Forced Perspectives – Snippet 29

Loria stepped away from the transom to grip the starboard rail with one hand. “Man overboard!” she yelled, pointing out at the water; her arm was moving from left to right. “Both twins overboard!” she added.

From up on the fly deck came a yell from Tony: “Hang on everybody!” The engines roared as the boat sped up, leaning to port.

Salt spray stung Harlowe’s eyes. He slipped on the fiberglass deck and grabbed the transom rail, and he frantically probed his mind; but the ordinarily-constant awareness of the twins’ thinking was gone.

Harlowe blinked around at the sea and the shoreline. “He’s going the wrong way!” he gasped.

“He’s looping around to come back,” said Loria, her arm still extended. “Go up and show him where I’m pointing.”

Harlowe scrambled across the deck and started up the ladder to the fly bridge, and nearly swung off it when the boat shifted ponderously over to starboard and spray from that direction blinded him. Up on the wet fly bridge deck at last, he crawled on his hands and knees to the back of the pilot chair, then stood up and squinted down over the rail. He couldn’t see two heads in the water at all, but he saw Loria down on the cockpit deck and pointed in the same direction that she was.

“They’re there!” he yelled at Tony, who was hunched over the wheel. “Are they wearing life preservers?”

“No,” said Tony, “I told ’em –”


The deck vibrated under Harlowe’s tennis shoes, and the bristly Long Beach skyline was crawling from right to left across the horizon. Loria’s arm swung like a compass needle as she hurried across the deck to the port side, and now she was pointing exactly abeam. Tony pulled the shift lever to neutral, and after a few seconds he switched off the engines and clicked the shift lever into gear.

Harlowe gave him a furiously impatient look.

“Stops the propellers,” Tony explained breathlessly. “And we’re between them and the wind — we’ll drift closer.”

Tony ran back and slid down the ladder to the cockpit deck. Harlowe followed carefully; and he was dizzy with relief when the faint chatter of the twins’ mental activity was suddenly restored.

Loria had sailed a life ring like a frisbee out across the water, and now threw another. Light nylon lines snaked behind them.

When the rings slapped the water, Harlowe could see the twins’ heads, a dozen yards away; and he began to relax, tentatively, when the saw their hands grab the rings. Evidently this had not been another suicide attempt. The nylon lines sprang taut, throwing bright drops, as Tony and Loria began pulling the twins in.

“Fetch the ladder!” called Tony over his shoulder. His sunglasses had fallen off, and sweat glittered in his brush-cut blond hair. Harlowe could see the man’s shoulder muscles flexing under the white T-shirt, and Loria had one knee braced against the gunwale as she pulled her line in.

Fetch? thought Harlowe; but he ran halfway forward and lifted the hook-topped aluminum ladder from its bracket and hurried back to where Tony and Loria stood.

The twins were only ten feet away now, their legs and bare feet kicking behind them, and Harlowe hooked the ladder over the railing at the point they seemed to be approaching; and within no more than a minute they had both climbed up and swung over the rail, and now they stood dripping and shivering on the deck while Loria hurried below to get blankets.

Harlowe stared at both of them as his heartbeat slowed down, and at last he turned to face Tony.

“I told ’em,” Tony protested again, but one of the twins interrupted.

“We needed,” she said haltingly, “to be all the way under, and life jackets don’t even let you get your hair wet.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t stay underwater!” said Harlowe. He took a deep breath. “You think you could have joined the egregore from the bottom of –”

“It was,” began one of the twins; “new,” finished the other. “It’s how you get out of your way,” added the first, with a look of reproach. “We had to give ourselves away to it, just for a minute.”

Loria had reappeared with two blankets bundled in her arms, and she draped one over each of the twins. “Now go below,” she told them, “and get into some dry things.”

The twins padded through the door into the lounge, and Harlowe waited until he heard their feet thumping down the steps to the lower deck, and then turned to Tony.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Harlowe,” the young man said hastily, “you know how they –”

“I know how they,” said Loria. “Get back up on the bridge, Tony.”

