Cuffy

By Erik Goldsmith

“Poor little thing, I try tell him, but he don’t listen. You know how it is, he just don’t listen! You’re not gonna hurt him now, are you? They’s a time and a place. Poor little thing. He didn’t mean nothing by it. Just a time and a place, that’s all.”

The master lowered his knife and listened to the old woman grovel beneath him. Others watched beyond the perimeter of torchlight, peeking out from the darkness.

“I told him, don’t run. I said, don’t you run, but they’s a time and a place for everything. I told him that and now, it’s just…look at you.”

Her bloody son writhed in agony underneath the master’s foot. She wormed over to his side and stretched over his body like a blanket, steady flinching against the unknown.

“Don’t you worry about a thing.” She screamed over him. “I’m gonna make your favorite tonight. You ‘member those beets, you was eyin? They sho looked good! That’s your favorite. I’ll put em in a stew for you, and maybe old Jamphua might pick up the fiddle, cut the slip and quick, our feet’ll be turned out just like that. Why, you couldn’t ask fo more!”

The master cringed under the torchlight and kicked her in the face. The impact turned her head, but her large body remained draped over him.

“No, no, no, no, please, he didn’t mean it! Where’s it come from? There’s a time and a place, sir, but not this, not this right here, not thi-”

He motioned for the overseer to lift her off the boy and stabbed the torch into the ground. A struggle ensued. The overseer grabbed the old woman’s ankles, and tried to pull her free, but she wouldn’t budge.

“No! Get off me, no, no…sir…No, get off me. Can you hear me? He didn’t mean it! No…NO!”

She clung to the boy like a skin, ripping and tearing the wet cloth as he pulled, opening his wound further and further. The overseer switched tactics and attempted to unclench the old woman’s calloused fingers from the cotton shirt, but it was the boy’s screams that finally pried her hands loose. She let go and the overseer threw her into the dirt. She wailed, realizing her mistake and tried to crawl back, but the overseer got between them and her head bumped into his shins. She looked up at him, saw his grinning face and made to crawl around him, but he danced with her, giggling and scooting just ahead of her clumsy maneuvers until she started begging him, reaching for him, but it did nothing and he laughed the devil’s counterpoint turning her cries into a single word of screeched molasses.

“You ever heard a please sincere as that, boss?”

The master motioned for the rope. Behind them, some of the children were told to go inside, others were made to watch. The old woman learned something new. No was what she said.

The word became a memory. She became newborn.

The overseer unhitched the rope from the tree and let the body fall to the ground. It hit wrong and no became everything. Others bravely stepped from the shadows and wrapped their arms around what was left, urging her back into the darkness. She didn’t move, her old coiled body, dried of will like a stump, lay in the dirt, a slow twist. They took her by the hands, lifted her to her feet, and miraculously, she began to let. One of them grinned relief. The master saw it and spit on the ground like a gun shot. It triggered their eyes and they moved even faster, pressing their pittance and their knowing quiet and their brutalized hands against her old body. They pushed her inch by inch, until they knew their skin had become indistinguishable from the shadows around them.

The master pulled his torch from the earth and saw white flash in the distance. He held the torch higher, peering into the dark. Someone began to clap. Another laughed. An out of tune fiddle hopped out of the silence and began bouncing around the screams sounding no jollier than crickets. They were all smiling now. He began to hyperventilate and his torch hand slacked.

“Oh God, there they go again.” Said the overseer and set to work on the body.

They started to dance, though they lit no fire, and willed themselves to move under the trees in and out like black ripples across a dead pond. Their anonymity, the one advantage of their skin, propelled their feet faster and faster like they might soon cast off the dark.

The master watched them from a distance, his shoulders heaving, torch in hand. He let the flame draw nearer and nearer to his eyes until the orange and red had licked every drop of night from his skin. Then, he put his face fully in the fire and made no noise within the torches’ flames. Her screams could still be heard over the fiddle and a cold wind swept across it all.

“What you want me to put this, boss?”

The master removed his face from the fire and threw the torch on the ground. He looked up at his overseer. The man asked a second time and bounced the body on his shoulder for emphasis.

“Just put him down.”

He grinned and let the body fall from his shoulders.

“Let ‘em see if they know what’s good for the-.” The overseer could not finish his sentence, because the master slit his throat. Gouts of blood spewed out of his nec-

“End program.”

Suddenly, everything washed away except for Dewitt Cuffy. He uncurled his fingers from the digital knife, sat up, stretched, and unplugged.

A smiling face appeared behind a white monitor across from Cuffy’s haptic lounge chair. The young man’s eyes were wide with question. “So, What’d you think, Cuff?”

He said nothing.

On school nights mostly, twice a week, sometimes three, he would come to the holo-store and sit with this one particular program, “The Runaway.” He and Bill had been adjusting it for a year, but it’d be hard to tell they changed anything from its original programming. For all intents and purposes, it was still the same story they’d started with; a Virtual Reality movie shot from the point of view of the slave master. The script remained the same. The boy is caught by the overseer and is brought before the master. The master stabs him. The mother pleads. The master lynches the boy. The mother wails. The slaves pull her away and dance in the darkness. The master and the overseer laugh. Repeat.

VR was a movie. However, these new holo-tapes allowed you to interact deviate from the script and trigger the AI reactions. Every deviation that he embarked on was recoded into the program, refreshing it with information, the AI were now gaining faster and faster responses to anything Cuffy could do. In fact, the characters were starting to improvise.

VR used to be just a movie, but it was becoming something else.

Bill rolled his chair from behind his monitor. “Seriously, what’d you think?”

“They were smiling, Bill. Did you see see that?”

“Who the overseer?”

Cuffy shook his head. “No…no. The slave helping the old woman. He smiled when she got up. He looked relieved.”

Bill shrugged.

“You didn’t code that?”

“Nah…I…”

“And the others,” Cuffy stretched in the chair and sat up, “others in the darkness. I could see their teeth. You didn’t-”

“Nope. And how did you see them anyway? Their AI isn’t supposed to function unless they are within the torchlight.”

Cuffy said nothing.

“Anyway, why’d you kill the overseer, man?”

Again, Cuffy didn’t answer and wiped something from his face. The young technician bent a little from behind his desk, trying to get into Cuffy’s eye line.

“You didn’t get to see the overseer’s new dance at the en-”

“Did you re-write the old woman’s dialogue?”

“You liked that?”

“Beets?”

“What’s wrong with beets?”

Cuffy shook his head. “I told you. Stick to core motivation and memory. Emotional responses triggering generalized belief and value contradictions. Don’t write their dialogue word for word.”

“What’s wrong with beets?” asked Bill, thinly concealing a smile.

Cuffy showed him his palms.

“She was just wondering about dinner.”

Two women walked between them and disrupted their gaze. Cuffy rubbed his head and stood up watching them plug into a console on the other side of the room. One of them looked back at him, then quickly turned away.

Bill frowned and began tapping his finger against his console. “Hey man? What’s a matter, you liked what the old woman said before?”

“Look, Bill-”

“I could change it back-Aww, what is it?”

Cuffy made a face at him.

“I was trying to get psychological, Cuff. I thought that’s what you wanted. Under extreme stress, this lady starts talking about dinner, trying to find some safe, normal thing to think about. You know, something comforting.”

“So, it was intentional?”

“Exactly. And I even thought a step farther, like, what if she was trying to throw you off, confuse the master with the beet talk, you know what I’m saying? Did it work?”

Cuffy shook his head and grabbed his back pack from the floor. “No matter how complexly you write the dialogue, it will not sound as sincere as improvisation coming from their emotional matrices. Manipulate that, not the dialogue.”

Bill sighed. Bill was older than Cuffy, graduating the year before from Templeton Private. They’d met in History class. Cuffy had done all his homework in school, and Bill let him use the holo store free. At first, Cuffy simply loaded up one of the countless slave narratives in the database, until Bill showed him the interactive one he’d coded on his time. Bill asked his opinion, Cuffy gave it. They’d been working on it for six months.

“I was actually thinking we could show it to my boss this time, “ Bill leaned over trying to put himself into Cuffy’s eye line again. “Finally, put it into the holo-store’s international rotation, let the public start buying it. Get those royalties, son!” Cuffy said nothing. Bill shifted gears. “I’m afraid our windows closing. I’m checking the databases all the time to see if anyone’s beat us to it.” Bill watched Cuffy gather himself to leave. “It’s becoming an obsession of mine, Cuff. I saw a school shooting go up last week, prisoner execution the week before that. You know there’s already several rape ones. It’s only a matter of time before someone else publishes the first fully interactive slave narrative. So far we’ve been lucky, but the longer we wait-”

“It’s not ready, Bill. But, it’s your IP. You coded it. Do with it what you want.”

“That’s not fair, Cuff. You know I wouldn’t do that, but I think it’s good as is. And, don’t you need the money anyway? I mean-”

Cuffy’s face immediately changed into something different than it was before. Bill stopped talking and looked at the ground.

After a moment, Cuffy spoke, “I won’t put my name on it. At least not yet.”

“C’mon, that’s it?” Bill stood up. “I thought we could hang out or something, you know like-.”

“Nah, I got to get home. Catch you later.”

“Pssh, all right. Later, Cuff.”

Cuffy allowed the young man’s hand to wrap around his and left the holo-store.

Outside, Cuffy paused on the stoop of the metallic building and watched a group of suits stampede down the sidewalk, chattering into their phones. Cuffy listened to their words garble over each other, but they continued, trusting their phone’s advanced programming to filter out everything but their own voice. Some of them gave Cuffy a look, veering slightly away, putting an extra distance between themselves and the young man as they passed. Most didn’t even notice him.

