The perspective that had been Archibald Lind pulled back. We saw the limp body, like a toy we were done playing with, as the other toys, with their players, moved it about.
What a silly game, and how deep in it we had been! We saw Arch Lind's whole life, laid out in place without time, like pages in a comic book. We lived again our suffocating biophobic mother, our raging unpredictable father, the total abuse and absolute loneliness of school, the whole emotional onslaught, from barbarism to indifference to dehumanizing pity, and we marveled at our impossible victory: that we did not wither and die, but plodded on, day, month, year. At last we found refuge in the world of science: our allies, these clean, undemanding symbols, had the power to wipe away the incomprehensible malignancy of humanity.
But now we saw wider, into the hearts of other people, desperate, befuddled, horribly maimed, but like us, heroically struggling, like half-squashed insects dragging themselves across the floor. How presumptuous to demand that they, in their condition, care for us. We were all like a heap of tortured babies shitting on each other.
But now we saw wider still, to the beings who did care for us: the cells of our bodies pulsing with life, our hearts tirelessly pumping, our digestive systems passing our half-poisonous food, our limbs and fingers moving, trusting us, not asking thanks, as we wore them down like demons riding horses to death.
We saw the clouds coming off the oceans to fill our rivers, the roots and stems of plants reaching and growing, the dance of insects and microbes. The wrongness was not biological life, or even humans -- it was something that had got into humans, something that was not after all very big or important.
...Because now we saw a glimpse of the many worlds, in which all of human civilization was one paragraph in one book in a library that towered over the stars, or the flick of an ant's antenna in a jungle with no beginning or end. And yet this jungle was present in the smallest part of everything.
It's right here:
"Shouldn't you blow in his mouth?"
"Maybe, but I ain't. You want to?"
The shoving on Arch's chest stopped, and he feebly turned his head and vomited out the warm brown water. He half rolled and lay coughing and convulsing. As his vision returned, he saw the orange clouds of sunset, and in front of them, the grizzled faces of two hobos looking down at him. He smelled brine and heard the cries of seagulls. It was good to be alive.
He didn't quite remember who he was or where he was, and took pleasure in not knowing. The two men put his arms over their shoulders and walked him half a mile up to a shelter, where a worker saw him and called an ambulance.
At the hospital they asked him his name, but he still didn't feel like remembering. They cleaned him and dressed him in dry paper clothing and left him on a cot in a room with people mostly worse off than him. The fluorescent lights flickered. He slept.
In the morning they moved him to some kind of refugee center, a warehouse divided by office partitions. There were sleeping areas around the edges, a dining area, and a common area with a television. To one side, behind walls and doors, were the offices of the people who ran the place. There were a lot of doctor types and security guards. Surveillance cameras stuck out all around the walls. Arch didn't like it.
"What's your name?" asked someone with a clipboard.
"Can I leave?"
"Do you have family to go to?"
"We release clients only to family. Otherwise we keep you here for your own safety."
"If we give you something to eat, will you tell us your name?"
They just gave him a number, on a blue laminated wrist tag that he couldn't take off. They fed him soggy noodles and metallic-tasting peas, and a carton of milk which he refused. "Next time," they said, "you eat with your color group. That's blue."
He went to the bathroom and noticed half-concealed surveillance cameras there. They made him angry. He felt his anger reaching out of him like a crushing hand. Then he felt better.
He went and sat in the common area. In a minute, he noticed two technicians hurrying into the bathroom. They must really have to go!
There was a baseball game on TV and he didn't like it. That's nice -- it's off now. But the people are sad -- they liked watching the game. Ah, good -- it's back on.
"What the hell was that?"
"Is there another remote?"
"TV's on the fritz."
Arch sat and listened to the air go in and out of him.
In a little while they brought him into the medical area. Over the partition he could hear voices.
"They're both totally fried."
"Probably a power surge. The electricity in this building's been freaky all day."
