[Yesterday the new fiction surpassed 80,000 words, and now I can smell the barn, as they say in horse country. If I keep up the pace I should have a first draft finished in two weeks. Here’s a short chapter I drafted last Tuesday. In this interlude, two unidentified writers are inventing a story together, a story about a character — the bathrobed man — who has an ongoing role in the larger story. I’ve written dialogue for these two storytellers before, in earlier episodes. Every time it’s been fun, fast, freeing to distance myself from my own fiction by handing my job off to these two guys.]
The bathrobed man bundles up his twenty-one birthday installments, plus maybe whatever’s left of his money as part of his legacy. He sends the parcel to his designated under-the-radar courier, along with instructions and mailing address. Obviously the unborn child has no name yet, so the bathrobed man can’t write Dear Jimmy or Dear Susie at the top. But he can still sign as Dad at the bottom.
Perhaps the instructions include sending each year’s installment from a different location, again protecting against the possibility of discovery by the enemies.
Good idea, but that’s going to set the courier back financially.
Perhaps the bathrobed man includes in the parcel…
…Includes in the parcel some money to defray his courier’s expenses over the next twenty-one years.
Yes. And we presume also that the courier is a loyal and trusted person. He will feel duty-bound to honor what may be the last wishes of his doomed friend, even after all of the money has been spent.
Great, that’s it then.
Excuse me, but I have a question. We are presuming that the bathrobed man is about to be killed by his enemies. Imagine that, through his resourcefulness, he manages to survive this seemingly fatal ordeal. Would he then retrieve the first parcel from the lawyer, as well as the second one from the courier?
Or would he lay low?
Remaining undercover for a month, a year, twenty-one years, until at last he emerges from seclusion. What changes would have been wrought in him? From some underground control center would he have masterminded the implementation of his hermetic scheme? Would he have teetered over the edge into paranoia, into madness, remaining forever in seclusion, perhaps taking his own life?
But how could he have escaped? The thugs have him cornered, his house is surrounded. They’re professionals, and in their profession the consequences of failure are dire. The bathrobed man isn’t the sort of guy to break out the windows and start shooting.
And he is alone, our bathrobed hero. An amateur, alone, pits himself against several hired guns? Even in a B Hollywood gangster film this one-man stand cannot succeed. One thug keeps him occupied by returning fire through the front window, while two of his associates calmly walk around to the back door. A locked door? These are hired killers. The bathrobed man is a duck in a shooting gallery.
Are you suggesting perhaps the noose around the ankle ploy, hoisting the thug into the air, suspended from the stout branch of a nearby tree? Or perhaps the patch of leaves disguising a pit into which the gangsters who tread upon it will drop? Or do you recommend something more lethal, in which explosives are involved?
Do I hear sarcasm?
Indeed. Simply put, our bathrobed man is not the sort of fellow who goes in for violence. He is an engineer; his genius is conceptual, systemic.
So couldn’t he engineer devices to ward off the thugs? He is at his own house after all, plenty of time to set things up, work out the bugs. And he is motivated, wanting to protect his mysterious invention, his Icon, even if it turns out to be just a crackpot scheme after all. And he is paranoid, maintaining constant vigilance against those who would steal it for nefarious purposes or financial gain. Why wouldn’t he booby-trap his house?
Yes, I concede that these are valid points which you are making now.
Even without the booby traps, the boobies will make a great deal of commotion, no? They will fire their guns at the bathrobed man. If he is prepared to take violent means into his hands, he will return their fire. The neighbors will hear, they will telephone the police, the squad cars will soon surround the house. Our bathrobed man will be taken into custody. He will be required to reveal information about his Icon. No, none of this is permissible for him.
So he needs to escape. Now we’re back to where we started. He’s surrounded so he can’t escape, and he’s not prepared to call attention to his grand scheme through gunplay and explosives. He’s dispatched the parcels, one to his childhood lawyer friend, the others to his trusted courier friend. And so now he dies to protect his secret schemes.