Cuffy waited for them to walk by and scanned up the metallic environment around him. Immaculate silver buildings loomed, stretching upward, curving inward, blocking out the setting sun. The pale light of eclipse glowed behind them, and Cuffy held his hand to it, creating contrast with Manhattan.

“Hello. Dewitt. Cuffy. We see that you have not registered to vote.”

Cuffy dropped his hand and waved away the ad-drone that had snuck up behind him. The motion didn’t register.

“As an…18 year old-”

He turned around and made the gesture obvious to the drone’s sensor.

“Of course,” it said. He watched it zoom off to bother someone else and took out his phone.

The image of a man in a black pin stripe suit floated up, gathering pixels from the air like dust. The man was standing on a podium gesticulating wildly in front of a large banner that read “ZEPHIE/NIX FOR PRESIDENT – 2500. The Change You Want to See!” An image for sound appeared beside it with a question mark, but Cuffy shook his head. The question mark disintegrated, and he watched the man silently wave his arms around for another moment before swiping it off the screen, making way for the next advertisement.

“Home,” he said to his phone.

Nothing happened. Sometimes, his old phone did not recognize voice commands.

Cuffy brought the phone closer to his mouth to speak his destination louder, but before he could, his own face materialized in front of him…into him. He jerked backward, dodging the holo-projection and nearly knocking over the trashcan behind him. A small shudder ran down his spine and he looked around him, but he was alone with himself.

The letters “ISC – 2500” appeared above his face chiseled into a block of white marble. A question mark appeared beside his head. He nodded.

“Only five weeks left until the 50th annual International Sculpture Competition kicks off right here in Central Park! Twenty world renowned sculptors have been selected to compete this year including New York City’s own urban wonder, Dewitt Cuffy!”

A spinning photo of his previous sculpture, Gargoyle, appeared beside the image of his face. A 10 foot imploding diamond, captured mid-crush, forever breaking, never completely shattering. It had won him some acclaim.

“Home!” He shouted. The ad continued.

“He swept New York’s state competition with his amazing sculpture, Gargoyle. Now, we’ll see how our homegrown hero can compete against the world’s finest.”

The image of his face begin to change. The edges of his mouth were being tilted up into a smile, as if he were happy about the whole thing, as if he were grateful. Cuffy shoulders began to heave.

“The stakes are high, especially for young Cuffy and his mother-”

“HOME!” He screamed.

The sound shut off and his face swept away into nothing. “50. Dollars.” said the phone.

Cuffy sighed. “Fine.”

A transport beam picked him up and put him in his mother’s kitchen in the south side of Brooklyn.

“I told you we don’t have the money for that, Dewey.”

Cuffy rolled his eyes. “I was on the other side of town, Mom. There was no way I was going to make it back in time for dinner.”

“The other side of town? How much that cost?”

“35.”

“Bullshit, it cost 35. How much it cost?”

“It ain’t nothing, all right. I’ll pay you back.” He made to leave, but she stood in his way. She was still wearing her bus uniform, her name tag still clipped to the pocket of her shirt.

“Where were you?” She asked.

“You still got your id badge on.” He said.

She removed it hastily and asked again. “Where were you?”

“The holo-store.”

“I sure as hell know you ain’t spending my money at that damn-”

“Nah.” He shook his head and set his pockets on the counter. “I told you, It’s free.”

“Free?”

“It’s not fully responsive AI,” he said. “Not yet.”

She waited, expecting more, but he offered nothing else.

“And what’d you see at the holo-store this time?”

“It’s just a pre-program. My friend Bill works there.”

“Wasn’t another one of those sex things, was it?”

“Mom.”

“You know I found that drive in your room a few weeks ago.” She said. “Plugged it into the TV. Saw the whole filthy thing.”

His eyes glanced left.

“You looking at girls, Dewey?”

He shook his head and studied the floor.

“Mmm hmm.” She put her hand on his chin, lifted his head. She smiled at him. “How’s the statue coming?”

He showed her his teeth and twisted away from her hand. “Sculpture…It’s good.” he said, adding. “I’m almost done with it.”

“Yeah? I didn’t think it’d ever be done.” she said, bending down to check the food in the grower. “Can I see it?”

“No.” He said to her back.

“You haven’t had to submit public photos yet?”

“Not yet.

“Well, can I see it anyway?” She asked again, sprinkling generic protein into the cloner.

“Nah, let me finish it.”

“It’s that good, huh?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I’m still working on it.”

“You damn well better win that big competition money, so you can pay me back for all these transport bills you keep gettin.” She said, straightening, wiping her hands off her pants.

He clicked his tongue at her and backed into his bedroom.

“Dinner’ll be ready in ten, Dewey!”

“Okay.” He yelled back and shut the door.

#

Along with Cuffy’s holo-store activities with slave programs, he was also a sculptor. From a very young age, he exhibited an almost preternatural talent for the art.  Maybe in other times, in other worlds, his gift might’ve gone unnoticed, but the advent of the Trans-shift modeling software made the art of sculpture internationally ubiquitous, especially in schools.

As soon as Cuffy had control of the material,  strange and utterly compelling sculptures emerged from his efforts, winning competition after competition, garnering attention, and finally winning a scholarship to the most prestigious private high school in New York.

Since they knew it was his passion, Templeton Private had given Dewitt Cuffy a state-of-the-art Trans-Shift room to work with behind the gymnasium. And because he was a senior with an immaculate academic record and many more credits than he needed to graduate, they let him have the final class period of the day all to himself. Or so they said. There was some speculation.

It seemed a big coincidence the Trans-Shift corporation just so happened to grant the state-of-the-art room to Templeton Private the very same year Cuffy had been admitted via full scholarship. And mere chance, the specs for that room had found their way into Cuffy’s locker, day one. And when it came time for the ISC committee to announce the 20 people selected to participate in the competition, it seemed odd when Cuffy’s name appeared alongside the other 19 world famous sculptors. Their names, all of them, intellectuals, respected figures of culture, people of renown, written next to his own simple Dewitt Cuffy. It didn’t make sense. Again, there was some speculation, but no one said anything to his face.

He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Usually, the lights came on automatically, but something was wrong. Everything was dark. He fumbled a hand against the wall and flicked the manual switch. The lights blinked, and from the contrast came his statue.

A 25 foot wide black ball appeared. 20 black poles extended from it in all directions, filling up the room like rays of sun. At the end of each black pole, affixed to the small of their back, were 20 enormous photorealistic black humans performing 20 different things:

Swimming, dancing, laughing, playing basketball, hanging from a rope, reading, giving a speech, pushing a broom, blowing bubbles, praying, writing, singing, crying, looking through a folder, stealing a purse, running, pointing a gun, giving birth, picking cotton.

Each of them, though larger than life, looked real; right down to the molecular level, all of them, appeared inscrutably human. Coat after coat of microscopic textures applied to their shiny black surface had created the appearance of living breathing sentience.

Cuffy walked around it, again and again, re-familiarizing himself with the space. He opened his phone, accessing the Trans-Shift interface, and sifted through the programming dimensions. He paused on one of the figures, looked at the reality, and made a decision. He shifted some numbers around and altered the symmetry of the sweeper’s face. He looked up and watched the sweeper’s left eye droop.

“Audio file – Notes.”

A pixelated speaker materialized above his phone.

“Friday, 2:46 p.m. October 23, 2499. Dropped the sweeper’s left eye 1.5 millimeter’s, disrupting the symmetry.” He said, studying the change, bringing his face closer and closer to the giant old man’s stooped attention.

He stood on his tip toes and ran his fingers across the sweeper’s wide neck, feeling the man’s shave bumps. He touched his own, then smoothed the lingering tingles on his fingerprints with a thumb.

“Yeah. End audio file.” He said. The speaker disappeared and Cuffy took a few steps back and craned his neck.

The twentieth figure stood at the top of his statue, 50 feet in the air, an enormous young boy in a hoody balanced on one leg. The other nineteen figures faced outward toward the viewer, but the boy looked down, back into his pole, into the sphere. He was not smiling.

“Room. Up 49 feet.”

A white beam lifted Cuffy 49 feet in the air.

“Forward 25 feet.”

The white beam moved him forward 25 feet until he was right in front of the boy standing on one foot.

“I’m changing it back. ” He whispered.

Cuffy held his arm next to the boy’s black face, looking at his own skin, back and forth, measuring them together under the same light.

“Room. Display Spectrum.”

An enormous rainbow of color appeared before him out of thin air.

“Only Browns.” He said.

The hologram zoomed in without losing size and every conceivable shade of brown spread before him like a fan wheel. He cut his finger down the center of the spectrum, splitting it in half, sending all the lighter browns away. He floated there, 50 feet in the air, studying the subtle gradation.

“Room – Whole sculpture – Ready color shift.”

After a moment of stillness, a glaze of electricity rippled across the statue’s surface, temporarily galvanizing its reflective texture, preparing itself to be completely changed.

He held up the back of his hand against the remaining colors in front of him and pointed at one. The entire statue changed color. His held his hand to the boy’s face again, chose another one. Again, the entire statue changed color.

Cuffy did this for an hour until his skin and the surface of the statue were indistinguishable.

Since the statue’s inception, when it was just a 50 foot block of telegraphic steel, Cuffy had flipped back and forth between the purest jet black and some vague shade of brown, but never his own.

“Room – Down.”

The beam of light set him on the ground. He looked up at his creation and put his hands in his perception again, measuring the progress he’d made. The statue loomed before him like a planet.

“Lights off.”

#

At work, Cuffy didn’t talk much. He told the other fast food workers he preferred cleaning tables, rather than working the food processors, so they just left him alone. Behind the counter, his fellow employees, laughed and joked, made friends with each other in between taking orders, but Cuffy stayed away. Sometimes, they would try to include him in their nonsense, but he’d just tell them they played too much and get back to his tables.

