I started writing around 16, but didn’t really start taking it seriously until I was between 22-24. At that point I started taking ideas seriously, but the craft of writing was lost on me. I found scripts easier to write, which gave me a handle on plot structure and characterization, but prose . . . I struggled with that for a long time. Probably until 2014 or so.
The reason I’m prefiguring what I’m about to share with the above context is because the story below is from-if I had to guess-around 2004 or so. It’s one of the last stories from that time period I kept my hands on for all of these years. Looking back, it has very little to do with Aetherchrist. It isn’t good enough to publish anywhere else. But it does have some interesting similarities thematically with Aetherchrist, the most notable of which is the idea that different forms of communication can lead to a veritable godhood.
If nothing else, the story is evidence that the themes we often explore are cyclical in nature. They recur in a concentric capacity, growing more developed as we grow older. I’m actually seeing some elements of the book I’m working on now encapsulated herein as well now.
It’s kind of frightening to see-in retrospect-how far we come . . . and how little we have moved simultaneously.
In any event, here’s “Analog Kid,” inspired by Philip K. Dick’s interviews regarding the novel he was writing when he died and Rush, obviously:
By Kirk Jones
On a grant from Burlington University, Vermont we studied energy composition. My partner, Jim Cavaneres, concerned himself with the frequencies of natural energies. He disappeared about a week ago, and as I compile his notes I realize the month we shared in research was more fruitful than I could have imagined.
Our first goal was to distinguish between the energy derived from fields, forests and bodies of water without the aid of his senses. We would begin by blindfolding Mr. Cavaneres and driving through the mountainous regions south of Burlington. He would write when he thought he felt a nuance in energy. I would note the time, take a photograph of the terrain and we would compare notes upon returning to University.
The results were never astounding, but Jim was fairly adept at determining his surroundings based on something other than sight. Even when the results were less than satisfactory, when I was blindfolded for example, I always had the prospect of PhD and 25 cents a mile to keep me moving forward.
There were three roadways we followed, with a variable travel through town. The travel through town was meant to disorient Mr. Cavaneres, so he couldn’t skew the results by timing our travel. It was the driver’s responsibility to randomly select a roadway. This too helped disorient Mr. Cavaneres.
Atop my favorite there was a cracked foundation. When I was a child my mother and I passed the foundation every day on the way to elementary. I can barely remember the house: dilapidated, crutched against a tree, still falling through to the ground below. Now the wood has been swept away, and the lawn is riddled with long grass in the summer. The trees are starting to stretch—their branches like fingers groping the clusters of light: small businesses and houses in the distance—into the panorama of mountains. But you can still see the old emergency analog radio tower on the opposite mountain.
About six years ago the world made a transition from Analog to digital radio. Analog became an emergency frequency. Digital allowed more channels, thousands more. Their slogan: “A channel for everyone.”
Each house was equipped with an analog receiver that remained on at all times in the event of catastrophe, primarily natural. While global warming counters a looming ice age, natural disasters have taken such a toll on the world that no nation can afford the luxury of war. To cope with the harsh weather conditions, a twelve story analog tower was built atop Irish Hill.
It’s illegal to own an analog receiver now, save those installed in our houses. I installed an old AM/FM unit in my car. I’ve managed to conceal it well, and we’re only required to pay a small fine if caught. Sometimes you can tune in the occasional pirate radio station, CB conversations, voices, almost always incommunicable. You catch words, glimpses of expression, but somewhere between the signal and the receiver things became muddled.
Still it was nice to think, as Jim once said, that these small phrases between analog static were the only connections left, that somewhere out there someone else was uttering these words, and someone else, somewhere was listening.
Most digital channels today are run by machine. Newscasters work from home unless called to the field. They report in a small cubicle-like office, attach it to a digital information package, send it to the channel operator, and the content is downloaded, displayed before us. There is little human interaction involved. There’s someone who owns the machine, someone who works for the machine, and someone who works on the machine. I doubt any are knowledgeable of the others on anything save a functional level.
It was nearly two weeks into research when I finally decided to take an alternative route, introducing us to the old foundation. What initially drew my eye wasn’t the foundation, but the opening in the stretch of mountains directly between myself and the analog tower.
“You can take the blindfold off,” I said.
“Done already?” he asked.
“Yeah, we’ve reached the peak.”
Jim took off his blindfolds, looked into the distance, noted the analog tower. “Couldn’t resist could you?”
I reached under the seat, groped for the radio dial. When I finally found it I pulled it out from under the seat, switched it on: negative feedback and static. I twisted the dial: voices, barely audible, foreign.
