Chapter 21: THE TYLERS
The four adults in the family room of the Tyler house were making small-talk while a game show, serving more as background noise than entertainment, wound down in the telewindow.
Like most lower-middle class homes, the Tyler's family room was built around a T-window. The glass, framed by imitation wood, was the size of a standard house window turned on its side in the middle of the wall. Rick and Mina sat back in two of four upholstered recliners with a full snack tray between them while Ricks parents, Arthur and Lydia, snuggled like teenagers on a love seat in a corner.
Mina faked a little stretch of her neck to steal a glance at the older couple who were alternately joking and flirting in a way that made it clear that they loved each other very much. Despite their color difference, everything about them seemed to fit together. Mina had a hard time accounting for it.
Through a wide crack in the door to the dining room, Mina took a quick peak at Nancy struggling with a one-handed computer keypad on the dining room table. The pretty, coffee-with-cream colored girl shared enough of Arthur and Lydias looks to tell anyone who cared to make the comparisons that she was definitely their child.
Mina didnt have to take another glance at Rick to see that the same was true of him. She did it anyway. She hadnt thought much about it before, but as far as she could remember, most children tended to resemble one parent more than another. If that was the rule, Rick and Nancy were the exceptions.
How odd, thought Mina, that a half-black man who looked all-white and his sister, who no one would think of as half-white, would look so much like both of their parents.
"How come you never closed the O.J. Simpson case on Crime Scene 200?" asked Arthur.
Mina heard the question as though he had eves dropped on her thoughts and heard only enough to know they involved an interracial couple with a boy and girl. What really happened with his words and her thoughts was more mundane. It was like two people watching a man do the splits on a banana peal in front of an ice cream parlor and having the same vision of a cold dairy treat. The elements were all in place for the ex-marine to ask the question. Mina should have been surprised if he hadnt.
"The case is closed," she said. "The criminal jury fund him innocent. The civil jury found him liable. There is no point in doing a flashback because everybody knows he did it."
"Not me," said Arthur, "and I wont know until I see a flashback."
"Me neither," said Rick.
Mina didnt see Nancys reaction but her mother seem disinterested.
"I watched the whole trial," said Arthur. "The prosecution had evidence on top of evidence but no proof. I mean, they had ten times more than enough evidence to convict the man if any of it had been untainted but it was all tainted."
"Not all of it, Dad," said Rick, "Some of the circumstantial blood evidence was pretty strong."
Rick held up the middle knuckle of his left hand. "The two cuts he said he got on the same finger at different times and in different places. What are the odds that hed cut himself twice on the same day his ex and her friend were slashed to death with a knife?"
"I dont think he knew how he cut himself the first time," said Arthur, and it was a superficial cut, so, if he was innocent, he had no reason to worry about it at the time. But he had to know that he left blood drops at his house. If he heard about the killings when he was in Chicago, like he said he did, he had to know how fishy that I-dont-know-how-I-cut-my-finger story would have sounded when he got back to L.A. I say he panicked and gave himself an alibi cut with the glass in Chicago and hoped that he'd get back to his estate before anybody discovered the blood that was there before he left. Course, he had time to think it through on the way back and realize hed screwed-up. But then it would have been too late to tell the truth."
"Sounds thin," said Rick.
"It would sound thin," said Arthur, "if O.J. had been the only good suspect. But if he was framed by that nazi, Fuhrman, the cut finger could have been a trigger that set off a plan in the works for monthsor years. Or maybe so much of the evidence looks like it was planted because O.J. cut himself at the last minute. Maybe the killer had to do a lot of improvising at the last minute to make the cut and the blood drops at his house look like they matched the evidence at the crime scene.
"Thats reaching." said Mina.
"No more than a famous black man killing a Jew, losing a glove on the spot, and making a loud noise at his house where he drops the other glove for a nazi to find. Now that's reaching. Whoever killed them people had the military training and the presence of mind to use the blunt end of a knife as a stun weapon for a silent double kill. I hate to say this, but Fuhrman was an ex-marine."
"The nazi did it," said Lydia matter-of-factly.
Mina was embarrassed for the woman, her irrational assertion telling Mina that her apparent disinterest in the subject was born of conviction that there was nothing to discuss. "Just because the man was a racist," she said, "didnt mean he was a murderer."
"The trouble is, said Arthur, "everybody who thinks O.J. did it assumes that the motive was jealous rage. It could have been racial hatred and a shot at fame and glory for destroying a prominent African-American the way they do now on the X Channel. But why accept any theory of who did it when you can do a time scan and see who it was?"
