I woke up with a tinge of sadness. The cold summer air had to remind me of the indifferent warmth of an unknown and perhaps an impossible love. Against this prelude, my routine awaits and I have to assume my mechanical self in a place mired by collectible histories; the museum where I place this self was once an Irish monastery, then was inhabited by barbarians sometime in the disjointed era, rebuilt by the Reformation, abandoned during Trent, sold to the monarchy and was bought in an auction by the current owner. The museum is the perfect place for broken people wanting to find a convincing wholeness from the artifacts of one’s life – a depository of testaments from broken civilizations, but also an indication that there was, at some point in that very life, a memory cherished by real living people. At the very least, I have to force myself to get into the vibe. I have to stick with the stable routine and castrate myself of any possible surge of emotion. I have to get up in bed, eat a minimalist meal, prepare myself to work, and end the day with it. I have to do that because that is the life I have chosen to live. One that has become distant against love; one that places itself in the comfort of lethargy, insouciance, and staleness.
There’s no one in the flat, not even a domestic animal to remind me of the short span of existence. No affection to feign, no reminder of inner apathy. There is art, a sketch of a grumpy manservant oppressed by his mistress, which had provided me an everyday sense of reality and the absurd consequences of feminism’s victory. There’s nothing that merits interest really. Since the missions, I never bothered myself of possessions anymore. And that includes the want for clarity and decision. So much absolutism have benumbed the cause of every ideal in me.
The day couldn’t be any more ordinary. People also have their own routines to play. Bakeries and bistros opening, joggers passing by in their earphones smiling around like celebrities, some new faces with backpacks and coffee dependents on the line. I never liked coffee; I mean conversations happen in it a lot but few people notice I don’t touch mine as I take only a deceptive sip. Some of the best conversations happen over coffee; the other drink is alcohol.
I have reached the museum rather absentminded; just enough for the play to go on. Meanwhile, a staunch collector, a close friend of the owner who visits annually, repeated his remarks in rote to Andrea as a ‘thing of beauty’, from which she would always refuse to be called and disregard in her belief that she leans more on the brain side in the common idiom. Then and there I would retort with an intervention – “debatable” – and the collector would affirm as if to prove himself right. Because she is stubborn as a mule, I would insist: “You can either fight and degrade yourself in futility or concede and accept the truth. In which case, the former would make you a philosopher in questioning the accepted norms of your fate and the latter, an artist, in which you obviously portray the magnificent creativity of yourself. Even then, regardless of your choice, I still believe beyond right and wrong that you are a perfect balance of the two.” The collector, knowing the interest that this arouses in him regarding aesthetic theory, would come to our attention during this time of year to invite us in another yet confident auction victory. It would be a trip, fun and all. But this time, I refused. I received a letter three days ago from a friend and I am expecting him quite sooner. It is a clandestine visit. Nobody has to know.
“It’s not over yet, isn’t it?”
“Unfortunately, John” answered Leonardo while tinkering with his fork. ‘The eccentric one’, I call him. Billionaire in his twenties, hidden inventor of interdimensional messaging and universal assistant “Iris” and “Rainbow”. The man is incomparable, the embodiment of the sublime – a free spirit, the only one that I can give the title Ubermensch. He comes from a class of higher men in the most vivid description; a man beyond his years, a genius amid the crisis of creativity.
We’ve born each other in thought in a near-death experience when we were separately exploring alone in the remotest parts of Burkina Faso, a touristy spot yet only in a given radius it appears. I was a missionary; he was the philanthropist. My first encounter with Leonardo was bleak. I woke up, tied-up, coming to my senses in a matter of seconds and losing consciousness again in fatigue and the hopeful will to hibernation, seeing only a few moments of my fellow hostages – one of which is the scarred Leo, and some two others who I no longer want to recall after witnessing firsthand the horror of their deaths – and hearing unintelligibly the cloak-and-dagger plots of our captors. It was an experience of drought: the days were passing empty, losing my count of them, and knowing after that it had been 3 months that we were chained, time lost its essence and life ironically bore to me a new utilitarian perplexity: ‘Why are they still keeping us alive? I have no riches to spare. I don’t look that much. All my possessions were squandered and I surrendered everything left to the congregation I’ve sworn allegiance to upon my admission. If I still have a value to them, I would desperately like to know. Please. Please! This is the only time I will foolishly surrender to the enemy as my source of hope.’ That would have been my final request had they decided to finally kill me in the end. That question is to this day still clear to my memory.
After the post-trauma briefings, I was told of the other prisoner with me as a smart trader and was then amassing an unlikely big sum of wealth at such young age. Our captors must have known Leo’s diplomatic capacity to the black markets and outstanding economic knowledge so they kept him – but me? What was my value that time? While that man had a clever time wandering but not aimlessly, I was just up for a grander scenic route, the leisure that I allow myself to have, thanking the Almighty for every ounce of my freedom – a freedom that in a world of transactions amounts to a useless surplus value, a mere labor force in the stampede of ideology. It was unfortunately too late for me to get the coveted reply when the searchers found the guerilla hide-out, killed every single one of them, and rescued us. If it weren’t for that action of the government, I would have lost my faith in its policies and implementation, not that my credulity mattered to them anyway, and I would not be standing in front of this man who wants to appear dead to the world, his metanoia, by wearing a look that can only be mundanely labeled as mad: a purple cap, a silver trench coat, and the oddest pair of huarache, not to mention the feathered bracelets. But his identity is the game changer I am more than fortunate to know.
