part I ē the not-too-distant future
"All of our patients are incredibly talented individuals, Mrs. Herasus. Idiot-savant is the wrong word to describe these children and their various... gifts," explained the director as he walked Mrs. Herasus and her son slowly down the sanitary white corridors of the Gifted Autisticsí Institution of America, better known as GAIA; part asylum, part training facility, part research lab. But most of all, corporate investment.
Mrs. Herasus seemed wary still of placing her nine-year-old son Novaugur here. The director was used to this, and decided to employ his most effective, tried and true method for assuaging the fears and discomforts of potential Ďdonorsí. Every donor was precious, but Mrs. Herasus especially so. Young Novaugur, seemingly oblivious to all around him, taking such tiny steps, trailing behind his well-dressed mother absently, was an opportunity not to be missed.
"Of course, our sponsors in the private sector pick up all the costs here at GAIA. I can assure you there are no hidden fees or charges, Mrs. Herasus. Your son will be provided with the finest food, hygienic assistants, healthcare workers, and living facilities available," he said grandly, gesturing toward a window (barred) where the luxurious, manicured garden grounds could be seen, sprawling out over what seemed to be endless acres of beautiful land, patients and their caretakers crawling insignificantly over the expanse like ants.
"So whatís the catch?" Mrs. Herasus said sharply, abruptly.
The director stopped walking and regarded her with an innocent expression on his kindly old face. "Catch?"
"What do the corporations get out of all this? They wouldnít be floating the bill for this palace of yours unless they were somehow extracting a profit from it. So how does it work?"
The director sighed, a mildly defeated air coming over him, as if every conversation with potential donors led inexorably to this point, this unbearable question, and heíd been hoping this would be the exception.
"Representatives of our sponsors spend an average of two hours a day with each patient, talking to them, testing them, trying to help them help themselves... and others," he said reservedly. "Theyíre very interested indeed in Novaugur. The preliminary tests show a high level of attention when heís presented with processes rather than objects. It may be that heís unable to function in the regular world because he canít delineate distinct entities; he perceives only changes, Mrs. Herasus."
"So theyíre lab rats? Guinea pigs for the latest corporate experiments?" Mrs. Herasus said accusingly, believing that sheíd uncovered the secret motives of GAIA.
"Mrs. Herasus, please," began the director. "All our patients are treated with the utmost respect and care. We nurture their innate, though somewhat debilitating, gifts, and attempt only to glean some knowledge that may serve the rest of humanity. Take The Reader, here," he suggested, stopping abruptly at Room 005 in the corridor. He motioned for Mrs. Herasus to look through the observation window. She left Novaugur in front of one of the barred outer windows, where he stared intently at the grass outside, and she approached Room 005 tentatively.
What she saw within was not a padded cell, nor a prison, none of the clean sterility and cold-heartedness she had expected; she realized, in fact, that she was standing in front of a swinging door with no lock. ĎThe Readerí was completely free; but he made no escape attempt. And why should he? He luxuriated, reclining in a plush leather armchair at the center of what appeared to be an enormous library, comfortably flipping through volume after volume at a steady 50 pages per minute, evidently a learned speedreader. And his chamber was in such stark contrast to the world directly outside it, thick carpeting and polished oak furniture and banisters, a fire in the hearth heating the room, elegant chandeliers. He was not a patient; he was an honored guest.
"One of our most interesting subjects, to be sure," began the director, peering in alongside Mrs. Herasus now, "though theyíre all quite exceptional." He readjusted his tie smugly before beginning his recounting. "No name, no I.D., no DNA records on file for this one... estimated to be between the ages of 32 and 36. He was brought here 26 years ago, only a boy, after being arrested at a public library! He was reading there obsessively, refused to leave and had to be forcibly removed. As soon as he was away from his books, though, he became mad, attacked the police. He was wild, enraged, they told me. Hospitalized a man, a young boy like that..." He shook his head.
Mrs. Herasus had been observing the calm and control The Reader exhibited as he flipped expeditiously through book after book, creating a massive pile on the far side of his chair, and could not imagine him ravaging police officers.
