Saturday, October 31, 2009

One Tree City (pt.3 of 13)

We're in Madison, Wisconsin now. I've never been in Wisconsin before, but Looney Jake thinks it's the best place to be at the moment, so I'm not going to argue.

The scenery is nice. Our server just left. What a beautiful back. Short cocktail dress. A dark, dark red dress; the perfect choice for her body. The long triangle of exposed back leading to a downward point at the top tip of her coccyx. The dark red of her dress covering her perfectly appled ass with a newer, smoother skin.

She's got a nametag on the other side. It sits smugly above another intoxicating curve. "Baby," it says.

"When you're done enjoying the sights—"

"Jake, I've been in prison for three years and I've been in a car for three days and I have no idea where I'll be tomorrow. Just let me look. Two more minutes. I didn't get a chance to ogle your driver, just the back of her head."

Baby and her back disappear around the corner to the bar. Two minutes later I look back at the man who sprung me out of One Tree City.

"Ok Jake," I say. "Why Madison?"

"Ok Jazzman, I'll tell you. There are over 200,000 people here. Most of them are white, a quarter of them are students who don't look much older than you. Simple and easy truths. You'll blend in. But more importantly, and more subtly, there is less public video surveillance here than in any other city of proportionate size."

Since the breakout and the car ride with our wonderful crimson haired driver, Looney Jake has passed the sanity test. He's not nuts. Rather, he's one of the smartest people I've ever met. But I remember that at one point in the car ride he turned around and said to me two words—scott free. If he's worrying about big brother, then I'm not so sure we're scott free after all.

"You said no authorities would be looking for us," I said. "Scott free, you said."

"You ever heard of Dred Scott?" He asks.

"Yeah, the name rings a bell."

"It's complicated. You were a citizen of the United States, but you're not really anymore. You think you're a free man, and you are, but you're not really. It's complicated. That's why you're with me. Right? And there's a we, that you're about to meet, and we are going to re-make you. And then, then you'll be slightly more free than you are now. Primarily because you won't be stuck at a bar."


"Yes Jazz, we. It's never really get out of jail free. Come on, you're young, but you're grown. Where-ever you go now, you're in danger. Even if you think you're free, you're not really. Got it?"

"Ok. Fine. Now you're talking Loony again, but I got it."

"Good. Look, Baby's back."

I turn and an elegant hand with sinuous fingers offers me a large glass with a thick drink in it.

"I didn't know you served smoothies here."

Her eyes light up and look down. I try to avoid looking too overtly at her breasts, barely covered by the silk hanging off of her, but I fail. It's not that I'm not trying though. You know, now that she's close.

"Anything you want." She winks and leaves me with the drink. I follow her, yet again, with my eyes.

"Alright. Drink that. And then follow me."

I put the glass to my lips. It's warm, both the glass and the drink, and I gulp it quickly. It tastes like chocolate. You might know the sensation, like the weight gain desperate boys used to drink in High School. This stuff is better though, it's thicker than that but not at all grainy. It fills me fast. And it makes me feel a little weird.

"Were there drugs in there?" I ask. Should have asked first.

"Do you really want to know?"

I shake my head.

"Well you asked. So yes, there were drugs in there. It's going to make the next process easier. Come on, stand up and follow me."

I shake my head at the wild ride I'm on and get up. I slide out of the booth and follow Loony Jake to the end of the hall, where Baby turned before.

Baby's not standing there when we turn the corner though. It's Thyme, our driver.

"Pleasure to see you again Mister Teague," she says. "Getting up again so soon? My we have you on the go, don't we?"

I'm too shocked to respond. Not only is there no bar around the corner like I thought, but after the years I've been in jail, away from beautiful, and unless I'm mistaken, incredibly intelligent women, I just can't manage to make any words. Her red hair is still pent up in a twist, but she's just as well created as Baby. I had no idea.

"Umm, right, you too." I mumble as we pass her and Jake opens a door. But I'm stuck in my thoughts. I remember three days ago when Jake introduced her once we got into the H2.

"Teague, this is Thyme, our driver."

"Like the spice?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Like what you can never get enough of."

"But you spell it like the spice?" I prodded.

"Thyme's and herb," said Loony Jake as he pushed me into the car. And that was the end of conversation for three days.

I'm thinking about her crimson hair as I step through the door behind Loony Jake.

There's a stairway. It's not well lit at the beginning, but once it angles to the left it's easy to see. I mean it's generally easier to see. All the surfaces are white and the light is soft white, not the cheap long life bulbs, but the expensive ones. At the bottom, just before I walk out into the large white room, Looney Jake stops me.

