The Egg Code

The Egg Code


I Want Some Answers

Fact: The Internet is a diverse place. Very little binds us together, except for our—perhaps random decision to visit this site. That said, let us celebrate what little we do share! All across the country, roads join our cities, connecting families with businesses, churches and schools. The traffic jam is part of modern Americana—long waits, angry faces, cones on the highway. The naive reader would accept these inconveniences as simply the price we all must pay for smoother roads and faster commutes. Good-natured fools would hardly suspect the federal government's true intentions, the insidious motive behind every blocked lane, every orange flag. Ah, yes. The Egg Code knows, though we have been threatened under pain of death to keep our silence, to protect those who would do us harm. For this reason, we would ask our subscribers to please excuse the bits of conjecture and allusion. It is for our own personal safety that we must hide behind such clever subterfuge.

The history of the road extends back to ancient times. With the greater speeds and braking capabilities of the automobile, modern highways sought a better means of guiding fast-moving traffic along a set course. Two competing technologies grew out of this need; of the two, most engineers preferred concrete over asphalt. This method held on into the postwar years, when freeway construction was at a premium. It was in this context that the United States first established the U.S. Interstate Highway System — or, as it was originally called, the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

The reader might wonder what a transcontinental series of roads had to do with defense in 1956, but the answer, sadly, is everything. This was the height of the Cold War, when federal agents envisioned a network of military convoys shuttling weapons to the suburbs. Well-connected, the American people stood strong against the Russians. The defense rationale had another, perhaps more cynical purpose. In those days, scientists believed that the only way to obtain federal funding was through the Defense Department. This phenomenon was certainly not unique to the United States. England and France were both reluctant to establish major road—building initiatives in the aftermath of World War II, and in both cases it was the military argument that finally won the day.

With the money finally in place, the U.S. Interstate Highway System began digging across America. It was definitely a learn as you go operation. Thousands of miles of ineptly laid road eventually had to be torn up and reconfigured, pushing the project well past its tentative 1971 completion date. Frustrated engineers—their eyes still glassy with visions of bold "Freeway of the Future" campaigns staged at World's Fair conventions—had not anticipated such high speeds, such chaos on the roads. Neither asphalt nor concrete had provided any real solutions to the titanic demands of twentieth-century mass transportation. Moreover, as the Eighties became the Nineties, the federal government showed signs of withdrawing support from the project. The Interstates were a financial bust.

At about the same time, an interesting discovery was made, n that bitumen—critical in the formation of asphalt—was a natural product of petroleum. The other major by-product just happened to be gasoline. Whammo! Faster than you can say "heinous misuse of appropriations," road commissioners throughout the states, in concordance with their federal bosses, recognized the beauty of the system. As demand for gasoline increased, the production of bitumen likewise increased, lessening the cost of purchase and deployment. The fact asphalt was considerably less resilient than concrete was an added Faster wear increased the need for maintenance. Cars stuck in slow construction zones burned more fuel than cars cruising along a slick More gasoline meant more bitumen meant more asphalt meant construction meant more gasoline. A perfectly closed circuit. An economist's dream.

Only one question remained. Where would the money come pay for all this? For our answer, we must return to the Roman Empire, the golden days of a statute known as the corvee. The corvee, unpopular in its time, was a kind of tax paid in the form of enforced labor. At this very moment, officials in Washington—with the full cooperation of representatives from all fifty states—are busy drafting a plan which would reinstate the corvee as an option to heavy taxation. Because it would be "unconstitutional" to demand this kind of service from its constituents, all the government can do is offer it as a handy alternative, knowing that the only people who will take the bait will be members of the lower class. They will also try to make us feel grateful. Can't pay your taxes? Grab a shovel! We at the Egg Code refuse to participate. This is imperialism of the highest order, and the only reason why we haven't burned our 1040 forms in protest is that it's just so fucking clever.

