Somewhere in Western Pennsylvania
It was many miles away, and months before, that he remembered. It was in a cold town in what looked like an idyllic slice of nothingness, with the nearest small town with a college the only bright point on the map. About 125 years ago it had been booming as the first place to discover oil, and begin mining for it. But then it had stopped. And nothing had changed until the local cable company had begin buying up other small cable companies, and it formed a powerhouse. A powerhouse of little cable companies all under one roof.
He thought about some words and he had been writing, and it was not particularly in their favor that he worked out the particulars of their Annunciation. It was from a time when he was down in Hati, and he was working on a nonfictional piece, first describing how their language worked. Because it was not French – though it is basis was. Though he was driving, in reality he was thinking about part of the text which explained how their language came to be:
“It could be said of anyone, but partikularly of those who came off of the plantations, that there is one family of languages in Haiti, but each one speaks it there own way. Even people who don't actually speak it, make a pretense of knowing what they are talking about. Primarily, it is French with a patina of the Western Africa language Fon, which is spoken in the name Benin, Togo and slices of Nigeria and Ghana. Of course it has evolved since then, and is the largest known Creole in the world as of the early 20th century. But as said, you need to realize that there is northern and southern styles, as well as the pride of place: Port-au-Prince, many of whose inhabitants pretend that what is spoken there is more like French then other places.”
“Even in winter, the weather touched 31°C, and in January there was almost no precipitation to speak of, certainly not like May or September, the twin peaks of what could be described as the devil of rain. Horns that grew out of the heated scraps of canopy that littered almost all of the low-lying ground. In the high backdrop where steps that ringed the bay, looking down upon them. Though they were not above the clouds, it seemed like it. Amazing buildings with white sides were speckled through the West. To the south, however, there were many fewer trees and the buildings went up a third of the way to the peak.”
But it was not exactly correct, but he did not know what to do to fix it. Then he nearly hit a deer, and swerved the car to just miss it. For a number of seconds he was flustered, looking backwards, though he knew that he would not see the deer, because it was deep night. But he looked back anyways, looking for, what he perceived, as a blessing from above. This should have told him to just drive, but he eventually thought about something else, the work on the programming for the cable company that they were assigned to work for.
Looking at it from below, it seemed like there was to much to do. Looked from its peak, it would seem like the overlay was a flat pool on water, surrounded by chasms of high cliffs. From different angles it seemed like there were different problems. Each one was different, and thus had a different system to run it. But there came and instant where there were two many problems involved with this, so programmers from the finest minds were brought in to do something about it. But what the programmers had in mind was to hire people and rent them to the cable company, marking of the price. They really did not care if anything was done, just so long as they booked profits to the cable company, and had no responsibility for actually doing anything.
He was one of the – alleged - programmers. Though actually he was doing something else instead, that is he was trying to pull out people who would be valuable, and leave the rest to sink into the mire. This was approved of by the programmers above him, because they and he knew that there was going to be an awful mess. You see, there was fraud going on, and while either they, nor he, knew exactly what it was, the system was performing oddly. So oddly that there was only one explanation: someone had been tinkering with the many programs.What they wanted to do, no one but the minions knew - but whatever it was, the outside programmers did not want to know. What the cable company was up to no one could say. Just so long as everyone was out of the blast radius. Which, logically, someone would have to be inside the blast radius – but they all hoped it would be the investors. And the investors would take the losses – and be done with it. Or so went the plan that everyone agreed to without anyone saying so.
It was this in mind while he sat there, hopefully doing enough work so that he could bill for the hours, while not touching the core systems. Because whatever had been done to them was liable to, in a metaphorical sense, blowup. And he was told in no uncertain terms not to have anything to do with this.He disobeyed this only with the most junior of what they called programmers, assigned to this job and making barely a quarter of one he made. He had shown them little amusements that made their job easier, and took on a commanding tone of voice in lecturing them on why the new operating system was different from the old.
And though he might be tempted to do something about this, for the moment, he would obey the restrictions. Though he constantly thought of what could it be about. For example, he knew that the head director was not who he said he was. Because the name on the wall along to someone who had died shortly after birth. Which meant that the man walking around was not who he said he was.
But such thoughts spun around in the back of his mind, being thought of but not to do anything with. Largely he was playing with the various programs, and making as if he was doing something with them. While he was tempted to, and put notations on the white pages that noted what he was doing, he did not want to say that he was intentionally not fiddling with the real problem. He had not done anything yet, instead prodded around systems which he did not think had any value. The other program that was on the screen – of course they were Macintosh systems, sporting the latest and greatest System X – was a chat program, whose roots went back to the days when a graphic user interface was not mentioned. It had been empty for a long while, and largely he used it to text messages to other programmers. It was something to do, when he got bored.