The world knows him as “L”, the revolutionary, when in the year 2022 he ended the fast-paced oppression of the technology market by abruptly succeeding in introducing interdimensional calls for free. Turns out, all his efforts and resources were to fly solar-powered satellites situated above Ecuador, Antarctica, the Maldives, and Arizona – labelling them as the four corners of L’s world – to simplify uplink communication everywhere by a matter of specific command: ‘rainbow call, Evelyn’ and Evelyn has to accept or decline, subject to her settings, to talk in real time the HD real face of the caller popping out in front of her. Or one simply has to relay a rainbow voice message. The bunk of data amassed together by Leo is one of a kind: it is growing while discharging no longer used information for a given period. Not only can one communicate but one can also ask various questions as if the internet had become an assisting living entity in the name of ‘Iris’. Other complex commands inspired by the Greek goddess are found in a bulky manual. There are dozens of unanswered inquiries regarding the satellites, mysteries which I do not bother myself to ask Leo in his insane mental capacity. I won’t even try to explain how he managed to get all the necessary materials to build every single composition of the satellites: how it can pick up for example the commands of every single human in the planet – and what really amazes me is how this can be done simultaneously, and even in soft voice – how it can differentiate the code name Iris from calling someone Iris, or someone who is only sleep talking and having wet dreams over a prostitute named Iris, how it won’t respond to commands it registers as pranks. Perhaps the only limit of Iris is the short delay it would take for her to respond to some requests, but the delay is justifiable when she starts giving the most relevant information on the request. For some, Iris was not just a voice of an artificial intelligence – she was an angel, as angelus originally derives from the Latin angelus or messenger; and large cult followings start to worship her as a deity rather than a smart creation.
In that case, Leo’s status equals to that of a titan who can give birth to gods. And yet in spite of all that, nobody knew who Leo was. His name has become variant of divine terminology: “L” stood for Lord, others call him Le Divin Don, still others, the Last Magister. The world just found out being globally hacked one day: flat screens, computers, gadgets, played at the same time L’s message of unity along with an automatic download of the necessary things to do in the new world. No sooner did telecommunication companies go bankrupt and other establishments, ideologies, politics, education, science, questioned their very nature and imposed desperate measures to ensure stability. I honestly was taken aback at first that I had to distance myself and observe the changing dispositions of everyone: the powerless getting hold of power, the powerful feeling vulnerable, the institutions themselves loosening their grip of the vast majority of people who for the first time saw their worth beyond political lies, educational businesses, religious fanaticisms, economic maneuverings and scientific monopoly – the imbalanced past sought the opportunist move and I felt threatened by the brewing disorder. I withdrew myself all the more from civilization, as all other conservatives did, until the world subsided to a humane and stable environment again.
The world had to acquaint itself of a fresh start in dealing with information without the need for a cost or material medium. On the first day of that revelation, L found himself overwhelmed by the overlapping number of calls and data searches, just enough for him to euphorically expect the bright future of his brainchild. ‘Rainbow’ became the universal communication device and universal Yellow Pages and ‘Iris’ the information assistant, police and criminal ally, the new teacher, the DIY companion, and any utilization it can be of use. Privacy became a raised issue but it was immediately mitigated by the ecstasy of the new-found power. If at all, the new world has given voice to the voiceless and highlighted the shamefulness of the greedy elites. That in a nutshell was a transition nobody expected.
Then, he found me. My first call. I was hesitant but a bit excited at the unknown caller facing in my view with the words ‘accept’ and ‘decline’; quite uncanny actually, seeing it for the first time and pushing your finger to an image in the air. It was then that I remembered, as I clicked ‘accept’, the scarred man in that remote wilderness now looking all bright and elated in a background of an infinite ocean. He introduced himself and the stories went on. Every now and again he’d invite me to some surreal paradise he’d discovered by a letter signed anonymous but so peculiar that I’d easily recognize his handwriting in the words ‘Don’t do it’, along with a plane ticket to the place and a map. Of course he can just leave a rainbow message but he has his own ways. Between the two of us, he’d known that venturing the unknown wasn’t my strong suit anymore, while he remained bold as ever. My adventure bubble meter had fizzled out. I had to wander without being lost, so I’d stuck myself in the museum. If in a matter of 3 days, I wasn’t in the expected place, Leo would come to me instead, understanding that I no longer was the bubble of freedom he thought he knew. And that is how we found ourselves now in this native bistro with me having already sipped 3 glasses of guava juice pairing my éclair and him savoring the creamy beurre blanc of that whitebait – not in the menu of course.
“What’s the deal now?” I asked, knowing full well of some international investigations chasing the unknown inventor.
