Three days the world has been on edge. No, not because the Palestinians are asking for their fair share of independence. And not because Cain won the Florida, Google sponsored debate. No, people the world over sat at the edge of their seats waiting for Part 6 of this riveting story by yours truly, Rene Mullen.
“You look really confused, Chris.” Usually I’m capable of speaking my mind at breakneck speed, at least with Mark. Always felt comfortable around him. That’s how he knew I was so good at ideas. It’s other people who made me uneasy. Not today though. Perhaps my thoughts or the ugly feeling whispering in my head fogged my voice. Either way, I stayed silent, mostly stuck somewhere between an expensive latte-flavored tongue and yesterday’s dream that kept edging its way into my skull.
“I thought I should explain yesterday.”
This comment brought me back to reality, or what I hoped was reality. Until then I had not even looked up at Mark, who had apparently sat down right in my blurred line of vision. That was all a dream. There is no way Mark actually knew about my dream. I said nothing to anyone about it. Not because virtual Me told me not to but because it was a dream. And a cracked up crazy one at that. I figured I forgot about whatever Mark was itching to get off his chest. He had my attention. His deep sigh refocused my eyesight. When they landed on his sighing mouth, there it was. Small, but there. Anger began to bubble inside me, mixing in with confusion in a latte base.
“We all go though this. It’s completely natural. Normal even, if you can call it that.”
“You’re damn right we do,” I gained my voice back but lacked poise and control that usually accompanies it. “It’s hard not to when your colleague and long time friend is working on your wife.”
“See. That’s what I’m saying. That’s not what’s happening.” My anger threatened to spill onto his shaking hands. They were poised like they are when he’s giving any big speech except his elbows were perched on our small table and he was leaning in close. The cut lip I gave him felt oddly satisfying to stare at. I managed to keep my calm given our sitting in the middle of a crowded coffee shop. Instead, I cupped my face in my hands hoping Mark would just come clean. All this cryptic garbage, all his sick attempts at consoling the man he was wronging felt dirty. Confrontation was never my strong suit. That’s why we were a team up until this point. From behind my already sweaty hands, “Okay, Mark. Cut to the chase, please. I’m tired. And I don’t think I feel very well.”
“Fine,” Mark took another deep breath before leaning in toward me.
“Remember when we used to talk growing up about how we hated technology? How we use to say it was the downfall of civilization.”
Look at us know, rolled through my head but collected in my throat.
He must have caught my eyes rolling about as far back as they could go before snapping free between my fingers. He leaned in closer, plled my hands away from my face. All I could do to keep from cracking his skull with my coffee cup was to focus on the split lip I gave him and how much it must have hurt.
“I’m serious, Chris. This is crazy shit, but it’s true. We were right the whole time.”
I must have smiled at this because Mark didn’t appreciate it.
“This isn’t funny, Chris.” Mark let go of my wrists. “It happened to me last month. Before that it was Kyle…”
“And before him,” I asked, mostly out of jest.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” At least go Full Monty if you’re going to give a crazy story for plugging your best friend’s wife.
“I don’t know because it happens one person at a time. The first person helps the second one, and so on down the line.”
“Meaning?” By this time I found myself rubbing my temples quelling the throbbing behind them.
“Meaning Kyle helped me understand things when it happened to me. Obviously no one ever believes it when it’s happening. I mean, come’on, Chris. Who the hell believes such science fiction?”
“Me, for one,” but I didn’t. Adrenaline skating through my veins told me to throw our table across the shop and haul off on Mark. I couldn’t. Instead I kept up with mocking humor picking away at the ice.
At the same time, my anger began to subside with the impressiveness of Mark’s story. It was almost worth their affair to hear such fiction. I decided to play along momentarily to see if I could catch him off guard, in a contradiction, or at least with an outright, well-deserved confession.
Then it hit me. Science fiction. All our long talks growing up drinking were about computers taking over the world, Artificial Intelligence, power of influence. Strangely, this correlated with my vivid yet bizarre dream.
“So what you’re telling me is that my dream last night wasn’t a dream?” Where are you going to take this slider, Mark?
Mark jabbed his upper lip with his middle finger asking if it looked like something that could happen in my dream. Touche, Mark. But, “That only explains that you’re doing with my wife, not what I dreamt about last night. Explain my dream.”
“I don’t know what happened to you last night, Chris. But if it’s anything like what happened to me and Kyle, your cell or your tablet had a long chat with you.”
With this comment, all my anger poured into my empty coffee cup leaving me empty, more confused than when I started my day. I felt my right eye begin to twitch. “Okay. Lucky guess.”
“So, it did happen to you last night!” The people in the next table over heard Mark yell this.
