Chapter 5

From: Aoife T <>
Subject: HELP
Date: May 25, 2038 05:47 PM EDT
To: Riley Easton <>

it was Darchy I cant get out of this fuckig solocup, its LOCKED DOWN, being rerouted somewhere i think she’s gonna kill me?? Ask at Faraday, use your reporter powers, talk to Veracruz sorry.That shithead Wallerstein was right C was a snitch and the files were his and why am i still too scared of talking to just call you right now god i’’ve been such a brat, i’m sorry

From: Aoife T <>
Subject: I’m safe
Date: May 25, 2038 06:01 PM EDT
To: Riley Easton <>

Hey, so, I’m alive. And I’m fine, I think. More soon but I just needed you to know I’m fine.

From: Aoife T <>
Subject: In Crystal City?
Date: May 25, 2038 07:03 PM EDT
To: Riley Easton <>

Again: I’m fine, and I don’t think I’m in any danger. Darcy wouldn’t have routed me to her corporate apartment to slit my throat when she could have just routed me off the Woodrow Wilson or whatever. So now I’m just sitting right the fuck here waiting for her, so let me fill you in on how fucking weird this all is.

Some minion with the face of a wharf rat was waiting for me in the rain outside the giant Oxman Group building, the one with the literally living melanin walls and the moss and the two million dollar studio apartments. She didn’t have an umbrella, and I thought maybe she’d be pissed that she had to wait for me, but when the solocup unfurled and I climbed out, she seemed weirdly excited. “Brill,” she said, which I guess was an introduction, then badged me into an elevator which took us up to an incoherently big duplex on the fortieth floor. Her phone buzzed. She looked down to it and lost that intense channeled energy and when she glanced up to me, she looked disappointed. She told me Darcy would be by in a couple hours, and I shouldn’t look like * gestured generally in my direction * that when she showed up. Then she baby-stomped out the door.

I think this apartment is exactly what you were talking about when you were trying to get me to like Ballard. Floor-to-ceiling windows, a perfect view of Crystal City’s metastasizing buildings in all their ridiculous experimental glory. The interior a gaping soulless post-Airspace minimalism, desperate to appear casual and intentional at the same time. “Thoughtfully designed” is I think what my mom would call it. 3D printed pseudo-reclaimed wood everywhere.

Allegedly the name “Crystal City” came from a single developer affixing the word “Crystal” to a bunch of projects in this neighborhood back when it was still basic bitch suburban sprawl. It didn’t really have anything to do with actual crystals until Gwyneth Paltrow commissioned a “resonant temple” for her media empire’s DC outpost after the hostile takeover of InfoWars and her slightly-less-hostile attempted takeover of the Department of Health and Human Services. Now the landscape literally glitters with crystalline starchitecture, desperate to present the appearance of organically constructed community in a place designed solely for the movement of federal and corporate money. Is that Ballardian too? I’m sure you’ll say yes, either way.

I don’t think you know this about me (because I didn’t ever fucking talk about it), but Crystal City was basically the reason I tried to become an architect. I know I told you about being a DC kid shuffled between Dupont and Adams Morgan addresses, making excursions to Old Rag or Baltimore semi-regularly until the Shitstorm locked the District down for a solid 7 years, pretty much cementing the latter half of my kidhood in a heavily fortified swamp. I think I told you how fucking weird it was to live in the capitol of a country that’s undergoing civil war and never once have a terrorist attack anywhere near you. The country was ripping itself apart and my day-to-day was totally fine, at least until I was made to go down and see the cherry blossoms or whatever (for the first time in their history not jammed, that city missed its tourists so hard it was weird) and there’d be this dense, heavy gray smoke drifting over from whatever the hell just happened in Arlington. I felt so vulnerable, and so guilty, like just underneath the surface everything was always just about to fissure and split.

