The smell of bok Choy wafted through the air with, the scource was a mobile soup kitchen. The old lanky owner held out a bowl to frank hoping to snag a sale. Frank waved no thanks in a subtle way. Frank was on a tight budget, no time for lunch. The owner and his kitchen moved on, Frank noted that the soup wasn't the only smell. The air was filled with many exotic aromas of oriental cooking. Frank observed the bustling avctivity with a small sense of awe. Marketers haggled and bargained, people of all ages moved and rushed in the living street of activity. Next to the smell, the air was alive with voices from the far east. Some voices contained anger, sadness or joy. Frank observed it all and thought to himself of similar places like this in other cities like Paris, New York, San Franscisco. Frank thought, "guess you're not really a major city till ya have an enclave for Orientals."
Frank tugged on his jacket and moved on down the street. Next to the soy scauce, Frank could smell a story. He figured the Suey Sing Tong would be the smells scource.
A half hour passes as Frank slowly beats the pavement around Chinatown. Four, maybe five square blocks of Titan are claimed by the East, but the slim alleyways and crowded sidewalks confront Frank from every angle, making it feel a lot larger and overwhelming than it looks in the tourbook.
From the crowd, a young hand grasps Frank's and pulls him outside the din to a lowered staircase.
"Hey mister. You look like you need to find something. If you do, I know the place."
The voice was little more than a squeak coming from the small Asian boy, but the confidence behind it could put a hooker to shame. He was a little over four feet tall, probably under ten years old, and carried himself like a local. His white Titan Scrapers baseball jacket was immaculately clean and smelled a little of incense, and his head was covered in what appeared to be a black cotton kippah.
"I wouldn't go wandering around this block without a guide. The 893s don't like strangers, but I can help you out."
Frank observed the boy with a mixture of interest, and caution. The last time he trusted a vagrant, Frank ended up beaten and bruised in a cornfield. He put his hand in his jacket and rested it on the colt pocket hammer. But Frank took his hand away, and put it in the pocket that contained his beaten wallet. Frank fished out two one dollar bills and handed them to the boy. Frank spoke with authority "A'right mac, lead the way."
The boy's hand was small, but held firmly onto Frank's grip as they walked through a bizarre maze of shops and underground hallways criss-crossing under the city streets.
"This is the fastest way. You won't get seen as much."
After about ten minutes, the pair make their way inside the front lobby of the Red Dragon Inn. Compared to the Gold Lion in the Canyon, this lobby was more like a walk-in closet with doors, but you trusted the boy and he hasn't slowed up yet. A menu was posted on the wall, and the smell of sweet vegetables and cooking oil crept under the glass door to the right.
"Take a step over, please."
The boy grabbed onto a knotted rope poking from the wall to the left, and the whole panel opened into the lobby. Inside was a small landing and a steep set of dark wooden stairs heading to the floors above. The sunlight streamed in from above, creating pillars of motes and ether in the otherwise silent hallway. Whatever sweet smells were left from the restaurant below were fighting a losing battle against a thick incense that coated the upper floors from the baseboards to the yellowing ceiling.
Frank did his best to keep track of the boy and where he could spot an exit or two for a quick getaway just in case.
"Fire escapes must be in the back," he thought to himself looking out at the busy street below.
"It's just in here," the boy said. The apartment doors were each painted a deep shade of red and lettered with fresh yellow calligraphy to tell them apart, although Frank probably couldn't tell one squiggle from the next.
"You're gonna have to take your shoes off, mister. Grandfather is really strict about that." The boy opened a door at the end of a long hallway, indistinguishable from the rest, and entered into a nicely furnished apartment. The furniture was a uniform cherry wood with intricate detailing usually saved for museum pieces, but of a smaller scale than Frank was accustomed; it was almost as if everything with legs had been shaved down to half-height. Even stranger was the lack of a couch or chairs in what Frank supposed was the living room. In their place was a matching pair of large, square black pillows sitting flat on the floor, the stuffing in the middle having lost it's shape from years of use.
"Grandfather is right in here. He can tell you what you're looking for."
He points to another hallway, this time leading towards the back of the apartment. It's dark, with small wooden beads creating a wall at the end and the boy is walking, motioning for Frank to follow.
"Grandfather, we have company!"
"它是誰," a weak voice responds.