"Well," said Mina diplomatically, "I dont know how long Ill be working on Crime Scene but Ill see what I can do."
Arthur snorted, "I just thought of something; if it turns out that racist bastard did do it, I have a feeling you wont be able to do much...."
A chime sounded. Arthur and Lydia sat up straight wearing happy faces. "Its on," said Lydia, as the telewindow switched to a preset channel with a sea of happy white faces sparsely sprinkled with darker ones in a studio audience. Applause filled the room along with the light, bouncy tune of another game show.
Nancy let out a groan of disappointment from the other room.
"No need trying to act pitiful," said Lydia, "If youd done your homework when you were supposed to you could be in here watching the program with us instead of scuffling in there."
"I didnt say nothin," pleaded the girl.
"Bullshit," said her father.
Mina looked at Rick who seemed to be too busy gearing up for a good time to notice the illegal language his father had used to quiet his minor daughter. "Do you ever watch this?" he asked.
"No," said Mina, "What is it?"
Rick held up a finger as the camera finished panning the audience and came to rest on the velvety pink stage curtains with big glittering letters that read, "WANT A HINT?"
An unseen announcer parted the applause with a deep, masculine voice, "Hi, folks! Welcome to the 498th edition of Want A Hint?, the only live quiz show in network telewindows where anything can happen. And now your host, Ta-a-a-d Barrister!"
The center section of curtains lifted to a swell of applause laced with hoots and whistles. The narrow band of fabric rose slowly, unveiling the slim, toothy host in his black, sequined, casual suite as though he were a piece of living sculpture. He basked in the raucous greeting, extending his shimmering arms, bowing his curly head, waving his diamond-studded fingers and blowing kisses aplenty before gesturing for silence.
"Thank you," he said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. What an audience!"
"Yay!" said Lydia mockingly, bringing chortles from Arthur, Rick and Nancy as Lydia's ersatz cheer overlapped Tad Barristers last words. When the audience broke into real cheers, Mina got her first hint of what the inside joke was. For the Tylers at least, it seemed that very little could happen on the show "where anything can happen" that they couldnt predict.
"All right," said Barrister as the camera zoomed in for a close-up of his tanned, angular, thirty-something face. "For you who are watching for the first time, this is not your ordinary game show. It takes brains to win but speed, intuition, courage and dumb luck can also make a difference. Along the way, we like to have a little fun.
"Six contestants begin each week vying for a fortune in cash and prizes. By the end of the week, five of them will be sitting at home...crying...their eyes out."
The studio audience laughed heartily at Barristers mock sadness and cut it short to let him continue, "The lone survivor will be the one on stage with the most points accumulated during the week by correctly answering some simple question."
The audience laughed again, this time at the accent he put on the word, "simple," and the leer that went with it.
"Now, we all have times when we know the answer to something but cant quite come up with it. So, being the nice guys that we are..." He made the same suggestive face that he had earlier, which Mina correctly presumed to be his trademark expression. "...we offer a little hintfor a price."
A smattering of nasty snickers told Mina that there was more to it than that. Rick confirmed it by turning to her and explaining, "Thats the trap. If you miss a question you only lose the points you woulda got if youda got all of 'em right."
Ah! thought Mina. Now he sounds black. As she looked at Rick again, pretending to be as interested in what he was saying as he was, she thought that he looked more like a black man, too.
"Every hint you take can cost you points in multiples of 5. You never know how many youre gonna get or whether youre gonna get good ones or dumb ones and if you dont come up with the answer, you have to keep on takinem until they run out. But the worst part about it is how ridiculous they make you look. Youll see."
"Yeah," said Arthur Tyler, "Ol smilin Tad is a real son-of-a-bitch. Youd think them people who go on that show would learn but they never do."
"Amen," said Lydia.
"...All of our contestants receive a nice token of their visit and each days survivors can carry their accumulated points forward to the next day or cash them in for..."
He turned to his right, extending his right hand palm up as the curtains flew up and out of sight and the announcer took over to finish the sentence, "... these fabulous prizes."
The stage was no more than six paces deep with a telewindow behind it that extended beyond the Tylers telewindow frame in three directions. Appearing in the window with female models as the announcer described them were beautiful sets of European furniture and jewelry, Japanese appliances and motor vehicles and a hand-crafted New Zealand yacht.
Mina noticed that the oos and ahs that usually went with such displays were unusually subdued. When the first rendition of the grand prize materialized in their place, she understood why. It was a custom dream house in any of several rich, white communities in the United States where land was still available to build one. What really caught Minas attention was the black maid, the brown cook, and the yellow gardener that went with it.
