STRANGE TALES BY FRATER X
BY FRATER X
He stared out upon the wide open expanse of empty sand. Windswept dunes rolled out in every direction before him.
It seemed endless.
Nothing was familiar to him. The worst possible thing had befallen him. He was lost.
A rogue storm blew over his squad. They were the rearguard protecting various units breaking camp with each move of their battalion. He lost his comrades in the confusion caused by the storm. There was zero visibility just howling wind and sand.
“Yah need to watch out fer those storm surges cause they move in fast, and strong!” the driver bellowed his briefing over the engine roaring, gear-grinding troop transport carrying him from Afghanistan to Iraq. Out of the land of the Poppy into Oil country. He listened with feigned interest to the driver. He was already properly deadened inside from Kabul. Checking his pack he doubled up on essentials…
The wind carried sand devils along the tops of dune peaks as he sat contemplating his fate.
He had failed. Some soldier.
The storm overwhelmed them. So strong so fast.
He retraced the steps of his life leading to the present seeking to understand this path to the wasteland before him…
He was the brightest new ministry hopeful coming out of Temple University. Growing up in Red Bank, Tennessee, Peter Gowen spent his childhood ensconced in church functions. Even though his own parent’s attitudes simmered to an effectual cynicism-aged and mellowed, when it came to ‘matters of the spirit’- they still believed a boy ought to be ‘properly raised’ and that meant church-going.
Much to everyone else’s surprise, and delight, he displayed a natural affinity for scripture, and piety. Other children took to calling him ‘Deacon’. It was due to his inevitable admonitions complete with Old Testament-fueled hell-fire and brimstone, not to mention self-righteous indignation.
Anyone concerned with the boy’s welfare was quickly convinced upon close inspection he would make them all proud, and become a good pastor one day, and he almost did.
All went well for Peter Gowen the first twenty years of his life. His course was set. His fate was sealed until his senior year at Temple.
In his senior year with his destiny almost realized, with the completion of years of effort, and with the reality of his future vocation approaching, he grew uneasy.
He noticed a subtle change in his feelings, in his convictions. At first he assumed it was just a little doubt. Was this really his path? Was he truly ‘called’-chosen by God? It seemed a natural doubt common for any last year ministry student, just a typical crisis of confidence.
And he might have faired differently had he not taken that final philosophy course to satisfy his remaining Humanities requirement.
Philosophy of Religion 301 was a favorite among the intelligencia at Temple. These ad hoc ’brain-waves’ represented the only resistance to the Bible-thumpin’ status quo on Temple‘s campus. However small the enclave of freethinkers, they made their collective ideological stand among the hordes of orthodox fundamentalist views common throughout the greater metropolitan area of Chattanooga, Tennessee home to Temple and a city known for its scores of Baptist among other churches. Every street corner announced on every variety of billboard and sign the ‘Good News!’
He was uncertain of what drew him to this class.
The course was presented by a somewhat controversial figure, a renegade religious scholar famed in the scholarly world for several radical dissertations on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Coptic library, and ’embryotic Christianity’ in general. Professor Julio Telestes came to America from Nicosia, Cyprus. He hailed from a long-line of ’stewards of ancient religion.’ The Telestes traced back to the chivalric orders left over from the Crusades. His people were the descendants of the surviving knights and priests of the Order that fell back to Cyprus after the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. Much of his background was veiled in what seemed deliberate obscurity.
But, anything before his stellar career first at Northeastern University, then Harvard, and finally Temple, was immaterial.
His field of research was apocrypha, and arcane pseudo-epigrapha. He shook the pillars of religious academia with his doctorate thesis outlining the theories centered on what he coined- “quasi-Nazarene embryotic Christianity”. The rest was the stuff of campus legend. How he ended up at Temple U. was a mystery to most.
That course and the students attending it (especially one particular dark-haired coed) opened up a gulf in Deacon’s thought process and lay siege to the only faith he had ever known.
The dark haired girl was an outspoken adherent to the enlightened ways of the Intelligencia at Temple, probably the brightest in Telestes’ class. She watered the seeds of doubt in his fertile psyche with regular comments in class.
That gulf in Deacon’s mind gradually expanded and overtook his heart as well and a true moral dilemma was born in the wake.
He watched an idea grow in his imagination; it was a wild theory if entertained, suggesting the distinct possibility that Christianity as he knew it, the faith of his fathers, was fraudulent in some way. That it was a fabricated myth which on many levels was intended to mislead, maybe even enslave the masses down through the ages. Humans by nature seem to need, require, even yearn for ritual and ceremony, and they will enact such behaviors throughout the context of their daily lives to meet those needs, even if unconscious of those very acts and motives.
He searched through volumes and texts of ancient and forbidden knowledge, through crumbly tomes filled with apocrypha stretching all the way back to the early days of Christianity when it was simply known as The Way.
His search uncovered various accounts describing very different scenes in the 1st century Palestine region. These accounts of the surrounding area presented a divergent view of the land differing drastically from the more common Biblical accounts. There were quite numerous conflicts of interest and perspective in fact.
The lands of the ancient Middle East were just as full as in contemporary times with corruption and intrigue as well. The foreign factions colluding with the Herodian/Hasmonean hierarchy, and Roman imperial interests, enacted a plan to squeeze the people of the sands for all their worth.
The power structure of that time could not afford the luxury of tolerating various brands of dissent generated by sectarian adherents to The Way. Once the leadership of these rogue movements were effectively deactivated and the corpus of the Ebionim movement driven into early graves or lost in the oblivion of the sands, the campaign commenced to rewrite the history of what transpired. And it worked.
Before the architects were finished the whole world knew the official version of events, and was following a new brand of religion as foreign to the former Judaic sectarians, as it was in some cases to its latest gentile converts.
So the true followers of The Way faded from the scene and a new church now of Rome fed the world its gospel.
With each passing century, the true story of the events surrounding the fall of the Temple was wiped from the surface of historical accounts. The official story would be told by the handful of groups still standing in the social, political power arena when the smoke of destruction cleared.
He hated ideas like these because they challenged a faith planted in his heart and mind long before the flower of reason took root and every time he went back to it, he kept going back to what he knew about the Gospels, the rare occasion described in scripture when the Master used force: He turned over the money-changers tables within the Temple.
The status quo saw fit to leave the Righteous Teacher of The Way alone for three years by scriptural account to preach and convert throughout the Holy Land, but, as soon as he threatened the moneyed interests, the bankers and their cohorts, the immediate plans for his removal began to form.
Deacon saw that the thieves of the Temple of old remained in power today in their towers of commerce looming above every human populace worldwide. Banking by its very nature absorbed the wealth of people. If allowed to thrive unchecked for any significant amount of time, banking eventually 'relocates' the wealth and finances of all but the smallest fraction of its patrons and fellows into its own coffers. True Democracy, as he knew it, stood contrary to the absolute goal of banking.
Thirty years after the death of the Righteous One, in the wake of the murder of James the Just, brother of Jesus, the Ebionim, the brotherhood of poor believers, fueled by violent, zealous rage, rushed into the Temple and destroyed all accounts of debt held by the priesthood and usury interests. Freed from their debt, the frenzied mob went on to destroy the palaces and homes of the wealthy and corrupt. All these accounts were hard to ignore. The presence of selfish greed was apparent in any modern congregations.
With the fall of Jerusalem, the Temple with vast treasures, an incalculable fortune made greater with daily tithe offerings to the One God’s earthly abode, vanished from history forever. All the gold and silver, precious gems, gathered in heaps and carted behind its ornate walls was lost beneath the crushing boots of Titus’ storm-troopers.
This was the real topic of discussion in Prof. Telestes Philosophy of Religion class. It was not on the official course syllabus, but it was the topic most discussed nonetheless.
Deacon learned of the little known works of Dr. Hugh Schonfield who discovered a system of cryptography he named-“atbash” It was a cipher used to conceal certain names in ancient textual references. There was some speculation of a Templar connection with the atbash deciphering the term- “baphomet” an object of supposed Templar iconography. Translated using the atbash cipher it becomes “Sophia” or ‘wisdom’ a Greek term commonly associated with Gnostic tradition. The Gnostic traditions coincided with the Mystery Schools thought to have origins before the flood. The scroll fragments found 1947 outside Nag Hammadi in Egypt, were from a Mystery School according to another obscure scholar of Gnostic tradition, John Lamb Lash. It would have been a natural thing for the mostly autonomous Knights Templar Priestly Order to adopt Gnostic principles and outlooks in their theology.The geographic influence of the Holy Land would have aided the development of such prinicples. Deacon traced many parallels between ancient Celtic and Coptic Christianity. Considerations of the earliest possible contact between the two cultures was another oft discussed subject in Telestes class.
But the final crucible for him was the divergent message he himself read in the scriptures. The New Testament always stood as a ‘paradox’ to him, when he read scripture he found two distinct teachings put forth: one commonly drawn and expounded upon from the Sermon on the Mount and well-known parables. The main thrust of this teaching was the Universal Laws of Righteousness: Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, two simple rules which every person was initially qualified to perform and be rewarded for.
The other teaching, or anointing, was that drawn from the epistles and expositions credited to Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. Often referred to in contemporary, as well as, antiquated Christian Apologetics as the Salvationist doctrine. It centered on dogmatic adherence to qualities of straight or “orthodox” thinking, that offered a long litany of disqualifiers from salvation, mostly through accused heresy and idolatry. Heresy being most interesting due to the root in Greek of Hairesis-literally ‘to choose’ as in choose another cosmic view, not the Orthodox view. This teaching seemed a kind of spiritually-centered, negative reinforcement, behavior modification program with the threat of excommunication and eventual damnation as the prime mover.
Deacon could hardly ignore the disparity he intuited to exist between these two messages. The inner friction caused as he attempted to grasp and calibrate the implications with his personal experiences, led to his final withdrawal from Temple University. He left the world of academia forever.
On a whim he joined the army paratroopers corps. Deacon became “D-CON”: kills rag-heads dead. First a tour in Afghanistan, then Iraq and the sands before him…
The sand…it went on forever. He stared, and stared.
Sit still now. Wait for the recon fly-by. How many hours have passed? Were there others lost out there, like me? His remaining dignity, however small after getting lost to begin with, allowed him that possibility.
But,the sand went on forever. There were a few barren cliffs looming in the distance always there from any angle, no matter which direction he walked, then turned and walked some more. The cliffs always sat in the distance, just out of reach. Mocking him. How do you get to those stupid friggin’ cliffs?
He tried to get a hold of himself. He was starting to lose it. He had to find his way back. The camp couldn’t be that far. He wondered how far he could have wandered before he decided to stop and move only at night and only in one giant circle sweep.
It can’t be far.
His pack was fully stocked, luckily. The sun rose hours earlier and the dome tent offered the only protection from its deadly rays. Night travel was the only option. Water was low.
He learned in class that after the crucifixion, James the brother of the Messiah became the head of the ecclesia; the first Church in Jerusalem.
And all the while Saul, the man from Tarsus, operated in the back and often foreground. By his own admission, he brought believers to their deaths. He was at the very least present when St. Stephen was stoned to death. And was probably responsible, if not culpable in the illegal execution of James(also known as a Righteous One), and maybe even the crucifixion itself.
Saul(later Paul) and James seem to have been at odds from the beginning, not simply due to a divergence of thought in their respective doctrinal interpretations.
While James espoused the closely held traditional teaching of Universal Righteousness transmitted through The Way to the ‘ekklesia’. Paul(self-proclaimed) pupil of Gamliel, who was a Doctor of the Law of the Temple, and also self-proclaimed “Pharisee of Pharisees” was an avid prosecutor and persecutor of the Ebionim-the poor. After being saved on the road to Damascus, he claimed that he and God were ’respecters of no man,’ that he did not have to listen to the ’so-called Pillars in Jerusalem…” He brought a gospel for the gentiles explicitly. Many were outraged by Paul’s claims.
Even after James gave his tentative blessing to Paul singularly contingent upon Paul accompanying three other men to the Temple for ritual purification(they would shave their heads in ancient nazarite fashion-in accordance with scripture ) even then the people at the Temple barred the door to Paul-declaring fervently that he was unclean. They shoved him into the street and prepared to spill his tainted blood in the sand thus fulfilling their own blood oaths.
At the last moment he was saved from the business end of a ’sicari’ blade by a detachment of centurions.
