Under the Weight of Time (Desert Trilogy #2)

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Scifi / Thriller
Eric Freyer
Work in progress
Age Rating:

Part 1: Meet the Team | Chapter 1

Part 1: Meet the Team

Chapter 1 - Beckett

Beckett had a knack for dreaming only one particular dream, always the same: Being Buried Alive. Though contrary to popular perception-as this is a dream which occurs frequently enough-when Beckett begins to feel the hundreds of tiny dirt whiskers brush past his face, and is once again introduced to the scent of spiced Earth, he doesn’t feel in the least bit frightened. Instead, he feels peace, like this is all just a meditation on life, than that of death. When he is being buried is never any scrambling to save himself, and no attempt to dig his way out as the earth endlessly, and relentlessly, piles on. Though this is the part of the dream Beckett has repeatedly failed to reach when he’s finally mustered up the courage to talk with someone about this little affliction of his. He always stops himself before he has the will to explain this detail, hoping not to make yet one more feel worried about his well being, wondering whether they should console him, or slide him a number to the local psychiatrist.

…A deep breath, and his eyes would open, watching the dirt cascade from the tip of the chimeric, mud-caked trowel. Always there, at the deep breath, like one would take in front of a firing squad as they listened to the hammers click into position, Beckett would wake, drenched in sweat.

Regardless of whether the dream indicated anything about his mental stability or not, didn’t matter. Beckett knew this dream was trying to tell him, or rather he unintentionally anticipating, that something was coming.

Beckett blinked out of sleep and into a room that held a dim, umber glow, triggered from his leap out of REM sleep, and brushed the back of his hand across his moist forehead in a confused sigh of relief. He rubbed itchy sleep from his eyes, moved his tongue across the fronts of his teeth to remove the dirt that wasn’t there, pushed himself up, and combed back the wet hair laying flat across his forehead. He turned over abruptly as his eyes brought into focus the white bloom from the window. He hated that window sometimes. He hated how the ambience of night always seemed to find its way in no matter how many layers of curtains he hung on his 103rd floor apartment window. That, and what Beckett had coined as The Hum, constantly erupting at his feet, was always present, hiding in the background of it all.

Beckett got up to grab a clean sheet from his closet to shove between him and the sweat-soaked mattress. But this frequent dream, the frequent state it left him in, and the infrequent rate at which his laundry is processed, left him without any extras. A pair of sweats would have to do. He would lie naked, but the feeling of wet being transferred from the lining of the bedding to his skin made him queasy and uneasy. This way, with the sweats, he could at least lie on top of the sheets and blanket until they dried off, hopefully to then crawl back under sometime in the middle of the night.

As he squeezed on the scratchy sweats blocks of light moved passed his head from the front and back ends of cars from the airlanes. Since 90 meters above the ground was deemed the first safe height at which one could fly, an apartment on floor 103 meant an ever-flowing parade of whites and reds from the hundreds of thousands of cars flying only three floors down.

During times when Beckett had abandoned all hope for sleep he would spend his time standing in front of this window. At some point he had begun to look out into the night’s sky—as far the adjacent building from across the street would allow him—and wonder why it was that the sounds at night were so different than that of the day; as though the moon’s light deadened or suppressed the cities ambience. He was convinced, at first, that the city seemed less noisy once the sun had set. But as he began to listen more intently, it would become so much louder than he had ever perceived. He was now even convinced he could tell no difference in volume from the middle of the day, to that of the night.

Beckett lazily gazed over at the digital clock projected, compacted and neat, on the wall next to his bed: 4:26 AM. His head rolled between his shoulder blades to try and relieve the stress caught in his neck. His training in classical sculpture and fascination with architecture was mainly to blame. On mornings when he needed to think, he would walk in the park, only to find himself instead standing in the middle of the walkway, staring up at the sharp, violent architecture, while people, and possible anthropomorphized bots, fled in every direction around his unmoving body. Towards the tops of the soaring buildings. It was because of this habit that his neck had the tendency to stiffen in the middle of the night while his joints and muscles lay still and unmoving.

