Shutting Down

Gary had purchased a bottle of oracle whiskey at the corner establishment and set it in his room, next to the thing. He was now about a third way through the bottle and no wiser for it. He was sure that the maid he had to chase away that morning had reported the condition of the room and that the only reason he was still in the room was because the owner/manager was waiting for a police cruiser or sheriff’s deputy. The device that had formed itself from the goop in the bowl was still there, staring back at him. It was a Janus head, on one side the receptacle for the green laser light burning out of nowhere in the depths of the antenna, and on the other a directional sensor that could apparently see — or sense — him. It followed him as he moved around.

At one point, Gary toyed with turning off the antenna’s juice to see what would happen, but he feared the moment when he turned it back on. No, things had to be handled differently, more carefully, starting right now. And he needed to tell Alice, if only for his own psyche’s sake, but he couldn’t bring her here and he couldn’t invite her to his house. He needed to find neutral ground where they could observe this thing and both then just walk away if they needed to. The tribal problem emerged again: his name would be associated with whatever he did to make such a neutral meeting place happen, if only because he’d have to pay for it with his credit card.

That’s when he realized that some piece of his mind, some subconscious process, had already worked this out: false identity, in any case, but what he needed was a newspapered storefront, rented for a couple weeks. If he could find someone willing to do it for cash, on the assumption of some fly-by-night business…

I need Bluthe, he thought. Not that Bluthe would himself be of much use — but he seemed to know something about everything, including layers of illegality. The best place to start would be with the false identity; that would be the basis for every step thereafter.

His thoughts went on: I’ll need a prepaid cell phone to call him. But I can’t leave this here, in case the owner gets his muscle first. Okay, the first thing is that I’ve got to get this out of here. Time to shut this down.

He approached the little gleaming device that had emerged from the jello soup, and got right up to it and looked at it with a quizzical expression on his face. What in the world does it see? What does it do with what it sees? It’s clearly getting power and direction from that somewhere else, but is it also sending video signals back? Maybe there’s some creature on the other end of this, staring at me through a fish-eye lens, wondering what in the hell it’s hooked here?

“God dammit,” he said in a sudden rush of disbelief. “Goddammit all to hell.”

There was a significant pause, then a tinny set of tones from the device: a click, a thud, a wham-wham, a clash. Then silence. That was an effort to communicate? Sheer imitation, with little capability for human sounds. But that itself is an act of communication, is it not?

“We’ve got to shut down for a while,” he said, with no purpose he feared. He reached over and cut the power.

Nothing changed — the laser didn’t diminish, the soup didn’t drop back down. So he pulled the bowl away to indicate his intention — he didn’t want to yank it out of the line of fire. No telling what that beam would burn through. Again, no change.

Then, as he became desperate and set himself to pour the whiskey on the device, the beam began to twinkle. Over a few minutes it eventually disappeared, and the device slowly oozed back down into the bowl. It was not clear if the structure fell under or if it returned to its original liquid shapelessness as it touched the surface. The little green stain established itself again. Gary decided to take the antenna out first, since it was the more important element. He also decided that he would tear it apart as best he could, should the MIBs or sheriff approach.

He looked around the room to see if there was something else incriminating — yet another of those futile gestures that our minds make us do, as if the damage of the explosive flash in the room was not already enough. He carried the device out the door on one arm into the warm evening, where the quiet one might expect of a darkening but neon-lit evening was punctuated by Friday traffic and a number of noisy groups in the lot. It was pretty clear that no one would pay attention to the middle-aged man holding the paper bag — even though he had the look of holding a dead opossum — no one except, perhaps, a hotel owner in his small apartment beside the office.