The Fear of Being Touched
1 9 9 8

Shirtless, Olden Field stood at the edge of the lake and stared out over the horizon. His face was clean-shaven, his lips sienna, his hard and bony jaw marked by a slight groove in the middle. Long black hair blew over his shoulders. A tendon in his neck throbbed with energy, a constant pulse. At age twenty-nine, he'd given up on everything — junk food, television, regular sex — in exchange for a well-conditioned body, tight muscles, the ass of a quarterback. Living alone in Big Dipper Township, he saved his words like pennies, resting his voice for days at a time. His longest conversations were rehearsed bits of patter, the same five or six themes revisited in endless cycles. The TCP/IP speech. The information technology speech. He was even quieter around women, choosing never to discuss his strange occupation. Left to guess, most interested young ladies — and most were, indeed, interested — pictured him spread across the pages of a Manhattan fashion magazine. Olden was on page 48, shirt torn, belt loose. The clothes are for sale, by the way.

A big crappie cartwheeled over the lake, striking the water with its Overhead, a line of warblers raced toward the horizon. Thick clouds brooded in the sky, standing apart like guests at a funeral. Olden peeled his shorts and stepped into the water. Crossing his legs, he dropped to muddy bottom. Water filled his ears. He opened his eyes and saw weeds and flecks of debris illuminated by something pale and green. His own hands looked puffy and distorted. Standing up, he swiped his back and tasted the water on his lips. A big shrub rustled near the far shore He'd disturbed the boy, evidently. The naked boy. This happened times, always around dusk. The child belonged to the couple across the lake; he'd grown bolder over the past few weeks, staying outside for minutes at a time, far from the secret place where he'd stashed his clothes, his balled-up socks and red cotton underwear. Olden's hard-on was an auto-response. Remembering his own childhood, he felt drawn these troublemakers in the making. He wanted to be the boy, to be naughty and to be alone like the boy. Following his erection out of the lake, he stepped back into his shorts, then started up the hill to his cabin. The trail was rocky, and it hurt the bottoms of his feet.

At the top of the hill, he peered across the basin, the steep slope of pines running all the way down to the water. With its rough stones and empty windows, the tower in the middle of the lake recalled the turret top of a submerged fortress. Its vaguely medieval architecture suggested a castle built centuries ago. Over the past three years, Olden had proposed many theories, none of them conclusive. An old utility station. The crumbled remains of a massive stone bridge. But a bridge here, in Big Dipper Township? It would have to be enormous, an absurd waste so far from the city. So, neither a bridge nor a castle. A tower. A mystery. Olden's little obsession. He planned his days around this pointless ritual. Every evening, he paid his respects to the enigma, then turned and walked home. The walk, the look, solved nothing. Feeling the shadow of the tower at his back, the same thought always troubled his mind. I did not come here by choice. I was brought here by an outside force. A man named Bartholomew Hasse gave me this place, and now he is dead and my father is still not free.

Home again, he stepped through the wide-open door and instinctively made his way past the heaps of junk on the floor. Olden's one-room cabin was an assertion of the solitary lifestyle; seen from the road above, it resembled an abandoned summer cottage. The cement foundation sloped toward one end, causing him to sleep at an angle, his head lower than his feet. Semen stains embedded in the rumpled comforter gave the sheet a flaky texture, like mica. Tattered blankets led in kicked swirls from the mattress to a computer station near the far wall. The computer, currently in sleep mode, was always on. Electricity, much more important than water or decent insulation, was never a problem; a power generator stashed next to the desk guaranteed his system a sure supply. Built essentially from spare parts, the circuitry approximated the configuration of a Spark 20, albeit with a few extra features not available outside of the business market. The Spark was a UNIX device, functioning under a Solaris 2.5 operating system, with 256 Mb of RAM and a pair of 20-gigabyte fast and wide scuzzy drives. The showpiece was a Reduced Instruction Set Computing Processor, far more elegant than the high-profile Pentium. Because of the Pentium chip's widespread marketing campaign, many of Olden's customers specified it in their service requests. His clients were mainly business folks who liked to check up on the stock market while their wives downloaded recipes from the Martha Stewart page. Their interest in the technology did not extend past the consumer level. One of the reasons he'd been so quick to accept Mr. Hasse's offer back in '9S—despite the obvious questions about Hasse's own relationship to Martin Field, still in prison after three years—was his growing intolerance for high-tech poseurs such as these, cocksure morons with too much power on their hands. The peasants were taking over, crowding out the intellectuals with their chatrooms and their user-friendly interfaces. Plotting from afar, he'd resolved to inject just enough fear into the system to render the whole thing useless.

