A day begins unlike any other.
I’m bundled in smelly blankets on the pavement beside a bus stop. When I push myself up an empty wine bottle rolls off my back to break. My head hurts. Okay, I get the picture.
I lean up against the bus stop’s movie poster display. My mouth is so dry. The street is busy. A constant flow of passersby. Tires rolling engines in four directions. People gathering at the bus stop. One guy looks down on me with a grunt of disgust. I smell vomit wafting on the breeze.
Several others nearby seem to be in a similar condition. I’m nauseated watching them eat garbage scraps directly off the sidewalk.
I get to my feet only to realize how weak I am. I’ve got a bramble bush growing out of my face. I’m desperately thirsty. I’m in front of a little mall and here’s a liquor store. I check my pockets for money. The pockets are just holes.
Looking down I see my disgusting feet. If shoes formed from dirt I’d be wearing Sperry topsiders. I can’t even see the nails. Everything below the ankles is crusted.
I need water badly. I take a step and can’t feel it. I can’t feel my feet. But I balance using visuals and grasping a telephone pole or lamp post as possible. Gradually the hang of moving forward kicks in. When I reach the intersection I find one of those perpetual fountains gently cascading water down its sides for recycling. That water is not clean. But what else can I do?
But another destitute fellow ambles up and slurps from this recycled drench. “You’re gonna get sick!” I warn.
“Naw, it’s okay now,” he announces, waving me off. “The whole city gets treated water now.” He stumbles off before I manage to ask what he’s talking about. Treated with what?
I have to go around small groups of people waiting to cross streets. They don’t look at me. But they know I’m here because they turn away from me. Some of them go off the sidewalk into the gravel landscaping to avoid my approach. I’m not invisible, I’m not a nobody, I’m a goddamned monster.
I start to laugh when it occurs to me that recently – in my time – I was President of the United States! From number one to minus-infinity! Is that what this crazy journey is about? Am I going to survive to testify to the extremes of human experience? And I laugh knowing – well, hoping anyway – that I’ll probably only have to suffer this indignity for one day. But then I stop laughing just as suddenly when I remember that this is, after all, me. It’s me as I am all the time in this reality. It could be me for years – or decades. How did I let this happen to myself?
I hobble to the fountain. A man in a suit passes by and spits into it.
A kind young man has seen this. He walks over and hands me a dollar. He smiles and says, “Good luck, sir,” then goes his way. I move my lips to say thanks but nothing comes out except coughing.
I use the fountain to wash my feet. At the liquor store, using the dollar and some negotiating skill with my regained if raspy voice, I am able to purchase a small bottle of water. I find a relatively calm area in the shade from which to enjoy my water and observe the world going by. It’s going busily past this tiny triangle of a park. Signage tells me I’m in West Hollywood. Relaxing a bit as cool water relieves my parched tonsils, I start noticing details.
Watching closely I recognize a strange pattern of behavior as a uniquely garbed man makes his way through the streets of West Hollywood, though he barely draws an unusual degree of attention in this colorful town.
Here individualism is highly accepted even among the tightly trimmed trend followers. Perhaps he’s an extra in a sci-fi movie shooting somewhere nearby? Or maybe he’s been shopping at one of those stores on Melrose Avenue. Regardless, few except tourists pay any attention and they aren’t sure what to make of him.
But I observe that he’s looking for homeless people, and among them for someone or something in particular.
I’m getting a restless stirring. I see that fellow lead a person away. They get into a van. Traffic is so dense they can’t move along any faster than I can stroll. I follow him. And I find myself looking around for money on the street. I’m thirsty again but this time water doesn’t sound adequate.
Captain Fancy-Pants parks the van in a private driveway and leads that homeless person into Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills where they vanish into a well-hidden cave.
I plant myself in the bushes just to rest and hang out. I’m feeling like shit. I need something. I think it’s booze.
For a long time I stare at the rock formations around the hidden entrance. I begin to see some kind of pattern in places. Are those really rocks, or is something up against the hill and covered with dirt, pebbles and plants? Am I looking at a disguised structure?
