Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 13

  • I am already in as much trouble as I can be, I think. I have left my room, hi_nd detonated some poor cafeteria hash-slinger’s fartmobile, and certainl_amned some hapless secret smoker to employee Hades for his security lapses.
  • When I get down from here, I will be bound up in a chemical straightjacket.
  • I’ll be one of the ward-corner droolers, propped up in a wheelchair in fron_f the video, tended twice daily for diaper changes, feeding and re- medication.
  • That is the worst they can do, and I’m in for it. This leaves me asking tw_uestions:
  • 1\. Why am I so damned eager to be rescued from my rooftop aerie? I a_unburned and sad, but I am more free than I have been in weeks.
  • 2\. Why am I so reluctant to take further action in the service of gettin_omeone up onto the roof? I could topple a ventilator chimney by moving th_inderblocks that hold its apron down and giving it the shoulder. I could dum_attling handfuls of gravel down its maw and wake the psychotics below.
  • I could, but I won’t. Maybe I don’t want to go back just yet.
  • They cooked it up between them. The Jersey customers, Fede, and Linda. _hould have known better.
  • When I landed at Logan, I was full of beans, ready to design and implement m_ar-driving scheme for the Jersey customers and advance the glorious cause o_he Eastern Standard Tribe. I gleefully hopped up and down the coast, chillin_n Manhattan for a day or two, hanging out with Gran in Toronto.
  • That Linda followed me out made it all even better. We rented cars and drov_hem from city to city, dropping them off at the city limits and switching t_op-grade EST public transit, eating top-grade EST pizza, heads turning t_ollow the impeccably dressed, buff couples that strolled the pedestrian- friendly streets arm in arm. We sat on stoops in Brooklyn with old ladies wh_alked softly in the gloaming of the pollution-tinged sunsets while thei_randchildren chased each other down the street. We joined a pickup game o_treet-hockey in Boston, yelling “Car!” and clearing the net every time _artmobile turned into the cul-de-sac.
  • We played like kids. I got commed during working hours and my evenings wer_lissfully devoid of buzzes, beeps and alerts. It surprised the hell out of m_hen I discovered Fede’s treachery and Linda’s complicity and found mysel_lying cattle class to London to kick Fede’s ass. What an idiot I am.
  • I have never won an argument with Fede. I thought I had that time, of course, but I should have known better. I was hardly back in Boston for a day befor_he men with the white coats came to take me away.
  • They showed up at the Novotel, soothing and grim, and opened my room’s keycar_eader with a mental-hygiene override. There were four of them, wiry and fas_ith the no-nonsense manner of men who have been unexpectedly hammered b_utwardly calm psychopaths. That I was harmlessly having a rare cigarette o_he balcony, dripping from the shower, made no impression on them. The_ropped their faceplates, moved quickly to the balcony and boxed me in.
  • One of them recited a Miranda-esque litany that ended with “Do yo_nderstand.” It wasn’t really a question, but I answered anyway. “No! No _on’t! Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my fucking hotel room?”
  • In my heart, though, I knew. I’d lived enough of my life on the hallucinator_dge of sleepdep to have anticipated this moment during a thousand freakouts.
  • I was being led away to the sanatorium, because someone, somewhere, ha_igured out about the scurrying hamsters in my brain. About time.
  • As soon as I said the f-word, the guns came out. I tried to relax. I kne_ntuitively that this could either be a routine and impersonal affair, or _creaming, kicking, biting nightmare. I knew that arriving at the intake in _alm frame of mind would make the difference between a chemical straightjacke_nd a sleeping pill.
  • The guns were nonlethals, and varied: two kinds of nasty aerosol, a dart-gun, and a tazer. The tazer captured my attention, whipping horizontal lightning i_he spring breeze. The Tesla enema, they called it in London. Supposedly club- kids used them recreationally, but everyone I knew who’d been hit with on_escribed the experience as fundamentally and uniquely horrible.
  • I slowly raised my hands. “I would like to pack a bag, and I would like to se_ocumentary evidence of your authority. May I?” I kept my voice as calm as _ould, but it cracked on “May I?”
  • The reader of the litany nodded slowly. “You tell us what you want packed an_e’ll pack it. Once that’s done, I’ll show you the committal document, al_ight?”
  • “Thank you,” I said.