Not that he considered himself much of an insider. Quite the opposite. In fact, he hated computers—the specs, the endless upgrades, the byzantine bits of, lore. That was what had driven him away from the scene all those years ago. Because of who he was—his technical background, his father's work for the computer science department at Stanford in the 1970s—he found himself unable to engage in any conversation that didn't ultimately return to the same tired subjects. The early days of FTP. The fine points of packet switching. The best ways to infiltrate a PBX. It all seemed so beside the point. Like a surrogate hobby, this fascination with gadgetry acted as a substitute fix for people with no real interests. Of course, speed was the main qualitative distinction, the factor which finally determined your place in the crowd. Olden's RISC Processor was fast enough, but fast enough for what? Now almost thirty, he'd developed a new taste for slow pleasures. Stacks of damp, warped books made pillars on either side of his bed. They were his protectors, guarding against a national need for quick and easy satisfaction. For three years he'd educated himself by going back to the source, circumnavigating the user-friendly synopsis. A little bit of fiction, but only lengthy, dense works, novels whose proud agendas bordered on the academic. The Glass Bead Game. Atlas Shrugged—

He liked the idea of the intellectual willingly sequestering himself froth' the rest of society. Screw you, peasants! Lacking a point, fiction seemed indulgent and hopelessly narrow-minded. The bumbling misadventures

the individual. Olden was more interested in the generic than the particular lax. Armed with evidence, his bookshelf described mobs, howling throngs of thugs, the world as he saw it. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Extraordinary nary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. None of these

were easy to read. For Olden, they represented three years' worth of sheet effort. Apart from the crowd, he'd joined the ranks of the brilliant and self-educated. Books were his way of resisting the circuits, the phantom fingers of the twenty-first century working past the zipper of your fly, turning, twisting, trying to get at the goods.

Feeling sleepy, he reached for a cup of coffee, cold dregs left over since morning. The battle could wait, at least for another few hours. Tonight he'd attend to other matters. Groping about, he noticed his windsurfer standing against the far wall, the skeg cutting into the rotten floor. He'd owned the board for years, although he rarely went out anymore, even with the lake so convenient and the weather nice in September. Nearby, a steamer suit lay in a derelict slouch. Touching the suit, he squeezed a chunk between his thumb and middle finger. Thick, like whale fat. Well, the same idea really. The safety of skin. Chugging his coffee, he put on his clothes, then went outside to his car. The keys, already hanging from the ignition, were cold as icicles. The bald tires struggled up the hill to the main road. Pausing at the intersection, he checked his look in the mirror. Olden on page 39 — pants in charcoal, rust, and parchment. Yes, he thought. Keep it quiet. Lie low. Take advantage of the country.

The Divine Ray of Inspiration

What have we been talking about all night?" Derek Skye held his hands over the lectern, fingertips touching, thumbs flexed, pointing at the ceiling. "We've been talking about stress. We've been talking about what you can do as an individual to remove stress from your life." He stepped around to the side of the podium, taking the microphone with him. In the audience, Scarlet Blessing watched with an intensity that singled her out, even in a crowd of three hundred. She'd deliberately chosen the third row, although she'd arrived early enough to have her pick. She couldn't sit too close. The aura, the sheer force of the man.