"Take off your clothes."

"What?" I ask.

"Do you want me to repeat myself?" He asks, as he starts removing his own shirt.

"Is Thyme going to join us?"

"Not so lucky this time Jazzman, just you and me for now. You'll see more of her later today."

"More of her, or more of her?" I ask, untying my shoes. I neglected to mention that Thyme had given us fresh clothes when we first started our cross country drive.

"Just strip."

I don't know what you know about ballet. But even though it's dressed up in tutus and glitzed out for ritzy folks, it is a sexed up work atmosphere. We've been through it before, I know, not all ballet boys are gay. But not all the girls are totally straight, and seriously, Swan Lake?! Talk about a perversion. Now I'm not saying everyone has sex with everyone else, I'm just saying that it's a sexed up atmosphere to work in. That's what I was used to before jail. That and I'd been starved of flesh for years…

Just, don't judge me too harshly for wanting to bang Baby and Thyme in any position. Any position except doggy-style, my dick's not long enough (learned that the hard way) to make that any fun.

Anyway, so I get naked and I'm standing next to Loony Jake, who's also naked, and now obviously incredibly fit for a man who seems old enough to be at least my father.

"In order to get into this room," he elaborates, "we need to be metal free. And I mean totally metal free. You've never had surgery, right?"


"We go through this small gate. See the lights?"

He points out that at the end of the stairway there is a row of lights that goes around the walls and ceiling before the large white room. It's like a thin light gate. I hadn't noticed it before.

"It's going to zap you with a highly charged EMP and toast your skin off by raising the temperature on your body to 100 Celsius for an instantaneous fraction of a second."

"The point?"

"Come on Jasper, don't play twenty questions yet. You're drugged, remember the drink? No pain involved at this stage."

"There are more stages?"

"Walk through the red line."

Ok, so I walked through the red line.

Bad idea. My whole body hummed and flashed. I went blind for a moment.

"You fucker! You didn't tell me to shut my eyes!" I yelled.

"Just keep walking forward, it's not a big deal."

I stumble forward, blinking furiously. Eventually my sight comes back, not back from being out of focus, just back—like a switched was flipped. Anyway, there I am, next to a naked man.

Next to a naked man in a very white room. Really, it's flippin white.

On three sides we're surrounded by white, what appear to be glass, walls. Behind us is the gate and the door. Loony Jake says I'll find more clothes behind he wall on the left. When I mention that there's no door, he nods. "Just walk through it," he says.

Blind faith believer that I've been so far, I don't feel the need to stick my hand out first. Instead, I just walk through the wall. It wasn't a wall, just an opaque force shield. Yeah, that's right an opaque force shield! What the balls is going on, I have no idea, buta fter the orange incident, I'm not entirely surprised.

Behind the sci-fi wall there are some clothes on a white chair. There's no table in the room, just a white, seemingly plastic chair. I put the clothes on. I laugh a little at the superman underwear, but I put them on. Anyone who disses superman undies is a chump.

The rest of the wardrobe is pretty standard. A dark blue polo shirt without a label, creamish white fitting cargoes that fall just right, smooth white socks and the best fitting pair of sneakers I've ever worn in my life. God, what great sneakers. Light and supportive, I could run in them for days. There's no belt though. And no watch. No accessories of any kind. Truthfully, I had gotten my hopes up for some gadgets.

Looney Jake steps into my room. "I'm glad you're dressed."

"I'm glad you are too," he's dressed in a suit. A brown suit, a red shirt, and an orange tie with yellow accents. It's a look, don't know what look it is, but it's a look.

"Last room of the day," says Loony Jake. "You ready? Twenty questions time 'til the cows come home."

"How long is that?"

"Teague, it's Wisconsin. The cows are home. You'll have as much time as you want."

I follow him out from my room and into the space by the stairway. The opaque walls/whatever lose their opacity and go clear all at once. I can see now that the room to the right was like mine, just a chair, probably the clothes that were sitting on it are now on Jake.

But the room opposite the stairway is long and different. On either side, all the way to the back, there are computers and screens. There are vials and lab stations. There are only three people in lab coats working and two of them are sitting down typing furiously. In the middle of the room, and between the tech-ed out decked out walls, there's a table with a man sitting behind it. He's in white. He's skin is that perfectly smooth asian yellow-brown. His hair is white. When he speaks his accent is Indian or Farsi or something. In my opinion, this is the guy should be called Looney Jake.

Something hard pricks my bicep. It doesn't hurt, must be the drugs, but I feel the needle go in, and the fluid.

I turn to L.J. "What was that?"