He sat down on the edge of his bed, rubbing the bristly hairs on the back of his neck with the tips of his fingers. He grabbed hold of a bottle, rattling the remaining few anti-inflammatory pills inside, took two, and washed them down with a glass of water pulled from his FoodBin. After analyzing the distinct motions of reaching for a pill bottle, and shaking its contents, the appliance that looked like nothing more than an archaic ice machine, materialized a plastic cup and dribbled water into its bottom.

Beckett let out a sigh as he allowed his head to hit the pillow. He watched two constellations of lights sail across the ceiling before he was woken up by his phone ringing and the clock on the wall reading 7:00 AM. The horns of passing traffic faded in with a muffled rush of air pushing past his face in a cold embrace.

“Hello?” Beckett said half into the phone, so as to clear away the sleep-seasoned saliva in his mouth without sounding too distasteful.

“Beckett? I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No,” yawn, “no of course not,” he tried shaking the sleepiness away—literally shaking it away— swinging his head back and forth. “What’s up?”

“Remember the job I was telling you about? The one looking for someone to work on that sculpture in Trinoan Park?”

A silence held dead in the air. Beckett had fallen back into the pillow while Carson had begun to speak, but now again was bolt upright, so stunned he had forgotten to respond.

“You there?” came a cold whisper from the other line.

“Uh...yeah, yeah of course I remember,” Beckett said without know he’d said it, still entranced by the prospect of the news he may be about to receive.

“Well I got you the job! Can you believe it?”

I what?!” Beckett tore the sheets off his bed and stood in awkward sweats in front of a mirror he didn’t see. “Are you serious?” His legs stretched, as though the bones had grown five sizes too large, within a bend in the glass.

“This isn’t something I would joke about Beckett.”

The project, his now former advisor was talking about, was rumored to be the largest monument constructed in centuries. A city devoid of culture seemed to have no need for idols, yet Beckett had heard murmurs of plans for a whole series of colossal sculptures even.

While he quietly jumped in place so as not to wake his neighbors below a laugh of excitement, of true happiness, escaped his clenched-with-anticipation jaw.

“Carson, I can’t believe it. This must be a dream.”

“No dream.” It was a harsh and to the point set of words. “I can’t say I didn’t have to pull a few strings though. The council was set on hiring that fucking Atticus Webbe.”

“You mean the one who makes all the shitty corporate art up in The Hills?”

“Yeah, that one.”

Beckett placed his hand over his mouth. He had to sit down. Terror and excitement flowed in equal parts through his gut. Carson continued: “Well anyway, it doesn’t matter how I got it, just know that I got it. I showed them some of your blueprints, and maybe had to tell a few untold truths about Atticus that I may or may not have actually witnessed before they got the point. It does help to know Max on a first name basis, I suppose.” He smacked his lips. “He’s the one you will be conversing with about this project…At first.”

Beckett let the last statement pass by without any willingness to reach up and grab it so to inspect it further. Instead the focus turned to that name—Max. “Max…Groening? The Max Groening?”

“Yes, yes. The Max Groening,” he said mockingly. “He’s not all that special once you get to know him.”

A taxi posted outside the 100th story let out a blaring call for a “Beckett Greene”, loud enough for Carson to hear on the other line.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I called you a taxi to get over to his office. Max wanted to talk with you in person before you are seen in front of the administration.”

The administration?! You know crowds aren’t really my thing Carson,” he picked at his thumb.

“Beckett, don’t be an idiot, you do know what this will mean for your career don’t you? This means that for the rest of your life you will be able to make sculpture. Something you want to do, right? How many people can say they do what they love for a living?”

“Lotta people lie about it,” Beckett whispered.

“What was that?”

Mr. Greene, a taxi. A gentle velvet gnaw came in over his loudspeaker from the front desk.

“Better get going kid, wouldn’t want to miss out on this.”

And just like that, the phone shut off with a soft click, leaving Beckett alone with his thoughts. He stared through the window and towards the sky; the immense creation towering over his bedroom window.

“Mr. Greene, are you still there? Should I tell them you’re coming out?”

Caught off guard: “Yeah…Yes,” he corrected, “Gabby, tell them I’ll only be a minute.”

Beckett threw the phone onto his bed and tore off his sweats. A particular perfumed ordor of stale body odor and sweat wafted up and out of the trapped air that had infused with his particular smells throughout the night.

