He sat with his forearms on the balcony railing, gazing out with his eyes a little slitted as if he were a man looking at or for some long-lost love. There was a handed-down expression from the time of the Founders, “no love lost,” that he had never understood, had to explain to himself all over again each time he heard it. “No love lost between them,” was what was usually said, but it meant no love between them: it was the “lost” part he had to explain and re-explain. He had had many lovers, much love given and taken; there had never been any lost. Could love be lost? That seemed a silly idea. But many of the things left by the Founders – word, sayings, notions – were no longer clear, obscured, paradoxically, by over-use, like a pebble that has been handled too much and has changed its shape from wear.
“What are you thinking about?” Nonno said. He was sitting a few feet down the balcony, less rapt by the seemingly endless distance than Ganesh.
“Love,” he said.
“How is Rita?”
“She’s good. She sounds happy enough.” He had added “enough” at the last moment; to say baldly that somebody was or seemed unqualifiedly happy was almost certainly to venture on a lie. Anyway, happiness was a difficult concept, something else handed down and perhaps no longer entirely understood. He said, “She’s designing the bubble so it won’t need an external frame.”
Nonno meant something different from nice, something admiring, appreciative. At the same time, Nonno was a skeptic, as he showed by adding, “You two can’t be seeing much of each other.”
“No, we can’t.” That was said in a way that was meant to cut off that line of conversation. Nonno got it, apparently; he stayed quiet and at last said, “I’m so bored I could jump off something.”
“Try a chair.”
“I was thinking of something more like your balcony.”
“Oh, don’t do that. There’d be an investigation, endless colloquia – I’d never get anything done. Anyway, boredom’s like ‘money’, isn’t it? – it doesn’t exist. It’s a construct. What you mean is, you can’t sustain interest in your environment.’
There was a lot of that sort of talk. Somebody had put out a chit, “Our is the Age of Boredom” and it had been all over the place in minutes. It had given the era a name – the Age of Boredom. Ganesh himself wasn’t bored, but he knew what was meant, a general unease as if some mild but annoying illness were running through the community. It was more than a failure to take interest in their environment; it was deeper, more fundamental, an angst (another old word), a sense that pierced the normal attention to one’s job or love-making or working out, like sticking yourself with a needle, a sense suddenly there, an awareness that something wasn’t right. Then, like “no love lost,” you had to work it through and realize what it was. ‘You need something new,’ Ganesh said.
Nonno made a face. Ganesh took this to mean that everybody was giving Nonno the same advice. Indeed, everybody was giving everybody the same advice: you need something new.
‘How’s the dancing?’ Ganesh said.
‘Oh – you know.’
‘If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.’
‘It’s all right.’
‘The art’s all right.’
‘I saw one of your pictures on the skrene. I thought of moving it to the wall but I couldn’t work out a frame.’
‘The trapezoidal one? A lot of people said that. I offered the algorithm to print the frame, but I suppose you didn’t see that.’
‘I’m sorry, Nonno.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’ He put his fist thumb-up on the railing and put his chin on the thumb end, where a small depression had formed where the web lay above the curled knuckles. He said, his voice a little muffled by the weight on his chin, ‘Nothing matters, really.’
‘Oh, Nonno, don’t start that. If you really believe that, you need remediation. As I know you’re sane, I know you’ve thought of remediation and decided you don’t need it, so therefore you don’t. What you need is a small jolt of something. Would you like to have sex?’
Nonno shook his head, chin still on fist. ‘It doesn’t help.’
‘Drugs? ‘I’ve cooked up something new that’s based on methalamine-6. It actually tastes good, which you can’t say for most drugs, designer or otherwise.’
‘No.’ Nonno sighed; Ganesh looked at him, shook his head. ‘Have you seen my flashies from the Coronation reenactment? Karosoki was there doing Victoria the First, which he’s done a thousand times, so he was quite good. Remarkable gown, fabric by Sven Sakarno. The Millenberger craftsman had built the carriage – beautiful thing.’
‘All speculation. We don’t really know what she wore.’ He harrumphed. ‘We don’t even know that she existed.’
‘Mmmm, that’s a little strong. They should have had had horses, of course – you know horses, the big things with—’
‘Horses, right, of course. Interesting if we could make some. Ride them, you know – they did. That sounds fun.’
‘Aha, you’re interested. You could take that on, making horses.’
‘Oh, sunfuck, we’d have to find some and get the stuff and go through all that. Old-fashioned cloning, I suppose.’ He put his chin down on his fist again and mumbled, ‘Waste of time, when you think about it.’
Ganesh put his feet up on the rail, his eyes still fixed on the horizon, except for glancing quickly at the wall to his right, where a clock printout flashed on command and was gone. ‘Still, reenacting’s saving a lot of people from boredom, Nonnie.’ In fact, reenacting was the most popular pastime there was, expressing some deep nostalgia for a lost world of which they had precious little evidence.
‘Well, it’s saving you because you run things.’
‘Only another year, then I step down. Anyway, I don’t run things; I keep things from bumping into each other. We’ve got some nice stuff in train. Still, you know, it’d be good to go out with something really helpful, even if all it’s helpful for is relief from your boredom. Horses might do it. Pretty impressive – make a thousand of them, have people ride them, pull things with them, jump over stuff.’
‘I could get excited about the riding. Making the horses, yahk. No thanks.’
‘We’ve got a new area in “banking” if you’d like to try it. It involves “money,” somehow trading in it and moving it around. They haven’t figured it all out yet.’
‘That would mean a whole new set of clothes. I really dislike making reenacting clothes, Ganesh. Ganesh? Are you listening to me at all?
But Ganesh was staring ahead at the horizon between his feet. He twitched his skirts around his bare legs against the cool breeze, then straightened as he saw the first blue pencil line on the horizon. The line thickened, became a smear, as if the pencil were filling in between the line and the horizon, then broadened and showed the blue-white wonder of the arc of a circle.
Smiling like a child, Ganesh pointed. “Earth,” he said. “Rising.” And as he said it, as he felt the usual delight flood through him, he had The Idea.