by Ashutosh Jogalekar
The fall turned colors faster than ever before. The streets never saw any activity. The whole gambit of Prometheus hinged on a mere coin flip. Richard Albrook gingerly closed his book and took a look around.
The café was almost deserted, college students and startup founders struggling to meet last minute deadlines, their faces a picture of desperate concentration. The baristas and their blues, the coffee with its vitriolic flavors. It seemed like the uneasy middle of time. Had not the soothsayer spoken with gusto and evident admiration for the march of destiny, he might have almost been forgiven for having a sense of whimsy.
Albrook had been languishing in this carved out area of spacetime until his visceral emotions had gotten the better of him. His friends had warned him that too much time with a speakeasy kind of permissive feeling would mark his doom. Not that feelings of doom had never crossed his mind, but this time it seemed all too real. Lost love, the convolutions of Clifford algebras and dandy details of daffodil pollination had always been seemingly on the verge of materializing in a cloud of abject reality, but the effect had been subtle at best.
It was this rather susceptible mix of preternaturally wholesome unification that Albrook was mulling over when the wizard walked in.
Two precisely round chocolate chip cookies and a latte, bitte, he croaked, even as his voice sounded like it would warp space with a brand new curvature tensor. Wouldn’t his friend want to know what exactly the latest abomination was? What would be the whole point of stealing a few moments from eviscerated time? What a world it was. What a world. Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Bohr and Heisenberg and their tortured children marveling at mutilated meaning; all had had their say about the void, the complete mess of humanity and sweet free will that had been ours for the taking. But only the wizard seemed like he would have the answers.
He had been responsible, after all, for creating the fuzziest metamorphosis of all things pure since the metamorphosis. Kurt and Albert could have disturbed the whole universe newly and duly on their meanderings through the snow and the wizard wouldn’t have sneezed. The gall of the cosmic dance had sowed the seeds for a lion’s formidable roar of what turned out to be a mouse tweet. The ferns and bison and Ediacarans were small meat on the giant pancake, although who knew the biped would have shown such a cheerful, smooth indifference to the incredible gamble.
The drink fomented, the cookie corners cut, he settled down into a chair that seemed borrowed from Henry VIII’s custom-built collection. A sigh as heavy as whipped baryonic soup. A flash of the eyes declaring a concern best left to the accountants. Albrook guffawed silently at the sheer temerity of the multidimensional swindle. A child’s question would have cut to the chase, and still his laughter did not obliterate the deep anguish. What was here should have been lost through the ages, and yet it had somehow winded itself through survival of the fittest, through the fine structure constant and Rome and Versailles and plopped itself down on plush synthetic.
Somehow the flicker of courage appeared before time had a moment to reassert itself, and Albrook walked over, the scuff of his shoes drawing strange patterns from a misbegotten textile’s short half-life.
Good evening, wizard. And what gave you a change of heart?
The wizard quietly looked up, the embers in his pitiful flask, one among an infinite solution space of consumables, quietly giving off entropy to his own creations so that they could live and lie one more day. The wrinkles of spacetime dug deep into his forehead. It was an experiment, my friend. The parameters set, the goodness all baked in, the whole outcome an exciting – albeit combustible, I must admit – mix of speculation, fine-tuning and demonically predictive power. And one that spit out Santa Claus, asymptotic freedom and Amanita phalloides, ho ho ho, thank you very much, what wretched delight. To have carried out the delicious burden of biophilia and single malt was a crowning glory, although Vibrio cholerae is a smirk too wide. The bridge too far that gets on the vicious underbelly of the other side deserves its own name, and even I find myself lexically challenged to uncover that particular mystery.
Albrook sighed with dim recognition. Yes, he said, he had had that sense of gnawing guilt that told him that he should have maybe said something that time, that time when the lever was being tried out for the first time, when the drooling promise of superficial glory was exploding with a million frenzied colors, when the ultimate party was cooking in the innards of some rotten genius mass of neural habitat for humanity. But the coin can fall either way, and he had had neither the heart nor the horror of instant recognition to have everyone step back. Late night scribblings in the café were the best he could accomplish. And he hadn’t hesitated before melting all his worries away in the wary delight of Zarathustra and Żubrówka. I mean what the hell; the gel of existence has to glisten on someone’s hair.
It’s all right, nobody made you the guardian of all that’s good and possible, said the wizard with a pensive expression of almost dead resignation. Don’t worry about it; you’ll be all right. The gurgling maw can be filled in again, but déjà vu never found itself a home in gladdened hearts. In any case, what has to be done has to be done; the cautious footsteps of improbability were never too bold for inevitability. He looked into his cup and saw the bottomed out hole filled with the veneer of hopeful damnation.
Straightening out his tunic, an upper bound of desire and planning writ into his expression, he extended his hand to Albrook. I’ll be seeing you. The quick, blurry movement of the door and the morbidly cold gust of air sealed the hands of time immemorial. Albrook stood there for a moment and walked back to fetch his hat and coat. Far away, on the Serengeti, a lion ripped into the pulsating veins of a forlorn gazelle.