“Shower!” he yelled into the air, as his shower, set to exactly 44.44oC, sprang into motion the clatter of water against tile; the gnashing from hundreds of pairs of teeth. Steam immediately poured out from the top crack of the door leading to the bathroom, only feet from the closet where he would need to grab another pair of sweats this night if the cycle of dreaming that very same dream should continue.

His shower was more of a rinse. He washed like a madman believed to be covered in insects. He rubbed his soapy hands over his body without much care of what got washed, and stepped out of the shower, scarcely giving himself a chance to wash the suds from his skin. The fans kicked on. In an attempt to save some time Beckett reached his hand out and around the doorframe to try and grab his clothing. His wet feet on the now wet, tiled floor, rushed out from under him, resulting in the very point of his chin slamming into the carpeted floor. He could only lie there and laugh, rolling over onto his back to stare up at the ceiling still covered in the billowing steam, spreading forth in great expanses like crashing waves against a wharf.

He knew he had no more time to waste. The thought of Max Groening waiting anxiously at his desk, tapping his fingers in rhythmic succession, flew past in a wisp of thought-filled steam. The shower and fans shut themselves off when they sensed him slowly rising to leave the bathroom to get on his clothes, grab his mug of coffee, and shove a breakfast sandwich from the FoodBin into his pocket. He swung his work bag, stuffed with long, heavy sheets of cyanotype paper rolled into neat, tight cylinders rising up above his head, around and onto his shoulder. Without turning out the lights, he left.

He stepped inside the elevator and pressed 1-0-0 in neon, red digits that shone through the tips of his finger. A wash of crystal chimes seeped into the jauntily tiled cabin as the doors noiselessly closed. It reminded him of his grandparents apartment when he was younger. It was the kind of decor all grandparents seemed to know was a far cry from sensorial common courtesy, but still felt the need to incorporate the nauseating motifs into their outlined, and poorly lit floral escapades, regardless of their visitor’s digestive system’s sensitivity.

It was a fairly short ride.

The doors opposite from where Beckett entered, and was looking, opened into the main lobby. In consequence, he was bombarded by two rather greasy men in Hawaiian shirts. They bashed their shoulders into his with a next-time-be-more-aware-of-your-surroundings feeling to it. There was one on either side of him before he pushed through the quagmire of skin, trying to ignore their watching eyes.

Beckett Traveled down the walkway extending through a long and narrow hall for returning and leaving tenants, and spotted an anxiously awaiting cabbie. Between them only the reverberating clicks of stiletto heels and pre-waxed dress shoes bounced around the glass tube. Other men and women in suits waited restlessly and silently for their transportation to arrive, alternating hands to hold their hot mugs, sandwiches, and phones.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Beckett said as he approached the cabbie who had yet to take his eyes off him.

The cabbie only shrugged, a toothpick dangled limply from his bottom lip. It sagged in wonderful mimicry of his drooping, sleepless eyes. Beckett rushed into the back of the car, making sure not to ponder for too long the implications hidden within the man’s face.

They flew off and into a line of cars doing the same. The sign bobbing in the air on their left stated that floors A through C were already backed up, leaving levels D through F available for travel. They flew up to level E just to be safe. To Beckett’s relief the car stopped swaying as they fell in line behind the moving traffic. Only when the churning in his stomach had subsided, and he had grown more acclimated to the hunk of metal careening through the air, did he begin to work at his breakfast. The last thing he needed was to go into this with an empty stomach; a shimmer of last time when it had left him feeling sick and needing to run to the bathroom once the meeting had concluded. And yet still he will sit in front of the council…

Beckett took a moment to look out the window. Blinking ads bobbing in the sky shot off quirky hooks and taglines asking him if he had remembered to change his FoodBin disintegrator recently, and that he should consider using the Teletreks disintegrators for their extended disintegrating power, while a hologram of a dog leapt onto a couch with a quite fake looking stream of urine cascading over the cushions with the text: “Don’t let this happen to you, train your pets with EastAct, the quick and effective way to save what you so dearly love.”

It’s too early for all this. Down between the buildings, parades of people gathered in groups at the edges of sidewalks. Beckett imagined the smell—the heat coming off the pavement in the shadows of these grand steeples.