"Do you believe that shit," said Rick, disgustedly as Tad Barrister chatted with the traditionally-uniformed servants through the T-window. "Youd swear that they cant wait for somebody to get enough points so they can go to work for them and stop drawing their salary from the show for doin nothin."
Lydia shushed him with a finger to her lips, "Theyre getting ready to bring out the contestants."
A hidden conveyer platform carried four people on stage with ghostly five and six digit numbers hanging over their heads like placard signs without the placards. The first person was a short, thin, middle-aged, round-eyed woman of East Asian ancestry. Next was a black-skinned, straight-haired man of average height and weight in his mid twenties. Then came two white men; a tall, trim, auburn-haired one in his late twenties or early thirties and a shorter, darker, heavier and harrier one in his early sixties.
When the camera swung back to a close-up of Tad Barristers fun-filled face as he prepared to welcome the contestants, "Rick said, "Guess whos not going to win the grand prize."
His parents, smiling in anticipation of what was likely an inside joke, answered, "Want a hint?"
The womans hopeful face was forthwith framed in the Tylers T-window and they fell all over themselves laughing. They went through the same routine before the gruesomely serious black man got his close-up, with Lydia starting it off this time. Even Nancy, out of sight in the other room, chortled at what she apparently knew was happening.
When the faces of all four contestants were shown in close-up, Mina noticed one thing about them that she wouldnt have noticed a day before: They all had blue eyes. Any color other than dark brown was what civilized people expected to see when they got close enough, the same as they would have expected the absence of body odor. Only now did that eye-color expectation and the judgments that came with it make her squirm.
Finally, the studio lights dimmed and the players were surrounded by columns of amber light as the game began.
"For five points," said Barrister, reading the questions off of a computerized 3x5 card, "In the last half of the 20th century, what city was know as "The Motor City?"
"Detroit!" said all of the Tylers in unison as the four contestants groped for the answer.
Then, the older man did something that Mina couldnt see which turned the column of amber light surrounding him green while columns of red light now surrounded his opponents. "Detroit," he said
Tad Barrister checked his card. "Youre right," he said. The six digit number above the mans head changed by a sum of 5. "OK, Chris, as you know, the next question is worth 25 points. The option is yours. Do you want the question or do you want to put it up for grabs?"
The audience urged him on.
"I think Ill take it, Tad."
The audience applauded.
Chris, smiled through his curly, black beard.
Tad Barrister looked at his card, "Which of the citys former mayors went on to become President of the United States?"
"That motherfucker," grumbled Arthur Tyler.
The bearded mans smile broadened to a grin, "Clarence Leighton," he said.
Again, the audience applauded.
...Ten minutes into the game, Mina saw what Rick meant by how foolish the contestants could be made to look when the black man and the man next to him started sinkingliterally going into a hole. Then the woman started down and the black man moved up only to sink farther down than before. The extent to which their answers brought them up or down was proportionate to their height, so the taller players had no special advantage.
Mina found herself getting caught up in the show. The pace was fast, the questions far ranging and the host, Tad Barrister genuinely amusing, in a sadistic sort of way.
The bearded man held his ground until the man next to him moved out of the hole and started racking up a cushion of points that would keep him out of the hole for a long time. Thats when the bearded man started to loose ground, sinking faster than anyone until he was at the same level as the black man who was down to his shoulders. Then the black man slipped completely out of sight. All that was left was the echo of his voice. The same thing happened to the bearded man and then the woman as the top of the black mans head came back into view.
Meanwhile, Rick was rattling off the answers to nearly every question in every category, no matter how abstruse, as soon as they were asked. Mina had a feeling that he was doing it mostly to impress her. The look she got from his mother confirmed it.
Arthur and Lydia chided their son good-naturedly for not having the guts to try out for the show. He blushed furiously and abruptly changed the channel with his light pen, claiming that the show was too silly for his tastes. The older Tylers gave a weak protest and backed away from the argument, not wanting to look like quarrelsome, intellectual lightweights in front of their brainy guest.
Rick switched to the all-channel program guide. They looked through several categories of subject matter, some of which contained only a dozen or so home library selections.
Apologizing for the limited choices, Arthur said, "We lost what we had in our last T-windows program storage unit when I tried to take it out."
Rick looked at his father, "Dad, that wasnt a program storage unit. It said right on the thing, do not remove. You had to break it to get it out."
"Well," said Arthur defensively, "It was where the disk goes in."
