All through our childhoods, through tribulations that stand far taller than we, until we grow to stand above them on tiptoe, we are promised better cafeteria food. Thus went the thoughts of Benjamin Kelley, as he selected from forty feet of stainless steel liberally covered with various forms and textures and colorations of sludge. He wanted to write that particular thought down, to see whom it could later amuse. His notebook, however, was under his bed in San Rafael, the tower of dormitories reserved for the "elite" class of students who had the brains to attend somewhere else before coming to Santa Barbara. His notebook had been living under the bed for several days now, keeping company with a pile of circuit boards and spilled popcorn. Tray in hand, Ben attempted his daily dancing routine through the throng of students in the cafeteria. Today's dance he thought should be dubbed "Tiptoe Through the Tables." Not a particularly original title, by any means, but it might lend a certain springiness, a toe-fulcrumed movement, which could prove useful in getting to an empty seat without incident; yesterdayÕs dance in the dessert bar had been renamed "Nutcracker Sweet" after an unfortunate incident in which a cheerleader had leaned her chair too far back at the right moment. Only Mark, as it happened, had been sympathetic, and then Maria had changed the subject. Such matters left his thoughts as the dance continued. The pivoting movements were actually helping -- todayÕs crowd wasnÕt violent enough to necessitate a tango; just a swaying would serve today. And lo, did Ben sway his way through the valley of chaos, swayed over to a safe table and dwelt there. HeÕd have to mention that to them too, he reflected. Again, not particularly original, but this wasnÕt a place or a situation that really called for originality. Nothing much lately had, come to think of it. Oddly, everyone in the room had been scant enough in their attentions that the seat near the window in which Ben had planted himself had neither been occupied nor actually stolen. Often tables and chairs would seem to migrate away from their original resting places to distant and often bizarre locales elsewhere in the cafeteria. Particularly daring and adventurous tables had been known to get as far as the lawn out front before being eventually recaptured and hauled back into captivity by the cleanup staff. Occasionally a table would be able to act sick enough, through too much leaning-upon by overmuscular or overexuberant students, to be carried away, perhaps to some furniture infirmary from which it might attempt escape before the tools could be brought to bear. Ben, sitting on one incarcerated chair while resting his notebook -- he hadnÕt thrown it under the bed yet -- on another, had written of one such escape foiled -- the table had been brought back in disgrace, with new bolts and fastenings and the chips in the formica patched. The table had been set in a wide-open space, and chairs set around it, to serve as an example to other tables that might attempt escape. Somewhere in there, Ben thought, smiling absently, they must be enlisting help. TheyÕve never exhibited enough self-ambulation to get out of here on their own. Perhaps itÕs a symbiosis -- they submit to the studentsÕ whims on the provision that the students will either try to break them or carry them out. Hmm. Towards the middle of the cafeteria, groups of three and four vehemently muscled individuals seemed to be holding a sort of contest, the object of which was predominantly to determine which group could lift their table with the greatest number of squealing females sitting on it. A year ago, he would have stood and yelled at them. My, don't you have absolute gallons of testosterone! Now he frowned slightly, and played with his sludge, while his throughts drifted. A random thought: Craig. Last night. Last night heÕd gone on and on, in lurid sensual detail, about a conversation heÕd had with Maria that afternoon. ŅThat was the strange part, we werenÕt touching,Ó he had said. ŅWe werenÕt even in the same city.