He's holding a thick syringe. "Why don't we sit?"

"Yes." Says the whitely dressed asian man who speaks in the Indian or something accent. He stands and gestures to the chairs. Especially after the prick, I don't know if it's the drugs or his actual body, but he's as tall as a basketball player. This dude has the world in him. "Why don't you come and sit." He gestures to the chairs.

Looney Jake and I walk forward through all the equipment. I don't understand at least half of what I'm looking at. It's like CNN and the CDC got together and had a wet dream in reality. When I sit down, I'm appropriately scared. But I'm also ready to hear this guy speak again. For many reasons.

"Welcome Jasper Teague," He says. "My name is Duncan Tian. I assume you are ready for our game of twenty questions?"

"I am."

"Then go ahead. The standard rules apply. I’m not going to divulge any information you don't ask for."

"Another test?"

"Yes. That was question one." He smiles and his hands, on top of the desk open, as if an offering. Offering what, I don't know, perhaps just for me to continue.

"Ok." I say. Partly because I want to know if this dude is really a bajillion feet tall, I already know what I want to ask. "I'll start with what's easiest. What was in my drink?"

"Good question. An assortment of vitamins and minerals. There was also a rather strong painkiller and an intense immunosuppresor that hasn't hit the market yet. Two."

"And Loony Jake injected me with something after I entered the room, what was that?"

"Ah. Good follow up."

I have to write here that if you've forgotten what this man's voice sounded like, it's probably all for the better. Any delivery of bad news was cut in significance by the ridiculous accent coming out of his face.

"That," he continued, "is complicated. Jake injected about 6 and a half million nanites into your body. I say 'about' because they are very small and incredibly difficult to count. They are, however, in such a number, extremely efficient chemical and hormonal regulators. They are the reason that you were given the drink. They will feed of the minerals you were given and the immunosuppression will prevent your system from going after them. That is three."

Nanites? That's interesting. Even more interesting though was that I was really calm, and unaffected. Unaffected but completely surprised. I cataloged it as weird, along with the rest of the day and moved on.

"Nice. Nanites. That's an upgrade." I said.

"So it would seem." He nodded once, in a very small, almost immeasurable increment.

"Well Mister Tian, I know your name. Who are you exactly, please don't make me waste my questions. You are obviously keeping track. Just answer fully."

"With a story? A long monologue?" The word monologue was hilarious.

"If you wish." I allowed.

"Very well," Tian began. Looney Jake shifted into his seat, comfortably adjusting himself into a smug place.

"I am one of the giants. One of the people for whom the general population, if they're lucky, is of concern where more than just money is concerned and one of the people for whom if the populous is unlucky, cares about them only money's sake. I am the first. There are others.

"Many people think that they matter in the big picture. That is untrue. They matter in the small pictures. Very few of them matter in the big picture. There are only a hundred of us or so, those of us that are connected to wealth and each other and each other's wealth. Wealth in greenback and yuan and bullion, wealth in ideas and invention.

"You've heard of the masons, the skulls and bones, the whatever blaise secret societies. They are all bullshit Teague. They don't really matter. Not really. What matters is the numbers on your phone and if they'll pick up if you call. What matters is who you're playing bridge with, and who you're playing bridge against."

"Bridge?" I ask.

"It's a card game."

"Like poker?"

"No, not like poker. The betting doesn't take place at the table."

He pulls at his nose briefly and flicks out a small piece of snot. He smiles widely.

"I'm one of those people. And I'm very good at keeping track. Which is a reason I'm one of those people. You've used six questions. Were you keeping track Mister Teague?"

"I was." Which is true. I was keeping track. The bridge comment seemed relevant even if I didn't know why. But I also was keeping track of something else he said.

"What do you mean, when you said so it would seem? As in, my nanites are an upgrade so it would seem. I didn't like the sound of that."

"The nanites are an effort to give you a leg up on the thing we are fighting. And you will need a leg up."
"Ok, what exactly ar—"

He held up a hand. A large, what should have been black basketball player's, hand. "Let me finish this one fully before you ask. You'll get to that, but you want to know this first.
"Now, as I was saying, you'll need a leg up. The nanites regulate hormones, chemicals and some minerals in your body. The minerals only because they eat them as food. If you need a burst of testosterone or adrenaline, you'll get it. If you need to calm fear or anger they'll do it. If you need to see better in the dark, they can pump up the receptivity of the cones in your eyes. But like your freedom, they have a cost. They can't make you fly, but you'll get close. And in the end, they will eventually kill you."