Perhaps taking his own life to avoid being the subject of so-called extreme interrogation tactics, by means of which the thugs would attempt to extract the truth from him.
So why aren’t we satisfied to leave it at that? It’s a good story the way it is. It’s as if we’ve gotten too attached to the bathrobed man, like he’s calling on us to save him from his fate.
And it is a fate that was sealed twenty-one years ago when the bathrobed man sealed the secret parcels. Now we have moved on in the story, far into the future. The thugs have perhaps discovered the lawyer friend, the son or daughter has gone in search of the father. The future becomes the present. This is where we must concentrate our attention.
Wait a minute…
Of course. After twenty-one years of waiting, what is another minute?
No, listen. The Icon. Bathrobed man designed the Icon, this awesome system linking everyone and everything together across vast distances. Okay great. So listen. Bathrobed man sent off his drawings and documentations. But didn’t he also start building this thing, this Icon? We’ve already said that he has associates, that he had financiers backing his work. The written documentation is a backup, we said. There’s also an oral tradition, a means of communication propagated among a cadre of operatives, associates of the bathrobed man who are secretly building the Icon according to his prior verbal instructions.
Maybe the Icon has bootstrapping potentials that help with the implementation. For example, maybe some module of the system enables an unspoken means of communication, letting the Icon-builders communicate with each other without leaving a paper trail, or an electronic one.
Yes, and perhaps the Icon, as gradually it is taking form and substance, enables the secret cadre to identify others who could join them, others whom the bathrobed man never met, others whose behavior patterns or brain waves conform to a certain profile that identifies them as promising co-conspirators.
Fine. Now, the Icon links people and things together across vast distances.What about across time? Across long spans of time? Does the Icon make temporal linkages?
Yes, perhaps also the dimensionality of time is built into his grandiose schematics. The likelihood is high, I think now. So the bathrobed man anticipates that the Icon will gradually be assembled over the years after his demise at the hands of the gangsters.
And he set it in motion across time, this gradual assembly. Built by his associates, by new co-conspirators…
Eventually achieving the ability to assemble itself.
Yes, that’s great.
Even if the bathrobed man did not know how to design this autopoietic capability of his Icon, he set it on the course toward its eventual emergence as a self-generating device.
And perhaps also self-regenerating, the ability to diagnose and repair its own breakdowns.
Yes. So the bathrobed man envisions the gradual self-creation of the Icon as something like an organism, or even a new species of organisms capable of reproduction. It extends across vast tracts of space, across multitudes of people, across long spans of time. Now, does the Icon also extend itself backward in time?
Oh God. You wish now for the Icon to turn itself into a time machine?
Why not? It does everything else.
What does it do precisely?
Hell, I don’t know. It does everything. And if it does everything, then surely it ought to be able to manage time travel.
But have you not yet seen enough such stories of time travel? Must we be doomed to repeating the time travel trope, as though stuck in a time loop that repeats itself again and again, never to be surpassed?
You mean like Groundhog Day?
I’m sorry – like what now?
Never mind. But look, this is how we rescue the bathrobed man from his imminent and inevitable demise.
The Icon returns from the future to save its master, its creator, its father?
Oh my God. The tears will be flowing down the aisles. Or perhaps they already flowed. Have flowed? Have been flowing? These verb tenses…
But yes, suppose we do that. We have the what, now we need the how. How will the Icon save the bathrobed man, twenty-one years in the past?
I don’t know. No, yes I do. It is already happening. We are the instruments, the vessels of the Icon as it performs its heroic time-traveling mission into the past. This is what the Icon will do. It will invade our minds so that we will write a scenario that saves its father, twenty-one years in the past. But of course it is the past only in diagetic time. In narrative time the rescue remains, happily, poised as a future unfolding of the story. Is invading our minds? Has been invading?