“You know what’s worse than being whipped between bodies and realities like an overbeaten dog?” I realized suddenly I was asking. I was asking a man with really thick black curly hair. Almost like a sheep. A black sheep. We were sitting in a booth in the corner of the bar. Well, he was sitting. I was balancing myself on a chair.
“No... what?” His name was Raoul Sampson.
I could not remember what his position in life was, but his clothes probably would not have gotten many comments back home except maybe a, “Hey, nice sport coat!”
“I was asking. I can’t imagine anything worse. But then I feel a bit like a dog that’s been beaten too much right now, so maybe my imagination isn’t where it should be...” Now that my mind was working again, I was beginning to recollect the conversation. I was also beginning to question the words I was using. “Actually. I feel a bit better now. Honestly, I feel great. Like I just had a good night’s sleep. So, you said you were an art thief, right?”
He took offense slightly, “No. I’m a freelance archaeologist.”
“An archaeologist! Now I remember why I’m talking to you.”
“Yeah.” He looked at me blankly. I could smell his annoyance. “So, the Statue of Liberty--”
“Are there aliens? I’m sure I’ve asked this to someone already but for the life of me I can’t remember the answer. And robots? Do robots have rights? And what about aliens? Do aliens have rights? Is there some kind of interplanetary UN? And why the hell did Benj freak out so badly about that bug?”
“--I know it’s somewhere in America, and of course it’s along the coast, a place called Liberty Island. The only problem is... no I’m sorry, you’re a guest. You first. What did you say?” Now he smelled angry. Well, not smelled exactly. There was some sense of anger I was picking up off of him.
I decided to just repeat the last thing I said, being as how I’d asked far too many questions at once. “Why did Benj freak out about the bugs so badly?”
“Freak out?” He took a moment to think, “Oh, you mean he saw a bug and his reaction was one unexpected, of a ‘freak’ nature?”
“Yeah.” I said, impatient.
“Oh. Of course. You see, the UN uses insects as a sort of secret police.”
“The United Nations?” I said, making my deep bumble-bee voice into a question.
“Let me finish. It was around a century ago. Perhaps a little longer. A century and a half? Maybe two? A scientist by the name of Asimov Newton--yes, funny name, I know--his whole life was insects. They fascinated him. Never married, Asimov... died a violent death. In any case he was a professor of Electroneurology at the United Nations University in Omhu. That’s the capital of Earth, you know, Omhu.” I was beginning to feel impatient with all of the extra little details he kept adding to a simple answer to make it into a lecture. “In any case he discovered that bugs do in fact communicate not only through pheromones but also through low frequency energy waves. Lower than radar. Or really low radar. I don’t remember. And actually, come to think of it, that part might have already been known. Maybe he proved it? The point is that he systematized their language--using a fairly expensive computer--and this gave the government access to all of the sensory input of bugs all over the world.”
“But every species of bug is different.”
“And they all have a different language. It’s more complicated than that, too. Let me tell you, Asimov really loved bugs... that’s how he died. And anyway he spent about a hundred years of his life on it.”
“A hundred years of his life?”
“Would have spent longer if it weren’t for the accident. The point is that the government started breeding bugs. Modifying them. There’s whole islands on Venus festering with them. Soldiers, farmers, artisans... assassins. This is how terraforming is done. Can you imagine? I shudder to think. Why if it weren’t for the bugs we’d probably still be stuck on Mars. Well, not stuck on Mars. More like that’d be our only planet other than Earth.” He raised his glass, “Here’s to the malleable, alliable bug!” He downed his toast with fervor.
“Well then why does Benj hate them so much?”
“Who doesn’t hate bugs? They’re disgusting. Vile. I shiver at the image which forms in my head when talking about them. And you, you were born what, a thousand years ago? No, probably not that long. Maybe five hundred years ago? You haven’t seen half the new kinds of bugs they have. Bugs the size of houses sometimes! Bugs that defecate all the raw materials needed for other bugs to make houses! Bugs that are houses! My God, the government does everything with bugs. And the bottom line is that Benj hates the government.”
“I’m with you there. The government is the ego of humanity, its false sense of self. Wholly imaginary, we imagine it to be our entire selves. It continues correcting wrongs long after they’ve already been corrected. Why, in the town where I grew up when my dad was a kid they added a tax to fix the water-main or something. They still haven’t gotten rid of that added tax!”
Raoul began to laugh, “I’m sure they have, my friend. I’m sure they have. There are no taxes. Have been no taxes since Franklin.” He continued to laugh.
“Then why does Benj hate the government?”
“They killed his parents.”
“But the government can’t actually do anything. People within the government do things, make decrees and the like, but the government itself is a non-entity, a figment, a ghost of the imagination, a puff of smoke. It doesn’t exist except as an idea.”
“Eh.” He said, taking another drink. “You know, it’s not often that an archaeologist has access to a font of information from the past, like yourself. I don’t know if there is anyone else who lived in your days still alive today. There can’t be many, if there are, and they’re not extremely forthcoming. A lot of the people claiming to have lived that long are frauds... the point is I’d be very grateful if you’d let me get a formal interview with you.”
“Yes. If I have time, I suppose.”
“What else is there to have?” A pattering like the beating of a heart came echoing over to us. Raoul turned to look over his shoulder.
Benj’s young brother Jule came running in, “Smokey! Smokey! We’re about to land on Mars! Come on. You have to see! Come on!” I didn’t see any reason not to follow him. To be honest, Raoul was beginning to bore me. No, not that exactly. He was beginning to make me feel like some kind of metal detector.
“I’m sorry, Raoul. One can have time and one can have space. Right now I have space. I’ll talk to you later. Cheers.” I said, and followed the little blond boy out of the room.
The madness of the previous night was gone. The room had emptied of people some time during my incapacitation, and now actually looked quite normal. Full of very normal tables and chair. Some lower, some higher. There was a set of book cases stretching along the wall.
Jules was out the door and I was right behind him. He moved very quickly, as quickly as any eight year old will when he’s excited, but movement took me almost no effort. I was a gust of wind. It still took a while to cross the entire ship to the docking point where Benj and the main crew were gathering. It was the most spartan room on the ship, I think. Not a scratch of decoration or furnishing. It was just a metal box. On the other side of it, the dock, was another metal box. But outside of these boxes were planets and stars. I was in orbit around Mars.