thoughts or physical whereabouts. After several minutes of this limited insight, she pulled back to the loft and the small bird barely breathing. She visualized a tiny vacuum cleaner, miniscule suction tubes used to clear mucus from a newborn’s nose. The AG looked around the loft, found a shiny white fabric in a basket of scraps. The rest, she remembered fondly, had been twisted into an aerodynamic hat. The scrap had enough bend to wrap around a lollypop stick. Her breath was a fine vacuum, sucking dust from the lungs of the limp bird and, at intervals, spitting into a paper cup. If he survived the shock, she thought, noting his rapid heartbeat as she put him in a shoebox, he would be all right. She placed the box by the window.
Outside, pigeons huddled under the eaves away from the dust. The AG realized the whole city was coated with the stuff. Were people dying? Would a simple handkerchief at the throat be sufficient? The AG closed the window and crossed the loft to her costume bins. She selected the mask of a Balinese warrior, because the mouth was hollowed to a round “O” shape. She taped acetate squares to the eye slits and attached a vacuum hose to a small skin-diving tank that was filled with oxygen. The Anarchist had used the tank for welding, but she guessed the oxygen was okay to breathe. The bizarre gas mask might even work for a while.
The AG put the mask on and zipped herself into her reinforced jumpsuit. The plastic had ventilation holes, which she decided posed little risk. The important factor was that the plastic was not porous. Another important thing was the strength of her psyche. She must be strong enough to remedy the mess and somehow save her city from complete disaster.
The streets were strange. Dogs jumped from bank to bank, as if the dust drifts were innocent snow. People cupped closed hands over noses and mouths. Out of half-mast eyelids, they furtively saw the shape of the block. In this way, the AG trudged from the Bowery to Astor Place, from Astor Place to Grand Central Station. She listened to tapes from various black box radios carried by cheerful teens elbowing their ways through the gritty subways with cries of “Cool dust!” The AG had been hoping to hear news, but had no such luck.
She discovered at Astor Place that the subways were not running. An amused youth told her of underground parties, taking exceptional interest in her Balinese warrior mask. The AG, thinking him too acquisitive, decided to risk an aboveground trek to the Pan-Am Building. She walked slowly, breathing with control, not wanting her small oxygen filter to clog before midtown. It was an efficient Japanese filter made for machinists, but insufficient for the dense dust particles filling the air. The AG was careful to slow her breath and pulse after the initial adrenaline propelled her hastily to Astor Place. The plunge of her energy level was potentially dangerous because her ESP was providing no compensation. That power had become as undependable as her Anarchist and the careful world they had constructed together. She would have to rely on her conscious will, no matter how undeveloped that faculty.
The AG concentrated on just walking, no further than three feet at a time. Then she would pause for rest and introspection inside the dark interior of her suit. Today, she thought, ‘beauty, mystery, and wonder, are not my priorities. I seem to be pulling inward to some dark base–some platform of iron I didn’t know existed. Can I forge myself into a new creature? In this way, the AG conjured the strength she would need to fight Sandy’s machinations. What, besides this horrible trek to the Pan-Am Building, would she need to do?
Absorbed along these lines of thought, the AG didn’t see the elderly woman stuck in the gutter, her body rooted between dust and garbage. The woman, amidst her struggles, cried she lived in the streets, but never in the gutter. The AG heard this, somewhat muffled through the converted Balinese mask. She knelt beside the woman, balancing her body, clumsy in the suit, against a pile of compacted dust
“Rock, please,” the AG said, ”slowly, a little more to the left every time, and we’ll create some momentum. We’ll knock the dust out and create air particles between the molecules and…”
“OOMPH!!” said the woman as she suddenly dislodged onto the street.
The AG helped her into a comfortable doorway and went on her way, pleased that conscious will could be effective.
A half hour later, the AG found herself burrowing horizontally to the entrance of Grand Central Station–a dusty battering ram. The inside of the station was intact. Even the down escalator worked, though the air (without her tank on) was more than a little stuffy. The AG removed her mask, which drew no comments from the permanent transients, the only inhabitants of the station. They shuffled indifferently from the waiting room benches to the restrooms and back. The AG, assuming the station had an emergency generator somewhere, wondered if a guard had remained to operate it. She wanted to know the extent of the damage done by the dust and whether the Pan-Am Building was open or not. The clock read eight when the AG questioned a transient about the electricity. It seemed the generator had been found by another waiting room habitee, a former electrician. Still, her informant insisted, it wasn’t the end of the world, just a detour from reality. The AG thanked the unidentified transient, and replaced her mask and tank. She would need maximum energy and protection for her ordeal.