A woman in a white lab coat held up a white cotton swab. "This is to test you for disease. It won't hurt." She put it inside his nose and rubbed it around. It was damp. Something there was familiar.
"I know you," he said.
"No, I'm sure we've never met."
Arch smiled. "My baby's come to visit."
"Your landlady doesn't like me," Jenny said.
"That's her problem." Carl was at his computer desk and Jenny sat on the bed. "The lease allows me to have a guest fourteen nights a month, and you've only been here five."
"But after fourteen..."
"She doesn't see you come and go every time. We'll say you're splitting your time between here and another place."
"She knows I'm not."
"But she can't prove it." He turned his body to face her. "Do you want to look for another place?"
"Not until we have to."
"Then let's stay here as long as we can. Hey, do you want to know the latest conspiracy news?"
"More about Professor Veer?"
"No, they've pretty much decided I'm either a space alien or a Russian spy. This is something new. This biowar scientist at Fort Detrick, Archibald Lind, has gone missing. He got on a plane Tuesday night, flew to LA, San Francisco, Seattle, all in one day, then vanished."
"This site--" he pointed at the screen "--has an informant who says Lind has ties with China, and that he's a nutcase who wants to end the world. So they're thinking he planted some kind of plague all up the west coast, with the tsunami to cover for it. Here--" he clicked to another window "--they've got a picture of him. Look."
There came a knock at the door.
Carl opened it. It was the landlady, a tough looking middle aged woman with graying blond hair.
"If she stays," she said, pointing to Jenny, "you have to pay double rent."
"She's a guest. I'm allowed to have guests."
"She's living here."
"She's staying. She lost her place in the tsunami--"
"I don't care. You pay double rent or you're out."
"Do you want me to call the police?"
"She's right," the cop said to Carl. He was weary-looking and had a soft voice. "The American Victory act supersedes all landlord-tenant law. She can throw you out for any reason with 24 hours notice."
"Are you going to pay double rent?" the landlady asked.
Jenny shook her head. Carl agreed. "No."
"Then you've got 24 hours." She went back inside.
The cop sighed. "I don't like it either, but it's the law now. A lot of people on the streets, makes my job harder." He turned away. "Good luck."
Carl said to Jenny, "Do you have other friends you can stay with?"
"Maybe. But I'd rather not split up."
"What are you willing to put up with," he said, "to not split up?"
"What do you have in mind?"
Carl eyed the abandoned house next door. "Let's find out."
Arch sat against the wall in the blue sleeping area and felt his intellect coming back. His friend was in his body now, multiplying, and it reminded him of amino acid sequences, laboratory procedures -- things he didn't understand, but just flashing through them brought back mental habits: cause and effect, action, attention, model, action.
I burned out the eyes in the bathroom, and I made the TV go off and on. How did I do that?
He reached out again, gently, at the camera ten feet above him. He took his time. Dinner time came, and he went and ate and came back and felt it some more. It was like feeling a tiny watch mechanism with powerful stubby fingers. He could touch it lightly and make it stop, or touch it harder and break it, but nothing else. Bedtime came, and he practiced feeling down the wires to the other cameras, and back toward the power source, until he fell asleep.
The next day he walked all around the place feeling everything: the computers, a thousand times more complex than the cameras, and the lights, a thousand times simpler. He lay staring up at the ceiling making different lights go off and on, or strobe at different speeds. Beside the big front door he noticed a thing that would click either way, and he knew vaguely that it was important. By the end of the day he could make the TV set go to another channel, but he couldn't choose which one, and he could feel through the walls to the jumble of devices in the administration area.
The following morning they gathered everyone together. The reds were at breakfast, and the blues and whites sat in the chairs of the common area or on the floor. Arch sat staring at the tiny colored fibers that made up the gray carpet, while a new doctor spoke.
"Due to the risk of flood-borne illness, as a precautionary measure, today my assistants and I are going to give you all immunization shots. We'll start..."
Arch muttered under his breath "There is no immunization."
