Walter Mosley's talent knows no bounds. Stepping Stone and Love Machine are but two of six fragments in the Crosstown to Oblivion short novels in which Mosley entertainingly explores life's cosmic questions. From life's meaning to the nature of good and evil, these tales take us on speculative journeys beyond the reality we have come to know. In each tale someone in our world today is given insight into these long pondered mysteries. But how would the world really receive the answers?
Truman Pope has spent his whole life watching the world go by--and waiting for something he can't quite put into words. A gentle, unassuming soul, he has worked in the mailroom of a large corporation for decades without making waves, until the day he spots a mysterious woman in yellow. A woman nobody else can see.
Soon Truman's quiet life begins to turn upside-down. An old lover surfaces from his past even as he finds his job in jeopardy. Strange visions haunt his days and nights, until he begins to doubt his sanity. Is he losing his mind, or is he on the brink of a startling revelation that will change his life forever--and transform the nature of humanity?
The Datascriber was supposed to merely allow individuals to share sensory experiences via a neurological link, but its true potential is even more revolutionary. The brainchild of an eccentric, possibly deranged scientist, the "Love Machine" can merge individual psyches and memories into a collective Co-Mind that transcends race, gender, species . . . and even death itself.
Tricked into joining the Co-Mind, as part of a master plan to take over the world, Lois Kim struggles to adapt to her new reality and abilities. Is there any way back to the life that was stolen from her, or is she destined to lead humanity into a strange new era, despite the opposition of forces both human and otherwise?
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WALTER MOSLEY is one of the most versatile and admired writers in America today. He is the author of more than thirty-four critically acclaimed books, including the major bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins. His work has been translated into twenty-one languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The Nation. He is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, a Grammy, and PEN America's Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“SIT DOWN, MS. KIM,” Dr. Marchant Lewis said.
Lois frowned slightly and then lowered herself into the chair he indicated.
Lewis was clad in a crisp white doctor’s smock that was at least two sizes too small for his great girth. Small plastic buttons strained to hold the garment across his belly. In the spaces between Lois could see the black T-shirt he wore.
When the big man looked down on Lois she shuddered inwardly.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt.”
With some effort, he walked around the table and took the seat across from her. As he wedged himself in a button popped off and struck Lois on the cheek.
“Oh,” she cried, half rising from her chair.
“Sit down, Lois,” he commanded in that rumbling low voice.
Lois regained her self-control and sat back.
On the table between them sat a sleek, silvery box about the size of the multimedia player that Lois had bought just that week. In the center of the glittering box was a red rectangular button, that was half the size of a matchbook and lit from underneath. Marchant depressed the button with a thick finger and two square plates shot out from either side, one for Marchant and the other for Lois. Each plate had a shallow, hand-shaped depression covering the most part of its surface area.
Marchant smiled and placed a mitt on his template. He indicated with a glance and a hand gesture that she should do the same with hers.
“Am I supposed to put my hand here?” she asked, stalling.
Marchant nodded. The fat of his face, Lois thought, made him look more like a grotesque baby than a grown man.
“What’s supposed to happen?” she asked with hardly a tremor in her voice.
“Exactly what I proposed to InterCyb,” Lewis said. “Through a noninvasive electronic medium I will be able to map the complete neuronal system of your hand, gauging the flow of stimuli with absolute accuracy.”
Kim stared at the colossus opposite her. She was made nervous, she knew, merely because of his size. Marchant Lewis was nearly seven feet tall and weighed, she’d been told by her boss, Ryan Lippmann, over five hundred pounds.
Big men had always frightened Lois—ever since childhood. But she knew that her fears were unfounded superstitions based on her own size and the bedtime stories her grandmother had told her when Lois visited her in Korea Town. The stories always had ogres that were as big as houses with obscene genitals and fingernails like claws ...
But those stories were for children.
Marchant Lewis was no ogre. He was the top neurophysicist in the nation; maybe in the entire world. The thesis for his Ph.D. from MIT was the complete mapping of the memory systems of pigeons, a revolutionary achievement for any biophysicist, comparable to the greatest scientific accomplishments in history. It was a coup for InterCybernetics International when Lois brokered the deal to hire him away from the government. She had to trust him; her future depended on the success of this man.
But still she hesitated.
“What will happen?” she asked. “Exactly.”
“Your hand will be drawn in and the Datascriber will begin its work.” Something about Lewis’s smile seemed threatening or maybe it was just that Lois could tell that he knew something that she did not.
“Will it hurt?”
“I sincerely doubt it.”
“I don’t really see why I have to do this,” Lois said, trying to keep the whine out of her voice.
“Somebody from management has to,” Marchant replied. “This technology is about tactile sensation. How can you justify the millions that you’ve put into my work if one of you doesn’t test it?”