“Temporal encryption,” Jim remarked.
“The fluttering sound of the voice, like you’re still turning the dial. Someone sends a message. The message jumps from analog channel to analog channel, and the receiver jumps from channel to channel in the same sequence. That’s how they encrypt the message. That’s one form anyway.”
“You study analog?”
“Codes,” he replied. “Communication’s filled with them. Analog’s a code, then they encrypt the code with another form of code. My colleagues talk a lot about developing new ones, but what you’ll find is that information becomes obscured through layers of codification.” He looked at the receiver. “Mind if I try?”
I handed it to him, the reception clearing slightly, the volume increasing steadily as his hands approached. He tinkered with the dial. Through a thick popcorn-like crackle we heard, “4,300, no emergency broadcast.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s the most coherent thing I’ve heard on Analog since I was
He just smiled.
On the way back to the University I rationalized the event. Aluminum foil and the human touch were known to augment analog reception in television antennae. It’s likely one person could have better reception than another, Jim as opposed to myself.
The University research center was packed. Last year they had taken down the cubicles, replacing them with long tables. It’s as if the function of the cubicle had made the transition from physical frame to social code. The students researched inches from one another, headphones like sound-absorbing panels, paperwork like horseblinds. Nobody communicated, save lab partners.
“What do you listen to?” I whispered before we slid our headphones on.
“Nothing special,” he said, continuing to slip the plugs into his ears.
“Can I listen?”
He shrugged, handed me the MP3 player. “I guess.”
The music was unlike anything I had ever heard. Everything contemporary was dreary and dark. This was uplifting, without vocals. I had never heard music without vocals, but suddenly it occurred to me that vocals hinder one’s imagination when daydreaming and listening to music. The imagery becomes clearer without lyrical guidance.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Bach,” he said. I’ll download it to yours sometime if you want.”
“That’d be great. I’ve never heard anything like that before.”
“My parents used to listen to it. I bet if you ask your parents they’d know about him too, unless they’re one of those couples who is in denial about their past.”
“No, they have no guilt about doing what wasn’t wrong at the time. My father was a musician actually.”
“Yeah, classical guitar.”
“He must have been heart broken when they put the sanctions on public performance.”
“He was allotted some time at first.”
“He must have been good.”
“He was, but competition got better. He assembles computer chips now. Supervises a line actually.”
“Things have changed so much,” he said. “With so few people, everyone’s allocated. For the first time there aren’t enough people to fill all the necessary positions. We’re lucky to be scientists.”
“We’re lucky to be alive. Sometimes I think we should be working to find a way to keep others alive.”
“We better start by finishing up,” Jim said. “I’m beat.”
The results, as usual, were not profound, but satisfactory to the degree that could be expected. Jim was best at determining sources of water. He grew up near a lake, says the feeling is unmistakable. There are times where I can’t believe we’re being funded to do this. There are no instruments, no data save that compiled by us and our predecessor, Dr. William Steinberg.
The core of our research was based upon Dr. William Steinberg’s thesis of multiple intelligences. In addition to the traditional intelligence quotient, Steinberg argued, there was emotional intelligence and sensitivity to energy, or ethereal intelligence. As the individual with a high intelligence quotient is able to learn faster, the individual with a higher energy to mass ratio is able to decode higher gradations of energy. Jim’s energy to mass ratio, based upon our findings, was relatively high.
If we’re successful they want to add some equipment that tests Jim’s physiology as he derives energy from nature. Actually, they want to determine if he is deriving energy from nature, or if the phenomenon is purely imagined. Spending $250,000 to find out whether something exists or not seems a little excessive, but since it’s filling my gas tank and my stomach I won’t complain.
“4,300,” Jim said. “Wonder what it meant.”
“Don’t know, but apparently we’re not supposed to know about it. No emergency broadcast.”
“They just don’t want to cause a panic.”
“I wonder why they weren’t encrypting the message?”
“We should go back tomorrow.”
“We could get caught.”
“It’s just a fine.”
“You paying?” I asked.
“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“File these on your way out,” Jim said, handing me our paperwork.
I dropped our research into our professor’s post office box and walked the rest of the way home. Teenagers loitered in small groups, dispersed throughout main street. Skateboarders worked amateur tricks into their repertoire as the girls they tried to impress worried about their mood-change makeup: everyone performing for everyone else, unaware that nobody’s watching because they’re too caught up in their own performance as well.