Ó Transcription: firstname.lastname@example.org (Figment) via irc.uiuc.edu 3:12PM Tue Feb 12 1996 -0700 *)* Signon by Flogd detected *>* You have joined channel #bloodless *#* Users on #bloodless: @Figment *T* Figment has changed the topic on channel #bloodless to "Sound the fire alarm, and they just go to lunch." *I* Inviting Flogd to channel #bloodless *** CTCP PING reply from Flogd: 4 seconds *>* Flogd (email@example.com) has joined channel #bloodless *** join_hook: Autoop matched [craig mcd.com Flogd] (ok) *+* Mode change "+o Flogd" on channel #bloodless by Figment <Figment> hiya craig <Figment> howÕre you? <Flogd> Sup? <Figment> Lunch, not sup. Or five foot five, whichever answer youÕre interested in. <Flogd> IÕm ok, I guess. Fucking bored. <Flogd> WhatÕs for lunch? <Figment> YouÕre frequently bored when MariaÕs not around. Lunch hasnÕt really changed. There was less meat in it today. <Flogd> DonÕt remind me. Looking bored on the jobÕs bad enough. Bastard supes make their little tickmarks on the clipboards for when youÕre looking bored. <Figment> Still purporting to be a happy and interesting place to work, are they? <Figment> And why do they insist on running the air conditioner in here when one could already grow icicles on the monitors? <Flogd> Yeah. WeÕre all a big happy workplace. <Flogd> ugh. Much more happiness and interest and I may start stuffing the little bunnies into the eggs Ōstead of the other way round. * Figment nods *>* RghtNow (firstname.lastname@example.org) has joined channel #bloodless <Flogd> Now thatÕd make a fun easter present. Maybe I could include some condoms or something, too. <RghtNow> Condoms suck. <Figment> RN: you havenÕt a clue. Bugger off. <RghtNow> im not into that *<* RghtNow has been kicked off channel #bloodless by Flogd (Sure you are. Bend over while I press the keys.) <Figment> You donÕt get the same class of wannafucks these days... <Flogd> Not that IÕve noticed. Got a really great one yesterday. <Figment> You told me already. Thoroughly. <Figment> Whee. <Figment> Where were we? * Flogd misses Maria * Figment misses Maria too, but probably not the same way <Flogd> Probably not. :) <Figment> You know, one day they might even decide to enforce the no-swimsuits lab dress policy. * Flogd laughs <Flogd> Distracting? <Figment> Of course not. You know I donÕt ogle. <Figment> WouldnÕt see the point, really. I havenÕt come across an unattached woman in weeks... <Flogd> OglingÕs fun. More fun when the oglee is your SO. ;) <Figment> IÕll keep that in mind should I ever happen to have one. * Figment has to go to class <Flogd>cya *<* Signoff: Figment (sand in keyboard) Craig sat a moment watching the cursor before dropping the connection. Ben was fading away. Ben had said to everyone that he would stay in touch, and return when it was over. HeÕd sofar kept half that promise, but heÕd not returned. Maybe it hadnÕt ended. No one knew why heÕd selected Santa Barbara, popularly regarded as the place to be if you want to learn to read the rest of the words printed on the label of your beer bottle. Ben wasnÕt like that. Craig had missed most of BenÕs studentship, but had seen him flounder through social situations, embarass himself in front of women, and isolate himself from other students because he couldnÕt deal with them. Ben wasnÕt where he was for the wondrous social opportunities. But Santa Barbara? No one had quite understood that. ŅVoluntary exile,Ó it had been called at the time. But exile was acting on Ben the way spilled bleach acts on carpet. First it fades, then it gets holes. Eventually it gets pulled up and thrown away. These thoughts being common ones for Craig, he was able to get through them in the time it took his Mac to return to the application he used to catalog the bunnies heÕd stuffed that day. For the past month heÕd been doing little but taking stuffed rabbits, then stuffing them the more with plastic eggs filled with candy. The eggs were stuffed elsewhere, or so he presumed. HeÕd never, come to think of it, opened so much as a single egg. Maybe they were empty, and he was preparing cruel disappointments for children. Maybe he was unwittingly taking part in a huge drug smuggling operation. If they were empty, he ought to notice, but after cramming thousands of plastic eggs into polyester rectums for weeks, he had no idea how heavy the eggs were. Or what color the rabbitsÕ eyes. Two hours later Craig let himself out the front door of his office building. On the front steps sat, on one side, Maria, and on the other a homeless man with a beat-up guitar. Cocking an ear to the latter, should the man start playing, Craig went over, flopped on the step next to the former, and signed. ŅHi,Ó said Maria softly, letting her head fall against his shoulder. She didnÕt look at him -- she was watching the sun set amongst a jumble of buildings to the northwest. Craig brushed his cheek against her hair; after a day of leporidean scatology and starting at a tiny monitor screen he didnÕt really posess either the inclination, nor his eyes the ability, to appreciate the rare spectacle of an Oregon sunset, but wanted not to interrupt her. Off the diving board of a nearby cloud, replete rabbits started jumping over the setting sun, streaks of red and orange on their flanks. As the disk of the sun disappeared behind a furniture warehouse, MariaÕs eyes slowly closed, and the homeless man started tuning his guitar. Two hundred miles away, Mark