1 may '08 1:46 a m
All afternoon Jennie was distracted as she blacked-in the dozens and hundreds of tiny figures --- from triangles and hexagrams of various sizes up to 12- and 20-sided little figures --- so intricately interwoven that their repetitive patterns tiled the plane of the "Altair Designs" that most everyone but she dismissed as children's games. Much of it was mindless repetition, but as the darks and lights turned the networked lines into new shapes and patterns, there on the page hung, in the star-stippled blackness, the central ball of Saturn, its rings edge-on slicing horizontally across its center. Four other mismatched shapes would be moons, once colors were added --- for a series of solar-system subjects for this year's calendar.
The stabs and sweeps of her sharp black felt-tip occupied her mind, but every time the NPR-station turned to weather the old anxieties took over. Haze and scattered rain and lows around forties it kept saying, flooding her mind with worry about icing on Hoka hill where a few degrees could make all the difference. It was a job --- the hour driving the mail-van across the river to LaCrosse every day at four, then back again at six a m. But the roads at the top of Iowa were not flat, the weather was treacherous, and the tires worn way down with continuous use.
A bit before four she geared up, and before she left the house to drive to the Decorah post office she took a last, satisfied look at the new picture and thought to her companion "I may go to K-World tonight, but while I'm gone maybe you will finish this for me? I'll show you where the colors go, and you can put them in."
There were only a dozen limp sacks to pitch into the back of the van and then, as ever, she drove the route, mesmerized after a while as the car suspended itself and the thin black stripe of damp asphalt unwound and spun itself under the wheels and away. Jennie yawned, alerted her companion,then she gave the running of her organism, and the driving, over to Topaz. Her entire being collapsed into a ball, whisked through the Gateway and flitted half across the universe to awaken inside a catatonic on K-World who suddenly began, again, doing useful work.
Topaz drove better than Jennie. Even inside her mind, running her organism, it had none of her niggling distractions and instead concentrated on the road. It wasn't Jennie, but it could make a reasonable imitation of her --- in a somewhat bemused and distracted state, of course. It hadn't even a name --- she had christened it Topaz, and talked sometimes of "T"; but she and it knew it to be "a separable field of all fields" come to run the organism if ever there might be a failure of the Gate that could let Jennie, after months of important and useful work elsewhere, slip back into her self only seconds after departing --- when things worked as they should. The intention was for Topaz to run the organism so perfectly in her absence that no one would know she was gone. That perfect mimicry, however, was a little harder to achieve than they had hoped.
Jennie had loved the midwest ever since her undergraduate days at Oberlin, and was something of a fixture and an oddity around the college town that was now her home. Her other job was overseeing and maintaining the fossil and mineral collections for the Geology Department at Luther College, and her friend Ken who taught philosophy there paid her as a "resource"; he felt that someone, with her restless and accepting mind --- who lived in a shack next to a cattle feed-lot heated by a wood-stove --- could shake up the thinking of students who expected every American was a Christian and God would always provide.
Jennie never got her Geology Doctorate. Before plunging into her thesis --- she intended, eventually, to make proper sense of all those trilobite species --- she'd sold everything to buy a car and drove herself toward a whole new life in Minneapolis; but there the love of her life coldly declared he could not turn his back on his kids or his wife and never wanted to see her again. She sometimes referred to it as swan-diving from the high board yelling "Okay, now Fill The Pool!" The impact broke her spirit as well as her bank-account, and her academic aspirations as well.
Ken knew about Topaz; was comfortable conversing with it; but he stopped short of buying the thesis that Jennie was, somehow, inhabited by two separate souls. Pushed, he'd admit he thought she was round-the-bend bonkers, but that never stopped him talking with "this speaker Topaz" on its own terms. Once, when the Gate was closed for a whole day or two, Jennie came back to discover that in her absence T and Ken had discussed the problem of world hunger, and that T had committed her to fasting one day every week and donating the money instead to OxFam. She fumed and bitched but tried it, though only for a month or two --- and when Ken found her eating on a Tuesday she explained beligerantly "just Whose organism is it, anyway!"
On the busy loading-dock in LaCrosse the crew realized that for Jennie "the wind's from the other way" and ignored her frozen-faced introspection. T took the van to the gas station and the organism to a comfortable eatery where the staff understood Jenny's occasional moods.
But "How ya doin', little lady!" this night she attracted a stranger. "Mind if I talk a while?"
Topaz looked over this-speaker-m'tabilizer-"George" and made an effort to try small talk. It agreed that strange towns could be lonely places. It admitted it had an Altair Design it would color before sleeping that night. And when that-speaker "George" mentioned having money it might be willing to part with suddenly Topaz was curious-curious of these moneys. T enthusiastically insisted any extra money ought to be given to OxFam because --- just as on K-World, apparently --- the problem wasn't the existence of food for 'tabilizers but the cost of moving food from place to place. That-speaker "George" frowned and said, "Well, nice talkin' to you, li'l lady" and moved away. Later, as Jennie was telling Ken about this conversation, Topaz broke in realizing "Oh, this is about fuck-king? This-speaker is curious curious of this fuck-king" --- but neither of them saw fit to elaborate.
In the rooming-house where Jennie slept between trips, T did indeed open Jennie's arsenal of felt-tips and lay in some reds in what must be the satelite Titan, some faint greys at the poles of Saturn, and some yellow in the next-larger moon --- just as Jennie had said.
But the Gate was still closed, Jennie was away, and Topaz was not tired. It leafed briefly through the several different Altair Design blanks and selected one. Jennie invariably did her pictures in the "portrait" position, but as it looked, Topaz had other ideas, and turned the paper on its side "landscape". After inking in a saw-toothed sea-surface, it began prinking out three figures, in blacks and whites, leaping in triple-unison across a huge sun. "Those-speakers-'tabilizers-'Orca's'" Topaz mumbled, remembering them from a trip to Sea World in California.
The rest of the night and morning, the trip back and the trip home, were totally uneventful, except T seemed "curious-curious" of its picture. In two bands below the surface, Topaz inked in the subtle shapes of speakers-'tabilizers-"fish" that would be all but invisible until added color picked out their shapes.
That afternoon Ken dropped by to invite Jennie to a party the Antropology Department was holding to welcome Donald Johansen to the Luther College campus to lecture on his discovery of "Lucy" and "The First Family". He was admiring that-speaker-Topaz's picture, nearly complete in its first black-and-white state, when T abruptly announced "That Jennie comes" --- and she did.
Ken was always impressed by these transformations. T's face and body always had a kind of glacial repose, with eyes that rarely blinked and seemed to laser-through one's own face to the very backbone. But as he watched, the eyes closed, the head flipped slowly to one side, the mouth yawned and arms stretched, and it was Jennie taking a huge breath and opening her eyes saying
"Oh, hi Ken! Have I been gone long?"
She seemed to confer, silently, inwardly, with her companion a moment. "Ghod yeah," she concluded, "it took forever to get back! Did the Saturn get finished, by the way? Oh great!"
"And Topaz has a surprise for you!" Ken noted.
"Oh hey this is great!" she whooped, "The speaker doesn't do very many of its own, but they're really great when they come along!" Then she paused a moment saying "What? Why you little snip!"
"What's that all about?" Ken demanded.
"You know what it just said to me?" Jennie carolled in amused outrage.
"It said 'It will tell you where the colors go, and you can put them in'!"
0518 hours, 1 May '08
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