He’d walk in between the customers, and listen to their conversations, their voices, lingering here and there, quickly washing tables when they noticed him.

That evening, the final customer walked out of the restaurant and he set the auto-lock function. Unlike their cleaning system, the restaurant’s expensive security apparatus was fully automated except for the one who pressed the on/off switch.

He watched the steel plates descend over the windows and lock into place with energy shadows. They sparked in clean arcs across the bottom matrix, then vanished, leaving behind an ambient glow in the air. Cuffy crouched and put his face close to it, inhaling the ozone.

“Hey Cuffy.”

He hastily corrected his posture, took up his sponge, and began scrubbing off the last few tables.

“Hey, what’s up?”

The girl tilted her head to the side and gave him a few moments to accept her presence. She’d been working at the restaurant a few weeks, much smaller than him, but a little older though. Cuffy didn’t know her name. Sometimes, Cuffy would catch her eying him, like some of the rich girls did at the private school downtown. He didn’t look at her and scrubbed the table.

“You’re too skinny.” She said, finally.

“I know that.” He said.

She leaned over the side of the booth, trying to get into his eye line. “I heard you’ll be at the sculpture competition in a few weeks.”

Cuffy nodded.

“People are talking about it. I heard you’re the youngest ever.” She watched him wring out his sponge into a bucket. “That’s big, huh?”

“Relative to what?” He asked.

She ignored him. “You attend that fancy school downtown?”

“Templeton?”

“You get a scholarship there?”

“Yeah.”

“My cousin tried to get a scholarship there. He had straight A’s.” Her eyes flashed. “They didn’t let him in.”

Cuffy scrubbed harder.

“I did sculpture when I was a kid.”

“So did everyone else.”

“I came in second place at my school.”

“Congratulations.”

“You smart, Cuffy?” She asked.

He stopped scrubbing, stood up, and moved toward her. She backed into the wall, smiling. He followed and pushed into her space, made her look up at him. At 6’4, Cuffy was taller than everyone.

“Am I smart?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you know?” He asked her. She glanced at an old man mopping the floor behind him, caught him looking.

“I heard you won all those competitions when you were younger.”

He put his hands on the wall and leaned into her. “You like sculpture?”

“I like money.”

“Why?” He whispered.

Her eyes ticked back and forth, then settled on his face. She opened her mouth slightly, waiting for him to give her more information, but he offered nothing else.

She snapped. “What you mean, why?”

He smiled and pushed off the wall. Her eyes followed him. “They gonna be prize money?” She asked. “If you win?”

He nodded and picked up his sponge again.

“Enough to go to college?”

“That’s what they say.”

“Hmm…I bet you gonna win.”

“How do you know?” he asked. “You haven’t even seen it.”

“You always win. My girlfriend said you been winning at stuff like that since you were in elementary.”

“This isn’t the same,” he said, “I’m not going against little kids this time.”

“So? You’ll get some kind of scholarship even if you don’t win.”

Cuffy said nothing and continued wiping the table. The girl watched him from the wall, smirking.

“Why you work so hard?” She asked.

“It’s my job, isn’t it?”

“The boss ain’t here.”

Cuffy straightened up and nodded at her. “I don’t care if he is here.” He pointed the sponge at the girl. “His eyes ain’t my eyes, so… why should I care what he sees?”

She frowned. “His eyes ain’t your eyes, what you talking about?”

Cuffy shrugged and kept scrubbing. “I don’t know. His eyes ain’t my eyes.” He said quietly.

She moved on. “So, how big is it?”

The old man had cycled back with his mop and was now near them again. He shook his head at both of them.

“50 by 50.”

“50 what? Inches?”

“Feet.”

Her face scrunched into incomprehension. “50 feet? How you making something 50 feet tall?”

“Trans-Shift Room.”

Her eyes widened. “You have a Trans-Shift Room?”

He nodded. “The school does.”

“I’ve only heard about those on TV. Like, you can just float around the room…changing anything you want?”

“If I wanted.” He admitted and began sopping up a spill off a leather seat.

She maneuvered around him to the other side of the stall and watched him drain spilled Kale juice from his sponge into a bucket. This went on for a few moments, before Cuffy asked.

“Look, what do you want?”

“I just wanted to talk to you,” she said, “wanted to hear you talk…Listen.”

“That where this is coming from?”

“My girlfriend told me the news, people from all over the world, everybody gonna be there next week.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“What’s it called?”

“What’s what called?” He finished scrubbing the last table.

“Your statue.”

“Black Power.”

“Black Power?”

He held up a fist and threw the sponge in the bucket.

“You’re cheesy.” She said and got out her phone. Tiny pink images flickered across her eyes and a blue orb rose into the air above her phone like a balloon. She shook her head and it disappeared.

“What’s that?” He asked.

“None of your business.” She said without looking up.

Cuffy clicked his tongue, put his hands on the small of his back and stretched. Behind the counter, he could see the rest of the employees making moves to leave. From outside, he heard the bright gulp of a transport beam take Stephanie home.

“You want me to take care a that bucket for you?” It was the old man.

He said no, I got it and the old man said, time and a place for everything.

“What’d you say?”

The old man jumped.

“What did you say?” He asked it again.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You said there’s a time and a place.”

“It’s time, and that bucket goes somewhere I’m going. That’s all I said, you know? That’s all I said.” He repeated and retreated into the kitchen.

Cuffy’s chest heaved, his shoulders trembled. The girl put her phone down. The lights turned off.

“You okay?” She asked.

“Yeah.” He muttered and carried the bucket out back and remained there long after everyone else left, looking at the squalor around him.

 

#

 

“I think it’s ready, Cuff. I’m going to show it to my boss this weekend.”

“No beets?”

“Nah, that was just something…nah, try it again.

Cuffy sat in the holo chair and plugged himself in.

“Wait, wait, wait.” Said Bill.

“What?”

“Try not deviating too much from the script the first time through so you can see the narrative without triggering the AI reactions…It’ll run more smoothly.”

“No promises.”

Bill looked into his monitor and punched a few buttons. “Okay, got it. Go ahead, Cuff.”

“No beets.”

“Man, I told you that was-”

He was looking at the stars. A comet was flying across the sky. He was the master. He was the controller. He looked down and saw a torch in his hand. Glints of white flashed beyond the pale. He heard a disagreement behind him. He was the master. He turned and pulled out his knife.

“You got it wrong. You got it wrong. I was getting them frogs out there. I know’s I ain’t supposed to, but…”

“Shut up.” Said the overseer and pushed him towards the master. “Caught this one trying to run.”

The boy looked between the two men, couldn’t help but look at the knife. Inevitability crept into his voice.

“No,” he said. “You’s…you’s gots it wrong, I was out…”

“You calling me a liar, boy!”

He turned to the overseer. “No…No sir, I’s just…I’s just trying to say-”

The master pushed the knife into the boy’s side and held it there, watching the incomprehension slither across his face. Behind the boy’s eyes, something fouled and he slid off the knife and hit the ground. A scream erupted from the darkness and a fat woman ran into the light, started telling the master all the things, telling him about where it comes from, about the time and the place.

This was the moment that it truly began for the master. A moment that held potential.

He didn’t kick her when she stretched across her son. But instead, crouched beside her as she begged and touched her thick wooly hair. She didn’t acknowledge it, she didn’t acknowledge him, and the overseer grinned at the master’s cruelty.

The master looked up at the overseer and then at his own knife. The woman screamed and when he motioned for the overseer to lift her off, she struggled, still pleading for her son’s life. The overseer, unable to drag her off, started working her calloused hands, finger by finger, but her grip was too tight. She held on to her boy until she realized it was hurting him and let go.

The master turned from it and set his torch in the ground. He felt his breathing quicken and shut his eyes, opened them, closed them, and found little difference between. He opened them again and saw something different near the edge of darkness. All the others out there beyond the torchlight, seemed like ghosts, outlines of gray ash under a sickly moon, but here, sticking out from the curtain of shadow, fully lit, were a tiny pair of feet. He had never seen them before.

The master left behind the scuffle, depriving it of his observation, and walked towards the toes. He stopped before them and kneeled. They didn’t move. He set his knife on the ground and touched the small toes with his old fingers.

“What are you doing, Cuff? I told you not to deviat-”

“Mute. Operator.”

The child stepped forward. It was a boy, younger than the screaming youth behind him. His face was stoic and long and he looked down at the master without curiosity.

“Hey, boss what you doi-”

“Disable overseer AI.”

A large hand came out of the shadows and placed itself onto the boy’s shoulders. It was a man. The master stood up.

“Speak.” He said.

The man looked at him, but said nothing.

“Speak.” He said again.

The man opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He closed his mouth, his eyes twitched. A fiddle began dancing in the darkness off cue, and both father and son turned to join it, but the master stopped them. Fireflies blinked in the distance and a cold wind swept across all of them.

The boy, understanding nothing, rubbed his cheek against his father’s hand and the master smiled.   The man smiled too and the master slit his throat. Blood sprayed across him and the boy, but the boy did nothing, so the master killed him too. They fell the same way, twitched the same way, and died the same way. They lay upon the ground the same way, one before the other, father and son, almost spooning, their arms and legs bent at exactly the same angles, their faces caught in the same geometric rictus, lips parted to the same degree of separation.

The master, holding his stomach, returned to the scuffle, which at this point had found itself within a loop. Begging, then laughter, begging, then laughter. As he approached, the woman slid free of the loop and issued a single worded slur. The overseer, free to hear it, delivered his line.

“You ever heard a please sincere as that, boss?”

“End program.”

Cuffy unplugged as fast as he could and rushed out of the holo-store. He hunkered over a trash can by the door and waited for it to come. Passers-by, familiar with the posture, gave him a wide berth, but none offered support.