C was reporting out of Crystal City for a while, Amazon being one of the first big tech companies to declare its allegiance. I watched him, and rewatched him, so much, to the point where I got to know the topography, the still-nascent architecture, the building sites of Amazon’s thin stretch of Arlington. When Zaha Hadid’s Ribbon opened, I begged C to do a walk-through, which he dutifully started only to get sidetracked to hound some technocrat who’d been ducking him. The whole glittering edifice, the smooth lines, and the seemingly organic structures were so different than the District’s crumbling brownstones, Romanesque memorials drained of both color and Hope, and cynical glass towers bestowed by mid-aughts gentrification. The buildings going up in Crystal City may have just been buoyed by blithe tech optimism and defense money but to me they stood for real life, the life C was living out there.

I wanted to build something like that. I wanted to bring life into spaces, I wanted to feel alive because of the spaces I made. Then I found out how money and planning actually work, and that architectural beauty rarely happens through hard work and integrity, and people were only going to care about permaculture architecture if it helped preserve the status quo. I figured if I couldn’t fill the future with the environments it deserved, I could write about how everyone else was fucking getting it wrong.

I wanted the future to be work like Mangakāhia’s and Begley’s Rikers and Bayer’s Mountain and even my derivative, abandoned models, but the future’s just the same shit. It’s all the same thought leaders and executives and war criminals and their empty beautiful buildings. That’s what this skyline means to me now, even after a shower and some really nice granola. I guess I’m tired, which is probably why I’m clutching a meat thermometer, in case I need to stab the founder of the Ashburn Institute in her own mixed-use development (there weren’t any knives in the kitchen).

I’m pretty ashamed about that frantic email I sent you before the solocup turned into a mini-Faraday. Can you please delete it?

From: Aoife T <>
Subject: no subject
Date: May 25, 2038 09:33 PM EDT
To: Riley Easton <>

She offered me a fucking job. She tried to recruit me, Riley. None of this makes any fucking sense–fuck, I should start at the beginning sorry I’m just I’m walking outside I guess back to the District? From Crystal City? Fuck where the fuck am I going. Shit. OK. OK. I’m speech-to-texting this email because I can’t sit down and write and if I don’t get it out now I might forget something and no, I’m still not going to call you and no we’re not going to talk about that.

OK so when Darcy finally showed up she was exactly as Darcy as you’d expect, all “glad to see you’re making yourself at home” like she was doing me some giant favor hijacking my solocup and holding me hostage in her weirdo penthouse though I guess at that point I had kind of settled into the fucking place and eaten all her food and I really did need a shower. Whatever, Stockholm syndrome, making the best of a weird situation, I don’t know. She was dressed like a fucking Star Wars peasant–you know what I mean, like it’s plain enough it shouldn’t be expensive but so plain it’s definitely expensive? And vaguely tactical? Her shoes did some fabric wrapping thing I still don’t understand. You’d probably have wanted a pair.

She said she didn’t kill Michael Chuck. She was like, “I don’t kill people,” like a fucking third-tier John Wick 9 bad guy or something, “nah nah nah I don’t kill people” whatever lady. But she showed me security footage from that day at the Smithsonian and I mean I don’t know what to think. It looked real. It looked like he went into the wrong underground tunnel at the wrong fucking time and it filled up with water too fast for him–nothing sinister, just panicked incompetence at exactly the worst moment. “Bad wayfinding.” She actually said that. And then she swung that shit around on me, being all “I know you want to think you’re in the middle of something very important, I think that’s what Miles wanted too,” like I was being a drama queen or something for I don’t know thinking a guy turning up dead right after he snuck me some secret files might be important. She said that Miles only gave me the USB drive because he felt sorry for me and wanted me to have something that belonged to my brother. But I mean, it checks out with what I already knew about him–he’d worked for Darcy way back in her Synecdoche days, frequently the mouthpiece of the Institute when Darcy didn’t want to bother commenting on something, by all accounts loved his job.

I am so tired.

I’m on the District side of the Holmes Norton Extension right now, the “walkway reclaimed from the automobile”, that got shoved full of Rock Creek Park seeds and left to rot. Leave it to the fucking City Council. Least they named it right. You know I never walk over this fucking thing? Always just took a solocup, like everyone else. I’d forgotten you can still see, or you could tonight in the gross puke orange sunset, the flooded outline of the GW Parkway, which Ciarnan claimed to have driven the week of its own “reclamation.”

