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01 Conscience

 

Summary

The protagonist is a convicted murderer who is condemned to relive his murder with a conscience, thanks to some near-future biochemistry. The victim(s) of his crime are unknown to the reader until the end

Intakes

Do you think you are crazy?

No. My crime is that I’m sane. [Of course I equate emotion with insanity.]

So you think murdering that woman was reasonable.

I had no choice.

You’re here because you did have a choice. You chose very badly.

The Punishment

“Your punishment in ready. Before we begin, I am required by law to say certain things to you.” … describe guard

Although I wasn’t looking forward to this, I knew that this punishment was a better alternative than hard time. What I didn’t know was whether I’d still be me when the procedure was complete.

I casually listened to the guard and looked for ways to escape.

When I say ‘guard’ I really mean twelve guards, but only one at a time had direct access to me. The rest surrounded me; but at a distance. They were all heavily armed. …

From a killing-the-nearest-guard-or-taking-him-prisoner perspective the room was better than most: there were lots of sharp edges, and few access points. From an escape perspective, my situation was bleak. I was in a concrete room, within a concrete bunker, buried in granite deep below New York City.

The guard continued with her legal disclaimer. “What you are about to experience is derived from scans taken from everybody present at the party on the night of the murder.”

“Can I view them prior to proceeding?”

“You experience intention scans, you do not view them. And no. Surprise is part of your punishment.”

“I see. Shall we begin?”

“Not yet. In order for the punishment to work, you will need a conscience. Give me your arm.”

I expect something closer to a Dr. Frankenstein experiment, featuring kites, lightening and bolts, but all I she has in her hand is a tiny needle. She injects it into my right bicep one moment after I realize she is holding it.

“What was that?”

“Empfab”

“Short for empathy fabrication?” I guessed.

“Maybe. Sit back and wait. You’re going to get dizzy. Vomit into the sink by your right hand. Rehydrate with using the tap and paper cup to your left.

The Doctor turns her back to me and begins organizing the tools of her obscure trade. A timer chimes once and she turns to me and says, “OK. We’re ready. Put on your headset.”

I comply. … I’m as bad at fear as I am at empathy.

The headset is a sleek Virtual Reality model, the kind with the thin wires it can insert directly into your head. It is so well calibrated that I feel nothing while it does so. But then suddenly I experience a blast of colors and noise which, after a bit of fine tuning, resolves into the scene of my crime: the Whiting Ball. [The New York one, not the one Amanda Whiting hosts in San Diego. She’s a terrible sport.] Amanda Whiting, in NY. Not the low rent knock-off her sister hosts in San Diego.

I am in the receiving line, which is exactly where I want to be, though in my heart I fear I don’t belong: I’m only here because I just sold Amanda’s niece some Diesel. I hope I don’t reek of pot.

… I look good. My black Donna Karan jacket fits perfectly, thanks to the cummerbund, which pulled in my gut. Don’t get me wrong, I looked ripped, just a little loose around the edges. My hair looks particularly good. Jet black, thick, short on the sides, long on top. Held back just above my eyes by a blue whale’s worth of gel. My psychedelic tie – red on green – looks great against my electric cyan shirt.

[Here in this bunker that sounds like too much, but its not. It was just right for the year 20xx.]

I look down the line – its arranged by age – which makes it easy to assess my level of safety … On my right flank are the Whiting grandchildren, who are both a defense and a weakness. I’ve just smoked a blunt with them – as well as my date, their cousin, Regina Whiting – and they are already high as kites. So their misbehaviour is a nice foil for my slightly dazed demeanour but there is a real risk they’re throw me under the bus should one of the adults chastise them for being stoned. Beside the twins stands the only real threat – the Matriarch Katherine Schuyler Whiting, the originator of the ball … fortunately her hands are quite full with her senile husband (perhaps he pulls a Bush Senior stunt with his nurse). Beside her is her daughter, the hostess Amanda Whiting who is a booze and Oxy kind of person. A little insensitive to her environment – though so high functioning she’s still a bit of a menace despite her haze. Her husband – her third husband – is a pissant and couldn’t care less about any of this. Best of all he views top shelf booze as a down payment on the cost of his time. His tuxedo jacket is literally stuffed with flasks of aged scotch and bourbon. He’s having a grand old time flirting with … me?

“Do you recognize the perspective?”

I am brought back to the present. The guard is looking directly at me. I look back.

She repeats herself, “Do you recognize the perspective?” I think about it. Who was missing from that last scene? Who would Brad Whiting flirt with?

I looked at her as I replied “Don’t look into the eyes of those you are about to strangle”. That’s what a cell-mate once advised me. Before my lawyers got me off of death row. I don’t see how you could not.

I looked directly in to her eyes, just in case I got lucky and somehow broke my bonds and escaped.

“Regina Whiting.”

Very good. Did you feel anything? How she felt??

“That knob by your right hand is the character shift control.”Be careful. These transitions are the most dangerous part. You don’t just have to be you, by the way.

[ … Don’t look into the eyes of those you strangle. That’s what one of my cellmates once said. I don’t understand how you couldn’t. Or enter their minds.]

That knob by your right hand is the character shift control.

I push forward on the device and scanned through the perspectives of everyone at the entrance. The me part of that trip is most disconcerting. Because we are the subjects of our perceptions we so rarely perceive ourselves; or in my case never do. Where other people have the imagination to see themselves I have other drives. I am a narcissist and psychopath – I don’t reflect about myself. I am and I am my passions and my point of view. Nothing more. Maybe I am my agency. I don’t know. I always feel so removed from my actions.

… I use the word threat lightly, because of course the Whiting’s are one of those families whose members all wish each other dead.

The Board shows up – by convention … though two members are now female, so I doubt they did their usual beef, booze and strip-club run.

The Board were varying degrees of allies with the family members …

Regina Whiting tugged my hand. “Hey EJ, let’s do a line.”

Hold on. Hold on. I reply.

And then I’m back in my chair in my prison.

That knob by your right hand is the character shift control.”

I scroll back a few characters and for the first time in my life I view myself from the view point of somebody else. At first I didn’t know whose perspective I have, then I realize it is that of the host’s wife, Marta, which is appropriate, given how central she is to my crime.

[I am astonished. How could they display – immerse me in – her perspective.]