"Here's a question," he said, whipping the cord. His voice sounded hoarse this late in the evening. "You've heard the expression `the survival of the fittest'? Who's heard it? You've heard it? You've heard it?" A scattering of hands. "Well, the fact of the matter is, it's not the survival of the fittest. Historically speaking, the groups that have survived have been those groups best able to manage time effectively." He went back to the lectern and fished for a pair of reading glasses. A prop. "The ancient Greeks have a phrase for it which roughly translates into motivation plus dedication divided by time awareness equals bliss."

Scarlet nodded, her lips moving — motivation plus dedication — then the words ran out and she could only shake her head, comprehending nothing beyond the awesome fact that she was here and so was he. Her marched in place, mashing her gym bag under her heels. The bag contained her leotard, her jazz shoes, a bottle of Motrin, a split of champagne, a full change of clothes, three hundred and thirty dollars in cash, contraceptive devices, a portable cassette player and two tapes (Walter Gieseking's recording of the Debussy preludes and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), dental floss, a roll of athletic tape, an expensive calculator, a loaded .22 revolver, three Sooper Seller gift certificates from Living Arrangements, half of a chicken-salad sandwich, and a copy of Derek Skye's latest compilation, The Skye's the Limit (wrapped in a T-shirt to keep the jacket from getting smudged). Hot and sweaty from the long day, she stuck her nose under the neck of her shirt and smelled. Old apples. She disgusted herself, the smells she made. She wondered what Derek smelled like. She wanted to smell his hair. His neck. Behind his ears.

"Gratification. Who knows the word? You know it? Who knows it? It's a big word. Who can say it for me? Let's all say it. Can we? Can we do this? Better yet, let's spell it. Can we spell it? Who can do that? Come on. Let's all spell it together. Let's go. G-R-good-A-good!"

A police siren passed the conference center, a faint swirl and then silence. No one looked, no one cared. Even with the interstate closed down for construction, Derek had still managed to draw a sell-out crowd. As he ended his presentation—fifteen minutes ahead of schedule—Scarlet stood up and pushed her way to the front of the room. A few dozen admirers were pressed against the podium, asking for autographs. Reaching the stage, she could feel her legs begin to tingle—a strange sensation, similar to the special buzz she sometimes felt in dreams, the weightless place inside her mind. Only the others held her down, the mob, their voices calling out questions which sounded so small and ordinary compared to hers.

"Derek, hi, my name—hi."

"Yeah, hi . . . I'm sorry—"

Face. Skin. White!

"My name is Scarlet and I—"

"I'm sorry, I've got to go—"

Muh-mustache. Chin, neck. Shirt colla— just have a—

—collar, blue shirt, wrinkles, dark lines moving.

"—got to get to my car, I'm sorry."

The crowd parted as Derek hurried out of the room. The round end of

Scarlet's gym bag nudged her in the belly. A big hand blocked her way -pointed, spread fingers, the spaces in between. She sagged, giving up. Trash on the floor. Shoes—all different! Still, he had seen her. He had wanted to respond. Oh, these damn people . . .

Refusing his escort, Derek fled down three flights of stairs to an underground parking garage. Doors on every level cautioned against entry; yellow tape wrapped around the push bars made bright warnings, snaky zags of toxic color. Wanting only to get away, he tripped the alarm on the basement floor and scurried past a security light. The siren sounded against the cement I-beams as he crept to his car and paid his ticket at the gate. The man in the booth ignored the alarm, making change blindly as his fingers fumbled with the cash drawer. Derek drove away, hearing the siren, then hearing only the noise of a carnival, the low roar of the people on the streets. What a night. Well, a necessary ordeal. One last chance to check his resolve, to say goodbye to the scene. Staring out at those hungry hopeful faces—eyes eagerly swallowing the icon—he was reminded of why he'd left in the first place. They loved him. They loved a monster! Something verging on sadism made his hands go tense on the wheel. Pedestrians swarmed the crosswalks, looking for bars, places to piss, and he hated them, he wanted to mow them down, to feel their bones turn to mush under his wheels. They would pay. They would pay for their love. His followers were fragile things, overly ornate creatures too elaborate to survive outside of the greenhouse. What would they say when he finally revealed his true self? At least one might go over the edge. And then what?