"It was only a disk sleeve," said Mina, "But the sleeve is the interface between the disk and the artificial intelligence chip."
"Whats wrong with running the disk by itself the way they used to have it?" asked Arthur, clearly distrustful of the more advanced technology.
"No disk can hold that much information," answered Mina. "The chip uses a few basic pieces of visual and audio data; you know: line, color, orientation, pitch, volumethat sort of thing. You set the recall code of a specific range of integrated inputs by supplying a singularly defining characteristic like a name or description. The information you want tells the system what to pay attention to and what to ignore. The result of that is what you see in the window and what you hear coming out of it."
Hector Clay and Gail Parker would have heard in Minas description of the Piper AI chip, a description of shared perceptions in the American cultural subconscious. They would have grasped the mind-control implications of the ubiquitous micro-hardware and the conversation would have swung in a new direction. However, neither Hector nor Gail was present.
"I still dont get it," said Arthur.
From the other room, Nancy said. "I do. The disk stores everything like its all brand new and the chip just takes the stuff it needs to put the right label on things."
"Thats right," said Mina, "Its more of a processor than a recorder. So the chip has to know only a few things about a program to set it apart from other programs to get billions of times more information than you can get on a disk in much less space. Thats one reason you can fit everything that makes a telewindow work into something that looks like a thin sheet of glass on a small stack of postage stamps instead of a big, bulky television set. Thats why you can wear one on your wrist."
Arthur frowned, "Then why cant you just change the chip?"
"Because, Dad," said Rick, "its integrated into the system. If they made it so you could take it out and replace it with a new one, they wouldnt be able to sell their library service to as many households, right?"
"Right," said Mina.
"I got it now," chirped Nancy with a snicker that said she hadnt truly understood before.
"You gotta watch her," said Rick, loud enough for his sister to hear, "She dont know much but she can fake anything."
The three Tyler adults smiled happily. Nancy laughed. It was apparent that they kidded each other like this all the time. It gave Mina a chance to shed some of the super-intellectual atmosphere that Rick kept trying to pipe into the room as though she were a visitor from another planet who needed it to breath. She craned her neck to smile at Nancy. "Sounds to me like youve got the makings of a good programmer."
For one long, fragile moment, the only sound to be heard was the electronic jazz keyboard tinkling behind the program guide in the telewindow. Then Nancy and Ricks parents erupted with laughter at the same time. Rick chuckled. The Tylers had gone out of their way to help her feel at home. She was glad that she could finally do something to help herself.
"Mina," said Arthur with a cautious note of hope in his voice, "Is there a way to get the stuff we lost without going to the networks libraries."
"Not that I know of," said Mina, "But if you want something specific, you can get somebody who has it in their library to put it on disk for you."
"We tried that," said Lydia, "Nobody we know has it."
"Well, "I wouldnt worry about it," said Mina, misunderstanding Arthurs remark about not going to the networks. "I can get you a discount price on anything you want to download from the program guide."
Arthur snorted like a bull about to charge and the natural good humor that seemed so much a part of him was wiped from his features as though it had never belonged.
His wife touched his forearm and looked at him with concern. She started to say something but held her tongue as he began to tremble and his voice began to rise, "We cant get the fuckin program on the goddamn program guide! Its supposed to have everything there is and everything there ever was in telewindows and TV. You call any of the local channels and they tell you to call the network. You call the network, they tell you youre crazy; George Calloway never did no Great Debate series."
Arthur Tyler was ranting now, face flushed, arms flailing, spittle flying out of the corners of his mouth.
Mina wasnt used to being around people who showed their violent emotions so openly. She feared that he would go berserk at any moment and start attacking the closest thing to him.
Looking furtively for guidance from Rick to Lydia to Nancy, she saw that they were all listening calmly and respectfully, clearly hardened veterans of such outbursts.
"Me and Lydia tried to write to that guy directly but you cant expect to get nothin outa him. Who knows who gets them fuckin letters before he does? The man is seventy fiveeighty years old; he cant do everything himself. Hes gotta trust somebody and who can he trust? I tellya, somebodys dumpin sludge on the good China and tellin everybody its pudding! You gotta fight them guys! You gotta! But how can you fightem unless you know what the hell is going on!"
He caught himself and ease off a little at a time as if by doing so he could get everyone to believe that he had not been ranting. They couldnt do that, of course, but they could pretend. For the sake of tension-free discourse, Mina considered it a social virtue that Ricks father would be wise to learn if he wanted people to hear his intended message.
