37. Meet the Cosmos

He was walking down a silent hallway. He passed classrooms filled with silent students watching silent professors who paced and gestured silently. He passed a crowded, silent cafeteria where students waiting silently in line or sitting silently spooning soup into their faces stared up at silent televisions. He passed groups of silent students gazing open-mouthed out doors and walls made of glass. He could see that outside a tree was being slowly pushed over by the wind, as if rotting and collapsing in time-lapse; but the strangeness of the world outside did not seem stranger than the strangeness of the world inside.

This linoleum, for instance. He stopped and considered it for a long, elastic moment. This exquisite pattern beneath his feet, which repeated itself every yard in every direction, like a prayer in geometry. Someone had designed this. Someone had manufactured this. Someone had chosen this, ordered this, paid for this. Someone had installed this. But had anyone, in the history of the universe, ever really seen this, before now? He felt a shudder of incipient terror at the clarity of his perception, and the enormity of his own individual importance.

A fly buzzed past his face; he shooed it away; the spell was broken; he hurried on.

He was led—he felt the pull only after it released him—to the library.

A trap, said his cancer.

Don't go in, said the worm in his stomach.

Don't be an ass, said Miranda.

Thank you, he said, and went in. If he had been led here, it had been by his subconscious—or by the helpful them. He was at a university, after all. Where else did one go if one sought answers, if one needed proof, if not the library?

The library was silent. He could hear the wind whistling in the elevator shafts. The hum of the lights. The shuffling of feet under tables. Fingers being moistened, pages being turned. The munch, munch, munching of the ants chewing through the crust of the ghost-globe, digging down towards his skull. Getting closer. He didn't have much time.

He passed through the turnstiles and was briefly astonished that no alarms had sounded. He strode defiantly towards the elevators. He was walking towards the elevators for a long time. He had time to wonder if he was in fact getting any closer, or if his movement was just an illusion, a hallucination; to decide that he was in fact making progress; and to doubt it again. By the time he reached the elevator doors, all he could recall with certainty was that they were his destination. He pressed the UP button with a determined flourish, in case anyone was watching (someone, somewhere was watching). One of the elevators, however, was already there, its doors open, waiting for him. He did not need to consult Miranda to know that it was a trap. He took the stairs.

His head swam. Oxygen and blood revolved up and down his spine like a barber's pole. He pressed his face against a cool wall, but could feel every infinitesimal bump and dimple of the concrete, as if a detailed topographical map of the moon had been instantaneously beamed into his mind. He pulled away in horror. Too much detail now could shipwreck him.

For the same reason, the stacks, when at last he emerged into them, threatened to overwhelm him. Book after book on shelf after shelf of case after case, on and on, world without end. All those titles and call numbers inscribed on all those spines snagged at his attention like barbed wire dragged across a white tablecloth; all those words and numbers called to him in a deafening cacophony of promise: I'm what you want, I'm the one you're looking for, pick me. He had to blinker himself, look down only at the square of tile directly in front of his shoes to take a single step. He took several steps, countless steps, none of them easier than the first. After an eternity that felt sufficient for him to have passed within arm's reach of every book in the library three or four times, he reached out at random and blindly plucked a volume from the shelf. Sensing that he would need all his strength, he sat down on the floor and looked into the book that would provide the final proof, make the final link.

Although I wanted to forget names and voices, mauve shadows were projected, possibly from afar, onto my solitude that evening. No, not even mauve, but linen gray, shadows blended into a single happiness and marking the ground with their fragile confidence. He turned pages. We invent tortures to help us believe we are alive. He turned pages. An energy cure is my first resolution. Stop smoking cigarettes, which we took from bohemian goblets and jade bowls. He turned pages. It's always the same story. Under the pretext of civilization we are forced to live among ersatz objects. Already a system is being constructed that explains our perpetual solitude: if we remain alone among those who were supposed to be like us it is because we can't find any creature spontaneous enough, radical enough. No one capable of equaling our most primal states or enriching our existence with some magnificent brutal enchantment. He turned pages turned pages turned only death, by hardening the most cherished faces, allows us to believe their expression is final, final as well the feeling born in that most secret place inside us that turns pages, as for all those assertions that movement constantly renews, they all contain some truth, but time limits them and they can't be confused with truth.