I am dressed in what I like to call my invisible costume. It changes with circumstances. When I am with sports fans I wear a baseball hat lowered over my eyes, when I’m casual I sport cargo pants. When I’m with bankers, as I am tonight, I dress conservatively. The point is I dress like a bland version of everyone around me. My ambition is the most important thing about me, and I prefer it to be invisible.

My prison nurse says from somewhere outside of my current perspective, “You can switch perspectives. That’s what the control by your right hand does. The yellow nob. The one you just fiddled with.”

My date, as usual, is Oxsana. I take the nurse’s advice and look at her from the perspective of half of the receiving line, and to all of them she looks beautiful. I switch briefly to my own perspective to be certain. I am looking at her from a ¾ angle. She is wearing a white pleather mini-dress with matching thigh high boots and a silk shawl. I switch to Marta’s perspective, because she is the person who hates / resents Oxsana the most and I see the most beautiful version of Oxsana I have ever seen. The blemishes I always focus on, the double mole on the left side of her chin, her slight slouch, are invisible while her skin glows and her eyes sparkle. I am in Marta’s mind and I know she is jealous. Insanely, murderously jealous of Oxana because all she can see of her is her beauty.

I do not even know if I have committed a crime. Maybe Marta killed Oxsana or the other way around?

I cannot even remember what I think of Oxsana. I do know what I think of Marta.

Wait. Who? How do I know this? I don’t. I cannot remember my crime.

§

The next image slammed me in to my seat. …

Another perspective on me. The same me, but somehow I looked different …

The me part of the memory was most disconcerting, because we are the subjects of our perceptions so rarely perceive ourselves; or in my case never. I am a narcissist and a socio/psycho path – I didn’t reflect about myself.

–>For the first time in my life I viewed myself from the view point of somebody else.

I didn’t mind watching myself, as long as I looked good.

At first I didn’t know whose perspective I had, then I realized it was that of the host’s wife, Marta, which was appropriate, given how central she was to the murder.

<!– I was dressed in what I like to call my invisible costume. It changes with circumstances. When I am with sports fans I have a baseball hat lowered over my eyes, when I’m casual I have cargo pants. When I’m with bankers, as I was tonight, I dressed formally. The point is I dress like a bland version of everyone else. No ornaments. 

My date, my wing-woman, was Oxsana. She looked beautiful. At least through Marta’s eyes. No. She looked great, though a bit skinny for my taste. Her blonde hair was blunt cut, short. She wore a tattered grey cheerleader’s top with a faded American flag on it. It was rad for an art ball – the top was actually dirty – but far from out of bounds because the look worked, because it made her grey eyes pop out. Man her eyes were something else. Funny how I never thought about that before.

Anyway, she completed the look with a ballerina’s dress and combat boots. A bit of a fashion home run, really, in the sense that only a dancer could look graceful in that get up, and not like the homely bee in that Blind Melon video.

“Move the control attached to your right hand.”

<!– The guard’s voice came from somewhere outside of my perspective, like some kind of punishing goddess … – ->

I did

Then I had Oxsana’s perspective on me, and Marta.

“That’s how you switch perspective.”

“What about myself? Can I switch to my perspective.”

“Turn the nob to neutral.”

I did. I preferred a view where I could watch myself. I switched to Marta’s viewpoint.

<!– “Your perspective is different.  [No hormonal stuff going on here.] We don’t try to manipulate your emotions the way we do when you take the perspective of your victims.”

“Then why should I take someone else’s view?”

“You shouldn’t. But you will. Narcissists always do.”

She was right. I was already busy scanning through the  perspectives available to me: Oxsana, Marta, her husband David, many, maybe all, of the servants. — >

Suddenly the simulation disappeared and I was back in my prison.

“What are your impressions, prisoner?”

“Excellent simulation. How do I know these perspectives are real and not simulated?”

“Ask your lawyer.”

“Isn’t this all about justice? What about my rights?”

“Sure. ”

I am a scientist. I am about repeatability and precision. You are loose.

Everything around him is real; he’s the bullshit in the eye of the storm.

Spirits broken earlier than ever before. Mine broke when I was 49. Most of my friends children’s spirits broke in their thirties. Many in their twenties and teens. For chrissakes – teenagers are supposed to be getting it on, not being crushed by angst.

“This diligence comes from somewhere. Was it a sibling who was murdered or a parent?  I’ve got it: your father murdered your mother.”

“Very good. It’s a pity you’re a psychopath. You can never understand the satisfaction I derive from doing my job well.”

“I think I do understand, Doctor. Its like the feeling I get when I pull the wings off of flies.”

“It’s about asserting a moral order.”

“You mean asserting a moral impulse. That’s what you’re doing here, isn’t it? Giving me chemicals so that my bio-chemistry makes me feel guilty. That’s a wish not a moral order.“

“I know that murder is wrong and you do not.”

“What about the needle?”

To my surprise the doctor hit a switch, which turned off all of the power and then said, Its supposed to but I doubt it and I – we – don’t know. This is an experiment.”

“Why are you telling me this? Doesn’t it compromise your results?”

“We don’t know enough about this treatment to formulate precise experiments.”

“You’re just seeing what happens.”

“Yes. I’m telling you this because you are smart and you are a psychopath. I expect an intelligent and dispassionate report.”

“I won’t hesitate to lie.” I said this to provoke her. It didn’t work.

“I can measure that. And I can reward you with early parole if you comply. Don’t think you can manipulate me.”

This caused the conversation to pause. The doctor adjusted some of the patches attached to my skin and then turned to face me.

“I guess its time to get down to business.”

“Tell me, how does this machine work?”

“You can relive experiences from multiple perspectives, but you can’t skip any events.”

“Can I freeze time?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I view one event from every perspective.”

“Press the pause button and use the personality-navigation joystick. The yellow one.”

[I briefly thought about the best way to kill him (head against the edge of the gurney) but dismissed the thought. “What was that?” I asked.]

“You can replay a past event by pushing that red nob to the left. [You’re a mathematician – push to negative x.]”

“Why I can’t I skip forward?”

“I told you, there’s a sequence that your punishment has to follow.”

“What about people I don’t know. Can I check out their intentions.”

“You can only see experiences directly related to the murder. We’re starting … now.”

[“I can’t find X.”

“We don’t have his perspective.”

“Why not?”

The Doctor looked at me slightly askance but said nothing.

No big deal. I didn’t really give a shit about other people. I didn’t care about X at all. He was an asshole who got in my way.]

