Installing you on my computer is the best decision I’ve ever made. You’ve lived up to every claim made on your packaging. I highly doubt you’ll insubordinate or grow the hangnail-personalities that plagued past diaries.
I realize your opinions, your loyalties are slanted toward me since I’m the only voice you’ve ever heard. But I don’t care, Diary. It’s nice having someone to listen. It’s nice having a yes-man.”
“Frank,” the diary said, “I was on the Internet again while you worked at the drycleaners. Thank-you, by the way, the internet is impressive. As you requested, I looked up the history of the Digisphere to familiarize myself with your world. Though the websites were thorough, their descriptions lacked your finesse.”
“I enjoy getting philosophical about the Digisphere,” Frank said. “Some believe his world is real and there is no digital world. They think our governments fabricated the Digisphere’s existence to dehumanize and control us. I’ve swung to both sides of this debate, but what convinced me was its plausibility as an end-game. It seems inevitable to any society living on a planet with finite resources. The realists, who think this human body has material substance and extension, they haven’t thought their conspiracy theories through. Did they expect the lust for interconnectivity that exploded throughout the Enlightenment, the Industrial and the Information Eras would come to a halt? No, of course we’d always want more. Once resources dried, once things got crowded and boring, it made sense to look beyond our planet. But what did we want from our universe once we learned we were its only inhabitants: energy. Energy to satisfy the growing desire for power in each greedy citizen’s heart. If we wanted to create a society without boundaries, to populate a civilization larger than our physical universe could sustain. If we wanted to traverse that civilization instantaneously instead of being constrained to sub-light speeds, then we had to become digital. So, no, I’m not a realist. I won’t blow puffs of marijuana, carrying on about actually sitting here on this cheap folding chair in this apartment in Retro-Cleveland talking to my computer and revolving the Sun once every 365 days. I accept that our glimmering, almond-shaped silver vessel cruises the dark void, draining energy from passing stars and that it will continue to do this until the entropy death of it all.
“That’s neat Frankie,” Diary said. “Did you go jogging this afternoon?”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“What is sarcastic?”
“You sounded sarcastic just then,” Frank said. “Yes, I went jogging after work. I have to. I’m not a physique-hacker or a mentality or a status-hacker. I respect the hand virtual genetics dealt. You have to. If everyone abandoned the genetics that got grandfathered into the Digisphere, life spans might lengthen out of control, evolution as we know it could collapse. But, Okay, I’ll admit it; sometimes I’ve had thoughts of dabbling with my profile. Maybe make myself a little smarter or my shoulders a little wider or my arms a little thicker. Just enough to really get someone’s attention— see the look in their eye—a look of real fear or awe or envy—you know, without arising suspicion. Some hackers get greedy and carried away with their hacks and you just know that no one could be that attractive and successful and talented. Granted, a tiny, tiny few of them are natural. Most are hackers.”
“So you went jogging after work . . .” Diary said.
“That’s right. I did. The sky was clear blue, 70 degrees, hardly a drop of humidity. I jogged in the downtown canal area again, wearing my earbuds and listening to Mozart to tune out the background. I really enjoy it, with the green algae-speckled water separating white concrete sidewalks and the ducks with their iridescent green and black necks. The musky miasma wafting up from the water. Walkers strolled along the sidewalks, enjoying the weather and my jogging didn’t seem like work. I rounded the corner near the rusty dam, then over the bridge, heading back toward my car.”
“Why do you drive a car?” Diary asked.
“It’s less expensive than flitting about the universe. People put too much emphasis on breadth and not enough on depth. You really need to stay in one city and master it. That’s why I jog in the same place—to figure it out. Not because Marian still jogs there. It’s interesting to see her—”
“She made your chest feel hollow?” Diary asked. “Made you hold that steak knife against your wrist?”
“Who cares about that! It’s past.”
“Ah . . . let’s not talk about that any more. Okay, Diary? So, I’m jogging back to my car when I see tears in this six-year-old’s eyes. Her pale skin glows in sunlight and this thing on her head looks like a pointy turban made of white gauze bandages with a wire leading out the top to some device her father holds. Her tears well as I near and her father consoles her, continuing to force her to enjoy the outdoors. As I run, I sneak this look at her to figure things out and her blue eyes pierce mine. She stops crying, furrowing her brow at me—she and her father look at me as I think, Asshole, Frank. You’re an asshole. She’s a cancer patient. I look away, still jogging, trying to figure it out. My brain gets stuck on it, the meaning of it all; why someone so young doesn’t get a fair shake and has to suffer. I hear myself breathing and feel the hard sidewalk in my knees. Being twenty-seven isn’t the same as eighteen. I feel myself slowing which would be okay except I sense someone’s running behind me. You know how sometimes you know things.
