Excerpt from a 4,300-word short story. Copyright 2015, Lawrence Hogue. Forthcoming in Desert Trilogy.
“Derek, would you take those off, please?”
Derek looked up at Lisa from the bottom of the dry fall. As the best climber, he had descended first and now stood ready to spot his two companions.
“What?” he asked.
“Your Google glasses.”
“It’s called Google Glass. Two-point-O, to be exact.” No one could ever get that right. “Why?”
“Because I never know what you’re doing with those things. I don’t want you live-casting my ass to the world while I’m climbing.”
“What, don’t you trust me?”
He grinned, but she just stared down at him. He supposed he deserved it. She’d been pissed when he posted that conversation. She and a friend were being drunk and silly at a bar. Derek thought they were funny. So did a couple thousand people who watched it on YouTube. Sure, some of the comments weren’t too polite, but guys were always going to be guys.
“Do you want me to go down and spot you?” Graham asked. Lisa was Graham’s girlfriend.
“No way. I’m not going last.” She kept glaring at Derek.
“All right, all right,” he said. He took the glasses off, letting them dangle from the keeper he wore around his neck. He could see better with them off. The optional dark lenses cut the desert glare, but it was shady in this slot canyon. “There, are you happy now?”
As she turned around and squatted at the edge of the rock face, one leg reaching down for a foothold, Derek did have to admit that Lisa had a nice ass, especially in those stretchy shorts. He felt a momentary pang of regret that he wasn’t recording her descent for posterity. Then his mind went on a little alliterative pun journey – posting her posterior for posteriority. He decided to keep his mouth shut and his eyes on Graham, who was watching from the top of the fall.
Derek and Graham had been hiking buddies since college. Lisa was a more recent addition. She and Graham had been together for six months now. She was fit and could keep up with them on their longest hikes. But there was an awkwardness there. Derek had tried bringing girls he was dating, but they could rarely handle the heat or the distances or the rugged terrain. So it was usually the three of them, with Derek feeling like the third wheel.
Derek helped Lisa by guiding her boot to a foothold she couldn’t quite reach. Then she jumped from the last foothold into the deep sand of the wash. “Thanks,” she said.
“No problem. Tall people reach, short people climb.” It was an old joke. Derek was taller than either Lisa or Graham.
“I’ve got this,” Graham said, waving Derek off.
While Graham climbed down, Derek put the Google Glass back on and stared at the rock. “Hey, this is Julian schist!”
“No schist?” said Graham. Lisa groaned as he landed next to her. “Hey, someone had to say it, we were all thinking it.”
“Babies!” Lisa walked off down the dry wash.
The slot canyon wound its way through the mountains, its walls looming above them at first, letting in little daylight, then gradually descending to meet them as they came out of the mountains and into the sun-blasted badlands beyond. They marched along the sandy drainage, the toes of their boots leaving deep U-shaped divots. Derek took the lead, announcing the distance to Carrizo Creek up ahead at regular intervals.
Even for the desert, this was a barren spot. Back in the mountains there had been ocotillos and cholla cacti. Here, the clay of the mud hills was too alkaline to support much other than the occasional desert holly. Derek thought the plant looked barely alive with its dull gray leaves.
As the mud hills petered out into low mounds of earth at eye level, they came across a plant with a brilliant white flower.
“Look!” said Lisa. “A desert lily.”
She took her pack off and began rummaging through it, but Derek was already kneeling next to it, focusing his glasses on the star-shaped flower with its yellow stamens and the long, deep green leaves growing from the base of the stalk. The leaves looked somehow reptilian.
“You’re right, Lisa,” he said. “Hesperocallis undulata, also known as ajo lily.”
“Of course I’m right. Here, let me get a picture.”
She’d finally dragged an old-style digital SLR out of her pack, removed it from its case, and pulled off the lens cap. A lot of useless trouble, Derek thought. “Already got it. You can grab it from my Facebook page.”
“I’ll take my own, thanks. And I didn’t need your glasses to tell me what it is.”
“Maybe not. But you’ve got a flower book in your pack, right?”
“So what’s the difference? I don’t have to go digging through my pack and then I don’t have to hunt through pages to find what I’m looking for.”
“Yeah, you’re Mr. Hands-Free with that thing. But I already know a lot of the flowers by heart. Pulling out the book and reading about them helps me to remember the new ones.”
“But why bother remembering them? It’s all right here.” His gesture was ironic, tapping the frame of the Glass instead of his temple. The tiny earphones dangling from the earpieces jiggled with the movement.
“Except that’s not your memory, it’s Google’s. What happens if you break your Glass, or the feed is slow? I’d rather keep my own memory, thanks.”
“It’s not anything new,” Derek said. “This has been going on since the invention of the printing press.”
“Oh, here we go,” said Graham, walking ahead of them, his ballcap turned backward against the sun.
“Did you know that in Shakespeare’s day, actors could read the play once and have their parts memorized? They had to, because nobody had their own script. And the audiences, too—they could see a play once, and go home reciting whole speeches. Gutenberg pretty much killed that kind of memory. Our parents used to memorize phone numbers, credit card numbers, all kinds of things. You remember when we had to know a bunch of passwords. But what do we have to remember now? Nothing, right? Memory is pretty much useless.”
“Except for remembering your life,” Lisa pointed out.
“But what’s the point, if you’re going to forget it all anyway? My grandmother didn’t know who she was by the end.”
“So we should live like we have Alzheimer’s?”
“Yes, in a way! Our recording and storage technology is so much better now. We’re not so much remembering, as collating our experiences in the YouCloud.”
“Oh, screw that,” Lisa said. “Next you’ll be telling me you want a thumb drive you can stick in your head like in …”
“Neuromancer! Exactly! And that’s almost here, you know. The neural interfaces they’re using on prosthetics these days …”
“Fuck your William Gibson. I’m not living like that.”
“Hey, you two,” Graham broke in. “Let’s try to get along, okay? Besides, Derek, it’s not like Gibson was predicting some utopia of technology.”
“No, but … Whoa!” Derek brought up short. His disquisition on memory and technology had brought them nearly to the junction of Carrizo Creek.
“What?” Graham asked.
Derek laughed. “There’s an old stage coach going by in the wash up ahead.”
“So there’s an AR package here?” Graham pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Funny, I don’t have reception at all.”
Derek didn’t answer him. He had put the earbuds in and was staring into the distance, toward the confluence of the two washes, his gaze moving from right to left. The clanking of hitches and the dull thumping of the horses’ hooves in the sand tracked perfectly with the movement of the coach.
“Well, are we going to keep going, or what?” Lisa asked.
Derek looked at his friends. “It says there’s an old stage station to the west. Maybe if we take a shortcut we can get there before the stagecoach leaves.”
Lisa looked at Graham. “You know it’s not really there, right Derek?”
Derek couldn’t tell if Lisa was just ribbing him, or if she really thought he couldn’t tell the difference between the AR package and reality. “Of course I do, but maybe the producers have this thing running on a schedule. A lot of these packages, you have to be at the right place at the right time.” He turned to the left and headed toward a low spot in the mud hills bordering the wash. “Come on. Maybe there’s something left of the stage station. I was getting tired of walking in that wash anyway.” He didn’t look back, knowing his friends would follow.
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