Join Date: Jan 2006
“Congratulations!” Panda-man said. “Your actions were quick and decisive… bravo!” He extended a hand, which held a bag of popcorn. “Have some?”
“What is all this?” I asked suspiciously.
“This?” Panda-man looked about the room. “This is our legacy, my boy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about fiction,” Panda-man replied. “Specifically: Science fiction.” He gestured around the room with the popcorn bag. “Welcome to the future!”
"This?" I glanced around. "All this cheap theatrics?"
"Exactly, my boy! The cheap theatrics of the future! Sound and light shows, designed to impress the masses into thinking something important is going on."
Panda-man gestured at a partition. "It's all his fault, you know." I looked: He was indicating the old man in the portrait. "Fritz Lang," he answered my unspoken question. "The man who gave us the movie Metropolis."
"Metropolis? Wasn't that an old silent movie?"
"Oh, yes, that it was," Panda-man stated. "It depicted a futuristic city, a utopia above, run by slaves at bone-crunching machinery below. Lang created the first imagery to depict futuristic hardware... flashing lights, kinetic elements, oil, steel, glass... as well as depicting a deep, dangerous mystery far underground. He showed machines that could destroy, if not for the people who needed to maintain them on a constant basis. He showed mysterious leaders and mindless drone workers, stages incomprehensible to newcomers. No one had done that before him. His imagery became synonymous with science fiction."
"And you," he stated, "have proven yourself worthy of carrying on the legacy."
"What are you talking about?"
"Why, the button, my boy!" He waved at it. "You hit it! Without hesitation! You didn't examine the wiring diagram, or go online to see if you could figure out what was going on, or call tech support... you hit the button! Just like a movie hero is supposed to! You have proven that the iconic cinematic programming is established within you. As long as you stay down here, you can maintain the harmony of the Zoo by pressing that button whenever the alarm goes off!"
"Oh, f**k that noise!" I snapped. I am not staying down here and pressing any stupid button for you! I had enough of--"
My mouth positively fell open. I suddenly realized what was going on. How it was inevitable that I would find myself here. "Oh, no! I'm leaving! I'm going home!"
"Are you forgetting the panda?" Panda-man smiled amiably. "I don't think he's going to allow you to leave."
I cast about desperately, trying to figure out what to do. I was beginning to see things I hadn't noticed before... things that looked familiar to me. Things that I remembered from my office...
Where I had just resigned...
"No..." I snarled. "No!"
"No!" I struck out, smashing Panda-man in the jaw, and he tumbled to the ground. I towered over him, my every limb screaming to hit him again.
"Do you know what it took me to get out of there?" I screamed. "What it took to stop writing the crap? The same kitch-y stories? The same cardboard characters, starships and aliens? I could have created masterpieces! High concepts that would have the literary gods weeping at my feet! Weeping!" I kicked Panda-man while he was down, not striking any vital parts, but eliciting a painful grunt from him nonetheless.
"But all they wanted was... the damned crap! They wouldn't let me write real stories... they wanted... rehashed versions of Wagon Train and Gunsmoke episodes, with ray guns! They wanted centerfolds in green makeup and torn miniskirts! They wanted explosions... with stupid expanding halo-things around them! They wanted... they wanted..."
I had run out of steam. I hadn't realized it had happened, but I was on my knees next to Panda-man, my eyes burning with tears. All I could make out were the movements of swimming lights and washed-out geometric shapes, all around me... surrounding me.
"Yes," Panda-man was saying. "We know. We know why you resigned. We just needed to hear you say it."
"Please," I pleaded with him. "Don't make me stay here... with all this! I don't want to be trapped by all this junk. I know there is... so much more! I need to be free of it! I need to be free..."
"Ah," Panda-man nodded. "So, he is not ready for this Zoo, after all."
"No, he is not."
I looked up, to see the Greek girl kneeling down next to me. She took me by the shoulders, and smiled kindly. "This is no panda. We cannot bind him by panda rules. We must release him."
"Yes," Panda-man agreed, standing. "Yes, we must." As I wiped my eyes pitiably, the girl helped me to my feet. I found I couldn't stand to look at the hardware in the room... it was becoming too strong a reminder of everything I'd sought to escape. The girl, sensing this, turned me away from the hardware, to face Panda-man. As I watched, he reached into his pocket, pulled his hand out, and extended it, palm-up, to me.
"I want you to take this blue pill..."