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There was a barbed-wire fence around the base of the tower, but Dan had already been out here on the weekend and started a tunnel, which didn’t take them long to complete. When they were through, Ty looked up and felt his head swimming. Carlos said, “We should have brought a rope.”

“We’ll be okay.”

Chris said, “I’ll go first.”

“Why?” Dan demanded.

Chris took his fancy new phone from his pocket and waved it at them. “Best camera angle. I don’t want to be looking up your ass.”

Carlos said, “Just promise you won’t put it on the Web. If my parents see this, I’m screwed.”

Chris laughed. “Mine, too. I’m not that stupid.”

“Yeah, well, you won’t be on camera if you’re holding the thing.”

Chris started up the ladder. Dan went next, with one paint can in the back pocket of his jeans. Ty followed, then Errol and Carlos.

The air had been still down on the ground, but as they went higher a breeze came out of nowhere, cooling the sweat on Ty’s back. The ladder started shuddering; he could see where it was bolted securely to the concrete of the tower, but in between it could still flex alarmingly. He’d treat it like a fairground ride, he decided: a little scary, but probably safe.

When Chris reached the top, Dan let go of the ladder with one hand, took the paint can, and reached out sideways into the expanse of white concrete. He quickly shaped a blue background, a distorted diamond, and then called down to Errol, who was carry­ing the red.

When Ty had passed the can up, he looked away, out across the expanse of brown dust. He could see the town in the distance. He glanced up and saw Chris leaning forward, gripping the ladder with one hand behind his back while he aimed the phone down at them.

Ty shouted up at him, “Hey, Scorsese! Make me famous!”

Dan spent five minutes adding finicky details in silver. Ty didn’t mind; it was good just being here. He didn’t need to mark the tower himself; whenever he saw Dan’s tag, he’d remember this feeling.

They clambered down, then sat at the base of the tower and passed the phone around, checking out Chris’s movie.

Lincoln had three rest days before he was called again, this time for four days in succession. He fought hard to remember all the scenes he was sleepwalking through, but even with his grandmother adding her accounts of the “playacting” she’d witnessed, he found it hard to hold on to the details.

Sometimes he hung out with the other actors, shooting pool in the motel’s game room, but there seemed to be an unspoken taboo against discussing their roles. Lincoln doubted that the Steveware would punish them even if they managed to overcome the restraint, but it was clear that it didn’t want them to piece too much together. It had even gone to the trouble of changing Steve’s name (as Lincoln and the other actors heard it, though presumably not Steve himself), as if the anger they felt toward the man in their ordinary lives might have penetrated into their roles. Lincoln couldn’t even remember his own mother’s face when he was Ty; the farm, the Crash, the whole history of the last 30 years, was gone from his thoughts entirely.

In any case, he had no wish to spoil the charade. Whatever the Steveware thought it was doing, ­Lincoln hoped it would believe it was working perfectly, all the way from Steve’s small-town childhood to whatever age it needed to reach before it could write this creation into flesh and blood, congratulate itself on a job well done, and then finally, mercifully, dissolve into rat piss and let the world move on.

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Credit: Justin Wood

Tagged: Computing

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