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Zero K(8)
Don DeLillo

“And it has to be here.”

“This is land traveled by nomads for thousands of years. Sheepherders in open country. It’s not battered and compacted by history. History is buried here. Thirty years ago Artis worked on a dig somewhere north and east of here, near China. History in burial mounds. We’re outside the limits. We’re forgetting everything we knew.”

“You can forget your name in this place.”

He raised his glass and drank. The whiskey was a rare blend, triple distilled, production strictly limited. He’d given me the details years ago.

“What about the money?”


“Yours. You’re in big, obviously.”

“I used to think I was a serious man. The work I did, the effort and dedication. Then, later, the time I was able to devote to other matters, to art, educating myself to the ideas and traditions and innovations. Came to love it,” he said. “The work itself, a picture on a wall. Then I got started on rare books. Spent hours and days in libraries, in restricted areas, and it wasn’t a need for acquisition.”

“You had access denied to others.”

“But I wasn’t there to acquire. I was there to stand and look, or squat and look. To read the titles on the spines of priceless books in the caged stacks. Artis and I. You and I, once, in New York.”

I felt the smooth burn of the whiskey going down and closed my eyes for a moment, listening to Ross reciting titles he recalled from libraries in several world capitals.

“But what’s more serious than money?” I said. “What’s the term? Exposure. What’s your exposure in this project?”

I spoke without an edge. I said these things quietly, without irony.

“Once I was educated to the significance of the idea, and the potential behind it, the enormous implications,” he said, “I made a decision that I’ve never second-guessed.”

“Have you ever second-guessed anything?”

“My first marriage,” he said.

I stared into my glass.

“And who was she?”

“Good question. Profound question. We had a son but other than that.”

I didn’t want to look at him.

“But who was she?”

“She was essentially one thing. She was your mother.”

“Say her name.”

“Did we ever say each other’s name, she and I?”

“Say her name.”

“People who are married to each other as we were, in our uncommon way, which is not so uncommon, do they ever say each other’s name?”

“Just once. I need to hear you say it.”

“We had a son. We said his name.”

“Indulge me. Go ahead. Say it.”

“Do you remember what you said a minute ago? You can forget your name in this place. People lose their names in a number of ways.”

“Madeline,” I said. “My mother, Madeline.”

“Now I remember, yes.”

He smiled and settled back in an attitude of fake reminiscence, then changed expression, a well-timed maneuver, addressing me sharply.

“Think about this, what is here and who is here. Think about the end of all the petty misery you’ve been hoarding for years. Think beyond personal experience. Leave it back there. What’s happening in this community is not just a creation of medical science. There are social theorists involved, and biologists, and futurists, and geneticists, and climatologists, and neuroscientists, and psychologists, and ethicists, if that’s the right word.”

“Where are they?”

“Some are here permanently, others come and go. There are the numbered levels. All the vital minds. Global English, yes, but other languages as well. Translators when necessary, human and electronic. There are philologists designing an advanced language unique to the Convergence. Word roots, inflections, even gestures. People will learn it and speak it. A language that will enable us to express things we can’t express now, see things we can’t see now, see ourselves and others in ways that unite us, broaden every possibility.”

He tossed down another dram or two, then held the glass under his nose and sniffed. It was empty, for now.

“We fully expect that this site we occupy will eventually become the heart of a new metropolis, maybe an independent state, different from any we’ve known. This is what I mean when I call myself a serious man.”

“With serious money.”

“Yes, money.”

“Tons of it.”

“And other benefactors. Individuals, foundations, corporations, secret funding from various governments by way of their intelligence agencies. This idea is a revelation to smart people in many disciplines. They understand that now is the time. Not just the science and technology but political and even military strategies. Another way to think and live.”

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