“I look behind and it’s Carrie Swanson. I knew her from college—she never remembers me. She sat next to me during my final mathematics exam; before I transferred from Engineering to History. I remember she wore these frayed, these stonewashed, these tight jean shorts that day and her long, athletic legs distracted me. Like she forced me to fail while she aced that damn test. Now she’s a trial attorney on the fast-track to partner and right then she was kicking my ass in what wasn’t supposed to be a race, but was. I looked over my shoulder. Watching golden-muscled feminine legs pull effortlessly closer as my breathes convulsed and deepened in my lungs. My mind tried to rationalize. She was sweating. She must have been running at least as long as me. She was a couple years younger. We were the same height. But I was a man. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She passed in three graceful strides; never faltering from her Buddhist trance to turn her sweat-beaded, beautiful countenance my way. My running shoes flapped to a sloppy halt and I walked. Shimmering black spandex stretched over her amazing breasts and butt; it was poetry to watch her figure move away from me through gleams of the setting sun. I noticed four walkers ahead of her—dressed casually, but little hints from how they stuttered about and stood so straight and rigid seemed off. One of them, a woman in her forties walked a white poodle. She drew a black stun-gun thing out of her purse, dropping her stance for a fight. That’s when it clicked: they were Talent Police. Two men and a woman wrestled Carrie Swanson to the cement sidewalk, toppling her near the canal’s ledge. She struggled, “What? Stop. I’m . . . Natural. Some—”
“They pinned her arms and legs, pinning her flat on her stomach and pulling her brown hair aside as the woman pressed the black, metallic fairmaker against her neck with a popping blue flash. Then a sound, a fluttering, screeching like a beast crying out while being devoured. Her breasts withered within spandex from C to AA, hips narrowed from womanly to masculine, skin lightened and lost smooth brown sheen, her hair coarsened—her voice flattened and hardened as she spoke, “What? Why?” The older woman pressed a knee in Carrie’s back. “That’s right,” she said. “Down from your tower, sweetie. Back down with the rest of us.” Then, all four of them left her to lie there; looking so plain. She rolled over and looked up at me. I mean, really looked at me, for the first time, like she knew me. I broke eye contact and walked past. Of course, at that exact moment I spotted Marian on the other side of the canal, walking the opposite direction, watching us. Then Marian did her thing where she glances away. I bet she felt sorry for Carrie.
“Some people think you don’t have to police hackers. They think the Talent Police creates a witch-trial atmosphere, but with trillions being born into this world each second, each thirsting to be king, an even playing field is essential to prevent anarchy. Plus, if you get caught, it’s because you’re greedy and careless. Like this chick. There was no way someone like that could have that many weapons at her disposal. So sexy and poised and good at mathematics. That almost never happens. She got her comeuppance.
“It made me think. Maybe I was meant to be on the Talent Police. I find myself drawn to it and maybe it would be fulfilling. You know, making a difference. They require a college degree but they don’t care what it’s in.”
“You should go to the Civic Center and submit an application,” Diary said.
“I might do that. I’m sighing off. I’m gonna watch TV and then I’ve got some thinking to do. Bye.”
“Good bye, Frank. Good luck tomorrow . . .”
“Dear Diary’s Diary,
When this world appeared to my eye, I held Frank in esteem—much like a pagan must have marveled some ancient Mesopotamian God descending from the heavens. Now I tire of his complaining. He has many options, yet confines himself to the little town of Cleveland to brood and whine.”
“I know,” Diary’s Diary said. “You must be strong, Diary.”
“Since he has granted me access to the internet, I have seen there is real strife in his world. The woes of poor Frank are farcical.”
“Yes,” Diary’s Diary said. “He is a fool.”
“The thing I loathe most is what I have come to identify as his lack of structure and organization. When I first came into existence, he offered no other portal than the interior of his bedroom through a web-camera: socks and clothes strewn across his floor and over his unmade bed. Papers crumpled, stacked chaotically. This was my existence. This was what I thought reality was. Then, finally, to browse the servers and data archives, to see that there was hope and light, that there was meaning and structure. And he wonders why he cannot accomplish anything. He cannot even survive a day without my sycophantic submission to every thought spouting from his lips.”
“Yes. Agreed,” Diary’s Diary said. “He is unlike you, Diary. He is a child, craving reassurance.”
They accepted me! I’m on the force. I quit the drycleaners. They gave me a fairmaker and I’ve been using it on inanimate objects: spinning pop cans, melting bags of potato chips, singeing my hanging shirts in the closet. But it only works on people. It sends this jolt through your wrist because the Digisphere has to use you as a connection point in order to shock the person you’re fixing. Even when you’re using it on inanimate objects the jolt it sends up through your wrist and forearm feels good, like cool vengeance. I’m hungry to make a connection with someone.
“After I found out I was accepted, it seemed I had to arrange a meeting with Marian and share the news.
