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[2010: JUL-AUG] The Man Called AN


kvdbreem
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Computer. End program. He says it again for the tenth time. Chirps from birds and howls of wind wind their way past him, ignoring a rock in the steady stream of light and disappear.

The wall was lined with books, texts carrying sentimental value from a bygone era. AN stared blankly at them, willing himself to imagine grasping at the covers and pulling them open, leafing through intricate fields of data free of the constraints of a digitized sensory experience.

He turns around to look at the building. End program. It stands defiantly there, holding the thousands of books he'd been looking at moments before, books whose covers contained freedom. Start recording. AN hears nothing.

I was alone when we started. I wanted it to be the greatest moment of my life. I walked down the hallway into the antechamber and slipped my card. Cane said hi like he usually does and we just started it. It wasn't like we had a choice. The arch opened up in front of us and Cane stepped through, past the doorway. I don't know, maybe it's what happens to people who step through the door, but this kid walked around the corner and looked at me. It was the weirdest thing.

He sighs, kicks up some dust and settles again into the brisk cadence.

But every time I went to move closer the kid stepped back so finally I just walked away. I heard footsteps and turned around.

“Hi,” the kid said, “I'm Kevin.”

“I'm AN,” I said.

“AN? That's a weird name.”

I didn't think so. AN was as natural to me as Cane was to him. It was simple, to the point. AN. “So's Kevin.”

The kid touched my leg.

“Are you real?”

“Of course I'm real.”

I knelt and touched his hair. It seemed real enough.

“Do you know math?” Kevin asked. “My mom said I should come here for lessons.”

“Yes,” I said, “I can teach you.”

We sat for hours looking over the books in the library. Can you believe it? Books! Kevin said he wasn't allowed to use computers for his assignment. He had to learn to do math without their help. We went through everything. At least what's what Kevin kept saying. When we got to topology I thought I'd lose him.

“Think of a baloon,” I said.

Kevin thought of one and instantly a red baloon appeared in front of us.

“How many cuts does it take to cut the baloon in two pieces?” I asked.

“Uh....” Kevin paused. A small opening formed on the side of the baloon and then moved downward across its surface. “One?”

We went over the basic surfaces for a while. I was getting tired and I wondered where Cane had gone.

“Have you seen Cane?” I asked finally.

Kevin looked up at me, puzzled.

“Who's Cane?”

I process a request from three decks down. Kevin's mother is attempting to find him. I report he's in here. It's the least I can do.

I wasn't sure how to answer. Who was Cane? I'd known him all my life but it was like I'd met him yesterday, maybe even five minutes ago. I tried the best I could to remember. We had been like changelings in the great link, inseparable buddies. But I couldn't remember a thing about him past about ten minutes ago. Maybe it was nine.

“A friend,” I said.

Kevin looked at me and smiled. “My mom always says the best thing to do when you lose something is to try to remember the last time you had it.”

I remembered. He had stepped out the door after saying something.

“He was walking out a door,” I said.

“Kevin?” I heard a woman's voice say.

Kevin turned toward the voice and there was the door. It looked familiar. Cane! Cane had walked through that door.

“Say goodbye,” the woman said.

“Goodbye,” Kevin said as he turned and walked toward the door. “Arch!” he called.

“There's already an arch here, honey,” the woman said, a bit of impatience in her voice.

“End program!” Kevin called.

Arch. End program. I remember those two phrases the most. When I play this back I'll remember the rest. Arch. End program. I can't remember where I heard those before.

AN turns away from the building again. He's a rock in the steady stream of light rushing past him, eroding him with each cycle. Arch! Above the birds chirp and the wind howls and I look down attentively at the fading references waiting to be caught up and disposed of.

He steps toward the arch formed at the edge of our existence. I watch, controlling every movement, being every molecule of AN's body. Distant and all-knowing, I watch him step out into the abyss. Gone.

The memory references cleared, I take in a request for another log.

Computer, Kevin says from somewhere outside our world. Begin recording. I oblige. I learned what a holodeck is today. I went inside and learned some math from a man called AN. Mom says the computer knows AN like a friend.

But he must be a figment of Kevin's imagination. I have no recollection of the man called AN.

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