Through the everyday fear, that any day trapped in here could be the one to push you over the edge, there was one constant to rely on: Windows. The view was always littered with them. Some had windows cascading into one another like water, creating an illusion that the building was made of glass itself, while others tended to have more traditional orbs, with a trim bordering its perimeter, something to break up the buildings facade into smaller section, marking off each one of the individual units inside.

They flew close to the tops of some buildings, while gliding through the middle of others. A building in the way of the airlane produced a gaping hole that, if it were a human’s torso, leading them through its stomach. The tunnel was stripped with halogen worms, gliding over his face like cascading water. They exited the bowels of the building and neared a building not unlike the rest. As they rose over it, and above its roof Beckett spotted one of Atticus Webbe’s obtusely placed sculptures, flaunted across the garden on the roof. A sphere of red metallic pulsated with dashes of reflection, while three consecutive arms, all skinny, sharp and pointed, originated at the base of the sphere, wrapping up and around like three liquid daggers. It was so contrived and forced that Beckett imagined Atticus in his studio holding a ball in his hand and saying, “Well, let’s just give it three legs and turn it upside down.” Beckett scoffed as it left them.

“Everything alright?” the cabbie asked from behind the glass. His scoff was louder than he had expected.

“Yes, sorry, something stuck in my throat.” He needed to stop thinking so rapidly, it was making the people around him uneasy. That was the last thing he wanted right now.

The cabbie turned back to the front without saying another word. His sagging eyes lagged behind the rest of his face, splicing into the side of his cheek.

A shadow found its way over the cab and Beckett looked up to see a tinted glass anvil of a building fixed in space, towering above. The building was so large, that as they approached, it seemed only to be made of glass—as some do. But as they flew closer, subtle lining began to appear. The huge piece of glass began to break into smaller, more geometrically sound pieces. Even closer and those fragments of glass broke into even smaller pieces of glass, representing the average, everyday window. Without any notice the cabbie sent the taxi into a nosedive, veering back down to the 100th level. His papers, nestled neatly in their canvas womb, had flown up and into the ceiling, while Beckett himself, not thinking of using the seatbelt, found his face getting quite close to the roof of the car. He slammed back down into the seat with his hands still sprawled above his head, slapping into the roof’s interior.

Beckett angrily gathered himself, though not daring to accost the cabbie—if anything out of fear of those drooping eyes. He felt confident in his decision not to confront the man as he gathered his paper, straightened out his shirt, and combed over the hair tickling his nose. This whole while the cabbie looked back at him through his rear view mirror. It was as though he had shut off.

They arrived behind a line of taxis waiting for the next person to emerge from the swinging doors of the hall preceding the loading dock. So was their life. Beckett shuffled in his pocket for money but the cabbie quickly stopped him. “It’s already been paid for.” This was more honest than Beckett had made him out to be, and instead handed him a tip and a word of thanks.

He stepped out of the cab, making sure to obtain a long stride and good footing on the platform so as not to end up somewhere between the floor of the cab and building, and find himself instead on the one-hundred-story thick pillow of air. A voice over the intercom played gentle fragments of melody between a woman’s voice stating to please make sure to check in at the front desk and have your valid I.D. ready for check-in-procedures. It sounded a bit odd that something as easy as checking into a building would be described as a “procedure,” but nonetheless Beckett reached into his back pocket as if out of instinct, and tore to the back of an assembly of outdated coupons and service cards. The tube rustled with morning bodies like a bag of teeth, grasping at anything at all to help them wake the minds and start their day. Though some, having what could only account for their more natural cognizance, was a vacancy of thought, able to wake their minds as fast as their bodies. Businessmen and women on phones, and the ever-elusive holographic ocular chip, ran past him like the tails from a kite.

Beckett saw two, maybe three downsides to the ocular chip: One is that he believed the point of a telephone call was so you wouldn’t have to show your face to someone else; so you could disengage in a somewhat acceptable manner while still leading on with muddled mumbles, and small words of agreement; to still show you were engaged in the conversation without really needing to be. Second, that everyone has the initial thought, no matter how many times you come across it, that the person using the chip is talking to themselves. The vacant stare that goes along with looking at a hologram no one else can see comes with the territory. And the third, and possibly this is the entire point of the contraption, is that with this device, they may only contact others who have the same holographic ocular implant. One still needs a second phone to call anyone else whom they may need to contact. It seemed as clear of a motion for segregation as there could be without possibly making it a political statement outright.

