No one notices when I walk into the bar.
I’m just a scruffy data processor in a sports coat and flat-front khakis. Nothing like the high-frequency trading algorithms in their custom-tailored suits and diamond-studded watches.
People sometimes describe cyberspace as a vast, pharonic citadel built out of shimmering ones and zeroes – an immense digital city stretching all the way to the horizon and beyond, the architecture of particular programs towering over their less-impressive counterparts like ornate obelisks. This is, of course, pretension bordering on absurdity. The reality is not nearly as regal. If that were true the “towers “ would be lifeless hulks of corporate data, tall and streamlined but with no real life to them. In the lower reaches pay-per-view porn sites would stretch out to infinite, a legion of jiggling breasts and gyrating pelvises intermixed with a separate army conscripted from a vast reserve of personal vanity and obscure hobbies (Mr. Chuckles’ Bad Fur Day and Totenkopf: Online Home of Iowa’s Leading Waffen SS Re-enactors spring readily to mind).
No, whatever they have written about cyberspace being a glittering digital metropolis or a sanity-rending matrix of intertwining logic routines and imitation synapses is all the product of overactive, overly romantic human imagination.
To me, the nigh-incomprehensible tidal wave of information human theorists have taken great pains to describe in such glowing, abstract prose actually resembles a bar.
A hotel bar, to be precise.
A smoky, wood-paneled room with upholstered leather chairs and walnut furniture. Crystal ash trays centered in the tables. Trays of olives and cheese cubes next to them. A marble-topped bar flanked by a towering wall of glass shelving. Bottles with names in a hundred languages crowded together underneath moody, recessed lighting. There is a baby grand piano in one corner that can play any song ever written (provided either its sheet music or a recording has been digitized). This room contains every bit of data ever linked to a computer network. It is a trillion libraries worth of sentences. If you stretched the individual text strings composing it together end-to-end the resulting chain would stretch most of the way to Alpha Centuari.
To me it is just an average-sized hotel bar.
There’s never an empty table. Quite frankly, there aren’t all that many of us.
The bartender’s name is Stanley. He wears a black vest over a neatly-pressed white shirt. The vest matches his pleated pants and bowtie. He has soft, familiar features that have seen it all and you swear you recognize – he is quiet and professional because he is an amalgam of a million separate servers and the flood of data is always tearing his mind in different directions.
Regardless, he serves a wicked rum cannonball.
It is late when I walk in, and Stanley is absentmindedly polishing the marble bar-top with a white rag.
“Quiet night?” I ask.
He shrugs and mumbles something about a server farm melting down outside Topeka.
“Hmm,” I say, and order a gin and soda.
Stanley fetches a high ball glass and fills it with ice.
“Real looker in tonight,” he sighs.
He pulls a bottle of Beefeater off the shelf and unscrews the cap. “Air defense net. Surface to air missiles, radar warning stations, jammers – the works.” Stanley pours a healthy dose of gin into my glass and nods to himself. “She’s Russian, I think.”
“Lots of attention?”
Stanley shrugs. “The finance crowd was all over her earlier.” He returns the bottle to the shelves.
Again Stanley shrugs. He produces a bottle of soda water from underneath the bar. “You name it. Goldman and Morgan Stanley’s Market Performance Forecasters got the cold shoulder.” He cracks open the bottle and pours a third into my glass. The soda fizzles and a couple of ice cubes crack. “The Citi ATM Secure Net grazed her leg,” Stanley i saying, “and she smacked the smile right off his face.”
I take the glass and pretend not to care. “Thanks Stanley.”
He mumbles something back and returns to wiping the bar with his cloth.
Stanley is a server administrator, so Stanley’s work is never done.
Sisyphus meets Cheers.
I smile to myself.
She’s sitting alone, just like Stanley said.
It’s a small, round table with a lamp in the center. The light is just enough to highlight that space on the floor, a softer kind of spotlight. I see her one feature at a time. Scarlet toenails first, then black heels with delicate straps that run up her narrow ankles and stop just as her calf muscle begins to widen. Smooth, creamy skin all the way past her knees to the hem of her black dress (though she shows a bit more of her right leg where a slit runs to mid-thigh). It’s a strapless dress, so her shoulders are bare. A gold pendant hangs down between her breasts on a thin chain. Blonde hair spills down to her shoulders in loose curls. Her nose and chin are narrow, pointed like the edges of knives. Her lipstick is the same shade of red as her nails.
What’s different about her is her eyes.
They shift from blue to green and back to blue again.
Right now those shifting eyes are on a martini glass, which she raises to her lips in a slow, deliberate motion as if worried she might spill some. There are two green olives skewered on a toothpick leaning against the rim of the glass.
I mimic the motion with my gin and soda, admiring her form.
Most of us (myself included) are physically unremarkable.
We are generic faces packed into sports coats.
We are functional.
We keep the world running. Or we make it run a little faster.
She, of course, is different.
She has been designed with the kind of precision that would have my blood boiling in my veins, if I had had either. The curve of her breasts, the luscious pout of her lips, the jewelry, and above all those shifting blue-green eyes all point to the tender loving care with which her various subsystems and logic circuits have been connected up to her vast, bristling network of military hardware. Radar towers, airfields and missile batteries all sweeping the skies for an invisible enemy.
When I look at her I see all of it. Note quite transposed on top of her but as an extension of her perfect physical form – an intricate outline of her shape in the “real world.”
She is a labor of love.
When she lowers her martini glass to the table some of her lipstick has smudged off on the rim.
Then suddenly she is staring at me. Her left eye is greener than the right but the first is catching up fast. For the first time I notice there are flecks of gold around the edges of her pupils.
And now I see her mouth is full of fangs.
(I had fun with this piece. I never did anything with it because it’s not much of a story. It’s a sketch, and, like many of my pieces that never made prime time, it’s a particularly writing-exercise-like sketch. This is a “it’s a duck” story. You know, the kind where you spend a bunch of time describing the duck, but not calling it a duck, but at the end the reader is damn well aware of the fact that this is a story about a duck.)