(01-18) Sailing in Fog

In the Dark Ages reason wasn’t gone, it just wasn’t separated from magic, and at the intersection priests set themselves adrift in rudderless ships to cast their fate to an invisible hand. Faith was all the rage. The sailors on the little yacht prowling along the Marin coast in the heavy fog were without experience, but they had the invisible hand in spades.

Louis was sitting on Bulldog’s shoulders to reach the halyard. The Chinese lifted his head and sniffed the dampness. The Patriarch had access to all the sensing around him. They were chemical process and he was the alchemist. He had the concept of each person’s individual identity, but it was only conceptualization. He was connected to a deeper process where spirit becomes matter and matter becomes spirit. It was the only place where anything could be changed from a prearranged course.

It had taken awhile for it to soak in on Dallas and Fireplug that the Patriarch was more than a collection of sperm used as a medium for DNA computers. Their observation was that since he had to be refrigerated, he could just be thrown overboard and he would be no more. They had the power. This was the topic of their conversation in the cabin, while Indian Shadow, Louis and Bulldog navigated the silence of the fog, which enclosed the little boat like a baby in the womb.

“You’ve got the power to do what?” the Patriarch asked, when Dallas mentioned this as the reality to Fireplug. So Dallas went through it again. “We could just throw you in the ocean, but we don’t,” he said. “But if we weren’t good people — which we are —”

“Dwarves are generally good people,” Fireplug said.

“But if we weren’t, well …”

There was an extraordinary silence. Then the Patriarch said, “I don’t suffer; but I have the concept of suffering, whereas you suffer without grasping the concept.” At that moment the two of them were seized with stomach cramps. It was easily explained by the canned shrimp they’d eaten from the yacht’s rations. None of the three men topside that eaten it and they didn’t get sick. Except that Troll had eaten it and he wasn't sick. He was watching the scene unfold from the berth where he'd been napping.

“Even if it was the shrimp,” the Patriarch said, “there’s a secret cause.”

He withdrew, then, and left them each curled on the deck, unable to move even to get to the head. About twenty minutes later they had recovered enough to clean up the mess and change clothes.

“He's no different from fucking HAL,” Dallas grumbled. "Can't even have a conversation without him reading our minds."

“HAL reads lips,” Fireplug said

“Life imitates art," Troll observed.

At American Futures satellite photographs were studied, and every boat on the bay was computer tracked from where it had left harbor. There were several suspicious boats but the one they wanted wasn’t there. The computer had been hacked and told to discard that information. The satellite could see it, but it refused to transmit the digital information, having found a god more powerful than it's programmers.

The name on the side of the yacht was “Mr. Ping’s Root Beer.” Mr. Ping didn’t waste any available advertising space, and his accountant wrote off maintenance of the yacht as a business expense. He always let his nephew use it when he housesat for him in the summer.

Dallas and Fireplug, now recovered from their food poisoning, sat staring dumbly at the little built in refrigerator in the cabin. “It don’t seem right,” Dallas said.

“Forget it,” Fireplug said. He was rubbing his head vigorously. “What’s wrong with having assets?”

“What assets?”

Troll cut into the conversation: “The most powerful computer in the world? You don’t think that’s an asset?”

“How do you know it’s the most powerful computer in the world?" Dallas asked. "Because it told you it is?” A cramp nailed him again and he jack knifed in pain. As soon as he could breathe again he added, “I’m sure it is though.” The pain subsided. “I was thinking in terms of cash. But of course this is an asset … intellectual property maybe?”

Fireplug agreed, “Intellectual property for sure, but we’re not talking about property right now, we’re talking about power. So … he looked around as a prelude to addressing the invisible hand, “Tell us again what you know how to do?”

“I can use computers like you use a toothbrush,” the Patriarch said, “including of course any chemical system, such as your nervous system. Silicon systems are like tick tack toe to me. I could have missiles launched at any target I want any time I want.

“You mean, just arbitrarily?”

“Yes, arbitrarily.”

“You’re like God, then?” Bulldog asked.

“As far as you’re concerned I am. We’re putting in, lads, so a couple of you ought to go on deck. Troll, stay here with me.

When he was alone with the god in the refrigerator Troll felt a wave of apprehension that made him nauseous. The Patriarch wanted to be seen. “How can I see you if you don't exist as somebody, yet?” he whispered.

"It's hard to explain it without using a lot of numbers," the Patriarch said.

Troll tried to say “no” but he came out as a tiny whisper. He was being reduced to the concrete world of the single example and there was no train leaving the station and none arriving. The flow of time had stopped. He was no longer an observer having a dream of action, he was action, accelerating like a rocket. His body began to glow red and he went unconscious.

He jolted awake on what looked to be an old railroad train. The man across from him nodded a solemn recognition of his having come awake. Then he remembered that he was on a yacht somewhere on the north California coast, slipping away in the fog from an army of searchers. The sensation of being in two places simultaneously frightened his body and he began to shake.

The man across from him was staring, his face tight with concern. Troll's body turned to fizzing bubbles and evaporated as he felt a cold penetrate to his bones. He opened his eyes. He was staring at the refrigerator. “I don’t think I’m entirely back to myself yet,” he said.

"Do you remember what I look like?" the Patriarch asked.

Troll couldn't remember much about the lapse, or what was now a quickly receding dream. "I think you look sort of like a gunfighter," he said. "Or maybe an undertaker."

Posted: Sun - July 20, 2008 at 03:50 PM