“Hello. Dewitt. Cuffy. We see that you have not registered to vote. As an…18 year old. It is your civic duty to participate in the upcoming presidential election on November 8th and choose the candidate that is right for America.”

Cuffy looked up at the ad-drone floating in front of him. He tried to wave it away without letting go of the trashcan, but the machine didn’t pick up his hobbled gesture.

“Stewart Zephie has your best interests in mind…for…college loan reforms and has also made significant bi-partisan efforts to…increase the minimum wage and decrease costs for…low income hou-”

“NO THANK YOU.” yelled a voice behind him.

“Of course.” And the machine flew away.

Bill stood in the doorway of the holo-store, hesitating to move.

“Didn’t register the motion, huh? Sometimes you got to scream to get em to leave.”

Cuffy rested his head against the rim of the trash can and stamped a foot.

“You okay, Cuffy?”

“What’s it look like, Bill?”

Bill let the door close behind him and stepped to Cuffy’s side.

“What were you doing in there, Cuff?”

“We just…nothing.” He answered.

Bill put a tender hand on Cuffy’s back and glanced into the trashcan. There was nothing there.

#

In Applied Quantum Physics, Cuffy found the day’s topic interesting and baited the teacher into ignoring everyone else.

“What do you mean, Dewitt?”

Cuffy explained.

After 15 minutes, the other students in the class could but watch as he and the teacher collapsed into their familiar short hand. It had happened before. Usually, Cuffy sat in the back of the class quietly drawing in his notebook, but sometimes the boy would come alive. No one questioned his motive, possibly because it was so fascinating to watch.

Their dialogue seemed to electrocute meaning, blistering with metaphors and hypotheticals, rudely interrupting each other, like dogs, barking out clarifications atop one another, at times laughing, and then other times pausing, leaving some grand potential hanging in the air like the unspoken importance of parable. A few students tried to take notes, but most simply pulled out their phones and ignored the whole thing.

Today’s topic was event horizons.

“No, Dewitt, it’s ahh…it’s a barrier to which there is no escape…So, you have to see both perspectives at the same time, the pull and the push as it were, and what we’re talking about is if the singularity-”

“Doesn’t the whole thing imply an absence of perspective?”

The teacher paused. Cuffy continued.

“No observer.”

“No observer…no, I don’t think you’re loo–”

“Okay, okay, let me say it a different way. The outside observer cannot perceive light if it originates within the event horizon, correct?”

“I have trouble with the word, originates, but okay.”

“So, what is to say that light within the event horizon…some phenomenon, does not exist, even if we understand it to?”

“Why would it not exist?”

“Does it? I mean if what you’re saying is true that the gravity of it is such that-”

“Stop it, you’re leading yourself into-”

“The singularity inside the event horizon. A unique phenomenon originates-”

“I told you that the word is problematic-”

“Why does it exist, and if it does, what are we defining as existing if it cannot affect an observer and if the singular phenomenon is conscious within it, a person…” Cuffy hesitated, then continued anyway. “If the…light…is conscious…and cannot be seen by an outside observer…does that mean that it never existed…?”

“I really don’t understand.”

“That’s my point, but if it doesn’t exist, at least not in any form in space time, and if the observer is within the event horizon, does that mean that the light would then exist in some form that we understand it?”

“You’re saying if you were in a black hole and you turned on a flashlight, could you see it.”

“No, I’m asking if I’m in a black hole, can I perform any action that would not be seen by an outside observer as some reaction to the black hole, beyond its pull…or does simply being within its pull obliterate existence, no process of degeneration or dissolution, but a true eschatological void that…” Cuffy trailed off.

The teacher put his hands on his desk. Some of the other students glanced up from their phones.

“Dewitt, nothing…nothing you’re saying speaks to an understanding of this topic.”

All of the students looked at Cuffy. Cuffy smiled. “Light can’t reach the eye of the outside observer, correct?”

“From the event horizon of a black hole, correct.”

“And what would happen if the observer was inside the black hole?”

The teacher held out a stolid hand. “Then, he would not be an outside observer.”

“They would still exist, their perception, the wave lengths of-”

“Technically, we don’t know what would happen, because no one has eve-”

“So, can a phenomenon exist within a black hole for any space of time, observed from within or without, originating not as a reaction from the black hole, but originating from within the observer?”

The teacher took his hands from his desk. Those students who were smiling at Cuffy stopped. “It’s hard to-”

There was a knock at the door. “Excuse me.”

Everyone turned and saw the school’s vice-principal standing in the doorway.

“Hello, I’m sorry to interrupt, could I steal Dewitt for a few moments, I need to talk to him about something.”

“Of course.”

Dewitt stood up. The teacher smiled at him, then told the class to take out their books and turn to the section on Ergospheres. Cuffy flipped open his book to that section, studied the page for a few moments, then walked into the hallway. The vice-principal shut the door behind him.

“Learning how to build black hole generators?”

“We were about to get into that I think.”

“Oh yeah? When, I was in school they had just started theorizing the idea, and now, 15 years later the station’s set up and we’re teaching it to teenagers.”

Cuffy looked at the ground.

The vice-principal leaned a bit trying to find the boy’s eye line. “It’s just interesting.” He continued. “How fast it’s all progressing these days.”

Cuffy nodded and shuffled his feet.

“So.” Said the vice-principal, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Is it finished?”

“Almost.”

“I walked over there, yesterday. Got up close and personal with it. Looks good.” He paused, then added. “Impressive.”

“Thanks.”

“Its a great, big day coming, Dewitt.”

“Yeah, I know, I kno-”

“A big, big day, Mr. Cuffy.”

“Yeah.”

The vice-principal smiled. “The Trans-Shift people called me yesterday and I assured them that you were utilizing their technology to it’s fullest extent. I mean, the level of detail you put into it is simply astonishing.”

Cuffy said nothing.

“I know, I’ve said this to you before, but when they gave us that room, they gave us the specs for it too…” He made a large space between his thumb and pointer finger. “Like that. I have not read it, to be honest, because I cannot read 1200 pages of science specific data.” He laughed. “I tried to load the program onto my phone and I couldn’t even do that right.” He pulled out his phone to show him what he was talking about. “Simple thing, I suppose, but you…you took to it like a duck to water.”

“A duck to water.” Cuffy muttered.

“What’s that?” He asked, putting his phone back into his pocket.

“The inescapable environment of a duck.” said Cuffy without looking at the vice-principal.

“Right, well…the Trans-Shift people told me that they wanted the message of empowerment to be obvious, and yes, I know, that seems…like a strange request, but-”

Cuffy bobbed his head back and forth and moved in closer to the vice-principal.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.”

“Well” said the vice-principal, taking a casual step backward, “they just wanted something obvious, nothing abstract. I mean, since they’re going to be sponsoring you, specifically the man who invented Trans-Shift, Turner Dessaline, since you and he are of the same…well, he just wants it to be about your…shared experience, the specific perspective and he wants that to be competing against these other people, I mean, the stage of this competition, the scope of it, well, it’s staggering, I have to say. And he just wants you to be…”

“I thought I did that. What’s the problem?” Cuffy shook his head. “If he’s so interested in it, why doesn’t he just come here and change it back himself?”

The vice-principal nodded and put his hands back in his pockets. “Mr. Dessaline is a busy man. I sent him the preliminary pictures of it, and he said he liked it, which Principal McTaggert says is high praise coming from him. He just seemed interested in how you planned on presenting it.”

Cuffy shrugged. “As is.”

“As is, meaning no more last minute changes?”

“Man, why doesn’t he just put himself in the competition? Everyone’s going to be using Trans-Shift to make their sculptures anyway, who knows better than he does?”

“I think, he sees it as a conflict of interest, since he’s on the committee, and besides that, he’s not an artist, he’s a scientist, an inventor…You know that.”

Cuffy frowned and looked through the classroom door at his teacher, pontificating about something fascinating.

“Dewitt?”

“Yeah.”

“Listen, I was trying to be understanding with him. It was a strange conversation, to tell the truth. It seemed difficult for him to explain his intentions on the matter, but he told me his thoughts on some demographical, shall we say, concerns about society and he just hopes your statue will be reflective of that intent.”

“Creative freedom has been on my mind a lot lately.” Said Cuffy and took another step towards the vice-principal. “Ya feel me?”

The vice-principal nodded happily and took a step back. “Sure, and you know, it’s all a matter of perspective anyway, right?”

Cuffy looked at the ground.

“Art is relative as they say, but I doubt he’s going to be disappointed.” The vice-principal widened his eyes. “I mean, I remember your last Trans-Shift statue…the uhhh, the uhh…”

“Gargoyle.”

“Yeah, man.” He bent towards Cuffy, hands still in his pockets. “Incredible. Garnered a lot of great press for this school last year.” He straightened up. “I’ve got a picture of it right here, somewhere-” He began fidgeting through his pockets.

“That’s all right.”

“I just thought I had it here…”

“It’s all right.”

“Well, anyway,” He stopped searching and cleaned his glasses. “Look, other than that stuff about the Trans-Shift people, I just wanted to go over some particulars for Saturday and Sunday.”

Cuffy nodded and brushed a wrinkle from his shirt.

“First of all, what’s the title of it?”

“Black Power.”

“Black Power? Hmm. Well, Good! And you said you’re finished?”

“Almost.”

“Great,” The vice principal nodded a few times, then whispered, “Hey, I’m sorry for coming on all strong like that, it’s just the principal’s been breathing down my neck about this, that, and the other, but I’ve tried to shield you from it a little, cuz I know he’s talked to you about it too, but…We rely on Trans-Shift’s donations beyond just the room and we also want this statue to be a testament of our commitment to diversity. We’ve received some blowback in recent years about our admission practices.” He paused.