Her hands clenched firmly together in her lap Lois Kim said, “That is precisely why I’m here, Dr. Lewis. Your method of farming out work to different unaffiliated labs makes it very difficult for us to judge your work—and its cost analysis.”
“You can’t judge without putting your hand on the template, Ms. Kim.”
There was nothing else for her to say. She’d put off this meeting for a month already and her boss was e-mailing her daily now wondering, forcefully, What is happening with the Lewis project? It was Labor Day Friday and she had plans with Grant, her boyfriend, to leave for Death Valley that afternoon.
Cautiously she laid her hand upon the template.
“Let the weight of your hand rest on it, dear,” the older man said.
The moment she let her forearm relax straps shot out from both sides of the plate looping and tightening over her hand, securing palm and fingers to the form made for them.
“What’s this?” Lois said, the hysteria fully formed in her words.
“Your hand has to be held completely motionless or the Datascriber won’t work. Relax, Ms. Kim. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”
While Marchant Lewis spoke Lois felt the insistent tug of the template pan as her hand was drawn into the silver box. She could feel her heart throbbing like that of a small, frightened animal. It was hard for her to catch her breath. A warm, viscous liquid oozed between her fingers.
Lois was ready to scream when she had the vision.
There was a long and very wide plain of green that spread out for what seemed to be many miles in front of her. This plain went on and on until it slammed into a slate-blue sky. A fluttering of red boomed above her head. She knew somewhere in a faraway place that this was just a redbird suddenly frightened and taken to wing. But in her heart this was an amazing event not unlike when the Lord spoke and life sprang from nothingness.
“Marky,” a woman’s voice called. “Marky.”
Lois cried for joy at the redbird and her mother’s call.
Mama never called me Marky, the distant thought chimed. But Lois didn’t care. She pressed her hands upon the green, green grass feeling every spiky blade against her tender palms. She heaved herself up making it to a wide-legged stance. A street appeared between the lawn and sky and a big maroon car zoomed past. Lois took in a deep breath hearing the growl of the car’s engine and her own breath simultaneously. She blew at the automobile’s red brake lights as it got smaller and quieter. She laughed—exultant at her own power.
Cars move due to the internal combustion engine, the faraway mind intoned.
“Marky,” Mother called from what seemed like very far away.
Lois spun around so quickly that she lost her balance and fell back onto the grass. The sudden motion of her body, the jumble of sky and green and street made for a joyous confusion that brought her to the edge of fear.
But then two huge black hands folded around her sides and Lois was suddenly like that redbird flapping her arms and legs in flight.
The broad brown-black face—Mama(?)—smiled, showing hungry teeth. Lois felt her bowels clench but she wasn’t embarrassed by the sensation.
“Marky,” the Woman said again.
“He’s a beautiful boy,” a deep voice boomed.
The Man standing next to the Woman scared and amazed Lois. This wasn’t Dada but still he kissed the Woman. He tried to do the same to Lois but she reared and slapped his big wet lips.
“Benny’s a friend, Marky,” the Woman said but Lois let fly a stream of curses that came out as one long unintelligible cry. Her bowels opened up and the redbird seemed to be flapping in her chest.
“Somebody needs changing,” Mama said and the world folded into flesh and the music of only the Woman’s voice and hands ...
* * *
WHEN LOIS KIM opened her eyes she was still sitting across the table from Dr. Lewis. His smile was beatific and she realized, with some surprise, that he no longer frightened her. She had momentarily lost track of where she was and then, with a sudden fright, she remembered the lashes that had trapped her hand. She yanked her arm back only to see that she had already been released. She felt for the oil that had covered her fingers but her skin was completely dry.
As if in answer to her unasked question Marchant held up his hand showing that it was coated with thick, brightly glistening fluid.
“Did you feel the oil on my hand?” he asked in the tone of a much younger man.
“Y-y-y-yes,” she stammered. “How did you do that?”
Marchant’s smile turned quizzical.
“That’s hard to explain,” he said. “As you know when nerves are excited they send an electric pulse down a conductor. This pulse transmits data that becomes the semblance of information in the brain.”
“I do have a degree in bioneurology, Dr. Lewis,” Lois said. The anger she felt also elated her. She was glad to be irate. The emotion somehow anchored her inside her own feelings.
“Yes, of course. That’s why I wanted you to come and be the first to experience my little device. That ... and other reasons too, I guess.”
“What other reasons?”
Marchant smiled. He paused for a moment before speaking again.
“My research has found that when any nerve fires a tiny fraction of energy comes free and travels out of the body. This pulse has a very specific, if weak, signature. What my Datascriber does is read this signature, magnify it ten-thousand-fold, and transmit it to the waiting cells of another.”
Lois was astonished. She had expected to be presented with a binary chart mapping certain human nerve pulses and associating those excitations with general realms of sensation. It was the overall opinion of the scientific community that actual sharing of sensate experience was a...
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