Ciarnan. Shit.

Miles was the one who suggested Ciarnan do the report on truth commissions. Herself showed me the report, I got a chance to skim it. “Absent massive damage to the state’s legitimacy and loss of life, a highly defined scope of inquiry, and serious commitment to follow-through, truth and reconciliation in the United States of America is highly unlikely.” He was always better at TV than with words.

She wouldn’t let me keep it which naturally fucking led me to ask what the big goddamn secret was and she said the report might make the truth commission look premediatated. That’s what all this shit was about, Michael Chuck breaking into the Smithsonian like a deranged stalker fan boy which I guess he was? Of my entire family? and getting drowned, me freaking out for weeks and fucking up Avi’s home life, screaming at my mom, and bothering you endlessly. Still bothering you. Just so that people could go on thinking that the Training Commission emerged organically in the aftermath of the Shitstorm and not some scenario the Ashburn Institute had already modeled for, not something that they’d been preparing for. Something that maybe tech companies wanted? Darcy laughed at me when I asked that. Which isn’t a no.

The idea of a truth commission wasn’t really that important to Darcy. All she wanted was to automate as much national-level decision making as possible–she actually called it “real direct democracy” because people don’t know what they actually want and deep learning can find the “unexpected patterns” people don’t want to look at. In the end using data collected by a nationwide truth commission was just a way to get buy-in. Who would question data culled from such an unimpeachably cathartic process, such a resolutely fair and feminist process? She actually called it feminist. I don’t fucking know.

And then she starts telling me how smart I was, how important it was to have “critical voices working on the National Algorithm.” She actually laid out how fucking tenuous the whole system really is–which I knew, kind of, but I didn’t really understand, you know? Like abstractly I know parts of California are still on fire and most of Utah is still refusing to participate in training the model and Alaskan secession’s got legs now that the Arctic shipping lanes are a real thing but I figured between the monopoly on violence and pseudo-monopoly of nationalized tech infrastructure the state would deal with it the way it always does, you know? Not that that’s a good thing, just how things usually go.

Jesus, I’m out of shape. I know, I know vape lung, shut up. Can’t believe I decided to walk, but I don’t want to be in a solocup, not after today, maybe not ever again, and I wasn’t able to deal with the idea of taking the long descent into the nuke-proof caverns of the Metro. I’m on I Street now, fording Delaware River Ave looking at all the little built-out luxury prefabs littering the banks of the Pratt Watershed. I haven’t walked this way in years. I’m heading towards the Navy Yards. Toward my mom’s place. I don’t really have anywhere else to go.

Darcy said something that got me, in a way that I didn’t think she could. It shouldn’t surprise me, it’s not like she got where she is by being bad at reading people. Playing people. She quoted back one of Ciarnan’s interviews to me, the one with Patrick Ball where he talks about working with the data you don’t have. How they needed people who could see that missing data and help them figure out how to get it.

Riley. She wants me to be one of those people.

And I don’t know. I’m not an architect. Obviously. And I’m not a critic and I’m not a journalist and I’m not much of a human fucking being most days, more like some feral fucking animal with a laptop and a phone. And, I mean, that was my opinion before all of this shit happened.

But Darcy, Darcy Fucking Ashburn Institue Lawson, thinks I have a purpose a calling a gift I don’t know she used all of those words. And maybe the problem isn’t the model, it’s what’s missing from it. Who’s interpreting it. Maybe it’s the same problem it’s always been, of just who has power and who doesn’t.

She makes me sick and the National Algo makes me sick and the thought of Ciarnan makes me sick, but she’s giving me a way to make it better? Maybe a way to make me better?

Just passed the commemorative plaque about how the Army Corps of Engineers saved “the hub of historical SE”. That particular piece of racist hypocrisy always reminds me I’m close to home. I don’t know if I’m going to walk all the way to the rowhouse. I don’t know if I’m going to go in. I don’t know what I’m going to tell my mom. I don’t know what I’m going to tell Darcy.

I don’t know if I’m going to tell my phone to send