"Well, he was in an uncontrollable frenzy until someone threw some book or other at him just to shut him up. They realized something was a little strange as he fell silent and devoured the book in a matter of minutes and had to be satiated with more literature. Weíd just opened GAIA, and someone there referred him to us. It was a lucky break, I donít mind saying... heís been probably the most illustrious of all our patients."
"All he does is read?" Mrs. Herasus asked incredulously, peering keenly through the window as the man dropped War and Peace down and without a momentís hesitation picked up The Tao of Physics.
"Oh no, Mrs. Herasus. He does much more than that. He is the greatest linguist and literary scholar known to mankind. He reads in every language we have ever presented him with, seemingly deducing grammatical syntax and meaning independently, without any kind of instruction; he has an uncannily eidetic memory, recalling every word from every book read; moreover, and most peculiar of all, he speaks only in quotations from that which he has read, yet can somehow carry on coherent, often witty and illuminating conversations in over 100 languages. He claims that he is unable to create original sentences, and that he is in the process of formulating an epistemological theory of the universe.... Meanwhile, heís providing us with all kinds of invaluable information; all top secret unfortunately. Even Iím not privy to most of it. An impressive young man, if I may so myself," the director concluded proudly.
"A theory of the universe..." Mrs. Herasus uttered distantly, gazing intently at The Reader.
"Yes, and an intriguing one at that. He believes that all communication is based on imitation and mimicry, that all the words we speak and myriad ways in which we communicate and interact are merely repetitions of preexisting ideas and information. Apparently it can all be traced back to the ĎVoice of Godí, the ĎWordí as it be in the Bible, which first spoke Creation... of course the Word was far too Ďloudí for any one or thing to hear it directly or in its entirety, so it was fragmented into the infinite bits of information that are now our universe... all matter, all energy, you see, is interpretable as information, an infinitesimal fragments of the original Word. Waiting for one strong enough to truly listen to the whole Ďmessageí, if you will."
Mrs. Herasus was awestruck. "He managed to tell you all that in quotations? Thatís absurd," she retorted.
"Indeed it is. it has taken him years to express this much, and we expect much more is to come." He noted the skeptical expression on Mrs. Herasusís face. "Perhaps youíd like to meet him? Iím sure youíll be pleasantly surprised."
Novaugur was sitting peacefully on the windowsill, guaranteed not to move for hours if not days, so Mrs. Herasus stepped into the library reservedly, the director following closely behind her. The Reader did not look up at them; he was engrossed in his latest endeavor, The Presocratic Philosophers. On the far side of the armchair lay the gargantuan, disheveled pile of books he had already assimilated; on the near side, an orderly, neat stack of titles yet to be read.
"Go ahead," prodded the director, "ask him anything. Heís really quite amiable. But he only speaks when spoken to... if that."
Mrs. Herasus furrowed her brow, then recomposed herself and said: "Why... why is it that you never speak your own words? Why do you only quote others?"
The Reader looked up quickly. "There are people whose whole merit consists of speaking and acting absurdly, though with good results, and who would spoil it all if they changed their conduct." A genial smile, and then right back to the book, as if possessed by it.
"Duc François de la Rochefoucauld," came silken, feminine voice from somewhere above and all around. Mrs. Herasus was perplexed, looking around the room.
"At, thatís Salilus, our resident AI administrator. Weíve hooked Ďherí up to the global LitNet so that we can identify all of The Readerís quotes, you see. Weíre cross-referencing, extrapolating, even outright guessing, trying to discern some pattern, some method to his apparent madness, but so far to no avail... but Novaugur may be able to help us in this plight, among others," the director explained.
Mrs. Herasus had quickly thought of many other questions to ask this genius, this semantic sage, but settled on just one; the most pressing and important one. "Reader, sir... should I entrust my dear son to these men? Will he be safe and happy here? Will his strange gifts be justly explored to help others? What I really mean to ask is, do you think leaving him here will help him help others, allow him to make a difference in this world, even though he lives in a world of his own?"
The Reader grimaced, looked straight into Mrs. Herasusís eyes and said ominously: "A few highly endowed men will rescue the future for generations to come." He then immediately returned to his book.