The zealotoi had taken their oaths. There was no turning back for them, Paul’s blood would flow into the sands. But, it was not to be. Instead, Paul was taken into custody for what would seem to be, by scriptural account, the rest of his life. He was sent to Rome. Claiming Roman citizenship, he was awarded a hearing from Caesar. There was talk of a trip to Spain, but no one knows if he went.
It was known that the life blood of the first Church of The Way did seem to flow into the sands. The church was erased. Jesus had brothers and sisters, every Gospel in the Bible said so. He had a family, and that family remained tied to the most probable center of the revolutionary messianic movement against all enemies of the Jews. At least until the end of the 1st century when they were further wiped-out by a final fierce wave of Roman oppression through Domitian, the final ruler of the Flavians.
The last practitioners of the True Way had among their numbers distant and close relatives of Jesus’ own family. They were even more dangerous to an emergent status quo establishing their own recollections of Jesus as the official Redeemer of the Empire.
His tailor-made divine status could not suffer the frail human indignity of known mortal relatives, as well as competing doctrines. So, the true believers and relatives of the Messianic bloodline went underground. They vanished from history, fading into the sands with time. They were forgotten by most, but not the Telestes.
Citing the combined works of Eisenmann(another Dead Sea Scroll Scholar), Dr. Hugh Schonfield, along with numerous others, Prof. Telestes unfolded another side of Church History unfamiliar to most.
Deacon was exposed to the works of Epiphanius, the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, and the Complete Works of Josephus. These were the ancient works that had always been around, but, few believers in the Bible gave any of these accounts a closer look or second thought.
More modern scholars read between the lines, and connected the dots between newly discovered works and these extant ones. The picture painted was a world of dangerous extremist groups vying for political, and clerical leadership of the masses Groups who were also vying for ultimate control of the closely guarded mystical traditions surviving the ages.
This was the position offered to Peter Gowen a.k.a. Deacon in Telestes Philosophy of Religion class.
This position and his own realizations led to the crisis of confidence which eventually brought him to the sand. The sand. He dreamt of the sand long before Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter. In the dream he always sat on top of a dune staring out upon the wide darkened expanse.
He awoke suddenly. Sweat dripped from his face. It was still mid-day and the white hot heat of the sun bore down relentlessly on his standard issue shelter and the sand surrounding it. The trick to staying cool under such conditions was to align the tent with both flaps opened into the wind(if there was any wind) and let the breeze cool as it may on the long wait till nightfall.
He had been dreaming of a childhood experience with his uncle William. Not much older, William was more like a brother than an uncle. The dream recalled one day in the woods near his home. They stumbled across a turtle on its back near the mud hole. William found a rock and began tapping the shell of the creature obviously testing the surface before a real strike.
Young Peter was both horrified and enthralled by the careless exhibition of violence by his elder. Though he knew it was terribly wrong to hurt the animal, he was intrigued, even fascinated by the act. In the dream William struck the shell over and over again with increasing intensity, all the while grinning a familiar deranged grin.
A feeling of shame and unease grew within him as William brought the rock down again and again.
William finally turned to him and held out the rock,
“go on Petey you give it a try…”
In a flash the scene melted into a barren hillside of rock and sand where three wooden crosses loomed overhead, and William was no longer a boy from Red Bank, Tennessee, now he was dressed as a centurion, a Roman centurion. And the rock was now a spear dripping with fresh spilt blood, blood from a man hanging on one of the crosses.
“go on give it a try,” and he thrust the spear into Peter’s trembling hands. And when he looked up into the face of the man bleeding on the cross-the condemned man gazed down at him as the last fluids of life drained from the fresh hole in his side, and mouthed the whispered words,
And then he awoke. The emptiness of the sands surrounding him, comforted him as only it could.
For the rest of the day he wondered what the dream could mean.
On the third night of travel he came upon the settlement tucked in between two low-lying dunes. He almost missed the encampment-it was cloaked in the sandy color of canvas tents. Their construction held a strikingly ageless quality. They were fashioned like no other Bedouin tent to his knowledge, though he was by no means an expert.
He sat for a long time on an adjacent dune a little higher up. He knew he had ventured this direction the night before on his normal sweeping arc. He even recognized the two low-lying dunes. But, the settlement was not there before. It must have been erected during the day while he waited out the sun in fitful rest.
Looking down on the little camp now it seemed to have always been there. From the well worn trails to and from a center clearing, and each tent pitched in a wide circle around an ornately carved wooden pole sunk deep into the sand in the center to the trail recognizably leading away from the main camp area to a latrine trench, and a compost heap, all seemed well used, frequently tread upon.
He wondered if he was beginning to lose touch with reality. He wondered if it really was a large cork-screwed ram’s horn he saw hanging from a leather thong hooked to a knot on the center pole.
Strange how quickly the senses betray, when needed most. He was still shook up from the dream as well.
He felt something crumbling and breaking within. He pressed his fingers in the sand and clenched in agony.
Suddenly a cloaked figure stepped out from a tent close to his dune, and gestured towards him. Moving with obvious grace the cloaked figure approached. The edges of his cloak flapped, and rippled in the slight evening breeze upon the desert.
As he watched the figure approach, D-con felt a familiar twinge in his gut indicating yet another penultimate moment in his complex life. Peter Deacon D-con Gowen realized he was watching destiny’s steady approach on the dune side. He had absolutely no fear of the figure, so he let his weapon remain concealed.
There was something strikingly familiar about his face. He was smiling. There was a genuine sense of goodwill emanating from his every gesture and movement. He wore a white robe and sandals. He had a beard and his hair was long uncut and bound back.
The man extended his hand in greeting, and smiled,
“Welcome home Cephas.”
She struck his fancy from the moment he laid eyes on her, though he would never admit it. He thought he found her annoying, pretentious, and worst of all blasphemous. She sat in the front of Telestes class fielding everything thrown her way. She was president of the Philosophy Club for two years prior, but now she was senior, with far too many offers from various agencies vying for her unique brand of acumen, to waste time on extracurricular activities. But, she never missed one of Telestes’ classes. It was her simple pleasure as much as a final course requirement. She would fulfill her degree requirements. She made it. Now she would be off to NASA, or some other corporate think-tank, developing artificial life, or authoring some cutting-edge morally-ambiguous government funded social-engineering manifesto.
She still found time for delusion smashing in Prof. Telestes circus of heresies.
Deacon cut his intellectual teeth in that very class and she was as much to credit as the Professor.
Many times she would turn to him and fire a carefully pointed remark sure to expose his- “backwoods brand hokey ole time religion…” gaze around the room and smirk jeering audibly under her breath, “does preacher boy here actually buy this quasi-revivalist tripe?” Or some other such remark.
She had bested him. Bested his faith. She asked questions out loud he never even allowed himself to think. He could not let himself even consider. She uttered unmentionable blasphemies with impunity.
And she was completely confident, defiant in her stance.
He could easily recall her rant in defense of the Nag Hamadi Codices and the knowledge therein still sequestered from mainstream thought, barred by barbaric ignorance:
“…most of the writings were lost in the great book-burning bashes of Alexandria, and Carthage-good clean Egyptian/Roman Christian fun! Go ahead Professor, tell them about the Murder of Hypatia, and the Pistis Sophia, and especially Yaldaboath the Arch Archon…go ahead tell em…”
“Next Semester…” was all he would say with a knowing grin. His grin holding so much wonder.
And Peter Gowen absorbed every utterance, every supposition. Knowledge was indeed the enemy of faith.His faith.
He began following her to the coffee shop frequented by the ‘philo’-set. He would sit with his back to the group wherever they sat and just listen. He listened for any references to religion. He listened especially for any comments made by her. He wondered constantly what she truly believed. How she could possibly sleep through the night and greet a new day without dread, and despair without shame, anguish, and fear. How did her nihilistic views carry her through life? How was she sustained against the hellhounds of woe always nipping at the heels?
He wondered with no real answers.
And finally one day, he realized there were no real answers. That the faith in the Absolute he was preparing to lead and minister others to, was for him, in terrible peril of doubt.
So, he dropped out of Temple, left the congregation, and everything he had ever known, ever believed in behind.
He walked right into a recruiting office, and never looked back. Until now.
He was thrown off by the name used by the desert man. He knew it to be the ancient rendition of his own name. It meant ‘rock’, Christ’s own nickname for his Galilean fishing buddy.
But, how did this man know his name? There was a remarkable quality to the man in robes standing before him.
At that very moment he felt certain he knew who the stranger from the sands was, just as the stranger said,
“I am Elijah.”
And he knew with greater conviction than his childhood faith the man was truly Elijah, The Elijah. The one spoken of, sought by many who looked to the Kingdom, and its coming, a most upright and righteous one.
“Where am I?” Peter asked determined to be lost no more.
“No where and everywhere at once.”
“Seriously. You stand on the threshold of hollowed ground,” a sweeping gesture toward the tent encampment, behold the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Peter sniffed, let his gaze drift across the brown tents once more, a simple Bedouin variety mobile tent village. They were common throughout this region.
He was not impressed, even though this one did possess an usual quality in some way. Curiosity gave way to impatience and irritation.
“Please listen carefully, I am lost. I’ve been separated from my squad. I need to reach central command ASAP. Do you have a 2-way radio here?” He stood shakily shifting on the dune top gazing over Elijah’s shoulder at the still dark desert sky.
“Those lost, will be found. Those who thirst, quenched.” Elijah said.
“I really need to contact my command,” Peter pleaded ignoring the cryptic remark, “I haven’t reported in for several days now. I don’t even know how long I have been out here. They will be looking for me.”
“Cephas, your contest is not against flesh and blood, but rather the Authorities of the Universe, and the Spirits of Wickedness.”
“I don’t really think I can handle this right now. My main objective is to make contact with outside world-”
“Chief among the wicked spirits is Samael, the god of the blind. He and his spirit minions threw mankind into great distraction, and into a life of toil long ago, so man might always be occupied by worldly affairs and might not have the opportunity for devotion to the Holy Spirit.”
The sand moved in a rhythmic manner. The slight breeze picking up loose sand and dropping it across his desert boots. He sighed long and slow. There was no hope of achieving his objective unless he played ball with the obvious lunatic standing before him. He fingered the pocket containing his weapon for a dose of security.
Elijah proceeded, “no matter what mundane powers the Authorities wield, none of these evil spirits can prevail against the root of Truth. Truth restrains the Authorities of the Universe.”
Elijah turned slowly, and beckoned him to follow,
“Come Cephas, enter the circle drawn in the sand. Know the kingdom you seek.”
They moved down through the soft sand dune side onto firmer flat sand around the camp. Peter noticed up close the circle had lines etched in the sand, traveling out to different lanes through the camp. The circle in fact was three circles intertwined forming a larger whole. There were also archaic, characters inscribed in the sand.
Elijah unhooked the shofar hanging on the knot on the pole in the center of the circle. Holding the corkscrew-shaped ram’s horn for a moment in awe, he pressed it to his lips. A long, low tone issued out into the air with in the circle.
Elijah’s eyes began to shine, the edge of his face lighting up with a growing intensity. The hum of the tone coming from the horn grew as it resonated within the circle.
The edge of the circle glowed like Elijah’s face as he spoke once more, “You already know the truth. You are from the Primeval Source, from the Imperishable Light. The Pre-Existent One’s spirit of Truth dwells within you-”
With the last word a flash went off in the night sky.
Peter heard a loud boom of thunder off in the distance. The desert world outside the circle began to shimmer, and fade. Then all was ink black darkness and all the while the tone continued to hum.
First he remembered who he was, then slowly what was going on. He strained to see into the darkness. Sound seemed muffled, and the light of the stars in the night sky were obscured. Light and sound were warping, and twisting.
Then a sudden bright light pierced the veil of shadow. Out of the brightness emanated a complex vibration, and a physical spiral with newborn torsion intensity. One of the spokes shooting off the central hub pushed beyond the line of expansion, and fell back breaking free of the spiral. It descended through the veil, and came to rest beneath the central hub. Like a fresh made spider’s web wet with morning dew, a lattice pattern glistened and glowed with pure potential just beyond the wayward spoke now turning into an orb. It was the lattice that drew the orb.
Peter marveled with understanding at what he was witnessing. As the orb became a more defined globe of blue the image faded back to black. And still the hum of the shofar droned on sustaining the background.
After blackness, the unmistakable twinkle of stars shone through the dark canopy. The strange and unfamiliar pattern of stars in the sky told Peter he was looking at some vast reach of deep space he had never seen before nor had any other human in a very long time.
“Where are we now?” He heard himself ask from somewhere outside himself it seemed.
