Born Out of Due Time, Chapter I conclusion


“Good morning, sweetheart.  What can I make for your breakfast?  Good old eggs and b.?”  Ashley had been an English major and liked to make Wodehousian allusions that her husband never got.

The offer of breakfast was a cruel joke since Sean was a vegan, and Ashley—still only an ovo-lactarian—was by then finishing her coffee and whole wheat pop tart with a piece of brick cheese for protein.  She was in a hurry to  to leave for work.

She was in her first year of teaching elementary school reading.  It was an experimental program, called Watching for Reading, which utilized old Sesame Street episodes and other kids TV programs to interest the pupils in the written word.  So far the program was no interesting the children in learning to read, but they were discovering the joy of watching old TV shows in school, and, as Ashley kept saying,  that was something.   Besides, her supervisor, who had originated the program, assured her the reading tests would come out great, because all the vocabulary and reading passages came straight out of the TV shows, and the testing materials would include visual clues to trigger the children's memories.  Even if they could not read very well, they could remember the passages.  The supervisor, who could only read on the fourth grade level, understood the problem, which is how she had come to devise the program.   She had been inspired by an older program that taught reading through writing, but since no one wrote anymore, TV-watching seemed the answer.

Ashley  tried to get there every day before her supervisor arrived.  She very much wanted to make good.  Shawn understood this.  Despite his sloppy clothes and laidback manner, he too wanted to make something of himself.  He just wasn’t sure what.

“Seen my cap?”

“It’s 404?”

Taking a closer look at her husband, she said, with a tinge of sympathy,

“You look like Hell.  Was it that dream again?  Maybe you should go see like some professional?”

“When I’m sick, I go to the doctor.  I’m not sick, snd the day I go see a shrink I ought to have my head examined.”

“What about the guy Corey told you about?”

“What, that freak who sounds like he’s is living in ancient Greece?”

“I thought it was Rome or maybe Medieval Florence.”

“Whatever.  I thought it was Greece, but maybe you’re right.  Anyway, what could he do?”

“I don’t know, but he helped Corey—and you know how screwed up he is.  Michelle says he knows a lot about a lot of things, and he didn’t ask for any money, only Corey had to agree to keep his Macbook running.  What harm could it do just to talk to him?  At least he’ll probably know something about your beloved Aztecs, more than we could learn from that History Channel special we rented from Netflicks.  Maybe you could also talk to him about some of the stuff that’s going down at the office.”

The office.  That was the other mess.  He didn’t want to think about it now.  Shawn checked his iCal. If he was going to get home in time to take Ashley out to the Olive Garden that had just opened up to brighten Nadir’s restaurant scene, he would have to leave work early in order to have time to see the “fool on the hill,” as Corey called him.  This meant that he had to get to the office at least a half hour earlier than usual. He didn’t want to disappoint Ashley.  They were both so busy, they had little time to do anything together.

He looked around their apartment.  It was in one of the few modern developments in town—or rather on the outskirts, in a reclaimed strip that had once housed a grain mill complex.  Each concrete block building (beautifully stuccoed and painted in pastels) had four two-level apartments, all with the latest appliances and most advanced security systems.  If you wanted to—and Shawn and Ashley had most definitely wanted to—everything could be integrated through their computer:  heating and cooling, air purification, power levels and battery life, television and stereo, lighting, water softening, toilet cleaning—all were monitored constantly with hourly reports generated and alerts on failing lightbulbs or rising energy costs.  Through their iPhones, they could check everything, and with their iCals integrated into the system, they always knew where they were supposed to be and when.  Shawn had loved the sense of control he got from the system.  He felt almost as if he were already living in the future, which had always been his dream, until this other dream had come to spoil things.  Now he thought about the impoverished Mexican Indians—the mojidos who swam the Rio Grande and swarmed across the country looking for jobs Americans wouldn’t take.  None of them ever came as far north as Nadir, but he had seen them in Chicago and even in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Some day, maybe, they could move to the Twin Cities.

He didn’t have to change out of his usual clothes—ragged jeans, t-shirt, scuffed running shoes—because he kept his work uniform at the office. He  drove to work, parked in the lot, entered the old brick building, and ran up the stairs to his office.  As he was about to go in, the door opened and one of the volunteers came out.  He did not look particularly embarrassed at being caught.

“Dyson, you were in my office, man.”

“Yes, obviously I made a mistake.”

“So whose office did you think it was?”

“Corey’s.  I had a message from Justin, and you know how he doesn’t like to use the intercom.  It’s too high-tech for him.”

Shawn told him Corey’s office number and went in.  Nothing seemed disturbed.  Although most of the Veritas employees left their offices unlocked, Shawn almost always locked his, when he went home.  He must have forgotten, yesterday, when he left after an afternoon meeting that lasted until almost six.  It was odd that Justin Wright was already in the office.  While he insisted on punctuality in everyone else, Wright was a late riser who often arrived over an hour late, which seemed odd for an executive with a new job.