A man next to him heard and said quietly, "You know that?"
Arch looked up. Of the three assistants standing behind the doctor, one was the agent who had given him the beaker, and another was the agent who had drowned him.
In a wave across the ceiling all the lights exploded. Some of the panels blew out and bits of glass from the broken tubes rained down in the dim blue light of sparks flashing from cameras, television, monitors and computers. People screamed, cursed, huddled, ran. Arch walked over to the front door and clicked the mechanism beside it, and opened it and walked out. Following the light, dozens of inmates poured out after him, and behind them guards and doctors, futilely pushing buttons on electric shock guns and cell phones.
A guard wrestled with a fleeing woman, who screamed. Sharply, a man shouted "Let them go! They were here by consent. They've been free to go at any time."
Arch kept walking away. He was still very angry. He could hear the wires on the poles above him crackling. The images of how those men had used him and killed him circled through his body and mind. Then he remembered his view from the other place, how they too had been used and confined and -- in a sense -- killed. He remembered his previous self, the scientist, so much more intelligent but lost, as if he had fallen into a single square in a crossword puzzle and couldn't get out no matter which letter he tried.
Arch cycled through the views, the scientist, tense and hunted, the player outside time, drifting up from his body, and at last himself here and now, walking down the sidewalk on a quiet Saturday morning, the sky overcast but bright, the scents of trees and wildflowers and car exhaust, the feel of his arms swinging and his feet touching and lifting off the pavement. His paper slippers were getting in the way, and he shook them off and walked barefoot.
Sirach Pierce tensed. He replayed in his mind the sound of the knock. It was not the way cops knock, the four or five commanding blows. It was quieter, calmer. The baby didn't cry but looked curiously at the door. He set her down and went over stealthily and looked through the crack at the bottom. Bare feet! Whoever it was, it wasn't dangerous. He opened the door.
The man standing there looked a lot like himself, but older: a white guy, thin, medium height, dark eyes, short black hair. His face looked intelligent but blank. He was dressed in hospital clothes, with a blue tag hanging from his wrist.
Now Sirach was nervous again. Is this an escaped mental patient? Barefoot not because he's natural but because he's insane? But his face didn't look erratic or dangerous, but balanced and serene. The man spoke:
"I've come looking for a place to stay. Your house is clean and bright."
Sirach looked over his shoulder at the darkness and clutter. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. This is a good house. Can I come in?"
Sirach stepped out of the doorway and let him in. "Ah, there's the light," the man said, pointing to the baby on the bed. He squatted down and looked at her and she reached out for him and smiled. "What's her name?"
"I call her Suncatcher."
"She's a sun in herself." The strange man and the baby stared at each other.
"Uh, so where did you come from?" Sirach said. "What's the thing on your wrist?"
"They put me in the blue group. I left that place."
Sirach looked closely at the tag. There was a number and a bar code, and a space for a name that was left blank. "How long were you there?"
"Two days. I have a baby too."
"Boy or girl?"
He giggled. "My baby's a virus."
Just then, through cracks in the front boards, came red and blue flashing lights. "Shit. The cops. They followed you here."
"I don't think so."
"We've got to hide the baby." Sirach bolted the back door and went to the kitchen where he had already prepared a hiding place, a deep drawer with no handle, lined with blankets. He opened it and then went to the front of the house to peek out at the police. He would wait until the last moment to hide her, until they broke in. They might just knock and go away.
But they weren't coming here. They were talking to people outside the house next door. Did they turn me in? No -- they aren't even looking over here. What's this about? After a minute a woman went inside, and then the two police left, and the other two came carefully up the side path and knocked lightly at the door.
Sirach went to put Suncatcher in the drawer but she began crying. No use now. He set her on the bed and opened the door.
The guy was tall and nerdy-looking, the woman short and dark. What could they want?
"Hi," Carl said. "We live next door..."
Carl paused, unsure how to ask if he could move in, or if he even wanted to. Sirach didn't know if these people were here to threaten him, or what. They eyed each other nervously. Finally Jenny said, "We just got thrown out."
