Normal People and Not-Normal People

Even though I couldn’t read well when I was young I can now. Obviously, right? But now it’s often all I want to do. I love stories and characters and adventures. Sometimes I like adventures more than characters and other times characters more than adventures. I think this is why we have genres in fiction at all. People are multifaceted so they need thrillers and fantasy and science fiction, and some even need romance, and on the other side of all those things they also need literature.

It fulfills similar needs, but different aspects of being human. It’s like this: great people do profound things that change the world, but profound things happen to normal people all the time in the quiet of their own little lives, and these profound things and important moments for “normal people” are just as interesting when it comes to a study of the human condition as is the profound things geniuses do. That’s why stories of grand adventures and magnificent people are popular, but it’s also why the man who sips his tea and goes through an existential crisis at the same time in literary fiction is just as valuable–maybe more so.

I think, sometimes, it’s those little moments that feel the most momentous to normal people like myself. I don’t know if you’re normal or not, but if you are then you’ll understand, and if you’re not normal, then congratulations for not being a conformist. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to be normal–normal people can understand each other in some ways and not in others and I think not-normal people sometimes (but not always) can’t understand anyone ever. Or at least less frequently. But, you know what’s really funny? Nobody, normal and not-normal people, can understand themselves at all. So in the end everyone has this one thing in common: we don’t understand why we do what we do or why we feel how we feel. But a lot of the time we can understand why other people feel a certain way, and sometimes we might even say this, but rarely, and even more rarely the other person we can understand might actually believe us.

10/17/15 Simic (MODED)

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Next to the hulking men Null felt very small and fragile. His shoulders slouched and slanted from his nick, while these men were thick set, their shoulders coming up nearly to their ears.

“We have not informed him of your arrival.” said one them. Null couldn’t tell which.

“Then I don’t suppose you’re going to take us to him?” asked Yu-Das.

Even with night vision Null couldn’t make out the features of the two men. He supposed they had a cloak on. Watchmen would be little use if anyone with night vision could see them as plain as day. One of the men let out a grunt.

“We know who you are. But who is your friend?”

“He’s clean. Not a corp spy or anything,” said Yu.

“Simic trusts you,” said the bodyguard, “But it’s my job not to.”

Null thought this was strangely apologetic, and strangely diplomatic. He didn’t understand the respect in the man’s voice. The way both of them stood rigid in the entrance to the court yard.

In the dark a baby began to cry. Null looked back and up. Peer in the direction of the sound.

“Your boy’s a John. You know Simic don’t work with Johns.”

“No, he’s not a—well, maybe he is. But he’s got something Simic will want to see. Trust me.”

This talk didn’t make sense to Null. A John could be found in the slums bagging NEDs and poking girls, but he’d never done that. Well, NEDs occasionally when he’d been feeling low, but that had been years ago. After Bee had died.

“My name’s Null. I’m not a John,” he said, rather more bravely than he felt.

He felt Yu-Das’s eyes swivel and fix on him. The man she’d been talking to chuckled.

“Well, you ain’t a threat, that’s for sure. But why should Simic agree to see the two of you? I know Das here—she’s in and out as much as anybody, but a new boy on the block. Now Simic is a busy man—he doesn’t like wasting time. ‘Specially when he’d rather be in bed.”

The low voice was almost soothing in the darkness. It was calm and menacing, and in Null’s mind he felt the man was right. Null knew he was over his head. Maybe he should go home. Forget this crazy idea. Enjoy what little pleasures he could find in life. Leave the underground to the big boys and kingpins.

Null blinked. Those thoughts—they were wrong. They didn’t come from his resolve or his fears. He’d given up on fear long ago. He accessed his chip and found the MindShield app. Enabled it. At once the doubts, the confusions, the small fragile person he felt himself to be, vanished. The man who had done the talking take a step back.

“Huh. MindShield. Where’d a pretty boy like you get the money for something like that?” he asked.

Before Null could say anything, Yu-Das cut in. “That’s what we need to see Simic about.”

“Trust me,” said Null, filled with resolve once again. “He wants to know what I have to say.”

10/10/15 Lodges

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The liteway exited in the middle of the Lodges. At 2:30am there wasn’t anybody on these streets. Those on basic were typically content to live off the system, there was little unrest. There were no streetlamps here and no neon advertisements. The headlights of the Tilt-Bikes illuminated trash strewn streets, hard concrete walls that rose ten stories or higher, Yu didn’t know.

Cut the bike, she texted him.

She expected Null to argue, but instead he slowed the bike, inexpertly lurching to a complete stop. He reached back and patted her leg to get off. She climbed from the bike and after leaving its magnetic field, Null pressed the dash MOD. The lines of the exoskeleton, the bike-console itself, glowed a pale green for just a moment, then vanished. Null was left standing, holding his MOD.

“Simic lives here?” asked Null.

“Great place to hide,” Yu said. “mostly families, despondent.”

“You’re on basic if you live here, though.”

“Simic is. He doesn’t have a registered job.”

“He wouldn’t. Would he?”

“No.”

“Lead the way,” Null said.

The lack of street lights and advertisements in the Lodges gave way to a smattering of stars overhead. They were weak pin pricks in the night time tapestry, but they were there.

Yu led Null down the street, past the hulking silhouettes of dumpsters. Narrow alleys led into the deep recesses of the Lodges every hundred yards or so. They were all identical, but Yu knew where she was going. They walked for five minutes, passed block after block of flat concrete structures set with small darkened windows. Eventually she led Null down a side alley on their left. She accessed her chip and and enabled her night vision app.

“He usually has someone watching his place. We’ve probably already been seen. Let me do the talking.”

“Ok,” said Null. His voice quavered just slightly. “I can’t see down there. It’s so dark.”

Yu raised her eye brows, though she knew he couldn’t see them, “If you have done what you say you have, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Null groaned. “Right. I forgot.”

Yu shook her head. How could he forget? They wouldn’t be in the Lodges at all if he hadn’t insisted.

The alley was so narrow they had to walk single file. Yu could tell Null was nervous, she could sense him looking back over his shoulder, she could sense him looking up, trying to gauge if or how they’d been spotted. Simic’s men would be cloaked. Neither of them would see anyone watching.

They took a left into another alley, then a right. Then another right. Finally the darkened way opened onto a courtyard. There were some wiry chairs around a wiry table. Yu motioned for Null to sit down. She did the same.

“Now what?” asked Null.

“We wait,” she said.

“This is how it works?”

Yu nodded. “Someone will find us—”

No sooner had the words left her mouth that she heard footsteps coming from the same passage they had just used.

A moment later two large forms stepped from the alley.

“Thank you for seeing us,” said Yu. “I know Simic doesn’t enjoy surprises.”