The remaining people standing in circular glass were looking out from its edges with their hands clasped behind their backs, waiting in attention for any scrap of trash that might fall from the fleeing business people’s pockets, so they may quickly discard it before it flies off the walkway and into the open air.

Beckett swung through the mechanistically rotating doors and was greeted by a young and stunningly attractive man who looked like he didn’t have an inch of fat on his body. His cheekbones rose high, bulging below his green eyes, and his combed over gelled-to-look- like-spaghetti hair fell perfectly to one side.

“How may I help you sir,” the man said from behind the desk, while readying his tablet in one hand, strapped only to his middle three fingers with a black, cushioned elastic.

“Um…” For a split second, Beckett couldn’t for the life of him remember why he had come here. He dove into the rumbling flashes of his subconscious so as to find any hints. Atticus came running through as a possible point of reference. A first name that is short. Very pointy. “I am here to see Max Groening,” he said after a few breaths.

“Ah yes, Mr. Groening, of course,” he said like a snake. “And what would your name be?”

Beckett’s skin was becoming thin like parchment paper. “Beckett Greene, that’s with three e’s. Here’s my I.D.”

“Right, Mr. Greene. Let’s just see hear.” He busily jabbed at and scrolled on the screen glowing lab coat white, throwing up quick glances and an upturned lip. Beckett thought, to really bring his whole image together, that he should have been chewing on a piece of gum. “Ah yes, here we are.” He looked up fully, displaying his pearly whites. “I am going to direct you to level 247 via the elevator right this way.”

The man, whom Beckett saw had a name tag labeling him only as A.J., emerged from behind the desk through a section of wood rising on two hinges firmly bolted to one side as he stood from his seat.

Beckett was led out of the intimate, egg-shaped foyer, and through a stretching hallway covered in acoustic paneling, which he assumed was used to convert a relatively large space into a virtually smaller one. Because these noises were dampened, and the presence of any slight echo or reverberation from conversation or footfalls were altogether absent, it created a sense of intimacy; a space less overwhelming. He tore a small notepad from his back pocket and noted this down in quick shorthand: ‘Big room acoustic walls → smaller feeling.’ The hall even exposed the conduits housing the hundreds of electrical wires, with coats of similar acoustic dampening material. But instead of hiding the usually visually obstructive tubes within the wall, they were exposed on the outside, creating gently flowing pieces of inconsistency that one’s eye could trace while walking through so as to be distracted from their impending anxieties and become—if only for a moment—separate from those fears by getting lost in the undulating tubes running along the center of the walls. It was brilliant. Though it is very possible he could be thinking way too much into it.

Before he knew what was happening he was inside of the lift and A.J. was typing the numbers 2, 4, and 7 into the number pad, while only halfway in the cab. A.J. looked up and told him Mr. Groening’s office would be directly ahead at the very end of the hall when he exited the lift. Beckett nodded in understanding and stepped back to its far edge, holding onto the cool, golden railing that should have been cylindrical, but was instead rectangular with its thinnest face pointed upwards. He felt it uncomfortably digging into the palm of his hand as the lift began moving against gravity; a subtle gesture of oppression.


The double doors sprang open, revealing to a long corridor ornamented with carpet cascading up from the floor, onto the walls, and even the ceiling. On either wall the carpet’s design was either an original Dalyn Wembley rug—which was highly unlikely since he had died over half a century ago—or a very realistic mock representation of one. Long tendrils of vegetation flowed down the rugs center, across its entire length. Twisting, in swelling green, it arrogantly danced through its very own path; a plant’s own thumbprint. This particular detail, growing from the borders like long overreaching arms, wrapped around its own skinny branches, while even skinnier branches split like broken glass, bearing modest amounts of foliage that bloomed into a variety of autumnal colors. Beckett imagined it as his own arms reaching out for the door at the end of the hallway—Max Groening’s door— or more sinisterly, the door reaching its arms out to grab hold of him. But what really caught Beckett’s attention, and really allowed him to forget all about the reaching arms grasping at his thoroughly nervous body—

The elevator doors began to close…


His toe slid between, just as the only thing left to see was that door.