“And look, it’s not something you really need to worry about, okay? Just do your best and have fun, all right?” He nodded a few more times then continued normally. “Now, logistics. logistics. logistics.” The repetition seemed to swing him into his purpose. “Right, okay. This Saturday, I’ll need you here around 8 p.m. to manage the presentation when we set it up. We’ll pay for the transport beam of course, or Trans-Shift will I guess, but you’ll need to tell the stage team how to set it up.”

Cuffy nodded.

“Also, the morning of, you’ll need to be standing with your statue at 9 a.m. because they tell me there’s some protocols the judges want to go over with you. You’ll have a handler, okay? A person who will guide you through the necessary press junkets. Please, as said to you before, please, please, please mention Templeton at some point in the interviews you’ll be doing.”

Cuffy shrugged.

The vice-principal narrowed his eyes at the young man. “You do understand what this is, Dewitt…Right?”

“I mean, I think so…”

“This is not the state competition and this not any of those local things you breezed through when you were in elementary. This is an international event. Interstellar even, I heard there were even going to be people coming from the colonies. Do you understand? The words “return on our investment” comes to mind, Dewitt.”

Cuffy looked out the window.

“Now, look, I don’t want to put pressure on you here, but-” The vice-principal stopped as a young man holding an orange restroom pass walked by, not hiding his stares at Cuffy. He disappeared around a corner and the vice principal began simulating seismic subduction with his hands. “I need to know you understand the gravity of the situation.”

Dewitt couldn’t stop watching the process.

“Mr. Cuffy?”

“Why?”

The vice-principal’s hands stopped. “What?”

“Why do I need to understand the gravity of the situation?”

“What do you mean?”

Cuffy sighed. “How’s it going to help me do better, if I understand the “gravity?”

“Are you actually asking me, Dewitt?”

Cuffy showed him his palms.

“Well, you might have better posture for one, if you knew what this was. You might stop stooping you shoulders, stop pretending this isn’t all about presentation, how other people see you, how other people perceive what your…Okay, I’m going to speak to you like an adult, all right?”

“Sure.”

“You were selected to participate, selected, Mr. Cuffy. An even better word would probably be allowed, to express a particular perspective here, so I think, Mr, Dessaline, the principal, myself, your school, your community, all of us, are expecting you to act accordingly. The world’s eyes are going to be on you, and if there’s any clarification to this man’s interest in your work, it might be a little concern for how you present yourself. You are representing a lot more than just yourself.”

“I know that.”

“Do you? You don’t seem that interested in participating, let alone winning. The least you could do is act like you have some regard for the people your performance reflects on.”

Cuffy rolled his eyes, and the vice-principal, a short man by all accounts, began inching towards him, backing him up.

“A lot of people are going to be looking to you as their voice, Dewitt. This idea you’re “espousing,” I guess would be the word, hasn’t been brought up in a long time, and for whatever reason, there’s just not that many people, like you, who get this opportunity and I want to make sure it’s addressed tastefully, because, well…” Cuffy hit the wall. “You know you’re going to be the only-”

“Yes, I know.” Interrupted Cuffy.

“You know. Well, it’s just a big year…” He glanced around, seeming to take stock of their proximity and took a step back. “A…A big year for the school and if you place, I mean, we’re talking scholarships, interviews.” The vice-principal head popped right with a thought. “Job opportunities. But, you know that, don’t you?”

“I do.”

“All right. And, I just have to say, that I’m excited to see someone like…You’re going to be empowering millions with your work and I’m just, I’m happy that we’re enabling you to do it. That’s all.” He said, nodding, like his head was caught between magnets.

#

“Dewey. Come here.”

“I’m going to be late for work, Mom.”

“No, come here. I want to talk to you a minute.”

“You’re going to be mad when I have to use that transport beam.”

Her lips shuffled themselves into a frown. He looked away.

“Come here.”

Cuffy walked over to the couch and sat beside his mom. She clapped a few times, muted the TV, and moved her food tray.

“Okay, Cuffy. I just wanted to tell you that I saw it, the public photos, and-” She began to tear up. “I love it, Cuffy. I love it.”

“Ahhh, Mom.”

“No, I’m just so proud of you.” She hugged him and his face tightened into a pit. It fixed itself when she released him. He smiled at her.

“Thanks.”

“And you know, it’s such a positive message. Black. Power.”

Cuffy looked at the TV. Red, white, and blue balloons were cascading around a man, his arms stretched out, embracing thousands. A woman and three smiling children, mostly obscured by the balloons, clapped beside him.

“I wish my mom could’ve seen it. It’s like we can do anything, we can be anything.”

“As long as it’s black.”

“What?” She stopped smiling. “What do you mean, Dewey?”

“Nothing.”

She looked at him for a moment, saw his eyes looking at the TV and turned it off. “Look at me. I’m telling you that what you did; what you did is important to me. And I bet you’re going to win it too, you always win, but even if you don’t, no, look at me, Dewey…Even if you don’t, I still want you to know, I’m proud of you.”

She searched his eyes. He met them. She smiled.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect you to create something like that.” She wiped a tear away. “The way you talk and all. The way you dress. I didn’t think it, well, I didn’t think you cared about the struggle, and I’m not saying that to be mean, you know I’m not, I just, well, I just-You know what I’m saying.”

Cuffy started breathing hard. She didn’t notice.

“Oh, Dewey, the doctor is so amazing, the one with the lab coat and the folder. How’d you get it to look so realistic?”

His shoulders heaved. A time and a place. “I wanted it to look like a person.”

“Where it’s all coming from, that big powerful black ball, ooooooh, I don’t even-”

“I got to go Mom.”

“Okay, okay, I just…”

“I love you, Mom.”

“I know, baby. I love you too.”

Cuffy stepped off his porch and itched his arm. He itched it again and looked up. The sun was about to disappear.

He pulled out his phone. President Zephie, surrounded by thousands of balloons, grinned at him. A question mark appeared.  He shook his head and swiped the screen.

“Work.”

Nothing happened.

“WORK!”

“18. Dollars.”

“Fine.”

“You almost landed on top of me.” She said.

“Not my fault.”

“I would’ve blamed you, though.”

“I’m sure you would have.”

“How you afford beamin anyway?” she asked, “Only person I see beamin is you and that retarded girl, Stephanie.”

“Stephanie’s aphasic…not retarded.”

The girl frowned. “I don’t know what she is, I just know they don’t hire people like her where she come from.”

He shrugged. “Maybe, I’m retarded.”

“You ain’t retarded.” she said.

Some customers walked between them to their old electric car. Streaks of rust ran along the trim just like it did on all the buildings this side of town. Cuffy wrapped his apron around himself and tied it. She watched him.

“It’s this weekend, isn’t it?” she asked.

“I believe it is.”

“I saw a picture of it online.”

He looked up at her, “And?”

“I like it.”

“It was acceptable to you?” He finished his knot and started walking towards the entrance.

She frowned at him and shook her head, “Why you talk like that?”

“Like what?” He held the door for her.

“Like them.”

#

“No, no. Cuff. I can’t today. Sorry, man.”

Cuffy stopped a few paces from the entrance. Bill rose tentatively from his desk and started walking over to him.

“Yeah, sorry man, I wish you would’ve called. I can’t let you plug in today.”

Cuffy let his backpack slink off his shoulder and then shrugged it back on. “What’s going on, Bill?”  Some of the other technicians looked up from their monitors. Bill eyed them and led Cuffy outside.

Two ad-drones converged on the-

“NO, THANK YOU!” shouted Bill.

Cuffy watched them zip into a vertical and separate, zooming off in different directions. Cuffy adjusted the straps of his backpack and waited for Bill to say something, but he didn’t.

“You know I work at a Bever’s, right?” said Cuffy, “Fast food restaurant way, way, way on the south side. I never see ad-drones over there.”

Bill looked up at him, confused. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” Cuffy said. “Just an observation.” Cuffy watched him nudge something with his foot. “Bill?”

“My boss found out that I was letting you play for free.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Cuffy closed one eye and snaked his thumbs through the straps of his backpack, “Well, I mean-”

“But it’s not just that.”

“I have money.”

“I showed the runaway to the boss, Cuffy. I wanted him to help us publish it.”

Cuffy clicked his tongue. “Okay.”

“He didn’t say anything while he watched it until, I don’t know. He must’ve seen you in the news or something…about that competition you’re in. When he saw your name in the program logs, he flipped.”

“So.”

“He was so angry. Said we couldn’t work on it here anymore. Were we doing something wrong, Cuff?”

“I don’t kno-”

“He got way mad at me, man. He started asking me all these questions. I was like, no, this is what Cuffy wanted, and…It’s just weird. Like, I load up murder programs all the time, so does he, for people, for parties, it’s just not that big of a deal, you know?”

Cuffy said nothing.

“He told me I’m too stupid to fire and then didn’t speak to me after that; told me you weren’t allowed in the store anymore.”

“What!?”

Bill shook his hands at him. “I know! I don’t fucking understand, Cuff. Like, fire me or whatever, but like, he threatened to go public with it if I tried to publish it anywhere else, which…” He shook his head. “I-?” And said nothing else, aborting the question.

Cuffy nodded and looked at the ground. Bill waited for Cuffy to give him more, but nothing came out.

“Why would the press care?” Bill asked.

“They wouldn’t, but they’d talk about it. They’d talk about ducks and water and they’d get their views and-”

“What the fuck are you talking about Cuff?”

Cuffy looked into his friend’s confused face, saw something there or nothing at all, and shook his head, “I’m so sorry, Bill.”

“He told me to delete the file.”

“Did you?”

Bill sighed. “Not the back up, but you’ve got to help out with this one, bro. I don’t understand.”

“I can’t, Bill.”

“What? Why n-” He stopped himself. An old woman walked into the store. The door closed. “Why not?”

