Forced Perspectives – Snippet 37

“We know what it means,” said Castine.

“How do we stop him from trying to kill us,” asked Vickery, “and how do I get my book back?” He turned left again on Olympic, past the monolithic Koreatown Galleria.

“Your book! What the hell is it?” When Vickery didn’t reply, Ragotskie went on, “He — I don’t know, he keeps it locked away somewhere. But he wants to kill all three of us, now, see? We’re in this together!” He paused, and when he again got no response he went on, “If the egregore were to fail, then there wouldn’t be any point in killing any of us…except you, about Pratt, I guess.” He laughed briefly, unhappily. “And Agnes won’t be able to lose her self. We can get her away from them, safe, even if she doesn’t love me anymore.”

“Get her away,” echoed Vickery, not looking away from the traffic ahead and keeping his voice level. “So how do we kill this egregore thing?”

“Would we be okay if we just left town?” interjected Castine. “Fly to the east coast?” Vickery tilted his head and flicked a glance at the rear view mirror, but she avoided meeting his eye.

Ragotskie’s answer was nearly a monotone: “When the egregore does come online, it’d find you. Strangers who were part of it would kill you.” Vickery heard him blow his nose, and hoped the young man had a handkerchief or Kleenex or something. Good thing Castine had taken the sock.  “And,” Ragotskie went on, “it’s already started spontaneously gathering people into itself — Agnes calls it the black hole effect, when random people suddenly fall into it and start speaking our thoughts.  I’ve seen it happen.”

“So have we,” said Vickery, thinking of the girl on the bicycle yesterday at MacArthur Park.

“It’s justa temporary possession now,” said Ragotskie, “like for a minute, and they’re just disoriented, after. But when the thing is actually born, it’ll be taking them permanently, like a world-full of dominoes falling, and when they’re down they won’t ever be getting up again — all their personalities and memories and skills will be dissolved, dispersed through the whole egregore thing. And God only knows what it’ll want to do. Harlowe says it’ll be God.” He laughed again, again not happily. “You should hear him talk about it. He’d convince you. He convinced me…until he convinced Agnes.”

Castine too may have been thinking of the girl on the bicycle. “What,” she asked hesitantly, “becomes of the people who get taken by it?”

“They’ll be like…just the egregore’s fingers, or toes,” said Ragotskie. “Or eyes or ears, anything, fingernails. Bloodstream, really. They’ll probably wear out pretty quick — Harlowe says the big entity probably won’t waste a lot of attention on getting each of its seven billion members to eat or sleep. Though it will want them to reproduce a lot, so there’s new cells to replace the ones that drop out of it.”

“Drop out of it meaning die,” said Vickery. He slowed to a stop for a red light at Harvard. The signs on all the nearby buildings seemed to be in Korean.

“Or just, you know, wander around,” said Ragotskie, “too crazy and malnourished to be any further use to it. But yeah, die, probably, pretty quick.”

Castine’s voice shivered as she said, “So how do we kill it?”

“A guy tried to start an egregore in the ’60s,” said Ragotskie, swaying as the car started forward again. “Some kind of hippie rock musician, I think. Harlowe doesn’t like to talk about that, though he had Taitz and Foster question a bunch of old folks who were around then, and offer them money if they hear of anybody lately looking into it. He won’t say who the hippie was, but he’s using at least some of the guy’s methods.”

Vickery tensed as Ragotskie’s hand waved over the passenger seat, but he was just pointing at the floor. “Down there’s an envelope, some stuff I stole and printed out on Sunday, day before yesterday, at Harlowe’s office on Sepulveda. A coloring book the hippie had printed up in 1966, and a couple of copies of a coloring book Harlowe published and distributed last year, in Spanish and English, with a picture in it reprinted from the 1966 one. Uh — don’t stare at the picture for more than a few seconds, okay? Concentrating on it is the initiation, that’s why the picture’s so detailed — it takes a person at least a minute of focusing on it, to color it all in.” Ragotskie inhaled with an audible shudder. “And,” he went on, “I printed out a file of Harlowe’s, where he wrote some stuff about that old egregore, though he doesn’t give the hippie leader’s name or any traceable details.”

Vickery lifted one hand from the wheel and spread his fingers.

“Right, okay,” said Ragotskie, “the thing is, something went bad wrong for the hippie’s egregore. This was in 1968. When he tried to quicken it, launch it, cut the umbilical cord, some people reportedly got shot or went nuts, and the whole program crashed on him. It got hushed up, nobody called the cops and everybody who was there said afterward that they were someplace else, far away. So — you two seem pretty smart — figure out what went wrong in ’68, and make it happen again now.”

“Which will save your Agnes from emptying her mind into the worldwide soup,” said Vickery.

“Right, but you still need to help me get her away. You help me, I help you.”

“How do you help us?” asked Vickery. He had driven back past Irolo now, and was looking for a section of empty curb.

“Well, shit, man, I just told you a lot of stuff, and I’m giving you that file, and — there’s more I could tell you.”

After a few seconds, Vickery said, “Okay, we’ll try. Where’s this office of Harlowe’s on Sepulveda?”

“I don’t remember the street number, but it’s at Sepulveda and Venice, out by the Santa Monica airport, a little office building with a sign that says ChakraSys,sys with a y. And he’s, uh, got a boat at a local marina. I — ” Vickery saw him shake his head; ” — followed Agnes there last night, with Waze. I drove away before anybody could see me.”

“Waves?” said Castine.

Vickery noticed belatedly that he had lost his Dodgers cap at some poiint. “Waze,” he said impatiently, “it’s an app that navigates traffic.” To Ragotskie he said, “What’s the name of the boat, and where’s the marina?”

“Excuse me,” put in Castine.

“I don’t remember — right now,” said Ragotskie. His voice was flat with defiance. “And he’ll have cleaned out the office on Sepulveda, since I went rogue, but I can still establish contact with them. You help me, and I’ll help you. Agnes.”

Vickery looked at him in the rear view mirror. Ragotskie’s weak mouth was set firmly for once. Vickery found himself reluctantly admiring the young man.

“Okay,” said Vickery finally. “You got a phone?”

“Yes, but I took the battery out of it. They could GPS me if it was working.” He exhaled through clenched teeth. “And I gotta ditch this car. Well, you already bashed it up, didn’t you?”

Vickery glanced at Ragotskie in the mirror. “I’m going to drop you off here, pretty quick.” Ragotskie began to protest in a panicky tone, but Vickery talked over him: “I’ll give you five hundred bucks. Take the bike off the back of this, and get yourself a burner phone and meet us tonight at…” Vickery paused to think about it. “Okay, go to where Estes Street dead ends against the north side of the 10 freeway, right? There’s a thrift store and a closed bowling alley there, and behind them is a dirt slope that leads up to the freeway shoulder. Go up the slope, and there’s a clearing among the shoulder trees — probably a couple of chairs, cigarette butts, beer cans. If there are a few guys there, just tell them that you’re supposed to meet a kid named Santiago, can you remember all that?”

Ragotskie repeated the instructions haltingly. “Is that a freeway gypsy nest? Harlowe said they’re dangerous.”