The apartment was freezing as usual. I turned up the heat, tucked myself into the blankets and set the alarm for 9:00 a.m. As the traffic died down the dark, looming rumble of the small industrial center lulled me to sleep.
The alarm went off at 9:00. Jim was already knocking at the door. “Ready?”
“I’m not even out of bed yet,” I said. “Hang on.”
“I’ll be in the car.”
“It’s locked,” I said, approaching the door. “Here’s the keys.”
I got dressed as quickly as possible and locked up. Jim was tweaking the AM/FM dial when I started the car. I pulled it away from him, returned it to its rightful position under the seat.
“This is a public place!”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“You want to be the one they make an example of?”
“I was thinking,” Jim said. “You’re probably right about doing our research. Maybe we should make a quick run and then hit the foundation.”
We drove the analog route, the route with the analog tower. We were finished in an hour, stopping just before the top of the mountain.
“You can take your blindfolds off now,” I said.
He took them off. “Let’s try to AM/FM here,” he said.
“There’s some kind of distortion to prevent reception. I’ve tried it before.”
“How many times?”
“Just once, the feedback is really loud.”
“One more time.”
I pulled the dial out from under the seat and turned the machine on: nothing.
Jim reached for the dial: barely audible voices transition to music, back to voices.
“It’s a pirate station!” he said, excited. He slowly turned the dial. Starting at the lowest frequency on FM, moving towards the highest, Jim followed the signal. We could hear an entire song on Analog.
“Like the encryption I told you about yesterday. Only they want it to be accessible. The code has to be easy enough to figure out, but complex enough to rule out the casual listener. You have to know what to look for.”
I was amazed. Since the death of analog as a popular medium I had studied it with what I thought to be great passion. Then along came Jim, theoretician of code, who somehow knew more about analog than I did. Sheltered as I was, it was easy to imagine that I was the only one enveloped in the world of analog. The pirate stations and voices were validations of the converse: people, most people, were highly interested in analog. First came the prospect of hope, that I was not alone. Then came the realization that I was not fulfilling a unique purpose in the social landscape, that I was, in essence, everyone else.
“You ever wonder why we’re doing this?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “I can understand that most people won’t be interested, and that it might have no valid application upon our final conclusions.”
“Doesn’t that worry you?”
“No,” he remarked dryly. “I don’t care.” He paused as I took in his response, then he continued, “even during wartime the most successful codifiers knew the greatest encryption was apathy, to make people think a message is unimportant. As a society we’ve achieved that level of encryption naturally.”
“But quite the opposite is the case today. Everyone’s trying to emphasize their importance.”
“Love for the self: apathy towards others, same thing. If anyone could read the code they’d see nobody’s watching anybody. We’re as free as one can possibly be.”
He was right. We check our electronic mail, write our blogs, toil over our website, our perpetually edited self-representation. We work the self and present the self for the self. Inside everyone’s personal reality, everything else, everyone else, is merely functional. Responses are interpreted as validations of the self rather than words and thoughts from another human being.
The people we do care about we often find too busy to respond. So we have created intimations of two-way communication: e-mail addresses allowing our signals to pass through technological frames, i.e. they are “recieved” yet are not received by the eyes of an intended recipient. Signal: no response. The e-mail address, the lacking mailer daemon message validates the reception of our signal, but is anyone listening? Perhaps just sending the signal, just intimating the two-way paradigm is enough to keep us sane. Countless times Jim and I have discussed how we’d receive no response and continue for months, even years, writing someone occasionally, always trying to prompt conversation once more.
“Then why are we doing this?” I asked.
“Because it’s important to us. And maybe someday, someone, somewhere will listen.” Pause. “You want to go to the foundation?” he asked. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily better reception, but it’s definitely a different reception.”
I put the car in gear and we crossed town to the neighboring pathway. A short time later we arrived at the foundation. Again, the same message was relayed: “4,300, no emergency broadcast.” That was all.
“Let me try something,” Jim said, stepping out of the car. He reached in through the window. “Can I see that for a second.”
I handed him the dial and he climbed up onto the roof of the car. “Hear anything?” he asked.
“4,682,” the radio announced, “scattered I010000101010.” The numbers soon transitioned to a modem-like sound. I turned the radio off, but the sounds continued. Voices thumbed through the static fabric, tickling my inner ear.
“Now?” he asked.
“I turned the receiver off, but I can still hear something,” I said.
“What’s it sound like?”
“Like a record player without the speaker. Just a little static, and a very faint signal.”
“Music?” he asked.
“Numbers,” I replied.
