Today's Reading

Before him is an aluminum water tower, once a chemical tanker, protruding from the roof like an egg set on end. He gathers momentum and launches himself up, its crudely welded ladder creaking as it takes his weight, and then he is perched on top, the tanker shifting, vibrating with the slosh of its thousands of  gallons. As his breathing slows and his sweat dries he takes in the pale moonlight on the water, the silver clouds enveloping the bridges, traces with his eyes the map of his secret byways through San Francisco. Something about the light on downtown's towers makes it seem remote, incorruptible, a place outside of time.


3

Oculus

Thales stumbles, catches the wall, clings to it, suddenly woozy.

He looks over his shoulder at his brother Helio, sees his dawning horror, realizes this might be serious.

His upper lip is wet. Touching it, his fingers come away red, but taking his hand from the wall was a mistake because he loses all sense of where he is in space until he finds himself on the floor, which is covered in wet sand, coarse and cold against his cheek, reeking of ocean.

They're in a tunnel from the beach, under the corniche. The seaward mouth is an oculus of variegated blue. The tunnel's acoustics make the wave's crash ring.

Black wave of nausea, then he's vomiting. Gouts of red darker than blood should be. That's bad, he's thinking, as the spasm climaxes.

"We need some help here," Helio is shouting to the bodyguard who is also, Thales remembers, a nurse, and who, from the footsteps, is coming at a run.

Shadows kneeling around him. A needle pierces his shoulder.

"This will help you breathe," says the bodyguard-who-is-a-nurse, his voice too calm, it seems like he should be more upset in honor of the occasion, and then a plastic mask is pressed over his nose and mouth.

Black military boots by his face. Beyond them, white lines slide down the glowing circle of celestial blue—waves, perhaps—but they won't come into focus, so he looks at the weave of shoelaces, the scuffs and scratches on the black leather, the grains of sand stuck to the rubber sole. His implant will record this moment in every detail, as it records every moment, so perfectly he's come to feel that nothing is lost to time.

Oxygen hisses into the mask, chills his lungs.

"Medevac drone incoming in...ninety-one seconds. Eighty-nine," a bodyguard says hoarsely.

A girl in a crocheted bikini has stopped in the tunnel mouth, her fingertips at her lips, like she's just seen the saddest thing in the world. The men kneeling around him are like statues, immovable and remote. He tries to roll to face the wall but they hold him down. I don't want to be here for this, he thinks, and retreats into his implant's memory.

The tunnel and his pain dissolve, and there's the recollection of the last two weeks, there in their entirety, sharp and undecayed. He skims over the surface of the hours—there's the clinic, the beaches, the many books on the theory of numbers, the freeways of Los Angeles as seen through the hardened windows of the armored town car—and finally alights on the first moments of the implant's record, when he was waking up in a hospital bed in a room he didn't know. A window framed the early light on a strange sea—it wasn't Leblon, maybe not even in Rio. His mother, looking haggard, was drowsing by the bed; waking, she crushed his hand in hers, bent to kiss his cheek and, he thought, breathe in his hair. Beside her sat a stranger, tie but no jacket, perhaps a doctor, immersed in his tablet.

Something was stuck to Thales' chest—his fingers found a thick pad of gauze, and another on his forehead—had he been injured? He couldn't recall, and he couldn't look away from the restless sea, because, incredibly, its changing shapes persisted in his memory, a new memory, another memory, and every moment as though immured in glass, as clear as the little poetry he had by heart, and he wondered if it was a hallucination, or the side effect of some drug.

"How are you?" asked his mother, her voice thick, smoothing back his hair, careful of the bandage, and he saw her relax when his eyes focused on hers. There was the memory of his words, and the memory of the memory, and then the memory of that, echoing on until his attention shifted.
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