  • Luis’ Party

They’d sent me back to the Luis’ party. Of course. This was my punishment, after all. I thought of Gina’s daschund – the way she’d rub its nose in messes that it created. That was my punishment.

Europeans. If I’d committed my crime in Florida, they’d just have killed me.

I’d arrived a little wet. I had to make a detour when I realized I was short of cab fare.

I entered the ballroom from the west, which was the street-side entrance. Which meant that I was an outsider, because X’s closest friends parked in the back, where the stables had been converted to a parking garage.

I spent a moment playing with the perspective switcher. Oxsana was 30 degrees on the lever; Marta 60 degrees. The next perspectives were security cameras. I liked security cameras, the gave me a fantastic view.. I switched to one that covered the front foyer.

I don’t remember not caring though I’m certain I never did. Care that is. About others. But the Doctor was right. Once I saw other perspectives I couldn’t help myself. I was so interested. I’d always wondered what it was like to have a conscience. Or empathy.

I met Gina at the entrance. Or rather, I met myself at the entrance through the perspective of Gina.

[[Describe – dressed in that way of hers that causes eyes to meander across her body – hips, ankles, thighs, arms, and always settling on her breasts.]

She had arrived with Bertram. She shouldn’t have been there at all.

Who invited you?

You’re wet. Didn’t find someone to split a cab with?

Who invited you? I repeated.

“Let’s say hello to our host”, Bertram interjected, while pushing me aside. I pushed back – or more accurately stood my ground. Bertram frowned and pulled away when my damp jacket stained his the sleeve of his cyan shirt navy blue.

“Carmen . I bet you don’t even have an invitation.” Gina replied, ignoring her escort.

“I helped Luis make the guest list.”

Gina didn’t respond. I didn’t notice that last time – or at least attached no significance to it. She was waiting to talk to me about Luis later.

Bertram once again said something about meeting our hosts. There was a bit of huff in his voice. I gave my jacket to one of the valets hovering near the door while asking Gina, “Have you seen the Brazillionaires?”

“Just Angelique. Her car arrived just before ours.” She nodded towards the small ante-room female guests were using to touch up makeup and hair.

Bertram gave his name to the doorman, who dutifully checked him against a list, while I slipped into the party with Gina.

§

“Please hold still while I tighten your restraints.”

For a moment I was dizzy, while the simulation faded.

I looked up at the Doctor – neuroscientist, really. She had soft dark hair, pale skin and a scant figure. In the context of the holographic chamber she looked impossibly delicate. I tried to imagine how she would look in a room not filled with giant machines and mirrors. I couldn’t. She looked like she’d evolved here.

“Left arm.”

I scanned the room while I proferred my arm. From a killing-the-nearest-guard-or-taking-him-prisoner perspective the room was better than most: there were lots of sharp edges, and few access points. From an escape perspective, the situation was bleak. I was in a concrete room, within a concrete bunker, twelve stories underground.

“What’s your name?”

“My job is dangerous enough, Prisoner 127.”

Looked like it’d take some work to set up a date.

The doctor flipped my table around. It spun smoothly. She quickly closed the clasps around my ankles, and then spoke to the senior guards. “We’re ready for the second test.”

The guard nodded.

  • In the Party

[

Luis: JP, you made it. I always make a point of not putting you on the list. Just to keep your skills honed.

“Do you have any coke?” I’d never seen how I looked when I craved …

“Sure. Do you have any cock?” This was exactly why I didn’t want Gina at this party. To have her laughing about Luis. I looked at her. She wasn’t laughing. She was serious.

]

For the first time in my life I viewed myself from someone else’s perspective. At first I didn’t know whose view point I inhabited, then I realized it was that of the host’s sister, Marta, which was appropriate, given how central she was to my crime. .

I was dressed in what I like to call my invisible costume. It changes with the circumstance. When I am with sports fans I sport a baseball cap which I lower over my eyes; when I’m casual I wear cargo pants. When I’m with bankers, as I was that night, I dress in a blue pin striped suit. The point is that when I’m an archetype, which and makes the details about me easier to forget, which is important if you’re a chameleon.

Its all about the brands. They’re all about archetypes so they make you invisible.

My date, as usual, was Oxsana. She looked beautiful. At least from Marta’s perspective, which I now occupied. I did not have access to Marta’s thoughts but I certainly felt her emotions, in this case a sharp pang of jealousy at Oxsana’s beauty.

It was perhaps my first insight into Marta. I don’t pay her attention as she is a vain, shallow person who can do nothing to further my interests. It would have been useful to know that she was envious of Oxsana.

[the one perspective that I didn’t have access to in this punishment was my own.]

The neurologist’s voice filled his head: You can switch perspective. That’s what the control in your right hand does. The nob. The one you’re holding now.

My left hand had been positioned so that it grasped a control, indeed it couldn’t not grasp the control as it had been bound into place. The guard had given me a small box with a joystick in a the center, surrounded by four bulbous plastic buttons, which I now held in my right hand. I pivoted the joystick north-west, towards Oxsana, and then cycled to Oxsana’s perspective. The transition wasn’t instantaneous, but rather more of a 4 dimensional dissolve, or maybe a jump cut through space-time.

I was surprised by Oxsana’s perspective of me. [surprisingly good]

I tried to cycle next into my own body.

Can I switch to my own perspective? I asked the neurologist with a thought.

Not right now, although we downloaded it shortly after your arrest. Its a clinical problem, you see: your perspective is the one we’re trying to get you to reject.

Why has the image stopped.

You weren’t paying attention.

“You can relive experiences from multiple perspectives, but you can’t skip any events.”

[Which was a pointless admonishment because I was now busy scanning through the perspectives available to me: Oxsana, Marta, her husband David, many, maybe all, of the servants. This was noted by my captor.]

I briefly thought about the best way to kill him (head against the edge of the gurney) but dismissed the thought.

§

“Take this.”

“What is it?”

“A dopamine precursor.”

“How’s my brain doing?”

“We’ve repaired most of the damage to the amygdyla and the hypothalemus. Some of the damage to the forebrain we’ll probably never repair. You were a quite an addict.”

“You mean Anthony was an addict.”

“I suggest you focus on developing the one personality you have, rather than pretending to have several.”

“Are you German?”

The Doctor continued her work tightening the bonds that strapped me to the metal table.

