A serial novella • Installment 3
That voice. It matched perfectly with the eyes. My stomach was in knots. I was following the piper.
He had returned back downstairs and was stretched out in a lounge chair. The steps down took forever. Then, after a long while I stood near his chair. I felt like a groupie who had missed the show. He stood up and sighed into the air between us. It was very quiet.
Bernie entered the room without knocking. He immediately stopped and said:
"Please forgive me. I wasn't aware you had a guest." Bernie threw me an almost puzzled look, but was much too polite to stare at the surprise guest.
"Of course Bernie, I should have told you I had company. Thanks." Peter replied tiredly. Why was he tired? It wasn't that late. His speech could not have lasted more than ten minutes. And why was he covering for me when I had slipped in to his quarters without permission?
Bernie took my empty glass with him and I lost something to hold on to. Peter motioned for me to sit down on the couch. I did. I had to apologize to him, for something. For sneaking around in his room. For behaving as if I had lost my sense of acceptable behavior.
I began to speak but he shook his head softly. I began to speak again but again he motioned for me not to speak. I tilted my head a bit and then looked around to see if anyone else might be in the room with us. He was following me gaze with his own eyes. Nothing. I should have been scared because nothing made sense, but I felt calm in his presence.
Peter looked at his watch and got up. He came back with his coat and we left the room. Bernie gave me my coat and then we were outside on the ill-lit and wet pavement. We walked rapidly a few blocks, still in complete silence, until he grabbed my arms and bent down close toward my face as if to kiss me. But he waited. It seemed as if he listened for something. Waves of expectation ran through me. He looked miserable. He said almost to himself:
"Not yet. Come, we have to walk further, further."
We walked a couple more blocks and then I made a decision. I reached out and grabbed his hand. He squeezed it very hard. A firm and warm hand. It was a humid and cold night and we could see our breaths in the air. I could detect his scent from the coat he was wearing. It made me -- happy?
A few minutes later we came to Hyde Park. There were some people walking by now and then so I didn't feel too worried being alone with Peter. No cellphone and alone with a stranger who did not speak. What the hell was I thinking?
Apparently not much. He stopped and tore at my coat so he could embrace me and share warmth. I did the same. We stood there sharing our cold cheeks and reaching around each other's coats in an awkward and urgent embrace. Remember, we were complete strangers. Who does this sort of thing?
"Say something," I whispered into the wool coat.
"We don't have much time," he answered. He grabbed the collar of my coat so that I was almost lifted off the ground as if to amplify the meaning of everything.
"Explain, please, tell me." I whispered back. I feared. I finally was hit by fear. A fear that I had met an insane person who now had me trapped.
Then he told me.
He told me about the singularity machine he had invented and connected to his own brain via an implant on his brain stem. It was feeding off his own thoughts but operating as a separate being. In order to limit its experience he also limited the people he allowed into his life.
He told me about how he had a few limited moments each day when the connection was down and he could freely explore his own thoughts. He told me that since he connected with the singularity machine he was no longer sure of who he was, but the little he had left of his own mind he wanted to keep for himself.
He told me he longed for human company and that he tonight, for the first time since connecting with the singularity, was struck by an intensity of infatuation so strong that he had ended up breaking his own cardinal rule.
Never fall in love. He told me he knew that the singularity machine now also had fallen in love, with me, but it only had experienced non-verbal emotions. He told me that he knew how crazy he sounded and would not listen to my protests.
He said he had lived with the singularity for six years and that he kept it protected from the world because he wanted to protect the world from it. He wasn't sure if it was such a good idea to spread it. Not based on his own experience.
He told me that even during the down time he had to leave a radius of about a mile in order to be sure the singularity terminal couldn't listen in on his conversations. He told me that he loved me. Yes, it may sound strange, but we knew it was true beyond anything else we had experienced.
Then he told me:
"I am going to remove the singularity implant. I don't know if it will work. I could end up a vegetable, or it could end up running by itself even if not connected to me. But I will have it removed. It started out as a fun experiment and now it is a being. A real thinking entity.
I want to have my own thoughts and if it persists I want it to have its own thoughts, separate from mine. I don't want to share my most intimate feelings and thoughts with an entity that sucks my mind empty every time I experience something new. I want to wallow in my own mind, no matter how miserable or how blissful I am. I want to be alone in my mind and share the rest with someone. With you."
Time was running out.
"I will be here." I cried. "You must remember and understand that I love you. Please remember it then, when you are alone in your mind. When it's done. How will I find you?" Yes, I said all those things. And I meant them.
It took him a while to regain his voice but he told me to go back to the hotel and find Bernie. Bernie would remember me and take me to him. He told me to wait six months.
"Oh God, now that I found you I have to let you go! Why did I ever bring this thing into the world?" he tore at his own hair and didn't hide the tears that kept streaming down his face. "Let's choose a word that only we know. When you visit me, afterward, you will know that I remember you." he said. Then he whispered it in my ear as if afraid someone was listening.
He took off and that was it. A sharp end. An absurd moment, and yet it didn’t diminish anything I had felt a moment ago. The silence of his absence shook me awake and I hurried to find a taxi.
When I came back to my hotel I listened to a worried phone call from Myrna and an elated one from Joshua. A new girl had arrived to Earth tonight. I called Myrna and told her I was fine. Myrna told me I had missed the speech of the decade. I told her I bet I did. Myrna couldn't disagree so she wished me goodnight.
I called Joshua and Paulette the following morning before I headed to the airport. After congratulating them and listening to the detailed birthing story I got a chance to ask Joshua if he knew Peter Burntwood. Joshua told me he would drive me to the airport and talk to me in person.
"Peter Burntwood. Peter, Peter, Peter." Joshua sighed and glanced at my flushed mess of a face. "How much did he tell you?"
"Everything!" I cried into a handful of paper napkins.
Joshua kept looking at the freeway ahead of us. I could tell his mind was racing. He wanted to know why I was crying. I wanted to know what Joshua knew and thought about Peter.
"So he told you about the surgery?" Joshua asked.
"Yes, he told me he was having the implant removed." I responded.
"Implant? You mean tumor." Joshua corrected me.
I looked at him. Joshua, I thought, no. We can't have different stories. No, no.
"No, Peter told me he was having his singularity implant removed." I finally said, hearing myself almost weakening with each word.
How powerful a silent listener can be. My love for Peter now in doubt? No! I was sure we loved each other and that he had told me the truth.
Joshua smiled weakly.
"Edith. Peter is very ill. He has been for a very long time."
To be continued.
Please click the heart button if you enjoy this serial novella! Comments are welcome.
Please share with your friends and link to A Cabinet of Curiosities.
Subscribe so you don’t miss the next installment!