Diamond clicked together his antenna, tapped a key, and took the air. Transcription: email@example.com via enya.exp40.ca.gov, 5:41PM Tue Feb 12 1996 -0700 EveninÕ, ladies and gentlemen. Before yÕall start flickinÕ the key that turns my merry banter off, favoring your usual blend of technical and wonder and casual desires, imagine yourself in cardiac arrest. That should slow you down. Never been in cardiac arrest? No histories of heart trouble in the family anywhere? No Uncle Marv flopping in bed like a half- dead fish, the night he got your Aunt drunk enough to hold still for his amorous exertions, and so couldnÕt wake her? While youÕre reeling from that bit of your family past you never knew about, howÕs the heart coming along? Feel your blood slowing? Feel the blood darkening, getting hotter, heavier? ItÕs right behind your eyes so you can se it, runs through your ears so you can feel the vibrations, slower, through your nose for the iron effluvium. Your eyes get darker, the blood fills the pupils. The light grows darker, dedder, darker, heavier. Shhhh. Hold that thought. Fits the corpselike mood. HereÕs the epitaph, now. My best to the beautiful dreamers out lost in the night. My best to the children not yet turned into screaming beasts by the commercials after Sesame Street. My best to the pregnant mothers going to bed early, wondering if theyÕll be woken by labor pains. My best to the father out there whose son left today in the car you taught him to tune up and change the oil. My best to Ben, sweet dear, and may you find what youÕre seeking, even if no one else sees it. My best to Craig, and remember the world outside of her, as well as the world within her. And Maria -- nice synchronization on that CGI you did today. Goodnight, sun. Sweet dreams, world. ItÕs time to rise. Far to the south, Ben flopped on his bed with a beer and a scowl. He was, he knew, only inches from his much-missed notebook. It wasnÕt exactly crying for his attentions. In fact, it had recently been very successful at driving him away, and would, he imagined, resent being yanked from its sojourne under the bed with some of the other detritus of his life. A lot of the other detritus was visible from his vantage point on the bed, reclining on the floor, draped over furniture, hanging from pegs and pins stuck to the ceiling. A lot of it had seemed a good idea at the time. Trinkets of his life, carried with the thought that heÕd want them as tools with which to remember, though in most cases heÕd never forgotten. Ben hated the word trinkets, hated the concept. He'd once spent a summer cleaning the houses of old ladies, and had lost all ability to be around them without feeling like like an unwelcome visitor to Lilliput, before the actual spears started flying. Am I now myself a trinket? Do I need dusting? A lot of time went by in silence, as it often did, while the last of the sun passed from his window, dipping below the line of the Pacific on the left, and into the haze of the Alta Vista housing block on the right. From the latter, as always, came occasional drunken shouts, as the nightÕs boisterousness started to get under way. Had Ben risen, he would have seen on the beach a couple sitting watching the darkening waves, their arms around each other, silent as he. Transcription: firstname.lastname@example.org (Sema) via irc.portal.com, 7:59PM Tue Feb 12 1996 -0700 [S] Puck: signon at 19:59 02/16/96 PST [#] Joined #bloodless [#] Users on #bloodless: @Puck Sema [S] Flogd: signon at 20:00 02/16/96 PST -> *Puck* Hiya... strange chance to find you here. ;} [#] Topic: no topic is set [Puck] Evening. And likewise, my dear. [Puck] HowÕs your sweet and dedicated Craig? [Sema] He says heÕll live. [Sema] He also inquires if you saw the sunset tonight. [Puck] Tell him heÕd better, because if he dies on you, IÕm going to be intensely displeased. And remind him, secondly, that IÕm fifty miles out in the woods, on a hill, facing west, and the only way I could miss a sunset out here would be to close my eyes and wait until it was over. [#] Figment (email@example.com) has joined #bloodless [S] Figment: signon at 20:02 02/16/96 PST [Puck] Hello, Figment. [Figment] hi mark. how are things in the woods? * Sema tacklehugs Ben * Figment falls to the floor in a bruised heap [Puck] Wooded, certainly. ThereÕs a doe a ways down the hill. [Sema] Come on, just because I get vigorous in greeting you donÕt have to get melodramatic about it. [Figment] <shrug> if you say so. [Puck] And since youÕre informing us all via your lack of capitals that youÕre either too depressed or too Marxist to reach the shift key, do we get to hear whatÕs troubling you? * Sema wishes she could be out in the woods with Puck [Puck] IÕm out here using your tax dollars, too. :) [Sema] And