“Does he look like me?”

“Who?”

“Your boss.”

“No, he’s old as shit.” answered Bill, but the question continued ricocheting across Bill’s comprehension until he spit it out again. “What does that have to do with it?”

Cuffy said nothing more and hugged his friend. Bill tensed, then fell into it. Cuffy squeezed harder. “Don’t worry about it, man. You know how old people are.” Bill hugged him back and they let each other go.

“Look, there’s other holo-stores you could go to,” said Bill, shrugging. “I can give you the program and let you keep fixing it somewhere else if you want for like personal shit or something.”

“You’d give it to me?”

“Yeah, I mean, you practically wrote it.”

“Just the AI motivations, you programmed every other inch of it.”

“Just the surfaces.”

Cuffy looked down. Bill regarded the action and leaned over to get in his eye line.

“Do you want it?” asked Bill again.

Cuffy nodded. “All right.”

“Good, give me a second.”

Bill went inside the store and came back out with the small silver drive. He stared at it in his own open hand, then with the smallest hesitation, put it in Cuffy’s.

“Tell the technician to load it centrally or you won’t get first person agency,” said Bill, his eyes still on the drive in Cuffy’s hands. “If you load it as is, it’ll just run from the master’s POV. The scripts runs on loops, micro and macro.”

“I know.”

“The AI programming we made is in there.” He said, before ripping his eyes from the drive in Cuffy’s hand. “I mean, it’s there already, but it won’t show up if you just watch it. You’ll have to tell them you like deviating from the script, so they’ll give you that storage space. The AI should load automatically if they do it right, and it’ll be expensive, but otherwise, you’ll just be trapped inside the loop watching the script, unable to participate.”

“I know.”

“I know you know, but they’ll just operate on their assumptions, so you’ve got to tell them, Cuff. Zero Point Improv Storage works best.”

Cuffy nodded at him and put it in his pocket. “You have other slave programs?” He asked.

“Yeah, but none like that one. None that I put more time into…detail. Every time you came in, it just kept getting better and better, more reactive. I couldn’t just delete it.”

“You’ll make something else.”

“Sure.”

A moment passed between them and Cuffy started to back up.

“Hey Cuff, why didn’t you tell me the ISC committee selected you? I had no idea you were that good.”

“Pride,” said Cuff, “the pride of humility.”

Bill held up his phone. “I saw your sculpture.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s amazing man, huge. Congratulations.”

Cuffy smiled at him, “I’m handling the Earth, son!”

Bill laughed, “Those people on spikes?”

Cuffy seemed to think about the suggestion, then shook his head. “Nah, they’re just people…coming from the same place.”

“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t get a good look. What’s it called again?”

“Black power.”

“Black power?”

“Yeah.”

Bill nodded. “Cool name. I wish you would’ve told me, I’m into sculpture myself,” said Bill, opening the door to the holo-store. “We could’ve talked about it, but hey, good luck tomorrow, I got to get back inside.”

“Sure, see you later, Bill.”

“Okay. Yeah, see you.”

Cuffy watched the doors shut behind him and pulled the tiny drive from his pocket. He rolled it between his fingers and brought it close to his face, examining it. The metallic surface caught the sunlight   and bounced a spot onto the mirrored wall of the holo-store. Cuffy looked at it a moment, then began tilting the thing, back and forth, playing with the angles, watching the spot quiver from his own imprecision. Behind him, he heard the whispered hum of an another ad-drone descending towards him.

“No, thank you,” he called, but he’d said it too soon. It was not yet upon him.

#

“Hey Dewey, it’s 7:45, don’t you got to get going?”

“Yeah, I’m just thinking about something.”

His mom leaned against the doorway of his room. “What you thinking about?”

“The gravity.”

“Gravity? Why you thinking about gravity?”

“Exactly.”

“Something to do with your statue?”

Cuffy pulled the blanket over his head. “Yup.”

“The school called. Told me you’re supposed to be there in 15 minutes to help the movers. What are you doing here?”

“Thinking.”

She walked over to his bed and ripped off the blanket. “This ain’t no time to be playing around, Dewey. Get out of here.”

“You’re right.” he said and swung his legs over the side of his bed.

“I know I’m right.”

Cuffy grabbed his backpack and began to walk past her, but she put a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, I love you Dewey.”

He regarded the hand on his shoulder and rubbed his cheek against it. His mom pulled it away and walked into the living room.

“Good luck.” she called.

#

When Cuffy stepped into the room, three men were already there, orbiting his statue. One of them called to him.

“You Dewitt Cuffy?”

“Yes, sir.”

The man walked over and pulled out a folder.

“All right.” he said. “We got to move this over to Central Park. I have the coordinates logged, the satellites are in route…You know how much it weighs?”

“It’s solid steel. Tons, I imagine.”

The man whistled and gazed at it.

Cuffy looked at it too. “That gonna be a problem?”

“Hmm? No, we’ll be able to get the specifications right.” He walked over to the ball and put a hand on it’s dark surface. “This the way it needs to sit. Just like this?”

Cuffy told the three men exactly how it should face, exactly how it should be. They listened intently and clarified a few points here and there.

“What time will they move it?” he asked.

“Soon as the satellites line up.” The man checked the folder, found what he was looking for. “Sometime around 5 in the morning, should be.” He scratched his chin and looked at the ceiling. “Somewhere’s around there anyway…You okay if we lose the roof? Probably, be easier if we don’t have to phase through it.”

Cuffy nodded and watched the three men detach the roof from the room. The glass panels above  flipped, sectioned into four triangles and slid into the hollow walls. The stars were out.

Cuffy leaned against the wall and watched the men, fumble with the energy locks on the corners of the room. The man turned a key and a green box lit up near the entrance and metal against metal could be heard through the walls, latching the rigging in place.

“That should about do it. When you leave, this’ll all close up.” said the man, waving a finger at heaven. “You know how expensive it is to transport a couple tons of steel?” he asked Cuffy without looking at him, his eyes glazed with stars. “Let alone phase it through a ceiling.”

“A lot.”

“Yeah, you got it. It’s a lot.” He let his eyes fall back to Earth. “Luckily, Trans-Shift’s footing the bill, right?” He raised a hand and waved to the two men trying to get his attention from the exit. They nodded back and left, leaving Cuffy and the man alone with it.

“You know, I used to do some sculpture in my day?”

“Oh yeah?”

“Little bit,” the man admitted. “Little bit, but nothing like this though.”

Cuffy followed the man’s eyes up his statue.

“Nothing like this. They look just like real people.”

“Thanks.”

The man made a noise and asked, “What’s it all about?”

“Gravity.”

“Gravity, huh?”

Cuffy regarded the man, then turned back to the statue. “I’ve started thinking about the direction of it though…which way’s it pulling.”

If the man was confused, he didn’t show it. “It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?”

Cuffy nodded. “I guess so. Hey, if I wanted, could I I still use the Trans-Shift activators, even if the ceiling’s open?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, should be able to.” The man held up a flat hand and ran a finger along the edge of it. “Beams are arranged horizontally, planes of…You see, the fibers run along-” He dropped his hands, and shrugged. “Yeah, it’ll be fine. Nothing important in the ceiling. You going to change something?”

“Maybe.”

#

The next day, Cuffy sat on stage with the other contestants and famous guest judges and listened to the corporate propaganda of Trans-Shift. Turner Dessaline, the CEO of Trans-Shift, expounded that although art and entertainment were essential to the functioning of a well rounded society, they were also part and parcel to new innovation and technology. Cuffy could barely keep his eyes open.

“Trans-Shift’s 3-D modeling capabilities, on display here, show the unbridled potential for this technology. The only obstacles we have yet to clear are the limitations of our own imaginations.”

Some applause here and there from the thousands of people swamped around the stage. He continued.

“Trans-Shift started with the beams we now use to travel instantly around the world, but 10 years ago, I thought…we can do more. This light that infuses with matter, FILLING IT UP, letting us fly from Tokyo to New York in mere seconds. It was indeed incredible, but I thought to myself, I thought, why couldn’t it also manipulate that matter, instead of just infusing it? I asked myself why couldn’t we manipulate matter as easily as we…”

Cuffy dozed off. The applause woke him.

“…Thank you. Yes, the future deserves to experience the outer reaches of their own creativity, not just in some protracted digital space, but in physical reality. Not blunted by electrical appendages, but truly seen. And here, we have the technology to materialize it, unplugged. Size, weight, shape, color, 10 years ago I believed that, eventually, none of…”

The applause woke him again. Cuffy sat up in his seat.

“For 50 years, this international sculpture competition has been the showcase for today’s newest technology, but I am proud to say that, today, on the eve of the year 2500, all 20 sculptures have been built using Trans-Shift.”

Lighter applause. Cuffy shuffled his feet. His mom waved at him. He showed her his teeth.

“Some of the older folks up here may remember when sculptures were not “in” as they say. I know many of you can’t even imagine it, but this ancient art used to be relegated only to museums, to hotel lobbies, and to petty ornaments in gardens. Of course, nowadays, it has become the international skill. Everyday, all over the world, children’s fingers become caked with clay, working and beating out their own unique forms of grand-”

He hesitated, flipping to the next page.

“…Grandeur. Making from themselves, masters of their own imagination. Sociologists speculate why sculpture rose to a place of prominence in our society these past 100 odd years, but the answer seems  obvious to me, and the other members of the ISC committee. Sculpture is about “the still.” The ageless. The ardent guard of time and place. More than books, music, movies, plays, even paintings, sculpture exists within a space of our immediate perception, daring us not to forget the hands that forged it. And in today’s fast paced world, sculpture’s-”

He paused as if searching for the word.

“…permanence has provided a stark contrast to a world innovating at light speed, and here, at a competition designed to highlight the beauty of stillness, we must recognize that art’s fundamental gift is to shake us free from context, and perceive new possibilities.”

