The Old Fear

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]

ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE, NOVEMBER

     Dr. Silberman was surprised to find his office door unlocked, but put it down to his having been quite tired the night before. He was even more surprised to find a short, dark stranger turning away from one of his filing cabinets.
     “May I ask who you are?” he said carefully.
     In his profession, in a place like this, it was unwise to display even perfectly natural irritation. THis might be a new resident who had wandered in quite innocently, or a new resident hopped up on drugs and looking for more, and it was, after all, his fault for not locking the door.
     “I am the new janitor,” the man said. He raised a feather duster, gripped in a massive fist, as proof.
     “Oh?” Silberman was surprised. Ralph hadn’t said anything about leaving. And usually when someone left it took forever to get a replacement. “What happened?” he asked when it became clear the fellow wasn’t going to volunteer anything.
     The stranger shrugged his impressive shoulders. “I don’t know,” he intoned. “I was told to come here from now on.”
     Silberman noted a slight accent; the man looked Turkish or Middle Eastern, which might explain his odd manner of speaking. But not his apparent desire to dust the inside of the file cabinet. The doctor frowned.
     “No one said anything to me about this,” he said.
     The janitor just stood there, staring at Silberman.
     Very low affect, the doctor mused. Maybe this was a new resident playing a role. Possibly neurological damage.
     “Well, look,” Silberman placed his briefcase on the desk. “Could you come back later? I need to get to work right now. But I’ll be out of here between two and four, so you can finish up then.” He smiled politely, trying to exude confidence; by two o’clock he should have some answers about this guy.
     The smaller man didn’t respond for a moment, then he simply walked forward, as though he intended to go right through Silberman, who jumped aside at the last second. This time he did allow his irritation to show.
     “Hey!” he snapped at the retreating back. Then he forced himself to calm down. “Didn’t they give you any paperwork for me?”
     The janitor stopped, turned his head, said a short “no,” over his shoulder, and continued on his way.
     Oh yeah, it was going to be fun having this guy around.
     “Just what this place needs,” Silberman muttered, “a janitor with attitude.”

IBC OFFICES, NEXT DOOR TO ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE

     Operative Joe Consigli dropped his feet to the floor as the office door began to open and grinned with not a little relief when he saw who it was. “Hey, buddy, what brings you around?” he asked cheerfully.
     He and Paul Delfino had been working this case together in the first few weeks after Sarah Connor was captured, until the powers that be decided only one operative at a time was necessary.
     As far as Joe was concerned this was a totally dead assignment and he was profoundly bored. Especially since Connor had been moved to the halfway house next door. Watching these weird, sad people was depressing as hell and they made his skin crawl. Having someone to help him make fun of them would be primo.
     “The head office sent me over,” Operative Delfino said. “It seems that their janitor”—he indicated the monitors that showed various locations inside the Encinas Halfway House—“was killed during a burglary.”
     “Killed?” Consigli said.
     Delfino snorted. “Boy, howdy! The guy’s head was almost twisted off. The house was trashed, but there was cash left in the poor guy’s wallet.” He shrugged. “Which made the front office think something might be up.”
     Consigli looked at the monitor. “Hunh,” he said.
     He pulled his chair up to the recording equipment and removed a tape, quickly replacing it, then he pushed the tape into a player, rewound it, and set it to play on a blank monitor. He pointed at the screen. “This is the guy who claims he was sent over to replace their janitor.”
     Delfino pursed his lips.. “Not what we were hoping for,” he said.
     Not at all. What they were looking for was a guy about six feet tall, blond, with sculpted features. This was definitely not him.
     When Dr. Ray first proposed moving Sarah Connor to a halfway house, the head office had jumped on the idea and pushed it through. Even Ray was stunned that the committee had approved his request. The organization’s theory was that surely, in such a low-security environment, Connor’s allies would make a move to break her out.
     It had been child’s play to hack into the halfway house’s security systems and begin monitoring the place via its own cameras. The team had planted a few of their own as well. But so far all they’d collected was endless, boring footage of what Consigli thought were hopeless cases and self-centered whiners; losers with a capital L.
     “What’s administration say?” he asked.
     Delfino pulled a face. “This guy is in the computer and all the stuff that needs to be in the computer to get him to Encinas and on the payroll is there. Even the paperwork, for want of a better word, that has to be done for a deceased employee had been done. The only thing is”—he shrugged elaborately—“nobody admits to doing it. Nobody even knew that this guy Ralph was dead. Weird, huh?”
     Leaning back in his chair, Consigli shook his head.
     “What isn’t weird about this assignment? Hey, maybe Connor’s bunch just wised up and decided to send somebody less conspicuous.”
     Delfino laughed. “Yeah, that’d be smart. ‘Cause wherever that big guy goes, hell follows.”
     They sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the monitors, contemplating the footage they’d seen of the “big guy” in action. Truth to tell, it wouldn’t have surprised either operative to find out that the head office wanted to find this guy so he could teach them to shoot as well as he did.
     “So we’re doubled up for the time being,” Consigli asked.
     “Yep.”
     “Kewl,” Joe said. “Someone can go out for burgers. I was getting sick of brown-bagging peanut-butter sandwiches.”
     Delfino gave him a look. “You’ve been alone in this room too long if you think I’m gonna play errand boy, buddy. You want a sandwich you can go and get it yourself.”
     “Kewl,” Consigli said, grinning at his fellow operative’s suspicious expression. It would be nice to get some fresh air once in a while.

ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE

     Sarah met the new janitor as she came out of the large, battered kitchen where she had been given a “training opportunity” while she “adjusted to her new environment.” In a few weeks, they’d gently promised her, if all went well she’d be “encouraged to find a job of her own.” Sarah wondered how long it took to learn to speak in pat phrases like that. It made all the staff sound weirdly alike, as though their thoughts came prepackaged.
     The kitchen job was fine with her; since she still tired easily, she didn’t mind taking it slow. Running the dishwasher and putting things away was about the extent of her duties, so she couldn’t complain, except about boredom. Which was all a matter of perception, she reminded herself.
     Oh God, she thought. I’m beginning to think in happy-talk phrases, just like the staff. If she’d felt better physically… that alone would have made her run for cover.
     But for now this place was about her speed. She could read—light fiction and self-help books—or watch TV. She’d never seen so much Disney in her life. The house had racks of their videos and someone always seemed to be halfway through one. Nothing violent or jarring or unpleasant was allowed in here. As long as she didn’t forget there was life on the outside of the halfway house, she was content for the moment.
     As she was leaving the kitchen she was vaguely thinking about her hair. It had grown out considerably and the light hair above the dark looked very odd. The light part was getting long, so cutting it was a good idea, she thought.
     Sarah almost bumped into him as he came around the corner. He effectively blocked the doorway, he was so broad; for a moment she felt trapped. It was obvious he was the janitor; he had the gray uniform, the bucket and mop, all the usual accoutrements. He wasn’t, though. A nice old guy named Ralph was.
     They stood there for a moment, looking at one another.
     “Who are you?” Sarah asked, trying to put a pleasant tone into the question.
     The face was unfamiliar, though its shape rang a distant bell. His body seemed wrongly proportioned, with the limbs too short for the long torso. He was certainly much too short to be an agent. But he was truculent enough for a species of janitor she’d encountered one or two times in her life.
     The appearance of a strange new face—and he was strange—shook her from her boredom like the scream of an air-raid siren. But it was the way he looked at her, his stillness as he blocked her way, that sent a chill down her spine and raised the hair on her neck.
     *Subject Sarah Connor found,* the Terminator sent to the new base in Utah. *Terminate?
     *Negative. Orders to watch subject remain in effect,* came the response.
     The Terminator stepped back, its eyes still on Sarah.
     She glanced at the narrow space that would allow her to pass and then back at the strange man. “Who did you say were?” she asked, making her voice hard.
     “The janitor,” he answered. Then he turned and went back down the hallway.
     She stood still after he was gone, breathing a little hard, like someone who has faced a dangerous animal that had inexplicably decided not to attack. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
     “O-kay,” she muttered through her teeth. “That was interesting.”
     Maybe he was a patient. Or maybe he was just a very weird little guy. And yet… there was something about him. Her first impression had been that his face was unfamiliar; in fact, she knew she’d never seen him. But there was something about the way he moved, or rather, didn’t.
     His eyes, she decided. She’d seen eyes like that before. His eyes were dead, without emotion. There were men like that; God knew she’d met too many of them in her travels. But this man’s eyes were especially cold.
     At first she resisted the idea, wondering if her old madness—she was far enough from it now that she could admit that she had once been insane—was rearing its head in Silberman’s presence. But over the years she’d trained herself to be honest, to look events in the face, even when a thing was painful, even when it was impossible.
     His eyes were the eyes of a Terminator. As was his stillness, and something in his voice.
     Her heart sped up, her mouth went dry while her palms grew moist; it was the old fear, the nightmare kept coming back. Sarah felt the last of her resistance crumble under a sudden, sure knowledge; the female Terminator had left an ally behind, and it had found her. Like they always found her.
     It hadn’t attacked her on sight and she took hope from that. It had been less than a foot away from her, it could have torn her in half, but it hadn’t.
     It backed off. So what did that mean? It’s hoping to make a clean sweep, she thought. It’s hoping John will come to get me out of here.
     Sarah bit her lip. She had to contact Jordan; he would get in touch with John and Dieter, warn them that she was under a more deadly surveillance than any the government was willing to throw at them.
     Then, if possible, it was time for her to get out of here, before the Terminator was too firmly entrenched.
     Well, Silberman said he believed me, that he wanted to help me. This is as good a time as any to take him up on it. But carefully. His sudden desire to be helpful could easily be a trap. She wouldn’t put it past the good doctor to be trying to get some evidence that her obsession as still alive.
     If only he knew how gladly I’d give it up.
     Sarah headed for the doctor’s office. Waiting wasn’t going to make things any simpler.
     She tapped on the door and entered when he called out his permission. Silberman looked up and flinched as he always did when he first found himself alone with her. That she still scared him somewhat pleased her. She knew it shouldn’t, but it did. He had, after all, given her a very rough time.
     “Oh, hello, Sarah,” he said, smiling pleasantly.
     Long training had helped him to recover quickly, but he knew she’d seen his fear. It annoyed him that she affected him this way, but she’d hurt him so many times. She’d broken his arm, driven a pen through his knee, and threatened to kill him in a particularly horrible way. It was hard to forget things like that, no matter how professional you were.
     Sarah stepped in, closing the door behind her, then came to stand before his desk, looking shy. “I was wondering if I might ask a favor?”
     Silberman leaned back. “Of course, Sarah. What did you want to ask me?” Inside, excitement twisted in his stomach. This could be it.
     “I’m nervous as a cat today,” she said, looking down at his desk. “It feel like the walls are closing in on me.” She looked up suddenly. “I was wondering, if I could arrange it, if it would be all right for me to go out to dinner with Jordan Dyson.”
     The doctor’s face jerked into a grimace. “You know the rules, Sarah,” he said. “Any visits or excursions have to be cleared at least one day before they’re to take place. I can’t just go around making exceptions, you know.”
     So much for your generous offer to help, she thought. “You’d be welcome to come with us,” she offered. “I think you’d find Jordan a very interesting man. He’s a former FBI agent and Miles Dyson’s younger brother. Miles Dyson was the project manager killed at… Cyberdyne.”
     “Oh really,” Silberman said, raising his eyebrows in surprise. He’d read about Dyson’s interest in Sarah Connor, but he hadn’t understood it. This would be an excellent opportunity to find out why he was being so helpful to the woman who had killed his brother.
     “Dr. Ray had several sessions with him,” Sarah said.
     Silberman blinked at that. He had to admit that he felt a certain rivalry with the younger doctor. If Ray thought it worthwhile to speak to this Jordan Dyson, perhaps he should see why. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “perhaps we could categorize this as a sort of informal therapy session.”
     Sarah smiled. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll go and call him, see what arrangements we can make.” Sarah turned at the door to look at him. “I appreciate this,” she said.