The escalator from Grand Central into the Pan-Am Building was not in operation. High as a small mountainside, the empty escalator provided an eerie means of ascent. At the top, the AG walked past an Urban Banking Center, looking for the side door of the Pan-Am Building, which Wayne had referred to in his visualization.
TICKA- TICKA- TICK-A-TICK … No sooner had she located the side door and a working elevator, when a vicious-looking man in a wheelchair raced straight at her. The AG’s waning powers weren’t sufficient to inform her why he wanted to run her over. Still, her physical courage was undiminished. The AG left the elevator door open until the chair was within striking range. She appeared paralyzed but quickly moved aside and let the chair smash into the rubber edge of the steel-cased door.
“Are you the welcoming committee?” she asked the stunned man, whose T-shirt bore the words “FOOD FOR VENDETTAS”.
The Vet spoke harshly, “Look, I’m paranoid, but I don’t kill needlessly. What’s your business here?”
“Oh,” said the AG, removing her mask. “You must know my Anarchist and Sandy if you know FOOD FOR VENDETTAS.”
“What is it to you?”
“I’m Sandy’s roommate.”
The Vet realigned his wheelchair so that it propped the elevator door open.
“What are you doing here?” he asked with less menace.
“Relief,” said the AG. “She’s been on this shift too many hours.”
The Vet wheeled his chair into the elevator and pushed the button for the ninety-eighth floor.
“Neat,” said the AG, “you know where the room is.”
When they reached ninety-eight, the AG tried to wheel the Vet, but he refused her attention. Turning his chair on “motor”, he raced down the hall to the door which read: AD-A-LIVE ANSWERING SERVICE.
The AG could feel in her sinus cavities the chloroform with which Zeke had saturated the cheesecloth. He had held it over Sandy’s nose and mouth. The AG began to choke from the sensation, very nasty.
“Sandy’s been drugged,” she said to the Vet.
He rammed the door open with his chair, but the gesture was superfluous. The door swung open easily. Sandy’s chair was overturned. Her map and cutouts were scattered over the floor. Several curved cords were in disarray on top of the board. The AG stroked her hair in a bird-like manner. Inwardly, she was affecting order out of disorientation. She would need such order to act.
“Who are you?” asked the Vet. “How’d you know what happened? You in on it?”
”The Anarchist’s Girlfriend is what I’m called. It’s obvious Sandy must have been kidnapped. There is evidence of a struggle.”
The AG could see the Vet was very suspicious. She wanted to mitigate his feelings and let him know how much she respected his loyalty to Sandy. She looked into his being and realized he simply wanted her to tell him who she was and where she got her information and relieve his anxiety over his poor job performance. After all, it had been his duty to guard Sandy.
“I’m psychic,” the AG said. ”It’s a political kidnapping, and the organization had prior knowledge of Sandy’s whereabouts.”
“What are you here for?” the Vet asked, wanting direction.
“To finish Sandy’s plan. Does this mean anything to you?” she said, indicating the collage, which she had retrieved from the floor.
“Dunno,” he said. “She never told anyone the whole story. I’ll track her.”
“Do that, and if you run into Wayne Niebold, tell him where I am. No one else!”
“Sure, Wayne Niebold,” the Vet said, wheeling out. ”Good luck with the board.”
Sitting before Sandy’s board, the AG could feel the darkened skyscrapers, the choked subways, the impassible streets, and the panic of the stranded, hard urban people familiar with temporary inconvenience and permanent disorientation. Delayed trains, housing hikes, job firings, divorces, shootouts, brown-outs, and torched neighborhoods were often handled with enviable equanimity. New Yorkers were familiar with such events from vicarious or personal experience. Still, a dust storm suddenly imposed by a group of alien terrorists was an event few were acquainted with. No one knew where the dust originated, and the jammed information networks were not forthcoming.