“I’m beginning to think so,” I lied. Certain I might have something to stop Mark in his story’s tracks, I added, “One thing still doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Shoot,” he invited, rather enthusiastically.
“Why does there have to be someone, in my case you, who, as you so put it ‘help’ the next person, in my case me?”
“You remember Kyle, don’t you?”
You’re really hung up on Kyle, arn’t you, I thought. I just followed along aloud, “Yeah. Ended up in the loony bin. Everybody knows he couldn’t handle his home life, what with his wife cheating…” That’s what happened, I realized. Mark made his rounds through our department. All our wives. He’s married. But hey, if you’re going to screw your best friend’s wife and send a man to the nut house while pounding his wife too, what’s a little infidelity?
Of course, these thoughts remained in my head. After all, he is still my childhood friend and business partner.
“That’s all bull, Chris.”
Unable to hold back trembling, “I’m beginning to think you’re right about that.”
“Well, when you had your chat last night, it must have told you not to tell your wife, not to tell anyone or else.” That was quite familiar. Virtual Me refused to answer what those consequences were but I, he, it, was adamant about keeping quiet.
“Or else what?”
“Part of the deal is that you don’t know. But I can promise you, Kyle did not crack. He tried to tell his wife exactly what he went through and exactly what I was going through. Exactly what you’re going through right now.”
“So. It has all your information. It is you now. It has the power to enter the cloud. It can edit anything and everything ever mentioned about you or by you in the digital world.” He took a sip of his coffee. “I’m certain it did something that brought the police to Kyle’s door that night. Whatever it did gave police reason to come to the door with a judge’s order to have him put away for insanity.”
“He was insane.” Kyle always acted a little weird. He was the company’s IT guy. All those technology conspiracies Mark and I grew up discussing still rambled around in Kyle’s head, usually finding their way into every one of his conversations with colleagues.
“I’m sure he is now. He wasn’t when they put him in there. If it can take your identity, it can change it. It must have changed his to mentally ill or warrants issued for his arrest or most wanted or something. Now he’s sitting in Cartwright and nobody believes his story. It wins every time.”
“So, according to you, my wife isn’t cheating?”
“Correct,” he belted out bringing attention to our table again.
“And, according to you, you’re not having sex with my wife?”
“Why the hell would I? I’m quite happily married myself. In case you don’t recall, you were my best man.”
“I remember.” I wasn’t swallowing any of this, though. Either my latte’s acidity or just plain disgust for the man across from me, I wasn’t swallowing much else. “Our discussions about technology taking over the world were children’s fears. Pure fiction.”
Mark rubbed his temple with one hand, sipping his coffee in the other.
“Artificial Intelligence is fiction, Mark. This whole scheme you’ve dreamed up is just that.”
“How do you explain last night?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. Truth is, it doesn’t matter. You must think I’m pretty dim to believe I’m buying any of this.”
“I know you don’t do confrontation, Chris. So, I’m begging you not to confront your wife about this.”
He was right, but the empty pit in my gut was filling with bile, making me ill. Something would have to give. I’d have to confront her. I wanted to get up and leave Mark is my friend. If he made a scene by stopping me from leaving, people would stare. He would have to leave first, or at least let me know we were done. Please let us be done.
“Why do you have to create this lavish tale? Why not just man up?”
“I’m telling you, this is no story. I’m not fucking your wife.”
I jumped up screaming, “They’re not controlling the world, Mark.” Feeling everyone staring at me and my outburst, sat back down. “Computers are not turning me into some slave to do its bidding. You’re…You’re…” I couldn’t say it. My legs felt of jello. My palms dripped onto the table.I wanted to cry. “Stop this, Mark. Please. Just stop it. Be a man. Just stop it.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not me.”
“There’s no such this as computer intelligence. Just, please, let’s not talk anymore. Don’t talk to me.”
“Fine. Go home. Don’t talk to me. I don’t care, Chris. Just promise me you won’t tell anyone. I didn’t care about Kyle. But you’re my friend. I love you, man. I don’t want to see you end up in the same predicament.”
With no more energy to stay where I was taking more of Mark’s fabrications, I stood but leaned in just enough so he could hear me, “Don’t talk to me until you give up this nonsense.”
“Just don’t do anything rash, Chris. Please.”
True fear turned his face pasty white. That is how I left him.
Driving home so enveloped in my thoughts I couldn’t trust myself to watch the road while my car was on autopilot, so I popped it in manual and pulled off to the side. I pounded on the steering wheel screaming at the dash. Tears moistened every part of me and my car. Exhaustion overtook me at some point as I woke up several hours later. Maybe I only slept a few minutes and beat my car the whole time. Either way, I rode home long after my wife was asleep, which was for the best. No more energy resided in me to confront her. Not now. Not yet.