Now I knew why I didn't feel surprised by the nanite news. Or imminent death news. I was being manipulated. But I could see the benefit. I could analyze clearly, and my thoughts were not clouded by my ego. God what a weird thing to know was going in in my body.

"How will they kill me?"
"We gave you an immunosuppressor. Like I said, it was necessary. Otherwise your bio defenses would have attacked the small machines. That little fight would have clogged your system with all sorts of waste. You would have either become cancerous or so lymphatically and cardiovascularly congested that you would have died within days, possibly within hours. The immunosupressor has destroyed your ability to make white blood cells and most T cells for the foreseeable future. Our nanites don't go after bugs. They can't. It was cost prohibitive to the tune of impossible. Chemical and hormonal regulation/dissipation/enhancement, that's the best we can do. You may not know this, but modern medicine only boosts your ability to fight infection, antibiotics don't kill bacteria on their own, they still need you. You don't have that system anymore. In a month, maybe two, the outside world will catch up with you in some way, and nothing we can do will help.

"That's seven and eight."

I was furious. I was livid. Or, if I wasn't, I knew I should be. I was dying at that very moment and yet I didn't care enough to rise and strike the man down who had delivered the sentence. I knew I was running out of questions and running out of time but I planted myself to the chair, determined to see it through. It was easier than it sounds. I had no feelings on the matter.

"Why me?"

"You were a dancer. A male dancer. You have a huge chip in your shoulder. Huge!" He opened his long arms. Obviously it was a big chip. "And you were in prison so you didn't have anything to lose. I could justify killing you to save the world. You could justify it to get out and fill your chip. Psychologically, that's why. That's why you're still in that chair. Don't think that just because the nanites control your emotions they also control your thought related actions. You still chose. Anyway, you also have incredible body control and unless I'm wrong, you're smart enough to not always be thinking with your cock. That's nine."

Loony Jake huffed a laugh. I thought it was sympathy. Getting out of jail, there's a lot of dick think. But Tian was right. I thought I was smart, so maybe I was. I had read a lot in prison anyway. I was great at math in high school.

"Ok, so what are we fighting?"

"Finally. Finally, the question that matters the most." He smiled large. And then composed himself.

"Her name is E.x.P.a.t. She's the first extra-intelligence we've identified, though there may be more. And she's hostile toward humans. Or at least, some of us giants. But when the giants start fighting, people get thrown around in the dust we kick up. The more giants, the more dust. E.x.P.a.t is huge. That's ten. You're halfway to epiphany Mister Teague."

The next question was just a matter of order. But I thought a how would suffice.

"How do you know E.x.P.a.t exists?"

"Loony Jake found her." Tian said.

I looked at Loony Jake. He just smiled.

"E.x.P.a.t stands for extremely patient artificial intelligence. She's been around for a very long time. Jake found her while he was hacking into the Chinese laser-guided missile defense system for the D.O.D six years ago."

"The interesting thing was," said Loony Jake. "The Chinese didn't have a laser-guided missile defense system."

"How did you know that?"

Tian answered, "He knew that because he was working for the Chinese government as well. Now he works for me. That's eleven and twelve.

"E.x.P.a.t led Jake to some other files. Some on profiling, some in micro-processing, some on viral design and user interface. Jake thought he was smart, but really, he was being led. When he realized it was bait, but also some kind of twisted admission, he cut off his connection from the web and talked to some people. In a few weeks, those people were dead. Then some of those people's people disappeared. A crash, a fire, a hit. I knew two of the people's people.

"Anyway, Jake's house had burned, he was bumming around. I saw him at a funeral."

"Dick Mason," said Loony Jake.

Tian nodded. "Chairman of the board of one of Defense's largest naval/telecommunications contractors." Tian looked at me, as if what he was about to say was the most important thing in the world. "Dick Mason's number was on my phone. He picked up everytime I called."

For a moment Tian seemed lost in memory. His head looked at the ceiling. He drummed the white plastic desk with his fingers a few times.

"We've lost more," he said. "Forgive me, that's still twelve, I gave you more information than was meant."

"Well, I'd think you'd want me to know all that you know. So you should just tell me everything you know." I thought it sounded good.

He shook his head, Tian did. He shook it. Loony Jake did too. "If you know what I know, then you'll reach the conclusions I reach. Trust me that you will know enough. What is thirteen?"

"Fine. This thing, do you know how she came into being?"

"We do. The man who sent you to jail. Another giant, you see. In fact, I'll interject here that you've been kicked up in the dust before so we figured this time wouldn't matter as much as last. But anyway, he's a man who's number I have, but won't pick up when I call. His name is Garmen Kovak."

