Keep In Touch
By Preston Coburn
“Baseball game tonight at 7. You in Philo?” “Sorry Steve, I already promised Fenton I’d go with him to the Theatre tonight.” “Bummer.” “I need some help deciding on what to have for dinner tonight! Any suggestions Philo?” “How ‘bout cream of tuna over rice and broccoli?””EW!!! No way. You bachelors eat the weirdest things.” “I eat what’s convenient Tiff.” “New! Campbell’s Low Sodium Cream of Tuna! Is this ad relevant to you?” “Fenton! Are we still on for the theatre at seven?” “Of course amigo! Wouldn’t miss this for anything! Just as soon as the Chief here let’s me out of my cubicle I’ll be on my way to the long weekend!” “You taking the train?” “Course” Bing Di-ling! “Breaks over. See you there.”
Refocusing his mind back on his work, Philo moved his communications to the background. A virtual pile of documents lay before his mind, and he inwardly groaned at the task of categorizing and prioritizing the many files for his superiors. Receiving his master’s degree after the typical four years of college, Philo had high hopes for landing an awesome entry level position at a large law firm. Instead he got a job as a ‘paper-pusher’ at a second-rate patent office. He chuckled to himself at the archaic title. As if anyone actually used paper anymore. But the job wasn’t all bad, at least he could get up to get a drink or use the bathroom like a normal person. Rumors were that at some larger companies the lower-level employees were put into compact chambers with tubes to take care of all their needs as they did their work on their inter-cranial implants. No, Life wasn’t really that bad, after all, Einstein worked in a patent office before he became famous.
Bring-a-ling! “Yes!” Philo quickly focused on the incoming communication. “Attention all informatics processors” said the image of Philo’s boss Mr. Scott. “A position as assistant supervisor will be opening up and we are accepting applications. If you feel that you have what it takes, turn your application into my secretary by the end of the day tomorrow. That’s all.”
Finally! An opportunity to advance! Pulling up his friend communication again, “Ya’ll, I’m getting promoted to super! Just as soon as the boss man realizes it! LOL.” “Congrats man!” “Hey that’s great!” “Go for it Philo!” “Thanks guys.”
The rest of the day drudged on at a snail’s pace. Often he found himself day-dreaming about how he would shine as a supervisor. A couple of times these stray thoughts accidentally opened the search function of his implant, and pulled up results like How to be more than a manager.
Five o’clock finally showed itself well after the time that Philo felt that it should. Packing his few office supplies into his bag he headed for the subway. With a couple of hours to spare he thought he would try a new coffee shop that he had heard about on his daily news feed. He had never been to that part of town, so he pulled up the map on his implant as he walked. The visual display, from his implant to the visual center of his brain, was just transparent enough that one could see where they were going and examine the map at the same time. Finding the correct train, and the route that he would take, Philo shifted to an audio map that would give him verbal directions. “Go straight, 300 yards.” Feeling in a good mood Philo opened this music player with a simple thought. While getting lost in the latest hit by Kevin and the Zits, Philo made it to the high-speed underground subway system. Passing the toll booth an authoritative voice sounded in his ear “two dollars and fifty cents have been deducted from your account.” “Your train arrives in 25 minutes.” alerted his implant. “Great.” Groaned Philo “What am I going to do with all that time?”
Giving in to a childish impulse Philo changed the music to an adventurous song and began looking around for some trouble. His eye was immediately drawn to a service corridor that ran alongside the train tunnel. With a quick glance at the crowd he could see that everyone was absorbed in their implants. They had that glossy eyed look that you get when you’ve shut off your real eyes and focus on the artificial image that the implant feeds to the brain. Some swayed slightly as they played games, others moved their silent lips as they had conversations with others around the world and still others sat motionless as they did their work or watched the news and movies. Philo quickly ducked onto the metal catwalk, and strode confidently into the darkness.
The tunnel wasn’t as interesting as he had hoped. The magnetic pads that the sub floats on gave a faint humming noise. The catwalk had a soft yellow light spaced every 20 yards or so. A few metal boxes lined the walls from time to time. Opening one, Philo found it full of complex plugs and circuits. Presumably they controlled that length of the magnetic pad. Not wanting to go too far from the platform he found a part of the catwalk that had hinges and could be lifted up. Underneath this trapdoor there was a yellow painted ladder that extended down a narrow tube. “Sweet! The guys would never believe this.” As proof of his exploits Philo snapped a picture of the tunnel and posted it to his friend board with the title Guess where I am! Immediately there were guesses. “The sewer.” “No! That’s an old bomb shelter.” “I think that it’s a service hatch at the water plant.” “You’re all wrong! I’ll let you know when I figure it out myself.”
Without much thought, Philo swung his legs down into the unknown depths and began to climb. The only trepidation that he felt was when a train passed just a few feet away, travelling nearly 200 miles an hour as it decelerated to the Platform. But even that hesitation wasn’t enough to make him rethink his intentions.
After climbing for what seemed like forever he realized the tube was deeper than he had hoped for. He climbed down and down and down, and, when he thought it hopeless, he spotted a faint light just twenty feet down. That light turned out to be coming from the other side of an antique metal door that was slightly ajar.
