Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker
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"Aries" Folding Knife
I started writing "Imaginary Spaces" back in the mid-1990s. My goal was to write a powerful poly-faceted techno-thriller, blending coming technologies with ancient culture, a fusion of biology, physics, and computer science with fresh, intuitive characters emotionally enrolling the reader in throat-grabbing action set in the southwest.
Like most writers, I edited, changed, and rewrote the novel over 13 times in the years since I first started it, so it bears little resemblance to the first draft. I would keep rewriting it over and over as my life and writing style changes and I mature, but sooner or later you have to let it stand and move on. Just like a knife, an artist could keep working on the same creation for the span of his life, and never be completely satisfied.
Tom Clancy said about me:
"Jay Fisher is a guy who knows how to use the modern to serve the past."
Imaginary Spaces builds on that service by illuminating the powerful conflict of technological progress and human sensitivity and drama, inspiring questions about our directions. The foundations of the human past building forward to the technological future may ultimately be in conflict with our ancient natures.
When I tell people I've written a novel, the first question they ask is, "What is it about?" There is no easy, simplified way to describe Imaginary Spaces. I won't give a synopsis here to spoil it, but here are some highlights:
You can call Imaginary Spaces a literary cyber-thriller, but that wouldn't encompass all of the facets of this work. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and look forward to sharing it with others.
Here are some excerpts.; I decided to jump around quite a bit, to pique your interest and hope you'll want more!
"For a short time, therefore, allow your thought to leave this world in order
to come to see a wholly new one, which I shall cause to be born in the presence
of your thought in imaginary spaces."
--A treatise on Light, Rene' Descartes (d. 1650)
Was the profession worth it? She could recite the Lexicon of Mycology, including all verbiage of bacterial morphology, nutrition, metabolism, and control. A lot that meant when she sat alone late at night, listening to the refrigerator hum in her vacant house. There was always another trip: sure, I can go: no family, no obligations, no impending graduations or visits, no life. She would gather up her go-pack, essentials bound for every terrain, moment's notice, catch the flight, find the fungus, make the grade. They would thank her, as always, for her personal sacrifice, sometimes so apologetically it made her wish she had forgone something.
And the moldy growth slid by on the inoculating line, magnifier to her social life.
Was it too late? No one to take the musty old maid with the legendary sterile inoculation procedures? Once or twice she had worked with other researchers, men who were more interested in her sub-bench techniques than her theories. A man should respect- What would Antonio have been like in Peru? It was worth considering-
The bumpy dirt road wound over hills and past cliffs, through dusty washes and dampened stream bed. At every turn were the grimy oil rigs: some silent and abandoned, some with bobbing pumps like novelty drinking birds poking at a glass of water. But there wasn't any water two thousand feet below the sand, just nasty crude, hydrogen sulfide, and drip gasoline: fluid, vapors, and revenue.
Michael had mixed feelings about the industry; it was the worst sort of offense to the land and the eye, but it also gave him his job. First a site survey by the archaeologists was necessary to assure minimum impact on any features. Then, a dirt road was carved to the well site, the drilling crews came in with their huge rig, trailers, and equipment sheds and drilled around the clock. They left an acre and a half of wasteland, a pit with nasty sludge, a tank as big as a house, and a noisy compressor that throbbed and hissed like a pissed-off dragon day and night.
As Michael drove, the well locations dwindled and the road became a trail. Soon there was just a path through the scattered sage and cactus. Gradually it, too, disappeared.
They passed an abandoned Navajo hogan: a crude circle of weathered juniper trunks stacked and sealed with handfuls of mud. Its twig and bark roof was caving in, a centuries-paced implosion. Outside, there were tall timber crosses with shreds of cloth like decayed scarecrows moving in the early spring breeze.
"Ghost Hogan," Michael said. "Last landmark."
Michael downshifted and torqued up out of the arroyo, stopped at a flat spot and killed the engine. "Here we are."
The doors opened and everyone stepped out, stretching. Jean took a swig from the last of her coffee she'd been sipping the whole drive. Lee settled a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head and tucked her dark hair beneath it. B.C. took a prolonged 360 degree look, noting the features of the area. Michael opened the back of the Jeep and started unloading. He hefted the packs and boxes while he talked.