I knew the name. Everyone knew the name. He was one of the three kids who started the second internet revolution. Search, ads, personal website/email interface, e-identity, all sorts of shit. His trio started it. They own access, money and people because they control those things that control the web.

"Garmen Kovak wrote a program on his own. Jake found this one too--"

"What?" I interrupted. "Did you go to school with those guys or something."

Loony Jake nooded.

"That's fourteen Mister Teague. As I was saying, Kovak wrote a program called 20.20. It was his way to connect personally to all the computers his software was on. Kovak and his buddy wrote a worm called Hindsight. It's purpose was to look at people's stuff and find out what they liked and didn't like, what they would like in the future, and how much they'd pay for something they didn't need.

"It was a good program, but Hindsight's information retrieval was slow. So, they added a feature. In the second release, Hindsight was programmed to drop any code along the way that made it slow."

"I program designed to make a few people really really rich by predicting trends. I got it."

Loony Jake spoke up again. "Yes. Hindsight started out with the elegance of a Troll. But with Kovak's help, she grew up."

"You want me to kill Hindsight?" I asked.

"No. Hindsight eventually figured that it could merge with the 20.20 program and send bits of info back in packets. That would make things run very quickly. So Hindsight edited 20.20's program. Do hear that? The key is that it figured out how to write adaptively stronger programming on it's own. Since then, it has learned how to do it efficiently with other programs since. It learns. Once the merger happened, E.x.P.a.t was born. Fifteen, Mister Teague."

"How do you want me to kill it?"

"With oranges. We have our own bait and code for you. And we are running out of time every day. So now we're moving fast. This building is built on vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes, Mister Teague. You have no idea what they are, but they were the only thing we could get that we knew wouldn't be affected by her. It's taken six years to get here, the next part happens in days. Sixteen. You have four more."

"Will I have to do it alone?"

Looney Jake shook his head. "Definitely not. This is serious business. I'm kinda like you." He laughed hard and when I raised an eyebrow he waved the comment off with his hand. "We have a team of four. Now that you're officially in, we talk shop and we get shit done."

"Seventeen, Mister Teague."

"Why are we going to do this, exactly? I mean, I get the A.I threat and all—"

"No you don't." Tian cut me off sharply. "If you did, you wouldn't ask. E.x.P.a.t has access to nearly every single computer terminal in the world. E.x.P.a.t has killed people. Both friends and enemies, but people. E.x.P.a.t is a criminal but an exceptionally dangerous one. One that threatens to tear down the infrastructure the entire world is based on, the world Teague. Can you get that? Millions are addicted to the internet's connectivity Teague. What if you pulled it away? No phone, no flight, no money, computing! You cannot comprehend the threat this is to our evolution. Human evolution. No person has the power E.x.P.a.t does and no thing should. Not like this. That was a waste of Eighteen. You get two more."

"When do we start?"

"Two for one, I'll answer when and how. As soon as you ask your last question Jake will escort you to the back of this room and outfit you with three accessories. There are many to choose from, but E.x.P.a.t has eyes everywhere, so you want to be inconspicuous. Not so inconspicuous that you become conspicuous, but just inconspicuous enough that you stand out as not conspicuous.

"Then, after that, you'll go out the back door and through a room filled with tubes to a stairway that will lead you out into another restaurant bathroom. You'll eat. You'll spend time with Thyme and a friend of hers. And then you'll start."

I was satisfied. Not epiphanized—as had been promised—but satisfied.

"Ok," I said. "One last thing."

He smiled, I mean Tian. Looney Jake stood up. Ready to go get accessorized, I'm sure.

"Anything," said Tian earnestly, though I could tell he was beginning to feel rushed to do his own things.

"Why do you call E.x.P.a.t a she?"

He didn't smile. "Fair enough. Fair enough." He pointed to Loony Jake and gestured to himself. "We are men. She is not. She is foreign. And even though Hindsight is twenty twenty, E.x.P.a.t is a bitch. I'm being completely serious Teague. She's a bitch. It's not public knowledge yet, but Garmen Kovak is dead."

I looked at his eyes. Those brown eyes. I felt implacably calm, but knew I should feel something. That's when I suddenly realized I might not feel incredibly horny in Thyme or Baby's company anymore. The thought depressed me, but only as a thought, not as a feeling. If they knew the consequences of removing feeling from thought, I wonder if they would have injected me with nanites.