"John Henry Newman," Salilus uttered automatically.
part II ē three years later
Dancing; trillions becoming mere billions; an infinite stream of dissolving and becoming, dying and birth; life being given and warmth, energy, radiance, emanation. The mother; the father; the originator. Now burgeoning and now receding; exploding and imploding; a core and a periphery. the center, the outermost; the one, one of many. Initiator, nurturer, destroyer. Variation, stability... then ever more stable, clarifying, things becoming solid and tangible. Flux receding, the processes of the universe giving way to the objects, the transitive yielding to the substantive.
Then brilliant light, pure effulgence.
A voice. "Can you hear me, Novaugur?"
"Can you tell me what you were just perceiving? Go ahead, just guess."
"...the sun," Novaugur uttered, still disoriented, still perceiving Flux now and then. And sure enough, as he began to see Order again, he realized they had taken him out into the garden and laid him down on his back directly beneath the sun, dark goggles upon his head to protect his eyes.
"Excellent, Novaugur. Excellent. Youíre getting better and better. You know, if this keeps up, some day you might not even need the therapy. You might be able to live in the real world while still perceiving ĎFluxí, as you call it."
Novaugur was becoming aware of Order gradually, individual blades of grass beneath him; Dr. Sodal from Flamel Technologies sitting next to him; an ant crawling across his bare arm, life proceeding as usual; his own body, its myriad parts and functions.
"I donít know about that," he said a little detached. "I think that would take away the true meaning of Flux..."
"Perhaps," said Doctor Sodal. "So tell me, what do you see in the sun, Novaugur?" he asked, taking his electronic notepad in hand.
"I saw it creating life, its light turning the matter into mind; then the light pushes the life forward, ever so subtly, altering our bodies, forcing us to adapt and change; then the light will fade and die, taking us with it, engulfing everything."
Doctor Sodal chuckled. "Youíre a very articulate twelve-year-old. Those are very good insights, Novaugur. All of that agrees with what the leading scientists believe and the evidence suggests."
"Thatís good," Novaugur murmured distantly. "Iím very tired Doctor Sodal."
"Then letís finish up for today," Doctor Sodal said, standing and helping Novaugur up. "Youíre going to need your rest. You have a very important assignment tomorrow."
"Whatís that?" Novaugur asked, still disembodied and unconcerned.
"They think youíre ready to take a look at the data of The Readerís quotations and readings. They think theyíve compiled enough information and that your talent is advanced enough that they might glean something useful from your... insight," the doctor replied.
"Iíll do my best," Novaugur said earnestly.
"Thatís all we ask," Doctor Sodal assured him.
part III ē six years later
"All our patients have advanced significantly, but none more so that Novaugur, Mrs. Herasus."
"Shut up!" she roared. "Just let me see my son. Six years! Six years youíve kept him fro me!" They walked at a furious pace down the same sanitary white corridor, Mrs. Herasus striding angrily, the director now catching up, now falling behind her again, unable to keep pace.
"Iím deeply sorry, Mrs. Herasus, as Iíve told you on so many occasions. But that was not my decision, I assure you. Novaugurís sponsor felt that a detachment from emotional influences was necessary for the procedure to work."
"You lied to me," she hissed, halting abruptly and grabbing the director by the tie. "You took my son away from me for some corporation to earn a profit," she spat.
"Mrs. Herasus, please," the director pleaded, freeing himself from her maniacal grasp. "You donít understand. The procedure worked. Novaugur... well, you wouldnít believe me if I told you. Itís truly astounding. Youíre going to be very proud."
"Just take me to him," she said.
"Sometimes I miss Flux, Reader..." Novaugur said solemnly, lounging in the enormous, reclining chair that sat opposite The Readerís in the library-like room. The chair had been placed there six years ago, especially for Novaugur, when he and The Reader had displayed an instant and evident affinity. "I miss seeing all the processes and changes... if you could call it seeing. I know there are benefits to it all, but often this world seems so... dead. So static."
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," The Reader quoted.
"Holy Bible; Book of John; Chapter 3, Verse 3," said Salilus.
