Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Space, Arlington, Pentagon, Kandor


The General orbited earth. He got the shuttle call, became a momentary celebrity. Gravity’s push then weightlessness. Of the shuttle crew, he was the one with no authority, no expertise—a new role. When the cameras were on, he and the crew posed together with smiles. When no one was looking, they ignored him. He sailed through space, looked into the void beyond, contemplated other worlds. New earths, new roles. Then, he came home.


The General is caught in traffic. The Capital Beltway has him snared in. His egg and cheese sandwich is grumbling in his stomach. He can imagine it swirling, a hurricane spinning, swelling with moisture, working to unleash fury. The traffic inches along. The smells of asphalt and exhaust. His coffee grows cold, turns into swamp water. Before he leaves every morning, his wife tells him, give ‘em hell. He hits a stretch where he can see forever ahead. Hell is traffic, hell is war, hell is life. Life is traffic is war. Every single morning, his wife hands him a brown paper bag containing lunch, the flap folded precisely four times. This predictability--this over-rehearsed stage production--is the worst thing he can imagine.


The General finally arrives, has to pee like a racehorse. Through metal detectors, a briefcase search, a retina scan. Folgers inside him is flood waters forming the continents. Salutes all the way. Swarms of people—tourists, contractors, military. Grand friggin’ Central Station. Life is searches is coffee-turned-to-urine is Grand Central Station.

Pop the lid off this place and you'll see phones ringing, men and women playing infidelity minesweeper behind closed doors, suits and soldiers and pasty-faced geeks planning the world's end. The General knows the score. The five sides go deep into the ground. Hiding big secrets. Aliens. Other dimensions. The Truth. The General knows it all.


When the General saw the bottled city, he knew he had to get in there. An entire city tucked into a perfume-bottle-sized container. Big voyeur eyes peered into it, glassy orbs like monster suns popping into its skies. Electron microscope revealed that it was indeed an active city, with an estimated two hundred thousand atom-sized humanoid people wearing tiny clothes, driving tiny cars, working in tiny skyscrapers, living tiny lives.

No one is sure where the city came from, but it was now located in the Pentagon, 4th sublevel, third door on the right. They called it Kandor, after the bottled city in Superman comics. There were many questions about oxygen, food and water supplies, exhaust and combustible by-products, the seemingly normal cork stopper. Big people, wearing big lab coats and taking notes on big pads with big pencils, were trying to figure it all out but there was a big missing link.

The General had family, a big house, big cars, big stars and bars over his big pumping heart. He liked to sail his boat on the Potomac, smoke hand-wrapped Cuban cigars while watching the sunset a fiery orange. But he was always one for the big plan. The big little plan. Shrink me down, inject me through the cork.

This was done, and through a needle, he was injected into the bottle. In his backpack he had an amoebic parachute and an exit plan. He lands inside, on what appears to be a normal street, but soon finds out that everyone there is a General.

He was arrested. There’s been a war, on hiatus for years as the enemy has regrouped, they tell him, and was he one of their agents?

You don’t understand, he huffed. You’re a bottled city. I’m from Earth, shrunk myself down, I’m an ambassador.

They laughed, dragged him away to an institution. He had a window view. For countless days he looked to the sky, looked for the glass beyond but couldn’t see it, contemplated the big world that was now just a void. He wanted to go home.

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