Operating Theater

The Ash Fork Operating Theater was a specialty house, like an old time western theater that shows only melodrama in which there is a villain, a hero, and a woman to be won. Because Ash Fork is located outside of the organic realm, the residents have a difficult time staying connected to the materiality of the flesh, and they forget the smell of decay and disease. Like all forms of life, Ash Fork is not separated from the conditions under which it exists, but is itself a condition in a larger equation. The Operating Theater is the connection to an earlier evolution, during which people were made out of dirt and water, like any other gollums.

If you have been a stranger in a strange land, then you understand that I did not confront anything in Ash Fork as a part of its history. I am a stranger here, where natural born people tend to blow apart when they take injectables, and the filtering collapses underneath them,.

There is always a baby underneath you and the baby is always hungry or in need of changing. There is a layer of romance ... a membrane really ... and a thick band which is always interested in sex. It's like the rings of the tree and they're all there, plain as the butcher's wife. There's a wise old man, dealing with a close friend who has been fatally wounded. There is a dead man walking. Programming a clone isn't a piece of cake if you want to build in time flexibility, so that it can survive the disorientation involved in moving outside linear thought.

Nobody knows why Bergamo was able to survive injectables. I think he survived because he wasn't separated from the process. He directed the entire development of injectables like a prisoner tunneling out of prison until he finally broke loose and found a town to the west of here where there is a tear in time. He slipped through the cracks. Nobody is allowed to leave without being connected to corporate. That's what I am. I'm Bergamo's connection to corporate, because I've got a Priority Chip that downloads every night.

To follow Bergamo, I had to move into the bones and muscle and blood. There were nights when I did not move. I grew down into the ground like a graveyard, and I spread out like dew across the vegetation. The trail led down into cellular tissue and along arteries and veins that with the introduction of intellectual self reflection morphed into a system of tributaries marking an arid landscape. Eventually I found myself on the Reservation, traveling among the art installations.

There were perfectly preserved Shell Stations from the 1950s, with exquisite detail in the hydraulic lifts and the Tom's Peanuts and chewing gum and cigarettes. It always makes me queasy to see all those cigarettes, the Winstons and Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes and Marlboros and Salems. They have the feel of death around them now and when I walked into the office I swear they were piping in tobacco odor to enhance the effect. It was a dark piece. But the Indians are like that. Their art installations can be disturbing at the olfactory level.

Tonight I am thinking random thoughts as you might also do when you are in the theater early waiting for the show to begin in which you are at center stage. Random thoughts are seldom random. Things are usually orbiting around a central thought, or thesis, as we are orbiting around what might happen to me when Bergamo disables the Priority Chip implanted in my brain at birth, it's purpose to keep me open to external direction. Tonight random thoughts are orbiting around me, because I'm on the operating table. For the first time in my existence I don't know what to expect other than insanity. The odds favor a system collapse. The center of the theater is a glass room where the air is screened constantly for any particulate. Bergamo, assisted by Luther and by Betty, the bartender, enters the operating theater. "How are we today?"

He knows very well that this will piss me off. "It's condescending to include me, and Betty for that matter, in some sweeping question about a collective we."

"Well," he said lightly, "you certainly ought to know your protocol."

"What are you implying?"

"Nothing, Rhett." Betty laughed at this and if I had not already been hooked to the oscillator and slowed down to my energy saver mode I would have walked out. But there is no walking out of the operating theater once you've committed yourself to occupying its center, which is a green door identical to the one in my quarters, but turned up like a bed. The force field in the green door levitates me above its surface and I cannot move. There is no actual talking in Ash Fork because there is no medium which will carry sound. All of the sound comes from inside the individual system, stimulated by the activity in the surrounding fields. An easy way to understand it is that thoughts can be heard when they are formed as inner speaking by the jaw muscles.

The invoking of Rhett Butler enraged me, which was what Bergamo intended, because it separated off from the main program the area where the Priority Chip was located. It was not actually a chip. That would have been easy; locate and remove. It was more like a virus that was held in check inside an area of the system, ready to release when triggered by some command from corporate. But it was likely the command would be triggered by any attempt to locate and remove the infected portion of the program. It was the source of vulnerability, and as such, was the source of my defenses around being built on a Butler 9000 frame.

