73. Roger Smith

Roger has five fingers on each hand, and two eyes. He has skin. He wears clothes that cover his skin. His fingernails grow at the usual rate. He has the same number of feet as he has legs, which is two. His heart beats often, causing his blood to circulate. Yes, Roger is in every way an ordinary human person.

Roger is not from this city. He was born in a different city, where his family and anyone else who might have known him for more than two years must surely live. Now he lives in an apartment, alone. The apartment has a kitchen and a bathroom, as well as a bedroom. He uses all of these, for their intended purposes.

Roger works in a glue factory. He does not take unseemly pleasure in the deaths of horses. His job is to scalp the horses that are dead. It is an unremarkable, even tedious job. Roger often talks on the phone. In these conversations he is mostly silent. Occasionally he says the names of colors, such as “black,” or “red” or “dark red.” They are ordinary colors, as might be found in a box of crayons.

Roger is not a spy. He is not from another planet. He is not a creature wearing a human skin, or else we are all creatures wearing a human skin. He is not planning anything. He is not informing anyone. He is not going anywhere. He is nothing. He is not important. Don’t worry about it.

70. Ilona Power

Ilona Power used to design bank software. Now she designs laser light shows. She is, in fact, the only designer of laser light shows whose name draws a bigger crowd than the band she works with. This is because she takes liberties. Where a lesser designer would simply code a visualization of the music being played, Ilona composes a whole complimentary score, and then converts that score into a visualization. The result is a kind of two-part harmony the audience don’t even know they’re experiencing. They’re not used to thinking of colors as sounds. Ilona is, though, because she’s been blind since birth.

Her partner Koda had to make some adjustments to Ilona’s original code, to iron out a few discordant results Ilona couldn’t have noticed. Koda didn’t have to change much, though. It is beyond anyone’s power to improve upon the strange designs Ilona’s machines concoct from music. You see, Ilona is the living embodiment of the old grade-school mind-blower: what if the green you see isn’t the green I see? Ilona has never seen green. Her only green is the green she hears, assigned sight-unseen to an r-g-b code whose given name seems right to her. It is not what a seeing person would have chosen. It is far beyond mere synesthesia.

Koda is a DJ too, in his own right. Ilona does the visuals for all his shows, at the rate they established years before she got famous. She never misses a performance. She stands in the press of the crowd, far from the front, and feels the colored patterns trace their way across her face. The bass booms, the crowd roars, and she sees nothing but music.

65: Jonaya Gould

An object in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Basic physics though it is, it was a comfort to Jonaya in her youth. It seemed to imply immortality, if she could only keep moving and avoid outside forces. These days, immortality no longer seems so appealing, and the simple little maxim is comforting to her for another reason: she is curious about the outside force.

It is not that she is eager to die. Jonaya Gould loves her life. And why shouldn’t she love it? Few are paid the kind of money she’s paid, to do the kind of wold-changing physics she does. The Department of Defense has been kind to her. And she is not bothered very much by the lives her weapons take. For the most part her missiles stay in their silos, a direct consequence of the beauty of the trajectories she has calculated for them, of the horrifying elegance of her target selection.

War, because of people like her, is leaving the realm of the physical. It is fewer and fewer people fighting over larger and larger areas. It is peace by dilution. Jonaya’s goal is to write equations so exquisitely deadly that they must stay equations, and so write peace. Anyway, that was her goal when she began. Now she’s restless. A plan in motion tends to remain in motion until acted on by an external force, and Jonaya can already plot a dishearteningly predictable geometric progression for this plan, an arms race running for another thousand years. It is Xeno’s paradox: the missile can never quite be launched. Peace will never quite be declared. There is always half the distance left to travel.

Jo no longer asks herself how many hundreds, or tens, or fractions of a person will die in coming years. She asks where they will go when they do. What will happen to those people’s minds? And why do we all seem so anxious to avoid it? In her fine suburban home, Jonaya is building a machine of wood and glass and marbles, a complex contraption that fills the whole house. It feels good to work with her hands, after all these years. When her heart stops beating, the machine will begin to work. A marble will roll down a slope, dominoes will fall, a mousetrap will snap shut, a bucket will tip out its gasoline, a match will strike itself. With beautiful complexity, her house will burn, and the fire will consume all her papers – all her careful notes on the peace to come and the equations to ensure that peace. And the fire will spread, to wherever the wind will take it.

After these long years of being the object in motion, it will feel good to be the outside force for a change.

[Face by Bobby Reichle]