He stopped, expecting applause. None came. He continued.

“Since coming out with Trans-Shift technology, we’ve seen massive leaps forward as industry after industry utilizes its potential for the betterment of mankind. Think of what is possible now that we have the ability to craft LITERALLY ANYTHING. Think of every life that might be enriched, might be enhanced, might be saved if one could design and build anything. Then go a step beyond what you can even imagine and you’re truly at the door step. The medical benefits alone are staggering. Just last week, I had an exciting talk with Insta-Karma’s CEO about the possibility of creating the world’s first artificial nervous system, ready for transplant. Imagine it. The subtle fibers of our very experience crafted, individuated, and realized for altruistic purpose. And with the imminent dawn of AI, who knows how far Trans-Shift might take us!”

“Get on with it!” Shouted someone from the crowd. Light laughter. Light applause. Turner Dessaline did not acknowledge it, but he did seem to flip a few pages forward.

“And…And so, at the doorway of untold vistas of new possibility…”

He flipped to another page.

“Okay.Anton Chekov, a once famous writer, once wrote:“I am afraid of those who look for a tendency between the lines, who are determined to regard me solely in particulars…I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one.” He was a man, same as all of us, who cried out for an end to limitation, and now, 700 years later. It has arrived, not from God, but from ourselves. Here-”

He stretched a hand toward the sky.

“…are 20 sculptures: solid testaments, to our ingenuity, our creativity, and our courage that show that we are more than just apes on this Earth. We are creators!”

Applause, applause. Cuffy rubbed his eyes and looked at the other 20 people on stage with him. He was the only one not clapping. Floating drone-cameras swirled around him like curious flies trying to find his eyeline. He looked at his shoes.

“Now, before we begin, I’d like to congratulate president Zephie for his historic win, and hope that he ushers in a time of peace and unification for our great country.”

Quiet applause. Cuffy sees that girl from his job standing alone some distance from the crowd leaning against a tree. She smiles.

“So, without further ado, I present to you, the 50th annual International Sculpture Competition!”

Fireworks, though it was day time, sparked across the sky, black for contrast, black for posterity and initiated the event.

Behind the stage, 20 transport beams lifted 20 gigantic white sheets off 20 gigantic sculptures arranged across Central Park, including Cuffy’s.

Applause, applause, and more applause and the crowd flooded toward the statues to get selfies. Cuffy jumped from the stage and his mom rushed at him, hugged him.

“This is so exciting!” She shrieked and shook him.

Some drones pulled up along side and strobed camera flashes at them. She pulled away from him quickly, and fashioned a quick pose. Flash. Flash. Flash. When the drones flew away, still smiling, she glanced at Cuffy, found him staring at her.

“What?”

#

After the commencement, the judges: actors and actresses, politicians, scientists, artists, past winners, and athletes, carried aloft by transport-beams of their own, flew around the park observing and commenting into their audio recorders about each statue. Cuffy watched them soar overhead as he walked around the park, speaking into their devices, conferring with each other mid-air. Occasionally, his eyes would linger on one buzzing around his own on the far side of the park, before turning away.

The statues were arranged in such a way, that you could walk along the jogging trail and see each one in turn. Therefore, a large herd of spectators found themselves mobbing, lock step, piece by piece, while others, more accustomed to their own pace, lingered on some, while rushed through others. Cuffy strolled along the path just ahead of them regarding the other statues in the competition. None of them seemed to illicit a response from Cuffy, until he saw the tenth one.

The 100 foot tall statue by famous Dutch sculptor, Jan Broucke, defied physics as many of the other sculptures did, but this one struck him, or appeared to at least, and he lingered with it long after the mob had passed by.

The texture of it looked ceramic, like the purest white, cutting close to the sheer edge of the spectrum. It was blinding. His phone rang. He turned it off. The thing was grounded by two gigantic 30 foot hands and its long fingers clutched the earth like it was desperately trying to hold on. From the hands, two massive arms stretched into the sky, tapering smaller and smaller, until they became the shoulders of a normal 5’8”person. Just a human figure, ambiguously sexed, attached to those hundred foot arms and those 30 foot hands on the ground. The small owner of the enormous white hands dangled in the sky, floating way up there among the clouds like a little human kite.

Cuffy walked around it, again and again, continuously wiping tears from his eyes, trying not to be seen by other people, circling. He noticed a ring on one finger. He crouched, put his own hand to it, felt the density of it; the hum of its constituent parts. Some people walked up behind him and Cuffy stood up, wiping something from his face.

“Is he trying to wrench himself free from his own arms or does he merely walk with his hands?” Asked someone.

“I think it’s symbolic.” Answered someone else.

“Well of course it’s symbolic, but I’m trying to figure out its literal form first, before I try to-”

Cuffy walked away from them and continued down the path. He’d seen 10 of the other statues, but none of them had been given so much of his time.

He looked across the park and saw the lock step crowd form around his statue. He cut a jag across the green and made to join them, but right as he walked up, Turner Dessaline, cane in hand, descended upon him, and wasted no time.

“YOU CHANGED IT!” he cried.

“Minimally,” responded Cuffy.

“Exponentially, I’d say. The color-” He pointed to Cuffy’s statue. “The colors, they’re all different now.”

Cuffy looked up at the colors, his compromise. The ball in the center remained jet black like the pictures he’d published, but along the poles, the black gradated outward, lighter and lighter, into 20 brown figures. His brown.

“It’s a gradient.” He said.

“Yes, I’m aware, but it wasn’t in the picture I saw before today.” Turner said definitively.

“Nothing in the rules says I can’t change it.”

Turner regarded the crowd around him. Some of them were staring up at the top most boy. He pointed his cane at it. “You changed him too, didn’t you?”

One of the sleeves of the boy’s black hoody hung loose and his brown hands were tugging against the pole holding him to the black sphere below. His face was warped with effort.

“Nothing in the rules says I can’t-”

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” interrupted Turner. “Just that the judges might not like it, especially this little number.” He tapped the floating placard next to the statue with his cane, “The Event Horizon of Black Power?’ What happened to just “Black Power?”

Cuffy looked at the boy tugging against the pole. “Too simple.”

“Hmmm. Too simple. So, better to veer into the pretentious than embrace subtlety, Mr. Cuffy?”

“What would you name it?”

Turner looked at the boy beside him, “We haven’t formally met, have we?”

Cuffy put out his hand, and Turner Dessaline shook it. White flashes strobed out toward them from all angles, then disappeared. Cuffy let go of the man.

“An unfortunate picture.” said Turner. “Was hoping to avoid it, but, oh well.” He leaned toward Cuffy. “I hope your school didn’t put too much pressure on you, but I was worried that we wouldn’t have some kind of representation here, as we don’t much anywhere else, do we?”

Cuffy laughed, then started backing away from the man, but a quick arm wrapped around his shoulder.

“The Event Horizon of Black Power. You know I’ve been thinking about that title, the turning point for us, if you will, that boy at the top there, trying to pull the others up, that’s me, isn’t it?”

Cuffy opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

“Oh, that’s all right, it goes without saying, doesn’t it. The sheer power of it. Black power, creating the doctor, the politician, and yes, the social ills, the thief, the criminal, all of it stemming from this same pool of potential, connecting us, binding us. It is simply a masterwork, Mr. Cuffy.”

Cuffy’s shoulders heaved. He tried wiggling out of the man’s grip, but the arm felt like steel against his neck.

“You know, when I was your age, I was busy inventing light plates; you know what those are? I guess they’ve become obsolete at this point, but can you imagine, 18, me, creating a patent for something that would soon be sold in stores, participating in the process! Nowadays, of course, I don’t just have a singular product, but a goddamn utility, but back then, Mr. Dewitt, I felt so excited. I immediately moved my parents out of their apartment, and put them in the best neighborhood…You live in East Brooklyn, don’t you?”

Cuffy put a hand to his stomach and looked across the park toward the white hands in the distance, the small figure flying above it.

“Rough, well, no matter, you won’t be living there for long, I heard some of the judges talking about the raw emotional power of your statue, an expression of community one of them said. They all sounded very impressed.”

He got close to Cuffy’s ear and whispered, “You and I know, it’s more complicated than that, but let them assume. They see what they see, don’t they. They hear what they hear, but in the end, it all comes back to this, doesn’t it. No matter what it is I do, or how powerful I become, it’s still…well, here it is.”

Turner pulled him close. “You captured the essence. DON’T LOOK AT THE ACTION, LOOK AT THE SOURCE!”

He laughed and removed his arm from Cuffy’s neck.

“Let this be a lesson for you, Mr. Cuffy. Never disillusion an assumption.”

“Why?”

“Why!? Because…Excuse me a moment.” Turner pulled out his phone. “Yes, I’ll be right there. I’m sorry, Mr. Dewitt, I have to go. Good job on the sculpture. It speaks worlds.”

Cuffy watched him fly away like an ad-drone and threw up on the ground. The crowd around him backed away and he leaned against his runner. He closed his eyes. Camera drones, pre-programmed to capture noteworthy behavior, flashed around him and all his insides became public. Someone offered him some water, but he refused it, and ran.

Tree to tree, he picked his route carefully, keeping just outside the lines of flashing cameras and crowds, glued to their phones, watching him vomit over and over again. He stopped under an oak tree on the far side of the park and watched the sun move across the sky and behind some clouds. The shadows glided along the green, making it difficult to tell where the shadows of his tree ended and the shadows of the clouds began. He took a nap and dreamed. His eyes fidgeted beneath his eyelids and he tossed and turned for hours. At dusk, after hours of avoiding consciousness, Cuffy awoke and found himself beside the twentieth statue.