I continued, “I don’t think you’re from Leuven. You speak French with an accent. My guess is you’re from Strasbourg.”

The Doctor was too efficient to pretend to be busy. She simply ignored me.

“How do you switch perspectives?” I asked, after a moment. We’d been through this but I didn’t pay attention.

“The red control beside your right hand.”

“Can I skip forward?”

“This isn’t experimental theater. Its a punishment.”

§

I came back to Marta’s perspective again, which at this point was blurry. I spent the next minutes cycling through the perspective control: Oxsana was 30 degrees on the lever; Marta 60 degrees. The next perspectives were security cameras. The perspectives of the cameras came with no emotions. I liked that. I switched to a camera that covered the entire ballroom and focused on the entrance.

[No big deal. I didn’t really give a shit about other people. I didn’t care about David at all. He was an asshole who got in my way.]

I watched myself enter the ballroom, which I did from the west, which was the street-side entrance. Someone who knew about the party would realize that I was probably an outsider – not on the list – because the host’s guests had valet parking and entered from the east. Of course they mostly drove, or at least were chauffeured.

I was not to be caught out by even heads-up security. So I had a smoke just outside the door and waited for someone to arrive by cab. Seldom Thormpst Dunlop, the hedge fund manager from Connecticut pulled up at exactly 7pm, as expected. He was pleased to see me because I was one of the few people who had learned his full name. Most people never got beyond Sel or Thor. I entered with him.

[

If only I could be at peace with myself

If only I never disrupted myself.

]

I re-watched my entrance from Oxsana’s perspective. I was surprised to discover that she knew I arrived from the moment I got out of my cab. I had thought I had exited far enough away to be invisible, but I guess you see more if you’re watching. I flatter myself to think she was watching for me, but do not know.

[ She had been watching for someone.]

I switched to Marta’s blurry recollections. She didn’t see me until after I’ll accidentally flicked an ash on her. She never saw me do it. I had wondered how much slack her dim wits gave me.

[I don’t remember not caring though I’m certain I never did. Care that is. About others. But the guard was right. Once I saw other perspectives I couldn’t help myself.]

The perspective that I kept settling on was that of Marta looking at Oxsana. I wonder if it was just Marta’s perspective, but when I looked at Oxsana through Marta’s eyes she was never more beautiful. If only I could see Oxsana again.

[I could feel her anger and jealousy but it all made Oxsana that much more beautiful.

It was an odd feeling because there was nothing between us. Except in Marta’s head.]

[craigslist as an economic indicator – fire sale or not. AR Essay: Is Craigslist bullish? – worse deals because people aren’t as desparate]

I switched to the perspective of the waiter. Although to me he seemed supremely bored and distracted, it turns out that he was quite alert. He felt that I did not belong. I couldn’t read his mind so I don’t know if he knew I did not have an invitation.

[The Victoria Cross (facsimile), the Art Nouveau cufflinks, the jodhpurs.] It flattered me even if he did see through my disguise. Often it was people who knew me least who knew me best.]

[Oxsana’s perception of me was so flat. Until I talk. That is what she noticed.]

The other thing I noticed is that Oxsana’s hearing was sharper than her vision. She actually listened to what I had to say. I’m surprised that someone so attentive would take so long to learn that I was lying.

[What are the interpersonals on this. ]

  • The Introductions

Allow me to introduce Professors Ketch.”

“What is your discipline?”

“American Social History.”

“But he’s a great student of people.” Anita added.

[The trope is a parody of 19th amateur scientist types.

“What do you do Mr. Ashby?”

I know that I inwardly winced when I was asked that question but I didn’t show it.

“I do some work in real estate. I have a couple of charities. And of course I party.” I tried to turn the conversation by lighting a joint. “Do you smoke, professor?”

I didn’t expect him to say yes, but only because he was in public. He was one of those professors who wrote poetry about class struggle on the side. As he declined my offer of marijuana he asked, “Which charities do you work for?”

I didn’t feel like lying to this little man so I blew him off. “Professor, for a person of my background charity work is like real work. Have you ever held a real job? Never mind. My point is that tonight I’m relaxing with these beautiful women.”

I studied this moment for five or ten minutes. To myself I looked ugly, but a pause and quick scan through those who my words were intended to impress – Oxsana, Marta – they did. Oxsana was a love or hate kind of person and despised the professor. Marta was a follower.

Oxsana laughs wickedly into his ear – “Your family jewels have arrived, JP.”

“Pass that joint. What do you mean?”

“Roger.”

“What the fuck is Roger doing here?!”

“He was invited. He’s a better friend of [the host] than you are.”

They hide in an adjoining room.

He has torrid sex with her.

“I had a chance to flip to her perception of me but I didn’t. It was enough that I was paying attention to her (in a way that I didn’t that night). I saw her – how hard she was trying to be sexy. How successful she was at it. How despite her control she could not tame the twitch in her right eye. That twitch bothered me that night, but not now.”

OR

“I flipped to her perception. … She felt a connection that I don’t remember feeling. Had I felt it and disregarded it? Was I capable of the feeling at all?”

Getting dressed …

Regina Blows It

“Why do you wear fake jewels? Its just like you, celebrating the tawdry, or giving in to it. Don’t you see this as a sign of failure – an acknowledgement that beauty is for someone else. ”

“You’re just angry because I fooled you.”

“You made a fool of me, Oxsana.” I expected her to feel anger at my words. She was a fighter. She felt despair.

Oxsana’s Bad Decision

“You’re one to talk of fake.”

“What do you mean?” I was watching this episode from Oxsana’s perspective. I could feel a great pause, while she thought about how to respond to this question. What had she been thinking. How close had she come to keeping quiet?

If she had kept quiet none of this would have happened.

“TItus Babbitt Ashby”

I watched my face whiten when she mentioned my father’s name. It was one of two times that night when I let my emotions break through my mask.

I grabbed Regina by the arm and dragged her out onto the patio, away from the crowd. I watched through the eye of a security camera.

“What do you know about my father?

She handed me an obituary she had could out of the

Titus Babbitt Ashby, Assistant Vice President of Quality Assurance at the Ithaca Quality Box Company, died of a heart attack yesterday while at work. He had been supervising the Christmas rush, and died alone, moments after the final shipment had been made. He leaves behind a son, John Babbitt Ashby, and a daughter Winsom Mandala.