Without picking up one cord, the AG could hear the speculation chaotically filling the city outside the boardroom. Was the dust dump a tactic fostered by the Russians to heat up a refrozen war? Were the causes extraterrestrial? Was the dump a promotional campaign for a new movie that passed the limits of sane advertising? And if the latter were true, who in the city government had issued the permits? Still, behind these possibilities, largely ignored, was the fear that the dump was a nationwide event heralding a takeover by a terrorist organization.
These and other speculations circulated in the paralyzed city, anarchic without the controlling illusion of its media outlets.
Before the boards, the AG isolated the short waves that carried this chaos in its alternating particle-wave structures. Gathering her remaining paranormal abilities, she visualized the shapes of these molecules. Then, in a distancing exercise, she imagined herself and this crisis displaced in the time-space continuum. She learned that Sandy had really been convinced that cultural anarchy developed into a new kind of order if allowed to build momentum toward total destruction. Beautiful, she sees beauty in destruction. The Anarchist’s name? She heard without understanding– nihilism, narcissistic nihilism, said with a sneer on his face. He hated Sandy. The AG looked into the heart of her Anarchist but saw something else. Floating across his face were the words of an article that had yet to be written: THE PHOENIX WAS TO CATALYZE THE REPRESSED ANARCHY PRESENT IN THE URBAN STRUCTURE. THE RELEASED FORCES WERE TO COALESCE INTO A SELF- GOVERNING, DECENTRALIZED STRUCTURE THAT WOULD NOT BECOME AUTOCRATIC. STABILITY THROUGH SELF-RENEWAL. GROWTH. FOOD FOR VENDETTAS.
The AG did not think the Anarchist was writing down this article. It seemed to come from him in some other time-frame. She scribbled down the word PHOENIX, glad to know the name of the operation and the Anarchist’s reason for defection from her affections. Stasis was impossible for him, so he had chosen the PHOENIX.
Having removed her crisis from its context, the AG had the secret knowledge that she could use her conscious will to remedy the immediate situation. She must set a force in opposition to Sandy’s will.
One by one, the AG plugged the curved cords into the holes in the three-tiered board. One by one, the red and green lights lit and blinked insistently with low buzzing sounds. The AG liked the noise, the din of people wanting a response. She got out the cigarette-pocked folder of Sandy’s clients and read the names and box numbers to become familiar with some of the callers. It was a few minutes before she thought of answering calls. The prettily blinking lights resounded like Christmas lights multiplying all over the metropolis. It was this vital city that she would guide out of its danger. The AG curved the cord in her left hand and plugged into the network clearinghouse and Duncan’s stark fear.
”Je-sus, do you have any idea of the damage, the sheer … I said I’d help with the black- out, but…”
”This is not Sandy,” said the AG, realizing how influential Duncan was. ”This is the AG. I can tell things are jammed, but that has nothing to do with your facilities. Please return communication to your clearinghouse so ambulances can coordinate with Vendettas Volunteers on the walkie-talkies.”
“I want my exclusive.”
“The Phoenix and Sandy, or you. A blow-by-blow developmental piece.”
“What is happening out there? I don’t know.”
“Neither do I, but I’ll start with the street dust, eye-witness accounts of the disaster, and then a tentative urban impact report followed by an on-the-spot account of your activities. By the way, where is Sandy? She left a message with me, and timing is most important.”
“I don’t know,” the AG said. “When I got here, Sandy was gone. Her chair was knocked over, so it might not have been a pleasant encounter.”
”I’m sure,” said Duncan. “Do you know what organization was in back of Food for Vendettas?”
“There was a health foods store that took over after we went out of business.”
“The Anarchist and me.”
‘”What did you say your name was?”
“The Anarchist’s Girlfriend. Can I call you back? Before you release Sandy’s message? I have some work to do.”
“The message is due to air in an hour. I’ll be in touch.”
After Duncan unplugged, the AG felt a moment’s uneasiness, knowing he would exploit the situation as best he could. Would he even continue the black-out if it were more newsworthy? The AG was soon relieved. She sensed him talking to the stranded employees about a new idea he had to unjam the network’s TV and radio frequencies. He said an auxiliary energy source in the basement would do the trick, even without satellite reception. When the AG received this information, she unplugged her connection into Duncan’s line. He would revive communications, all she had to do was coordinate the isolated rescue systems in the city.