For the third time in fifteen minutes, Sirach relaxed. "You want to move in!"
"If it's OK," Carl said.
"Sure. I'm here alone, or I was until just now." He led them in and gestured to the man by the bed. "This is..."
Carl gasped. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He went for the door and Sirach thought he was going to run, but instead he closed it, and said "...Archibald Lind."
Arch's face lit up. "Yes! That's me!"
Sirach said, "You know this guy?"
"He's a biowar scientist. He flew into Seattle Wednesday and disappeared."
"This is no scientist, not now."
"What do you mean?" Carl said.
Jenny knew what he meant. She sat next to the man and took his hand. "Archibald?"
"Call me Arch."
"What did they do to you?"
He didn't say anything. Sirach said to Carl, "He's brain-damaged."
"They damaged my brain," Arch said. "I used to be smart."
"In the place you came from?" Sirach said, and touched the tag. "The place where they gave you this?"
"Not that place. That's where they gave me my baby."
Jenny stared at Suncatcher. "This is your
"No. That's my baby. I don't know what he's talking about. He said his baby's--" Now Sirach was wide-eyed.
"He said his baby's a virus."
They all looked at each other. Then Carl spoke to Arch. "You made a virus."
"And you flew to the west coast."
"And you released the virus?"
Carl explained to Sirach, "Some of the web sites say he did, as an agent of the Chinese."
"I believe you," Jenny said.
"So he's a patsy!" Carl said. "Probably they're going to say the plague came from the tsunami, and as a backup, they flew him out to take the blame if we figure out it's artificial."
Sirach said, "Then why would they scramble his brain and do experiments on him? Wouldn't they just kill him?"
"Shut up," Jenny said. "He's right here."
Arch was crying. They were all quiet. Then between gasps of air, Arch said, "They killed me."
Carl said, "So he died and--"
"God damn it!" Jenny said. "Don't talk about him like he's not here."
"I'm sorry." Carl sat down and spoke to Arch. "So you died and came back."
"When you died, did you see anything?"
Sirach rolled his eyes. "That's not important."
But Arch smiled. "I saw everything."
Carl said, "You went away and came back different."
Sirach went in the bathroom and peed in a bottle. Carl continued:
"You're not as smart, but you're better in other ways."
"I see better."
"What do you see?"
"I see the light from people. And I see..." He furrowed his brow and pulled up the word. "E-lec-tric-i-ty."
"You mean like in the wires?" Carl pointed to a wall socket.
"Yes. This house is clean."
"He said that before," Sirach said. "He could guess it because it's abandoned."
Carl said, "People who've had NDE's typically have--"
"What's NDE?" Jenny said.
"Near death experience."
Arch said, "I had a death experience."
Carl continued. "It's normal for them to interfere with electrical devices. Look! My digital watch has gone dead."
"Sorry," Arch said.
"OK," Sirach said. "Let's do a test."
Jenny was about to object but Arch turned and said to her, "It's OK."
Sirach took a flashlight into the bathroom and quietly removed the batteries. He brought it out and said, "OK, can you tell--"
A beam of light came out of it and lit the floor. Sirach looked down. "Jesus Christ on a stick!"
The light dimmed, brightened, strobed.
Carl said, "Does it usually do that?"
Later Sirach was glad that he had backed down and accepted something weird, because they had to do the same thing when he told them about the baby.
Carl said, "That is totally cool!"
"I mean, I'd give her up in a second," Sirach went on, "if I thought someplace else was better for her, but her mother's dead and she really wants to stay here."
Jenny was still staring at him. "A raccoon..."
"She's a savant," Carl said. "Like the three year old boy who picked up classical piano, but she has a different specialty. She's like some kind of super nature baby." He leaned down to face the baby. "Isn't that right," he said to her. "You're just humoring us indoor humans. You probably don't need us at all."
She smiled. "Blblbllblbl."