Home' Technology Review : November December 2007 Contents 72 FICTION
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The Segway smoothly bobbed into place, and his
wife s nar row face was the picture of woe. "Oh, honey,
it s just the worst."
"Somebody s died?"
"No, no," Car men wailed. "My dad got a big new
The people who were nearest to François Roebel
were a frantically unhappy lot. For Roebel was a
grand master of computer-aided architecture.
Roebel was a major world architect who had forced
digital design to speak its own aesthetic language---
comprehensive, authentic, symphonic. His signature
buildings were like nothing previously seen on planet
Earth. They made the work of Gehry and Calatrava
look like dress rehearsals.
Roebel himself was a squinty, boozy, bewhiskered
little geek. He had an ego the size of the rock of
Gibraltar and was given to splashy overspending, fran-
tic womanizing, major ts of temper, and impromptu
trips to Indonesia.
Certain people imagined that he, Yuri Lozano, had
married Gretchen Roebel in order to get closer to her
famous architect father. The truth was entirely the
opposite: he d married Gretchen in order to take her
far away from Roebel. Snatching Gretchen from her
dysfunctional family was like hauling a young woman
from a burning car.
Yuri had no regrets about his bold inter vention.
Gretchen loved him, and besides, the scary example
of Carmen had fully validated his choice. Carmen had
never escaped from the black-hole orbit of Roebel,
who d always been the center of his own private uni-
verse. So poor Carmen had ended up exactly like her
late mom: a doomy, subser vient, hand- apping mys-
tic with a brain like scattered granola.
For François Roebel, architectural design space
was a dark and terrible domain. It was a harsh arena
of combative nightmare, a realm of endlessly ramify-
ing pull-ins, pop-outs, twists, deformations, mirrored
ramps, and cryptic passages. Ever the hero within his
own mind, Roebel relentlessly pushed design soft-
ware past all sane limits, feverishly conjuring str uc-
tures, then bullying them into raw physical existence
in a welter of lawsuits and scandals.
Roebel had lived for decades on the virtual-actual
edge, where the unprecedented phantoms roiling
in his screen became awesome urban showcases t
to stun and amaze passers-by. Given their wild-eyed
engineering, they might also spindle and mutilate their
inhabitants, but the risks of his art to others never con-
cerned the great man.
For Roebel, anyone willing to settle for less than the
insanely great was a traitor to be pitilessly scourged. Roe-
bel made enemies the way lesser men made popcorn.
Yuri took a train to San Francisco to pay court to
the grand master. It took him two days to arrive on
Roebel s doorstep.
Roebel, as was his habit, was all ticked o about
"Where the hell is Carmen?" Roebel screeched. "I
haven t had a decent meal in ve days! Carmen s try-
ing to star ve me!"
The ancient visionary, always scrawny, looked
downright spidery by now---he d lost so much esh
that he d been reduced to vector graphics.
"Oh, the nephews always love a visit from their
favorite aunt," Yuri lied gallantly.
"I am the very last global starchitect! I am the last
instantiation of a dying breed!" rasped Roebel. "And
you couldn t y over here?"
"I needed some time on the train to clear my con-
str uction agenda," Yuri soothed. Yuri always agreed to
"help" Roebel with his projects. There was very little
risk in this. Sooner or later, Roebel s clients always
realized that Roebel had become impossible.
The genius could be humored, but only when his
burning obsessions were channeled into some nar-
row, immediate path.
So Yuri loudly dragged a clanging metal chair over
the naked cement of Roebel s dusty garage studio. He
set himself before the architect s legendary personal
workstation, jacked up a knee, and bridged his ngers
over it. "So, François, here I am at last. Just show me
what you ve got. Let s see all the concept sketches!"
Roebel tottered over, rolled up his blue linen
sleeves over his stick-thin, liver-spotted forearms, and
reached reluctantly through a clutter of empty sport-
drink cans. He shed out a cheap toy peripheral. It
was a skull-wrapping plastic headset, badly faded
with age. "I m sure you ve never seen one of these."
"Tell me all about that."
Roebel drew himself up regally. "I m sketching in
ClearWorks with this cortico-cognitive headset!"
Yuri cleared his throat. "You re designing in Clear-
Works? With some kind of brain-reader gizmo?"
"ClearWorks is the nest design program ever
"François, ClearWorks is 30 years old." Roebel
would be better o with pencils and a set of chil-
dren s blocks.
"Well, what the hell are you here for?" Roebel
barked. "I need you to make ClearWorks interoper-
ate with that foul malarkey that your nest of thieves
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