The Button (part 1)

handPart 1 of 3

He stared absently into a nearly empty cup of coffee, observing grounds which stuck to the sides of the cardboard cup and formed a ring. As he rose from his seat at the Fortune Café, an automated female voice coolly announced the readiness of order 67. Sidestepping tables and chairs occupied by businessmen and women, each fixated on their glowing screens, he meandered towards the exit.

Out on the city streets, glass buildings burst forth from wet sidewalks and disappeared into the low clouds like conduits into another world. The drizzle didn’t bother Scott. He briefly considered taking the new high speed subway (still called “the T” by locals, though the sleek new cars which glide silently on magnetic fields held little resemblance to the boxy, rattling dinosaurs used up until 2019) before realizing he blew his last credit on an overpriced coffee.

A dirty, bearded, man dressed in layers of frayed and mismatched clothes stood in the middle of the sidewalk ahead. With not much of a crowd to blend into he felt obligated to respond to the poor fellow’s query.

“Can you spare any change, my man?”

He fished around in his pockets and only found a couple coins but dropped them into the man’s cup (which featured the palmistry-diagram logo of the café he just left).

“Thanks, my man! I knew it. I saw you comin’ and knew you’d help, my man.”

“Yeah you’re welcome I guess,” said Scott, setting off down the street while the man continued his thankful if not rambling monolog.

He walked the 30 minutes from the business district towards the waterfront, past monolithic government offices, past a knot of poncho-clad Japanese tourists on a guided bus tour, and finally to a nondescript brick warehouse on one of the wharfs. This part of town was nearly deserted. He tried the front door and found it locked, but then noticed a tiny silver plaque with the familiar name “Alhazen Corporation” engraved into it, and rang the pearlescent button.

Two weeks ago he was in the three bedroom apartment he shared, looking over job postings, feeling neither inspired nor encouraged. The words he read washed over him like a slow moving river. They didn’t feel like opportunities so much as dead ends. Scrolling back to the top of the page he tapped “Misc.,” the section where he had previously found paying ‘jobs’ as a practice patient for medical students as well as a sleep study participant. The usual pyramid schemes were listed, along with a sketchy request for a naked maid and a couple uncompensated writing gigs, but this time something new caught his eye. It was a post which simply read:

“Time is the substance I am made of.” – J.L. Borges; if interested visit the Alhazen Corporation.

So having nothing much to do one day, he did. The door buzzed unlocked and he grasped the handle, pulled, and stepped inside.

The Button (part 3)

button

Part 3 of 3

Scott sat at a large hardwood table in a room barely lit by a single lamp above it. The perimeter of the room was in shadow but he got the impression of it being vast and empty, save for the table and chair. The sole item on the table is a low profile silver box, the housing seamless with rounded edges and corners, with a four inch pearl button on the top softly glowing. He became aware of the hum of electronic equipment emanating from the darkness, buzzing in frequencies at the limits of human perception.

Thea handed him a pair of wrap-around goggles, black with a tiny red LED blinking.

“Pressing the button activates the experience. Whenever you’re ready,” she said with one hand on the door.

“Did you press it?”

“Mr. Perkins, let’s stay focused on the matter at hand.”

“I was just curious…it might help me decide – you know, to get a different take on it.”

“It’s personal.”

“So that’s a yes? What did you see?”

“It’s…personal.”

She left the room and he was alone, gazing motionless at the opal iridescent object before him.

~

“Do you want to go over it one more time? In case you remember anything more you’d like to document while it’s fresh in your memory?”

She sat upright at her desk, her glasses now off, taking an occasional note while a tiny video camera on a gooseneck stand recorded the debriefing session.

“No…no, I think that’s all I can remember,” he said softly, as if just waking up from a dream. “The main stuff anyway.” He restated: “Lying in bed, in that room, and there was someone there in bed with me. I couldn’t see her face. The room was pretty nice, I must have done alright for myself.”

“The details are important. Sometimes the system has a strange way of revealing its predictions. Take as long as you need,” she said reassuringly.

“Wait, there’s something else. I just remembered. The person next to me…she started to roll over but all I could see was her shoulder. There was a…like a scar or something. It was shaped like an X.”

Thea began to make note of his comment, her pen became motionless then fell from her hand.

“What did you just say?”

“A scar. Like an X. On her shoulder.”

“That’s…not possible.”

He looked up and saw a look somewhere in between disbelief and alarm.

“Oh my god,” she said. “This can’t be happening.”

“Huh?”

Sliding her left sleeve up to her shoulder, she revealed the mark he described.

“My brother pushed me into a fence when I was seven.”

“Wow, that’s a weird coincidence. What are the odds!” And then he finally understood. “Oh. Wait…wow. So did you see me in your session? What did – “

“Just stop! Please.”

They sat in silence for a moment, neither of them sure what to say.

“So…what do we do now? Cause we know –“

“No,” she said, cutting him off again. “We don’t really know anything for sure. Maybe that’s just one possible path. It’s not 100% accurate. I think.”

“But maybe this is good news?”

“Good news? Look, everybody who comes in here, they all think they’re going to get a leg up in life. Like the future is some secret they suddenly they’re in on. But I see them struggle with what they’ve learned. It’s a gift that people don’t really understand, and it’s never what they want it to be. You don’t get answers, you just get more questions,” she stated wearily.

“Well what’s the point of it then?” asked Scott.

Sheepishly: “I don’t know.”

A longer pause this time. They both listened to the sheets of rain on the windows, which had picked up considerably.

“You should know, I have a boyfriend. I live with my boyfriend. We’re happy,” she said, aware of how hollow her voice sounded in the confined concrete office overlooking the harbor, where the spring rain blurred the distinction between sea and clouds. “If you don’t have anything else to document, then maybe our session is over.”

“Ok…” He felt like the moment called for a profound truth to be said, but all that came out was “Will I see you again?”

She stared at her desk for what seemed like a long time.

“Yeah,” she said with quiet resignation. “You probably will.”

###