4.

Out there, on the green, I passed them. The artists. Standing in a circle, around a pile of backpacks and boxes (they were going to burn it? No, just stuff). Steepled hands and heads bowed. Old and young and maybe even a few students too. Utterly silent, absolute concentration. A blessing; I stopped to watch it. Meditation, their sign told me. Relaxation. A mystery dance in the fog, as they raised their fists. Martial arts to fight off the ghosts. Did it work? Such a thing, that's what I need.

I wanted to join them but then I noticed the cop was looking at me kind of funny. What is up with them these days? (Come on, he told me, they're perfectly nice people. If you get to know them. What have you got against 'em?) Homeless or student? Saw him playing solitaire in his car once.

As I moved into the main building. (It's just what they stand for.) We've already played that game. These games. (And what do they stand for?) Uniformity. Why did I keep lingering around here? I needed to make a break from it, away from it all. Catch a train (a shooting star), go hopping across this great country of ours. You don't want to go back and you don't want to move forward – you can't have it both ways. Ain't that the truth.

But me? I pause a bit before entering. To read that quote on the wall, and It above us all. But looking up at it now, it distracted me and made me sad. Up there, on the dome (no, not a person). It was still covered. That's why they hadn't played any tricks recently (a police log: students up there. They still reported that?) They were fixing it up I read. The skylight, the skylight. The skylight they'd covered for fear of bombing (see? It comes back to you in strange ways) Really. The things they carry. We had to worry about that? Little old us? I thought that was funny.

January, they said. If all goes well we'll be sitting up there, looking up at the sky. (glowing in the dark) Through amethyst (why not just glass?) I wonder if that'll make it more dangerous. Climbing around. Sitting and looking at the skyline; someday I'll find my way back there.

Oh well they'll find a way. They were tricksters back then and there'll sure be now. They're just waiting. Until November (never forget, never forget).


Inside, the crowd was picking up so I segued my way downstairs. To looks less suspicious, to the tunnels, back from whence I came (plus it began to rain). Sorry, the Tubes.

I was born to be a worm. I felt my way at home down there, just tall enough, looking up at the innards of the building along the roof. Wires, pipes, bare lightbulbs.

And coming along I saw him once again. Lounging about the front of the staircase.

"I don't suppose it's possible? To hate a person and admire them all at once."

He followed me.

"A person maybe; not an ideal."

Thus spake the space cadet. I tried reading it once; nearly threw it across the room (or I would've if it'd been real. That's why there's gotta be paper – I need something to grab onto).

"Funny. I thought the opposite."

"What are you still doing here?"

I didn't answer. It wasn't for me to tell him.

"Why are you wearing that?" I noticed.

"This?" He spread his arms out. "Dress rehearsal."

"For what?" Once I heard them, I remember. Out of my room window (overflood into the morning). Thought they were the soccer team, thought they sounded real intense.

"Thermonuclear war."

He walked jauntily, like he was wearing ordinary clothes.

"You shouldn't joke like that."

"Why not?"

"Because."

That's the difference, between us and them. Here we've got a nuclear power plant.

"Over there they're got fallout shelters."

"Really?"

"I was over there yesterday," I told him. "That big hall they've got. Like a castle or a church." In memorium.

"RIP."

We stopped by the glass lab of one accord – but it was empty today. The oven burnt out. And dark and deserted.

"Like there was nothing there now, but there'd been something there once."

As we continued the only people we met were janitors or streetsweepers who didn't even give us a second glance. The underbelly of the beast in other words.

"Must not mistake coming for arrival."

"Although this time you could do so – with impunity."

I don't understand it. When people talk about emotions. I've never been able to seem them in people's eyes. All those different colors, so many different shades. I guess that just means I'm blind.

"Or maybe they're all lying."

In books, the things we write. What kind of things we right. Maybe it's some kind of adaptation I've lost, and I'm the only one. A mutant.

"All the bleeding artists."

They weren't real but who cares?

"We get enough of that in real life."

There were signs down there. Numbers mostly (here we talked in numbers. The universal language. Once, remember I saw pictures. The signs in different languages, it sent chills down me. The happy deceiving pictures. Damn not again.)

"The glass room was unoccupied."

Words with negative connotations. That I was blissfully unaware of, even a few short years ago. Maybe a few short years since I'll be inured. But now it's just weird.

"A bull in a glass shop."

Lately, you the bull.

"And I the Matador."

That got him to laugh. "You were on the fencing team once, right?"

"Yeah." Sabreur. "Wasn't any good at it." Never left the equipment on the train at least. "But it was calming."

A blissful look came over his face. "Man, I always thought that'd be cool."

He looked so young. But who am I to talk?

"Born several centuries too late."

