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How the Retrograde Curse was reverse-engineered (and rather spectacularly, too)
Just another day upon which content was king
The solid earth around me rocks; the view pans in and out, erratic as a poorly-thatched narrative or a grainy ancient film. The rough landing has left me nowhere near my pre-conceived future. Have I been re-routed?
Imagine me last night- laying in my bed, almost dozing, when I wheezed those breathing exercises she’d taught me. I envisioned the ascension of white marble stairs, where with a last soft exhalation I’d disperse fine mists, and pass through into a lucid future of my own ordinance.
Yet instead of delicate ether, the fog of a bog confounded my breath; and now I’m here where I sense should’ve been New Amsterdam; to wit, appears adding tons of asphalt work over a swamp was akin to an open avenue Hercules could’ve fashioned from his Augean mess.
And yes, I’ve already sensed we must narrate in such a crafty way, owing to the general risk of this inky-black night-scene so sketchy and sucked out of air, with its whack-a-mole preponderance of sinkholes in which one would not wish to be stuck, not for all the column-inch from here to kingdom come.
To put it as plain as porter, I’m on a sort of tarmac now, a black parking lot, along with – Lewis? – now, there’s a real character, someone I haven’t seen in years. Desperate, ragged round the jowls, hair a mess, he embodies woe. I have no idea where, or what this parking lot is or why it has reunited us.
Then the wind comes in and up appears a third man, running forward, away from our position; I see only his back, but after enough experience, you can tell whether it’s the conman absent seeing his face. A crashing hit strikes my central core- that he’d been sent with Lewis and I, to this obscure built-upon urban nowhere. Who could he be?
Meanwhile manifest some apathetic teens stood up around their cars, parked between the lot’s white lines; they were there all along, hiding in plain sight, I realize- how had I not seen them?
They approach us. The situation is clarifying.
“Yo what’s the deal with your friend, man?” mutters a slacker. Under his thumb is a photograph. “He asked if we saw these dudes.”
“You see? Hear how everything leaks?” Lewis blubbers, eyeing me sideways, horrified. “Kids, these men have nothing to do with anything!”
I stare at Lewis, perplexed, and then down at the smudged and swarthy soon-to-be-infamous faces imprisoned in the picture forever. What happened to Lewis, I wonder? I try to calm Lewis as the youth smirk.
“After all,” I say philosophically, “it was you and me.”
My consolation takes the game to a new level. An answer swerves suddenly into view; a colorless graphite van slides up in the near distance. Two steely security types leap out the side, throwing hands on the hapless third man.
“Where is the photo?” barks one of the men. “We know you have it!”
“I… I don’t know,” stammers the third man weakly, as they peer around, flashlights steering beams into the darkness, a dog’s husky growl unsettling my nerves. Yet somehow, their beams die in the dark mist separating us.
Indeed! This opaque air, I realize with elation, is the residual vapor of that long-paved bog… I realize we’re safe- the third man may’ve come with us, but now he’s on the other side. He chose his own movie, and we’re in ours… The unfortunate fellow is disappeared into darkness, inside the van, which screeching turns into the night.
“That was close,” whispers Lewis, panting, eyes big and sad. “But what to do with our information?”
The teens seem indifferent to the entire kidnap scene, as if they were mere paid extras. There are low snickers and they face their cars. Somehow, their too-early world-weary apathy annoys me; I surprise even myself by choosing to defend Lewis.
“You know, he’s right!” I yell at them. “After this, just watch- we’ll occupy Afghanistan, for about twenty years, invade Iraq, and then Libya. Expect war upon ruinous war.”
“Uh… whatever,” snips one of the girls, unimpressed.
“No idea what you’re talking about, man,” menaces a boy in a backwards-looking baseball cap.
“Wait and see!” yells Lewis, fingers trembling as if tormented by the weight of an invisible crystal ball. “Someday you’ll be eating insects- and you’ll tell yourselves you’re happy about it! All of your basic freedoms will be taken! You’ll be tethered to electronic devices day and night! And you’ll live to renounce your own cars as the source of all evil on earth!”
The teens stare in baleful silence as Lewis sobs about how hard it is for him and asks, rhetorically enough, can they even imagine how living in such a reality would feel for a man who’d received a personal letter of praise from king on his last play? I counter that king lost the plot years ago, and it’s nothing worth bragging about and maybe he should just pull the microsoft out from behind his ear; actually, I’m playing for time, racing to manifest a convincing pretext for a fistfight, to force the teens retreat to their cars and leave, before we all suffer the third man’s fate, on this night where, in a stray buried field, asphalted over, nothing is real, and perhaps never was since forever.
“It’s hard on the body, coming back from the future,” I apologize to the nervous teens. Making a brave face, I nod knowingly towards Lewis. And, exactly as I’d just envisioned, the trespassing teens slowly back off.
“Uh… whatever,” repeats the girl dubiously, parting scorn narrowing her glittering eyelids. The teens drive off, leaving us to the baffling solidity of the nocturnal plane.
“We’re in a very powerful position here, in this time, again, even though I had meant to be in a better one right now- not to mention in the opposite direction!” I muse, “So, what do you reckon you’ll do?”
“Why, I’ll warn the people!” Lewis blurts.
When did Lewis’ heart ever bled for the people, I wonder? He hadn’t been in that line of work when we were previously in this time… His tone’s terminal conviction now irritates me.
“The people? They may know,” I retort. “But the people don’t care. That”-
“That is why it must be presented as… entertainment!” Lewis exclaims, with sudden, giddy exuberance. I now see the old showman’s lightness free up his tensed frame, as if a sulking embedded demon has been expelled by accidental exorcism.
“Quite right,” I reply, following his lead. “Hell, like the others, I’ll enlist tomorrow. Limited deployment, of course- perhaps a light injury for bona fides. And then I’ll wait… ‘til the machine can bear the weight of it.”
“And then what’ll you do?” says Lewis hopefully.
“I’ll create an online astrology channel and predict everything, in that way,” I conclude. “Much safer than your plan for warning the people.”
“By God, you’re right!” says Lewis, his grin girded by the steely greed of the opportunist. “Can I be your business manager?”