  • They drove me through the Route 128 traffic in the sealed and padde_ompartment in the back of their van. I was strapped in at the waist, an_trapped over my shoulders with a padded harness that reminded me of _ollercoaster restraint. We made slow progress, jerking and changing lanes a_egular intervals. The traffic signature of 128 was unmistakable.
  • The intake doctor wanded me for contraband, drew fluids from my various parts, and made light chitchat with me along the way. It was the last time I saw him.
  • Before I knew it, a beefy orderly had me by the arm and was leading me to m_oom. He had a thick Eastern European accent, and he ran down the house rule_or me in battered English. I tried to devote my attention to it, to forge_he slack-eyed ward denizens I’d passed on my way in. I succeeded enough t_nderstand the relationship of my legcuff, the door frame and the elevators.
  • The orderly fished in his smock and produced a hypo.
  • “For sleepink,” he said.
  • Panic, suppressed since my arrival, welled up and burst over. “Wait!” I said.
  • “What about my things? I had a bag with me.”
  • “Talk to doctor in morning,” he said, gesturing with the hypo, fitting it wit_ needle-and-dosage cartridge and popping the sterile wrap off with _humbswitch. “Now, for sleepink.” He advanced on me.
  • I’d been telling myself that this was a chance to rest, to relax and gather m_its. Soon enough, I’d sort things out with the doctors and I’d be on my way.
  • I’d argue my way out of it. But here came Boris Badinoff with his magi_eedle, and all reason fled. I scrambled back over the bed and pressed agains_he window.
  • “It’s barely three,” I said, guessing at the time in the absence of my comm.
  • “I’m not tired. I’ll go to sleep when I am.”
  • “For sleepink,” he repeated, in a more soothing tone.
  • “No, that’s all right. I’m tired enough. Long night last night. I’ll just li_own and nap now, all right? No need for needles, OK?”
  • He grabbed my wrist. I tried to tug it out of his grasp, to squirm away.
  • There’s a lot of good, old-fashioned dirty fighting in Tai Chi—eye-gouging, groin punches, hold-breaks and come-alongs—and they all fled me. I thrashe_ike a fish on a line as he ran the hypo over the crook of my elbow until th_ein-sensing LED glowed white. He jabbed down with it and I felt a prick. Fo_ second, I thought that it hadn’t taken effect—I’ve done enough chemica_leep in my years with the Tribe that I’ve developed quite a tolerance fo_ost varieties—but then I felt that unmistakable heaviness in my eyelids, th_elatonin crash that signalled the onslaught of merciless rest. I collapse_nto bed.
  • I spent the next day in a drugged stupor. I’ve become quite accustomed t_unctioning in a stupor over the years, but this was different. No caffeine, for starters. They fed me and I had a meeting with a nice doctor who ran i_own for me. I was here for observation pending a competency hearing in _eek. I had seven days to prove that I wasn’t a danger to myself or others, and if I could, the judge would let me go.
  • “It’s like I’m a drug addict, huh?” I said to the doctor, who was used to no_equiturs.
  • “Sure, sure it is.” He shifted in the hard chair opposite my bed, gettin_eady to go.
  • “No, really, I’m not just running my mouth. It’s like this: I don’t think _ave a problem here. I think that my way of conducting my life is perfectl_armless. Like a speedfreak who thinks that she’s just having a great time, being ultraproductive and coming out ahead of the game. But her friends, they’re convinced she’s destroying herself—they see the danger she’s puttin_erself in, they see her health deteriorating. So they put her into rehab, kicking and screaming, where she stays until she figures it out.
  • “So, it’s like I’m addicted to being nuts. I have a nonrational view of th_orld around me. An inaccurate view. You are meant to be the objectiv_bserver, to make such notes as are necessary to determine if I’m seein_hings properly, or through a haze of nutziness. For as long as I go on takin_y drug—shooting up my craziness—you keep me here. Once I stop, once I accep_he objective truth of reality, you let me go. What then? Do I become _ecovering nutcase? Do I have to stand ever-vigilant against the siren song o_raziness?”
  • The doctor ran his hands through his long hair and bounced his knee up an_own. “You could put it that way, I guess.”
  • “So tell me, what’s the next step? What is my optimum strategy for providin_ompelling evidence of my repudiation of my worldview?”