"Hear that?" There was a distant throbbing rhythm swelling and fading on the wind. "One mile due north is the closest rig." He pointed the other direction. "We're heading off that way tomorrow." Jean looked down his tanned forearm past his finger across several juniper-dotted hills to the base of a distant mesa.
Two nasty looking MPs, real soldiers with real guns, moved to secure the gate beyond the rigs. In a glance, they knew he was just a refrigeration technician, a Freon-pumper, made to sling R-500 in broken-down chillers, a sash of manifold hoses slung over his shoulder, vacuum pump by his side. And he felt like an imposter.
A white van busy with faces pulled to a stop in front of the MP that rested one ready finger on the trigger of a black, Teflon coated, laser sighted M16E. His eyes were locked on the cluster, waiting for a reason to fill the glass buggy with screaming slugs. Instead, the driver whipped out a plastic encoded card, and the MP dragged a pen-sized scanner over its face. He handed the card back, and saluted so perfectly it must have been his picture in the manual. The van passed and parked behind the circled trailers.
The side door slid open and Paul Beatty's Ichabod Crane body unfolded, stepped out, and reached a hand back to Carol. Her curvy legs ending in short black pumps that bit into the gravel. Four more scientists followed, wearing just what one would expect beneath long draping lab coats, all of them disappearing into shell 1908-A.
The arrivals shuffled into an open room with bright skylights letting in the color of the day. At each chair around a conference table had been placed a thin publication. They sat down.
A clean-cut young man stood in the doorway at the end of the room. "Coffee anyone? We have tea and decaf, or whatever you'd like."
Requests were murmured and a cart was rolled in while a few of the scientists leafed through the layout of the labs: Containment and Disposal, Supplies, Conference, Generation, even a lounge with several offshoot berths for the protracted study.
"The goal," a big voice boomed from a little man at the head of the table, "is simple."
Stir sticks quit tormenting the coffee.
"No! Tell him I must go up alone . . . to the place, to the altar." She had to shout over the angry wind that clawed at them on the jagged rocks.
The interpreter nodded and leaned over a dark-skinned little man, sheltering their faces with his cloak. The bright colors and jagged patterns were the same as they were four thousand years ago, when the natives couldn’t imagine a white face on their mountain.
Carol Hilbert shivered in her down parka and wondered if the llama wool kept her bearers any warmer. She untied her hood and pulled it down, letting loose her hair, shimmering rusty auburn, in the glaring sunlight of 12,000 feet. She turned and looked up at the god.
Nevado Huascaran was the fearsome northern leader of the cordillera, the Spanish knotted rope called the Andes. His craggy spire pushed up the through the rolling clouds at 22,000 feet. She remembered the Peruvian tales of his vengeance, his power to invoke lightning and storm without mercy.
The curandero gestured wildly with his bony, arthritic hands. Carol understood enough of his words to know the god's demands were simple. She must leave blood.
The interpreter pushed his wire rimmed glasses up on the bridge of his nose and walked up the slope. "He says you go alone, and you must offer." His accent was Spanish, educated.
"And if I don't?" Carol looked down at the knotted little Brujo.
"He says you can't see the altar. You won't find the champinones azul." He glanced up at the towering spires of the gods surrounding them. "Or something worse-"
"But Antonio, is he sure it's up there?"
The interpreter looked over his shoulder at the curandero. "You know he's also a yatiri."
"I'm sorry, I don't know that word." The wind buffeted her and she grappled with her footing on the rock.
Antonio nearly yelled to be heard over the gust. "He's a priest, a specialist. He claims the azul was there two years ago when he left his despachos, his ornaments. He says it was accepting the plata, the silver."
She put her hand on his shoulder. His cloak flapped and talked in the wind. "Tell him it's ok. Tell him I'll offer to Nevado."
"But Senorita Hilbert! Blood?"