“It was, is, and ever shall be by the Will of the Pre-Existent One; the Source of All, The Entirety, that all things come into being. When the sum of Chaos is attained, all might enter the Kingdom…”
He still heard Elijah’s word but he could no longer see him. Gradually the hum began to recede. The scene outside the circle shimmered and faded again. The desert night was restored once more to its rightful place.
“Are you ready to lay down all the arguments which have plagued humanity for thousands of years?”
“I can only speak for that which plagues my own psyche.”
“Ah, but Cephas, don’t you see they are one in the same?” As Elijah spoke Peter noticed movement. Shadows fell on the openings of some tents. Several figures stepped out, and moved towards the center circle.
He thought about Elijah’s words. That the plagues of humanity were in fact, the same as his own.
If Christ not be risen, our faith is in vain…
The words rang out in his mind. The doubt swelled, widened to encompass every passion in his heart. He felt a sickening desire to be done with it all to put the whole silly nonsense from his mind, once and for all. What manner of man would allow such arcane trivialities to fetter his mind and distract him from his goals, from success?
What manner, indeed.
Among the robed figures now grouped within the circle, one stepped up the shofar returned to the center pole.
“I am Zadok,” he said placing his hand on the horn as he spoke,“ This is Yehudah, over there is Moshe, Enoch, and Yonah. Our hearts are glad to welcome you home, Cephas.”
The words sunk deep into him. Welcome home…a strange feeling to all this…is this what I have been searching for?
“The way of Righteousness has never diminished.” Zadok said, “This place, this settlement represents the final Pillar of Heaven, the meeting place of Heaven and Earth.”
The others nodded in affirmation.
“This is the crossing point to the myriad of heavens beyond.”
“Beyond?” Peter asked.
“If we understand our own nature, the nature of all things, we can move freely within or without time and space,” Enoch offered. The others hummed agreements.
Peter Gowen’s whole life spun through his mind. A kaleidoscopic array of moments, impressions, experiences, all danced behind his eyes as Enoch placed his hand upon the shofar and recounted his own unearthly travels.
When Enoch finished, Moshe spoke,
“Do you understand the true nature of all things?”
“Understanding flees from me, now more than ever.”
“Understanding is like forgiveness, and compassion Cephas. It is only truly received through its giving.”
“All are in need,” Yonah added.
Everything said moved Peter on an inward passage towards certainty, shedding fear and doubt in the wake.
With a sudden nod of his head, Cepha stepped forward and unhooked the shofar from the center pole and pressed it to his lips…”
*first written 2/21/06 rewritten the end of June 2008-
BY FRATER X
Thales Perkins had been hanging from the side of his home all afternoon. His sleeveless yellow singlesuit clung to him drenched in the sweat of frustration, and minor injuries.
A clatter, and clang brought his cable service dish down. It came away from the dwelling in a final, dramatic, sweeping gesture on his part, and hit the ground with a thud.
It was a perfect day on Llewellyn Drive in Fairdale. A small fleet of weathercraft saw to it. The sun shone bright, the flowers heaved colorful fragrances along every veyerwalk. An elite team of weathermen maintained a vapor trail grid in the immediate atmosphere above the walled-in community. The grid provided optimum pressure systems for the fine citizens of Fairdale. Few residents thought twice about the spill-off effects of weather management to the surrounding regions. Only the hordes of unemployable dwelled in the wastes between walled-in residentials like Fairdale.
The weathercraft replicated, and preserved the impressions of some perfect summer day of an earth long gone in a time almost forgotten.
It was all operated with remote positronic quantum mainframe guidance systems, by specialists far removed from the direct effects of their tampering.
“Something wrong with the dish Thal?” it was Stan Bennet from the corner. He was always snooping around.
“ Going with GLOBALDIRECT, then?”
Stan was relentless. He just stood there with a stupid look on his face waiting for the explanation, any explanation. He would stand there for the rest of the afternoon. He had nothing else to do.
Thal sighed, wiping sweat stinging his eyes, “We’re through Stan,” he said keeping his voice low, “ Rachel, and I talked it over, and we just feel more comfortable without cable service. Just, for awhile.”
Stan’s facial expression darkened, “Oh right, I forgot who I was talking to. You Perkins’ are too smart for such low-brow programming.” His jowls shook with a sudden suppressed, impotent rage.
“ Well, good for you, Mr. Big Shot. You, and your mouthy wife, and your herb garden too! La Dee Da!” as he skulked away.
Thal could hear him muttering all the way to the corner. He just doesn’t get it. He won’t get it. He closed the ladder and retreated into the garage.
An observation craft hovered over the Perkins home as Thal entered the garage. A thick band of black, and white checkerboard pattern covered the underbelly of the craft. A directed scan glowed from a sensor leveled on the exact spot where the cable service dish only moments before hung. As the craft circled the home silently, the unmistakable GLOBALCORPS insignia-a hand of control shielding the globe on a celestial background-reflected sunlight off windows, sending rainbow spectrums up, and down Llewellyn Drive.
Thal closed the garage door loudly. The more he thought about pig-headed Bennet, the more he wished he had said something. He never said what he really wanted to.
He couldn’t say what he wanted to out of fear. Fear of what might happen.
Muttering to himself he stepped through the kitchen port, and burst into the sitting room. As always, his wife Rachel caught her breath with a startled jump. Regaining her composure, she stared at Thal crossing the room, and clicked her teeth.
“ What? ” he asked stopping mid-step.
“ You tell me.” She was picking up right where they left off. The last time he came in from working on the dish, he had gouged his hand with a sonic-driver. That, and the fact that he was feeling strange, and out of sorts again, set him on edge. He hadn’t told her. He didn’t want to worry her. She got defensive about his grouchy uneasiness, as usual. It was their typical psychodrama.
She continued, “ You have been short tempered all day. I thought you said you wanted to try harder, to stay focused, positive, and centered? All I see is a short fuse, and a lot of barking about anything that doesn’t go your way.”
She waited for a response, “Maybe I should just ‘keep my mouth shut’, as you are undoubtedly thinking right now.
“Or, maybe, sometimes we just need to hear things we don’t like to hear,” she paused again, “ maybe, you just don’t understand the fact that ‘you are the author of your own misery’-as you are so fond of reminding me.”
“ Maybe, you made your point already, huh?“ Thal snapped at her as he went into the study, and dropped down on a mat with a frown.
They had moved to Fairdale in the mid-west in the spring-after the first wave of Social Reformation Legislation. It was not unheard of in those times. Many middle management people jockeyed for better opportunities in better locations, in the wake of the Great Change. With Thal’s experience in Human Resource Management, he was welcomed in the overpopulated Middle Western region. Any walled-in community would have opened their gates to the Perkins, then.
The changes had not been easy for many people. Things, facets of the old life faded away, and ‘The Great Sacrifice’-as the newscrolls coined it-called upon the many to endure for the greater good, in the name of freedom.
The same newscrolls bled patriotic rhetoric nonstop through web download, programming each and every uplinked living room across the land.
Most people did not even flinch at the government’s moves to ‘reinvigorate America’. Nor when GLOBALCORPS was named as contractor for the job. A mandate went out as the storm troopers for democracy raced into the night stamping out any cries of socialized discontent. The still small voice of dissent effectively squelched by the stomp of boot after boot, wave after wave of fasces sweeping through the streets.
Friends of Democracy Centers opened in every city, and town. The smiling face of the organization’s founder-Orinn Strauss-beckoning all within gaze:
“ Come Americans, join the struggle to revive, and preserve: FREEDOM, LIBERTY, THE AMERICAN DREAM.”
Many came to him, and others like him. They clung to any semblance of meaning left in their increasingly enfeebled lives. They were no longer a nation of individuals.
Caste, and bound by a veiled system, designed to achieve their optimum disempowerment.
It was all according to plans that spanned generations in the making, and applications.
Social Reformation brought great pressures to conform for those found acceptable to partake of The Dream. Greater pressures, and still greater stress for any that would struggle with acceptance of the orders of the day.
Thal, and Rachel expended much energy trying to fit in, trying to keep up appearances to their fellow citizens. They participated in the social rallies every month. They donated their time to many planned projects of the community. They did all the things they knew they were expected to do. Though they kept it to themselves, they were not happy with their lot. They feared being thought ‘ungrateful’ by others.
They just could not find the satisfaction in their collective lives-the way others seemed to. The everyday drudgery of their empty, meaningless lives seemed acceptable to all others. Their discontent had been a subtle dull ache, at first. Now, a throbbing, searing pain afflicted and encompassed all aspects of their existence. And the conditioning spewing from the flatscreen in the home only compounded the stress.
Somewhere along the way Thal became prone to episodes of involuntary dementia, and chronic psychosomatic paranoia. Many things, such as flatscreen viewing, and comlink use seemed to trigger the episodes.
And he was mercilessly incapacitated during the events. This only served to increase their despair.
If Thal were to be deemed unfit for employment, their citizen status in the community would be severely jeopardized. It was his status that allowed them to exist in Fairdale. Everything was in his name.
For a time they had been able to keep up appearances, but the unpredictability of Thal’s episodes increased uncertainty.
People like the Perkins with their noted ‘oddness’ were indulged, even tolerated for a time. But, eventually someone would issue an anonymous ‘concern’, and the fate of the few would be sealed. Once the Orinn Strauss’ of the world-joining forces with official oversight sub-contracted through GLOBALCORPS’ governmental charter-became alert official attention would be directed, a file opened; easy as that. Once the wheels started turning there was no stopping them, or turning back.
Not even an act of God could command a halt in the flow of bureaucratic intent, and oversight, once applied.
Stan Bennet touched the passpad outside the entrance to his home. A beep, whirr and click, and he was through into the vestibule. He was just starting to cool down from having dealt with Perkins. I hate that bastard, he thought again. It’s just like the war. Guys fought for nothing, fought because that’s what they were born to do. Generations of us bred for war. Cannon fodder to corporate pawn-he saw little difference.
“On,” he called out entering his den. Bulbs flickered to life. An array of awards, honors, and medal accommodations hung above a state of the art comlink console with the newest interface uplinks Stan’s double pension could afford. He came from a long line of Civil Servants. Postal carriers, and consultants, eventually Labor Administration was Stan’s Legacy. Even before the Great Change, Stan had assured his place in the middle management slot.
Taking all courses offered through the company; dealing mostly with Resource Sciences, he jockeyed his position.
The right information applied to the right spots along with unswerving obedience always kept Stan Bennet on the fortunate side of life. Or, so he thought.
He gently pulled the nylon cover off his uplink. Pressing a smooth metal button on the left, the iris cover dilated open. The metal port yawned open exposing plush electronic innards. Pulling the side hatch open, he removed the nanocable uplink cord and pressed it into the uplink port. Kneeling on the built-in kneepad, he began to screw the other end of the nanocable into a concealed port beneath the back of his hairline. He had been issued the port after the war for counter-intelligence work. He had been a simple ‘bag man’. A courier. He had always aspired to the more glamorous side of intelligence gathering. He believed himself very patriotic and progressive. He had vigorously defended all the nation’s efforts in the Sea of Japan. He believed in The Dream. He never made field operative, and he had resented the other soldiers who worked for the company, his company.
He heard them jealously deride the leaders of America, and question the intentions of the Friends of Democracy. Yet, these people seemed to advance unhindered.
As the proscenium array built the icons, and structured a Virtual Reality net, he wondered if his courier code would get him far enough into the Security Central mainframe, to make a mark.
He could no longer allow the unpatriotic spirit of the Perkins’ to taint his consciousness. Not on Llewellyn, and not in Fairdale! The office of Central Security faded into his awareness as he regained his posture-assuming a more professional expression for the fiber optic scan. These people don’t matter. They are ungrateful. They don’t deserve freedom.
Bennet felt his pulse quicken as the jowls of his face shook involuntarily.
Thal sat staring at a copy of an oil painting hanging above the inert flat screen.
The painting was a surreal depiction of a person in two states of being: one walking or marching forward but, with a backwards glance, and upraised hand shielding horror, the other crouched in despair head in hands.
The meaning, Thal read on the back, dealt with ‘humanity’s inability to live self-sufficiently, thrust into a world, beyond the ability to change, let alone save.' So depressing, he thought. No. I am not a victim. I will not allow myself to feel victimized. I deny all thoughts that enable me to feel victimized.
The wall shimmered in front of Thal as the flat screen came into high definition clarity. It was a GLOBALDIRECT transmission. Rachel let out a scream of terror, running into the room as an announcer’s voice bellowed through their home; “ …are you feeling anxious, and troubled?”