Shawn changed into his work uniform,  walked downstairs, and knocked on Justin Wright’s door.  Wright, a tall stoop-shouldered young man with thick glasses, turned from the computer where he had been reading an article on the Drudge Report predicting the election of a conservative  senator in Alabama, and greeted his visitor.  Shawn declined the offer of a cup of tea and tried to cut short the usual awkward conversation about football, the weather, the Pope’s latest idiocy, or whatever dodge Wright could find for avoiding human contact. For Justin Wright, Hell really was other people.

“I came in early.  I’ve got somewhere I’m going later.”

“Sure, no problem.  Anything wrong?”

“No, not really.  I’ve just been working hard.  I’m not sleeping good.”

“Well, (with a mischievous chuckle and a twinkling eye) I won’t tell you to work less.”

“Say, Justin.  When I came in, one of the volunteers was coming out of my office.”

“Oh yes?  Dyson was it?  Right.  I sent him up to get you, in case you came in early.  I wanted to know how you were coming with the plan for the Florentine gang wars game?”

“It’s coming along.  Katie Oriundi is crunching through the material, but 14th century Florence is not her thing.  She’s more into Italy in the 19th century.  I’ve got a line on some local guy—a bookworm living here in Nadir.  He supposably knows a lot about Florence and maybe more about the ancient world than any of us.  I may be bringing him in.”

“Good work, Shawn.  Keep me posted.”  As Shawn left the office, Wright went back to the Drudge Report, giggling to himself as he read of the next Republican triumph.

Designing sophisticated games had become a big part of what they did.  Veritas was a research institute, originally dedicated to finding ways of teaching the humanities to a world that had rejected them.  More recently, it combined scientific studies of personal development with interests in history and philosophy.  One of their activities was the creation of role-paying games based on real historical experiences.  These were not sold commercially—who would buy a game based on Roman politics in the age of Cicero or the Guelf-Ghibelline conflicts in Medieval Florence?—but they were part of Macmillan Ross’s overall project, which no one but Ross really seemed to understand.

On the workaday level of producing income, Veritas was a kind of think tank that specialized in psychological evaluations and reliability studies of people working in confidential jobs, but Ross insisted that the way to build character, for intelligence officers or corporate executives, was to educate them to be fully human and to expose them to real-life historical challenges such as: Cicero’s decision to attack Mark Antony, Benedict Arnold’s disgust with the French alliance that led him to change sides in the Revolutionary War, Robert E. Lee’s decision to be loyal to Virginia, Truman’s decision to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In other words, oral dilemmas, conflicts of principle.

This required a lot of actual historical knowledge, not of the kind that was mass-produced for textbooks or concocted by the self-appointed experts who wrote Wikipedia entries, but sound information put together into a coherent narrative where facts acquired moral relevance.  Initially, they had hired academic historians, but the ones they hired were bound to received professional wisdom and lacked the mental coherence or narrative skills to create a drama.  They had tried journalists and fiction writers, but they were for the most part entirely ignorant of history and shockingly indifferent to reality.  The last project, Blacks and Whites, had been proposed by the boss himself, but no one had realized how complicated it was in Medieval Florence or how few reliable English-language histories were available.

About 3:30 Shawn took off his blazer uniform and changed back into his street clothes, as he said, “into the real me.”  On the way out, he ran into Corey and asked him about his guru.  Corey was enthusiastic:

“Sure, man, go see him.  He’s a trip, and he can probably help you with whatever’s bothering you.”

Shawn left the building and drove to the old industrial side of town, now inhabited mostly by Mexican and Asian immigrants.  It was a depressing drive.  Sean hated old things, and he wondered why anyone, much less a supposed guru, would choose to live among such losers.  He and his wife were both individualists: They had met at an Ayn Rand discussion group.  He regularly followed a libertarian theoretician, who argued that built-in obsolescence made sure that consumers enjoyed the most up-to-date technology.  This neighborhood, which had grown up along the tracks, must have been had been obsolete before it was built.  These days, there were so few trains running that nothing happened.  Shawn doubted they even had cable TV.

He parked the car in what he thought was the right block, but few of the houses had numbers on them.  One of the more dilapidated houses had a small porch, and through the rusted screening he could see there was someone sitting in a chair.  He appeared to be sleeping.  Through the screen in the blazing sunlight, he seemed a man in his thirties in a rumpled black suit.  He was slumped back in his chair and thinking about who knows what—anything but what he was going to do with himself for the rest of the day or for the rest of his life.

Under the dark gray shirt and still darker tie a thick leather cord was visible under the collar.  Perhaps it was a brown scapular or an ankh, which would fit better with the bohemian look of man who might be an aging hipster, frozen in time from the 1950’s or just a homeless person who happened to live in a house.  His legs were stretched out straight, and the feet, clad in black steel-toed work boots, were braced on a scuffed coffee table  where a the pile of books, stacked precariously high, seemed about to collapse.

“Excuse me, is this 2079 Garfield?”


The Fleming Foundation

4 Responses

  1. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Simple question: What is hanging from the leather cord?

  2. Dot says:

    There is nothing hanging from the leather cord. The man was seated in a chair, with the thick leather cord under the collar, dead. He was murdered. The leather cord was used to make it look like he committed suicide.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Great guess.