Dr. Hiram Insfeld's car pulled up to Wan Hu's Chinese Laundry on Swift street. The egg-white 1930 Chrysler Imperial phaeton shined like a pearl in the mid-morning light. At first sight your average passerby would be largely unaware of its modifications. One wouldn't know of its tungsten armor plating, the twin Browning M2 .50 Caliber thorium-232 projectile sub-machine guns hidden behind its ornate grille, or its police radio installed beneath the chestnut dash. One further wouldn't be aware that the driver behind the wheel was in fact a plain clothes Titan Security officer.
Conversely, Dr. Insfeld was largely unaware of the unbridled contempt that the plain clothes officer had for his charge, only reinforced as the aging psychoanalyst handed him the piece of paper.
“Number 56. Single breasted with white vest. If they over-starched the collar again you're instructed not to pay. It's under the name-”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember.” The driver grumbled and slammed the car door behind him. He almost hoped whoever this snobby fossil needed protection from would just do the deed now and do them all a favor.
Double breasted formal wear was the fashion now of course, but Hiram considered them a little too “gangster”, and he still preferred the long tail coat and white vest and tie that these days you'd only find on colored singers in jazz clubs. Hiram sighed. Everything was so vulgar, so crass now. It wasn't just the matter with the astronomer that had him on edge, or the guilt it engendered in him. His ennui seemed to flow out of a genuine dissonance between himself and the modern world. Why did he ever come to Titan? It all reminded him of this new novel he saw the galleys for, by this Englishman named Huxley. He couldn't remember the title, it was some quote from The Tempest. In any event he'd be in far better spirits after the symphony tonight.
The car door opened again, and for once Hiram was almost pleasantly surprised that it was over so quickly when he saw that it wasn't his driver.
“My god, Anson?! How did you...”
Anson slid in closer, a newspaper in his hand, but underneath it and out of sight, Hiram could feel the barrel of a gun poking into his ribs.
(OOC: Continued from above)
“Oh I see. I'm disappointed.” Hiram felt the cold steel pressed against him. “I guess you should know that my driver will be back any moment, and with a gun that's far more impressive than the one you've got in my belly.”
“Indeed, I saw him.” Anson replied. “He'd make good sport of me, that's for sure. But he'll be a while. Your laundry's been misplaced, I'm afraid. It's been sent to your office. Your driver might be looking a while. Speaking of which, why does a psychiatrist need round the clock police protection?”
“Asks the escaped mental patient aiming a gun at me?”
“touché.” Anson let go of the newspaper, revealing the handle of an umbrella.
“Should have known. You've never been the violent type. You far prefer self destruction to hurting others.” He paused. “Speaking of which, don't you think you should turn yourself in? You're not well, Anson.”
“You keep calling me that like it's my name, doctor. Not once have you called me Isaac.”
Anson's eyes narrowed. “We both know who he is.”
“Do we now?”
“We do. You're talking to him.”
Something in the doctors eyes. A glint of surprise, a moment of recognition. Insfeld knew the name.
“I see, and how long have you believed this?”
“Don't start with that. I remember now. It took having my entire life shattered but it's all starting to come back to me. I know who I am now.”
“Anson, do you really think at this point you can identify memories from delusions?”
Anson laughed. “I said not to start with that. I know what you're trying to do.”
“Oh? And what am I trying to do?”
“The same thing you've been trying to do for years. Trying to convince me I'm crazy.”
Anson tossed a bottle, and without thinking, Hiram caught it. It was a pill bottle, the one Hiram had prescribed to Anson.
“Dimethyltryptamine, doctor. Not an entirely uninteresting substance. Extracted from the Jurema tree, it was used by ancient mayans to treat burns and skin lesions and what not. But the really fascinating thing is that in its recently synthesized form...it's a hallucinogen.”
Again Anson noticed it in the doctor's eyes. A surprise not at hearing what he was hearing, but a surprise that Anson knew. Anson had expected a feigned outrage coupled with an emphatic denial. But the doctor didn't appear the slightest bit phased.
“Of course it is, Anson. How else could I cure you of your delusions but to confront you with them, force you to work to use your sanity, harness it, stretching it like a muscle, making it stronger. It's an unconventional treatment, I'll give you that--”
“You've been drugging me. Drugging a schizophrenic man with a deleriant and telling him it's an antipsychotic.”