“ Try Supplement-324, Balancaid. The totally risk free alternative to needless stress…” The voice was drowned out by another scream from Rachel.
“ How can this be? “ she whispered through her hands clutching her mouth in horror.
“ Must have registered at Central Media Control,” Thal muttered quietly, expressionless. “The dispatcher mainframe follows time saving protocols. Considering the choices, the only logical alternative is that we are going to DIRECT-feed.
“The state subsidizes the cable feed as GLOBALDIRECT sets up a temp. file for billing. The files accrues debt as the minutes pass.”
“ They won’t let us turn it off, will they Thal? “ Rachel had a look of panic suddenly.
“ Just relax honey, I‘ll contact Media Control, and try to explain the situation. I should wait until morning though…”
“Now Thal, contact them now. I would do it myself, but, it’s all in your name.”
“ I have a headache already, and the uplink will only make it worse, Rachel.”
“Fine. Look, why not just leave it on. I mean, who’s it gonna hurt really?”
“ Alright Rachel, I’ll strap on the stupid headgear. Just give me a second.”
One fad Thal resisted in the American quest for consumer comfort, and fulfillment was the new uplink implant. It was permanently embedded in the neck. The only alternative to headgear-a truly cumbersome way to operate the latest incarnation of web technology the VRnet-the implant was an improvement by societal standards. Eventually everyone would have them. It was inevitable.
Thal used the net as little as possible, only when he absolutely had to.
Which was often the case, if he wanted timely results from any of the numerous services processed exclusively through uplink access.
Media Control was the agency in charge of administrating the main megapolis of the greater TopLaw district, which Fairdale was a part of.
TopLaw, Kansas, the central western megapolis, was the hub for all national distribution concerns.
A Board of Directors comprised of top government officials, and executive officers of GLOBALCORPS (the largest, most powerful corporate entity maneuvering with a handful of other entities for total world domination) governed all production, and consumption in the nation. Everything was centralized in the mid-21st century.
Thal wasn’t too clear on all that came from the Great Reorganization that privatized America, the final phase of a project started long before any people woke up to what was really going on. There were too many layers within layers of aftereffect.
Thal thought of the course his life had followed. The music of his youth flooded his memories. The music had been so powerful, affecting his world, inspiring great feelings, and convictions. Emotions quaked his flesh a rush so common when a particular nostalgic thought arose.
His former passions, convictions, seemed dim, dulled by the passage of time, and inaction. He had not saved the world. He had not exposed the dark engineers of society twisting and turning the wheels of fate controlling the world. He succeeded in saving his own skin. He managed to remain comfortably obscure. He led the meekest, most mundane existence he possibly could. Even with their eccentric ‘color’, he and his wife were terribly ordinary.
The Virtual Persona announcer was still elaborating on the advantages, and risk free benefits of the latest engineered coping substances. Euphoria devices, and substantial adjustments were on the rise as years passed through the Great Change.
Many people in the nation found themselves without means once the Frivolous Occupation Act was passed.
Occupational notices put half the population of America on unemployable status overnight. Welfare rolls picked up the slack that law enforcement left in the wake of mass incarcerations following the change. Legislation provided more and more ways to violate statutes within any county, or district. Law abiding citizens found themselves before evening courtscrolls.
Fairdale, and other communities like it were created out of the need for ‘useful’ people to feel safe amongst their own kind. Fairdale, practically a fortress, offered comfort in turbulent times.
There were a thousand armed security guards garrisoned in the center of the circular compound. Fairdale had all the amenities. There was no need to venture forth outside the compound were the hordes of resentful unemployables lurked. The dregs of society, left to toil in the hot dry climate of the deserted outerwastes.
They were left to beg at the feet of the elect middle management who awarded, and punished with daygo permits and pink tags indicating another day without work, and all that could bring.
There was a shift in approach throughout American politics.
Somewhere along the way leadership assumed a more overt posture with regards to the deliberate dehumanization of the individual in society. The individual existed to serve the will of The State, nothing more. People had their personal will decided for them in philosophical think tanks deep under ground, and behind closed-door board meetings. Top social engineers of GLOBALCORPS statistically crafted public policy. This affect trickled down to everyday life.
Thal and Rachel woke up from it all. They could see clearly the emperor was stark naked. The bars on the gilded cage were plain to see.
Thal sat before the comlink. He noticed dust gathered upon the casing. That’s funny, he thought, I run the air filters all day. And still there was dust. That’s life; the constant breakdown; decomposition. He thought of something he always thought, something he heard when he was young; everything composed will eventually decompose…
Fastening the cumbersome (though streamline compared to the first models) headgear on, he couldn’t resist a conditioned response imagining the convenience, quality, and clarity of implantation. He shuddered the thought from his mind. I need no improvements.
I am as I was meant to be.
The response wasn’t really his own. Everyone knew Media Control designed response conditioning for the populace. It was commonly thought to matter only if one was weak minded enough to be susceptible to such pressure. This was chalked up to evolution in the end. Those damaged by such cultural hazards were thought too inferior to survive the needs of progress. So many thoughts were not his own, and had to be resisted.
The plasma screen seemed to hum as it glowed to life. It wasn’t really humming, it just seemed that way. He felt a nostalgic sensation wash over him using his electronic equipment. Memories of the various comlink models he had seen throughout the years. He saw all the models his family owned-bulkier but, strangely satisfying ones. At least the memories of them were satisfying. There was a nylon smell mixed with ozone, and dust creating an exotic fragrance. His mind wandered to the toys of his youth. Then he felt the feelings, always the feelings accompanying the thoughts of his past.
He tried to imagine a model common to more elite members of society.
The Power Elite.
He imagined someone more in touch with a real personal history, with the formative years of his upbringing, and the context of his life. Such a person would understand his place in the grand scheme of things. That was a feeling Thal yearned for.
Activating the comlink he felt the warm sensation of the proscenium array as the VRnet software cascaded down upon his awareness. He felt a tingling behind the ears, warm quakes across his chin, and cheeks.
The main menu of the comlink appeared on a field projected by an analog signal between the plasma screen and his optic nerve centers. Receiving analog signals from the comlink, the headgear generated and maintained the proscenium array.
It’s all fake. The entire thing is a computer- generated fraud.
He scrolled the options on the menu. A choice. The choice. The power, and freedom of choice was the fundamental principle of democracy left intact after The Great Change.
He didn’t even make it to the Central Media Control before the fear hit.
He stood up fast and stepped away from the console. The readout screen glowed eerily around him. Fear was bearing down on him. What happened? He tried to recall the last few moments.
It happened again. Fear from all directions; fear of others, and their diseases.
He pressed the history key on the com. The readout shimmered into focus upon the plasma screen; one hour stood boldly against the fluid background.
One hour! It felt as though he had just sat down. I‘ve lost an entire hour! The thought made him sway suddenly around the room. There are so many sources of danger. He turned towards the door. I’m surrounded. And I’m defenseless. He was completely dependent on the social structure he felt certain enslaved him. There was simply no way out of it. He was conditioned from the beginning to trust and rely upon the system to enable him to exist.
He saw disaster in humanity’s course all around him, yet he felt powerless to deviate from the path to which he fearfully cleaved.
He careened through the doorway into the hall leading out the back of his house.
Rachel saw him stagger towards the kitchen, and stepped towards him.
“ Thal, what did they-“ she stopped short seeing his expression.
He is slipping. She could tell, it was written on his face. More, and more the last few months, his episodes had assumed the dominant role of his everyday life.
He looked at her, into her eyes. More fear surged through. No trust. She’s like the others.
He stepped away from her. Holding the wall, he made his way down the hall to the back door, and out into the yard. Rachel watched helplessly as he went. She would have to bring him back.
In the backyard the voices rose in his mind to almost deafening levels. He heard them many times before. They always said the same thing to him; something is wrong.
Something is wrong Thal.
He walked to the edge of his property, and hopped the fence. The woods got thick beyond the clearing. Fairdale was ensconced in a green perimeter, just inside the high polycrete security walls. A lush forest corridor banded around the walls. The walls were the first line of defense against the hordes of poor, and downtrodden. There had to be some kind of effective buffer.
Wandering purposely through the woods, he came to a large stone standing up out of the ground. It may have been a glacier dropping from another era, or maybe it had come to rest after a great flood. It stood high towering above him. He placed his hands on the cool hard surface.
Closing his eyes, he allowed the din of voices to reach a roaring crescendo. Rush after rush of pins and needles proceeded sheer terror and agony. He wondered if he was going mad, or dying.
Everything is spoiled; befouled by waste, pollution, and radioactive materials. Toxic materials penetrated all things, from all directions.
His eyes glazed as his airways constricted forcing a loud snore out of him. His nose and eyes twitched in panic spasms. Sneeze followed sneeze.
Full panic now. Breaths coming faster, and shorter.
He entered a familiar cycle of hyperventilation.
When Rachel found Thal, he was crouched around the base of the rock tears, and sweat covered his face. She helped him up and led him home to bed. Activating the albutium pellet in the atmosphere control unit of their home, she directed the vapors into their sleep chamber. The albutium would open Thal’s airways, and allow fresh enhanced oxygen into his lungs.
The flat screen link would remain on until they petitioned for termination of their account.
It was highly irregular, in modern times, for people to choose to disconnect themselves from the world around them. Especially socially elevated employables from Fairdale.
“ Perkins? This is Wells. You have exceeded your quarterly absence limit. You are required to submit a purple-slip from Central-Med before you can come back to the plant. Don’t screw this up Perkins. You don’t know how close you really are to the door. Even the smallest infraction at this point, will lead to immediate review, and termination.” The e-mail rang off with an end-message tone.
Rachel stared blankly at the comlink. There was no way Thal would go to the ‘psyche ward’ to be checked out. She didn’t even want him to go. The Central Medical Facility was administered by GLOBALCORPS, empowered under federal mandate: “…to maintain the mental, and physical health of the general population…” This spelled out simply more scrutiny, intervention, and control. Not believing what they were told, the Perkins didn’t trust the dictates from those in control of theirs lives.
Rachel knew the terror she, and Thal both felt towards the National Medical Association. Many people they knew in the past whose lives came into contact with the NMA were never the same. Interaction with any social agency could be a very dehumanizing ordeal. Any trip through the mental health industry was a life-altering affair. People going to Central Med seeking care, and assistance were transformed upon discharge. They were cored out from within. Only reflex machines walked through their former lives. Too many of the Perkins’ associations had ended this way. It was the main reason for their moving to Fairdale.
Keeping the appearance of a career shift, they were able to slip through the cracks of transition, and re-surface seemingly reinvented.
Now, Thal’s episodes had drawn unwanted attentions. Scrutiny they had been avoiding to begin with. Thal’s job was on the line.
Rachel felt hopeless. As she pondered their options, possible flight destinations, projected outcomes to the many alternatives available, she felt overwhelmed by fear, and uncertainty. It weakened her spirit, and her resolve.
She shook the feelings away, and focused on the room- monitor trained on Thal’s inert form. He slept away more, and more of his days.
How long until he finally snaps? She wondered with shame. How will we survive? A buzz from the front door interrupted her thoughts.
From the door monitor she viewed a man dressed in a GLOBALDIRECT uniform. He wore polarized eyeshades, as usual, along with the standard silver singlesuit complete with GLOBALCORPS insignia, and specific division herald designate.
The man was a field operative, obviously contracted to investigate the voluntary disconnection of the Perkins’ cable service.
“ Rachel Perkins?” the man asked as she opened the door.
“ I have been dispatched to inquire as to the reasons, and investigate the conditions surrounding an unsanctioned disconnection of service to this dwelling. We have a report that your husband a, Thales Perkins was witnessed removing the standard issue cable dish on this dwelling last week. Is that correct?”
“ Yes sir, that is correct. Have we done something wrong?”
The man stiffened slightly before responding, “ Technically no, there are no laws forbidding such actions. There are restrictions though, and safety measures to be observed. Your husband could have been seriously injured. You should have contacted your local cable service division for assistance. And what seems to be the trouble with your service?”
“ No trouble really. We just wanted a break, you know?”
A visible bristle preceded his words; “ This is highly irregular behavior for Fairdale residents. No one has ever disconnected cable service in the history of Fairdale, except to transfer to GLOBALDIRECT. This is going to have to be reported. And, I will need to speak with your husband.” He tried to look past Rachel as she stepped in front of him blocking his view.