…What really allowed him to forget about all those reaching arms was the Dioscinestic rug on the floor. The border was a phenomenon all in itself. Its intricate floral patterns were so tightly woven together that they seemed to move all on their own, in such perfect isolation from the rest of the piece. Beckett grabbed hold of the door so as not to reel over from his sudden spout of vertigo. Quickly it subsided as he focused on the center of the carpet. His toes rested at a half sphere, cut off by the bottom of the border, it could only be grasping roots. Above sat a vase which looked queerly similar to that of a human form. Rising from the sides and above this vase, which only took up about a tenth of the carpet, lay rows upon rows of tightly knotted flowers of reds, oranges, blues, and yellows, laid in overbearing arches, separated by transposing gradients of similar color. These arches were what rose the rest of the way to the carpet’s end.

After he had sufficiently took note of the carpet’s detail, and before the doors had time to close again, Beckett took a step out and onto the tapestry. It felt indisputably difficult to walk through the hallway.

One step at a time.

The tendrils on the walls and ceiling guided him along; the huge arches of flowers, like ripples on a lake, pushed him like a current.


He had gotten close enough to Max’s office door for its sensors to register movement and open for its visitor.

Beckett was yet to consider entering when he heard the voice: “Mr. Greene I presume?” A voice lazily swam out from the confines of the dim office, throwing deep oranges into the mix. In his cowardice he took three rather large paces to arrive through the door promptly, trying to create an illusion of excitement.

The door slammed shut behind.

The orange lights projected against smooth walls, sending cones of light rising towards the ceiling. In front of these, a desk, larger than the area of Beckett’s apartment, smack dab in the center of the constricting, wooden room, and on the far side, a giant sheet of magnification material rose high into the air, suspended by four metal arms. The sheet of plastic bore concentric grooves running around, getting smaller and smaller the closer they got to its center. And behind the clear sheet, the distorted face of Max Groening: 57 years old, wildly black hair, and at this very moment, with a nose the size of a watermelon. A light shining from behind went dark—one Beckett had not registered as such. Max floated out from behind, carefully placing his inspecting instruments at his desk, slowly removing his orange gloves, one finger at a time, and looking down from his throne with an expression of something Beckett didn’t like the feeling of one bit.

“You must excuse me,” Max finally continued. “I have been quite interested, for some time now, in the works of Horus Schnasharuner. Have you heard of the man?” He still floated, facing his body in such a way so as to hide his Volatumizer, one Beckett assumed he could afford multiples of, considering the amount of money needed to invest in such tapestries he allowed people to actually walk on.

“Yes, of course,” Beckett responded calmly, “he is the pioneer of the post micro-nouveau movement, started of the late naught era.”

“Yes, very good,” Max said, moving slowly down to his feet, before an almost silent buzz, concentrated around his lower back, whizzed out of existence. He walked towards Beckett, right along the side of the deep mahogany table.

The gigantic sheet of plastic—no smaller than 100 square feet—hung there innately, as Max advanced still, gazing into Beckett’s eyes. Beckett felt his fingers picking at his thumb and his body begin to hunch forward, waiting for something more to happen. He knew breaking the silence was the only way to rid the impending early morning biliousness.

“What of his were you looking at, if I may ask?” Beckett said, trying to hide the shake behind his words.

“Oh, it is not an original Schnasharuner,” Max started up again without missing a beat, “only a replication done by a student who, if I may say so myself, seems to be on the upswing in micro-artistry.” He swung a make-believe golf club. “I was just asked to look it over and critique her work. And I want to tell you that it is superb.” This last word like a real gentleman. “If you were in the same field I would advise you to try and find other work because she is going to take it all the way. But, I supposed you’re in luck.” He had moved to the front of the table and was now sitting down amongst the throngs of cushioned chairs and leather bound folders. “But alas…”

A moment of silent deliberation wherein Max had seemed to forget what he was talking about.

Beckett peered back over to the enlarger: Small black appendages protruded, terminating into a finite point at its center where the supposed work of art hovered; at the tip of an outstretched finger, smaller than the head of a pin.

Max was still frozen, mid-thought, finger in the air.

