UNITED STATES—A pleasant beep informed Zorba that he was back in the reception zone. The wheels of digital time, that had ground to a halt during his time “up there” recommenced. Zorba synched up his eye rotors again, one sweeping horizontal motion of the eyes brought up the luminous green menu in the periphery of his vision. The former detective steeled himself for everything and nothing: either all was well or he was in the doghouse.

With toggling eyeball X motion from top left to lower right, from top right to lower left, he braced himself for a missed communication that would make him feel like the biggest moron on Earth. Then again he might hear from Sergeant Robbins and discover he’d been reinstated as a detective.

This depth below the earth served as a light switch to all the enhanced enjoyed by dwellers in the Underground Cities. They had treated him “up there” with surprising respect for someone officially deemed a cyborg, officially anathema “up there” with their rigid rejection of technology, much less that grafted routinely onto people in the Underground Cities. But in the end, they treated him simply as a human, even as the former detective was their hostage.

Zorba was almost home. All of a sudden Zorba felt the weight of it, too, all the beeps, buzzes and chimes that harried him through the day. That could keep him out of a certain neighborhood; deny him entry to a concert. The calendar told him tonight it was going to be Beethoven’s 7th, according to a message. Not exactly his cup of tea: he did it to humor Cecilia…

As soon as he reached the general portal, Zorba expected to be taken aside to be sequestered for four days – he passed the station, bit it was deserted and showed a scree of dust and trash, somebody was asleep. They were presumed to be contaminated by the germ-cloud the ignorant believed engulfed everything in the toxic land “up there.”

Then it came: a new notification triggered a tide of self-hate for having dropped the ball. Zorba saw the images, the balloons and the flowers – the pictures of Cecilia resting and holding a new baby son, smiling, tired, hair matted on her sweaty forehead.

He’d missed out. He must have been “up there” more time than he realized for the baby to be born. And it slapped him. It reinforced that all the marvelous technologies masked nothing more than a masochistic craving for a certitude of moronic affirmation: forehead-slapping “I am so stupid.” I missed the boat. Oh no, back to the doghouse again.

All the brilliant innovation and magic powers masked an addictive appetite to be prove time and again how imperfect and flawed I am. (Zorba knew indeed that in the Underground Cities was a feeble sense of we; it was all experienced exaggerated as I). The will to stupidity, and his time away left Zorba nakedly hip to the adrenaline addiction to hitting all these sand traps in the ultra-advanced Underground Cities.

There had to be a kiss between technology-drunk life underground and the rustic world up there. Had to be—a joining of the bifurcated worlds. Once he had been “up there” now it was not easy to shake the pull on his imagination.

As he passed by the reception zone, Zorba gazed down at his worn and dusty shoes.
The towers sparkled brightly yonder, diamonded spires that reached toward the chalky holographic clouds. A faint artificial breeze stirred and made the sweat that broke out on his back and forehead cold. Met by the city in darkness, it became gradually more visible in the flawlessly programmed dawn.

The silence intruded on his senses. Deafening. Where was the soft, almost imperceptible whoosh of cars? It was early still, but Zorba expected to hear at least a meow from the neighbor with 20 cats. He looked in every window. Nothing stirred or cast a live shadow.

Every organic thing under the artificial sun had been vaporized. He trudged along as the virtual sun slowly rose. He saw a flower pot on a balcony—there was dirt in the terra-cotta pot, but no plant or leaves. The broad avenues were starlit by the glittering towers. On a sidewalk a smattering of loose mood-altering pill-pods glittered.

Near the heart of the city, he crested a span of bridge and saw cars pell-mell. He drew close. Inside the cars were crumpled clothing, shoes lay slackly on the floor empty of ankle and on a baby seat, a baby’s shirt, empty socks, a toy car.

At the behest of binary codes, Zorba saw all that breathed and grew, loved and hated, had been rescinded to the dust. He got down on his knees and wept.

THE END.

Graydon Miller, the Wizard of Fiction , is the author of the international organ-trafficking thriller “Hostages of Veracruz” https://amzn.to/2CPQISk.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)