He stepped down from the car. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
“Let’s make quick with this paperwork. I’m sick of sitting inside half the day.”
When we returned to University the research center was almost completely empty. The main entrance was blocked by a small service desk, and an elderly woman typing maniacally.
“You boys didn’t hear?” she asked.
“We’ve been out all day,” I told her.
“Analog frequency just went off about,” she paused to look at the clock, “half an hour ago. Life count is final: 4,683 people left on the planet. They’re dispersed throughout Europe and Africa primarily. We’re just a small pocket in North America. The south’s almost entirely lost. There’s been a lot of discord because many people have sold off their analog emergency receivers for extra income. If you know anyone who has, you might want to inform them.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. We knew the population had decreased drastically.
“There are 4,863 of us left on the planet,” she remarked, “3,050 of which are Chinese. They are mobilizing for an attack on central Europe. We’re next,” she said.
“I need a ride,” Jim said somewhat urgently. I wanted to ask him what was wrong, but he was already running for the car. I met him in the parking lot.
“Come on!” he said as he got in the passenger’s side. I ran to catch up, got in and pulled away.
“My parents, they don’t have analog anymore,” he said.
“I just wanted a receiver for myself. I never thought,” he paused. “They could be dead.”
I dropped him off and waited in the front yard
“I’ll wave you on if everything’s ok,” he said.
He did not wave me on.
“They’re gone,” he said. “I have to find them.” He fumbled through his coat pocket, eventually extracting a pen. “Can I get your number again, in case I need you later?” he asked.
“Thanks, see you later.”
That night I received no call. The following morning I arrived at his house to find no one there. I circled the block once to see if he had perhaps been beaten or killed, left on the street to fester like so many others. He was not there either.
Without Jim the research was impossible to conduct. So I went to the foundation to see if he had found his way there. Jim was occasionally prone to wandering, especially when he couldn’t clear his mind. But he was not walking the pathway. He was not atop the foundation.
I turned on the AM/FM receiver under the seat, and listened as I drove: gentle static, followed by rapid fluctuations in volume. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of light. The analog tower was on fire. No, it was ablaze with electricity. I watched, entranced by the synchronicity between the flashing lightning and the pops and static stutter on the radio. I turned the dial, the sounds were synonymous on every station. This was the emergency broadcast frequency the scientists had been talking about when the tower was first under construction. Any analog receiver in the world would transmit the message, a universal warning system to prevent global catastrophe.
I arrived not far from the tower an hour later. The static had thinned, had transitioned into a high-pitched hum. The closer I got to the tower, the louder the buzz became, until it pooled into reality. Again, the sounds did not seem to emanate from my receiver, but from the air around me. Then I saw him, atop the tower, electricity spindling through his body.
“Jim!” I yelled. He did not respond. I moved closer, but as I did I was met with a barrage of information: words stacked upon songs, upon sounds, upon static. Then, as I dropped to my knees the sounds slowly dissipated until only a slow melody remained. I took my hands from my ears and looked up. Jim was gone. I looked to the ground to see if he had fallen. He had not.
The melody continued as I drove home. When I arrived my parents were waiting in the front yard. I got out of the car.
“Do you hear that?” my mother asked.
“I haven’t heard that in years,” she said, smiling.
“It’s classical,” I said.
“Yes, Bach.” She replied, nodding.
That night, 4,682 one-man tribes heard the same thing. Two days later the North American authorities declared Jim Cavaneres missing. This information was digitally relayed. Nobody seemed to notice, they were all too busy noting the peculiar familiarity of a melody emitting from within and around themselves; something in the air, almost inaudible, almost indistinguishable from the sounds of city, connecting them to the world surrounding. Nobody seemed to notice. But everybody knew.
The following morning I handed in the last of our research together. I focused my study on researching analog once more, finding nuances in the frequency, means of deriving information from static-coded conversation. Never was the reception as good as when Jim was in the car. But two days ago I received a signal. In a monotone feedback, a high-pitched squeal resounded: I am analog. Context: that was the greatest means to encryption. By sharing with another a bond becomes an encryption, a context through which meaning can be derived from the seemingly meaningless.
Dr. William Steinberg posited that individuals were born with different compositions of energy, thus each individual harbored a unique sensitivity to energy. Could it be possible? With thousands, perhaps millions of combinations of energy and genetic traits, that somebody could be born whose energy composition is synonymous with analog? Or have we evolved the ability through repeated exposure, to interpret analog—Jim being the first—such as a child learns to use its native language?