“Excuse me sir?” It was hard for Beckett to get out the next set of words, to acknowledge the gratitude he felt.

Nothing much registers behind a black fox in overall coats. If anything it seemed to remind Max of what they were suppose to be conversing about—which Beckett assumed couldn’t be for too much longer since a man of such great status must have a daily schedule as full as the president’s.

“So, I am guessing Carson filled you in on what all is going on here?”

“Well, a bit.”

Max squinted while Beckett spoke, placing each fingertip against its opposing other. He was the kind of person that looked like he was judging every word reaching his ears, whether he knew it or not.

“I’m guess you’d like to know a little more about the project then, yes?” Max crept off the table like approaching unsuspecting prey, motioning for Beckett to sit down in one of the 20 chairs placed evenly around. Beckett obliged, hurrying over to the chair closest to his left. He grasped the strap of his bag around his shoulder in hopes of it not falling off, and scuffing the perfectly waxed floor made of latticed wood with grains like dark veins, sat right across from Max, somehow already sitting down, comfortably crossing his legs.

“The project is nothing short of immense. If I may use that word.” No you may not. “We have gotten a strong (he said the word strong as on the cusp of orgasm) proposal from the higher, higher ups to fulfill a certain need they have come to think is necessary. Now, necessary to whom? Well, there are questions better left unasked I suppose is how it goes.” Max had felt the need to rub his lips with the tips of his two pointer fingers while explaining.

“Of course you know they want a statue, and a very particular type of one at that. Right away we told them it could be done with a group of robots in mere months. But they wouldn’t have any of it. Good news for you, right?” Max tried to wink, but failed miserably. Beckett smiled. “It seems as though they feel the project needs an anthropoidal touch.” He paused to catch his breath. “For once I seem to agree with them. What you have to balance out is efficiency over authenticity, and where robots are concerned, efficiency is all they can handle.”

“I definitely agree with you on that sir.” Beckett answered as a boy scout too afraid to stand up to the eagle scouts. Max’s black hair shook in place. He rested his chin within his clasped hands in preparation to listen to Beckett’s response.

“In school I became fairly interested in the theories behind robotized art, in the terms of robots creating art, and how it could change human perception of the field.” Gosh, just breath. “Robots programed in such a way would completely remove all reason, or need, to create art. Wherein lies the paradox.”

“Very true,” Max said, raising his chin out of his hands only enough so his bottom lip wouldn’t get stuck behind his thumbs. “I see we already can agree on one thing. What else did you learn about in your studies?”

Beckett tried settling back, but only until he heard pages being crushed behind his back. Core engaged: “Well, I mostly concentrated on the psychological implications; in assuming art can be created by robots at all, nothing much of the historical side.” Like a moth thrown into fire, he reclused at the thought of trying to remember the subject as best he could, and how he could reduce the fear he assumed people felt when he did. Beckett had to remind himself that Max, a scholar of art and science, could appreciate all his mental prowess going into this thought. “But I do believe art is something of a collective decision to accept facts about life that can only be experienced through a personification of various sensory mediums. What I mean by this is not that people aren’t able to comprehend difficult and abstract concepts without these examples, but that in making something that is in itself a statement unchanging, while the viewer has theirs changing as each second passes, that it creates an embrace only art can provide. The intangible becomes tangible. Some publications on the matter even go so far as to say all works of art are a comment on death, and since humans are able to comprehend their own deaths—the very essence separating us from all other living organisms on Earth—art can only be called as such when made by humans.”

That look of judged-squinting slowly softened in Max’s face, showing his only signs of age in the very corners of his eyes. His smile, though just barely able to be called as such, cracked open the top corner of his smoothed lips to expose a small, ovoid space of black. “I very much so agree with you on that,” he slowly spat out. “And the higher ups seem to recognize it to be a visually acute, yet recognizable inaccuracy.”

Off to a good start. Beckett sat there stewing in his own thoughts of why they were interested in spending a great deal more time and money on a work of art—actually multiple works of art—that could easily be created in a mere week’s time with a team bots. When had they started to become aware of art psychology, and more importantly, when had they grown any interest in the arts at all? He was glad Max wasn’t rushing him to further the conversation. He continued to give some more time with his thoughts.