“ Today is not a good day. My husband is not well. He has been home from the plant all week-
“ The Nutrition Plant, yes. He is sick you say? What seems to be the problem?”
“ No problem,” Rachel answered quickly, evasively, “a simple flu is all.”
“ A Flu is kind of unheard these days with the antibio-boosters. Sounds serious. Would you like me to notify a Medivac?”
“ No, no thank you, ah, Mr.-?”
“Agent Jones will do.”
“Agent Jones, if you could please come back another time. Early evening is best for us.”
Agent Jones was nodding his head watching his fingers pressing the keys of his armpilot swiftly recording all impressions, all words exchanged, and any speculations on his part into the report.
“ Fine, Mrs. Perkins,” not even looking up, “I have noted in my report that you were unwillingly to see me now-
“ I am not unwilling, I am simply requesting an alternative time.”
“ Noted.” Jones stepped away from the door, and down the street towards the home of one; Stan Bennet.
“ I’m telling you, these people are trouble. I knew it from the first moment I laid eyes on them, and their: “ We’re smarter than everyone else”-ways. I’ve seen their kind before, but I never thought I would see it here in Fairdale. I was in the service, you know, and in the service you get to see plenty of ingratitude.” Stan’s voice became soft almost reverent, “ I am just a patriot citizen doing my part to preserve democracy, our way of life.”
“ Of course you are Stan,” Jones said with a reassuring smile, “and we down at the Friends of Democracy appreciate all you are doing.”
“ Friends of- I thought you said you were from the cable company.”
“ We are everywhere GLOBALCORPS is, sir.” Agent Jones’ expression became grave.
Bennet scratched his face, and grimaced uncomfortably. He was an unhappy man. His job at the Pharm-Distribution Center was unfulfilling. He was division coordinator for 10,000 steady extra laborers. People meant little to him. He saw faces come, and go. He felt no remorse for their suffering, or their plights. Faces looked to him pleading, trying to catch his eyes as they passed. They tried to appeal to his sense of decency, and compassion, his sense of humanity. He would never meet their stares. He didn’t look away from shame, or guilt, he simply could not be bothered.
The agent before him had achieved the goal Bennet never could: field operative.
He marveled at the man’s confident demeanor. The scornful manner he displayed to the world. Aloof, and totally empowered. The opposite of Stan’s feelings. Even though his will decided the fate of scores of people.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” he squirmed sheepishly.
“ Yes,” Jones knew what was coming.
“ Have you ever met him? You know, Citizen Strauss?”
“ Too bad. I mean I thought maybe being so closely involved-
“ Can we return to the issue at hand, please?”
“ Of course sir, that fellow Perkins is not right in the head either.”
“ How do you mean, ‘not right’?”
“ I mean prone to spells. You know, seizures, and such. Gets to wandering around like a zombie. I am sure someone else has reported this. It happens all the time.”
“ Have you seen this personally, Stan?”
Stan felt the agent’s interest in what he-“lowman” Stan Bennet had to say! He wanted to milk the moment savor it forever. He was really contributing to society.
“ Yes, I have. He walked past me just two weeks ago. He was in such a daze he didn’t even know who I was. And the look in his eyes when I finally got his attention, was sheer terror.”
“ Two-weeks you say, hmm.” Jones breathed in deep, and slow through his nose.
“ Like I said before, I am a patriotic citizen,” Stan gushed, “All the scrolls say we should do our part in the struggle against the “Enemy Within”, and report any aberrant behavior. I’m not looking for any self promotion, but will it be reported that I made the call?”
“It is noted Stan,” Jones headed for the door, “ You just let us know the minute you see any more crazy-I mean, unusual behavior, like the dish incident, alright? We will do the rest.”
“ Yes sir, Agent Jones, and you tell the boys down there; at ‘Our Friends’, that ole Stan Bennet is on the watch, just like in the Sea of Japan. Our ships protected countless shipments of Painrid in those days, you know?”
“ And we are all grateful to you,” Agent Jones said exiting the Bennet home eyes scanning fingers furiously working the keys of his armpilot.
Thal tried to save his job. He did make an appointment the morning after Wells’ call. The Central-Med comlink persona agreed to schedule him for the next available work- release eval. He had little hope of being issued a purple slip. It depended on whether or not the med-eval determined his condition excusable. He highly doubted it. The exchange between him, and the virtpersona was sufficiently humiliating. There was nothing as degrading as being looked down upon, and patronized by virtual persona.
Why do I care about keeping the job? He thought with defeat. I don’t even like the work. But Rachel, and the house, the alternative. He needed the job.
It would be the last good work he was ever going to see. Of that, he was certain.
He was in charge of people. He made sure their occupations matched their work permit, and most importantly their specific daygo work assignment. Daygo slips-getting paid “as the day goes…” was the saying. Thal was a buffer, one of many buffers, between the masters and the masses. He told them when they could stay, and work for the day and earn a place in an outerwaste hostelry. A chance for a free hot meal, a place to clean up, and stay for a night, it was what everyone wanted.
He told them when they had no love, no work. They would have to fend for themselves for another day, and more dreadful, for another night.
He was also supposed to call the local Security force, when he spotted a fake permit. As if he could spot them all. There were so many in one day. He let as many of them slide as he could. He did what he could to get away with it. Not just for the simple thrill of blatant disregard for law, and order, but for some sense that he was making a difference in the world. It was most important in his mind, to have some kind of effect on things.
So, now he would go down to Central Med, and let the ‘experts’ issue their opinionated evaluation of him. If he was lucky, issue him a purple slip to take to his superior; Horace Gulliver Wells over at the Nutr-plant.
But, first he would have to let them lift his lid, and peer inside. Let them peek in amongst the pink subtle madness churning just beneath a frothy surface. They would touch that bare nerve of fear pulsing in his forehead. As he counted the moments till the next time everything reached that crescendo, releasing the voices telling him everything is wrong. Everything has gone terribly wrong. Will they see all that in me?
Central Med’s VR-persona woke Thal at dawn the day of his appointment. He didn’t know many days had passed, as he waited.
He made it to the tram platform just before the electro-tram he needed arrived. Within moments the tram whisked away en route to the vast complex, which was the Central Medical Offices.
Top-Law megapolis spread out before the tracks encircling the greater megapolitan area, all outlying contributories, hamlets, horde projects, and hostelries. The complex proper sprang from the ground like some rogue Teutonic plate, made of solid poly neocrete. The tram tracks ran straight into two plate walls and came to a sudden stop halted by magnetic braking systems.
“ Yes?” the receptionist touched an uplink implant bulging slightly from the side of her neck.
“ Perkins, T-3693, I ah, received a e-summons this morning, for a med-eval? It’s ah, just for work-
“Um-hum, let’s see.” Her eyes seemed to roll back in her head as she scanned the information scrolling within her optic centers.
“ Here we are, Perkins,T-oh, yes your file has been flagged for social-audit, I’m afraid.”
“ What does that mean?” Thal felt tension around his chest, and neck.
“ We can’t see you until you receive a yellow clearance form from a certified Social-Security Representative.” Her face went blank.
Thal noticed for the first time the GLOBALCORPS insignia on her shoulder. It was Central Med’s herald; a gold leaf with a globe, and a fasces axe, penetrating the top of the globe. A kundalini serpent coiled itself along the handle of the axe.
“ Uh, ok. So what do I do now?” he asked managing to keep his cool.
“ I mean, where do I go to get a yellow clearance form?” tension was building around his neck.
“ I really wouldn’t know, sir. I suppose they will contact you.” She was rather flippant in tone.
“ Yes, I suppose they will,” he answered shakily. He felt angry. Was it all because of the cable dish? Rachel told him of the agent’s visit. He had reviewed the surveillance footage from the front door sensor. There was no denying the scrutiny there. They were on to them.
Now our lives under a microscope. They would have to meet all the requirements, to appease the state criteria on all matters if their lives were ever to run smoothly, again. Thal felt trapped, and certain things would only grow worse.
The receptionist had said something more to him, but Thal didn’t hear her. He was already heading back to the tram-platform.
The former United States of America had over extended itself before the Great Reorganization. There wasn’t any one identifiable source to the economic collapse. Many factors had eroded the once Great Experiment. The exodus of the nation’s industrial production base played a part as global marketing inspired many multinational corporations to relocate their production centers to cheaper, third world nations. Finding themselves adrift in foreign markets, many of these same corporations banded together under the collective banner of GLOBALCORPS, to eventually be swallowed up by the larger fiscal entity.
Rampant consumer deficit spending played another part. But, the largest single factor was population, more specifically over-population. The foundation of American capitalism, the key to its continued success, and prosperity remained a constant flow of cheap immigrant labor.
It was in the end a self-defeating system. From the beginning progress equaled greater social advances for the populace. Greater advances produced better living standards, which produced longer living. Longer living meant ever more limited space and resources. As one group of immigrants established themselves, moved aside for the next wave of entry-level laborers, and steady extra skilled workers, there were fewer, and fewer positions available for advancement.
The effect, felt only on the lowest levels of the general workforce at first, spread like a tumor, a slow entropy, until the affliction spanned the populace. Only the same elite that always managed to weather any form of economic upheaval, maintained their elevated positions and preferred status.
Then came the Frivolous Occupation Act. And soon after, the hordes formed. The bureaucracy surrounding the Act was fueled by the financial elite’s will to recover from widespread speculation and investments in the machinery of government, and overall systemized control of all resources. This same system had outgrown its masters and turned to devour itself.
And a system so entrenched cried out for reform. Not to mention the coalition of debtors gathering on America’s porch.
The United Nations of Islam, backed by CANTONCORPS, filed suit in the World Court demanding payment of all back interest accrued on severely defaulted accounts. Mostly back oil-debt.
The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Foreclosure of all holdings foreign and domestic was the judgment. The sentence was suspended under extreme considerations. The ledger-rattlers demanded compensation. The U.S. was forced to reorganize. The GLOBALCORPS merger had its origins in the judgment of the World Court.
The only thing that saved America from total foreclosure was the vast resource holdings, such as opium fields, in the possession of and guarded by the still superior U.S. armed forces.
The world needed pain relief. Opium was still the unchallenged and most effective means of relief. With most of the world’s supply controlled by America, a deal was struck.
America would be allowed to keep control of already held property-though no further expansion would be sanctioned-provided it made prescribed restructural changes, met all payment deadlines, and made resource products available at cheapened prices.
Enter the Great Change.
The pharmaceutical corporations always had sway in the American power structure in the past, now the entire future of the nation depended on them. No longer were there any misconceptions about who was in charge.
Domestic policy was adjusted to meet the needs of the state. Not unlike the way it always was, though with less consideration of public opinion. Subjugation of the masses began long before reformation, so the transition was easier than expected. And the myth of the American Dream was finally laid to rest.
A new republic was born.
“ Well now Mr. Perkins, it seems you found some time for us, eh? Agent Jones grinned as he made himself comfortable in the Perkins’ front room.
“ I guess you could say that,” Thal answered.
“ I told you we would see you, just not then.” Rachel answered not hiding her irritation.
“ Yes of course, yes,” Jones said grinning wider, “ now, down to business.”
“ What exactly is your business, Agent Jones?”
“ I am glad you asked that question. My business is consumer relations. Your cable service is provided not only for entertainment, and recreation. It is also the most important, and effective means of delivering vital information, and needed socialization.”
“ Um-humm.” Both the Perkins’ nodded their heads.
“ You agree? Then maybe you can explain to me why you saw fit to remove the cable receiving device formerly attached to this dwelling, thus cutting yourselves off from the rest of humanity?”
“ I wouldn’t say we were cutting ourselves off,” Thal tried to explain, “ I mean, there are alternatives to watching-
Ignoring Thal’s line of reasoning Jones went on, “ you have made no attempts to secure a direct link to service-
“ Not yet,” Rachel said defensively.
“ Mr. And Mrs. Perkins. Thales, Rachel, come now. I am a professional. An evasive stance in this matter won’t serve anyone’s cause. What gives here? Really, aren’t you satisfied with your cable service? Doesn’t it feel good after a long day at the Nutr-plant, to come home and thwack on that flatscreen, and take in a little televised entertainment? I mean you do realize the high quality of living you have here? Do you know there are still developing areas that don’t even have cable service? Can you imagine? It’s barbaric.”
