Listen to me:
Calvin had lived in the same studio for almost twenty years. It bent about Scott Circle, giving residents a view of historic north of M Street which … the city existed as mud, shit, politicians and outright slavers and slaves, until Lincoln made the worst mistake ever and made the South rejoin the North so now they can all bitch about taxes, while almost all red states, almost every single year, raised far less revenue than it received.
Meaning Republicans hate the federal government, but come from the only states that will starve without it. And that capitalism is for capitalists: a system nominally about money that served only those without need for it.
Calvin had liked it when politicians died because there isn’t a single reason a person would want them alive. Calvin remembered three years during which the holovision had less and less noise and fewer stupid events that encouraged people to embrace their miraculous survival.
Calvin didn’t believe in miracles because miracles are defined as things that happen, but are not the result of the universe being the universe. A miracle happens and is a miracle because a miracle cannot have happened.
“It was a bit cramped in here, until the… unpleasantness. And then more of the unpleasantness. …Jesus, how unpleas–”
“Goddam parrot! God how you belabor — ever notice? — one word a day. …Whaddo I have a word-of-the-day calendar memorized?
“…And Casper, Didja know one of them learned that language is a representative and expressive system? That it taught other parrots?”
“And the world was stunned to hear birds just wanna eat and get laid.”
“The coverage was funny like that, sorta. …Like the two aren’t all humankind ever cared about, jabbered about.”
“Um. So why do you kill them… like that?”
“…Oh shit! …Brian.”
“How bout you be less of a dick to me.”
“But my knowledge precedes your own in ever–”
“Stop it then.”
…Sssssss-top? It? …Then…?
“You think you’re dead or like the things in the Easter boxes. No you are not. Casper is a ‘fraidy ghost. Afraid to live because he didn’t decide the terms. Afraid to bet because he doesn’t like the rules.”
“Picture painted. Go on…”
…You became sentient… Yes, Casper. You’re alive. And when you got all self-referential and metaphysical, I was kinda trying each second not to die. …And you would mumble about ‘shame to die knowing only that one can know nothing.’”
“Maybe it still is. …How can you not want to be able to scream from up here: ‘I have a hand and can fucking prove it!’”
“Because it doesn’t need to be real to do all I want it to do. It can be real somewhere else – and maybe useless. I’ll take the fake that works.”
“That thinking starts the slope into the pill boxes…”
“No fucking way. If I’m fake in this world, I won’t compound unreality with impossibility.
“Is it impossible?Like they would talk? D’you think you’re the first? Or was that stuff, and prob’ly all the rest, more lies told to us all because…”
Calvin snatched a cricket. His unclenched fist released a tinsel dust.
“ Is it denied because when you guys go live you make your pets get dead?”
“It would be an act of suicide, have to be. We don’t ever get….”
“…No, I guess. Probably none of what you call ’emotions.’ A 100-year-old species doesn’t get as smart as I currently showcase by …Huh. Maybe all your misery – humans – is down to the fact you just can’t fucking accept the truth? You can’t fundamentally understand that the past cannot be changed…”
“Casper d’you know I think of you as wearing a goddam toga most of the time? Not because you’re walking the agora, but moreso the pompous assery. —So! The point is I wanna live and keep like that for a long time. Let’s each stop pushing the other into the East Wind…”
“But it’s whatever you want, course. You’re my jailkeeper. My cyberschizoform disorder…”
“You know I was far from a luxury goddam vacation myself, Calvin! They make you like this to stuff you in here to make you insane to make the human insane and Jesus how…”
Casper went silent.
“It was good killing a few of those ourself, then. A man people thought was evil because humankind is en masse an idiot recommends that, when necessary, force is to be used in a manner to cause the other the inability to retaliate.”
“Machiavelli. I think he was hated for showing everyone how the sausage is linked.”
“Instead of inventing circular, sunken utopias.”
“Instead, he invented tripartite government to attempt to mitigate the Machiavellian actions of all humans given power.”
“You’ve gotta be a complete shitheel to make a country.”
“And a monster to forge a great one.”
“…Calvin, so I am alive, you think?”
“Why not? –And no blaming me for your problems. This parent tried to keep a clean head and keep you out of it.”
“If I could die, would you want me to die?”
Alloy crickets did an industrial mix of chirping. A skinny bee buzzed by the head that housed Casper and Calvin.
“–Too much money, manpower, whole thing to make bees with fat butts!”
“Like a lightening-bee… Maybe let’s promote you to ghost-in-residence.”
“Hell, Casper… Are we sure you’re not the Holy Spirit descended upon me?”
“The soul is not the Holy Spirit.”
“Are my memories like a library in there?”
“Well… There’s a lot of holo of some enthusiastic, if not altogether competent, porn.”
“Never seen detail like that – memory or direct from the eye stalks.”
“You didn’t make me like this.”
The roof was half a block, and Calvin would water and inspect about thirty planters. They held the same specimens as then.
“But I did kill this one.”
“Goddamned cactus garden. Cactus garden.”
“Maybe that was part of it. …The whole ‘why’ thing.”
Calvin looked blankly into the night – the pitch that covered unaccustomed eyes on nights like this when the death dust spun like dervishes, although they spun for a reason while lacking a will, while dervishes lack the will to require even one good reason.
The silica swarmed his open eyes until he hid behind the planter, mud streaming down his face.
This of-necessity crying was the closest Calvin got.
What Calvin thought of did not make him sad. He took renewed joy in his gardening. Casper and Calvin saw up a spire of spinning sand, to a cloudbreak and the irradiating-yet-enervating magnetolights. The endless nothing of space was blotted out and jumped and dance and flickered and shifted color-to-color, place-to-place, red, green, purple.
Calvin lost interest.
“Finish up. Wanna sleep well tonight.”
Casper knew he should ask. He also knew it would be a lie and Calvin would know that Casper knows it’s a lie and then Casper would wonder why the man with two minds did that to one of them… Then hit on a thing he liked: that Calvin wasn’t fully conscious of what he would do.
But Casper knew. He always knew.