Turning right to avoid the interstate, he found himself caught in the congestion of a narrow side street. A stop light near the center of the block exploded, spraying hot glass across the road; ladies in nice dresses hurried away from the lamppost, stepping carefully to avoid the mess. As he veered into the left lane, a group of drunks muttered and shook their fists. Two men straddled the yellow line, waiting to see which way he'd go. Their faces were hidden; a neon slash winked across the lenses of the shorter man's glasses. Derek checked his mirror and saw the man's middle finger, stiff and proud in the dim light. He nodded, accepting his punishment.

Gray Hollows lowered his hand as he stepped over the curb. "Meat heads," he said, grinding the glass under his heel. "The world is full of 'em." The urge to add something sarcastic swelled and went away. Past the corner, his friend continued, moving easily through the crowd. Gray raced to catch up. Together they entered a shady vestibule; their shoes crunched and clacked against the sticky floor tiles. A fat man eating a hot dog casually checked IDs by the door. Embarrassed, Gray pulled out his driver' license. The man in the photo was smirking, looking off to one side, lips parted in an interrupted remark.

"Remember this dump?" he shouted in his friend's ear. "Back when were in school, this place used to be a cannery." Olden nodded, then turned his shoulders, pressing through the mob. Gray followed, speaking the whole time, changing his voice according to the fluctuating ratio of men to women. "This is what we do now, this is the thing. Oh, wow, here's this condemned building, let's turn it into a nightclub, kinda rustic, kinda dangerous, glass on the floor, bums passed out in the doorway, aw, yeah, cool, it's right on the water, can't you see, prime property, we'll hire a couple of derelicts to piss on the carpet, get that authentic vibe going on, if the customers complain, we'll take a hammer and knock their teeth out."

The bar was a circular counter with one woman working the whole crowd. Out of breath, she ran between the customers, stretching for money, taking orders over her shoulder. Olden pointed at the bar and slipped her a ten. Regardless of his plans for the evening, he never liked to run a tab. Too much to remember. Quick exits, no obligations. He needed his freedom.

"Hmmm, Gray. I don't know." He frowned, hooking an empty stool with his foot.

"Sure! Advertising 101!" Gray slumped onto the stool. The leather cushion settled under his weight. "What I say goes, fuck it, I tell my boss over at Enthusiasms Inc., `Hey, West, I got an idea for a new campaign,' he drops a half mill into my lap, `Don't spend it all in one place, the worst that can happen is we go out of business; two weeks later I'm back on unemployment where I goddamn belong."

Olden smiled at something. His long hair hung over his face, a dark curtain. "I don't know, Gray. You've got a lot of power at that place. You should use it. Look." Reaching across the counter, he grabbed a cocktail napkin and tore it into halves and quarters. "Here's your client," he said, holding up a square. "We've got this business. Help us to reach our customers. You prove to the client why you should be trusted. The pamphlets, the fancy brochures. The type." He pointed. "Don't forget about the type. You tell them what they want to hear. Then you go home and you do what you feel is right. You come back the next day." Another square. " "See. I did what you wanted: They believe you."

Gray slammed the rest of his pint. "I'm not looking to get away with anything, Olden! You know what it's going to take to get me out of there? Those people own my ass, I'm telling you. You talk to my father up in Battle Creek about it, he's probably got the next twenty years of my life all mapped out!" Shouting now, he pointed randomly at the stranger sitting next to him. The other man scooted away, guarding his drink. "Sheer incompetence. That's my only chance. A major screw-up. Otherwise, I'm dead. 'Cause I don't belong up there, stuck with those idiots: `Ooh, Gray, pretty cool guy'. . . Yeah, fuck you. This is all marking time, you know that. You know I haven't given up. You haven't given up either." "I've given up on everything, Gray. That's why I live in the country."

