The muffled cacophony of rusting automatons and wind crammed into geometric confines was the closest approximation of silence Ash could expect. Through the venerable concrete and rebar overhead, across the whirring gulf between the prefab monoliths and far below, caked in layers of urban soot and beads of sweat, the city rumbled. Fourteen million nervous little romantic tragedies played out to the soundtrack of four generations worth of plastic-encased numeric conceptualism. From within Ash’s musty, one-thousand cubic-foot compartment, the city outside represented only a ritualistically-ignored synaptic static that leaked in uninvited through the balcony door.
Stationed on a dusty, upholstered seat, Ash surveyed and edited a lurching spread of dissociated images. The grating, hysteric thud of electronic music pounded forth and more than a few curt, diagnostic conversations occurred in a variety of media platforms. All the input writhed and clicked like a sprayed cockroach as Ash’s spindly fingers and hazel eyes flashed across the display. Like a mutated Theremin with iris scanners and voice activation, the gearbox on the chipboard desk danced with Ash more eloquently than any partner she’d known. Sizes, hues, contrast, focal points, volume and layout jumped at her whimsy with an eerie accuracy that got marginally more intuitive with every single action catalogued. The overall effect was synaesthesia-inducing.
The night was humid as a cave and Ash couldn’t have been tired if she wanted to. She’d been tossing around her nest since before the sun had risen the previous day, catnapping through the hottest parts of the afternoon. She recalled seeing the sun setting to a quicksilver display of reds, mauve, daylily orange and faint hints of green where clouds’ golden edges faded to sky blue. The sun was almost menacing in its subtle power, the silent key to all the earthly locks. The image had fought its way through her waking murk and pressed some button in her forebrain reminding her of her own warmth, obscured within the general heat of the city. Like two electrodes across a Jacob’s Ladder, she had been connected to that sun for a brief, groggy moment. Then the frizz of coffee and simmering pan of civilization below her had brought her back to her place – just a spark in a chemical inferno.
Now, in the dark, she fidgeted mercilessly against data. She compounded and interpolated information in search of an elusive detail. She sifted through every relevant article and video log she could conjure up out of the machine. She navigated all the perceptible degrees of separation from where her gut placed this detail. Her eyebrows cramped and her carpal tunnels protested in vain. In certain moments she lost the thread of hunches and was left with nothing but a series of unrelated text files and images which she grouped, compressed and labeled numerically – hopeless conglomerations of evidence. Like the boxes of parts for forgotten appliances that she saw at the pawn shops on the strip.
When she was a child, her mother had said Ash had a woman’s intuition. She remembered crying about the way an uncle had spoken to her in a conversation that occurred out of earshot with her parents. Several weeks later she woke to the sound of her father drunkenly threatening the uncle and subsequently shoving him out the door. The image of her father battering her uncle on the mucky front lawn buried itself in the murky bottom of her memory like a mosquito egg, only to bubble up years later, complete with bloodsucking stinger.
At a young age the concept of women having some special, almost mystical power had excited and behooved her. Now, her artificial carapace of vapidity, layered on by many too many curt social interactions, told her that the idea was a relic. Just a throwback to that brief, historical moment between oppression and integration, when the ideals of feminism spilled over into the realm of the philosophical. She hoped it was not so. Particularly in light of the fact that she was searching for something that she wasn’t sure even existed, and had no idea what relevance it might bear, were it to present itself. Women’s intuition or stress-induced insanity, she thought, tentatively opting for the former.