They stood outside on the roof of the hospital, buffeted by the draft from the rescue chopper, Paul squinting and holding down a nonexistent hat, Dave wide-eyed and ready, finger touching his Glock 17 inside his jacket. An EVAC team of nurses and physicians waited inside the door, hungry dogs with needles and tape. As the skids touched the concrete target, glass doors powered open under the canopy and the team rushed out. A paramedic and in-flight nurse shouted in the ears of the trauma team, conveying the critical information learned en route. A gurney with patient was downloaded off the chopper while the huge blades wound down.
Dave stood out of the way, craning his neck to see. The patient's face was covered with an oxygen mask, but Dave could tell it was a woman, forehead strapped to the backboard on the gurney, her legs and arms immobilized with wildly flagging gauze and IV tubes. What little flesh he could see was blue-mottled over ash. The team hustled her through the automatic doors and disappeared into the building.
A nurse stayed behind, reaching in to help a huge brute out of the chopper. Dave shifted his grip to cover the safety trigger of 18 available rounds. Paul, aware of David Moore's hidden appliance, remembered the tale of Goliath. The giant passenger pressed a trauma dressing to the back of his head, yanked an O-2 mask from his face. Dave moved, cocked, toward the helicopter.
Flanking the ashtray where two Rothschilds had gone to meet their maker, a couple of chipped and stained coffee cups squatted on the cluttered desk. They shook and vibrated with the bumping of the table and shuffling of maps.
"Mike, did that bimbo Andrea steal your brain when she left? I just don't see any connections," B.C. said.
"How can we? This is new, unique."
"There aren't any major sites nearby, we don't have any thing to go on."
"Are we sure? How do we know that the area's been covered? The last official survey was in-" Michael shuffled through copies of old maps. "1864."
"Mike, I don't think you realize the magnitude of your find. If we directly connect it to the Anasazi, not only will it deepen ties with the Aztecs, it'll send every pot hunter and treasure seeker there is into prehistoric sites with gold in his eye and a metal detector in the back of his pickup. Just letting it out would destroy countless pristine and secondary sites."
"I know, I know."
"And we don't even know if it has any relation to the Anasazi."
"That's true, I didn't find any definite sign in the cache." Michael paused and thought a bit. "And how did it get there?"
"Historic?" B.C. pondered the word with one eye half open, his big paw scratching his unshaven cheek.
Both men gasped in concert. "Conquistadors!"
Ten thousand years might have passed, and the seed of Metallica would have evolved, filling an essential position in that master scheme that humans are too small to understand. Nitrates might have been its prey, or substrates of humus, perhaps Metallica itself becoming a delicacy of thick French accents at future Andean ski resorts. But now, Tricol’s metal was its taste, and hunger beyond reason and supply beyond limits sent thick-skinned basidiocarps pushing up out of the mycelium. Massive structural steel columns that paid for three-piece polyester thugs in the union shops of Gary surrendered to fungus like bones to the sea.
Bob Weigle stood, manicured hand rubbing bald head, restoring his command of the margins Stan had breached.
Just where the hell is he? Bob asked the reflection in the double-thick glass of his office. The plant was making blue pigment, all right, and soon there would be nothing else. The shareholders would have his ass, he'd be forced to unload his own portfolio to recover. So much for his retirement, another year sailing this ship of stain, another year of backward Little Mexico.
San Diego had been sweet; corporate headquarters a sensuous trickster that led him to believe he was indispensable. But Westside division stared at him through the glass, a dirty, laughing bitch, flapping her grimy dress, teasing the prisoners. You’ll never be free-
"Dammit it Stan, you're fired." He picked up the line to the control room. "Get me the shift supervisor."
He had always hated double-wides, their thin aluminum flashing, substandard studs, inferior wiring, inadequate insulation. No matter what color the vinyl siding, no matter how the faux-gabled entryway roofs were arranged, it was still a trailer. One that was made for one trip, to one place where the axles and tongue were severed, skirting thrown up like a cheap deck of cards to hide the cinder block supports on a cold slab, hoping privately that no one would notice.
But they did. The middle-brows that drudged in the local service jobs or factories would show up to the leveling like a coming out party, singing praises for the raised and sunken bathtub, the raised and sunken living room, the paneled bar, the fleurs-de-lis vinyl flooring. And in a neighborhood of hook-ups, it wouldn't be a hovel, no, it would be a palatial castle by year of manufacture, until the next adoration was eased into the unregulated subdivision on the greasy ball of a truck.