We Limped Away from the Wreck

Lab Monkey icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (track 06 from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here LP by Alice in Chains icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )

Alice in Chains' "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" album cover. [Formatted]

Is there anybody out there?
Anyone at all?
Can you finally hear this deep?
I’ve been scratching through the wall

You came far to find me, down a rabbit’s hole
Now watch me smiling back while chewing on its skull

I know and won’t forget
We limped away from the wreck

Is the monkey breathing?
It’s looking kind of sick
You got a witty comment for me? Have yourself a kick

Does it make you feel good?
Are you full, and strong?
You’re gonna end up in this cage and I hope your stay is long

I know and won’t forget
We limped away from the wreck

We’ll never know what it is until we take a look inside
I’m sure we’ll find what came, before this dies
We’ll never know what it is until we take a look inside
I’m sure we’ll find what came before

I’ve had enough—I don’t need you to stick my hide
I’ve had enough—there are no more tears for me left to cry
I’ve had enough—I don’t need you to blind my eyes
I’ve had enough—there are no more tears for me left to cry

I know and won’t forget
We limped away from the wreck

We’ll never know what it is until we take a look inside
I’m sure we’ll find what came, before this dies
We’ll never know what it is until we take a look inside
I’m sure we’ll find what came before

I’ve had enough—I don’t need you to stick my hide
I’ve had enough—there are no more tears for me left to cry
I’ve had enough—I don’t need you to blind my eyes
I’ve had enough—there are no more tears for me left to cry

Heaven Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Lights Out icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (track 04 from the eponymous LP by UFO icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )

UFO's "Lights Out" album cover. [Formatted]

Wind blows back and the batons charging
It winds all the way
Right to the butt of my gun
Maybe now your time has come

From the back streets there is a rumbling and smell of anarchy
No more nice time, bright-boy shoe shines
Pie in the sky dreams

Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
Better now you know we’ll never wait until tomorrow
Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
God knows when I’m coming on my run

Heaven helps those who help themselves, that’s the way it goes
The frightening thoughts of what’s been taught, and now it shows

Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
Better now you know we’ll never wait until tomorrow
Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
God knows when I’m coming on my run

You keep coming
There is no running
Tried a thousand times
Under your feet grass is growing
It’s time we said goodbye

Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
Better now you know we’ll never wait until tomorrow
Lights out in London
Hold on tight until the end
God knows when I’m coming on my run


It can’t be a bad day when a UFO classic gets major American radio airplay in 2021. Cheers @houseofhair icon-external-link-12x12 .