The intensity of the table shifted to a new frequency and just as suddenly as the feelings of animosity toward Bergamo had come up they were gone, and I was bathed in a sense of oneness with him, with Betty, and with all the people in the gallery, even the ones who were firing their rifles into the air and urging Bergamo to cut out my heart and be done with me. It is like this with Reservation Art. The gallery opens to the endless skies, viewed through an atmosphere too subtle for the gathering of moisture into rain or snow. So far as anyone knows, there is no weather in Ash Fork because there is nothing organic here. And that's why it was considered a miracle when the rain came down. It was a miracle of the same magnitude as the disabling of a Priority Chip in a $omaCorp clone, and signaled my freedom from the pre-recordings.

You might think I'm getting ahead of myself and in the sense of relating my experience in narrative you're right about that. But in the larger sense there is no linearity in Ash Fork except for what is imposed on it, in patterns, and should a larger pattern be imposed on it then many events would be left on the cutting room floor in favor of the illusion that it is a puzzle created from an existing picture. There is no existing picture, no essential end product that is there in the beginning, and in reality, no beginning or ending. There are patterns which repeat with modifications, like Luther playing into a loop.

The guitar began with questions, but by the time the loop cycled twice it was becoming more complex, and the answers began to bloom at the tip of the questions like blue flowers spilling over a rock wall. The frequency shifted in the green door and I felt my body begin to sink downward. I already knew what was going to happen next because Bergamo had briefed me. There was no surface, just an apparent surface. There was no reality to it, nothing that would support my weight. When I contacted the force field the first thing I noticed was my teeth grating together as my jaw muscles tightened in response to some primal fear of non-existence, but as I sank beneath the surface there was a sudden freeing of the muscles throughout my body and my jaws began to talk with an easy fluidity, though in what language I cannot say.

I don't think it was a language in current use, because I'm sure I would have understood it had it been in my memory banks. It was a programming language normally on the other side of a fire wall. I was speaking in tongues, and every muscle movement was being read by the unblinking gaze of Bergamo, whose eyes were moving in intricate patterns, reading the information and decoding it. Betty the Bartender shifts from a woman in black and white to a woman in vestments, the hems decorated with a Greek key pattern. Simultaneously I find myself on a hill overlooking Ash Fork. I am dressed in black and am saddling a chestnut mare. The blanket is edged with the same Greek key. I study the sky. It has turned grey and there is the scent of rain on the breeze that blows from the west, now, but seems sometimes to shift capriciously.

Below me, set along the railroad tracks, is Ash Fork, but in a much earlier manifestation. It is set solidly into linear time, as linear as the railroad track or the interstate highway that runs through it. Everything unfolds with the certainty of a pendulum clock, unfolding from cause to effect forward and examined backward from effect to cause. There is no awareness in the field of simultaneous polarization. At least I don't think there is, at first. There was one blip in the program. Something about a rectangle along the main street looked off. I got my rifle out of the scabbard and studied the town through the scope, until the cross aligned itself with the entrance to the Road Kill Cafe. The building didn't belong there. It was oscillating at a different frequency than the rest of the scene.

I cinched the saddle tight and adjusted the stirrups down a little before I mounted the mare and urged her down off the hill toward town. As soon as we got on a dirt road I spurred her to a gallop, but I slowed her to a trot when we got on pavement. There was a hitching rail in front of the Road Kill, probably for decoration, but functional. I tied up and went inside. The man sitting at the counter looked familiar to me and of course, he was, but you have to understand that at this time I was having my first experience of disconnection from the Priority Chip which connected me to a pre-recorded functionality. It was the first time in my existence that I was operating outside the system, and I was without a god and without a country.

I was not without an intention, though, because even though I didn't recognize Luther from the past, I certainly remembered him from the future, and there was no doubt who the woman was who was sitting on the stool beside him. That was Donna Mavis, the personification of $omaCorp, and there was no doubt why she was here. She was here to install the Priority Chip Luther had tried to escape. Corporate knew exactly when the disorientation in time would become so intense as to cause intense illness. The orientation faculty in the middle ear was shifting from organic fluid to mathematical formula, and Luther was showing signs of rejection.

As soon as he left the cafe, Luther walked unsteadily back toward the Ash Fork Motel, where he collapsed in the courtyard, beneath the statue of Mary, beneath the desert wrens singing in the bath. Donna Mavis didn't do anything which, in a shifted political theater, might be indictable. She had people working for her who did that. It should be a simple matter now of waiting for Luther to go back inside his room, where they could operate in privacy. They'd let one man escape with injectables and no priority chip, but they wouldn't let another one get away.