“Being a man of architecture, I am sure you are aware of the implications in what it will require to construct a statue of such, magnitude?” Beckett nodded with squinting eyes; the judgment had transferred onto his own face. “But before we get any further in this meeting, it would seem silly for us to continue until I heard from your mouth that you will in fact be taking the job.”

“How could I say no?”

“As I assumed. It is just something in relation to what you were talking about before, being able to represent ideas as something tangible.” He spoke the statement like a question.

“I understand.” Beckett was still trying to piece together what this would accomplish for the city. What was the agenda? He knew he needed to discontinue dwelling over such things since his mind was already made up; he was going to do the job no matter what.

“Good. Now I haven’t a whole lot of time, but I would like to talk over some of the specifics with you before you meet with the administration. They can be a bit pushy, and I think it would be best if you went into the meeting with a full understanding of the situation; with ideas already constructed about the project.”

Beckett twisted in his seat, trying to force his bag out from behind his back so as not to crush his sketches any more than he already had.

“Kent!” Max yelled from his seat, startling Beckett into a momentary frenzy of subconscious terror only his synapsis had time to respond to. From the dark corner of the room a small creature wrapped in red cellophane, sporting long antennae, like ears wrapped in styrofoam, came shuffling over to the table. It was difficult to watch it struggling to be alive on this world. “Would you please hang Mr. Greene’s bag carefully on the hook next to the door. I would most appreciate it.” The thing bowed and stuck its arm out in wait for Beckett to hand over his bag.

“Thank you very much,” Beckett said kindly to it, trying to give as genuine a smile as he could muster.

“And after you do that please go get yourself some breakfast, I am sure you are starving. Thank you.”

And with that Beckett watched it shuffle out the door and down the carpeted hallway to the elevator.

“I feel so sorry for the little bugger sometimes,” Max announced after the door had closed shut. “I try and treat it as best I can, but there is really only so much I can do.”

“Why was it wrapped in that?” It was the only way he knew how to ask.

“Apparently their species can’t expose their bodies to our sun unless they reflect back all the red in its spectrum. Could you imagine? Living on a planet where you couldn’t be exposed to its sun. Must be god awful for them...Anyway, let’s get back to the matter at hand.”

Did he just say species? He had no more time to comprehend the word.

“So from what I am told, the project will focus on one statue at a time. Trinoan Park, as I am sure you are well aware, is not the safest, or let’s say, cleanest place in the city. But being a quote on quote “public space” closest to the wall, it is in their eyes, the most logical place for construction to begin. I am not sure of the medium they were thinking of, but I supposed that can be figured out when the time comes.”

“Stone makes the most sense I believe. Especially if they are interested in making it more influential to humans. We always seem to relate better to works made of stone than that of any types of metals or plastics.”

“We will just have to see. Have you read The Histories before?”

“Yes, in school I studied it in both my literature and art classes.” (The Histories were the books believed to be the words of the gods by those these statues were being created to represent.)

“Good, then you know how some of these figures are supposed to look. I think it would be wise to come prepared with some sketches you could show them as well, just so they have an understanding that you are artistic and what not.” He shook his hand masterbatorily.

“Sure, I can do that.”

“Great. Other than that, I think they will tell you that you will have a handful of workers under your supervision, and they will want the blueprints, and a recognizable maquette of the first statue at some time in the near future. But besides that, I really have no more to forward on to you. I just felt as though I should meet the man himself. We are all quite a fan of your work.”

Beckett’s heart skipped a beat.

“I will make sure to phone you later this evening with the time of the meeting.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it sir,” Beckett said, sensing this to be the end.

Max rose from his seat and motioned back towards the magnifier. “You know, Beckett,” he said, his body still turned to walk away. “I know just as well as you do how backwards this all sounds, trying to make art for humans to keep other humans away. It’s all fucked up. But you know, and I know, that someday this will all change for the better, right?” Max looked directly into Beckett’s eyes.

Beckett realized his mouth was hung halfway open and quickly closed it. He backed away, closer to the exit. He had no idea what Max was talking about but nodded anyway, assuming he must have been recalling an obscure remark from a previous artists Max assumed Beckett was familiar with. But if it meant the same thing, as the words bounced back and forth between them, Beckett was not sure.

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