It never occurred to her that the message without the passion was like a body without a pulse. Regardless of how natural it looked, it wasnt the same. It never occurred to her that she was responding to his passion as much as she was to his words when she decided to help him.
She cleared her throat and jerked her head in the direction of the room where Nancy was supposed to be practicing her typing, "Is your computer system tied into a telewindow net?" she asked.
"Sure," said Rick, "What do you have in mind?"
"I want to try something," she said, turning her head to Arthur Tyler, "Do you mind?"
Arthur rose to his feet, opened the door to the other room and helped Mina out of her seat. "Nancy," he said, "Move over and let Ms. Foski sit down."
"Wait a minute, daddy. I just gotta"
"Now!" bellowed Arthur. Nancy got up.
Mina sat down. "Pardon me," she said, as she moved the floating pointer button and depressed it. A "Saved" message flashed and a quick succession of key strokes brought the program guide from the large T-window into the smaller one.
Mina talked and typed at the same time, feeling like a contestant on Want a Hint? who had decided to take a hint. She wasnt sure if she could come up with the answer and she was fearful to the point of having to fight the urge to go to the bathroom that she might sink into a hole. "I could go home," she said, "and put what you want on disk. Im sure I have it in my library and if this doesnt work we can always do that."
By the time she finished talking, Rick and Lydia had joined her, Arthur and Nancy. They stood behind her looking down over her shoulders, as interested in seeing her in action as they were in seeing the product of her efforts.
"Wow," said Nancy, admiring the way Minas fingers skipped across the keys, "Thats fantastic!"
"I havent done anything yet," said Mina, "Lets see..." She paused for a moment, then struck a series of keys and sat back in her chair with her arms folded.
Another program guide with different colors and different background music appeared on the screen, "Ah!" said Mina, relaxing her tensed shoulders. "Were in."
"Outstanding!" boomed Arthur as the other Tylers expressed their admiration with their own favorite words for such occasions. "Can you switch to voice control?" asked Arthur.
Mina pressed the AUDIO/MANUAL button on the keyboard and nodded for Arthur to proceed.
"Computer search: Debates," he said, "Reverse discrimination. American party. Winston Terry. Search."
The screen became a window in which George Calloway stood in front of a smoldering volcano.
"The subject," he said, "is Great Debates, the last in our series of debates which changed the course and the character of what we call America.
"We began with the Boston Tea Party and the Tories vs. the Patriots. The character of the victors gave America its charactera nation clinging to the Bill of Rights with one hand and the chains of slavery in the other. For better or worse, and usually some of each, the victors in all of the great debates weve examined have given their character to the country as a whole and written them into law.
"The principle task of our lawmakers today is no longer to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense, but to unmake laws injurious to economic growth. Most laws regulating trade and commerce have been repealed. So-called reverse discrimination has been ruled unconstitutional and with it antidiscrimination laws of every kind. This is a short history of how these momentous changes came about and restored the Bill of Rights to the privileged minority of Americans it was originally created to serve."
Liberal pap, thought Mina reflexively, tuning out the program until her attention was arrested by the image of the last Supreme Court Justice who wasnt nominated and confirmed by the American Party. Like no Justice she had seen since the Chief Justices race change operation, this one had dark brown eyes.
He said, "If history has taught us anything, it is that prejudice closes the eyes of everyone to the truth, and opens them to any apparent truth that justifies our passions. God help us all if the wisdom of self-interest should become our soul protector against bigotry in those commercial enterprises that hold the keys to our future."
Justice Terrys image dissolved into George Calloways.
"Justice Terry cast the lone dissenting vote in Sanchez vs. Burbank. That obscure case ended publicly funded health care and education as well as freedom from religion in a single stroke. Later that year he cast the lone dissenting vote in the notorious Charm case which upheld the constitutionality of incommunicado imprisonment indefinitely for class D felonies."
The unexpected reference to Charm was a jolting reminder to Mina of her conversation with Margaret about a new kind of genocide and a new kind of rape. It was the kind of coincidence that couldnt be ignored.
"26 years ago today," said Calloway, "Justice Terry vanished from the face of the Earth never to be seen or heard from again."
The credits rolled with a background-filling picture of the American partys first President as the sepia-colored, woolly-haired man he was before his race change. Calloway turned and walked toward the picture. With his every step, he got smaller and President Leighton with his warm, winning smile grew lighter in color, the hair was gradually transformed into straight, chestnut-brown locks and the eyes from dark brown to deep blue. By the time the figure of George Calloway vanished into a dot on Leightons necktie, the transformation was complete.Back to top
Click here for Adobe PDF version of The Random Factor
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison