by Rudy Rucker and John Shirley
“But you said you were gonna jump off the bridge, didn’t you, Roberto?” Breeze sounded like a girl doing a funny imitation of a guy, but that was just her voice.
Roberto hugged himself against the cold morning wind and glanced sideways at Breeze. Her long hair streamed from behind, over the railing, as if trying to get down to the cold gray sea. They were on the sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge, leaning on the rail, looking at the wrinkled chaos of the bay waters below. Tourists chattered behind them, endless traffic roared by on the metal-grated road. In front of them lay the void, just one vault over that rail.
“Um—yeah,” said Roberto. “Eventually might do it. Today we’re only reconnoitering. I’d want to be stone cold sure I have my moves right—so I end up all hangy. And, I’d want you to film me. This should be a big media event.”
“Camera’s ready,” said Breeze, pulling her cellphone from her jeans. “I’ve got hi-def video in here, and I can upload it wireless to my website. Go on and jump, Roberto. You told me you were all set to flip your, uh, dimensional entanglements? So…”
He wasn’t sure if she really wanted him to take the risk—or if she was trying to get him to see how dangerous the whole thing was. But she had that camera, and the green light was on.
“I’m not ready after all,” he admitted, looking down with a shiver. The bay was so very far below. A container ship slid under the bridge, bringing cars from Korea. “They say if you hit the water from this high up it drives your leg bones into your chest.”
“But you’d twist yourself into being all hangy before you hit the water,” said Breeze in that low voice of hers. All hangy was the term people were using for the new phenomenon.
“Like Wing Wah disappearing during his high dive in the Olympics last week,” continued Breeze. “Like the two women acrobats at the Portland circus yesterday. Lulu and Vulu! They went all hangy. Do it now, and you’ll be the fourth one to go all hangy. If you wait…” She shrugged. “You’ll be lost in the crowd.”
Roberto looked at her, trying to formulate a cool answer. Inevitably thinking, If you’re so ready for someone to jump off this bridge—you go first! But knowing he would try to stop her, if she made to jump. Suppose it didn’t work? Breeze would be the bigger loss to the world.
He tried to imagine this vital being just snuffed out, if it went wrong. Here beside him—and gone. Just look at her…
She had wavy brown hair with blond highlights, bruise-like accents in the skin under her brown eyes, a sexy overbite, wide shoulders, gangly legs, and pointy breasts in the black t-shirt and jeans jacket she was shivering in. No makeup. Not conventionally pretty, but looking at her always got him worked up.
They were Berkeley students, three years into it, Breeze funded by her crunchy engineer parents in Mill Valley, Roberto supported by a scholarship—no school money in his sprawling house-painter office-cleaner yard-gardener family from San Jose.
Roberto was a computer science major, hoping to create animated figures for virtual realities and videogames. He’d started out as a business major, which fully stank. The business classes were just about grubbing for cash. A few of the people in Roberto’s family were already good at that—such as his half-brother Leon who now sharing Roberto’s little room in a Berkeley student co-op.
Breeze had a room in the same co-op as Roberto. She was a music major, and she practiced on her cello in the lounge sometimes—which drove Roberto frantic with lust. He’d even created a computer animation of Breeze playing the cello naked, wrapping a photo of her face onto the 3D grid of the puppet’s head, but—
Whoah! Suddenly Roberto was seeing two women hanging upside down in midair, twenty feet out from the bridge railing.
“Breeze!” he cried, pointing. “Do you—”
Yes, she saw them too. Lulu and Vulu, the twin Portland aerialists in their spangled suits, moving their mouths in synch, the sweet voices coming into Roberto’s and Breeze’s heads, a siren song about—he couldn’t quite make it out.
“What’d they say?” asked Roberto when the women abruptly disappeared. He realized that he’d damn near jumped, whether or not he had the twists and turns clear in his mind.
“Apocalypse?” said Breeze uncertainly. “Transformation?” She too had brought her foot up onto the lowest rung of the railing. She shook her head now, backing away.
“All hangy,” Roberto muttered, putting his arm around Breeze. “I want to do it, but I don’t want to blow it.” He shook his head, stunned at what he’d seen. There was a cause and effect, an underlying principle in esoteric physics that explained it, but seeing two women just appear in empty air off the Golden Gate Bridge was hard to digest. He felt more than a scootch unreal. And why had they appeared to him—right then? “Lulu and Vulu must know I’m nearly ready. That’s why they were calling to me.”
“They were calling me, too,” said Breeze. She smiled, went on musingly, “Maybe I can get there with my cello. A certain fillip of the bow. A unique glissando.”
He leaned back, a little, to look at her. Suddenly aware that he’d put his arm around her, and she hadn’t discouraged it. “You serious? I mean about—using music?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, yeah.”
It was drizzling rain, and the hangy aerialists were gone, like smiling stage magicians after a finger-snap. Roberto remembered a Zen formulation from an Alan Watts book his philosophy teacher had given him: Where do you go after you die? Where does a fist go after the fingers unclench?
Sniffling from the cold, Roberto and Breeze walked back to her car. It was cozy in there with the heater going, the fan clearing mist from the inside windshield, the windshield wipers in rhythmic counterpoint to Roberto’s heartbeat. Breeze maneuvered through the traffic towards Berkeley. As the car warmed up; Roberto could smell the vinyl of the car interior, and Breeze’s shampoo and, ever so faintly, the dreamed-of nooks and crannies of her flesh. Eden.
“At some level, in some dimension, Wing Wah, Lulu and Vulu are with us right now,” said Roberto.
“Dangling from my rear-view mirror like three good-luck dolls,” said Breeze, airily waving her hand. If Roberto squinted his eyes, he could almost see them—tiny Wing Wah lithe and powerful in his bathing suit, and Lulu hanging from Vulu’s feet.
“I saw an interview with Lulu online this morning,” said Roberto. “It’s not like she disappeared for good. She can still walk around like a regular person. But when they feel like it, she and Vulu and Wing Wah can send themselves skipping around the world like stones skimming a pond.”
“Or like tree roots,” said Breeze. “Popping out of the ground where you don’t expect.”
“Or like bats hanging in our heads as if our skulls were caves,” said Roberto.
“It’s great how we can’t nail it down to one single metaphor yet,” said Breeze. “Great that mass culture hasn’t assimilated the hangy thing and made it mundane.” She was pulling up in front of the rambling, decrepit co-op where they rented their rooms. “I’ve got to practice my cello now.”
“You’re just going on the same as before?” said Roberto. “After what we just saw?” He snorted. “The world might be ending, you know.” His implication was that he and Breeze should finally make love. But she wasn’t picking up on that.
Or maybe she was, and the answer was no.
“I’m going to practice differently than usual,” she said, her voice dreamy, as they walked into the co-op. “I’ll be working on the thing with my bow and the magic notes. I’m serious about that. Why should you be the only one in our co-op to get all hangy?” She looked at him, with her pleasingly crooked smile. Affectionate mockery. “Especially if you’re going to keep chickening out, Roberto.”
“I can help you practice,” he said, loath to have the conversation end. “I can show you the moves I plan to use when I do my jump.”
“Show me down here?” said Breeze, nodding at the dusty couches of the lounge. Ruling out the possibility of him coming to her room.
“Sure,” said Roberto, flopping down on one of the sagging couches. “I’ll get the demo ready on my cell while you get your cello.” Breeze disappeared up the stairs.
Roberto was in no rush to go to his own room, given that his squatter brother Leon would be awake by now, draped across Roberto’s bed like a sullen snake, broodingly playing the same licks over and over on his cruddy guitar with the stickers all over it. Leon had nothing to do all day until he went out for his evening’s work, which was buying and selling low-grade street drugs, mostly weed and meth, just like he’d been doing down in San Jose before Mama threw him out.
Bending over the little screen of his all-purpose phone, Roberto cued up the animation he’d created by merging the films of Wing Wah’s dive and of Lulu and Vulu’s final aerial routine. He’d superimposed his face onto the wireframe model, so that a little Roberto-faced figurine spun through the air and—zip-zap—disappeared. The underlying mathematics had to do with tensors, spinors, and higher-dimensional flips. Orientation entanglement. Roberto had snarfed that part from a physics professor’s site. The surprising thing had been how readily he’d been able to turn the equations into computer code.
As he waited for Breeze, he dug into his code, looking for ways to condense it. If he could bum it down to something simple enough, he wouldn’t actually need to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge to get all hangy, and he wouldn’t need the muscles of an athlete to carry out the twists and flips. He found what seemed like a good approach and ran the animation again. Yes. Much faster.
“Hey there.” It was Breeze, lugging her giant cello case, lively in her boots and jeans. She’d pulled on a sweatshirt.
“Watch.” He showed her the latest version of the demo.
“Sweet,” she said, watching it. “But how do you know it really would work? I mean, aren’t you just faking the disappearance? Blanking the screen?”
“Well—I guess you could say that,” allowed Roberto. “But the physics is all good. I’m reasonably sure that if I could physically carry out these moves I’d get all hangy. But it’s still a little too—”
“Acrobatic for the likes of us?” said Breeze in her husky voice.
“Yeah. But I’m getting closer. Just now I just found a way to make it simple enough that I could do it by jumping off—I don’t know—the high-dive at the University pool.”
“They’d let you in there?” asked Breeze, rubbing rosin on her bow.
“That’s the point,” said Roberto. “I’m just brain-storming right now. I swear, I’m going to get it to be as simple as twiddling my thumbs. Hey—play that solemn, slow piece I heard you practicing the other day.”
“No, uh-uh: I’m going to play my interpretation of your flips,” said Breeze, brandishing her bow. She began sawing slowly back and forth, with intricate gestures of the bow’s tip.