“That's essentially correct. I also administered you mescaline at one time. At another, extracts from Psilocybe mushrooms and Salvia divinorum. Do you know that in New York society, some actually imbibe those recreationally? What's the matter with those people?”
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because that would defeat the purpose.”
“What the hell gives you the right?”
“Not a right. A responsibility. I had to make you well again because it was I who made you sick. The measures I began to resort to, in retrospect, may have been increasingly desperate...” Hiram sighed. “And perhaps all of it amounted to simply compounding the error of that original sin...”
“What was it that you did to me? What did you do to Isaac?”
“Isaac Newcomb was a troubled boy. A boy from Coal Town with no one to miss him, I imagine. I was never told more than that. What happened to him was an accident.”
“Why? What were they trying to do?”
(OOC: Continued from above)
“It doesn't matter.” Hiram took off his spectacles and began to clean them. “Suffice it to say that it was a failure. The unintended consequence was what you are today, a savant with incomparable mathematical aptitude, but whose sense of self, his own personhood as in a sense...in flux. The areas of the brain facilitating episodic memory leading up to the operation were compromised. Who you are, Anson, is the personality he created to cope with the trauma. If all we are is the sum of our experiences, Isaac died when his memories were inadvertently destroyed. Someone new was born that night, in the infirmary of the Titan Home for Boys. So you gave him a name. I think it's fascinating you chose 'Nullmann'. 'No man'. Just as Odysseus called himself when he didn't want to reveal his identity to the cyclops. Except you were the cyclops, hiding your own truth from yourself.” The doctor turned his head away. “I'm sorry Anson. I'm so sorry. It wasn't supposed to happen that way. But I took responsibility. I thought given time that I could make it right..”
“So all my life, you've been watching over me.”
“I and others.”
“Agent Montaigne. Who is he? Is he the blue triangle? The upper echelon of the Information Directorate?”
“You really think those are the questions you should be asking? You're asking the 'who' not the 'why'. You're smarter than that Anson.”
“Why, then? Why were they interested in me?”
“Because of your part in the experiment.”
“But you just told me-”
“No, I mean your part in THE experiment. Look around you Anson. What do you see? A city? Look closer. Titan is no city. For the first time in history, a new form of society is being built, old power relations and economic systems and archaic ways of thought are being overturned. Titan itself is the experiment. Titan is one vast social experiment. I suppose one of those archaic things are me, ironically enough. I don't have much of a place in this...Brave New World, that's what the title of that book was.” He slapped his forehead. “So knowing the why, you know the who. Have you figured out who the Information Directorate is yet?”
“If this is all one great big experiment...you'd need the experimenters.”
“Close, but wrong. This experiment is to some degree uncontrolled, that's the point. It's running itself now. Like Aristotle's universe, a Prime Mover that set things in motion, who then exited stage left to watch what would become of it.”
“Observers then. You'd need people to collect data, to put it all together, to try and understand what it is that Titan's becoming. That's what the Information Directorate is.”
Dr. Insfeld smiled.
“Every facet of the city's operation must be measured, collected, processed, and analyzed. What was the point of having an experiment that couldn't be replicated? The point of Titan was to be able to recreate Titan, a thousand Titans. That was the bargain Iron Joe made.”
“What's my part in the experiment?”
“I've already told you. Think about what I said. It's staring you straight in the face. In most ways, you, like me, are nothing of any consequence. You were just a rat who saw the white coats place a crumb of cheese at the end of the maze. But having seen, you changed the future results. It's become even more unpredictable.”
“Would you believe me if I told you that I didn't even know? Now, I think I see my driver about to come out of the shop, so you have about thirty seconds to make your exit. Thank you for this conversation, Anson. It was good seeing you again. You were always one of my more interesting patients. But I'm afraid this will have to be the last time we speak. Speaking with you has made me realize that this city just doesn't agree with me anymore.”
Anson stepped out of the car and ducked into the nearby alley.
The following morning Anson will read the news in the paper of the discovery of the egg white Chrysler Imperial, of how it had been found in the garage of Insfeld's victorian Northside home, it's engine running, a rubber garden hose running from the tail pipe in through the driver side front window. He'll read the words “autopsy” “inconclusive”, and see the phrase “after a long battle with depression” and Anson will stop and think. He'll walk to the hotel bathroom mirror and put his fingers up to the bumpy and pink scar above his left temple.
He'll wonder if his own guilt was anything like that which was carried by his doctor.