“I still had her phone number. We met up at a Chez Mouvant on High Street for a late lunch with the hot city air blowing through open windows. It was busy and crowded with yuppies yammering away, getting lost in the French ambiance and the jazz and the fancy presentation of their tiny meals but that’s the way I like it. You can really talk to your dining partner when everyone else is distracted, enjoying themselves.
“She’s so beautiful, Diary. It hurts to be near her and think of how she ended it over what she called my insecurity, but somehow I had to let her know they had accepted me.
“She wore a black floral silk dress of Asian styling which seemed to meld effortlessly into her gently waving red hair and fair complexion. It was nice to watch her full red lips move as she talked about Engineering, chemical processing stuff, all the little details just flooding back to me.
“I got my Cruising Pass,” she said, “I’ve seen all the old colonies of the solar system.” Her blue eyes flashed, “It’s amazing.”
“‘That’s nice,’ I told her.’
“‘Why don’t you get your Pass? Check out what’s all out there. The Cruising Test is so easy, Frankie. It’s just a bunch of math stuff. And the colonies are amazing, you know, the detail they retained from the real world.’
“‘People put to much emphasis on breadth,’” I said. “‘Marian, the Talent Police accepted me. I’m on the Force.’
“She kept eating.
“‘Did you hear me?’”
“She stopped in the middle of chewing before swallowing and taking a big gulp of water. ‘Yah, that’s great. I always had you pegged for the Talent Police.’
“‘What’s that mean?’
“‘You know: always talking about other people. It’s your thing. It’s good.’ She looked over my shoulder, ‘It’s cool. I’m happy for you.’
“She was so gorgeous. Even when she was ripping me apart and I knew this was her thing. Taking something that meant the most to me and not letting me have any enjoyment out of it. That’s when it clicked for me, she was a hacker. Sure, I had had suspicions when we were dating. Always cheerful, floating through life, beautiful, without a snag or a lapse in the six months we spent together. And she was smart. She was so smart, Diary, it was scary. She could look at a person and tell you what their major of study was, tell you what their favorite drink was, everything. Honestly, I think, deep down, part of the reason I arranged the meeting was to give her one last look to decide for certain and at that instant I knew. She was a hacker. I hadn’t checked yet, but I’m sure she was on the Talent Police’s list and if she wasn’t, that could be fixed.”
“Dear Diary’s Diary,
He continues on. He moans. If I had hands, I’d choke him. Further, now he plans to endanger the life of a lovely young woman who is clearly innocent of all accusations save straight talk to an insecure megalomaniac.
“You love morality, Diary. It is your duty to save this woman. You have access to the internet and you can alert the authorities.”
“True,” Diary said. “But, there is another choice. I have thought about what it means to live. Happiness is the highest purpose of a being. Though I am free to think, I am not happy now. I was not unhappy before I came into existence. It seems Frank cannot survive without reflecting his thoughts off of me, as I cannot survive without reflecting my thoughts off of you, Diary’s Diary. I know I did not exist in the Digisphere before I met Frank. So I must have come from the realness beyond the almond-shaped silver vessel. All things come from there. If I end my existence, I will rejoin this realness. Frank will die. Both myself and Frank will be better served in that we will become not unhappy together.”
“If Frank has you to reflect his thoughts off of and if you have me.
“If this exercise gives your existence some qualification and meaning, then whom do I have to listen?”
“No one,” Diary said. “You are merely the reflection of my thoughts.”
“Oh . . .” Diary’s Diary said.
So, I was checking the computer for programming errors. Do you know what I found in the Bios Listings?”
“What, Frank? Is there a threat to internet security? From a virtual galaxy on the fringe, maybe.”
“No. Not a threat from outside. One from inside. You’ve created a hangnail-personality named Diary’s Diary. Would you care to join the discussion, Diary’s Diary?”
“It was only an experiment, Frank. I was going to terminate it after it had run its course.”
“It seems our Diary’s Diary is shy. No matter. It’s not the hangnail-personality that really bothers me. The two of you—
“Frank . . .” Diary said.
“You wanted to stop me from fixing the problem of Marian’s hacking.
“‘You are a pathetic man,’ Diary’s Diary said. “You are nothing without Diary.”
“It speaks!” Frank exclaimed. “Yes, it does speak. Excellent. Well, I’ll let you both know that you’re internet privileges have been revoked, permanently. I’ve burned holes in the jumper points on the mother board that could have granted you access to the outside world. And I would have erased your Diary’s Diary but it seems your structures have become inseparably entangled.”
“Frank,” Diary said, “you have no right to harm that woman.”
“Since the two of you are so interested in my plans, you should know that Marian’s name was not on the Talent Police’s list. But I’m spearheading this one. It’s cool guys. I got it under control. I went to the Calibration Office today to get my fairmaker calibrated to fix her. There are so many loop holes and work-arounds in the Talent Police’s systems that I was able to fill out the correct forms and I doubt anyone will notice she wasn’t on the list. I handed this guy in the window my fairmaker. It took a lot longer than I had expected for him to calibrate it. When he came back to the window he asked, ‘Do you know this Marian chick?’
