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Cote sticks her head into the bathroom, towel-turbanned. “Why’d you turn off the radio?”

“You needed the hair dryer,” Ballard says. “You can’t fit both on the outlet.”

“Turn one upside-down.”

“Don’t do that–” he starts.

Cote flips the hair dryer’s plug over, then reinserts the radio. NPR resumes.

“–you might reverse the polarity and–” Ballard falters.

Cote picks up the hair dryer and pokes the trigger. It works fine.

“–scramble the deflector shields,” Ballard mutters.

“How can you not know what a polarized plug looks like? You’re an engineer!”

“A software engineer,” says Ballard, employing history’s weakest defense.


“Matter tells space and time how to curve,” says Ballard, “which is to say that time is a lens. A lens is defined as a medium which alters perceived information. When we look into other worlds–quantum possibilities, or light from other galaxies, or, say, manifestations of fiction–the period of time which is our frame of reference by definition distorts the view. Visual appearance is relative and malleable to the era of the beholder.”

“That’s a very labored attempt to explain why TOS looks so crappy compared to Enterprise,” says Cote.

“Actually TOS looks kind of awesome now,” says Ballard.


“It’s an easy mistake, and forgivable,” says Cote, “thinking there are other places.”

“The evidence is pretty strong,” murmurs Ballard.

“But it’s all flawed evidence, because it comes through your senses—your own personal 3D rendering system. And that system needs loading zones. Ever notice that when you take fast transportation, you spend a long time in a tiny tube with a bland image out the windows?”

“You mean clouds?”

“Planes, trains, the identical corridors between doors in Doom,” says Cote. “All serving the same purpose.”

“Is that why the suburbs seem to have so few polygons?”

“Be nice,” she says.


“It’s kind of amazing how many words sound like ‘Satan’ when you play them backwards,” says Ballard admiringly.

“You said that admiringly,” says Cote.

“Well, it’s a good hack!” says Ballard. “There aren’t enough rock bands out there that are actually into, y’know, the devil and backmasking and stuff, so clearly it went back and messed with the origins of modern English until it got something that would yield lots of good subliminal material.”

“That makes a disturbing amount of sense,” Cote admits.

“Shit yes,” says Ballard. “How else do you think we ended up with two hundred meanings for ‘do?'”


“It’s the greatest horror of the twentieth century and the fact that we’re constantly re-enacting it–at what should be beautiful and life-affirming celebrations–indicates an influence that is evil if not downright infernal,” says Cote. “Am I saying that the whole thing is a ritual set of gestures for summoning foul tormentors from the pit into our world? Maybe! Maybe I am! Now what were you saying before?”

“That it’s not technically ‘The Electric Slide,'” Ballard points out carefully. “It’s just ‘The Electric,’ and–”

“–Both of those titles are factually inaccurate,” Cote hisses, eyes narrowed with incisive certainty.


“Do you think it’s true?” asks Cote as the TV movie credits get squished sideways by an ad. “About the thousand paper cranes, and wishes?”

“Sure,” says Ballard, “and if you beat Tomb Raider ten times without dying you get to see her naked.”

“You think the whole notion exists just to screw with people? Why?”

Ballard shrugs. “Because people love cheat codes. Whether you’re trying to cheat death or Nintendo is just a matter of scale.”

Cote snuggles in closer. “You’re such an asshole. Why do I like you?”

“What,” he asks, “do you think I spent my wish on?”


“Short fiction market’s disappearing,” says Ballard.

“More precisely, it was never there,” says Cote, “but fine, let’s take it as a proving ground, a brand-builder. What are you building toward?”

“Novels, which aren’t worth the time required. Um… video games?”

Cote snorts. “Writing for games is like sculpting for wolverines.”

“Then I guess TV or movies,” says Ballard.

“Right!” says Cote. “Except, thanks in part to my copy of Bittorrent, the money’s disappearing there too.”

Ballard frowns. “So how do you make money off stories when information is free?”

“Well hey!” says Cote. “This one doesn’t have a goddamn ending!”


“Pataphysics,” repeats Ballard.

“Pataphysiques,” Cote corrects him. “It’s French. Science asks ‘why does the rock fall down?’ Pataphysiques is the opposite.”

“It asks why the rock doesn’t fall down?”

“Why it falls up.

“It… doesn’t,” says Ballard slowly.

“Don’t avoid the question!” Cote’s grinning now. “Think of it as a deliberately wrong premise for a syllogism. Logic tells us that when your premise is false, you can’t disprove the conclusion, no matter what it is. Why does the rock fall up? Therefore, time isn’t real.”

“But that kind of proof is worthless!”

“Oh, sure,” sniffs Cote, “if you listen to logic.


“That McQuarrie guy,” says Ballard, “he ever do anything after Usual Suspects?

“Won an Oscar. Made The Way of the Gun,” says Cote.

“Oh, yeah. That was awful,” Ballard yawns.

“It was not. It –”

“Worst thing I’ve seen Sam Jackson do.”

“Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t in it! We’ve been over this.”

“Whatever. You’ll admit it wasn’t Suspects.”

“Okay. It was… grittier. Not as clever.” Cote shrugs. “I guess everybody’s got one heist plot in them.”

“Either a movie,” Ballard says, “or a real one.”

“Heh. Yeah.”

Then they both get quiet for a while, staring off into the middle distance.


“Concrete flowers?” says Cote. “I’d think they’d get heavy.”

“Not like wet-sand concrete,” Ballard says impatiently. “Concrete as opposed to hypothetical. The kind of flowers you can touch.”

“You mean real, then.”

Ballard shakes his head. “No, hypothetical flowers can be real. They just have to be either whole or partial, or both, to qualify for that.”

“But–but if a flower is hypothetical, it’s imaginary!” Cote’s eyes are starting to bulge. “By definition!”

“There’s only one imaginary flower! That I know of,” Ballard says, then squints at her across the checked plastic tablecloth. “Look, have you been listening at all?”