People got out of his way, I bet. That's why he didn't want to go up there. Especially when they went about in groups I always got a bad feeling. Didn't they ever feel awkward? We could wear whatever we wanted, but they'd always stick out like an ant in a classroom.

"Empire ant."

"Empire falls."

We were the same year I think. That's why we recognized each other (by chance, by fate) by face. But our paths had since diverged. To rage poetic.

"To dream."

"Perchance."

I guess we were some kind of kindred spirits. And getting to know him, I felt kind of bad for making fun of them. Afterall, some of them have to do it right?

"Couldn't pay for it otherwise."

What a strange mad world.

"The things we do to sell our soul."

I used to have trouble spelling that word. So that's how my dad taught me: they sold their soul. That's how you remember it.

"At least you're not chained for thirty years." Have no idea how they things done back then like that. Sending everyone off, that's a good way to end right there. Everything like that. Probably why their culture's so like that.

"Why don't you come with me?"

For a moment he seemed interested. "Where?"

"Dunno." I took a deep breath. "Escape." Hitchhiking or something.

"Can't."

"What."

"Personal responsibility."

"Honor. Glory." I thought. "They don't shoot people anymore, do they?"

"Hey, man." He seemed cross now. "Don't fuck with me, okay? I never did anything to bother you."

"Don't get me wrong." I raised my hands a little. "I appreciate what you're doing for – "

"Thanks."

" – whatever that is."

He stormed off in a huff.

"Fuck you too."

Sick of being treated like I have before. Like I'm sick of standing for what I'm standing for. Like I'm just fighting another brand of – As I stood there wondering.

"Actually I'm not a pacifist."

If I'd lost a friend.


I'm not a real one. I'm not a real one.

Well we don't have the ocean here. Don't have any mountains either (the way the sun caught them, turned all different colors in the morning). But we have got a river, and some cool looking skyscrapers across. Got lots of places I'll show you. Walking. Just tell me if and when.

But Zoya remember those pictures? I know, I know you told me to stop obsessing over it. But sometimes we've got to get these things down, so we don't act them out, you know? Obsess over them. Maybe I'll tear this one up too. If only you knew the things I didn't send you.

So there were two. One of them with the Reapers. Acting all friendly with the civs or something. Maybe buying something, like they were on vacation or something. I don't know maybe there was more than one (and those street signs too). God I hope they tore them all down.

And this other one. They took after it was all over. Just these – poles. I don't know, posts they call them I guess. You know what I'm talking about right? That execution chamber. In the basement of the Justice building or something.

That's what set it off, set it all off if you want to know. It just made me – it's not really something you can go into. But it's funny, I'd never really felt that way before. And I used to read about them, all the plans they had you know. Because it was fascinating (other people too but they don't want to admit it. That's why they're so detailed, those articles). Empire Ants. You know what I'm talking about. We used to talk about it.

What brings you here? You asked that first time as if you knew I was lost.

Poor V. I haven't been able to stop thinking of it, ever since my dad gave me that book. At first I was kind of mad at him, you know, for telling me before I'd read that book. Because it wasn't about that at all and what was I supposed to think while reading it? I wonder what he would've wanted. How he would've wanted people to read it, if he'd had a choice. I wonder if he thought about it after they – when he was sitting alone, as he must have been some time.

When people read, if they do read I just want them to think. Whatever they want. What life is; is not my business to tell you.

It's kind of a fucked up way to go I think. I don't know why I think of these things. Certainly no one else is hung up over it.

I used to think there was something in it too. But you don't have to, no not like that. It still requires some cooperation on your part, you know? People are just so worried about how they'll be remembered. As if it matters at all.

They were impressed they said. They were impressed. By how they faced it so calmly. Or bravely (V., how did he? Does someone keep track of these things? The great G – D? )

There's a certain ritual to these things, certain rules. They were impressed, they said. They were impressed. Well fuck you, I'm not here for your entertainment. You don't tell me how to die. Yeah – I'll die standing. And taking down as many of you motherfuckers trying to kill me as I can.

You were doomed to wander the earth forever, looking at what it wrought. Do they feel remorse? He wouldn't. Listening to opera they said. (I'm not a real one, I'm not. Listen to me.) And like thee Nero, I shall laugh as the city burns.

(Courage, strike up the drums and forth.)

I hope there are no ghosts. I hope they shut it down, burned it down to the ground. I hope they destroyed everything and piled dirt all over – it's all over (but they didn't I know). Who knows, maybe it's still there and people don't even know. Its past. Just some plaque in the corner we ignore. Just some field where for some reason things no longer grow.

(I'm not a real one, I'm not.)

Yes, still awake at night. Thinking.

Shooting ranges still give me the creeps.