Alan had worked years to conceal the obvious, knotty pine panels graced the entire sheathing, a new hipped roof with real shingles draped over the noisy sheet metal that was previously silenced with discarded tires. The fuchsia carpet was replaced, two porches were built, a few windows were reframed and boxed to flummox the passersby.
But it was still a metal box, and Julian had a hell of a time getting his signal out. He looked up at the shiny housings that squat side by side on the roof next to his antenna, hoping. Inside them was the answer to the murderous plague that gripped the city.
To the boy, the klystron tube was a thing of beauty. It was probably once used by TACAN, the Tactical Air Navigation system for the Navy created back in the seventies, before being deemed obsolete. He acquired the tube from the surplus barn the week before. It. took him several hours to confirm that it was working, but military hardware seldom fails.
He returned to his room and booted his computer. His signal had been selectively constructed, compressed into a format only the Virtual Killer could decode. He took a deep breath and flipped the switch on the power supply. The lights in the house dimmed as eighteen thousand volts were applied to the towering cathode of the klystron and it glowed, emitting a stream of electrons through the resonant cavities in the vacuum tube. The excess electrons were collected at the metal bottom of the tube, submerged in water to keep it cool. He didn't have much time before the device overheated, so he punched a few keys and hit enter.
A super-compressed digital signal left the computer via the coaxial cable to the roof. There, the klystron amplified the signal through an oscillating feedback loop into an extremely powerful burst of dense electrical wave. The resonant cavities of the klystron sang out his message at fourteen gigahertz, it shot down the two foot waveguide and focused through the dish into a tremendous two megawatt burst of highly constructed, multi-layered, terabyte data fusillade. The narrow beam overpowered the standard carrier wave heading for the Intellsat satellite, swamping the signal for l/30th of a second.
Beyond the confines of the atmosphere of the planet, a fifty-five thousand pound hunk of technology received his powerful burst. The super high frequency, fourteen gig west spot antenna almost shook from the hit. The signal was decoded and remodulated onto a broader band that flooded the earth below.
At the numerous transponders on the planet, Julian’s signal was just spurious noise, a short glitch of unintelligible static that represented itself on television screens not unlike a power surge. A small electrical event that was insignificant and quickly forgotten was all the masses experienced. But it meant life or death to a virtual murderer and a vengeful boy.
Superimposed on the frame of the man was the image of a soldier, an infantryman, perhaps a corpsman obligate, his carriage an exemplum of the warrior dedicated by cause. In his voice could be heard the rumble of cannon fire, in his stare the critical judgment of death. He was, had always been in his own eye a military man. Tom was made of the stuff of armies, discipline was his mistress, and he loved her beyond all others. Sure, ladies would swoon at his spirit, but he seldom let it show, it just wasn't what a gentleman did. And there was not yet a beauty who could outshout the call to war, the fury and excitement that was his blood.
The line had gone way back, his great, great grandfather carried a saber and musket in the big war, the real big war that his country had forgotten, when brother fought brother and blood poured over his nation, his America. In that heritage he was studied, knew the dates, visited the battlefields, tasted the sad rows of burin-carved names in America’s own peaceful fields. Sometimes, when quiet let the soldier peek inward beyond his reserved crust, he saw a young boy, little Tommy, clothespin screwed to pine stick laid over small shoulder, pocket full of rubber bands. He had always wanted to be an army guy.
To say army guys don't cry, to say they don't miss their wives, kids, mothers, and lovers is more cruel than any hopeless war ever fought. To know why they serve is to understand. Tom had choked on the smoke of many Desert Storms, ate crates of rations by many names, living as an anachronism on acronyms. Laser guided bombs, smart death, all the techno-killing devices made would never substitute for mop-up, man alone, going into peril, cleaning house.
Times were when Tom wearied of battle, stepped out of the big combat for a bit, and found a home in the city wars of murder, drugs, violence. It was his R&R.
"How was your trip?" Dave asked.
"Fine." Tom plopped his GI butt into the office chair. "Any new developments?"