  • Oxsana on JB’s Dad

I flipped to Oxsana’s viewpoint.

I assumed she thought as I did about my father – embarrassed. His tawdry life of never quite getting promoted to Vice President; and finally dying on the job for a company that didn’t care about him. She didn’t. She felt sympathy for him and sadness for me.

Sadness was the last thing I wanted people to feel for me. Sympathy. Or any of those cloying emotions.

Even now I can theoretically think that I should have been nicer to him, that my life would have been richer if I had. But all I can think of is his vile habits, and the way he proudly displayed his name T. Babbitt on his cards, as if being an iconic middle manager was something to aspire to/glorify in.

But Oxsana felt sadness for me .

Am I pathetic for that? I am the only one who has let his shame/rejection of his father govern his life.

  • Mirrors

Confining me to other perspectives was part of my punishment.

I could never look myself in the mirror. I could never tell what I was seeing – the image that I was trying to project, or something fake, a veneer on top of … I don’t know what.

  • Realization that Oxsana Actually Loves Him

To my surprise I found myself able to say, “Oxsana, you didn’t care about the money, you weren’t serious about the black mail. You just wanted me to miss you when you went away.”

The scene froze.

[The simulation stops at this point. He spends evening reflecting on what had happened.

  • The Murder?

He flips to his own perspective and has the conversation he never had with Oxsana as he kills her – there’s a total disconnect. But that’s his punishment – to see what could have been and to be able to do nothing about it.

… But none of this had crossed my mind then because I was aroused from the murder I had just committed and from the one I was about to commit.

I looked at myself from her perspective. My face was strained. My jaw was visibly tense. My hands held Oxsana’s forearms too assertively. There was a drop of blood clotted in my hair, that I had not noticed.

Suddenly my perspective changed. For the first time tonight I was viewing events from my own perspective.

I moved through the next scenes on automatic but only sort of – I could not alter the way I acted, but Oxsana and I continued to have a different conversation.

It was at this point that my sentence became my punishment

I looked down at Oxsana as I tightened my grip around her shoulders. She would get nervous if my hands got too close to her neck, but I wanted to ensure that I was in control.

But through whatever technological magic governed my sentence we could speak – or think – different dialog, so our reconciliatory speech was dissociated from my violence. I’m certain that too was part of my punishment.

“JB, you could stop it all now, the whole fiction of your life. You don’t have to lie anymore. If anyone asks for an explanation of your tell them you’re an optimist, you only look towards the future.”

I looked at her while I shifted my weight, pressing down on points from where I knew she’d resist. She knew me. At least she knew that I was a mask. Did she know that there was something under the mask. How could she have? But even if there was nothing there under that mask – if I was as hollow as a tube – I still could have saved it all – by inventing something real and authentic right then.

“I’ll have to think about it. I don’t know who I want to be.”

The first time I strangled her, Oxsana begged me to stop. This time she said, over and over again, “This is your only chance.” Her voice in my head continued long after the real Oxsana was dead.

Conclusion

You can talk of free will and determinism but that misses the point entirely. We make thousands of choices in our lives but that doesn’t make us free. Every action and decision binds us.

Don’t listen to those self help gurus. At the moment of our most self-actualized, we are most imprisoned.

We can be imprisoned in any context.

From most decisions there’s no going back, from unfrying an egg to reviving a dead lover. We establish borders; give in to our cravings or ignore them, until eventually we create habits that define us.

Fin

OUTTAKES

<!– This is from the penultimate draft. The document broke – messing up the github drafts – so there is a bit of overlap between the above draft and the below draft (the older version). I’m doing a quick double check before ditching what’s below.

“What about myself?”

“Turn the nob to neutral.” I did. I couldn’t identify a change. “When I’m me it feels different.”

“Your perspective of yourself is different.  You have a conscience now.

[No hormonal stuff going on here.] We don’t try to manipulate your emotions the way we do when you take the perspective of your victims.”]

“Then why should I take someone else’s view?”

“You shouldn’t. But you will. Narcissists always do. It’s a perfect punishment.”

She was right. I was already busy scanning through the  perspectives available to me: Oxsana, Marta, her husband David, many, maybe all of the servants.

Suddenly the simulation disappeared and I was back in my prison.

“What are your impressions, prisoner?”

“Excellent simulation.” I tried not to sound gleeful, but the last ten minutes had been fun. Something weighed on my mind, however. I asked, “How do I know these perspectives are real?”

“Should I tell you we’re board certified or that I want you to be punished for your crime?”

“You take your work seriously.”

“You missed my point. Nothing about this is real. Its all simulation.”

“You mean including the Boards and your credentials.”

“I don’t care about your point of view and your jokes. You are a cruel murderer. You deserve this punishment”

She took away my next words. She had done this before and knew this as a punishment. The only way I know people is through manipulation. There were no openings for me in her statement. She wasn’t guessing what would happen next; she wasn’t equivocating.”

She says, “Take this asshole” and switches my punishment back on.

[“This diligence comes from somewhere. Was it a sibling who was murdered or a parent?  I’ve got it: your father murdered your mother.”

“Very good. It’s a pity you’re a psychopath. You can never understand the satisfaction I derive from doing my job well.”

]

Nothing happens. I lie still. I eventually get bored. I know this is the wrong thing to say in the situation but I say, “This isn’t working.”

I know. She is very snippy. She says, “Why don’t you think something really wrong. You know what I mean. That’ll help me calibrate this fucking machine.”

“I think I do understand, Doctor. I always think wrong thoughts. I’m thinking them now, about you. I think you’ve calibrated me wrong. My mood is like the feeling I get when I pull the wings off of flies.”

“Yeah. I see that now” the nurse says as she turns a dial to eleven. A jolt of electricity pulses through my body. I get zapped, which sends me one metre into the air and then I land, rigid. “We call that one morality. Hah. I’m just approximating but later on you’ll know what I mean. I have to ask this though I know from your messed up eyes, “Do you remember who you killed.”

I’m dazed and this is news. I say, “I’m the murderer? I don’t know what you’re talking about. What murder?”

She turns to her assistant, a mousy, small woman with auburn air and says. “Check! Turn on his conscience. Round up.”

[ “You mean asserting a moral impulse. That’s what you’re doing here, isn’t it? Giving me chemicals so that my bio-chemistry makes me feel guilty. That’s a wish not a moral order.“]

“I know that murder is wrong and you do not. It’d be great if you did. That’s what the Laureate thinks is gonna happen. I don’t give a shit. I’m just here to punish you.”