“Same old shit. Whether it gets harder or easier, you can only pick either way. No one can blame what life has made of us now, John. As I am glad of the tidings of a second life, I also lost the excitement that I’ve felt during our years of confinement. Coz I was ready, you know. I never see death as pain but only the transition frightened me, if at all. I was ready to bargain whether to Charon or St. Peter, and who knows who must stand in their place? Hah Hah Hah! Now I am enjoying the liberty in spite of this embittered world; it seems about right to die in freedom rather than die working isn’t it? If I hadn’t given the world that flashing and popping screen, they still would have been sapped dead looking at that weighty gadget that has become an archaic emblem of control. But look at these idiots! Idiots will always be idiots. That’s the general rule! So someone who has the least bit of common sense has to call it quits! Nobody wants to be that Promethean hero again. Somebody has to play god! Somebody has to be free! And don’t get me wrong, John. You know me. Man is only the limit he so neglects. Hah hah hah!”
All his idiosyncratic cheekiness only reminded me of how young this wise man compared to me is. The world indeed has its own way of resistance and old habits. The control of knowledge was taken out but new forms of oppression start to emerge, as there are new occupations wanting to make use of the traditional currency and transactions. The only event that I feared which fortunately did not happen is the Third World War. Whether we need one can never be the question – it must not be.
“Well that’s a bit compromising … But you do have a point. In fact this was supposed to be a generation of comfort but every single day I find it rather bland… Have you ever felt so pathetic that the only thing that gives you motivation is an unknown girl who doesn’t even know you?”
“See, that right there my friend is your old self lying dormant before you! All the adventure centered on a thing! Hah! Thing! Humanity still hasn’t replaced the term for the indescribable. Still plays the master of all objects! And what is it that you are most anxious about that woman? You were once staunchly passionate in pursuing your dreams; now you’re just in cold feet over a blanket finish! What is it with you and the bigger picture you’re clinging into? Go on! Stop drinking lemonades and drink the hardest spirits you once made your water!”
I stood silent for a while in my pensiveness. Yet at this point, voicing out the inner chaos might be advisable. “I already tried that, a couple of times, didn’t I? … But look where it took me. Without your invention I would never have known the cruelest intentions of man. How naïve of me. To yield and yield without the slightest reason. Doing missionary work did not do me good for all these years. They told me that God was already in the mission site before I go there and it is true, because the natives are already expecting us – no, their hospitality is already expecting us. Everything is just a setup to make us believe in our cause. But I suspect and suspect just to clarify things: we are to go there as messengers of hope and not treat people as guinea pigs – I suspect. And when things don’t go as planned, there is of course that universal justification of temporal adjustment: ‘things will be fine’, ‘this is just temporal’. If that is just the case, then why do people need us to deliver the message of plain common sense? And who goes into a missionary work, wanting only a little fresh air and gets tortured for nothing? At least in my case I wasn’t able to get something out of it. So what was I supposed to do then? Rationalize? … You know, I do think pursuing one’s passion is good, but only when you are still young and tolerant at the amount of suffering that you can withstand out of it. Things will get weirder and weirder, but we all want to exist for the weirdest reasons, aren’t we? Something about loss and contentment made me settle for this life of ironic fun. When I look at her, I see light, youth, and fidelity – all green and vivacious like a sabadila but toxic and lethal within… It’s all good, you know, the fancy pursuit of love, if only it wasn’t a one-sided ambition. And that’s a lot of compromise there my friend. It would be fun at one point but soon the disappointments would creep in and I don’t want that. I don’t want the same look of despise and frustration a woman suddenly reverts to in contrast to her lovely face. I don’t want that look in the same manner that I don’t want people in the mission sites to look at me as if I am some sort of savior, or at least a representative of a savior, and find out in the end that I am not – I mean look at me? I, in the name of everyone, need saving more than anyone and pretending to be a savior won’t cancel that out for me. You will say ironies like being broken healers and converted sinners but to prove what? – That things can be better after life has pinned you down? You will say love but all love is incomplete – at the very least love needs saving too. You will say we need new jokes, new forms of joy, new savageries and whatnot but for what? To buy us time? Here’s what I get in the rulebook of human behavior: you can’t be too happy, you can’t be too sad – something has to unravel for us that to be happy means to suffer, vice-versa, and eventually experience has to drag us down again into that bottomless pit of tears. I look at her and I see the same strings of happiness and love but along with it is the enduring disappointment in the end.” I paused and gave a little thought to myself. “There is only one enemy that love cannot fight and that is primal boredom…”
I reached for an empty smoke tray, forgetting that I don’t smoke. Leo also became silent. As I stared at my empty glass as he did in his too, there was a sudden peace and we both merited a friendly guffaw at the absurdity of it all.
There is a lot of hue and cry for “L” but he seemed unfazed by it. Perhaps he did reserve that excitement of bargaining with Charon or Peter within him.
The small talk will soon end, since he cannot stay in one place for a long time. He’s gotten all pumped up in adrenaline with all the chasing and storms he had conjured. If there was one advice that he left me this time, it was his bid to make me live again. “See you on the other side” went his farewell.