He tried to make sense of it, struggled to make it conform to anything at all to do with mind control, Miranda, murder, madness ... Mauve shadows—implicate-EM waves?—projected from afar ... "We invent tortures to help us believe we are alive": yes, that reminded him of something the man at the hospital with the bad haircut had said ... And "ersatz objects," and "a system" that ensured "perpetual solitude"—was that not a reference to the madness and isolation, the isolation of madness, induced by psychotronic attacks? And that mention of death! And the importance of constant movement ...?

His cancer and the worm in his guts were laughing at him; even the ants stopped digging to snicker.

This was the book he had been led to? This was what he had been meant to read? This was his answer, his link?

Jesus Christmeat! They were right to laugh! It was nonsense, nothing but noise. He thrust the book away from him with a shudder of physical revulsion.

They had led him to it; they were trying to drive him mad!

Where the hell was Miranda?

No answer.

Once again he was walking through the stacks. One book. In all these books, there had to be one that would explain everything. Make everything fit. How to find it?

By only choosing one book, and therefore making the choice matter. He had tried to let himself be led to that one book, but because he had not explicitly formulated the conditions of his bibliomancy, had not acknowledged the importance of choosing correctly, the forces that were on his side had not realized that their intervention was required.

Alright. He said to the cosmos: I'm only going to look into one book.

Then he waited to be told which one.

Don't look at me, said Miranda.

Clearly he would have to meet the cosmos halfway.

He emerged from the stacks and found himself standing before an HDR screen. He opened the library catalog. But he did not know what to search for. If he entered some title or topic himself, he would be meeting the cosmos more than halfway. He needed to introduce an element of randomness, of chance.

There, on a lectern only a few feet away, was a dictionary. He took out Mike's packet, took a sniff ... And turned to a page at random.

Exclusive Brethren - execute; execution - exfoliate.

No fucking good. In wild desperation he looked up the word "nuppin." It did not exist. Of course it did not. They had been trying to drive him crazy for weeks now. They even had control of the radio stations.

Miranda gave him a pitying look. What have I been telling you?

In a spirit of self-pity he flipped to the most obvious entry he could think of: "mind control."

It was not there. Of course. No such thing.

Mind-altering, mind-bending, mind-blowing, mind-boggling, mind-expanding ... mind game: a series of deliberate actions or responses played for psychological effect on another, typically for amusement or competitive advantage. Mind-numbing. Mind-reader. Mindset. Mind-your-own-business. What?

Mind-your-own-business: a creeping Mediterranean plant with masses of tiny pale green leaves, widely cultivated as a greenhouse or indoor plant. Also called mother of thousands. Soleirolia soleirolii, family Urticaceae.

So the girl in the hospital hadn't just been telling him to shut up. She'd been giving him the plant's name.

More than that, maybe. Mind-your-own-business. MYOB. Mother of thousands. Mother of thousands? He turned to "mother of thousands":

* another term for ivy-leaved toadflax (see toadflax).

* another term for mind-your-own-business.

Now he was getting somewhere; he was following the trail! He turned to "toadflax"—and the trail went cold:

A Eurasian plant of the figwort family, typically having yellow or purplish snapdragon-like flowers and slender leaves.


But mind-your-own-business. Also called mother of thousands. What had Miranda said in her encrypted diary? He only had the original coded pages, but he thought he remembered: something about communicating not with God but with mind-your-own-business. Something about mind-your-own-business's creation. "Her" creation. Also called mother of thousands. A sort of female divinity figure? The earth mother, perhaps.

Gaia. The consciousness of the species; the collective unconscious. The mother of thousands.

The ants stopped their digging—disconcerted?

A smile flooded his face; he was winning! But when they started chewing again the noise was louder; he could almost discern individual voices. There, yes: snatches of faint, broken, meaningless phrases: ... honey, get your knees ... is that going to be the same thing or the other again? ... right, right; right, right ... without benefits for some ... I'm here to set you free ... it takes both your technology and you ... I'm gon' shoot you at the end of your time ...

He clawed at his face. Think, dammit. Think.

He returned to the HDR and typed in "mother of thousands."

Results: 0.

He rummaged in his pockets. At some point, he'd lost Mike's books, left them behind somewhere. It didn't matter: he still had Miranda's file, her drawings, the coded messages.



Of course. He'd forgotten all about PERS! He did a search and came up with:









Perwait. Wait.

Persinger? Why did that name sound familiar?

Because, stupid—that's the one. Because we're leading you.

He wrote down the call number.