5 In the evening
In the evening, Salm
fixed his room more tidy than usual, combed his hair longer in the mirror and was more
particular with the choice of the pajama he put on, before he sat at his study table and
turned on the tabletop and the deskcam. After some effort, he located Hans through the
Qualia service and opened a chat line.
Hi Hans, remember me,
Do you have a screen large enough?
Please turn on the videocon, this is me, Salm. Can you see me?
Can you hear me, too? Salm spoke out.
Salms videocon window remained blank, but the
chat line was active.
Hi Salm, you look regular. Maybe
you need a haircut, but otherwise, you look fine. Your parents must be proud of you. Let
me guess, Malay or Latino?
Hans, if you dont mind, can
I also see you?
My communicator does not have a
camera. But, here, this is the nearest to a picture of Hans Acadiane, the great warrior,
the great fisherman.
Salms videocon window pulled up a picture which
could have come straight out of a coffee-table travel book: a tall, well-disposed man in a
loose safari uniform against a backdrop of deep blue sky, glassy, green sea and glittering
white beach, struggling with a fishing rod to hoist up a foot-long redfish, which, like
his uniform, his thick hair and beard, was flapping in the wind. He grins like a
Hollywood star, Salm thought.
Youre looking good yourself,
James Coburn, The Bahamas, 1999.
Now that you mentioned the name,
you do look a lot like James Coburn. Hey, this is James Coburn! Ive seen a few old
movies where he starred, you know that? And I like his style.
I knew youd like this
picture. Movies used to be just a flat two-dimensional stream. It has a start and an end.
Until they loaded them on those humongous netabases. Have you tried playing a thousand
movies all at the same time?
Even if I could, why would I want
to do that?
It is like all the possibilities,
all the threads to ones existence are being enacted all at once, and one is never
quite sure where to start and where to end, except for ones choice from frame to
frame or instance to instance. It is very much like Life.
Thats a strange way of
looking at life, Hans, but dont get too poetic with me. Poetry still confuses me.
They chatted for the good part of an hour. When
Salms incoming e-mail chimed, he excused himself from the chat to open and read
She was, Anis wrote, in a hurry since her family was
moving on to their next sojourn in a couple more hours, and she had to help pack up their
luggage. She was enjoying the vacation, and she thought that Salm ought to enjoy the
summer himself by doing better things other than making up stories about a departed soul.
But honestly, she liked the poem so very much - Thanks for the ardent emotions, I
believe I miss you too - she made her own quick research about the author. She
attached a bulletin about a UniForce helicopter that crashed down in Angola and
highlighted in glowing pink the name of Hans Acadiane, Ph. D. among the fatalities.
Salm could not at once make sense out of it. Fighting
a mixed bout of angst, confusion and incredulity, and with suspended breath, he logged
back into Qualia and requested his agent to locate Hans on the Net.
Hans, are you for real? According
to a news report, a Hans Acadiane died on January 1st this year in a helicopter
crash in Angola.
If you dig deeper into the
files, you will also find out that a friendly missile hit the helicopter. But that does
not matter now. Things like this always happen, you have to plow through the statistics to
believe. It is what I call the Oopps Factor.
Hans, stop kidding! You are either
Hans and the report is not accurate, or you are somebody else pulling my leg all this
time. I cant believe that you could play false on me like this.
It is really up to you to believe in
what you want to believe. There is a vast, vast sea of information out there, filled with
all kinds of applets, objects, blobs, databases, bits and pieces, writhing, pirouetting,
flirting, living, dying, fading, growing, connecting, breeding, whatever. Pick out your
realities, longer, shorter, smaller, bigger, whatever, and, after each selection, you will
find out that there is really not much you can sensibly do except make good use of them,
son. Everything else, in the long run, does not matter
Salm instinctively felt that he could go on
and on probing, questioning, quizzing and Hans would just keep on coming back with more.
Salm had read of the workings of hackers while preparing a school term paper. He had even
spent a lot of effort going through volumes of official, sometimes newly-declassified,
documents starting with that seminal policy on defence against network war that spawned a
whole industry of new-age viral missile systems. But somehow, Salm knew he was being
confronted with something different, something more profound, and his initial queasy
feeling of being betrayed gave way to an uncertain, pendulous conciliation, much like the
handshaking between two friends after deciding to go mountain biking without first seeking
the writ of their parents or their school principal.