Smiling Gray removed his spectacles and tightened the screws with his thumb. Without his glasses, his face looked extra-large, swollen in spots, almost hydrocephalic in its strange design, starting wide and tapering toward the bottom. The man with the triangle head. Not much of a looker.

"Art-school rejects, that's you and me," he laughed, replacing his glasses. "When the academics don't like you, you know you must be doing something .right "

Olden shook his head. "I like everyone."

Oblivious, Gray plundered on, holding up a rolled five for another beer. "Sanctioned mediocrity, that's what I always used to say—and goddamnit, Olden, I believe it now more than ever. Let some of those college pansies with their phony liberalism and their arrogant ideals work in advertising for two weeks, then we'll see what happens. Ah, yes—the artist! The

divine ray of inspiration! Lick my balls."

Olden listened without looking, keeping his eyes fixed on the woman behind the bar. Relaxing between customers, she adjusted the hang of her floppy tie, pulling on one side, then the other, pressing it smooth to save the changes. "I think you romanticize things too much."

"Romanticize what?"

"You've always known what you wanted to do with your life, Gray. That's wonderful. You should be grateful. Most of us are lost."

Still staring at the bartender, Olden reached between his legs and fixed the tilt of his hard-on. In recent months he'd forgotten all about women, how they walked, spoke, their different gestures, the course of their strange logic. He wanted to talk to one, just to watch the thoughts pass from one thing to the next. Hearing Gray's voice, he rubbed his eyes and focused on the sound, trying to distinguish the words from the background din.

". . . I should be grateful that I wasted my entire childhood parked in

front of a word processor—`Ooh, he's so cute, he thinks he's Truman

Capote, Herbert, where's the Instamatic? Get a shot of his feet swinging

under the table'—meanwhile all the other kids are busy throwing rocks at

each other and masturbating to the chick in the life-insurance commercial, HA HA!"

Olden selected a toothpick from a jar of three hundred and held it between his fingers. His gestures seemed designed to mislead, to distract, deliberately override the listener's better sense.

"Think about it, Gray. You're a writer. This is what you want to Okay. There are certain steps you have to take if you want to succeed. example. I am someone who might be able to help you. Now what does this mean? This means that no one knows who I am. You do, but you don't say anything about it. It's not in your best interest that anyone should know this part of the story. What I do, I'm a person who can take a message and put it someplace where everyone's going to find it." He wiggled the toothpick. "The message, we say, in this case, is that your product — it could be a story, it could be a piece of music, it could be something as simple as an idea—is a desirable commodity. There. It's done. It's out there. Now I go away." No more toothpick. "We act like, oh, it just happened—but it didn't just happen. I put it there."

Giving up on the bartender, Gray unrolled the five-dollar bill and set it on the counter. "And then what?"

Olden tucked his hair behind his ears. The bartender looked up, dabbed out her cigarette and walked over to the beer pulls.

"Well, this is all just speaking hypothetically," he said, shrugging, "but I'm working on a little project that you might find interesting."

"What project?"

Olden didn't answer, just smiled as the bartender filled two pint glasses with expensive bock. She set the drinks in front of the men and shook her head, rejecting their money.

Olden tasted his beer. "Remember this name," he said, nudging the woman's hand with his glass. Her fingers curled around his palm.

"What name's that, honey?" she asked, smiling.

Olden lingered, then took his hand back. "The Egg Code," he said.

She wrinkled her nose, puzzling it out. "Egg Code, let's see . . ." Looking up at the ceiling, she tapped a ballpoint pen against her throat. "That's amaretto . . . and Drambuie . . ."

"No." He raised his half-empty pint glass, toasting the girl. "That's not it at all," he said.

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Excerpted from The Egg Code by Mike Heppner. Copyright © 2002 by Mike Heppner. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.