The costumed character emerges from the “cave” once again leaving the park. So he’s taking helpless winos into a cave and doing what to them? Jesus, this is awful. Is this guy some kind of serial killer? A pervert with problems I can’t imagine?
Damn. I just can’t leave it alone. I have to see what happened in there. I’m shaky and it’s a combination of fear and alcohol deprivation. I’m weak. If this goes wrong I’m probably in for a horror show.
I follow the path I watched the victims taken on. A thick wall of hanging vines looks discouraging but I do as I watched, pushing them aside and stepping in.
It’s dark and close once I’m through. Totally quiet. I have to feel along the wall of dirt. It crumbles in chunks at the easiest touch, clods smashing on my poor weather worn toes. What if I step on a body?
Then I come to something made of solid metal. It’s big enough to be a door, but there’s no handle. I put my ear to it. Nothing…
From behind I hear him coming!
I crouch into a pathetic dirty ball as far away from the metal wall as I can scamper before he comes into the area, illuminating it with light from his own uniform. It must be photo-luminescent, absorbing sunlight to glow in the dark. I stay as still as a dead possum, hoping to be overlooked for the first time today.
He goes to the metal and it slides open. It is a door, and he hasn’t noticed me. He’s carrying a bag from the grocery store. He disappears inside and the door slowly starts to close. Should I? I have to!
Slithering in before it’s too late I hunker down before I’m noticed. Now I’m in a corridor with a smooth floor. The walls are smooth. It leads to an opening 30 feet away that the man passed through.
Well here’s the chance I need to eavesdrop. But someone else comes up behind me.
“Hey there,” I croak in a most friendly tone, “would you happen to serve red wine in this establishment?”
Then I black out.
So sometime later I wake up and find out there’s two worlds on this Earth.
There’s the new world of plenty where nothing decays and no one grows old; and there’s the old world of decay, where everything and everyone dies wanting.
I was born into the latter.
They brought me where they conduct some of their dirtiest experiments. And have they been experimenting! Oh yeah, ever since Equilibrium was invented. This Earth is becoming a world of non-decaying matter!
Seems you just mix some Equilibrium in with regular molecules to get stable molecular structures at ordinary temperatures. Ice cubes that don’t melt. Buildings that never get old. Tools that never wear out. Clothing that lasts forever. Books, artwork, even un-refrigerated food can stay fresh for unlimited lengths of time. You can even grab scraps off the street, brush ’em off an chow down.
The economy has changed radically. With nothing in decay, places fill up with things. Nothing is replaced but new things are still desired. Trading replaces purchasing for many products.
Larger homes, bigger offices and massive storage spaces proliferate. A glut of existing products instigates innovative variations of common items. Technology diversifies as struggles to improve quality of existing products intensifies.
But production of Equilibrium is still expensive thanks to trademarks and patents. Second hand extracted Equilibrium doesn’t work, so they can’t steal it out of ready made products. And even though it’s us manufacturing some of the ingredients, the profits go to them.
And jobs for straight-up labor go away. With Equilibrium infusion, civilization’s infrastructures require no maintenance once completed. Yet people in that rich world generally live much longer now, if not forever, if they’ve been able to pay for static aging treatment and gotten their government issued public dose of perfected health vaccine.
They don’t even go away when they’re dead. Dead bodies of those treated with static aging do not decay. A new tradition of corpse display is established using transparent coffins in high tech mausoleums. Deaths due to health imbalances diminish to zero. Mercifully, deaths by neglect, disaster, accident, suicide and homicide continue apace.
And yes, the government has been experimenting.
In their search for a hypothetical inter-dimensional mixta particula, their researchers decided to electromagnetically link chains of super-excited nanocarbons to the neural network of a homeless intruder – me.
Transformed into a dynamo exerting accelerating rates of radio waves, microwaves, infrared, light and ultraviolet beams with regular pulses of x-rays and gamma rays, my existence threatens to strip everyone around me of their precious permanent structures.
Driven by a long existence of invisibility, hunger, paranoia, despair and anxiety, I’m suddenly energetic and the center of attention. It can’t last for long at the rate I’m discharging energy – unless – what if?
Have they made me into a stable, perpetually-radiating doomsday weapon of mass destruction?