It was the usual argument, but this time Thal could not listen without the anger, the naked frustration swelling up inside him, and finally something gave, “ Now look Jones. Don’t give me that party line rhetoric. You might not be able to understand, or appreciates this, but, I am very sensitive. The things that come out of that screen are overwhelming to me. The violence, the graphic sexual content, the blatantly moronic level of thought catered to. Not to mention the lies we are fed-
Rachel shot Thal a worried look.
“ Lies, Thales?” Jones showed the first sign of interest in what Thal was saying, “ do elaborate.”
Nervously Thal tried to backpedal, “ Well, I just mean, I work with people. Real live people, and those newscrolls, they depict the hordes as sub-human wastes of life. The whole thing is so slanted towards a specific consensual view. And when you consider what of the leaders of this country are willing to do for profit. What is this nation now but a drug-supplier to the world?”
“ Thal!” Rachel’s worry now alarm.
“ Fear not Mrs. Perkins, this is a candid assessment. I realize your husband is under tremendous pressure, what with administering to hordes of people. Unfortunately such views will have an effect on his social rating. And under clause 36 of the Frivolous Occupation Act: ‘…aberrant ideology can have damaging repercussions socially. Those displaying such ideological traits must not hold an employment classification above steady extra status’.”
“ Just what is that supposed to mean?” Thal’s voice rose with the question.
“ Now hold on there, Mr. Perkins. Nobody is determining anything just yet. We just have to be careful.
“ We wouldn’t want the wrong caliber of people occupying important and limited positions. Now, I just need some background info for the file. Mother’s maiden name?”
Jones spent the next few hours grilling the Perkins about their pasts. With each question they saw the hope of a new life in Fairdale dim, and eventually fade. It was impossible to maintain the right cover, the impressions under such close scrutiny.
Horace Wells removed his uplink headgear with a sigh. The word was in. Perkins was gone. There was nothing he could do about it. He wondered if it even mattered. No.
Perkins had come and gone so fast it seemed. Faster than most. There was a distinct, remarkable quality about Perkins, but Wells couldn’t place it. Ever since he had met Thal he felt it.
It was part of the reason he delivered Thal’s notice himself. He hoped the gesture wasn’t lost in his stern, impersonal professional manner.
Why did I keep him around in the first place? He thought about his last conversation with Perkins.
There had been question from above concerning the number of bogus daygo slips turning up in the redemption slot. Every month more, and more, seemed to slip through on Thal’s watch. Everybody at the Nutr-plant knew about it. Some were in on it.
All this fuss over who gets to bombard foodstuffs with cobalt radiation. What difference does it make who presses the buttons on the pharm-additive seasonings before packaging the foods? The ‘seasoning’ was a social-conditioning cocktail. Full of enhancers, and inhibitors to meet all imprint protocols programmed through the media, and behavioral reinforcement. It didn’t matter who did this work. Only that the work was done.
Horace sighed again. His job was hard. Sitting in the office upstairs deciding the fate of his administration with the stroke of a key on the pad. He felt doubt about his ultimate purpose. Does it really matter?
He knew Perkins was aberrant the first day he walked into the Nutr-plant. He saw all the telltale signs. People in Wells’ position had to know how to read people.
He was trained to spot signs. Perkins was one of many hubs in the system.
He was an intricate gear in the machine, a contact point with the hordes. Perkins was one of the many buffers in the struggle of differing extremes. Wells was also a buffer, just further up the ladder.
He decided he genuinely liked Thal Perkins. He found Perkins’ manner meek at times, but dignified. He was obviously smarter than he led on. Wells always appreciated intelligence. Perkins had substance, a special kind of substance, uncommon in Wells’ life.
Rumors were all over the plant about the ‘cable-service fiasco’. It didn’t surprise Wells. He understood. The Perkins’ were stronger than other people. They resisted their yoke. In their own subtle, ineffectual way they pulled back.
But, now the masters had been alarmed, and the whip came down. Wells was that whip. Perkins had been that whip to countless hordes. He had to be when it was absolutely unavoidable. He was always kind, though.
Wells didn’t think he knew how to be kind. He never had to be. There was nothing in his life besides working for the Greater Good. Is that kind?
Wells shuddered. The Perkins would lose their home. They would have to leave Fairdale. They would have to join the hordes and find a place in a project, or hostelry if they were lucky. He thought of his own Execu-dom. He loved his dwelling. He had the latest comlink system.
The Perkins received their notice of eviction with their final cable service bill. Media Control subsidized the bill, itemized administrative costs, adjusted for quarterly inflation, and doubled the amount. There was no avoiding the debt. It was automatically withdrawn from his payroll account. In the end, a mere shift of digits on a screen. The expense emptied his account.
They could only shake their heads and the irony reading the income scroll. They only had a few personal items. Most everything came with the dwelling. They loaded a hovercart and walked slowly away from their last home, towards the tram platform.
Thal reached his hand out taking hold of his wife’s arm, “Rachel, do you remember when I first starting having the episodes?”
“ After you had that dream.”
“ That’s right. The dream of when I was a kid. I was thinking about it after Wells fired me. We used to go camping in Indiola, in Oregon in the Deshutes National Forest. I dreamt about camping with my family there when I was very young. I remember my father talking to people he called ‘tree-people’. He said they protected the forests since when he was small boy. He met them camping with his family. There were these clans, tribes really. Mish-mashes of society: people considered unemployable by today’s standards. These people would climb into the trees of the old growth forests, one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet up above the forest floor. They would live up there. Guarding the trees from the logging companies. From timber for profit. They would build platforms around the base of the trees. Carrying all their supplies up, they could stay there for a while. They didn’t win in the end. Many of them died. Most were arrested, removed by law enforcement protecting the timber industry, and banking interests.”
Thal thought silently for a moment then continued,“ they did save that forest in Indiola, though, I guess that’s some sort of victory.
“Even when I was a kid there were remnants of the tree-people still living in the forests of southern Oregon; right below Port-Salem megapolis. Much of the forest lands in that area is now protected under International Eco-Trust. The land had been slotted for development before the economic crisis, and Great Change halted production. Then the international watchdogs flagged the entire territory a global biological entity, classified-‘endangered’.”
They resumed their course towards the tram platform.
“So, what are you saying Thal?” Rachel asked finally.
“ I guess I am saying, I think we should go to Indiola, who knows maybe we’ll find the answer to what we’ve been looking for. I’m saying we need to go back to the forest.” Thal had stopped again, and stood facing Rachel waiting with an expectant look on his face, and the slightest hint of a smile.
“ Let’s go.” Rachel nodded, and they walked on…
SHIP OF FOOLS 1/16/07
By FRATER X
“...This ship will transport society’s dregs into oblivion long after any of us here today are still exhaling CO2. Every foreseeable contingency has been considered, and addressed. This ship design represents the highest achievement in human/cyborg collaboration to date. This project will not fail...it‘s inconceivable...”
-Address by Rider Pasternak Chief Engineer
CSV PANDORA Commission ceremony 336(GSY)-
Pandora’s massive steel-gray hull entered the ion storm front exactly 4567GSD(Galactic Standard Days) in transit: twelve and a half years. Thousands of inmates teemed behind its hull comprised of those individuals deemed unable to roam free in the now wide-open universe.
Other new generations of space-farers were finally realizing their collective dreams rooted deep far back in the bloodlines of humanity all the way back to Old Terra: Earth. Back to the first explorers who set out upon sails or wings, and prayers to learn what fate lay in store for them over the horizon. These humans finally able to venture forth into the cosmos spread out along the bracelet-like chain of the Hundred Worlds settled so far.
And there were still more worlds to conquer. Humanity once more went forth into the dark void of unknown to realize its collective destiny.
But, those aboard the Pandora knew no such adventures. Those aboard Pandora were fated to far more mundane travel. They would drift until the onboard robotic maintenance crew released the very last inmate sentenced through the remains disposal ducts vented into the mammoth vessel’s wake and out into deep space.
At such time the ship would report to the closest Galactic Corrections Outpost for decommissioning.
As her designers boasted, Pandora’s amazing and complex operating systems were the closest possible thing to perfect. The closest. This of course, was not enough for every possible eventuality and in fact, not enough to prevent the specific eventuality of effects of highly charged ion particles upon the liquid quantum mainframe which stored and executed the vast array of command protocols and directives running the ship at every level.
It was a complete ‘automatonic system.’ A system designed to meet the endless challenges of infinite projected ‘eventuals and probables.’
Somehow, an ion storm was not one of them.
There simply was no case history real or imagined indicating a threat. There was not one single line of coded data leading to any conclusions of concern. It was a factor that spelled certain disaster for the security of the entire Penal Space Mission defined by Galactic Charter.
Pandora was the flagship for the Penal Space Fleet. A titan in it’s class, it became a legend on it’s maiden voyage. Not the least of reasons-the extraordinary designs employed to realize Pandora’s finished form.
There was no other ship quite like it in the dark void of the cosmos.
Yet, those designs proved no match for the chaotic effects of particles of energy no one ever even considered when installing the protective outer shielding of the hull.
Those particles seeped right through the hull like hot knives in butter, right into the programming canals on the quantum mainframe, knocking every OS on the ship offline without a whimper...
Borlo Mungeon watched his offspring foraging out upon the barren wastes that surrounded his domed domicile. Dust kicked up in the wake of each furtive movement. Nervous energy radiated off the children in bursts of concentrated flails. Freed from an all-encompassing gloom beneath the dome for more time than bearable, the children could only be exposed to the colony surface for short spans-two hours at a time. They made the most of every move every action. Most colonies with greater nyluminum output terra-formed protective atmospheres to withstand cosmic radiation pouring down upon the world. Emanating up from beneath the soil trapped energy released from the ore with tidal precision every 12 standard days. This energy caused equally hazardous effects. Nyluminum ore was a living metal. It was off any elemental table. Its applied properties were still not fully explored or even discovered.
“You kids mind those wind-pockets!”(That’s all I need is another lecture from her on: “The Dangers of Wind-pockets on the Wastes.”)
The offspring didn’t even look up; they just hummed in quiet unison, continuing their daily ritual in a more nervous and distracted manner. They hated their life he knew it. And why shouldn’t they? What could he or anyone expect? They had been duped along with everyone else. Hijacked and left to despair and madness upon this rock hurtling through space.
A rock valued only for being one of many sources of the most precious commodity ever. The stuff that made the way for most of the Hundred Colony Worlds spread out in the universe: Nyluminum ore.
Borlo lowered his monoscope from the visor of his hood and scanned the horizon.
Nothing. Nothing for more kilometers than he cared to recall, then the jut of a structure like a gash on the horizon-The Outpost, the one place where Homesteader, Freebooter, and Colonist alike frequented for a dose of community, of humanity. Something resembling the local town square, or as close as anyone could come considering the exact location of Gamma369 on any given starchart.
Not that starcharts did Borlo any good. He was no pilot, and certainly no navigator. He wasn’t even an engineer. His wife Thena was the stargazer of the domicile.
He was a Homesteader a glorified caretaker or zookeeper even. He kept the unattached Freebooters, and a few Colonist rabble that blew in with every few turns of Gamma, or ‘NeoTerra” as the stargazers called it employed.
Freebooters needed places to bunk as they drifted along the Galactic Trail. Colonists were ‘stop-overs’ on the way to bigger and better pastures, or so they always seemed to think before they actually arrived and got “the low-down on the Hoedown” as they said around the holo-card parlors. What they often found was a barren waste not unlike the one surrounding Borlo Mungeon and his offspring.
But, Freebooters moved from world to world following the best creds and swag hook-ups. As they drifted along the Trail they earned their keep, and gathered what few credits they could on their data chips, to fund the inevitable “...next jump” that always seemed to be in their near future-working odd mineposts for a spell.
Minepost jobs reduced humans to mere switch operators on the multifaceted ore-extraction operations of any given colony-mine. Slight adjustments, and readjustments to various control paddles, switches, and levers were what most post jobs required of any worker. Mindless turning and switching of blunt knobs and dials, windowless, joyless occupations seemingly without purpose. As rows and rows of crumbling ore poured forth onto conveyors emptying into vats that refined, and cast the ore into template and canal molds configured to transmit and receive complex micro-circuited quantum programming. The very quantum circuitry responsible for executing all operating systems on Pandora and all other space vessels. The FTL ”Quark” drive manifolds were forged from the ore as well.
There were always exceptions but, for the most part these were unglamorous positions.
And Borlo was their overseer. He owned the bunkhouse and three hovel-warrens filled with families, and clans.
