dreamt about a big clock that had colors instead of numbers.
The clock sported two long hairy legs that terminated in
ball-bearing wheels. The face of the clock turned from side to
side as it rolled around Alec. Numbers floated into its face
and were reflected back as streams of color. It seemed to
encircle him like a shepherd dog herding a wayward lamb. But
everywhere Alec ran, the clock followed. Then the clock’s
face began to drip off as if it were composed of layers of
multi-colored wax that had turned soft in the terrible heat of
the sun. Then a door opened and a giant set of gleaming teeth
nestled between two heaving breasts emerged. The teeth were
carrying Dr. Crink’s Chroma Comp. Then the teeth turned the
device toward the clock and the computer fired a laser beam
that hit the clock face and made it explode in a spray of hot
colored wax that burned his face.
startled awake, dripping in a fevered sweat. He dragged
himself to the phone and called Lenore and then went back to
bed. For the next three days he slept fitfully and ate the
small meals that Lenore and Jake left for him when they
visited. A few times, he tried to study for his exams, reading
in bed propped up on pillows. But he could not concentrate
with the continuing aching in his head and recurring images of
shifting patterns of color.
in and out of half dreams and half memories, the Chrome’s
watchful 'eye' appeared and disappeared like a gaudy
phantom floating in the dark. Sometimes he worried about what
was happening with the Chrome. Sometimes he would awake
fretting about the meaning of D Day. He would awake in the
middle of the night and stare into the darkness, anxious about
his impending final exams for which he was very unprepared.
mostly, overall, he felt like a failure. The Chrome’s color
language was still as inscrutable as on the first encounter.
He had no clue about what the being might be trying to say. He
even began to question his own memory of recent events. It
just couldn’t be real. The whole thing was some kind of
delusion perhaps, like one of those shadows in Plato’s story
of the prisoners in the cave. Who was he trying to kid anyway?
After all, he was just a kid, taking some summer classes and
working as a part-time janitor at a café. Dr. Max had tried
to make him feel more important than he really was. He was
really just a little pawn in a bizarre situation that properly
belonged in the hands of scientific experts…and the
government. The Army and the CIA and the others were just
doing their jobs. Who was he to question their inside
it wasn’t his problem. Dynastic Chinese manners and musty
Philosophy books and winning at the Inner Edge and getting to
first base with Lenore—those were his problems.
Chrome thing is really not my problem," Alec found
himself saying when Monty called the next morning. There
was a long silence at the other end and Alec wondered if they
had been disconnected.
well, Alec," Monty finally said in a gentle but firm
voice, "then perhaps I should not tell you what has
happened with the Chrome since you have been ill. Perhaps you
are still too sick. I’m sorry. I called at a bad time."
about to say that he really couldn’t care what had happened
and that he felt much better but that it really was a bad time
to call because he had to run to his morning class. Yet the
words got arrested somewhere before they reached his vocal
the clear blue, Alec remembered something Lenore had said
after he and Jake had conquered the Sarnk in Ring 13 world:
"You guys are just virtual heroes! You’re no fun."
He vividly remembered the moment, the excitement of other
Pizza Heaven patrons all gathered around them, fawning. But
not Lenore. Her nonchalance about their accomplishment was
obvious and her subtext was fairly clear: "Ring 13—big
deal! I’d rather be with real heroes—they’re more
throat seemed blocked by a sub-vocal mantra that emerged out
of the clear blue: "virtual hero…virtual hero…virtual
hero." Alec hung onto the phone with both hands, as if
the mobile device could somehow offer a steady handhold. The
room seemed to suddenly grow cold and Alec shook with
Alec? Are you there," Monty’s voice cried urgently on
oh, yes Monty. I’m sorry. All this Chrome stuff…well, I
really don’t think so."