A high tech thriller with plenty of tech and not enough thrills.
Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. This is one of four endings we're posting this week. Vote on this week's endings here.
Kyle Brunke writes:
Listening, Mason did his best to see the pattern but could picture nothing beyond powdered wigs and the vulgar faces miming madly underneath them. Claire's "coldness" had displaced him far away onto a strange pitted surface where dripping wax formed puddles, and the puddles globs, and the globs horrible monsters, and the monsters horrible music, unintelligible to the human ear. A billion failed Mozarts. But that was rather presumptuous of him, Mason thought, observing Regan, her head ensconced in another strange device, scribbling contentedly on a notepad. Amazing Stories. Gelatin creatures chasing women whose admirable parts showed a clear link between the two races, not to mention twin melting pots of the artist's integrity, the publisher's demands, and the teen's dreams. It had been a long time since he had had his calculating brain among the immature, boyish clouds. But wasn't that where the pattern was? In some fog of half-seen taillights that register in blips, which we interpret as prepackaged symphonies and messages of goodwill, even hate? He was reminded of springtime when trees make and sing wonderful music and their leaves rustle imperceptibly. Thank God he was not in the business of phonetics.
"Never listen to the distance, only hear it." Elliot, in reclining mode at his desk, was lecturing to the ceiling. "Myself, I've never listened to a train whistle blowing in the distance. I've heard one, but never listened to one."
"This includes foghorns, I'm sure," Alex said. The five of them were in the lab, strung out after all the readouts they'd been laboring over for the past week or so.
"Especially foghorns," Elliot continued. "Nothing in life presupposes so much as the baleful foghorn. The thing that lives on the horizon—what we make of it outside our senses—is the only evil in this life. And it lends itself to poor writing."
"And the desert oasis," Claire mumbled.
"Yes, that too," Elliot said hypnotically, though his eyes remained out of view if anyone wanted to see how far he'd be willing to go. "Why do you think one always ends up where one started? Distance is an impossible dream. Above you, beyond you, behind you, below you. And for the kids keeping score at home, depending on how you look at it, Titan's some combination thereof."
Mason wanted in on the act too. "You know Elliot, I was one of those kids a long time ago. When the weather was fine and game, there was the rare moment when a broken vehicle could outrace the shadow of a moving cloud drifting up the length of blacktop outside my home." His voice cracked, alarmed at a sudden bell of sincerity, but the others didn't notice the brief pause in confession, or made a concerted effort not to. "Sometimes they'd race the other way and I couldn't tell who'd finish first because my bedroom windowsill hid the last ten feet or so, and my chair was low, and though I could hear the brake at the stop sign, the shadows needed surface to exist and many of the drivers didn't brake so I'd have to start counting when they passed from view and nothing doing at ten, maybe fifteen seconds, I looked to see if darkness slipped up the window, but I never caught a cloud at the very moment it hovered over me, when I knew I was under it and that it wasn't a big one that filled the sky, that it was one you could cover your fist with on the blacktop."
Not a minute had passed before Claire removed her headphones and said quietly, "You should have stuck your head out the window."
Mason smiled. "From what I remember it had bars on it."
Regan was not amused. "But if you're talking about distance Elliot, at what measurement do we stop trying to find the pattern. You're all listening to me and looking at me, but are any of you really–"
"Let's help Mason with those repressed memories by taking him to the horizontal kind of bar, please," interrupted Alex. "Good God. Let's not get too cute with each other. And guess what? Out there, in the distance, it's five o'clock somewhere. Maybe on Titan."
So here they were, after all their fussing, watching the game and telling stories and getting happier as time went by. And then Regan picked up her purse and went over to the deejay and Alex made a crack and when she returned looking glum he said he'd marry her at once if she wished it. Mason couldn't propose. He couldn't watch the game either. He kept listening for things. He couldn't hear without listening. It was there, in that room, this pattern. He found himself at the bar, leaning over the counter, unable to look behind him for fear of acknowledging it. They were dancing. But they couldn't possibly understand it like he did. They were oblivious. He was alone in his knowledge. He was alone.
Elliot saddled up beside him. "Well pardner, I reckon they like it. Regan didn't think he'd play the durn thing."
Mason could hear it above the pounding feet. He wiped his hands in the vibrating pools of drink before him. Then he turned, the glare of the screen, another leather spiral, passing over his face so that Elliot and anyone else watching could see its joy in the darkness around them where top tens seep through brawny muscle and greased hair; at the sound of broken glass, pleas of good behavior signal from the middle of a rapidly growing expanse of open floor, deciphered by the establishment in a message that says who will stay and who will go. Kind of like the ones that pop up overnight in fields, he thought. But he didn't wait for the sound of glass breaking. He bade his friends goodbye and listened to Elliot's slurred dreams about the future of rock n' roll. He told them a joke that made their eyes roll and he left it at that lest they begin to water and when he closed the door behind him he felt the night air on his entire face, though a scarf covered half of it. The dark overcast pleated in small corners and walking, and then sitting, and then walking again, and then kneeling resolutely beside Alma Mater, watching, listening, sober, he understood calmly that he was marked for Titan.
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