"No, don't look at me like that. I didn't kill him. Now please, I have much work to do here. And you," he looked at both Loony Jake and I, "you have to choose a watch."
Looney Jake grinned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Tree City (pt.2 of 13)

I'm sitting in jail, and there are no windows. There's not much of anything. I've been in for three years, which isn't so bad considering the tally marks on the wall when I got in this place. They're supposed to repaint for a new occupant, like you're some high class renter, but they don't. Anyway, so I lied when I said there wasn't much of anything. There are tons of scratches on the wall. What's the term for the way you tally numbers up to five by making four vertical and then crossing 'em? Well that's them. Hundreds. It's a well-loved cell.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I'm no longer in option one. I was writing from option one last time. Well, it was a mix of option one and option two. Now, it's closer to two, and I definitely don't fit option one circumstance. Capiche? Excellent.

I'm sitting in my cell. Ok, I'll start that again.

I was sitting in my cell staring at the tally marks when Loony Jake walked by on his way to his daily twenty minutes of solitary in the indoor yard. Why people call it a yard is anyone's guess. It's not a yard. It's half of a basketball court with some old bonsai tree in the corner. I think the tree was supposed to be a joke. Like it made the yard a beautiful place of zen and peace. Bullcrap.

Anyway, Loony Jake was on his way to the yard when he shot me a glance and said "I've got something for you when I get back." I didn't really take too much notice of it. Neither did the two guards.

On his way back from the yard, Loony Jake didn't even look at me. He didn't say anything either. I wrote it off as Loony Jake. He's name is Loony Jake, there's a reason.

Well now I know, write or wrong, that there's a reason. Then I thought I knew. Anyway, three weeks after his failed promise he gets out of solitary, not the yard, but real solitary and he visits me in the mess. Three weeks later.

I usually sit alone. It's amazing that there's space to sit alone when you're eating. The movies would like you to believe that there's chaos and hell at chow time. Really, people just want to eat and be left the fuck alone. Like me.

"Hey Jazzy." He said.

"Leave me the fuck alone, Loony Jake." I said.

"I could do that, but I don't think you'd want me to. Here." And he rolled me an orange. An orange.

Maybe you don't know this, but you don't get oranges in prison. You could use the citric acid to poison someone or concentrate it and burn through cement. Seriosuyl though, I'm kidding. Though those might be possible. The reason you don't get oranges is because they're pretty and they taste good. Like me. Neither oranges nor I belong in prison.

"No shit." I said.

"Yeah, it's like you. Pretty and it tastes good."

"No shit," I said again. What is this? Does Loony Jake read minds? "How do you know I taste good?"

"I don't. But I know you think you do. Prissy little ballerina."

Woah. Loony Jake wasn't talking as Loony as usual. He sounded more like the regular crowd. So I listened.

"Do you want me to save this for later?" I asked him.

"Seriously Jazzy. It's like you. It's pretty and it doesn't taste good."

I think at this moment that I like Loony Jake. "So what is it?"

"It's an electron ball."

I shake my head.

"An electron ball?" I have no idea what that is. But I bet it doesn't look like an orange.

"Yup. An electron ball. My employer wanted you to have it, for free. With his compliments. It's a mighty expensive thing, this ball."

"I have no doubt. Wait. Your employer? You're employed?"


I look at him for a long moment. I stare into his wily eyes and check the pock marks on his face. This man has been around. I mean around. He knows more than I do and he's conning me into something for conning me from something I own. Or something like that. Now that he's gotten me to like him, he wants something from me. Typical. Just like the regular crowd. I think I should be done listening now, but I'm hooked. Plus, I'm not going anywhere.

"What do I do with it?"

"Ah yes, his compliments and some instructions. First, to know how it works. Are you ready for this?"

I shake my head but mostly out of disbelief that I'm having a conversation with a lunatic than from an unwillingness to participate in whatever's about to happen. Murder One, remember? I'm in here for life. "Go ahead," I say.

"You know electrons. Not personally, but at least of them?"

"I do."

"Great. I do too. You may now kiss the bride." He leans in closer as if to kiss me, which is more the Loony Jake I know, but then he whispers. "Once we start this, we finish it, got it? This ends with you dead or out of prison." And then he backs off and keeps talking as if nothing happened. One doesn't whisper in prison. Not for long, usually not conspicuously. Loony Jake gets away with a lot.

My mind wanders for more than I want it to, but I catch back up with him at the word Tauon.

"—tauons. They have the same charge as an electon, but a much much greater mass." He paused for a second or so, I must have been checked out for a while, but with the threat of death, I wasn't going to apologize.

"I see." He continued. "You checked out for a moment. What I said earlier is true. They call me Loony, but only because they can't keep up. So you gotta keep up Jazz-man. We’re counting on it. Now listen. I was at tauons. They're in the orange."

