A powerful earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter Scale brought Southern California to its knees just before dawn yesterday. Hundreds of buildings in the greater Los Angeles area were completely destroyed, dozens more rendered uninhabitable. L.A.'s newly-completed MetroRail subway system collapsed in on itself. Virtually every freeway overpass has either collapsed or been made impassable. Electricity, gas and water services are out throughout most of the Southland. People are panicked in the streets. It is complete bedlam.
Meanwhile, in a quiet little neighborhood on the west side of town where nothing bad ever happens, there sits a man in his apartment, at his computer, completely oblivious to the chaos that has engulfed the city. Two reporters from The Times enter his apartment without knocking because they're reporters, dammit, and have the right to do whatever they want in pursuit of a story and they ask this man how he can be so calm in the midst of this natural disaster.
"What disaster?" the man asks.
"The earthquake," they say. "Surely, you felt it."
"Well," he says, taking a moment to scratch his butt. "I did feel something last night. But I thought it was just a bunch of fat people running up and down the stairs. They have a lot of fat people living here in the building, you know. So, it woke me up for a minute, but I went right back to sleep. So it was an earthquake, eh?"
"Yes," they say, having trouble believing this guy is for real. "It was a HUGE earthquake. The Big One! You must've at least heard about it."
"Television's not working for some reason," he says. "All I get is static. And the damned paper boy never delivered my paper this morning."
"We're with the newspaper," they tell him. "And we can tell you that there won't be any paper this morning. Might not be another paper for days."
"Damn!" he shouts. "What kinda outfit you running down there at The Times?"
"There's been an earthquake, you idiot!" they shout at him. "Are you completely insane? Have you looked out the window? It's complete chaos!"
"I've been too busy on the computer to notice what's going on outside," he says, agitated. "Now, if you don't mind, would you please get out of my house? I don't recall ever inviting you in, actually."
And that's when the reporters noticed that this man's computer was indeed working, as were his lights.
"How is it that your computer and your lights are working when the electricity is supposedly out throughout Southern California?" they ask.
"Well, it's obviously not out everywhere," he says. One of the reporters goes out into the common area of the apartment building and asks loudly if anyone's electricity is on. A chorus of "no's" from the other tenants was his answer.
"What program are you using there?" the other reporter points to the computer.
"Oh, just some computer bulletin board I belong to," the man says casually.
"Bulletin board? How can you be logged onto a computer bulletin board when the phone lines are down?"
"Well, obviously ..." he begins, but they finish his sentence for him: "... yeah, yeah, obviously not all the phone lines are down."
In the upper left corner of his computer screen is a 3-D multicolored logo. It's a hologram of a slowly spinning planet. And there is some strange-looking writing like hieroglyphics or something below the logo. Translated, it read "Planetary Council." But, of course, the reporters would have no way of knowing this.
"Can we use your phone?" one of the reporters asks.
"Not while I'm logged onto the bulletin board," the man replies.
"It's pretty important," says the reporter. "Yours is the first working phone we've had access to since leaving The Times building."
"'Fraid I can't let you do that."
"Well, because that would break the connection," the man says.
"The bulletin board connection?"
"But it's really important that we use the phone!" they are shouting at him again. One of the reporters takes this as his cue to make a move toward the telephone, which is located on a little table on the other side of the room.
"I wouldn't do that if I was you," the man says to the reporter. The man is pointing a large-calibre gun at the reporter. Neither reporter is sure where the gun came from. They never noticed it before. But, there it was in his hand.
"Now just back away from the phone," the man says, gesturing with the gun. The reporter complies. "Now, I asked you once and I'm not going to ask you again. Get out of my house." He doesn't raise his voice. The gun in his hand makes that unnecessary.
The reporters left the man's apartment and made their way through the rubble of the earthquake's aftermath to the nearest police station to report this anomalous guy and the fact that all of his utilities seemed to be working while the rest of the county had no such luxury.
An hour or so later when the reporters and police returned to the apartment, however, the man was gone. In fact, not just he was gone, but the entire contents of the apartment were missing! The outer walls were still there, but the rest of the contents of the man's apartment were gone. Everything, that is, except the phone jack in the wall.
The police left in disgust, claiming they had better things to do than follow a couple of idiot reporters around.
Meanwhile, the "anomalous guy" was still at his computer. He was still logged onto his "Planetary Council" bulletin board. And, as far as he could tell, everything was pretty much the same as it was before those damned reporters had stopped by.
If he had bothered to look out his window, he would have realized he wasn't in Los Angeles anymore. But, he didn't really care. His television was working again. He wasn't getting Los Angeles stations, he was getting Planetary Council television. But, he was so used to mentally switching back and forth between Earth reality and Planetary Council reality that he hardly noticed the switch in language, both written and spoken, from English to Planetary Council.
This "anomalous guy" was what they called a "monitor." Just a technician, really. He was the conduit between the two universes Earth's and the Planetary Council's. In the larger scheme of things, his existence could be equated with that of the simple phone jack in the wall. He liked to think of himself as more than that. But, to be honest, that's basically all he was.
He soon dropped this train of thought, however, getting depressed thinking of himself in such unflattering terms. He remembered what he had been taught in school: If you find yourself getting depressed or unhappy, stop thinking. Stop thinking entirely. That's what they always told him.
And so, with this in mind, he returned to his computer screen and did his job, like the good soldier that he was.