As soon as I walked into the cafe I saw the counter was a green door. I don't know what the green doors are, because, as I said, I am not enculturated in Ash Fork. I'm a stranger here. I just know that the doors have properties that allow a movement between dimensions, and that I went through one to get here. It did not escape me that I could be shifted somewhere else by another one, and so I didn't sit at the counter. "Mind if I use your men's room?" I asked the fat cook. He made a grimace and signaled toward the back with his head. I locked the door and put some cold water on my face, then looked into the mirror. My eyes were slightly crusted at the edges, the skin reddened and dry. My beard was at least a couple of days old and spread across my face like shadow. From my hat to my boots, I was a man in black. Even the revolver holstered on my hip was darkly blued, with ebony grips. I looked like a Halloween fag, but there was nothing to be done about it. It was part of the environmental program.

I was almost too late. I rode the chestnut at a quick walk -- she likes to prance -- past the motel, where I watched Luther's body stiffen like he was in rigor mortis, there beneath the makeshift alter of mesquite and plaster of paris. I didn't look directly at him of course because I don't have to do that. I can use remote viewing and watch the scene from above without ever moving my eyes from straight ahead. It's the kind of thing that's everyday easy on injectables. I saw the enforcers looking out their window, from across the courtyard, waiting for him to get hit full blast by the death fear, so that his shields would be weak enough to penetrate. Once he was tranquilized in that condition, the Priority Chip would be installed by injection gun. The program would expand in the system and infect the DNA computers with a priority code.

There wasn't a back door so there was no way for me to physically intervene. The only thing I could do without direct confrontation with the enforcers was to use my own shields to reinforce him while he was vulnerable. That isn't a hard thing to do so long as they aren't rejected as an outside invasive force. There was no way to know if it would work or if his program would reject them, but there was no time to think about it. He was already going back into the room and onto the bed. The enforcers would be making their move. I asked permission for a remote connection and was denied access. Of course. He didn't know where the danger would come from and it could as easily be me as anyone else. And for all I knew it might be me. Corporate is not in the habit of allowing the RAM to know about the deep architecture. It's a chess game. It's easy to make a clone to think he's saving somebody when he destroys them, just a matter of clever programming.

I sat on the mare, behind his unit, where the only window was in the bathroom, and it was no sure thing that I could fit through it. But I didn't have any other course of action and am not prone to hesitation once I make a linear pattern. I stood in one stirrup and kicked out the aluminum frame. I don't know whether the enforcer heard the noise or not, but I know Luther did, because his superior computing power finally kicked in on the other side of the rejection sickness, and he moved so fast the image of him remained in the bed while I was pulling him through the window.

It was at that moment when the first drops of rain came. They were big drops and they splattered with the authority of law on the town, set between earth and sky, organic life and the western lands of animated spirit contained in story and song. As soon as he was on the ground, Luther took off running. I didn't follow him. I didn't need to follow him because I new where he was going. I remembered, and I rode the mare back up to the overlook.

It was the first time my will was ever free, and as is appropriate with a western god, I threw out a ball of lightning, like Zeus or Thor would do. I watched it encompass the running figure down there on the two lane highway out of town. I watched his energy move back away from it, the same as it had lingered in the room, separated from his essential center. Slowly it faded and the rain increased, until the streams flowed down along the streets and the people began to fear that their houses would be flooded.

Then as quickly as it came it was gone, and I was looking out of my glass cage, in the center of the Operating Theater. Bergamo was holding something up toward the assembled throng of onlookers, and they were laughing uproariously. I focused my eyes. It looked like a liver. "Don't worry," Betty said, "he got if from a chicken."

"Did he get it all?"

"It's too soon to tell," Betty said. "But from the readouts I'd say you are officially an outlaw, now, on the run like the rest of us."

Bergamo saw that I was back out of the green zone, as he calls it, and he took time out from entertaining the spectators with his impersonation of a psychic healer. "Good work," he said. "I wasn't sure how we were going to get him out of there." He laughed. "The Butler did it."

His eyes narrowed. "Well?"

"Nothing," I said. "No effect."

He nodded. "Let's hope I didn't miss any hidden files."

Posted: Tue - June 12, 2007 at 12:15 PM