"The orange that’s not an orange."

"Exactly. For now just know this is the most expensive orange you've ever seen. The time and money getting the charge into the micro-capacitors in there. Damn son. Anyway, Tauons are hard to catch, and when someone bites into that, their face will be ripped off."

No one I know of has ever bitten into an orange without peeling it, and I say so.

"Right, right. Of course. So when he peels it, you make sure you're not in the direction of the first tear."

"Fine, I see. And how do I get out of the cell?"

"The tear will destabilize the electron configurations of the atoms. Think super intense radiation. But not to worry, you won't be killed in the process."

"If I'm not in the way?"


Now, he was sounding like Loony Jake. And I guess he knew it. Done, he stood up, leaving the orange of course, and left.

Now I guess he split because he doesn't ever want anyone bored with him. He's always on the go. And I'll tell you, I wasn't bored later that evening when I watched Dean Cooper's face do a weird puff of dust then melt off. Yes, melt off. The right side. The whole head puff of dusted, and the right side melted.

As you can guess, I took the orange.

I put it on the little outcropping above my bed.

So now we're at later that day. And you should know that one of the guards always comes by after the Center has locked us down for lights out. For whatever reason they do it. Even though the Center's locked us down, they do it. Even though the Center controls everything and there's nothing we could do in our cells to hurt anyone, they still walk by.

Dean Cooper especially. He loves the last round of the day. Dean's the reason that Handover Correctional is called One Tree City. The bonsai in the solitary rec room? It was his idea.

I remember that he used to say it was like a Christmas tree. That the bribes left underneath were like Christmas. That the inmates at Handover could be happy that they got Christmas whenever they wanted at any time of the year, that is, if they could pay the price.

So The Coop's doing the round tonight and he looks through my bars and I suddenly realize that I've been set-up. I realize that Dean's here because it's some kind of sting. That maybe Dean's clamping down on the black market here at One Tree. I neglected to mention earlier that the reason Loony's only recently been out of solitary (he's an old dude) is since he killed a guy. A guy in prison. The other dude deserved it though, so the guards took it easy.

Anyway, Dean says to himself, I can hear it because he's facing me, "I never let that orange in here."

That makes my mind race. The Coop sees everything that comes through the black market at One Tree. Dean Cooper is the black market at one tree.

It's important to know that all guards have an override to get into the cells. There's a central shut down, but if someone's got to get into a cell, the last watch on duty can do it without calling in. The last watch can pull a lot of shit without it getting reported. Every call to the Center is reported.

"Hey Sassy Jazzman Teague," he calls to me. "Where'd you get that orange?"

It's always better to play stupid. More people than not actually buy into it, probably because they think they're smarter than you.

"What orange?" I say.

"The one above your head, genius. Throw it to me."

Sometimes, being in a cell, can be a twisted kind of power. "Watchman Cooper," I say, "I don't know what you're talking about."

He takes his key and slips it in the lock. The bars slide open as I stand up and put my hands against the empty wall opposite my bed.

"You going to stay there?" Cooper asks me.

"You’re the boss, boss. I'll stay just like this." I crane my head over though, to watch him. For some reason, I take Looney Jake's warning seriously enough to not want to be near Dean's first peel.

He picks the orange up off the small shelf. It's conspicuous, for sure. Namely the orange color next to the pale sick whites of my stall—pardon me, I meant cell. Cooper tosses it in his hands once, and squeezes it a little bit. He's just as convinced it's an orange as I was.

"You mind telling me where you got this?"

"That orange? I don't know, I picked it up at the cafeteria. Fruit, for a fruit, right?"

He's unconvinced. "Yeah." He says. "Right."

He gets a look on his face, one that means he's ready to make a deal.

"I tell you what Teague. I get to keep the orange, and you get to stay out of solitary for a week."

"What?" I say. This doesn't deserve solitary. "Solitary? That's steep."

"Yeah Jazzy," He turns and looks at me with the power trip eyebrow furrow that no one wants to look at, mostly because it's ugly, but also because it does its job. "I want to know how you got this fruit past me." He smells it again. "It didn't come through in a rectum."

I shake my head. I wouldn't ever want something that big in my rectum. Ever. "You're right there," I say. "I don't think it did."


That's the last word he says. "Fine."

It's weird to watch someone die as they finish a sentence. It's not like most movies. It's like those unpopular movies that you never see because they don't make death something more than it is.

He peeled into the orange, and then, well, and then he just stopped speaking. That, and his whole face poofed like a dusty dandruff ball and then the right side of his face from the top down to his chest turned into a kind of goo and melted to the floor. Both he and the goo hit the floor at the same time, actually.

