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Shaking the Tree

by David Brookes

part 3 of 4


Where does it all disappear to? he thinks. Only now are people wondering this. All the thoughts, all the memories, all the things that over time faded away. The stuff we forget: what happens to it? It seemed stupid to think that it went somewhere. But there is a place, a deep underground ocean, where all the droplets collect and reside forever. And now can we drink from that pool.

Lou always hated it when he said things like that, what she called “pseudo-poetic bollocks”, that last word one she’d picked up from her Irish relatives. And then there’s relatives, my parents, who I find out aren’t even mine.

He’s in the car, steering uptown. The roads are filling now that it’s morning rush hour. He shouldn’t have bothered coming out, or at least should have chosen to walk. He didn’t need access to all of humanity’s knowledge to guess that there would be gridlock.

Don’t think about your parents. Your “parents.” They aren’t worth it. Made you fly all the way over there — to tell you something you already Knew — because they wanted to tell you themselves, Knowing that they’d been found out already...

Not our son. Biological son. Made that point clear. I Knew that. Why did I bother flying over? I guessed halfway to the airport. They’d tried calling him when they realised he wasn’t actually coming, Knew that he’d gotten back onto the air-shuttle. He’d put his visor on visual only, and watched the news as he and Louise flew, and argued, and broke up like seashells against cliffs.

We are sand.

Stop it.

With a stab of his finger he puts on the radio. Here’s some real news. Guess what? Religion is no more, or as close as: everyone but the most stubborn have renounced their faiths as false. Surprise, die-hard fundamentalists still cling to their rule book even as it disintegrates in their fingers. But most Know that nothing in the holy books is gospel, so to speak.

Adam and Eve, the serpent in the tree — what a load of crap. They Know that for sure now, as everybody else knew two hundred years ago, everybody but the dumbest of the dumb. The Pope says it’s the lies of the devil, the radio reports: Lucifer is in our minds, feeding us untruths. Trust the Vatican to be stupid enough to try to turn this around, even in the face of all the Knowledge the world has access to now.

We don’t need those comforting stories any more, he thinks, flicking on his indicator. The roads are jammed. He turns the radio up. There’s no hiding behind that kind of thing. It’s the cold truth and the harshest of realities from now on, buddy.

The radio says scientists have used empirical methods to access the Knowledge and find out how this all came about. They followed the threads of Knowledge, piece by piece through a complicated web, and touched the truth.

‘A spaceship,’ Alex says out loud. ‘Whatever.’

He couldn’t find any Knowledge on any spaceship. Maybe he’d better check out a few NewNet sites.

A spaceship, scraping against the quantum foam that exists behind all matter and even in vacuum, so small that nobody can see it. The place where all information exists and is accessible, information that has now been released, spilling out like water squeezed from a sponge. A ship with an experimental drive, warping space — warped a little too far.

But the ship is lost, the scientists say. It’ll keep going, faster and farther into the empty universe, its AI broken, its pilot dead or dying. And, they say, the scientists say, the foam will “smooth over” in its wake, and as the ship gets farther away the effects of the information well will decrease. It will soak back into the foam, and “we will be individuals once more. We are happy that we have discovered the cause of this phenomenon, but we offer our sincerest apologies to the pilot’s family and loved ones at this difficult time.”

Alex chews his lip as he parks his car at the side of the street. He mumbles, ‘Yeah.’

In a door-slamming mood, he makes some noise as he vacates the vehicle, causing some heads to turn. He stares at them confrontationally. He’s never liked the trip between the car park and his office building; it always felt like running a gauntlet of thieves. Although his company is a giant, the branch he works for is small and has limited parking. When he gets his promotion, he’ll make sure he gets one of those on-site parking spots with his name painted on it.

Crossing the shopping boulevard, his eyes are drawn to a group of what, at first, he took to be street performers. At least twelve people are sitting on patio furniture, which has been hastily assembled in the centre of the boulevard between the slender trees and the trashcans. Some of them are typing furiously on laptop computers; others are scribbling with ballpoints into books, onto pads or sheafs of printing paper. They are deeply engrossed in whatever it is they’re doing, faces creased in concentration, veins standing out in the sun on the backs of their hands. A DAB radio throws out clean, mathematical classical music.

Not looking where he’s going, Alex nearly stumbles into a young man standing beneath the eaves of a coffee shop. He’s dressed in rags. He is busily packing up his few possessions: a hat, a paper cup, a scuffed leather lead that presumably belongs to an absentee pet, and a cardboard sign with the words HOMELESS PLEASE HELP WITH UNWANTED CHANGE scrawled on it in black permanent marker.

Alex doesn’t know the man’s name, but he’s passed him daily for the last six years. ‘Where are you going?’

The young man is all elbows, stuffing his things into a drawstring sports bag. ‘Hm?’

Alex doesn’t bother repeating his question; he already Knows that people have realised with perfect certainty that he is a fraudster, a college boy — actor — making easy money while he listens to online lectures via a visor mic hidden beneath his hair.

Alex focuses his thoughts towards the group on the patio furniture, sucking up the information he wants from the Knowledge, but he can’t find the right string of thoughts that will take him all the way there and gets only confusing, conflicting pieces of information.

‘They’re writing it all down.’ The young man has his bag over his shoulder, ready to leave. With his arm bent, his young muscles strain against the deliberately undersized sweater, frayed at the cuffs. ‘Everything. Before we begin to forget. There were a few more writing stuff, but they rushed off to buy more laptops. It’s faster.’

‘They’re writing down everything?’ asks Alex. ‘Who says we’re going to forget?’

‘Some people say they Know.’ He shrugs. ‘I’m going home. I’m done here, I guess.’

He leaves Alex alone. Alex watches the writers, who hope to transcribe the whole of Knowledge, desperately closing their numb hands on the pouring sand. The hourglass is emptying, they think; they must preserve what they can.

‘What we could learn...!’ shouts someone handing out leaflets, to anybody who will listen. ‘Record everything! We’ll think about it later. Just make note. This is the whole of true history we have access to now!’

Alex enters his office building with the feeling of being underdressed. This was supposed to have been his day off.

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2010 by David Brookes

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