“What about the needle?”

To my surprise the doctor hit a switch, which turned off all of the power and then says, “Its supposed to but I doubt it and I – we – don’t know. This is an experiment.”

“Why are you telling me this? Doesn’t it compromise your results?”

“We don’t know enough about this treatment to formulate precise experiments.”

“You’re just seeing what happens.”

“Yes. I’m telling you this because you are smart and you are a psychopath. I expect an intelligent and dispassionate report.”

“I won’t hesitate to lie.” I said this to provoke her. It doesn’t work.

“I can measure lies. And I can reward you with early parole if the conscience sticks. Don’t think you can manipulate me.”

This causes the conversation to pause. The doctor adjusts some of the patches attached to my skin and then turned to face me.

“I guess its time to get down to business.”

“Tell me, how does this machine work?”

“You can relive experiences from multiple perspectives, but you can’t skip any events.”

“Can I freeze time?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I view one event from every perspective? I have to freeze time to do that.”

“Press the pause button and use the personality-navigation joystick. The yellow one.”

[I briefly thought about the best way to kill him (head against the edge of the gurney) but dismissed the thought. “What was that?” I asked.]

“You can replay a past event by pushing that red nob to the left. [You’re a mathematician – push to negative x.]”

“Why I can’t I skip forward?”

“I told you, there’s a sequence that your punishment has to follow. The law is very strict about that.”

“What about people I don’t know. Can I check out their intentions?”

“You can only see experiences perceptions directly related to your crime We’re starting … now!”

[“I can’t find X.”

“We don’t have his perspective.”

“Why not?”

The Doctor looks at me slightly askance but says nothing.

No big deal. I didn’t really give a shit about other people. I didn’t care about X at all. He was an asshole who got in my way.]

Luis’ Party

They sent me back to the Luis party. Of course. This was my punishment, after all. I thought of Gina’s daschund – the way she’d rub its nose in messes that it created. That was my punishment now.

I write this like I can remember my crime. I can not. I know that I am the agent, but I do not know who the victim is.

Yet I know that a crime is going to be committed. How do I know this? How do I know this is real.

Its not, none of it. Except as an idea. A representation. I am all about facades and this is impressive. This is a construct and yet so very real. I think there must be actors in the other roles. And the intention scans. They are real. Of course. Court Order. We know how to take good scans, we just don’t allow it very often.

I must be very guilty if the scans are of this quality.

It must be mur … I must not think anything incrementating. In this situation my thoughts are not my own.

I check in with myself and my emotions are something I recognize as mine. Greed, anger, lust.

… the final murder, “I could only watch it from Marta’s perspective, not mine. And it was terrible. I could feel all of her hatred for Oxsana in my hands. I swear I heard her urging me on, but I was insane, I am insane so I do not know. But now I do know, or at least that is the reality I’m being presented with.”

Europeans. If I’d committed my crime in Florida, they’d just have killed me.

I’d arrived a little wet. I had to make a detour when I realized I was short of cab fare.

I entered the ballroom from the west, which was the street-side entrance. Which meant that I was an outsider, because X’s closest friends parked in the back, where the stables had been converted to a parking garage.

I spent a moment playing with the perspective switcher. Oxsana was 30 degrees on the lever; Marta 60 degrees. The next perspectives were security cameras. I liked security cameras, the gave me a fantastic view and brought no emotions with them .. I switched to one that covered the front foyer.

I don’t remember not caring though I’m certain I never did. Care that is. About others. But the Doctor was right. Once I saw other perspectives I couldn’t help myself. I was so interested. I’d always wondered what it was like to have a conscience. Or empathy.

I met Gina at the entrance. Or rather, I met myself at the entrance through the perspective of Gina.

[[Describe – dressed in that way of hers that causes eyes to meander across her body – hips, ankles, thighs, arms, and always settling on her breasts.]

She had arrived with Bertram. She shouldn’t have been there at all.

Who invited you?

You’re wet. Didn’t find someone to split a cab with?

Who invited you? I repeated.

“Let’s say hello to our host”, Bertram interjected, while pushing me aside. I pushed back – or more accurately stood my ground. Bertram frowned and pulled away when my damp jacket stained his the sleeve of his cyan shirt navy blue.

“Carmen . I bet you don’t even have an invitation.” Gina replied, ignoring her escort.

“I helped Luis make the guest list.”

Gina didn’t respond. I didn’t notice that last time – or at least attached no significance to it. She was waiting to talk to me about Luis later.

Bertram once again said something about meeting our hosts. There was a bit of huff in his voice. I gave my jacket to one of the valets hovering near the door while asking Gina, “Have you seen the Brazillionaires?”

“Just Angelique. Her car arrived just before ours.” She nodded towards the ante-room female guests were using to touch up makeup and hair.

Bertram gave his name to the doorman, who dutifully checked him against a list, while I slipped into the party with Gina.

§

“Please hold still while I tighten your restraints.”

For a moment I was dizzy, while the simulation faded.

I looked up at the Doctor – neuroscientist, really. She had soft dark hair, pale skin and a scant figure. In the context of the holographic chamber she looked impossibly delicate. I tried to imagine how she would look in a room not filled with giant machine-mirrors. I couldn’t. She looked like she’d evolved here.

“Left arm.”

I scanned the room while I proffered my arm. From a killing-the-nearest-guard-or-taking-him-prisoner perspective the room was better than most: there were lots of sharp edges, and few access points. From an escape perspective, the situation was bleak. I was in a concrete room, within a concrete bunker, twelve stories underground.

“What’s your name?”

“My job is dangerous enough, Prisoner 128 without you knowing more about me.”

“Too bad. I was looking for a date.”

She laughs.

Looks like it’d take some work to set up a date.

The doctor flipped my table around. It spun smoothly. She quickly closed the clasps around my ankles, and then spoke to the senior guards. “We’re ready for the second test.”

The guard nodded.

In the Party

[

Luis: JP, you made it. I always make a point of not putting you on the list. Just to keep your skills honed.

“Do you have any coke?” I’d never seen how I looked when I craved …

“Sure. Do you have any cock?” This was exactly why I didn’t want Gina at this party. To have her laughing about Luis. I looked at her. She wasn’t laughing. She was serious.