“You want me to start up again? We could –”

“No,” said Loria. “This is perfect. Let’s just sit a while.”

With one last anxious look at Harlowe, Tony turned and clambered back up the ladder.

When he had disappeared forward, Loria said, “He’s more loyal than you deserve, you know.”

“Oh, he’s a good man, beyond doubt,” admitted Harlowe, stepping back to the transom rail. “A devoted member — if a bit simple. He does feel terrible about Elisha stealing the bloody sock out of the Tahoe yesterday, when he was left to guard it.” Harlowe absently rattled the transom door. “It was damn negligent of him.”

“But all are welcomed in,” Loria reminded him. “All compelled eventually, right? Everybody into the black hole.”

“Why do you talk this way, Agnes?” Harlowe was still shaky from the long moments when the twins’ mentation had seemed abruptly to stop. “You know the egregore won’t be predatory. I wish that term, black hole, had never gained currency among us. It’ll be inclusive, benevolent — ultimately it’s the God that people have looked for, and a million times thought they’d found.”

“I know, I know. I agree!” She nodded toward the lounge. “I’m just thinking about those poor girls.” The boat was rocking in the swell now, and Loria stepped carefully to the rail beside him. “I started to ask you something. How did her parents — hah! I’m falling into their point of view — how did their parents kill themselves, anyway?”

Harlowe was aware that if he’d been able to feel guilt and shame, he’d feel them now. “Damn it, Agnes,” he said, “it’s not helpful to talk about old individual concerns! Tomorrow night the thing which will be all of us will be able to…transcend such stuff. Apotheosis. Everything it does will be right, by definition.” He nodded; then glanced at her. “They pulled plastic bags over their heads.”

Loria rocked her head back, her eyes on the lounge doorway. “How did they restrain their hands?”

Harlowe suppressed the remembered image: the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law, sitting in two chairs on their patio deck. The plastic had been desperately indented over their gaping mouths. The twins had been in the house.

“It doesn’t matter now,” he said, affecting a grave tone.

“No,” agreed Loria. “But — how?”

“They — I don’t remember, and it’s not –”

“Their hands weren’t restrained, were they?”

Harlowe didn’t answer.

Loria nodded. “Huh.”

Through the open door of the lounge, Harlowe saw the twins mount the steps from below. They both wore blue corduroy overalls now, and their brown hair was pulled back in stringy wet pony tails. They shuffled awkwardly out onto the cockpit deck, squinting in the sun.

“You wanted us to look for that man and that woman,” said one of them sulkily. “Not just know they’re out there, but touch them, see what they’re seeing.”

“We had to close all apps, first, didn’t we?” demanded the other. “Clear the task bar.”

“It’s a new thing,” said the first girl, and Harlowe felt his scalp tighten and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

They weren’t saying new, they were citing the name of Nu, the Egyptian god represented by the sea, the personification of the abyss, the absence of all activity and awareness, the void from which identity had been made — the ever-patient universal identity-sink. Nu was the eternal counterpart of Ba, which, or who, was the essence of distinct identity.

The two forces had to be kept apart!

“The twins,” he said thickly, “can’t go in the ocean anymore, understand? No, not even wading.” Had it been, in effect, Nu that they’d been seeking when they had nearly drowned themselves off Little Coyote Point?

He stared at the two little girls as if he’d never seen them before.

“At least they resurfaced,” said Loria. “And now they’ve closed all their apps, whatever that means! They should have bandwidth free to locate your fugitives.”

“I think,” Harlow said quietly to Loria, “we’d better re-initiate them — have them color in the picture again.” He was sweating, but he forced a smile and turned to the twins. “Sit down, Lexi, Amber. You were right to…close the apps. I was just — worried about you!” When the girls had sat down together on a lidded cabinet that contained a bait tank, he stepped to the starboard gunwale and leaned on it. “Yes, I would like you to look for that man and that woman. Can you sense them? Buy new clothes in Hesperia. Doctor Zhivago.”