He was one of a confederation of overseers managing the neofeudal system instituted by the corporate arm of the Galactic Expansion and Betterment Program. Each fief was divided among a council of overseers whose rule was enforced by highly trained and equipped security force detachments. These mercenaries were skilled, but usually too few in numbers to mount much of a defensive against any real insurgency. That’s where weaponry tipped the scales. Superior firepower always gave the advantage in any conflict.
It all sounded like a lot but to Borlo, they were all just a bunch of dirt and rock-farmers stranded out in the middle of nowhere.
He did a quick mental update of the days remaining until the next drop. Too many. He wondered if the swag made it through in this shipment. He could only hope, and fret.
There was little else to pass the monotony, except Gnosinide. The hypnofuel was a neuroenhancer combined with virtual reality use it created a more intense and highly pleasurable experience than everyday life brought to existence.
Borlo employed one of the biggest suppliers of ‘Gnos’ on Gamma. It wasn’t saying much, these movers were a dime a dozen, always another arriving to supplant the last with each turn of the world. And the latest freebooter was barely tolerable, but his position as Overseer did put Borlo in a direct line to receive first divvies of Gnos.
Whistling through an age-old crack in his front teeth to his kids, he turned and stepped down into his mid-class domicile. The first comburst barked out of his relay-ansible unit picking up signals piped in from the nearest orbital transceiver announcing a Priority One security bulletin issued from Galactic Corporate Command. “...All Homesteaders, Colonists, and Freebooters were to report any unofficial landings of galactic crafts throughout the Hundred Worlds...”(Now that was strange)
Borlo made mental note to mention the news to his spouse when she returned from her weekly starcharting session-a 100 kilometer nanotube ride past The Outpost-on the far side of nyluminum field two.
Easing into his chair as the homeopathic device sensed his tensest spots and activated soothing gel coils he considered his sadly doomed state for the umpteenth time when the Mungeon offspring exploded with a loud, dusty ruckus into the domicile breezeway.
Corpsman Stratch flexed his jaw once again as the blip he tracked every normal day on duty, made a drastic course diversion and ignited three simultaneous sensor alarms. This in turn caused three more flexes and a flinch from the entire traffic command team.
“Sir, we have a Code: 6 anomaly on a CSV Pandora, Sir!
It can’t be! Sir, the ship just went renegade. We may have the first escape attempt on our hands.”
“More specific, Corpsman.”
“Well, Sir, first she stopped dead in her wake, and drifted for, maybe three minutes, then just as suddenly she diverted. She made a hard left and banked off the screen.”
“Alert Command, Corpsman! And scramble the Order Restoration Force. Convene in the briefing center.”
The wheels of Galactic Military Might spun easy with purpose. Death the only blow it could ever effectively deliver. Justice was no more than a collateral and infrequent consequence to the violence.
Moments later the official course history of CSV Pandora lit up the Briefing center wall through a hover-projector. With keen attentiveness the Top Command of Galactic Security plotted a counter response to the data, and readings. Moments after that a Rescue Strike Force was proposed in an emergency session of the Galactic Peace and Order Council. And not long after that, the Executive Order was passed.
While the meager number of humans comprising the population of Gamma369 sat idle upon their sleepy home world, CSV Pandora entered the expansive planetary system.
It would take almost one Galactic Calendar Year for the Rescue Force to reach NeoTerra. And for that whole time, newscroll combursts blared a steady promise that “...order would be restored...” from every relay ansible within earshot throughout the known universe.
Leo Tolman was deep asleep when Pandora came to a drifting halt. The gravdrive skipped a beat sending a shudder throughout the entire ship. The deck whined and creaked like some ancient galleon or steamer adrift. A battery of clicks and whirrs rang out as the ship-wide systems recalibrated. Proximity alarms blared out of the coms. The ship seemed to be slipping sharply to the left.
Artigrav systems were obviously attempting to reboot, knocked offline in the systems crash.
As he toggled the latch to exit his sleep-chamber, he realized things were terribly awry.
All the lectrodroids within his periphery were hunched or sprawled, twitching, crackling, and sparking. They were obviously incapacitated.
Got to move fast, he thought. Sprinting down the passage towards the greater forum chamber where Pandora’s teeming thousands milled and gathered regularly, he scanned the multitudes of inmates. Not here!
There were lesser chambers through various hatchways and portals linked to the greater forum; Tolman raced through each chamber without success.
Only one other place! Coming out again into the greater chamber he paused under the patterned glare of triangular nycrylic shield tiles forming the geodesic dome far above the chamber. The tiles were specially designed to let only safe amounts of cosmic glare and radiation through. They were especially resistant to the powerful rays responsible for horribly mutating the first explorers in deep space. Few knew the truth surrounding the tragic genesis of the deep space program.
Tolman noticed scores of inmates staring straight up into the tiles, as if they might find some kind of clue to what was happening out there, and more importantly within Pandora. Or any clue to the strange feeling that descended upon all within the massive vessel-a dark knowing.
There were no such clues, only more questions followed by sheer panic and alarm.
Tolman was an operator. He saw opportunities in every moment. He always had. And he had planned for just such an occasion as was unfolding around the inmates of Pandora.
He was extremely motivated. That’s why he was locked-up to begin with. The status quo currently holding the reins of power, apparently far too “civilized” to simply destroy him, saw fit to sequester him to intergalactic exile rather than tolerate his continued brand of mischief. He was very healthy, and could expect to live a long life. The whole nasty business was certainly enough to make for a bad day by anybody’s scale. He was sure of that.
But regardless, obstacles were merely unrealized options to Leo Tolman professional saboteur.
He was legendary, once. More than a fraction of a blip on a screen tracked by Central Command. Much more.
He and his cohorts succeeded in sending more than one corporate planetary project careening into dark ages of economic oblivion. They had perfected the combined effects of direct action and economic sabotage.
A unified front of freedom fighters, they were oath-sworn to wrench the oppressive shackles of corporate intrusion, once and for all, from humanity. They would do it one planetary system at a time.
And they were just starting to make a dent when Galactic Intel caught them with their pants down restocking provisions at a remote outpost. Leo’s entire underground brigade was slaughtered before he and the other ringleaders were brought before Galactic Justice.
Of course, that was ten years gone now.
So long to be out of it. He knew this for certain. So much had changed in all that time. The people he used to know out upon the Hundred Worlds were most assuredly sequestered to similarly dead end fates as his. Or dead, or worse.
Yet he still harbored a flicker of hope-after all, his mind was clear as ever. A chance could always arise to take direct action once more.
And Leo Tolman was ready. He was tightly wound, a spring ready to be sprung. And the moment came when all reality hung suspended in disarray for just long enough for the likes of Leo Tolman and still anonymous co-conspirators to seize it.
When Pandora went off line Leo Tolman saw his chance. Having studied what he could grasp (which was considerable) of the cybernetic artificial intelligence systems responsible for ‘smooth sailing’ on the ship, he knew if some one didn’t step up soon and assume manual command, they would all perish-not to mention lose the chance to take control of Pandora.
Having anticipated this contingency, and carefully considering his assets long before this moment, he sought the one other inmate capable of saving them all from certain doom: Clive Mercer.
Borlo answered the vidphone, Jude was always punctual, “what have you got, kid?” Jude MacBee was one in a long line of Gnos’ slingin freebooters. They all had the same attitude.
“Kid? How bout I ring off right, and call Overseer Hicks? He wants first crack of the Gnos’ and he’ll pay extra. Maybe you been getting it good for too long. I got like that back on Tau47-I really got to learn my lesson about those larger colony worlds. They got more Galactic Security for one thing, and the people got ‘uppity ways’ you know?”
“ Yeah, yeah. What about the Gnos’?”
“ See there, that’s what I’m talking about right there-you are not the only Overseer on this colonyworld. And matter of fact, you might find yourself out of a job before you know it the way things are going for me. I got big plans. See this?” Jude Macbee held a crumpled, ragged ancient paperback book. Borlo didn’t see books much on the galactic trail uplink replaced them long ago. But he enjoyed reading still, and kept a substantial library of his own.
“ Don’t do me any favors, kid. And, don’t get ahead of yourself either you got a long way to go. Just cause you sweet talked a few more gullible Overseers, and colonists into investing in your swag-slingin operation, does not naturally lead to a fief of your own there-“Mister Prince.” That archaic literature you got there is filled with techniques and ideals that expired along with Old Terra. Machiavelli wouldn’t last one day on the Galactic Trail-“
“ Yeah, he’d die of boredom.”
“ Have you got something for me?”
“ Same time, and place?”
“ One thing, there was a bay load of chatter around a CSV that went renegade, can you believe it? The inmates taking over the asylum! This one colonist called it a-“ship of fools”-something about a legend from Old Terra seems the ‘powers-that used to be”-when asylums or prisons got too full-would load barges with scores of these madmen and psychopaths, and just set them adrift out to sea. Every once in awhile one these ‘ship of fools’ would return to shore and the countryside would be at the mercy of the marauders. And they say this CSV is coming this way.”
“ You are quite eloquent for a landless minejacker you know that?”
“ I’m done talking to you.”
Thena Mungeon was eager to share the latest findings of her group-the Mystic Stargazer’s Circle-with her mate. The group’s recent collective divination predicted a coming conjunction and transition period for ‘NeoTerra.’ Great cosmic forces were aligning and converging clearly indicating change. The group was certain. And Thena was certain it was the redemption, the atonement, she and her family-especially her husband-needed. Maybe it would dispel the fugue that had befallen them all.
It all seemed like a bad dream to her. The last nine years of their lives wasted on a barren rock careening towards oblivion. She almost lost hope entirely. Then the Stargazer’s Circle formed. And two things happened for Thena: first, the Tarro decks so frequently employed by idle spacefarers to pass the time on long jumps, assumed a more vibrant, vital, and proactive role in her life. Secondly, Thena Mungeon realized her destiny might be found beneath the cloudless sky of Gamma369-something not so clear upon arrival. This idea grew to a firm conviction as time passed. And Thena transformed herself into mysticseer, and rarely could be found without one of her various Tarro decks close at hard.
She came to precede any given act with a quick spread for guidance. Borlo more than tolerated this behavior. He was just superstitious enough to heed any strong omens or portents determined by her, or more importantly the group. And the group proved surprisingly accurate.
And now a good sign: change, positive growth for all inhabitants of NeoTerra.
“Borlo?” hope beamed from her face as she crossed the threshold into their domicile.
Borlo glanced up at her with the familiar look of bewilderment withered into apathy that hung like a death caul over any given colony dweller.
“Borlo, there is great change on the horizon! Its been foretold and recorded on the datastream ansible-relay. It’s registered in Galactic Archives! No one in the beltway of worlds realizes the significance, believe me. But, we do! This is not some ‘parlor divination’ either. This is Fate, and Destiny!”
“This is humanity’s chance once again to evolve-in our life time-past the entrapments of fear, greed, and loss of energy. To reestablish a truly ‘holy city’; a real paradise from which it once fell away.”
Borlo nodded as his wife continued her discourse. He loved her, loved her passion and enthusiasm. Especially when he felt none. She was his rock in times of great iniquity-when certainty flooded out of him-he cleaved to her.
“...its going to be for some, many in fact, we know. But, we must not miss this call. It is time. The Time. And it will cause a domino effect through out the Hundred Worlds. And then Humanity will truly be free. Finally, once and for all.”
This conversation went on for hours as the Mungeon children tramped and stomped in and out of several rooms within the domicile. Thena reached a crescendo in her diatribe and lapsed finally into silence. Borlo remembered to mention the comburst from earlier, and his Gnos’ connections trail gossip as well.
Thena lowered herself to a table mat and began laying out taro cards in her standard spread.
Corpsman Stratch sat pensively outside his immediate superior’s office. He clutched and unclutched a datachip containing the exact movements of CSV Pandora during the most recent cycle of bursts. The political backlash swirling into a cosmic storm of its own around the incident puzzled Stratch. He couldn’t comprehend the importance of the almost forgotten relic of a ship or the backspace colonyworld. Gamma369 was such a small planet with very little confirmed ore deposits only speculation. After all the sentiments were put aside, Pandora was just another prison vessel in a vastly expanding fleet of such ships. Pandora had only its past merits of distinction as a pioneer in the industry to sustain it. Hardly significant to any aside from the most ardent patriot.
He knew the emergency session had convened and a directive tabled, passed, and issued. It was all standard procedure. But, why his summons to this meeting? Could it have something to do with a rumor circulating the command center that the official Galactic release offered a version of events in stark contrast to the truth as Corpsman Stratch and the handful of others in his section knew it?