]

For the first time in my life I viewed myself from someone else’s perspective. At first I didn’t know whose view point I inhabited, then I realized it was that of the host’s sister, Marta, which was appropriate, given how central she was to my crime. .

I was dressed in what I like to call my invisible costume. It changes with the circumstance. When I am with sports fans I sport a baseball cap which I lower over my eyes; when I’m casual I wear cargo pants. When I’m with bankers, as I was that night, I dress in a blue pin striped suit. The point is that when I’m an archetype, which and makes the details about me easier to forget, which is important if you’re a chameleon.

Its all about the brands. They’re all about archetypes so they make you invisible.

My date, as usual, was Oxsana. She looked beautiful. At least from Marta’s perspective, which I now occupied. I did not have access to Marta’s thoughts but I certainly felt her emotions, in this case a sharp pang of jealousy at Oxsana’s beauty.

It was perhaps my first insight into Marta. I don’t pay her attention as she is a vain, shallow person who can do nothing to further my interests. It would have been useful to know that she was envious of Oxsana.

[the one perspective that I didn’t have access to in this punishment was my own.]

The neurologist’s voice filled his head: You can switch perspective. That’s what the control in your right hand does. The nob. The one you’re holding now.

My left hand had been positioned so that it grasped a control, indeed it couldn’t not grasp the control as it had been bound into place. The guard had given me a small box with a joystick in a the center, surrounded by four bulbous plastic buttons, which I now held in my right hand. I pivoted the joystick north-west, towards Oxsana, and then cycled to Oxsana’s perspective. The transition wasn’t instantaneous, but rather more of a 4 dimensional dissolve, or maybe a jump cut through space-time.

I was surprised by Oxsana’s perspective of me. [surprisingly good]

I tried to cycle next into my own body.

Can I switch to my own perspective? I asked the neurologist with a thought.

Not right now, although we downloaded it shortly after your arrest. Its a clinical problem, you see: your perspective is the one we’re trying to get you to reject.

Why has the image stopped.

You weren’t paying attention.

“You can relive experiences from multiple perspectives, but you can’t skip any events.”

[Which was a pointless admonishment because I was now busy scanning through the perspectives available to me: Oxsana, Marta, her husband David, many, maybe all, of the servants. This was noted by my captor.]

I briefly thought about the best way to kill him (head against the edge of the gurney) but dismissed the thought.

§

“Take this.”

“What is it?”

“A dopamine precursor.”

“How’s my brain doing?”

“We’ve repaired most of the damage to the amygdyla and the hypothalemus. Some of the damage to the forebrain we’ll probably never repair. You were a quite an addict.”

“You mean Anthony was an addict.”

“I suggest you focus on developing the one personality you have, rather than pretending to have several.”

“Are you German?”

The Doctor continued her work tightening the bonds that strapped me to the metal table.

I continued, “I don’t think you’re from Leuven. You speak French with an accent. My guess is you’re from Strasbourg.”

The Doctor was too efficient to pretend to be busy. She simply ignored me.

“How do you switch perspectives?” I asked, after a moment. We’d been through this but I didn’t pay attention.

“The red control beside your right hand.”

“Can I skip forward?”

“This isn’t experimental theater. Its a punishment.”

§

I came back to Marta’s perspective again, which at this point was blurry. I spent the next minutes cycling through the perspective control: Oxsana was 30 degrees on the lever; Marta 60 degrees. The next perspectives were security cameras. The perspectives of the cameras came with no emotions. I liked that. I switched to a camera that covered the entire ballroom and focused on the entrance.

[No big deal. I didn’t really give a shit about other people. I didn’t care about David at all. He was an asshole who got in my way.]

I watched myself enter the ballroom, which I did from the west, which was the street-side entrance. Someone who knew about the party would realize that I was probably an outsider – not on the list – because the host’s guests had valet parking and entered from the east. Of course they mostly drove, or at least were chauffeured.

I was not to be caught out by even heads-up security. So I had a smoke just outside the door and waited for someone to arrive by cab. Seldom Thormpst Dunlop, the hedge fund manager from Connecticut pulled up at exactly 7pm, as expected. He was pleased to see me because I was one of the few people who had learned his full name. Most people never got beyond Sel or Thor. I entered with him.

[

If only I could be at peace with myself

If only I never disrupted myself.

]

I re-watched my entrance from Oxsana’s perspective. I was surprised to discover that she knew I arrived from the moment I got out of my cab. I had thought I had exited far enough away to be invisible, but I guess you see more if you’re watching. I flatter myself to think she was watching for me, but do not know.

[ She had been watching for someone.]

I switched to Marta’s blurry recollections. She didn’t see me until after I’ll accidentally flicked an ash on her. She never saw me do it. I had wondered how much slack her dim wits gave me.

[I don’t remember not caring though I’m certain I never did. Care that is. About others. But the guard was right. Once I saw other perspectives I couldn’t help myself.]

The perspective that I kept settling on was that of Marta looking at Oxsana. I wonder if it was just Marta’s perspective, but when I looked at Oxsana through Marta’s eyes she was never more beautiful. If only I could see Oxsana again.

[I could feel her anger and jealousy but it all made Oxsana that much more beautiful.

It was an odd feeling because there was nothing between us. Except in Marta’s head.]

[craigslist as an economic indicator – fire sale or not. AR Essay: Is Craigslist bullish? – worse deals because people aren’t as desparate]

I switched to the perspective of the waiter. Although to me he seemed supremely bored and distracted, it turns out that he was quite alert. He felt that I did not belong. I couldn’t read his mind so I don’t know if he knew I did not have an invitation.

[The Victoria Cross (facsimile), the Art Nouveau cufflinks, the jodhpurs.] It flattered me even if he did see through my disguise. Often it was people who knew me least who knew me best.]

[Oxsana’s perception of me was so flat. Until I talk. That is what she noticed.]

The other thing I noticed is that Oxsana’s hearing was sharper than her vision. She actually listened to what I had to say. I’m surprised that someone so attentive would take so long to learn that I was lying.

[What are the interpersonals on this. ]

The Introductions

Allow me to introduce Professor Ketchum.”

“What is your discipline?”

“American Social History.”

“But he’s a great student of people.” Anita added.

[The trope is a parody of 19th amateur scientist types.

“What do you do Mr. Ashby?”

I know that I inwardly winced when I was asked that question but I didn’t show it.