With Sandy’s collage as a guide, the AG answered each light on her board. She gave out pertinent information referring to the mandala-shaped map of the PHOENIX, locating the dumping site near each client of Ad-A-Live. After a while, outside individuals and organizations called, along with Vendettas Volunteers, requesting instructions. The AG, fielding the injured to hospitals, realized the only dark line on her board was the hole over De Long Shipping Co. She took a second to plug a cord into the hole and see what she could sense. She saw an image of a man collapsed in a chair, overturned on the floor of a room in the Sherry Netherland. Furnishing the information to an ambulance, she mentioned it might be a suicide and asked they contact a hotel doctor before speeding over. Though Mr. Dio was unknown to the AG, she felt his death as some kind of link with the event she was so embroiled in. This thought was her last private one as she fought to lead the city out of its deepening crisis–now dispatching medic teams, now coordinating snow removal units. Slowly, the debris from the unnatural storm was removed.
The officials at City Hall returned to their operations. Some had stayed in bed too late to be waylaid by Georgeanne’s girls. Some had spent the storm in their congenial company in the cozy heated van. Others had been stranded in their offices with a few faithful members of their staff. None were pleased with the unexpected event. It made them appear negligent, or guilty of a lack of vigilance, since local terrorists were involved. The AG was a likely newsworthy personality on which to deflect some of this responsibility. Circumstances surrounding her emergence were sufficiently peculiar. How had she come to be “just passing through” the Pan-Am building in the crisis? How did she know the way to coordinate the rescue attempts? It was logical only if she were the unofficial leader of a terrorist organization, perhaps displaced in a purge, seeking retribution for her faithless comrades. The officials prepared a statement of this kind with searching allegations and processed orders to establish the identity of the woman known as the AG. Police stood by to bring her in once the roads were clear. Still, a cop on Pearl Street received a call from an old friend at an old hangout. It seemed the AG had popular favor on her side. Joe, a proprietor of the club, not too far from Wall Street, had given word the AG was “family.” Joe kept a clean place and didn’t like outsiders prying into his business. City Hall listened. Many campaigns were related to Joe’s Family.
In the first hours of morning, a completely exhausted AG found herself in the office of Ad-A-Live answering service. Conscious will was more difficult than her special “awareness,” which at one time had flowed unchecked through her being. She was afraid of failing when so much more was at stake than her own personal situation. The mandala-shaped network was scrawled like graffiti across her beloved city. Sandy had marked it up with red Xs. The AG took a royal blue highlighter. She colored across the Xs, making each a blurry purple star, as each bridge and thoroughfare was cleared. All the quick-thinking activity was sufficient to make her forget her fear. Constantly, the switchboard filled with a maze of ever-changing cords. Calm and automatic, she answered, “Vendettas center at Ad-A-Live, coordinating crisis relief. The bridge nearest you, the Triborough, is clogged at the northeast point. The central hut with snowmobile equipment and bulldozers is located at…please requisition local warehouse facilities for forklifts. Hardware stores will supply gas masks and shovels…”
Identified as just the AG, she gave specific instructions, finding on the map each marked bridge and the local facilities to clear it; the dumpsters, snow removal equipmentv and Vendettas Volunteers, who needed to be told where to direct the stranded, frightened, and injured. When Duncan McKenzie called in from the Network Clearinghouse, she was not as patient.
“AG, it’s a mess out there.”
“I have heard this.”
“I have Sandy’s statement, and I’m about to simultaneously broadcast to my affiliates.”
“First, please connect the other networks that remain jammed.”
“What do you care?”
“Please connect them. It is very dangerous. When people panic, they want the comfort of their favorite station.”
“What about my exclusive?”
“You have Sandy’s message and know who she is. I would think that’s plenty.”
The AG, unplugging the line to Duncan, realized she had no way to hear Sandy’s message. Though she expected aimless rhetoric, there might be an explanation—some sincerity in Sandy, which was large enough to attract people to the PHOENIX. What was the source of Sandy’s personal power? For the AG, personal power was political power. The PHOENIX had changed her very existence. And it was due to Sandy, though the Anarchist believed political will was some shining transcendent thing.