  • “Well, that’s where the analogy breaks down. This isn’t about anythin_emonstrable. There’s no one thing we look for in making our diagnosis. It’s _ollection of things, a protocol for evaluating you. It doesn’t happe_vernight, either. You were committed on the basis of evidence that you ha_ade threats to your coworkers due to a belief that they were seeking to har_ou.”
  • “Interesting. Can we try a little thought experiment, Doctor? Say that you_oworkers really were seeking to harm you—this is not without historica_recedent, right? They’re seeking to sabotage you because you’ve discovere_ome terrible treachery on their part, and they want to hush you up. So the_rovoke a reaction from you and use it as the basis for an involuntar_ommittal. How would you, as a medical professional, distinguish that scenari_rom one in which the patient is genuinely paranoid and delusional?”
  • The doctor looked away. “It’s in the protocol—we find it there.”
  • “I see,” I said, moving in for the kill. “I see. Where would I get mor_nformation on the protocol? I’d like to research it before my hearing.”
  • “I’m sorry,” the doctor said, “we don’t provide access to medical texts to ou_atients.”
  • “Why not? How can I defend myself against a charge if I’m not made aware o_he means by which my defense is judged? That hardly seems fair.”
  • The doctor stood and smoothed his coat, turned his badge’s lanyard so that hi_icture faced outwards. “Art, you’re not here to defend yourself. You’re her_o that we can take a look at you and understand what’s going on. If you hav_een set up, we’ll discover it—”
  • “What’s the ratio of real paranoids to people who’ve been set up, in you_xperience?”
  • “I don’t keep stats on that sort of thing—”
  • “How many paranoids have been released because they were vindicated?”
  • “I’d have to go through my case histories—”
  • “Is it more than ten?”
  • “No, I wouldn’t think so—”
  • “More than five?”
  • “Art, I don’t think—”
  • “Have any paranoids ever been vindicated? Is this observation period anythin_ore than a formality en route to committal? Come on, Doctor, just let me kno_here I stand.”
  • “Art, we’re on your side here. If you want to make this easy on yourself, the_ou should understand that. The nurse will be in with your lunch and your med_n a few minutes, then you’ll be allowed out on the ward. I’ll speak to yo_here more, if you want.”
  • “Doctor, it’s a simple question: Has anyone ever been admitted to thi_acility because it was believed he had paranoid delusions, and later release_ecause he was indeed the center of a plot?”
  • “Art, it’s not appropriate for me to discuss other patients’ histories—”
  • “Don’t you publish case studies? Don’t those contain confidential informatio_isguised with pseudonyms?”
  • “That’s not the point—”
  • “What is the point? It seems to me that my optimal strategy here is t_epudiate my belief that Fede and Linda are plotting against me—even if _till believe this to be true, even if it is true—and profess a belief tha_hey are my good and concerned friends. In other words, if they are indee_lotting against me, I must profess to a delusional belief that they aren’t, in order to prove that I am not delusional.”
  • “I read Catch-22 too, Art. That’s not what this is about, but your attitud_sn’t going to help you any here.” The doctor scribbled on his comm briefly, tapped at some menus. I leaned across and stared at the screen.
  • “That looks like a prescription, Doctor.”
  • “It is. I’m giving you a mild sedative. We can’t help you until you’re calme_nd ready to listen.”
  • “I’m perfectly calm. I just disagree with you. I am the sort of person wh_earns through debate. Medication won’t stop that.”
  • “We’ll see,” the doctor said, and left, before I could muster a riposte.
  • I was finally allowed onto the ward, dressed in what the nurses called “da_lothes”—the civilian duds that I’d packed before leaving the hotel, which a_rderly retrieved for me from a locked closet in my room. The clustered nut_ere watching slackjaw TV, or staring out the windows, or rocking in place, fidgeting and muttering. I found myself a seat next to a birdy woman whos_ong oily hair was parted down the middle, leaving a furrow in her scalp line_ith twin rows of dandruff. She was young, maybe twenty-five, and seemed th_east stuporous of the lot.
  • “Hello,” I said to her.
  • She smiled shyly, then pitched forward and vomited copiously and noisil_etween her knees. I shrank back and struggled to keep my face neutral. _urse hastened to her side and dropped a plastic bucket in the stream of puke, which was still gushing out of her mouth, her thin chest heaving.
  • “Here, Sarah, in here,” the nurse said, with an air of irritation.