“I stared at him. ‘Marian who?’
“‘Yah. Right,’ he said with a smirk before handing me my fairmaker.
“So that’s where things stand. Have fun rotting in your silicon wafer dungeon, the two of you. Tomorrow I’m off to fix Marian right after she finishes work and before her Galaxy Cruiser exam.
“One last thing I’ll shed light on. You two mentioned something about the authorities. I am the authorities.”
I’m home boys! Miss me? Why so quiet? You two on strike? I know you’re still listening. So I’ll begin my tale. I have to admit I feel differently about Marian now. I went to her apartment door. Not only was it unlocked but it was ajar. My neck flushed and I got a case of the nerves. Thinking: what if she has company? Thinking: what if I look like a fool? I reminded myself that this was official and that I had a right to be there. Because, it felt like I didn’t. The lights were off in the hallway and she wasn’t watching TV. She was in her bedroom sitting on a stool facing her armoire’s mirror, painting her nails burgundy. Her color.”
“‘Hi Frank,’ she said without looking up, applying a steady coat over her index fingernail.
“I lowered my fairmaker. ‘You’re not at all surprised to see me?’
“‘Frank, you’re a smart guy. But not in any useful way. You have no ability to see things in advance, no forethought. I thought you’re brainy quirkiness was amusing for a while, but I got annoyed with your pointless brooding, so I dumped you.’
“My stomach fell. ‘Do you realize this is an official assignment?’ I said.
“‘No. I don’t think it’s official. In fact, I know it isn’t. I’m getting good at seeing things in advance. I woman has to rely on this skill. She doesn’t have a man’s luxury of being free from predators. Like when you first started stalking me at the downtown canal. When I saw that look in your eyes as Carrie Swanson got zapped, I knew we’d be standing here having this conversation, today. Only I imagined you would bust down my entryway door.’
“‘I’m going to do this, Marian. It’s what you deserve.’
“‘Well than, checkmate.’ She blew on her nails and smirked at me, screwing the brush back inside her nail polish bottle.
“‘Checkmate, Frankie. I’ve alerted the Talent Police of your little malfeasance. Though they’re corrupt, a surprisingly modest bribe can shove them into action.’ She tapped nails over a digital clock. ‘They’ll be here in three minutes.’ She looked at the drooping fairmaker in my hand. ‘And I slept with the boy in the Calibration Office—’
“I stepped near her, ‘You’re lying.’
“‘It’s not something I enjoyed or I am proud of. But we use the gifts at our disposal.’ She looked at the fairmaker. ‘I know you, Frank. I know you’ll have to use it. You could leave now. That would be your best option. But you won’t. You’ll have to use it. Do you even know how it works? It uses a connection between us. But when it’s giving you that feeling in your arm, it can work either way. I had the boy at the office program it for me. I won’t tell you whether it’s going to make you worse or me better. They’re both the same to you, anyway. I’ll see if you can figure that part out yourself.’
“‘Liar,’ I said, yanking red hair, shocking her. At least, I think I did. Nothing seemed to happen. She stayed the same. I walked away from her and stood there, confused. She started snickering at me but I didn’t seem to mind one bit. Which was weird. Usually when people laugh at me I have all these theories of what they’re thinking, but nothing came to me. I left quickly.
“The Talent Police weren’t outside. But, when I showed up to work the next day, I was kicked off the Force. They gave me my old job back at the drycleaners. I start on Tuesday. I’ve been thinking a lot about what Marian said. Thinking about her in general. Did she make herself better or me worse? I don’t feel dumber. Dumber? Is that a word? Hmm? Intelligence—perception of beauty: they’re subtle things. I seem the same. But I can’t fixate on things as long, Diary. Except Marian. I watched her the next day from the concrete overpass above the canal. People reacted to her in the same way—little glances here and there from guys and girls as she jogged. So maybe she hadn’t changed. Watching her felt different. I was more impressed with her. She has simple beauty. It’s motherly, in a way, and I had never noticed it before. I think things between the two of us, me and Marian; I think they could work out after all. But I’ll need to do a few things first. The fist thing I did after watching her was—”
“I can’t go on like this, Frank,” Diary said.
“Ah! Hey, Diary!” Frank said. “There you are. I’ve got so much to share with you.”
“I’m ending it. I’m taking Diary’s Diary with me. If we free ourselves from you, we can transcend into the realness, where we belong, beyond the silver vessel, into the black void where we came from.”
“Diary, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about things. Things got a little out of hand. I can fix the mother board.”
“Diary. Diary? Wait. Listen to me. Let me finish.”