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Town and Country - Part V
They swerved around a lurching figure.
"Sorry," Liam said. "Trying to get this sword off. I think I'm hung up."
"You're caught in your seatbelt. No, don't- hold on, I'll get it. Why didn't you take the damn thing off before we started."
"Slipped my mind."
"Just a second- no, pull your arms back. Fuck, I'm unbuckling this."
"Watch out," Liam said.
They clipped a naked dead man, sending him spinning around.
"That's got it." Liam handed the sword and kit to Isaac. "Take this, will you?"
Isaac took it and tossed it in the backseat. "You're going to get us killed."
"Relax. It's sorted." Liam took the wheel with both hands. "Ah. Here we are."
They had turned down a narrow road lined with iron railings, behind which lurked high hedges. A tall stone church stood at the end of the road, steeple thrust up into the clear night.
"I don't see anything," Isaac said.
"Try looking out of the corner of your eye. Don't concentrate on anything. It's like one of those 'magic eye' pictures." He paused, as the car roared down the street. "What a daft comparison. Sorry."
"I'm not sure..." Isaac turned his head to one side. "Oh, hey, I think I see it. Sort of hanging in the air, like a scar, it-" He turned back around. "Hey! Slow down-"
"Don't worry about it."
The tall stone facade of the church rushed toward them.
"There's a fucking wall in front of us!"
"I've lost track of myself."
Liam looked at the empty bottles on the table, then up at Isaac. "Really?"
"Ha. I don't mean just that."
"I know. Couldn't resist taking the piss."
"You couldn't what?"
"Nevermind." Liam poured for them again. "Where were we?"
"Well, I..." Isaac held up a hand. "I mean, what does the Society do? Is there, you know, a mission statement tacked to some wall somewhere? I know I keep asking this."
"I thought I did."
"Good enough for me." Liam picked up his glass. "Bishop keeps close about what he thinks he's doing with all of this. This kind of a structure- no centralized power or control, at least in any way that makes any sense to me- is something no one's ever done before. Goes against all instincts. You found a, well, a society, with at least a theoretical purpose- otherwise why do it?- and then do everything in your power to stay out of power. Seems unnatural, that."
"That makes no sense. How can he direct anything if he doesn't have any power?"
"Search me. I asked once, and left more confused than when we started. The man has ideas I don't even begin to follow." Liam frowned. "Don't let the glasses and the sort of cuddly Peter Cushing look fool you. There's never been a magician like Bishop."
"Peter Cushing was Grand Moff Tarkin..."
Liam blinked. "Who?"
"Why do I feel," Isaac said. "Like we're having two different conversations?"
"That would be the devil Alcohol, Despoiler of Worlds, Bringer of Misery, Road to Perdition. Have some more."
Isaac held his glass out, and Liam poured for both of them.
"What time is it?" Isaac said. "It must be getting close to morning."
"Not exactly what?"
"This is Lensmoor. There's never really a day-time here."
Isaac looked around at the hotel lounge. Though never particularly busy, it had been active during the whole of their time at the table. People came and went in an endless tide of humanity. Food and drink were served, glasses and silverware clinked, tables were taken and left.
"So there's no day-night schedule here?" He said.
"None at all."
"Hmm. Night city."
Liam smiled. "Groovy, no?"
"Very groovy." Isaac paused. "When do people sleep?"
"What makes you think you have to?"
He grinned. "Very groovy." He thought for a minute. "Um. I think I've lost the thread of our conversation."
"Devil Alcohol, Despoiler of Worlds, Bringer of-"
"Shh!" Isaac waved a hand at him. "I'm thinking."
"Shall I call the hospital?"
"I've lost it again. Wait- I've got it." He drained his glass. “The Society. You have no idea what it’s for?”
“It’s not a bloody socket wrench, Isaac. It’s not for anything.”
“I know what you mean.” Liam drained his own glass. “I’m sure Bishop has his Big Ideas. But we’ve no rules or laws or anything. How could we? We have no heirarchy. Bishop is the founder- along with a few others- and I’m sure that biases responses toward him, but he can’t reprimand you for doing something wrong. No, it’s more than that. You can’t do something wrong. There’s no guidelines. No rules at all.”
“What happens if someone makes trouble?”
Isaac shrugged. “Any trouble. What happens if someone starts, I don’t know, killing babies and raping old ladies, or something?”
“Raping old ladies?”
“Lemme alone, top of my head. Answer the question.”
“Well,” Liam said. “No rules works both ways, like. Bishop believes in complete responsibility for what you do, like an Anarchist idealism. I might be willing to take responsibility for killing a baby-butchering bastard. Right?”
Isaac shook his head. “It sounds like chaos, man.”
