Forced Perspectives – Snippet 27

For decades the brothers had had no contact at all, and although they had renewed their acquaintance two years ago, they hadn’t ever been close. Chris Harlowe had graduated respectably enough from Cal Poly and ended up doing tech writing for Apple. Simon Harlowe, on the other hand, had been a boy genius who got involved in computers in 1972 by way of the computer center at Stanford University. He enrolled in the university in 1973, at the age of sixteen, and for a year he had even worked at the Stanford Research Institute — but his theoretical extrapolations, linking computer networking with neurology and occult philosophy, had isolated him, and he had left without getting a degree. By the ’80s he’d been living on the outskirts of Salinas, subsisting on food stamps, in an old trailer equipped with a TRS-80 computer and stacks of books and charts and floppy disks.

The only intimate contact he’d had with anyone during that period had been when he had killed a vagrant who broke into the trailer one night. The incident had been ruled a justifiable homicide, but the effect on Harlowe had for a number of reasons been devastating, and when he had eventually found a psychological equilibrium it was by means of projecting a personality that was constructed, artificial — almost theatrical — though he pursued his researches even more monomaniacally for the next twenty years.

His mother had died at some point, and his long-estranged father died, somewhere, in 2015, when Simon Harlowe was fifty-eight; and, because they had invested widely in real estate, he was suddenly a millionaire.

The inheritance had led to a reunion with his brother — and had also led to Simon’s fortuitous discovery of Chris’ twin daughters. Simon chose to imagine that his manipulatively avuncular relationship with the girls had been, or would ultimately be, beneficial to them. Even the traditionally-horrifying crime he had subtly encouraged them to commit would, he believed, prove to have been a step in their salvation.

“You girls feeling…all right?” he asked them now. They had both been seasick the first time they’d been out on the boat, though he later concluded that it had only been because he had warned them that it might happen.

They ignored him, humming and squeaking in unison now as they stared out the window at the sea. Harlowe shivered.

The girls had apparently always been difficult. They had been tentatively diagnosed as borderline personalities, and after the deaths of their parents a doctor had put them on Prozac; after which they had immediately attempted to drown themselves off Little Coyote Point in the San Francisco Bay.

Harlowe had very soon guessed at their possible usefulness as IMPs in his planned egregore — and he really believed that incorporation into that transcendent group-mind would be the best possible resolution of their problems. They were more one person than two — hardly even one, really — and their moods changed as often as winning numbers on a roulette wheel. In the group-mind of the egregore, they would, like himself and Agnes Loria, and even rogue Elisha Ragotskie — and ultimately everyone! — be just semiconductors in the mind of God.

Eventually he had initiated the twins, using the costly fifty-year-old old coloring books.

Harlowe leaned back on the bench, rocking with the motion of the boat, and closed his eyes. Tomorrow night the long-delayed apotheosis would happen, and he would lose his unwanted identity forever.

For decades he had been tracing indications — in early issues of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, and The Los Angeles Free Press — that a group-mind egregore had been attempted in Los Angeles in the ’60s. It proved to have been the project of a charismatic young hippie musician known as Conrad Chronic, who had got hold of a suppressed hieroglyph embodying the Egyptian god — or force, or psychic polarizer — called Ba. Chronic had printed the hieroglyph, surrounded by disguising random lines, on a back page of Groan, an underground coloring book otherwise full of satirical black-and-white cartoons with captions like Color Him Racist and Six Uses For My Draft Card. The Ba image in the coloring book had been Chronic’s covert recruiting tool. The cult had reportedly included some never-named celebrities among its mostly itinerant and drug-addled membership; but it had failed to achieve coherence, and had violently fallen apart in 1968, commemorated in a B-side ballad, “Elegy in a Seaside Meadow,” by the rock group Fogwillow. On a morbid-nostalgia website Harlowe had seen a couple of photographs of Chronic at a place called Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on Sunset Boulevard in 1967, but he was unable to find any other pictures of the man.

Harlowe knew little more about the Chronic group than that, but he had recognized the coloring-book Ba image as a clever initiator of minds, and over the course of several months he had succeeded in buying half a dozen copies of Groan from various rare book dealers. The image differed slightly but crucially from the image of Ba in reference books on Egyptian mythology, and was segmented like a figure in a stained glass window. It was necessary that an initiate spend at least a minute staring at the image steadily, concentrating on it, for it to fully replicate itself in the initiate’s mind — like installing software that took a while to load — and a person who colored in all the spaces on that page would inevitably have stared at the image for at least the necessary amount of time.

Harlowe had stared at the image himself, and after no more than a minute had felt what he had only been able to describe as a faint electrical current in his mind, and it had proved to be as persistent as tinnitus. He had given his Singularity team only the sketchiest account of the old failed egregore, and had never mentioned Conrad Chronic to any of them, but he had made them, too, look at the image on that page of the coloring books. The only other after-effect any of them had noticed was that the scarcely-perceived mental vibration was stronger if two or more of them stood in close proximity to one another.

And then Harlowe had given copies of the coloring book to the twins, along with a box of crayons. The twins had taken to the task readily, though they had insisted on coloring all the pages of the book in order, and had wasted a day meticulously coloring caricatures of people like Lyndon Johnson and Earl Warren. But at last they had arrived at the page with the Ba image on it — and when they had simultaneously colored in the last segment of it and dropped their crayons, they had been silent for the rest of that day.

They were different, after that.

Even before that initiation with the coloring books, they had sometimes been able to induce actions in people around them: Harlowe had sometimes found himself fetching Cokes they had wanted but not asked for, or unable to speak if they were absorbed in watching a movie on TV;…and when encouraged, he had discovered, they could even force two people at once to do something they would never voluntarily do.

And after their initiation, they had seemed to expand, psychically — he was always aware now of their mercurial mentation as something like a shrill, indecipherable twittering in a corner of his mind — and they had sporadically been able to describe people and events far removed from their own experience.

They had, in fact, made him aware of Vickery and Castine.

“There’s two strangers tangled up in your spiderweb,” one of them had remarked nine months ago, in January. “They drove a truck into Hell and flew a glider back out, and now their clocks are no good.” The other twin had added, “Their kite strings are looped around yours.”

Uneasy, Harlowe had put out inquiries among a few of the occultists in Los Angeles, and had soon learned that two people, Sebastian Vickery and Ingrid Castine, had reportedly driven a taco truck, of all things, into some sort of afterlife in May of last year, and had come back, alive; though without the truck. From other sources he had learned that at least one LAPD detective had covertly consulted Vickery on a few cases, because Vickery was apparently now able to step out of the present moment and see events of the recent local past.

And it had occurred to Harlowe that, if Castine too had acquired this ability, the pair of them would be better IMPs than the twins — and would almost certainly be more rational.

The twins were still looking out the starboard window, now humming two sustained, unharmonious notes; the faint perception of their jiggling thoughts, usually ignorable, was like an itch at the back of his mind. Harlowe frowned and looked away.