Not many people remained. Most had decided to go home after making their initial rounds within the first hour. The judges had already done their final aerials around the park and flew to a secret location to make their final deliberations. They would reveal the winner on a special broadcast later that evening.

When he approached the statue, a few people saw him, recognizable as he was, and glanced back and forth from their phones to him, whispering, smiling, sympathetic, then drifting away. With the exception of a few vague eyes, Cuffy was alone with it.

Floating lights illuminated the sculpture and made an artificial day of its form. Cuffy circled around it once, twice. Seemingly, unsure of what he was seeing, unsure what he had found. The lights flickered, brightened, and as the sun disappeared, Cuffy grabbed his own throat, not aggressively, but gently, gripping it, squeezing it, tenderly. He rubbed it, then stretched his finger out and penetrated a hole in the statue, a small letter “P” near the middle. He took his hand away and peered within, saw the nose, the eyes, looking back. More letters within, shapes, squiggles, colors. Form. He felt his phone vibrate. When he picked it up, he saw he had 100 missed calls.

“Hello?” he answered, still looking at the statue.

“Dewey, where are you?” It was his mother. “I had newsmen wanting to interview us all day, but I couldn’t find you anywhere. Weren’t you supposed to stay with your handler?”

Cuffy cursed. He hadn’t attended to any of the day’s protocols. He’d been up all night.

“Nah, I had to take care of something.”

“Well, I hope you have a ride, because I’m already home and you should be too, Dewey, they’re going to announce the winner in an hour. Hurry up!”

She hung up on him and a blue balloon with the words “AGGRESSION” floated up at him. He shook his head and the cologne advertisement dissolved.

“Home.”

“125. Dollars.”

“Fine.”

“Cuffy! Hold up!”

He turned and saw the girl run up to him.

“You’re lucky my phone’s cheap.” he said, studying her. “You’re different without your apron.”

She smiled and regarded her outfit, “Thank you.”

“I’m about to go home.”

“Yeah, don’t go yet.”

“Why not?”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Why?”

“I like talking to you.”

“Nah, I gotta get-”

“Please,” she insisted.

Cuffy exhaled. The giant blob of letters stood beside them, listening. He pointed to it. “You see the man in there?” He asked.

“No.”

“Look,” he pointed through the “P”.

“She’s not a man.”

“What?”

“That’s a woman in there.”

Cuffy looked again. “How do you know?”

She pointed to the floating placard next to the statue. It read, “The Provocation.”

“So?” he asked.

“Wait for it,” she said.

After a few seconds, it changed and revealed a woman’s face, the name Jemmy Deslondes appeared below it.

Cuffy smiled. “Doesn’t mean it’s not a man.”

“I can just tell.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I told you. I was looking for you.”

“Why?”

She bit her lip and shrugged, “I don’t know. Why you ask so many questions?”

He didn’t know.

“Come on.” she said and took his hand.

They walked around the park and Cuffy listened to her discuss everything inside her: school, her ailing grandmother, her job, their boss. He listened to all of it without a word. The only thing that made Cuffy respond was when she told him statue 14 was her favorite. She apologized to him, but said she thought it was cool. He regarded it as they walked by, 75 feet of a woman’s hair, no face, thousands of individual strands curling around an invisible ear, draping across invisible shoulders. It’s interesting he admitted.

When they reached his statue, he told her he had to go, but she put a hand on his chest and told him to stay. He neared her, but she backed away.

He showed her his palms, but she ignored them.

“What is this about?” she asked.

“I don’t know, you tell me?”

“No, I mean, the statue,” she turned to it, “What’s it about?”

“I crafted my response for both possibilities.” he said.

“I don’t get it.”

Cuffy sighed. The floating lights merely slicked the surface of his statue, and the realism of each figure dimmed in the surrounding darkness. “I don’t know.” He saw his face in the floating placard before it returned to the title.

“I don’t know,” he repeated.

“That boy up there, pulling on the pole, he trying to get away?”

“Yeah.”

“That a black hole?”

“Yeah.”

“They can’t escape?”

“No, they’re already inside, this is all we see,” he admitted, “All that’s left.”

“I figured,” she put a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t worry, Cuffy, they ain’t black, yet.”

He laughed, “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you know,” she smiled at him. He moved in to kiss her, but she backed away.

“What is goi-” He was about to say, but his phone buzzed.

“Hello?” He looked at the girl. She looked at him.

“Come home, Dewey.”

“I’ll be-”

“Come home, Dewey.”

She hung up.

He ran a slow finger over the blank screen, hesitating, “I gotta get home.” he said finally, “My Mom wants to watch the announcement with me.”

“You know my name, Cuffy?”

He shook his head.

“Did you ask?”

“Look, I didn’t kno-”

“You smart, Cuffy?”

He shook his head and hit a button on his phone.

“Wait.”

“Home.”

“No, no.”

“125. Dollars.”

“Cuffy, wait!”

“Fine.”

“I wanted to-”

“FINE!”

A transport beam lifted him through the night and placed him in his kitchen.

“What is this?” his mother asked quietly. She was holding a small silver drive.

“What’s what?”

“This.”

“A drive.”

His mom grabbed his arm and pulled him next to her, “What is this, Dewey?”

He struggled against her arm, but she wouldn’t let go. “It’s nothing.” He leaned away, but she yanked him closer.

“What is this, Dewey?!”

“It’s something I was helping my friend Bill with.”

She let go of his arm, “You’re friend, Bill?”

“Yeah.”

“How does this” She held up the drive. “help Bill?” She shoved it into his hand. “Explain it to me.”

“It’s for class.”

“For class?”

“For history class.”

She started breathing hard. He put his hand on her shoulder. “Mom?” but she shook off his hand. “Don’t touch me, Dewey! I know when you’re lying.” She sat down at the dining table. “Just tell me why.”

“I told you, it’s for class.”

Her shoulders heaved up and down. She searched his eyes, but he kept them steady.

“For class?” She asked again, quieter. Behind her, the TV showed Turner Dessaline standing before a podium, the judges seated behind him. Cuffy couldn’t hear the words. It was on mute.

“Mom?”

“For class? Okay. For class.” She stood up and turned to him, stabilizing herself against the back of the kitchen chair. “I’ve never seen anything like that before, Dewey.”

“Mo-”

“In my worst nightmares, I’ve never seen anything like that. Why would you want to look at that?” He took a step towards his room and looked at the TV.

“They’re about to announce the winner.”

She gripped his face in her hand and turned him towards her, “Why do you hate yourself, Dewey?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Jan Van Broucke’s giant white hands had won. He ripped himself from her hand.

“Pssh, I don’t fucking hate myself.”

She slapped him hard. “Don’t you curse at me, Dewey!” He glanced at the TV again. It showed an image of an 125 foot David standing on its head, paunch sagging. Second Place. “Why do you hate yourself?”

“It’s not like that!”

“Then, what’s it like?”

“It’s like nothing.”

“Then help me, Dewey?” She leaned into his eye line. “Just help me, okay? Tell me why.” He maneuvered to the side. He saw his statue. He’d come in third place. She stepped in front of him.

“I got 3rd place, Mom.”

She started sobbing, “I don’t even care, Dewey. Just tell me…give me something.”

“Mom.” He looked at the TV. It showed a picture of him vomiting, stuck in that pose, beside his statue, forever.

“It’s not me.” he said. His shoulders started to heave, but he closed his eyes and became still. “It’s not me.”

“What?” she barked.

“Look, it-”

“Do you enjoy it?”

“Yeah, sometimes, some of it…other parts, other times, I didn’t…I don’t know…enjoys the wrong word, the wrong question, the wrong everything. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do whatever I want?”

“Oh Dewey,” she shook her head.

“Why can’t I!?”

“I just don’t know, do I?”

“Why can’t I.”

“Do I know you?” she asked quietly. “I thought I did, but this…For class?”

He straightened up, pulled back his shoulders, and nodded at her.

“Okay, Dewey. For class.” She walked past him. “We’ll talk about this later, I guess. Go to your room.”

#

That night, in front of his computer, he watched a recording of the announcement ceremony, listened to them say his name, show his face to the world. He watched every news report show him throwing up, listened to their speculation, and heard their disagreements on the ethics of showing the photo, their commentary on his statue, fell asleep.

The next morning his mom asked him why again, but he had nothing to say. When she left, he made himself some food in the tele-grower, ate it, and loaded the drive into the TV.

He watched, first person, as the master, speaking with Cuffy’s voice, did what he did. A time and a place. A time and a place. Bill hadn’t changed a thing. As it played, he began scribbling notes on a pad of yellow paper beside him. When he filled up the page, he immediately crumpled it up, and threw it away. He began writing on a new piece of paper and the video played again. And again. And again. And again. No where else for it to go, just looping forever on repeat. The boy got stabbed, the overseer wrestled with the mother, the hanging, the dance, and it would continue to do so, all of it, over and over, forever, if he wasn’t within it, choosing to deviate from the scripted path.

“What you want me to put this, boss?”

The master looked up at his overseer. The man asked a second time and bounced the body on his shoulder for emphasis.

“Just put him down.”

He grinned and let the body fall from his shoulders.

“Let ‘em see if they know what’s good for them.”

Cuffy watched the point of view walk to the overseer and pat his cheek. The overseer grinned at the approval, turned and began dancing along with the invisible fiddle gibbering hope from the darkness. The man pounded his clumsy boots into the dirt, spewing clouds with each step, laughing. He circled the torch, kicking up his heels with happy abandon, mocking the function of the noise, the music, darkness itself, obscuring more than it possibly could. A pretend game, an illustration, a trick of the light, shorn of meaning.

The overseer seemed like he could dance forever and the master’s hands came into view, began clapping along and then it all looked up into the night sky as a comet passed far overhead and the video started again, returning to that single inescapable point.

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