Philo pushed open the antique metal door to reveal a long derelict concrete hallway. Staring at him from the other side of the hallway was another antique door but this one was glowing with a faint blue light. “Ten minutes to the arrival of your train.” His implant warned him, but this was just too interesting to turn back now. Philo tentatively walked forward. Trying the knob and finding it unlocked, he pushed the door open. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Instead of the service equipment and pipes that he had expected, there was before him a clean, white room with a bluish light coming from a sphere that was suspended from the ceiling. There were three doors including the one at which Philo stood. Each was an equal distance apart in the round room. The floor, walls and ceiling were made of concrete that was painted white. “Whoa!” exclaimed Philo. His immediate thought was to show this to his friends. Concentrating on the camera function of his implant Philo tried to take a picture of it, but nothing happened. He tried to take a video, make a phone call, and connect to his friends. Nothing was working. This had never happened before. Not even once since he had his implant put in when he was born. Closing his eyes Philo concentrated on his clock, then he tried to pull up his address book, but even these simple functions weren’t working. Philo started to panic as the realization began to dawn on him. He was alone. He had no contact with anyone. Just as he was about to go mad from the loneliness one of the other doors opened and an old man walked in to the circular room. The old man jump at the sight of Philo, and Philo jumped because he had been so enveloped in his nonfunctional implant.
“Well. Hello there young man. To what do I owe this visit?”
“I-I-I was just looking around and I found this door.”
“I’m glad you did. Now, come with me and I’ll fix you a warm drink.”
The man walked across the room and opened the third door. He entered without even looking to see if Philo would follow. The charming nature of the old man was disarming. Philo followed without a second thought. He was led into a very spacious white room. On one side was a kitchen with an oven, cabinets, sink and a fridge. There was a white dining table near it. This is to where the man strode, still without looking over his shoulder. Philo paused in the door way and saw that the rest of the square room was divided into a living quarter. A comfortable White bed was in one corner with a dresser and rug. The other corner was a living room with a couch, coffee table and shelves with many books. The last corner was a study, where sat a desk with pens and paper and even more books. Some were open on the desk. Through an open door next to the kitchen Philo could see a white bathroom.
The old man was busy with a kettle at the sink so Philo followed him in and sat at the table.
“What is this place? What do you do here?”
“All that can wait until I’ve got the tea on the stove.”
Philo sat and waited while this stranger worked at the tea. After the initial shock of having his implant malfunction it was a relief to have someone to talk to and Philo couldn’t stop himself from asking questions.
“How long have you been here? Why did my implant stop working when I came?”
“Alright young man I’ll answer all your questions just as soon as we get to know each other a little better.” He said with a chuckle.
“My name is Ryker. What is yours?”
“It’s nice to meet you Philo. Now tell me again how you found my home.”
“I was up on the subway platform and had some time before my train arrived so I started looking around. I found the tunnel that led here and climbed down.”
“You had some extra time and you went looking around? Why didn’t you find a seat and play a game or watch a video on your implant?”
“I don’t know. I just felt like looking around instead.”
“That’s very interesting.”
The tea pot whistled and Ryker stood to get it. He poured it into two porcelain cups and handed one to Philo.
“I would like to tell you a little bit more about myself and this place.” said Ryker. “This is Hyperborea. It is the last place on earth where one can truly be alone.” After a pause, Ryker continued, “Many years ago I was a member of the team that invented the implant. We wanted to revolutionize human communication, and how we interact with each other. I soon realized that all my work was for not. The only thing that I had done was to give mankind access to a mountain of useless information. That is when I found a quote from T.S. Elliot. He said, ‘Where is the wisdom we lost in knowledge. Where is the knowledge we lost in information.’ I decided to pursue wisdom and leave behind information. You said that your implant stopped working when you entered Hyperborea. I built a special jammer into the walls of this place that shuts down, temporarily, any electronic device. In this place I can rid myself, and all those that visit me, of the troubles of information and focus on seeking understanding. I tell you all this because you seem different. You sought out adventure instead of wasting your time on useless media. I would like to show you more.”
Ryker took the stunned Philo back across the blue-lit room to the door that Philo had first seen him come out of. Ryker opened it and revealed a massive room maybe a hundred yards deep and fifty yards wide. The most amazing thing about the room was what it held. From wall to wall it was full of plants. Philo saw tomatoes, carrots, beets, potatoes and many other plants. Further in there were trees, fruit trees, full of apples, pears and oranges. The ceiling was rounded and also white. A sprinkler system hung from the ceiling and hovered above the plants. Along the wall closest to the door there were gardening tools from rakes to wheel barrows. In the left corner Philo could even see a wash basin where Ryker must wash his clothes.
“Wow!” exclaimed Philo. “This is amazing!”
“I built Hyperborea to be self sustained. I grow all my food here, in my garden.”
“So you’ve been living down here all by yourself all this time?”
“That’s right. And I’d like to invite you to stay here with me. I’m an old man and I don’t want my dream to die with me. So what do you say? Do you value wisdom over information?”
Philo could feel the unfamiliar emptiness eating at him, the emptiness of being lonely. He could feel the emptiness of not being connected to his friends and family. On the other hand he felt the pull of the unknown, of the many things that he could learn under the tutelage of this strange eccentric. Living here, and learning to cultivate plants, to ponder and to seek wisdom. In the end Philo couldn’t resist to ache that he felt for connecting to other people, no matter how superficial.
“Thank you Ryker for the opportunity, but I can’t leave my friends.”
Ryker’s face fell, showing how old he really was.
“I understand. Good bye.”
“Can I come back to see you?” Philo asked.
“I think it better if you didn’t.”
Ryker walked him back to the room with the blue light and watched him mournfully as Philo walked out the door that led to the ladder. As the door closed behind him, Philo felt the implant fire up. He was connected to the world again. “Hey Philo, you going to make it to the theatre? What happened to you? I’ve been trying to call you for almost an hour.” “Yeah Fenton I’ll be there” “You missed your train. The next will be arriving in ten minutes.” chimed his implants.
With one last look at the door behind him, Philo began his climb back to the world that he knew. Back on the platform the high-speed train pulled in and as Philo boarded Fenton asked, “So what was down in that hole?”
“Oh, it was nothing.”
Separate names with a comma.