The architect

The architect glanced about the wide catacombs of the skyscraper, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. Just don’t tie me up, he said. I can’t stand to have my limbs restrained. He peered into the shadows crosshatched by rows of steel beams wrapped in stacks of explosives.

The dark haired man led him to a pair of folding chairs beneath a faint swaying bulb. Nobody’s getting tied up, the dark haired man said. Have a seat. Can I get you some water or coffee? No, the architect said. No thank you. His voice echoed. The other men disappeared back through the door, leaving the architect alone with the dark haired man.

My name’s Christian, the dark haired man said. But no one knows that. No one’s ever even called me that.

So what do people call you, the architect said, and sat on one of the folding chairs. The room was very cold.

Well, some people call me Dutch, said the dark haired man, and sat across from the architect, scooting the chair close so that the knees of the men almost touched.

Why do they call you that? The architect peered into the darkness of that immense basement, the deep shadowed recesses, looking for glowing eyes or white knuckled hands holding glinting objects. His flashing and muted nightmare assassins. The room was quiet save for their voices and it smelled of ether and cordite, sawdust and alcohol and other exotic fragrances he could not place.

I’m not completely sure why people call me that, Dutch said, leaning back in his seat and looking up at the light bulb. I don’t know who started it or even when it started. Might have been during the war, I don’t know. Everything was during the war.

Would you rather I called you Christian, or Dutch? the architect said. Or, if you prefer, I could call you something else. Or nothing at all.

One of the men came back through the door and closed it softly. He walked over and whispered something into Dutch’s ear. The man left the room again.

Names are irrelevant, Dutch said. They have no power. Faces have power, actions have even more. But I’d like it if you called me Christian. I’d be honored if you were the first.

The architect nodded. Very well, he said. He cracked his knuckles and looked down to his hands. He was confused, nervous. Since when did architects become the target of kidnappings, he thought.

I’m a big fan of yours, Dutch said. I’ve been following your career since the Equilibrium in Chicago. You’re an unbelievably gifted artist.

Thank you, the architect said.

I love architecture in general, Dutch said. It’s by far my favorite of the arts. It’s the only truly functional form of art. By its very definition it is forced into expediency. This is its real value, what sets it apart. It’s the only true living, breathing art.

The architect didn’t say anything.

The Neocron in London. The Mire Hotel in Vegas. What many consider your master work, the Paradigm Towers in New York City. Their command, their governance over the city. I know the new millennium is young but your towers have helped to firmly re-entrench New York City as the secular capitol of the world.

The architect leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. He looked down to Christian’s hands, then back up to his face.

But this building is easily my favorite. I’ve been infatuated with it since the planning phase. You’re a follower of art in your own right, you know what it’s like. People follow an artist’s career as part of a small community. They dig and prod and try to immerse themselves in everything the artist has done through the years. Major projects, side projects. Even projects that never materialized. These followers or devotees want to be able to identify their artist’s signature, they want to feel connected, involved. Their awe and reverence becomes a part of their biological makeup. Soon they can even begin to see themselves rendered in the work. And of course each work speaks differently to every member of the community. One may identify with a work that the other followers may not necessarily see as vital to the collection. So on and so forth.

Dutch leaned back in his chair. He stared into the architect’s face and took a deep breath.

But on the contrary, he continued, this building more than any of the others represents for me a significant departure from self. Perhaps this is why I like it so much. When I look up at this structure from below or from a few blocks out I’m stricken with the idea that man may not have the size or power to confront nature, he may not even have the right to open dialogue with it. But it shows me that the human mind is at least capable of defending itself against the unpredictable wrath of the universe, it can withstand the inexorable crush of god’s will.

The architect remembered back to the first time someone tried to explain how his work made them feel. It was a young woman in drafting class back in college, an underclasswoman. She sat next to him and one afternoon he was immersed in his work and didn’t notice her staring over at what he was drafting. A lifeboat, she said, pulling him out of his creative trance. I’m sorry, he said to her. A lifeboat, she repeated. Looking at that drawing makes me feel like I’m on a lifeboat. The architect looked down at his drawing and then back to the woman’s face. She smiled. But I’m not sure if I’m saving someone or the one being saved, she said.

It’s all so very simple, Dutch said. It’s such a brilliant idea because of its simplicity. A skyscraper with a structural system based on the concept of giant springs, able to withstand large scale tectonic movement. Obviously vital to cities like Los Angeles or otherwise massive metropolitan areas on or near fault lines. And such a gorgeous structure, immersing and almost camouflaging itself into the city around it, atop it, if you will. A city known for its exhibition, and yet here’s this world-class skyscraper trying to hide itself. Built and maintained with far less energy than any other building of its size in the world, in history. It’s not only an achievement for Los Angeles and the environmental community at large, for businesspeople and realtors and the state of California, but an achievement for the world, for the architecture of a new millennium, for a human race geared toward reinvesting resources in the planet.

What exactly do you want, Christian? the architect said.

Dutch didn’t say anything. He stood and thrust his hands in his pockets and paced the area behind his chair.

I want what everyone wants, he said. Including you. The rich, the poor, the lost, the focused. I want what they want. I want more time.

You want more time for what?

Well, the what is irrelevant, sir. I think as a culture we all need to be more concerned with why. It’s the why that really matters. It’s always the why. Something happens in your life, more or less to you, you want to know why. You get mugged and maybe the first instinct you have is to run or fight or maybe tell the cops but when you’re alone for that first time afterward, secure, reflecting, you want to know why it had to happen to you. You want to know why your brother had to die of cancer, you want to know why your wife was hit by that taxi. When you read the newspaper, you’re given the particulars, the what, when, where, who and how. This is how journalists are trained, this is what they’re supposed to do. But rarely are you given the why of the story until after the details of the investigation are released, after the reporters pry and find it all out. The newspapers don’t tell you why the politician meandered from his wife of twenty years into the arms of a younger woman just as they don’t tell you why some nations will forever try and bomb each other into the earth’s mantle. It’s the responsibility of the reader to assemble the facts and construct the why. This is what they’re trying to do in the first place, this is why they’re reading, because they want to know why things are happening the way they happen. They want to try and make sense of the world, fit it all into a sensible narrative.

What does this have to do with me, the architect thought. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the bulb swinging lightly, the chain disappearing upward into darkness. He remembered a dream he’d had a few nights earlier, maybe it was a week or two weeks, a dream where he was staring at  a small hole in his living room wall. He’d never seen the hole before and he sat on his couch staring at it, trying to figure out when it got there, what could have possibly caused a hole so large and almost perfectly round halfway up the wall. He walked slowly to the wall and put his eye up to the hole and inside was a cylinder made of green and black glass. He tried to peer deep into it, see what was on the other side. But it was too dark, the cylinder was too long. He understood that the key to time travel was somewhere down that tube, the ability to leap through folds of light and space was just beyond his vision. He woke in the dark that night and stumbled into the living room. He slid his hands over the wall and was not surprised to find a small nick in the paint where the hole had been in his dream, as if the cylinder’s exit had been painted over and sealed.

To read this chapter in its entirety, buy a copy of the novelonce it’s published.

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