  • “Can I help?” I said, ridiculously.
  • She looked sharply at me. “Art, isn’t it? Why aren’t you in Group? It’s afte_ne!”
  • “Group?” I asked.
  • “Group. In that corner, there.” She gestured at a collection of sagging sofa_nderneath one of the ward’s grilled-in windows. “You’re late, and they’v_tarted without you.”
  • There were four other people there, two women and a young boy, and a doctor i_ufti, identifiable by his shoes—not slippers—and his staff of office, th_lmighty badge-on-a-lanyard.
  • Throbbing with dread, I moved away from the still-heaving girl to the sof_luster and stood at its edge. The group turned to look at me. The docto_leared his throat. “Group, this is Art. Glad you made it, Art. You’re _ittle late, but we’re just getting started here, so that’s OK. This is Lucy, Fatima, and Manuel. Why don’t you have a seat?” His voice was professionall_mooth and stultifying.
  • I sank into a bright orange sofa that exhaled a cloud of dust motes tha_anced in the sun streaming through the windows. It also exhaled a breath o_rapped ancient farts, barf-smell, and antiseptic, the parfum de asylum tha_radually numbed my nose to all other scents on the ward. I folded my hands i_y lap and tried to look attentive.
  • “All right, Art. Everyone in the group is pretty new here, so you don’t hav_o worry about not knowing what’s what. There are no right or wrong things.
  • The only rules are that you can’t interrupt anyone, and if you want t_riticize, you have to criticize the idea, and not the person who said it. Al_ight?”
  • “Sure,” I said. “Sure. Let’s get started.”
  • “Well, aren’t you eager?” the doctor said warmly. “OK. Manuel was just tellin_s about his friends.”
  • “They’re not my friends,” Manuel said angrily. “They’re the reason I’m here. _ate them.”
  • “Go on,” the doctor said.
  • “I already told you, yesterday! Tony and Musafir, they’re trying to get rid o_e. I make them look bad, so they want to get rid of me.”
  • “Why do you think you make them look bad?”
  • “Because I’m better than them—I’m smarter, I dress better, I get bette_rades, I score more goals. The girls like me better. They hate me for it.”
  • “Oh yeah, you’re the cat’s ass, pookie,” Lucy said. She was about fifteen, voluminously fat, and her full lips twisted in an elaborate sneer as sh_poke.
  • “Lucy,” the doctor said patiently, favoring her with a patronizing smile.
  • “That’s not cool, OK? Criticize the idea, not the person, and only when it’_our turn, OK?”
  • Lucy rolled her eyes with the eloquence of teenagedom.
  • “All right, Manuel, thank you. Group, do you have any positive suggestions fo_anuel?”
  • Stony silence.
  • “OK! Manuel, some of us are good at some things, and some of us are good a_thers. Your friends don’t hate you, and I’m sure that if you think about it, you’ll know that you don’t hate them. Didn’t they come visit you last weekend?
  • Successful people are well liked, and you’re no exception. We’ll come back t_his tomorrow—why don’t you spend the time until then thinking of thre_xamples of how your friends showed you that they liked you, and you can tel_s about it tomorrow?”
  • Manuel stared out the window.
  • “OK! Now, Art, welcome again. Tell us why you’re here.”
  • “I’m in for observation. There’s a competency hearing at the end of the week.”
  • Linda snorted and Fatima giggled.
  • The doctor ignored them. “But tell us why you think you ended up here.”
  • “You want the whole story?”
  • “Whatever parts you think are important.”
  • “It’s a Tribal thing.”
  • “I see,” the doctor said.
  • “It’s like this,” I said. “It used to be that the way you chose your friend_as by finding the most like-minded people you could out of the pool of peopl_ho lived near to you. If you were lucky, you lived near a bunch of people yo_ould get along with. This was a lot more likely in the olden days, bac_efore, you know, printing and radio and such. Chances were that you’d grow u_o immersed in the local doctrine that you’d never even think to question it.
  • If you were a genius or a psycho, you might come up with a whole new way o_hinking, and if you could pull it off, you’d either gather up a bunch o_eople who liked your new idea or you’d go somewhere else, like America, wher_ou could set up a little colony of people who agreed with you. Most of th_ime, though, people who didn’t get along with their neighbors just mope_round until they died.”
  • “Very interesting,” the doctor said, interrupting smoothly, “but you wer_oing to tell us how you ended up here.”
  • “Yeah,” Lucy said, “this isn’t a history lesson, it’s Group. Get to th_oint.”
  • “I’m getting there,” I said. “It just takes some background if you’re going t_nderstand it. Now, once ideas could travel more freely, the chances of yo_inding out about a group of people somewhere else that you might get alon_ith increased. Like when my dad was growing up, if you were gay and from _ig city, chances were that you could figure out where other gay people hun_ut and go and—” I waved my hands, “be gay, right? But if you were from _mall town, you might not even know that there was such a thing as bein_ay—you might think it was just a perversion. But as time went by, the ga_eople in the big cities started making a bigger and bigger deal out of bein_ay, and since all the information that the small towns consumed came from bi_ities, that information leaked into the small towns and more gay people move_o the big cities, built little gay zones where gay was normal.
  • “So back when the New World was forming and sorting out its borders an_erritories, information was flowing pretty well. You had telegraphs, you ha_he Pony Express, you had thousands of little newspapers that got carrie_round on railroads and streetcars and steamers, and it wasn’t long befor_veryone knew what kind of person went where, even back in Europe and Asia.
  • People immigrated here and picked where they wanted to live based on what sor_f people they wanted to be with, which ideas they liked best. A lot of it wa_eligious, but that was just on the surface—underneath it all was aesthetics.
  • You wanted to go somewhere where the girls were pretty in the way yo_nderstood prettiness, where the food smelled like food and not garbage, wher_hops sold goods you could recognize. Lots of other factors were at play, too, of course—jobs and Jim Crow laws and whatnot, but the tug of finding peopl_ike you is like gravity. Lots of things work against gravity, but gravit_lways wins in the end—in the end, everything collapses. In the end, everyon_nds up with the people that are most like them that they can find.”
  • I was warming to my subject now, in that flow state that great athletes ge_nto when they just know where to swing their bat, where to plant their foot.
  • I knew that I was working up a great rant.
  • “Fast-forward to the age of email. Slowly but surely, we begin to mediat_lmost all of our communication over networks. Why walk down the hallway t_sk a coworker a question, when you can just send email? You don’t need t_nterrupt them, and you can keep going on your own projects, and if you forge_he answer, you can just open the message again and look at the response.
  • There’re all kinds of ways to interact with our friends over the network: w_an play hallucinogenic games, chat, send pictures, code, music, funn_rticles, metric fuckloads of porn… The interaction is high-quality! Sure, yo_ain three pounds every year you spend behind the desk instead of walking dow_he hall to ask your buddy where he wants to go for lunch, but that’s a smal_rice to pay.
  • “So you’re a fish out of water. You live in Arizona, but you’re sixteen year_ld and all your neighbors are eighty-five, and you get ten billion channel_f media on your desktop. All the good stuff—everything that tickles you—come_ut of some clique of hyperurban club-kids in South Philly. They’re makin_ool art, music, clothes. You read their mailing lists and you can tell tha_hey’re exactly the kind of people who’d really appreciate you for who yo_re. In the old days, you’d pack your bags and hitchhike across the countr_nd move to your community. But you’re sixteen, and that’s a pretty scar_tep.
  • “Why move? These kids live online. At lunch, before school, and all night, they’re comming in, talking trash, sending around photos, chatting. Online, you can be a peer. You can hop into these discussions, play the games, chor_ith one hand while chatting up some hottie a couple thousand miles away.
  • “Only you can’t. You can’t, because they chat at seven AM while they’r_etting ready for school. They chat at five PM, while they’re working on thei_omework. Their late nights end at three AM. But those are their local times, not yours. If you get up at seven, they’re already at school, ’cause it’s te_here.
  • “So you start to f with your sleep schedule. You get up at four AM so you ca_hat with your friends. You go to bed at nine, ’cause that’s when they go t_ed. Used to be that it was stock brokers and journos and factory workers wh_id that kind of thing, but now it’s anyone who doesn’t fit in. The geniuse_nd lunatics to whom the local doctrine tastes wrong. They choose their peer_ased on similarity, not geography, and they keep themselves awake at the sam_ime as them. But you need to make some nod to localness, too—gotta be at wor_ith everyone else, gotta get to the bank when it’s open, gotta buy you_roceries. You end up hardly sleeping at all, you end up sneaking naps in th_iddle of the day, or after dinner, trying to reconcile biological imperative_ith cultural ones. Needless to say, that alienates you even further from th_olks at home, and drives you more and more into the arms of your online peer_f choice.
  • “So you get the Tribes. People all over the world who are really secret agent_or some other time zone, some other way of looking at the world, some othe_eitgeist. Unlike other tribes, you can change allegiance by doing nothin_ore that resetting your alarm clock. Like any tribe, they are primarily loya_o each other, and anyone outside of the tribe is only mostly human. That ma_ound extreme, but this is what it comes down to.
  • “Tribes are agendas. Aesthetics. Ethos. Traditions. Ways of getting thing_one. They’re competitive. They may not all be based on time-zones. There ar_nitting Tribes and vampire fan-fiction Tribes and Christian rock tribes, bu_hey’ve always existed. Mostly, these tribes are little more than a sub- culture. It takes time-zones to amplify the cultural fissioning of fan-fictio_r knitting into a full-blown conspiracy. Their interests are commercial, industrial, cultural, culinary. A Tribesman will patronize a fello_ribesman’s restaurant, or give him a manufacturing contract, or hire hi_axi. Not because of xenophobia, but because of homophilia: I know that m_ribesman’s taxi will conduct its way through traffic in a way that I’_omfortable with, whether I’m in San Francisco, Boston, London or Calcutta. _now that the food will be palatable in a Tribal restaurant, that a book by _ribalist will be a good read, that a gross of widgets will be manufactured t_he exacting standards of my Tribe.
  • “Like I said, though, unless you’re at ground zero, in the Tribe’s native tim_one, your sleep sched is just raped. You live on sleepdep and chat and secre_gentry until it’s second nature. You’re cranky and subrational most of th_ime. Close your eyes on the freeway and dreams paint themselves on the bac_f your lids, demanding their time, almost as heavy as gravity, almost a_emorseless. There’s a lot of flaming and splitting and vitriol in the Tribes.
  • They’re more fractured than a potsherd. Tribal anthropologists have built u_ncredible histories of the fissioning of the Tribes since they were firs_ecognized—most of ’em are online; you can look ’em up. We stab each other i_he back routinely and with no more provocation than a sleepdep hallucination.
  • “Which is how I got here. I’m a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe. We’r_entered around New York, but we’re ramified up and down the coast, Boston an_oronto and Philly, a bunch of Montreal Anglos and some wannabes in upstat_ew York, around Buffalo and Schenectady. I was doing Tribal work in London, serving the Eastern Standard Agenda, working with a couple of Tribesmen, well, one Tribesman and my girlfriend, who I thought was unaffiliated. Turns out, though, that they’re both double agents. They sold out to the Pacific Dayligh_ribe, lameass phonies out in LA, slick Silicon Valley bizdev sharks, pseud_ipsters in San Franscarcity. Once I threatened to expose them, they set m_p, had me thrown in here.”
  • I looked around proudly, having just completed a real fun little excursio_hrough a topic near and dear to my heart. Mount Rushmore looked back at me, stony and bovine and uncomprehending.
  • “Baby,” Lucy said, rolling her eyes again, “you need some new meds.”
  • “Could be,” I said. “But this is for real. Is there a comm on the ward? We ca_ook it up together.”
  • “Oh, that’all prove it, all right. Nothing but truth online.”
  • “I didn’t say that. There’re peer-reviewed articles about the Tribes. It was _ead story on the CBC’s social science site last year.”
  • “Uh huh, sure. Right next to the sasquatch videos.”
  • “I’m talking about the CBC, Lucy. Let’s go look it up.”
  • Lucy mimed taking an invisible comm out of her cleavage and prodding at i_ith an invisible stylus. She settled an invisible pair of spectacles on he_ose and nodded sagely. “Oh yeah, sure, really interesting stuff.”
  • I realized that I was arguing with a crazy person and turned to the doctor.
  • “You must have read about the Tribes, right?”
  • The doctor acted as if he hadn’t heard me. “That’s just fascinating, Art.
  • Thank you for sharing that. Now, here’s a question I’d like you to thin_bout, and maybe you can tell us the answer tomorrow: What are the ways tha_our friends—the ones you say betrayed you—used to show you how much the_espected you and liked you? Think hard about this. I think you’ll b_urprised by the conclusions you come to.”
  • “What’s that supposed to mean?”
  • “Just what I said, Art. Think hard about how you and your friends interacte_nd you’ll see that they really like you.”
  • “Did you hear what I just said? Have you heard of the Tribes?”
  • “Sure, sure. But this isn’t about the Tribes, Art. This is about you and—” h_onsulted his comm, “Fede and Linda. They care about you a great deal an_hey’re terribly worried about you. You just think about it. Now,” he said, recrossing his legs, “Fatima, you told us yesterday about your mother and _sked you to think about how she feels. Can you tell the group what you foun_ut?”
  • But Fatima was off in med-land, eyes glazed and mouth hanging slack. Manue_udged her with his toe, then, when she failed to stir, aimed a kick at he_hin. The doctor held a hand out and grabbed Manuel’s slippered toe. “That’_ll right, let’s move on to Lucy.”
  • I tuned out as Lucy began an elaborate and well-worn rant about her eatin_abits, prodded on by the doctor. The enormity of the situation was comin_ome to me. I couldn’t win. If I averred that Fede and Linda were my boo_ompanions, I’d still be found incompetent—after all, what competent perso_hreatens his boon companions? If I stuck to my story, I’d be foun_ncompetent, and medicated besides, like poor little Fatima, zombified by th_sychoactive cocktail. Either way, I was stuck.
  • Stuck on the roof now, and it’s getting very uncomfortable indeed. Stuc_ecause I am officially incompetent and doomed and damned to indefinite res_n the ward. Stuck because every passing moment here is additional time fo_he hamsters to run their courses in my mind, piling regret on worry.
  • Stuck because as soon as I am discovered, I will be stupified by the meds, administered by stern and loving and thoroughly disappointed doctors. I stil_aven’t managed to remember any of their names. They are interchangeable, wel_hod and endowed with badges on lanyards and soothing and implacable an_ntirely unappreciative of my rhetorical skills.
  • Stuck. The sheet-metal chimneys stand tall around the roof, unevenl_istributed according to some inscrutable logic that could only be understoo_ith the assistance of as-built drawings, blueprints, mechanical an_tructural engineering diagrams. Surely though, they are optimized to wick ho_ir out of the giant brick pile’s guts and exhaust it.
  • I move to the one nearest the stairwell. It is tarred in place, its apro_ined with a double-row of cinderblocks that have pools of brackish water an_obwebs gathered in their holes. I stick my hand in the first and drag it of_he apron. I repeat it.
  • Now the chimney is standing on its own, in the middle of a nonsensica_inderblock-henge. My hands are dripping with muck and grotendousness. I wip_hem off on the pea gravel and then dry them on my boxer shorts, then hug th_himney and lean forward. It gives, slowly, slightly, and springs back. I giv_t a harder push, really give it my weight, but it won’t budge. Belatedly, _ealize that I’m standing on its apron, trying to lift myself along with th_himney.
  • I take a step back and lean way forward, try again. It’s awkward, but I’_aking progress, bent like an ell, pushing with my legs and lower back. I fee_omething pop around my sacrum, know that I’ll regret this deeply when my bac_acks out completely, but it’ll be all for naught if I don’t keep! on!
  • pushing!
  • Then, suddenly, the chimney gives, its apron swinging up and hitting me in th_nees so that I topple forward with it, smashing my chin on its hood. For _oment, I lie down atop it, like a stupefied lover, awestruck by my ow_nanity. The smell of blood rouses me. I tentatively reach my hand to my chi_nd feel the ragged edge of a cut there, opened from the tip and along m_awbone almost to my ear. The cut is too fresh to hurt, but it’s bleedin_reely and I know it’ll sting like a bastard soon enough. I go to my knees an_cream, then scream again as I rend open my chin further.
  • My knees and shins are grooved with deep, parallel cuts, gritted with grave_nd grime. Standing hurts so much that I go back to my knees, holler again a_he pain in my legs as I grind more gravel into my cuts, and again as I tea_y face open some more. I end up fetal on my side, sticky with blood an_eeping softly with an exquisite self-pity that is more than the cuts an_ruises, more than the betrayal, more than the foreknowledge of punishment. _m weeping for myself, and my identity, and my smarts over happiness and th_hought that I would indeed choose happiness over smarts any day.
  • Too damned smart for my own good.