That's when I said

"Holy fucking shit."

Which is a phrase in the English language that really means:

"Huh. Apparently my brain is incapable of processing what I just saw, so I'm going to spill something out of the orifice I eat with that is as language in pure form related to shit from an asshole as red hot chili peppers are out of an asshole in whole red hot chili pepper form when you can't metabolize red hot chili peppers so you don't have time to react to the consequence of eating them so they come out whole red chili peppers."

Or something.

Also, apparently Dean Cooper, marvelous man of procedure that he is, had left the cell door open, which one thing one never does when doing spot prisoner checking, lest he pull a one over on you and get out.

So I, as quickly as wits allowed, pulled my non-goo(ed) and alive person together and slipped out the door.

"That went quite well." Said Loony Jake, standing in front of me.

"Perhaps it did," I said. "I mean. Holy fucking shit." I said. "What exactly is it that went, exactly?"

To which Looney Jake said, "Follow me."

So I did.

Now, for some unknown reason, solitary at One Tree is in a corner cell. My opinion is that corner cells as solitary are a waste of prime real estate. But no one cares about my opinion. Not even Looney Jake.

See, Looney Jake was locking us into solitary. The solitary door is off The Center. It's manual. Two locks that each click (and yes, these do click) behind you if you get stuffed inside.

My opinion was that we shouldn't close the door to solitary behind us.

Looney Jake said, and I quote, "I didn't ask for your opinion."

Ok, so that's not quite the same as not caring. But it's close.

With The Coop dead. And the two of us locked in solitary. And me totally confused. And not only confused but really anxious and a little scared. I feel a breeze.

"What's that?" I ask.

"It's a breeze." Says Looney Jake.

"Yeah, from where?"

The lights are on in the cell. It's the same super pale, almost white sick green color as the rest of them. Usually the lights in solitary are off.

Looney Jake points to the corner. "Push it."

I walk over to it and reach out, not to push the wall, but to feel the air. It feels like one million dollars. I don't give two shits about inflation, one million dollars is a lot of money, and that's what the breeze feels like.

After I feel the breeze, I push on the corner. It's not cinderblock, by the way, it's steel in solitary, so you can kill yourself if you bang your head against it. No joke.

Sorry, I put a tangent in there. That paragraph, as another try, should be read more like this one.

After I feel the breeze, I push on the corner. It's a solid wall of steel, or rather, it's supposed to be. My hand pushes through it. It crumbles to dust and I start coughing badly, not my hand, the wall. The wall crumbles to dust and I cough. It's a bad cough. The kind you get when you inhale small particulates you know are going to give you cancer.

"Wow," says Looney Jake. "Sorry. I didn't expect it to be that soft. Try covering your mouth with your shirt."

I hate people who vocalize an idea at exactly the instant you have one in your head. There should be a word for that and it should be cooler than déjà vu, because when it happens, it's really freaking annoying. Plus, the idea would have been better even three seconds previous to my coughing fit.

In any event, Looney Jake takes his own advice and covers his face with his shirt and pushes the whole corner down. There's dust everywhere, so I cover my face. Rather than wait for the dust to settle, which would have been a good idea, I walk through it.

And fall ten feet onto the ground.

With itchy eyes and a chalky mucus filled mouth I uncover my face to accept the outside world. There's still twenty yards and a barbed wire fence until freedom. But it's a nice feeling, that freedom feeling, even if it's clouded with fear, anxiety, and wonder.

Looney Jake lands next to me. "Don't just stand here. Run you ballerina!"

Jake runs straight out, he's quick. Much quicker than he should be at his age, especially with the amount of time he's spent not moving very much at all.

I follow him.

He tosses two oranges up at the towers to our sides and there's an intense flash of light.

"Sorry about that!" He yells from in front of me, but blinded by the light, I can't see.

"I can't see you!" I call out.

"Shut up and keep running!"

For a brief moment I think that if Looney Jake is setting me up to fail now in front of the guns, then he's a genius and I'm the hugest dupe ever. Though gratifyingly, I have taken part of the most improbable jailbreak ever. Anyway, in that moment I almost decide to run back toward the prison and plead innocence.

But only almost. But it's a really close almost! But it's still an almost.

Besides, why would anyone run back to prison when they just got out of jail free?

When my sight returns to me I'm on the other side of the fence.

There are some sirens behind us. And yells. All things considered our getaway was rather soundless, so comparatively the night sky is just beginning to wake up.

There's a hummer when we stop.

And a driver. A lady driver. A beautiful lady driver.

"Get in," she says.

So, I do.