The AG summoned what was left of her paranormal abilities to sense Duncan’s broadcast. Instead, she was beside Wayne, steps below the Anarchist, when a hot burst toppled marble down steps. The blast hurt her eyes and then…nothing. All vision was extinguished. She no longer entertained the detached floating of her spirit. She was too engaged in the immediate pain of the Anarchist, Wayne, and the city itself. She felt a horrible headache and laid her head clown on the board, amidst the buzzing lines. It was minutes before she opened her eyes again with the emotional realization that she had lost the psychic room of her private self. She was in a switchboard room, implicated in a terrorist operation, and she hadn’t eaten for quite some time. Her head felt heavy on the board. I wonder, she thought, if Sandy rested her head in this same position, for nights on end, before exhaustion finally overtook her.
In the waiting room of the small airport, the Llama was struck by the strong resemblance between the unconscious girl on the padded seat and the AG. He asked his staff to make an extensive background check on Sandy before ordering his shuttle to take them to his private airstrip. The plane would have no other passengers. It only flew to the Llama’s California headquarters on Stinson Beach. The Llama was aware of the fact that dust had been dumped in paralyzing quantities, and Sandy was responsible. He wanted to interrogate her in a non-pressured situation. He needed to determine her motives and the extent of her organization. He sought assurance it would not interfere with his own. A life’s work, which affected the potential welfare of millions, demanded unusual sacrifices.
The Llama waited for the pilot, who was readying the plane for take-off. He played with the radio, pleased it functioned, surprised to hear the AG identified as the mysterious dispatcher responsible for coordinating the city’s medical personnel and maintenance crew with Vendettas Volunteers. The commentator added that the authorities had not determined if the AG person was a ringleader or a savior, or just an average woman who happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The Llama carried a small, battery run, beeper-operated, portable teletype with sufficient capacity to relay verbal commands as far as his inner city villa. He gave a command, which confirmed itself on a mini-printout: CONTACT ALL MEMBERS INFLUENTIAL AT CITY HALL. INSTRUCT A NEWS HOLD, POLITICAL BLIND, ON THE WOMAN KNOWN AS THE AG . WILL FOLLOW WITH NEW INSTRUCTIONS. The Llama would protect her until she came to him of her own volition. He assumed it wasn’t wishful thinking that she would soon visit. He had something she wanted maybe.
The Llama turned off the radio broadcast in favor of a wide-screen TV. The dust clean-up was in effect all over the city. The commentator spoke rapidly: “Replacing dark screens across the city tonight was this image: a yellow cornucopia bearing the half-charred words: FOOD FOR VENDETTAS. This unusual image is the emblem of an obscure terrorist organization. They bear the terrible responsibility for the operation known as the PHOENIX. The wings of this mythological bird, said to live up to three hundred and fifty years, darkened our city and our screens for almost fourteen hours as we struggled under pounds of a substance known as Arizona Dust. Heroically, an unknown woman…”
The Llama turned off the sound of the television to answer his beeper. His staff had instantaneously assembled a report from the Church members in City Hall. There was a note of paranoia throughout — a fear the PHOENIX had been specially designed to demonstrate the incompetency of their government, or the dangerous aspects of local initiatives or…
Officials also feared problems in designating the city a “disaster area” so it would qualify for state funds. The AG was a convenient scapegoat. It would cost him something to keep her out of the planning at City Hall. Their accusatory release awaited his concession. So far, he had succeeded. Her identity had not been disclosed on the air. The Llama turned off his beeper and watched the television without the sound. The cornucopia certainly beat the blank test pattern, but seemed, nonetheless, ominous. The Llama turned up the sound just before take-off. He heard Sandy’s message through Duncan McKenzie:
EGYPTIANS BELIEVED THE PHOENIX LIVED FIVE OR SIX CENTURIES BEFORE BEING CONSUMED IN FIRE BY ITS OWN ACTION, THEN ARISING IN FRESHNESS AND YOUTH FROM THE ASHES. OUR PHOENIX ARISES FROM THE DUST OF YOUR EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION. THIS STORM IS MADE OF ARIZONA DUST, THE SAME STOCK USED TO TEST THE CLEANING APPARATUS OF OUR MISSILES. IT IS A MATTER OF DANGEROUS FORM, SINCE, IN THE WRONG CREVICE, THEY WILL FIRE. DOOMSDAY IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME. FROM DUST TO DUST. WITH SWEAT ON YOUR BROW SHALL YOU EAT YOUR BREAD, UNTIL YOU RETURN TO THE SOIL. FOR DUST YOU ARE, AND TO DUST YOU RETURN. A MISFIRE IS ASSURED!