Then it woke up, and a person who he had not known started to ask him a question. This was odd, but not completely so. People up at this hour were, largely, as bored as the majority of the world that was awake were, in fact they would be asleep if they were not being paid. He thought about turning the chat application to just his friends, because he did not want to engage in conversation with a stranger. But he stopped himself. Just so long as he did not tell what was doing, there should be no harm – and then he realized he was sure whether he was talking to a man or a woman. Because he knew that persons who acted like females, but were males, mostly they were try to find out what people were doing, either personal or political or just to say “Hi”. And in a large number of instances, while they said that they had nothing to do with the system, actually they were predators engaged by the system executives. Largely to find out what was going on.
Thus he quietly looked around the vast room. Once upon a time it had been a gymnasium, with a high roof and windows projecting out of the rooftops. But then it had been converted to a gigantic work room, whose sole mission was to take customer complaints, and as far as he could tell meticulously annotate the complaint, and then to ignore them. What he was looking for was someone tapping at the keys at the same time that his computer was outputting. Most people would not have noticed this, but he could. It was a gift between the ears and the eyes, each one noticing what the other was doing. Apparently not everyone had it. He tapped out “hello” on his keyboard, hoping to see if anyone typed back. He knew that the evening boss was talking to a friend, because a glimmer of the output showed that the boss was laughing. And his hands were not moving very much, so obviously his friend was doing most of the talking.
He waited on the other people, but did not see anything come through. He relaxed, if the person was on the system, it was not in this enormous room. There were of course other places that the person could be typing from, but most of them were closed. He typed in “hello”. And waited for about half a minute. Then he confirmed that his conversation was indeed from China, as the window said. He just had to be sure.
“I am here. Where are you from?”
He stopped for a moment, and then began: “From out of the everywhere, and in to the here.” quoting a favorite bit of childhood poetry. What surprised him was the response:
“So you know a little bit of George McDonald.” He did not think she would know the ending, unless she was truly British. But in a another window he had traced her, and it said she was in China, This was a deeper protocol then the first, so much harder to fool. He did not think that any body working for the cable company you the ways which were deep under the. So she could be British working at some Internet café. Or, which was just as surprising, she could be a Chinese woman with a great deal of knowledge. Either way, it was a surprising combination to occur. And that confirmed for him, she was in no way connected with anything resembling the cable company. They had foreigners, some of whom he liked, but primarily they were from India, speaking Tamil or Hindu. Their were flaws in their English which did not happen with this person. Though of course he would have to check by inserting questions which a Hindi or Tamil would screw up on. It helped that his boss was a Tamil speaker as well, so he could check whether he found a good question for Tamil speakers. And his opposite number for another consultant company was Hindu. He sat there and thought about her, though she was married. She had batted away his questions on irrelevant things, which meant she was married and not interested in dallying with him, and he did not know if she would dally with anyone. But he suspected she might, but he was Indian. That was the problem, most of the world wants someone who looks like themselves. Only a few want someone who looks different.
He realized he had not been typing for a moment, and so begin with the first thing in his head. “So what got you interested in British poetry?”
“I had a book. Or rather my father had a book.”
“Several.” Since this was typing, one could not really say what she would be like in the real world.
He arched his eyebrows. “And what was your father?”
“Both my parents were professors at BU.”
“Beijing University.” The admission sat there, like a naked lunch.
That explained a great deal, because even in the dark regions of the recent past, even then there was a quest for knowledge about the outside. And so it was not surprising to meet someone who was interested in America or England. In fact that might be what he or she was interested in, he did not even know his, or her, age. And he did not know if he or she want more than just conversation, and he definitely did not know whether he wanted more than just conversation. These are the things that go through the mind when one is blurry, so blurry in fact that one asks the question.
But there was a simple way to answer these questions.
“How old are you? And may I ask you your name?” The name as written did not mean anything, and then he realized if you took the letters literally it could be translated as “When and where”, which could be innocuous, or it could be a lurid suggestion. But the lurid suggestion would suggest that he or she would be hunting for local people. So it seemed likely that the just friends was likely. Inevitably in fact, most people would have asked “ASL?” right away. Meaning, of course, “Age, Sex, Location?” though the hetero or homo nature was already implied. Usually, though some people would pretend to be the opposite sex. This did not bother him, there were ways of finding out before you met some one - which he was not sure he was going to – what their real gender was. It did not bother him, because he felt that some people were in the wrong gender, and he was sure that soon enough, there would be a fix for them. Although he wanted someone who sex matched because eventually he wanted children, if it came to that.
“Do you really want to know my ASL?” She or he had been thinking along the same lines, and had a response.