The Poor Surgeon

Excerpt from the novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by Robert M. Parsig icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" book cover. [Formatted]

     I should talk now about Phaedrus’ knife. It’ll help understand some of the things we talked about.
     The application of this knife, the division of the world into parts and the building of this structure, is something everybody does. All the time we are aware of millions of things around us—these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road—aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
     Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it. This is the knife. We divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then. The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.
     The handful of sand looks uniform at first, but the longer we look at it the more diverse we find it to be. Each grain of sand is different. No two are alike. Some are similar in one way, some are similar in another way, and we can form the sand into separate piles on the basis of this similarity and dissimilarity. Shades of color in different piles—sizes in different piles—grain shapes in different piles—subtypes of grain shapes in different piles—grades of opacity in different piles—and so on, and on, and on. You’d think the process of subdivision and classification would come to an end somewhere, but it doesn’t. It just goes on and on.
     Classical understanding is concerned with the piles and the basis for sorting and interrelating them. Romantic understanding is directed toward the handful of sand before the sorting begins. Both are valid ways of looking at the world although irreconcilable with each other.
     What has become an urgent necessity is a way of looking at the world that does violence to neither of these two kinds of understanding and unites them into one. Such an understanding will not reject sand-sorting or contemplation of unsorted sand for its own sake. Such an understanding will instead seek to direct attention to the endless landscape from which the sand is taken. That is what Phaedrus, the poor surgeon, was trying to do.
     To understand what he was trying to do it’s necessary to see that part of the landscape, inseparable from it, which must be understood, is a figure in the middle of it, sorting sand into piles. To see the landscape without seeing this figure is not to see the landscape at all. To reject that part of the Buddha that attends to the analysis of motorcycles is to miss the Buddha entirely.
     There is a perennial classical question that asks which part of the motorcycle, which grain of sand in which pile, is the Buddha. Obviously to ask that question is to look in the wrong direction, for the Buddha is everywhere. But just as obviously to ask that question is to look in the right direction, for the Buddha is everywhere. About the Buddha that exists independently of any analytical thought much has been said—some would say too much, and would question any attempt to add to it. But about the Buddha that exists within analytical thought, and gives that analytical thought its direction, virtually nothing has been said, and there are historic reasons for this. But history keeps happening, and it seems no harm and maybe some positive good to add to our historical heritage with some talk in this area of discourse.
     When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts—something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.
     We pass through a town called Marmarth but John doesn’t stop even for a rest and so we go on. More furnace heat, into some badlands, and we cross the border into Montana. A sign by the road announces it.
     Sylvia waves her arms up and down and I beep the horn in response, but when I look at the sign my feelings are not jubilant at all. For me its information causes a sudden inward tension that can’t exist for them. They’ve no way of knowing we’re now in the country where he lived.
     All this talk so far about classic and romantic understanding must seem a strangely oblique way of describing him, but to get at Phaedrus, this oblique route is the only one to take. To describe his physical appearance or the statistics of his life would be to dwell on misleading superficialities. And to come at him directly would be to invite disaster.
     He was insane. And when you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he’s insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it. Otherwise your own opinions block the way. There is only one access to him that I can see as passable and we still have a way to go.
     I’ve been going into all this business of analyses and definitions and hierarchies not for their own sake but to lay the groundwork for an understanding of the direction in which Phaedrus went.
     I told Chris the other night that Phaedrus spent his entire life pursuing a ghost. That was true. The ghost he pursued was the ghost that underlies all of technology, all of modern science, all of Western thought. It was the ghost of rationality itself. I told Chris that he found the ghost and that when he found it he thrashed it good. I think in a figurative sense that is true. The things I hope to bring to light as we go along are some of the things he uncovered. Now the times are such that others may at last find them of value. No one then would see the ghost that Phaedrus pursued, but I think now that more and more people see it, or get glimpses of it in bad moments, a ghost which calls itself rationality but whose appearance is that of incoherence and meaninglessness, which causes the most normal of everyday acts to seem slightly mad because of their irrelevance to anything else. This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declares that the ultimate purpose in life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. One lives longer in order that he may live longer. There is no other purpose. That is what the ghost says.