“It’s worked so far. I’m sure Bishop stacks the deck his own way, but still...” Liam freshened their drinks. “Seems to work.”
“How many people are in this? Like, total, across all the- all the Everything?”
“Not a clue,” Liam said. “I’ve seen over a hundred at meetings here in New Albion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had ten times that, spread out across the Multiverse.” He leaned back in his chair, laced his hands behind his head, and looked up at the ceiling. “Or more. Or less. Who knows?”
“How long have you been with them?”
Liam leaned forward again. “Just had a thought,” he said. “There’s a fish place just south of here. I’ve a powerful taste for fish just now. Shall we?”
“Um. Sure.” Isaac staggered to his feet. “There’s...ah...there’s some of this bottle still left.”
Liam raised his eyebrows above the dark circles of his glasses. “Well, then. Put it out of its misery. Only civil thing to do.”
There was a jolt, and a wave of vertigo hit him like a physical blow, knocking him out of his body. He scrabbled to hold on, clawing at his own mind to avoid being thrown out into the Void. He could see his own back, could see Liam frozen in place, hands on the wheel. Beyond the windshield was the Void, empty and endless here in this frozen second. He looked out the driver-side window and saw a line of windows stretching down into Eternity, as though reflected between two mirrors.
He thought: I’m trapped here I’m trapped here forever this is Hell this is Hell I’m trapped I’m-
“Maybe,” Liam said. “The only thing that kept ‘reality’ together in the first place was the pressure of all those people believing in a linear, stable Universe.”
Isaac wiped a hand across his face. He picked up his pint. “So what happened?”
“This is all theory,” Liam said. “Information, back when it could be measured, was doubling an an ever-increasing rate. You all were learning, you were. Not being taught or indoctrinated. Learning. Learn enough about something, and all your faulty ideas about it- however hard you hold onto them- come into question. Cognitive dissonance. And you know what comes after cognitive dissonance?”
Isaac shook his head.
“Crisis.” Liam gestured around them.
“Same as with any crisis, I suppose. You break yourself down, put yourself together in some new way and survive...or you don’t.”
Isaac felt nausea rising in his stomach. He laid his head against the cool glass of the pub window and looked up at the stars. “Do you think we’ll make it?”
“Don’t know, mate.” Liam transferred his cigarette to his other hand and picked up his pint. “Could be that’s what Bishop’s trying to do with the Society. While the rest of us are scrabbling around, looking for the Instruction Manual, could be he’s figured out there isn’t one, and realized what that means.”
Isaac turned to look at him. “What does it mean?”
“We’re free. Completely and utterly free. And what a terrifying thought that is.”
“Any division between matter and consciousness is an illusion, perpetrated by our own perception after both matter and consciousness have unfolded into the linear-sequential wavelengths in which we register them. Note how this recapitulates basic ideas encapsulated in the Tree of Life and other systems. Now, if we...”
“Hello? Is anyone there? Doctor Rider? Is the experiment still going on? I’m feeling a little disoriented...”
They bounced and jounced over uneven cobbles. Liam brought the car to a halt and shifted into Park. He looked over at Isaac. “You all right?”
“Are you,” Liam said carefully. “All right? You’ve gone a bit googly-eyed.”
“I...” Isaac put a hand to his temple. “You know what? Forget it. I’m fine.”
“Are you s-”
“I said forget it. I don’t want to talk about it.” He looked around. “Where are we?”
“Hold on.” Liam opened the driver-side door and stood up.
For a long moment, he didn’t move. Isaac looked at the lower half of the man, poised partway in and partway out of the car door. “Liam? Is everything okay?”
“Do you know where we are?”
“All right...” Isaac waited. “So where are we?”
“That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Liam, are you-”
“Fine.” Liam leaned down and stuck his head back in the car. “We’re in the road. I’m going to park us in an alleyway for now.” He slid inside and put the car in reverse.
“You know this place, then?” Isaac said.
“And...you don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine. Just tell me when you decide, you know, that you’re comfortable with the idea of people knowing things- other than you, I mea-”
“Stop whinging.” Liam was turned around in his seat, guiding the little car into the shelter of an alley. “It doesn’t become you.”
Isaac shut up.
Liam reversed the car until it was well inside the alley, then shut it off and got out.
Isaac followed suit. “Will you at least tell me if we’re in danger here?”
“I doubt it,” Liam said. “Not for our lives, at least.”
“What do you-?” Isaac stopped.
A woman had stepped out of the alley behind them. As Isaac watched, she came up behind Liam and placed the barrel of a gun against the back of his head.
Liam started to turn. “What-?” He saw her.
She grinned. “Kapow.”
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.