Fiction Fix: Fusion
This article is a contribution from our fiction series writer Michael Dykstra
There was a part of him that actually wanted another firestorm to hit the county. The previous two had rekindled his affinity with this most forging of chemical reactions. During the cool autumn evenings of his childhood he stared religiously into the fireplace as if it were a kind of prehistoric television set. The multitude of programming a single burning log could broadcast had always impressed him as each wavering flame channeled its own tune of being.
The real love affair sparked when he went to Universal Studios and experienced Backdraft during his fifth grade field trip. Never before had he encountered heat in such an intimate way. The intense sensation felt on his pre-pubescent skin was enough to send his biorhythms into overdrive.
During his middle school years, while his friends were busy flirting with girls, he found himself at the heart of a different sort of love triangle—the three components needed to start a fire being fuel, a source of ignition (most often understood as energy released in the form of heat), and oxygen—and so he did his best to stay somewhere in the middle. He spent hours drawing blueprints for innovative potato gun designs when he should have been solving for the value of x. But his precocious mind could see that math was really only valuable when it was placed into the appropriate, scientific context. And so shooting a flaming potato a half-mile became that context. As did burning bathtubs, melting old sneakers, devising makeshift flamethrowers from cans of hairspray and Pam, making tennis ball bombs with strike anywhere matchsticks, and so on.
By high school his pyromania had started to smother a bit. What before was an exponentially hotter relationship fizzled lukewarm as curves of a different sort began to take shape in the blueprint of his entrepreneurial mind. One curve, in particular, became an obsession. And it belonged to a woman by the name of Carmen San Diego.
His hours were no longer spent burning miscellaneous household items, but rather on his dated Macintosh playing this computer game. Just where in the world was Ms. Carmen San Diego? He had to find out, but why? Where did this obsession come from and what did it mean about his old flame, Flame?
It came from an article he stumbled upon at the library while he was doing research for an English assignment pertaining to Joseph Heller’s wartime novel Catch-22. He was asked to write an essay examining the way in which history influenced the book and vice-a-versa. It seemed rather obvious how history had played into the development of the book. What wasn’t so obvious was how the book had influenced or shaped history. He decided to focus on the way in which the novel’s title had widely worked its way into today’s lexicon.
He searched the catalog for uses of this term in the mainstream media. While filtering through several pages of search results his eyes were drawn to an article entitled, “Carmen San Diego and The Catch-22 of Technological Advance.” The author’s thesis was that as technology continues to progress at increasingly exponential rates, there will be a point in time in which it will be mathematically implausible for technologies to be truly improved upon. That is to say, like all substances have their own specific melting points, so to do all technologies have their own function limits. When the majority of these limits are exceeded, the author argues, humanity will have reached its ultimate Catch-22. “Like trying to catch up with Carmen San Diego, you’ll continually be one step behind. And by the time you do catch her, it’s already too late. Some lonely computer programmer is already at work developing a newer, ‘smarter’ version of her. At what point does Carmen San Diego lose her appeal and efficacy? Technology speeds us up as it slows us down. The more information we are inundated with in inherently shorter and shorter time spans, the less time there’s available for our minds to spend grappling with the complexities, implications, and applications of that information.”
These were big ideas. He felt their importance as one feels the importance of hunger. He wanted to better understand the author’s analogy with Carmen San Diego so he borrowed the game from this kid Brad who lived a few houses down the street. It was no secret that Brad only befriended him because of his potato gun. That didn’t bother him.
He became instantly hooked with the game. Through tracking Carmen across the globe he was able to learn much more about world geography than he ever had in school. She became a symbol for the immense possibilities of the world as fire had once been. Yet the more geographically savvy he became through chasing Carmen, the more geographically isolated he actually was, cooped up in his room like the child he still seemed to be.
And then one day his house burnt to the ground. Carmen set the fire. It was the eve of the release of the new Carmen San Diego game. She wanted to go out with a bang before Carmen 2.0 could bury her to antiquity in years of accumulating dust. While he lost all his things, they were just things. No one besides Carmen had been harmed. And standing there behind the yellow caution tape, watching the few remaining embers smolder among a crowd of empathetic spectators, he finally understood why fire mattered.
Fire is among the most ancient technologies of man. It has survived the testament of time because it has no real function limit. While modern man has adopted fire into its arsenal of sophisticated instruments and weaponry, fire’s apparent evil intentions are matched with its less apparent better intentions. It is a natural spectacle and has had a place in our ecosystems before we humans altogether redrew the boundaries of those ecosystems. Fire doesn’t demand our improvement, but it does demand our respect. Fire has a unique way of bringing people together. Think the fusion of our Sun. Think about every camping trip you’ve ever been on or bonfire you’ve ever been to. Fire encourages us to share ourselves in a different kind of light.
And while the previous firestorms started not from the hands of Mother Nature but rather from hands of our own, there is still something to be said about how we chose to respond. Some of us fought fire with hoses and flame-retardants and some of us fought fire through hugs and tears. Looking back, that shared sense of loss felt like a gain.