Jim blinks a big wash of Sandy’s latest out of his eye, watches patterns pulse. All at once, in a satori illumination, he can see the pattern all the other patterns make: the layers of OC’s lighting, decade on decade, generation on generation. In fact certain grids are lifting off and pivoting ninety degrees, to match the metapattern of the perceived whole. “I’d call this one Pattern Perception.”
“Okay,” Sandy says. “I can see that.”
“You could take aspirin and see that from up here,” Abe objects.
“That’s true. I can see that too.”
“Ought to call it Agreeability,” says Tashi.
“That’s true. I can see that.”
“We’re at the center of the world,” Jim announces. Abe and Tashi start looking around like they missed the marker—should be a plaque or something, right? “Orange County is the end of history, its purest product. Civilization kept moving west for thousands of years, in a sunset tropism, until they came to the edge here on the Pacific and they couldn’t go any farther. And so they stopped here and did it. And by that time they were in the great late surge of corporate capitalism, so that everything here is purely organized, to buy and sell, buy and sell, every little piece of us.”
“Fucking Marxist Commie.”
“They must have liked lights.”
Jim shakes them off, waxes nostalgic. Mentioning history reminds him of the night’s mission. “It didn’t used to be this way!”
“You’re kidding,” says Tashi. He and Abe share grins: Jim can be funnier than the video.
“No, I’m not kidding. This whole basin was covered with orange groves, over two hundred square miles of them. There were more oranges then than there are lights now.”
“Hard To Believe,” his friends chorus together.
“But true! OC was one big orchard.” Jim sighs.
Abe and Tash and Sandy eye each other. “That’s a lot of trees,” Abe says solemnly, and Tash stifles a laugh. Sandy doesn’t bother; he goes into the famous Chapman laughing fit: “Ah, hahahahahaha—Ah, hahahahahaha.”
“Say, don’t you want to get off here?” Tash asks.
“Oh yeah!” Jim cries.
Abe ticks over the lane-change switch and they swerve into the right lane, then spiral down the offramp two levels to Chapman Avenue, eastbound. Sandy’s street. Only two levels here, and eastbound is the upper. In El Modena even that ends and they’re back on ground level, in two-way traffic. “What now, Professor?”
“Park in the mall,” Jim says.
Abe parks them. Jim consults his map for the last time. He is tense with excitement; this is a new idea, this mission, a sort of personal archaeology. Years of reading his local history books have given him an uncontrollable urge to recover something—to see, to touch, to fondle some relic of the past. And tonight’s the night.
They are parked in front of the El Torito restaurant at the end of the Hewes Mall. “This El Terriblo incorporates the oldest building in the area,” Jim explains. “It was a Quaker church, built in 1887. They put a big bell in the tower, but it was too heavy and during the next Santa Ana wind the whole building fell over. So they built it again. Anyway, you can’t tell now, the restaurant is built over it and they use the old room as a casino. But it gives me a coordinate point, see, on the old maps. And exactly a hundred and forty yards west of here, on the other side of the street, is the site of El Modena Elementary School, built in 1905.”
“I missed that,” says Tash.
“It’s gone now. Razed in the 1960s. But my mom’s great-uncle went there as a child, and he told me about it. And I looked it all up. There were two wooden buildings with a dirt yard in between. When they demolished the buildings they filled the cellars below with the debris, then covered it all in concrete. I’ve got the location of those buildings pegged exactly, and the west one is directly under the Fluffy Donuts Video Palace and its parking lot.”
“You mean,” says Abe, “we can just bust through the parking lot surface there—”
“Yeah, that’s why I wanted you to bring some of your tools—”
“Bust through the concrete surface there, and dig through three or four feet of fill, and get down to the—get down to the debris of El Modena Elementary School, 1905 to 1960 A. D.?”
“Well, shoot,” Abe says. “What’re we waiting for?”
Out of the car, grab up packs of equipment, walk down Chapman. Faces stare from passing cars at the sight of people walking. Jim is getting excited. “There was a foundation stone, too, with the date carved on it. If we could find that…”•
Used with permission from Tor Books, an imprint of Tor Publishing Group, a trade division of Pan Macmillan. Copyright © 2022 Kim Stanley Robinson.