“Imagine we met in real life. I would know your gender. And my gender is apparent from the name.”
Their was a bit of processing going on, and then the gender appeared.
“Female. Why do you want to have sex?”
“I would have to be very long to have sex at this moment.”
“We could play. If that is what you want.”
“What is it that you want?”
“I can do that, but I do not have to. Interesting conversation is fine.” She or he had passed several ruptures which would have meant that he or she was Indian. He kept track of these things, and in fact admitted so to his boss, when they were drinking about an hour of the road, at the last really good meal to be had. It was actually rather good, especially because in this neck of the woods there were slightly fewer places that they could. In this place there was a Subway, and a Chinese restaurant. And that was it, and the Chinese restaurant was new. In fact it had just opened one week ago. That formed one of the basis for Indian selection: ask whether they liked General Tso's Chicken, because General was invented on Taiwan.
“Then let us have interesting conversation, then.” He was sure that he or she was not spying on him, but he was not sure that one of the people in the room would have a question for him. And that would mean coming up beside him, and she – because almost everyone in the room behind him was a “she” - would happen to glance at his screen. And that would not do.
Then he spoke, almost offhandedly. “You know I am not the sort of person who just takes someone did that.” Which was mostly true, but in the mostly there was deep pits of falsehood.
Then the main window had stopped processing his last command, so he checked off the command and started another one. All the while looking for a response from all the way across the world in China. He still did not know what age she was, but it was highly likely she could not be beyond 35. Which if he wanted to something could be arranged, their were plenty of positions in China, should the need arise. Realize that going to China in his position was not the same stretch, the vistas were open, and China was a cheap airfare away from him. And he had some money, not a lot mind you, but more than enough to indulge a fantasy. Or several fantasies, because he liked Chinese girls a great deal, and there were few enough in his line of work. Some males, but not to many females. In fact there were more Indian females then Chinese females, truth be told.
He then realized that over the last few months he had been a bit risqué, and he decided right then and there to stop it with people he had met in the workplace, and were connected with him by business. He realized that that would be impolite, at best. Better to not mix work and pleasure, especially because the real power behind the throne was not the head of business, nor even his three sons. It was the wife, and she had ways of slapping down such people. She ruled her dominion with an iron hand. And that went for sex on the job, she would have none of that here. And since there was almost no other field to be into but the cable conglomerate, this meant something more then if it was in a city.
He was only 30, but had learned that everything was measured by someone, and for almost every activity someone noticed. And largely disproved of whatever the activity was, if it was not making money for them. That did not mean that sex was forbidden, because sex for profit was encouraged by some, but sex after hours with no money exchanged was absolutely forbidden. The world went round in many strange ways: prostitution was fine, but sex was not fine.
Then he realized that a question had come in to the text on the screen, and then another. He had been working on the next command. And then he saw another question:
“Are you there?”
He immediately typed in: “Sorry I was busy at my job.”
“Your work on the job?”
“You poor thing. Do you need to get back to it?”
He looked both ways before answering the question, he wanted to be sure he was not going to be interrupted.
“I just need to type in a few keywords, and let them run.”
“Then we can plan a trip :)”
“I do not know your name. In fact the name which I call you has a dbl entendre.”
“What is wrong with that?”
“I do not think we should need each other until we are on a first name basis. What do you think?”
There was quiet, and then, slowly, a string of text begin to stream out of the window.
“Do you want to be with me? Because I think you know on female.” Actually, now that it was put on the table, he did know that she was a woman, and he knew she was truly a she.
How did this go? I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to so he could feel my breasts all her from yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I yes. That was from Ulysses, and a bit with a dog. But he did not say that. But the meaning was clear.
Then in one strange swoop, he risked everything to say by the keyboard:
“Yes. If you are pretty, anyway, I will. Remember what I said about not taking any one to bed quickly.”
If you are pretty. Whatever that was supposed to mean. In a novel, or a play by Eugene O'Neill? Pretty was what someone was when they were not strikingly beautiful, but not plain enough to notice. What he did not consider was that what interpreted as silence was in fact a trepidation on her side.
Then she announced: “Just a minute, I will change my account for you.” And in less than a minute, she was back as and the name was “SparrowForOnlyU”. He wondered if she was called sparrow before, perhaps that is why she chose this – or perhaps this was something she had practiced with many people. But there ever afterwards, he looked for the name incessantly. Even when he had to make up and excuse to see his real bosses, and come up with a reason to explain why he was doing what he did. It seems impossible, but in fact was likely that there were people at the top scheming wondrous schemes. And he knew that that was exactly what he did not wish for. Why could he not slip in to a dull routine? He looked over at the Wall Street Journal, and for once it was a quiet day, but eventually they would kick the market ever higher.