“I do some work in real estate. I have a couple of charities. And of course I party.” I tried to turn the conversation by lighting a joint. “Do you smoke, professor?”

I didn’t expect him to say yes, but only because he was in public. He was one of those professors who wrote poetry about class struggle on the side. As he declined my offer of marijuana he asked, “Which charities do you work for?”

I didn’t feel like lying to this little man so I blew him off. “Professor, for a person of my background charity work is like real work. Have you ever held a real job? Never mind. My point is that tonight I’m relaxing with these beautiful women.”

I studied this moment for five or ten minutes. To myself I looked ugly, but a pause and quick scan through those who my words were intended to impress – Oxsana, Marta – they did. Oxsana was a love or hate kind of person and despised the professor. Marta was a follower.

Oxsana laughs wickedly into his ear – “Your family jewels have arrived, JP.”

“Pass that joint. What do you mean?”

“Roger.”

“What the fuck is Roger doing here?!”

“He was invited. He’s a better friend of [the host] than you are.”

They hide in an adjoining room.

He has torrid sex with her.

“I had a chance to flip to her perception of me but I didn’t. It was enough that I was paying attention to her (in a way that I didn’t that night). I saw her – how hard she was trying to be sexy. How successful she was at it. How despite her control she could not tame the twitch in her right eye. That twitch bothered me that night, but not now.”

OR

“I flipped to her perception. … She felt a connection that I don’t remember feeling. Had I felt it and disregarded it? Was I capable of the feeling at all?”

Getting dressed …

Regina Blows It

“Why do you wear fake jewels? Its just like you, celebrating the tawdry, or giving in to it. Don’t you see this as a sign of failure – an acknowledgement that beauty is for someone else. ”

“You’re just angry because I fooled you.”

“You made a fool of me, Oxsana.” I expected her to feel anger at my words. She was a fighter. She felt despair.

Oxsana’s Bad Decision

“You’re one to talk of fake.”

“What do you mean?” I was watching this episode from Oxsana’s perspective. I could feel a great pause, while she thought about how to respond to this question. What had she been thinking. How close had she come to keeping quiet?

If she had kept quiet none of this would have happened.

“TItus Babbitt Ashby”

I watched my face whiten when she mentioned my father’s name. It was one of two times that night when I let my emotions break through my mask.

I grabbed Regina by the arm and dragged her out onto the patio, away from the crowd. I watched through the eye of a security camera.

“What do you know about my father?

She handed me an obituary she had could out of the

Titus Babbitt Ashby, Assistant Vice President of Quality Assurance at the Ithaca Quality Box Company, died of a heart attack yesterday while at work. He had been supervising the Christmas rush, and died alone, moments after the final shipment had been made. He leaves behind a son, John Babbitt Ashby, and a daughter Winsom Mandala.

Oxsana on JB’s Dad

I flipped to Oxsana’s viewpoint.

I assumed she thought as I did about my father – embarrassed. His tawdry life of never quite getting promoted to Vice President; and finally dying on the job for a company that didn’t care about him. She didn’t. She felt sympathy for him and sadness for me.

Sadness was the last thing I wanted people to feel for me. Sympathy. Or any of those cloying emotions.

Even now I can theoretically think that I should have been nicer to him, that my life would have been richer if I had. But all I can think of is his vile habits, and the way he proudly displayed his name T. Babbitt on his cards, as if being an iconic middle manager was something to aspire to/glorify in.

But Oxsana felt sadness for me .

Am I pathetic for that? I am the only one who has let his shame/rejection of his father govern his life.

Mirrors

Confining me to other perspectives was part of my punishment.

I could never look myself in the mirror. I could never tell what I was seeing – the image that I was trying to project, or something fake, a veneer on top of … I don’t know what.

Realization that Oxsana Actually Loves Him

To my surprise I found myself able to say, “Oxsana, you didn’t care about the money, you weren’t serious about the black mail. You just wanted me to miss you when you went away.”

The scene froze.

[The simulation stops at this point. He spends evening reflecting on what had happened.

The Murder?

He flips to his own perspective and has the conversation he never had with Oxsana as he kills her – there’s a total disconnect. But that’s his punishment – to see what could have been and to be able to do nothing about it.

… But none of this had crossed my mind then because I was aroused from the murder I had just committed and from the one I was about to commit.

I looked at myself from her perspective. My face was strained. My jaw was visibly tense. My hands held Oxsana’s forearms too assertively. There was a drop of blood clotted in my hair, that I had not noticed.

Suddenly my perspective changed. For the first time tonight I was viewing events from my own perspective.

I moved through the next scenes on automatic but only sort of – I could not alter the way I acted, but Oxsana and I continued to have a different conversation.

It was at this point that my sentence became my punishment

I looked down at Oxsana as I tightened my grip around her shoulders. She would get nervous if my hands got too close to her neck, but I wanted to ensure that I was in control.

But through whatever technological magic governed my sentence we could speak – or think – different dialog, so our reconciliatory speech was dissociated from my violence. I’m certain that too was part of my punishment.

“JB, you could stop it all now, the whole fiction of your life. You don’t have to lie anymore. If anyone asks for an explanation of your tell them you’re an optimist, you only look towards the future.”

I looked at her while I shifted my weight, pressing down on points from where I knew she’d resist. She knew me. At least she knew that I was a mask. Did she know that there was something under the mask. How could she have? But even if there was nothing there under that mask – if I was as hollow as a tube – I still could have saved it all – by inventing something real and authentic right then.

“I’ll have to think about it. I don’t know who I want to be.”

The first time I strangled her, Oxsana begged me to stop. This time she said, over and over again, “This is your only chance.” Her voice in my head continued long after the real Oxsana was dead.

Conclusion

You can talk of free will and determinism but that misses the point entirely. We make thousands of choices in our lives but that doesn’t make us free. Every action and decision binds us.

[Don’t listen to those self- help gurus.]

At the moment we are most self-actualized, we are most imprisoned.

[We can be imprisoned in any context.]

[From most decisions there’s no going back, from unfrying an egg to reviving a dead lover. We establish borders; give in to our cravings or ignore them, until eventually we create habits that define us.]

Fin

 

Rebirth Intakes

 

You write about what you don’t know, what you have questions about and what you are trying to understand.

… Eternal Suffering … condemned to life rather than to death.

 

Protected: 05 The Book is Returned

 

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