Roberto let the sounds sink in as he contentedly hacked his code. It was so peaceful in here, with the rain running down the windows, undersea light filling the worn lounge, some discarded textbooks lying around, a few other students walking in and out—and Breeze close beside him, feeling her way through her improvised music. Idly Roberto wondered if his brother could ever learn to play along.
A shout, a thump—and suddenly there was yelling in the front hall.
Breeze stopped playing, they stared at the door, and a smooth-faced guy in a black polyester wind-breaker came storming in. Roberto’s heart sank—he knew the guy by sight. It was Paco, one of Leon’s rival dealers on Telegraph Avenue.
“Where’s your fucking brother?” Paco yelled at Roberto. He drew a cheap little pistol from his windbreaker pocket, like a cap-gun almost. His eyes were wired and popping. “He don’t piss on Paco again.”
“He’s not here!” Roberto said, instinctively. “He’s—out on Telegraph Avenue.”
“Yeah, and that’s my turf,” Paco said, raising the gun. Pointing it at Roberto. “This pendejo Leon gotta learn. You gonna be his stand-in, baby bro. You gonna get done…” His eyes were pinning, dilating, pinning. He was quite high. He cocked his gun.
“Stop it!” said Breeze, aiming her bow at Paco as if it were some magic wand.
Perhaps Paco mistook Breeze’s instrument for a weapon. He swept his hand towards her, leveling the gun at her chest. His finger was tightening—oh, no.
Roberto considered launching a panther-like jump towards the shooter. His mind was racing like never before, and his body felt capable of incredible speed. But suddenly he knew of a better move than leaping at Paco. He knew how to get all hangy.
Lighning fast, Roberto twined his two hands together behind one of his knees, linking his fingers in a special way. He turned his shoulders, made a gesture with his tongue, swept his eyes—and just like that he was all hangy, walking on the ceiling, moving faster than Paco’s eyes could follow. Roberto had shed the shackles of gravity and size.
With an elegant, precise gesture, he snatched an abandoned chemistry book off a table and placed it before the muzzle of Paco’s gun. Just in time. The thick volume’s pages bloomed like a carnation, with strands of torn paper popping out. The book tumbled to land on the floor beside Breeze’s cello.
But there was more. Roberto could see into the minds of those around him—into the heads of Breeze and Paco and brother Leon upstairs. A new energy was flowing through him, chilling down Paco who was—after all—just another frightened guy with his own constellation of personal problems. Paco was beginning to smile, like he was just starting to get the point of a joke. He put the gun back in his pocket.
Meanwhile Breeze was staring at Roberto like a cellist awaited a cue in the music. Connecting with her via his exquisite new cognition, Roberto mapped out the physical moves he’d made to get all hangy. As smoothly as an accompanist playing the transcendent theme that tied two lesser melodies together, Breeze transformed his contortions into—a sound. A little musical phrase. She sang it to him, merrily waving her bow. And now Breeze was all hangy too, dancing beside him on the ceiling.
In unison, they sang the phrase to Paco and, yes, now he fully understood. He shrank to a quarter inch in height, and buzzed around the parlor like a happy horsefly. Reaching further, Roberto passed the spell to his unseen brother Leon upstairs. In response, a cosmic power chord to reverberated through the co-op, turning the wood and brick and mortar into singing dust that settled to the ground, leaving the building’s occupants all hangy in the air. The chord built and reverberated like Gabriel’s trumpet call, spreading the news across the planet, helping every living being to become all hangy.
As if in nostalgia for the fading old order, Roberto and Breeze jointly visualized the man-and-woman-shaped tube of story that would surely have culminated in a harmonically perfect moment when the two them made love. Holding hands, they shared this knowing—and squeezed a full courtship into a single moment of the foreshortened Earthly time that remained.
And now their eyes turned to the heavens. Wing Wah, Lulu and Vulu were up there, beckoning in the sky, joined by ever-more of the uplifted multitudes, all hangy and dancing a pattern of physical summoning.
Still higher, the clouds were thinning, with the blue showing through—and set in the blue was a light that was no mere Sun. It was a living light, a Being ushered in by this world that had gone all hangy, this old world of souls who’d found the door and opened it to the inevitable next level.
About the Authors
Author photo by Edward Marritz.
Rudy Rucker is a writer and a mathematician who worked for twenty years as a Silicon Valley computer science professor. He is regarded as contemporary master of science-fiction, and received the Philip K. Dick award twice. His thirty published books include both novels and non-fiction books. His most recent pair of novels depict a near-future Earth in which every object becomes conscious. The first, Postsingular, appeared from Tor Books in 2007, and the second, Hylozoic, will appear from Tor in June, 2009. In recent years he has become an inveterate blogger.
John Shirley is an author and screenwriter. His newest novels are Bleak History, coming soon from Simon and Schuster, and Black Glass: The Lost Cyberpunk Novel, out now from Elder Signs Press. His most recent story collection is Living Shadows from Prime Books.
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