Prologue: Why Gardening Doesn’t Scale
Hello, Dendrite. The words came into my head as I stood there in the slightly grimy lobby of the office building, the memory of a voice. A smooth, female voice. Only this memory sproinged in there like a smooth, female jack-in-the-box. I never got used to that, and it might have been neat if it didn’t inevitably mean I was in for a very, very bad day.
“Axon,” I said, “fuck me with a spoon.”
There’s a game you can play with your friends and enemies that will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about them. In its original form it was developed by ecstatic mystics in the region that would later be called Sumer once people started to pile up rocks and call it civilization. In its modern form, it goes like this:
“If you could have one low-level superpower, what would it be?”
Like all useful truths it’s been discovered a bunch of times, by many people, some much dumber than others. That one was created by my friends in high school. But it works. For example, if someone spends the half hour after you ask the question debating about what precisely counts as a “low level” superpower, you know they are a socially challenged over thinker who will either die in a basement or make a billion dollars and shame everyone at their 20 year high school reunion. That particular friend is not, incidentally, a billionaire. Another friend in that same group always chose “weaponized urination,” which requires no additional explanation.
If, on the other hand, the person answers by reaching over to a wilted flower, touching it, and making it bloom into full, vibrant life, it tells you three things:
- That person likes to show off.
- They are confident and satisfied with their lot, since the power they would choose is the one they actually have.
- You’ve just met someone with superpowers, and you’re probably going to have to rethink everything you believe about the universe.
My power was called the Boned Reset, and although it sounds like something surgeons do, it’s much better than that. It meant that in that moment when you realize you are totally, utterly boned, you can go back a few seconds and not do the stupid thing you just did which resulted in your currently hard-penetrated predicament. Like when you hear yourself say, “put it all on black,” or, “yeah, I can probably put a ladder there,” or “your sister didn’t do it like that.” Or you make eye contact from across the crowded mall with the ninja assassin sent from the future to kill you before you become the Prime Minister of the First World Government, and it causes her to recognize you.
I don’t know what my answer tells you about me. To be honest I’ve never really thought about it. These days, my life has a lot of Boned Moments. Except I’m older and more sophisticated, and I don’t have to worry about getting overheard by a teacher, or a librarian, or that judgmental end-of-days fundamentalist lady who ran the 24 hour diner with the galvanized pancakes. So I don’t say boned. I say fucked. Most of the time I know I’m about to be fucked because of two words, spoken in my head, by that smooth female voice.
“Axon,” I said out loud, even though I didn’t have to. “Fuck me with a spoon.”
“Excuse me?” said the desk receptionist in front of me. Because I was in an office building in the middle of the day, full of respectable people doing respectable things. “Did you just say,” she lowered her voice and looked around conspiratorially, “fuck me with a spoon?”
“Yes, I did,” I said. “I did say that. Sorry, it wasn’t aimed at you. You don’t have to…fuck me with a spoon…” I trailed off. Probably should have stopped talking a few seconds earlier, there.
Yeah, probably, said Axon in my head.
“Is Axon there?” said Decker standing next to me, in a voice that sounded a lot like Axon’s, only, you know, real. “Fan-fucking-tastic! Maybe this isn’t going to be a waste of time after all. Now I’m actually glad I put my bra on.” She fiddled with the strap under her shirt.
“Excuse me?” asked the receptionist with a look that wouldn’t take much to explode from ‘puzzled’ into ‘flabbergasted,’ and from there right on to ‘calling the cops.’ . “Why did you say you were here, again?”
“Yes,” I said, “Sorry, we are here to deliver this package to Mr…Same Urethra? Mr. Sigmund Thor-all? Can you tell me where I can find him?”
“Mr. Sigmurethra, yes,” said the receptionist, recovering her composure now that she had an explanation that hypothetically had a form associated with it. “His office is on the third floor. But I can make sure he gets the parcel.”
Except, that’s not really why you are there, said Axon.
“Except that’s not really why we’re here,” said Decker. She pulled out a piece of gum and popped in her mouth. “I thought this place felt weird. Did it seem slimy on the way in to you? I thought I saw some slime.”
“Quiet,” I said out of the side of my mouth to both of them. Then I turned back to the receptionist. I tried to look for a name tag or plate so that I could call her by name, but there wasn’t anything like that. This place was too classy for that. Or she didn’t have a name; that was also a possibility. “Yeah, see, we kind of need to deliver the package directly to him. He needs to sign for it.”
“That’s not really how we do things,” said the receptionist.
“Yeah, but, I mean, we’ve got to do it that way,” I said. “I know that’s awkward if that’s not your policy. But we have to do it. For legal reasons. See? It says it right here. Signature of Recipient Required.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “I’m going to have to call this up.”
You’re going to have to hurry it along, said Axon. We don’t have long before catastrophic failure.
“What the fuck does that mean?”I groaned, again out loud.
“It just means I need to contact security upstairs, sir,” said the receptionist, “and we would appreciate if you would watch your language. This is a professional environment.”
“Sorry,” I said, looking sheepish.
“What did Axon say?” asked Decker. “Do we have to hurry? Is the package a bomb or something?”
“A bomb?” said the receptionist, her eyes widening. She said it loudly, and people passing through the lobby looked over at us.
“No, of course not!” I said, speaking so the whole room could hear. “No bomb here! Just a run of the mill package. Office supplies.”
Is it a bomb? I asked Axon in my head.
Good question. I’ll check on that. Meanwhile, get your ass upstairs. You’ve got fourteen minutes to get in, get this done, and get out of there.
“I’m still going to have to call this up,” said the receptionist.
“Okay,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. “We’ll just wait over there. Decker, come on, let’s wait over there.”
I hurried over to a corner where there were no people. Decker followed.
“What’s up?” Decker asked, chewing her gum. “Are we going to blow this place up? Can I take the receptionist with us? She’s kind of cute.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Whatever it is we have fourteen minutes.”
Thirteen minutes, said Axon. And that’s going down, not up. In case you forgot how time works.
“Fuck,” I said. “Thirteen. We’ve got to get upstairs.”
Decker nodded. “Go. Do your thing. It should work on these people, right? Are they people?”
Will it work? I asked Axon.
The fuck should I know? I can’t do all the heavy lifting, Dendrite.
“I have no idea,” I said.
Decker nodded again. She took the gum out of her mouth and wadded it under a nearby table with determination. “Go. Get this done.” She grinned that huge, terrifying grin of hers. “I’ll distract everyone.”
She reached into her backpack, took out a ski mask, and pulled it over her head. Then she reached in and pulled out something that was not at all obviously a water pistol, as long as you didn’t notice the duct tape laid across the bottom to keep it from leaking.
“Holy shitshow,” I said. “They’ve already seen our faces!”
“They might not be people,” she said. “Besides, I’m black and you’re Middle Eastern. All they’ll remember is Halle Berry and some random terrorist sticking up the place.” And before I could say anything else, before I could tell her how terrible an idea this was, or much she did not look like Halle Berry, she stormed over to the reception desk, waived the gun in the air, and screamed in a horrific British accent, “Everybody be cool this is a robbery!”
There was a collective gasp and a few screams as all gazes were sucked into the black hole of her personality. She was exactly like this at parties.
Just get through this, I thought. Just get through this, and there will be tacos.
Spoken like a true badass, said Axon.
I didn’t respond, because that would have been a stalling tactic. Stalling sounded about as good as a chili dog and an orgasm just about then, but it would make me just as unlikely to want to go to work afterwards. I took a very deep breath, held it, and sprinted towards the stairwell.