"I know," Novaugur conceded. "They tell me my mother is coming to see me today... that they have finally lifted their ban on my contact with the outside world. Ah, the outside world; it is full of beautiful, wondrous things, itís true. But itís just so unreal, so artificial, so contrived and fabricated. I donít know what Iíll feel when I see her for the first time. Her ties donít seem to mean anything. I donít know if I can even believe that love is real. I just feel as if..."
"Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal?" The Reader asked.
"Attributed to Arthur Shoepenhauer."
"Precisely..." Novaugur replied dejectedly. "Iím afraid... afraid that even my mother will seem like a construction, the way everything else does.
"Novaugur, among others, has proved conclusively that we here at GAIA have been right all along: autism is not really a disease or disorder of some kind, although left untreated it can certainly appear to be, or lead to complications. But in reality it is an as yet unexplained evolutionary leap, one ahead of its time I might add, where human consciousness is ultra-specialized, completely focussed on a single idea or skill, fixated, as it were, on one aspect of reality. We believe this will inevitably be the future of mankind. Unfortunately some of this intense specialization came before there were any established means of communicating with these individuals, and so they were societyís outcasts and regrets. Luckily, as I said, GAIA was right and society was wrong. The Gifted have been appearing at an exponential rate, and we now have over twenty GAIA facilities in the United States alone," he concluded proudly.
"Whatís your point?" Mrs. Herasus demanded.
"My point, Mrs. Herasus, is that we have now figured out how to reintegrate these persons into society, tone down their concentration, broaden their awareness, allow them to interact normally with other people," he said, smiling warmly, stopping in front of the same cozy room Mrs. Herasus had visited nine years earlier, where she had met The Reader. She peered through the same observation window and beheld, to her amazement, her son, grow up but easily recognizable, conversing with the shaggy, unkempt Reader. Tears streamed down her face, her heart overflowed, love and happiness almost choking her being.
"Thatís right, Mrs. Herasus," the director said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "He can talk. He can experience the world like everyone else. He can function like a regular person. And heís ready to meet his mother," he concluded. Go on. Go in and meet your son."
"It feels like the world has come to a halt, Reader. Like itís winding down, preparing to die..."
"To blind oneself to change is not therefore to halt it," The Reader said.
"Isaac Goldberg," Salilus chimed in.
"Then maybe they should remove my blindness," Novaugur suggested. "Maybe itís time they let me experience Flux again naturally."
"All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward," The reader warned.
"Ellen Glasgow," Salilus announced.
"I know..." Novaugur said solemnly, and suddenly he was aware of a middle-aged woman standing apprehensively in the doorway, the director, beaming, behind her.
"...mother?" he said. She ran to him and they embraced, but Novaugur was stiff and nervous. "Please, mother... calm yourself," he said awkwardly. The Reader didnít even look up, positively engrossed in a book.
"My baby, my baby... donít worry, weíre going to get you out of here and home right away," she said, holding his head and rocking him gently back and forth as if he were still a child, though he was now much bigger than her.
"Mother," he began, his voice quavering now, "you donít understand. I canít go. I donít want to."
"What?" she asked, maintaining a firm grip on him but pulling away just enough so that she could face him, so she could look straight into his eyes, his beautiful blue eyes so full of life now, so alert. "What are you talking about?"
"If I leave, if I go out there, the therapy ends, and Iíll go back to how I was, mother. Sometimes I want that, want to go back to pure Flux, but I understand now how thatís selfish. Theyíve given me a purpose here. Iím helping people, helping humanity. I make a difference here; people depend on me. If I leave here, Iíll just be dependent on you, on others, the rest of my life. I donít want that," he said somewhat distantly.
"But Novaugur..." his mother moaned, her heart sinking.
He leaned in and embraced her tightly, whispering, "Iím beginning to learn on my own. The Reader has taught me things, Eastern techniques of meditation and concentration... soon Iíll be able to control it all on my own and I wonít have to work for them. Iíll escape. Iíll come find you mother, donít worry... I can already see the process taking place," he concluded, pushing her away as if angrily, hoping to fool the directory, but his eyes all the while conveying a steady, permanent love.
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