with Craig, if possible. * Puck rolls his eyes theatrically [Figment] Puck: Nothing much. It was tuesday, and tuesdays always suffer as much as the people who suffer during them. [Figment] pardon lousy grammatical construction. Capital is still sitting in the pile over there. [Figment] Maria, would you happen perchance to know CraigÕs whereabouts? [Puck] HeÕs with her. [Sema] About a foot away. [Figment] Ah. * Puck completes an argument with a fundie [Sema] HowÕd the argument end? [Sema] ben: why? [Puck] He tried to flood me. Odd that when their religion fails them, they fall back on irc2 scripts. [Figment] Tells them whoÕs really in charge. [Sema] Ņirc-2.mit.edu: faster than Mercury, more powerful than Zeus, able to leap the Acropolis in a single bound...Ó [Figment] Sema: Mostly curious. Should have guessed that heÕd be with you, though. Tell him to keep out of your skirts until you log off, eh? [Sema] um. [Puck] What did the sunset look like from your various locales? [Figment] Sorta yellow. Highly rectangular. [Sema] It was cool. Craig watched it with me. [Puck] Figment: rectangular? [Figment] My window is rectangular. [Sema] Sheesh, youÕd think with the beach right across the street, youÕd go watch it from there every night. [Puck] Figment: ah. I havenÕt seen a window in weeks. :) [Figment] I thought they gave you Windoze on that thing..? * Sema giggles [Puck] They did. When I finished the Ōshrooms, I celebrated by wiping it off my drive. This little laptop isnÕt capable of a decent GUI, and Microsoft stuff isnÕt worth running sober. No windows here. Good skyline, though. [Sema] Interesting diatribe tonight, mark. just got done reading it. * Figment twiddles his thumbs * Puck bows to Sema [Puck] Nice to find an appreciative audience. * Figment is going to leave [Puck] GÕnight, ben. Say hello for me to the finest ass you see tomorrow. [Figment] You could go try to catch that doe... be easier than trying to lure something from down here. Deer are probably better company, too. [Sema] Mark: Yeah, and you donÕt have to get them drunk first. :) [S] Figment: signoff at 20:34 02/16/96 PST * Sema sighs [Puck] Is he any better tonight? [Sema] Not really. HeÕs been like that for the last few nights. [Sema] No solutions have presented themselves. [Puck] No, nor are they likely to. Not to us here, anyway. Properly, itÕs his battle to win or lose, but from this distance we canÕt do much for him. ŌTis frustrating. [Sema] Not much we can do generally, it seems. [Puck] Not really. Were this a novel we were all stuck in, he could get kidnapped by spies, or be captured and sold as the concubine of some cruel mistress, or some such thing to give him some perspective. But we donÕt have that luxury. After the eveningÕs electronic intercourse had been completed, Mark flopped back on his sleeping bag and glared at the sky. The clouds had showed up in sufficient quantity to block most of the stars. Passing amongst the clouds were the usual spectres; it was too dark to see if any of CraigÕs egg-stuffed rabbits had made it so far north as to permit him to entertain them. ŅUpon this spot,Ó Mark wrote with his finger on the slippery nylon of the ground cover, Ņa man sat and failed to help a friend.Ó ŅUpon this spot sat a wandering geologist brought here by a senile budget manager, believing that the best way to prevent earthquakes was to have scientists armed with modern telecommunications equipment try to hunt them down out in the wildnerness.Ó ŅUpon this spot the geologist tapped at his keyboard, and the pain ocurring many miles south continued.Ó ŅUpon this spot he looked south, to where a woman sat at her own keyboard, and she, too, could do nothing to help.Ó ŅWith her was another man, and he, too, could do nothing.Ó Considering that thought more objectively, Mark added, ŅThough the manÕs location between the womanÕs legs helped not at all.Ó This is the problem, went the thoughts in Benjamin KellyÕs head in Santa Barbara. We all have room for our own lives, but none for others. We live in self-absorbtion. In this world there are those who can live for others, and those who have room in their hearts. But these few of us have none. We care for one another, but there is no room. He was lying. Underneath him, his notebook knew better. In it was written a few sentences he'd been trying to forget. He wasn't yet ready to admit defeat. The words were written in green ink. I came here to escape the trap my identity had become. I was happy with friends and family. I lacked children or love involvement, and I was free. In exercise of that freedom I came here. To see what I could find about myself, to see how alone I could really get. That thought, too, had ocurred to him before. One day you'll be sorry, they liked to say. I am.