"Yeah, caught a big one this morning."
"What, fishing again?"
"Hopped right into the boat."
The song was over, the personal prayers done, and Chatixt was ordered to sit by the high priest while the meal was laid out. No more dried fish and powdery maize gruel from the leather bags that could not keep out the moths, though the boy hungered for even them. Tonight it was time to feast, and they gathered at the base of the great cave, just as the prophecy had decreed. Tonight, there would be warm light, fires to the stars forbidden since the journey started, so no other tribe would know their way. And there would be songs, not subdued and aimed inward, but loud, fearless, courageous dancing demands to the gods who surely set their footsteps here.
So, yucca root is cooked for soap, mud is washed from hair in thick clumps, paint scrubbed from skin, dusty cloths beaten out and cleaned of vermin and placed on the ground to pad the evening.
A feast was laid down on the cloth. First, the prickling spines had been burned off the green-ears, the flesh roasted with wild sage and bitterweed, the reddened plump fruit decorated a wooden tray with split, meaty desert scaly-racers cooked at the center. Some magical sauce, white and vaporous, had been poured over the racers, filling their open guts, making Chatixt dizzy with its tang. It was thickened pulque, his first taste, insisted on by Toquaxtl, sitting next to him, who laughed and pointed at Chatixt's crossed eyes. There were some peculiar round gourd-melons scattered around meat which was carved into thick bubbling rich hunks, and they ate and smacked while the Provider-Hunter used his fingers to replay the scene of the white pronghorn battle. The creatures were fast, like melted gold, and it took all dozen Providers to bark them into a little canyon, where they would not jump and were easy for the bows. There was clear gulping water, not the greasy rank pottery water that sloshed for miles in the heat, but clear spring water, cool and perfect from the earth, and Chatixt drank, most of all to remember what it was like to be satiated. And the smoky vapors of the night for a moment took them all home.
The three a.m. glow of a hundred mercury vapor moons at Tricol confused the shadows along the periphery fence. An arm like a side of beef eased over the top rail of the chain link where a break in the concertina had never been repaired. The Tyrrhenian Hercules that was Tom Harvey posed in relief against the mosaic of iron. He moved through staccato light beams cast like silvery knives. He paused, cast a glimpse from an aventurine eye, then slipped under the liquid ammonia tank supplying the cooling system of the vapor condenser. His freckled hands fixed a device to the discharge valve, scooped grime from the tank footing, and smeared the appliance into obscurity.
He dashed through the knives and slid back over the fence like a raw oyster.
A vigilant eye 150 miles above multiplexed signals to an office building in the city, illustrating Tom's breach of Tricol security, his placement of shaped havoc, his leisurely retreat. Heads nodded, murmurs quieted, permission was asked.
An infrared transmission initiated phase two.
A loud thump hammered the floor. The Tricol control room board operator prayed to the gods of velocity and momentum. "Shit! Now what?"
Two auxiliary operators grabbed their hardhats and danced out the door. The board operator's eyes played all over the annunciator panels searching for the cause.
Anhydrous ammonia spewed from the ruptured line on the pressurized tank, pooling, fogging, boiling, and evaporating. Lighter than the surrounding air, it rose slowly into the early morning sky.
Rounding the corner of the process building high in the pipe rack, the lead AO was abruptly overcome by choking acrid fumes. The second held his breath and closed his stinging eyes while groping for his buddy. Finding his belt, he pulled hard and fast, jerking his casualty to clear air. They stumbled to their feet and staggered toward the control room.
The choking AOs lurched into the control room and collapsed on the floor.
"How much?" the board operator asked.
"All of it!"
"Shit!" He started hitting every red button he could see, dropping equipment all over the plant. Motor operated valves slammed shut, pipes hammered deep in the structure. Equipment whined in rejection of load, pumps deadheaded, air handlers quit, and evacuation beacons cut red light through the night air like blazing spears through hell.
The enormous 130 decibel siren wound up, waking the sleeping city like shoving their heads down the throat of a jet engine. The horrifying banshee hailed to the maniacal demons of catastrophe, begging them to sacrifice all graveyard shift personnel who ran, full speed from the plant.
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