Chancellor Gerald Cooper lived on the square at the far end of the rail line connecting Standard Tower to the People’s Museum.
Collier got off the train on the lowest street level. The cars emptied into a cavernous subway forum, with rows of corinthian columns hoisting a stone and glass ceiling above the checkered marble floor. Jan took the elevator to the mezzanine level above the plaza. The doors opened onto the broad, elevated walkways that criss-crossed the city. In clear weather, a man could walk comfortably from the outskirts of the Old City in the east to Standard Tower in the west without descending to street level. Collier looked up. The Old City didn’t reach the same dizzying heights as Standard Plaza, but buildings stretched and straddled the view high above him. Walkways and libraries and offices and parks scattered along the horizon at zenith.
Chancellor Cooper’s building had private elevator access from an entry point across the main walkway. Jan passed his wireless above the access box and the doors to the entry opened welcomingly. The Chancellor’s apartments were on the thirty-eight floor, overlooking the plaza. Collier pushed the button and the elevator headed skyward, leaving the pedestrians in the plaza to grow smaller and smaller out the transparent plateen windows.
As the train put more distance between it and the metropolis, the imposing facades of the factories softened, giving way to rolling hills and expertly constructed lakes. Resort towns hugged the shores, terraced up and along the slopes to capture the choicest vistas. Wide, white sails interrupted the still waters, chaperoned from marina to marina on the carefully moderated breeze. The countryside was a pleasure-center for city-dwellers, but it was also home to the beleaguered of the Republic, eager to leave behind the city for a life grounded in more historical roots. Here and there, you caught a glimpse of an organic farm: orchards or vineyards of dairies or pastureland. Water was a problem for high-volume, low-yield enterprises like these, and they could hardly expect special consideration from the Company when it came to pricing. Still, when they managed a crop, the same hands that withheld the water were more than happy to champion their fare.
Jan had grown up on fine, organic dinner parties and non-synthetic fabrics, his parents eager to be seen supporting independent Republican farmers. Collier shook his head. He doubted the farmers whose loans for irrigation systems had been denied would have read it that way.
Sighing, Jan pulled the wireless from his pocket for distraction. Still nothing in the usual news outlets on the Amsterdam bombings. He checked his messages. Nothing new—just what he had sent Jøberg earlier. Jan would have been lying to say Chancellor Cooper’s invitation didn’t make him nervous. The Collier family was friendly enough with him—Jan even genuinely liked the man. Most days, he seemed like the only senate member who cared more about the health of the Republic than saving face for the Company. But his relationship with the Chancellor was hardly the kind that merited a hand-written summons.
As he looked out the window, the sensation of smoke and fire continued to dance along the horizon. He wished it would go away, though he knew that it wouldn’t. Memories of the explosion had followed along the edges of his consciousness for almost a year now—every damn day since he’d blown the pipeline in Macedonia. No one had been killed, but the physical destruction had been sobering. A hundred meter section of the water line disappeared into thin air, leaving mangled pipe for several hundred more to either side of it. The flame had been so hot, even a half a mile away Jan had felt it oppressively against his skin. Four guardsmen had been hospitalized for proximity burns—and that was with the regulation sunshield. But almost worst of all had been the smell: the faint, oily aroma of hydrocarbon and the stench of charred plateen, like burnt hair or melting plastic. It had gotten into his clothes and all over his skin. He’d scrubbed furiously for days, but it lingered in his nostrils. Every time he’d walked out in public, he’d been certain the smell of it would give him away. Now he knew it was only the sunshield. Still, the fear of prison accompanied Jan wherever he went. Now that his destination was the home of the highest authority of the law against which he had risen, the fear was justifiably intensifying.
All the same, the more Jan defied the law, the more rationally he found he responded to the fear. Why send such an odd, private communication, he reasoned, if the goal was to arrest him? Why tip him off, give him the chance to run? The National Police knew where he lived, why not storm the house and take him there? No, he told himself, if anything, this was a test. Even if they knew—which they probably didn’t—they didn’t have anything to prove their suspicions. Maybe they wanted to see if he would run, and to where. If they were hoping he’d incriminate himself, then heading straight to Edena to answer the summons was the best thing he could do.
Collier stuffed the wireless back into his pocket. There’d be no response from Jøberg. Probably he was laughing at Jan for having sent it at all.
There was a peculiar magic to the places between places, as if negative space in itself were an incantation. The geometry of the countryside between metropolises had a geometric grammar all its own and wove, therefore, a different magic from the city skyscrapers altogether.
Jan watched as the train sped past the suburban landscape. On the outskirts of Paris, the first transition was from the hodgepodge architecture of the city center to the monolithic factory buildings that supplied it with its power, water, and food. These plateen structures were nondescript, stretching block upon block and rising tens of stories from the ground. Company machines pulsed behind their opalescent sheen, pumping and processing and refining raw material like a worms inside a chrysalis. The water in the desalination factories was divided according to its destination: water for drinking, water for agriculture, water for industry, water for climate. Jan considered all the trouble that water caused.
The outline of an apple tree nodded its head,
A shadow in the grass
Stretched fingers through the rocky soil
Toward the echo of bells, reflecting in its roots.
The man in the grey citadel on the white horizon
Looked up into the hills, reverberating with their apple smells
And pushed the hair back off his brow,
Turning his thoughts again
To the history under his thumb.
There were children in their beds, flushed
From dreams of sunshine and the apple trees
Of ten thousand dusty mornings, spent playing in the grass
But they were chased from the grove
By trumpet sounds—
The bracken quivering and the sky white as ash—
While the old man and his failsafe code kept their watch
Over towers of glass
The nursery broke in a white-hot beam
And the children awoke in thunder.
Do you suppose the butterfly feels the same
Depending which way it’s pinned
Against the board, beneath a pane of glass
Pushing out or in?
All the little strings draw us down
Into the great attractor
A city shining, children kicking cans
Sounds of nervous laughter
One and one is two
Two and two is four
Mix us in a glass
Make us react some more
It’s only chemistry
It’s only chemsitry
Up on the roof we get dizzy
Can’t keep straight our directions
It’s a long way down to the median
On a patched connection
In the labyrinth we grew into ourselves
Our insides twisted in the shape of the maze
Not much sound in our heads when the traffic dies down
Until the scene replays…
How many more times will we push “repeat”?
After all, it’s only chemistry
Flesh and bone
Steel and glass
What’s done is done
What’s to come will pass
How many more times will we push “repeat”?
It’s only chemistry
Thinking explicitly about Georg Kaiser’s Gas Trilogy for the first time in a long time.