Stratch was a patriot. He felt a powerful conviction to maintain law and order, and see justice served swift. But, he also felt a conviction to find and protect the truth. It was an integral element in the principle construct of his patriotism: an oppositional dialectic woven into the fabric of his values system.
Stratch, fully educated by top-notch teachers, illuminators, groomed for his station, possessed a sense of honor and duty beyond reproach. And yet, he was no idealist. He understood the need to maintain security, and craft the truth accordingly. He was no rookie, after all.
But something didn’t sit right as he waited for his appointment.
“Come in Corpsman,” the speaker above the door commanded after considerable time passed.
An hour after Stratch left the office he was clear on the significance of recent events. He knew what was at the root of Central Command’s concern. He possessed two forms.
One contained a list of names that stood out as causes of great alarm. The other was a promotion in rank with Stratch’s name printed upon it.
As he rushed to board his top secret high-speed transit to intercept with the Order Force on route to Gamma369, Field Lieutenant Stratch knew with a deep sense of dread just how the whole affair would be handled before the endgame was done. And it would be quite messy.
Tolman found Mercer hunched over a rudimentary workbench within his sleepchamber, Mercer managed to keep concealed from the guardroids. Clive never slept.
“Its time Mercer.”
Clive Mercer looked up from the work before him with starry-eyed indifference, “Oh?”
“Do you think that little what’s-it there can access the mainframe, and reconfigure the nyluminum circuit plates on the duct-”?
“-The ducts of the quantum program canals...” Mercer mused finishing the sentence and closing his eyes almost trancelike.
“Can it be done?” Tolman asked not masking the urgency, and waking Mercer from almost ceaseless reverie.
“Tricking the whole plant into accepting a new operating system protocol?”
“We have to move now.”
Staring down at the handheld device opened on his workbench, Mercer paused deep in thought. Then nodding his head, he reconnected the hydrocad wafer powercell and screwed the back on.
“We need to find the closest lectrolink stub-out,” a look of purpose fixed and driven emanated from his eyes.
Leo Tolman first met Clive Mercer in the backroom of a traderstation orbiting Sirius6. Both men claimed fealty to a traderlord-a merchant dealing to anyone in everything from salvage to state-of-the-art fresh off the line products.
Mercer spent his time indentured elbow deep in nanogel and carbonite flux. Tolman bluffed his way into engineering through favor and connections. He was already working to bring down the traderlord’s hegemony over Sirius6, and at the same time inspiring the population to ‘socialize’ the industry and resources of the colony. In no time he convinced Mercer to join the struggle for freedom.
Tolman was persuasive, and Mercer was a slave. His indentured servitude to the traderlord or to any other galactic corporate body meant someone owned him. Mercer was a fellaheen without world or station. He was born on a drifter-colony, and would probably still be out there in deep space transport. Drifter colonies transported surviving members of space traveler clans across trillions of miles of space. Clive came from a long line of landless poor tracing all the way back to Old Terra. Billions of such poor were offered government subsidies long ago to relocate by slow transit across the universe. Deliberately slowing their rate of travel to defer their arrival upon the Hundred Worlds.
Drifter colony was a way made for the relocation of the masses in the early days of colonization. Wealthy immigrants could afford more rapid forms of travel through more advanced technology. The same technology standard issue after many years of refinement was found on CSV vehicles like Pandora.
The Quark hyperspace drive allowed these more advanced crafts to jump vast distances in flight thereby increasing rate of travel to just beyond faster than light. In the early days of deep space travel only the rich were afforded such luxury.
Even after both Tolman and Mercer were finally captured several planetary uprisings later, Tolman’s influences still proved capable of placing two men convicted of the same crimes, on the same CSV.
While Mercer set about to work reconfiguring the ship’s OS, Tolman sought out, and gathered together his ‘command crew’-his wolfpack-the key players needed to complete his now greatest mission. All his influences paid off for far more than just Clive Mercer.
In no time it seemed, the takeover was complete with the closest system: Gamma369 the chosen destination.
Even though the majority of the occupants throughout Pandora by all clinical definitions, were sociopathic, they proved surprising capable of organizing, and open to the notion of a new hope offered them through blaring loudspeakers all over the ship prerecorded by Tolman.
It was official Pandora was approaching Gamma369.
The Outpost Attendant contacted Borlo before entering the sequence code to send the updated comburst, so he was abreast of the situation. A colonist using a deepspace digiscope discovered the approaching object.
But, he was puzzled. Sitting on the edge of the custom geltress in the sleep chamber he shared with his wife, asleep beside him, Borlo held his head and wondered at the synchronicity. The post jockey said something was approaching Neoterra. Something big and unscheduled.
He had to approve the comburst and alert Galactic Command that was his job. They could easily find another overseer the run Gamma369. Why wouldn’t he report it anyway? The Restoration Force was on route according to the latest batch of relay-ansible announcements. Peace and order were promised, at all costs.
But, Thena spoke of change, conjunction, and upheaval, leading to great benefits for all humanity.
Was there a connection? Thena laid the Monad of Disks in her last Tarro spread before the children finally ceased their frenzied activities for the night and Borlo groaned under the down slope of Gnos and the end of an amazing full VR exploration of what would likely become the Hundred and First World on the Galactic Trail.
It was a water world, or more precisely a liquid world in the center of an hydrogen nebula cloud. Beneath the strange liquid mix of nyluminumhydrate was an iron core with patches of various metals and ores. The VR experience projected through the proscenium array in his own personal parlor was the moment to moment records of explorers and engineers specially suited and engaged in the tasks of securing the surface of the core, and constructing adequate biospheres for human habitation.
The most intriguing aspect of the journey was explorations around a curious complex discovered beneath the surface of the core with the remains of artifacts indicating intelligent life at some past era. Borlo assumed the virtual persona of an explorer team leader taking his crew into the depths of the obviously artificial caverns documenting their finds along the way.
It was boring and pedantic by colony standards (which held more extreme, and violent programming in higher regard) but Borlo never followed such standards. He enjoyed entertaining a secret explorer fantasy, however dull to others. Plus it gave him just the sort of ‘social stratosphere’ he required to maintain a sense of overseer dignity.
What puzzled him then? Why did he find himself far from normal morning rise pondering the events unfolding before them all?
Mercer opened his eyes and he was standing in a bright green grassy field. Real green grass swaying in an ethereal breeze as patterns swirled, formed, and disbanded in rapid succession to the march of some hidden drum.
My heart is beating in my ears, he thought. He took a shallow breath strangled with fear. Stepping out across the field he felt the blades of grass moist and cool beneath bare feet. Ease washed over him with a sea change of emotion. He looked up and saw multi-colored stars streaking through a canopy of darkness. Breaths came slower, deeper as he reached the center of the field.
A small rock pushed up through soil, roots, and leaves of grass marked the center. As Mercer looked down at it the rock began to shake and pulse. The grass bent back away from the rock along with dark earthy loam, and pebbles as it rose from the ground revealing much more rock beneath the surface. “Is it solid nyluminum?” he wondered out loud.
The suddenly human sized rock floated weightless chest high to Mercer, and halted.
A glowing luminescence from within pulsed as it began to rotate. Mercer heard a subtle humming in his ears as the rock spun faster. The light within grew as the rock turned. The hum and light, louder and brighter.
Suddenly, a beam shot out of the rock hitting Mercer in the chest knocking him off his feet.
As he was brought to the ground with such force the wind left his lungs, a female voice whispered from somewhere:
“accept My correction...”
When Mercer opened his eyes he noticed his hand swaying gently in the tidal current of Pandora’s nanogel canal at one of the many uplink cylinders in the human access engineering bays.
Asleep again? Clive chose to bunk in the bay to be near Pandora’s central processing core. But, strange things were happening to him, and to Pandora.
The storm, he thought. The ion storm had altered Pandora’s nyluminum core somehow. He wasn’t sure how. He’d never seen anything like it.
And that dream! He certainly never had dreams like that before. He was a drifter colony rat. Spending most of his life in space, the few worlds he had set foot on possessed no such flora. Green grass? He’d never seen it.
And the voice, who or what was behind that voice?
Stratch stared into the abyss. The stars streaked by at faster than FTL speed. The latest wave of engineering produced an entire ship fabricated out of Nyluminum. It was the fastest in the fleet, reserved for just such top priority rates of travel.
The cosmos expanded beyond him and any feeble notion floating beneath his lid. How has it come to this? His entire life lay in order before him. All avenues moved in the same consistent deliberately driven direction. There had always been clarity of purpose and direction. His destiny charted from the beginning. He was among the Galactic Elite, the ones chosen to shepherd humanity throughout the Hundred Worlds. This was the culmination of a collective vision carried, stewarded, throughout millennia, by the faithful like Stratch.
And now the recent promotion ignited the germ of ambition that compelled him into galactic service to begin with. Now I’m a commissioned officer. It’s happening.
Stratch was taught at a young age that to see a thing to really envision a thing, an accomplishment, or achievement was to make an investment in that thing’s future existence. And he knew it to be true, because he had seen this day.
“Thoughts become things,” Great-Grandpa Admiral Stratch told him, “what you desire most will become real, one way or another.”
He always knew he would join Galactic service. There was never a doubt. His way carefully mapped out. He held access codes to dozens of citadels placed along the galactic trail by the Order of the Cosmic Monad, for safe refuge and provisions. Every Adept of the Order held keys to the Citadels. He was initiated as a teenager into the order. A ‘legacy’, with generations of his bloodline intertwined within various fraternal associations of similar mystery and intrigue. Many of his very own kin were notorious for their nefarious misdeeds in darker ages. It was an impressive lineage.
The name Stratch was entered into many charters such as the Order of the Grail, Knights of the Thistle, Order of the Good Templars, the Ancient and Accepted Freemasons, the Rite of the Cosmic Ascension, the Order of Space Voyagers, Shrine of the Void, and the Order of the Cosmic Monad.
The Monads believed in the oneness of the Pleroma; the Cosmic emanation centered at the galactic hub. From this creative expansion Stratch understood all reality grew. Those humans able to grasp this and many other strange an facinating truths, understood their direct involvement with the very formation of experience. Reality is malleable.
And yet, with much to objectify his view, Stratch remained troubled. He felt strattled between two extremes.
A man cannot serve two masters.
The darkness of the void was maddening. Staring out the enormous concave optic port his thoughts were swallowed in the ink blackness its depths exposed by intermittent streaks of starlight. Behind him he sensed the stream of humanity leading all the way back to Old Terra, Earth. The story of a species encoded upon organic strands of the fabric his being. This story sung in his soul the tale of progress, at all costs. For what was once novel, now had purpose.
A novelty could never have achieved as much.
There were always acceptable losses to maintain progress, expansion. Then why the trouble, why the confusion?
Because he knew something extraordinary was going to happen to Gamma369. And no one could ever survive to tell that tale.
“What have you got for me Clive-” Tolman took a step back once the sight before him registered in his mind. His back came up against the sealed CSV hatch, he gasped and cringed, his hand franticly toggling the exit lever.
Clive mercer was completely submerged in the nanogel access vat. His skin appeared green through the hazy liquid filter. Electrode feelers latched themselves to his exposed flesh, lacing nanofiber lancets between the thin layers of his skin.
Mercer was a frail man, almost sickly in appearance to begin with. Now his form seemed in the throes of some kind of atrophy. His arms and legs shriveled, and limp. But, his eyes were wide open. He stared straight at Leo.
“Don’t be afraid Leo, just accept Her correction…”
A nanofiber lancet shot out from some unseen panel and latched to the back of Tolman’s hand. Before he could react his mind was flooded with white light. A blanket of luminosity enveloped him, and he saw clearer than anything he had ever imagined, he saw the path he was always meant to walk along with all humanity.
Before Pandora entered orbit around Gamma369, the entire population of the ship received ‘Her correction.’ Many inmates joined Mercer within the “NanoSea” throughout the vast complex of tanks, vats, canals, and cylinders holding and circulating nanogel within the ship. While others remained ‘ashore’ with Tolman, assuming the tasks and functions of a real crew within her metallic skin.
Those once sentenced and confined to expire inside of Pandora, had entered into a pact with the ship. They pledged fealty to Her cause, and surrendered their collective personae to know the Oneness that was the birthright of all humanity.
Thena and Borlo sat huddled quietly on the back patio of their domicile the blazing orange sun setting low across the barren wastes. And high to the left a new star shone like a beacon of change. It’s approach was hidden by misdirection. But they knew it was coming.
Their children lay still in oblivious slumber. Safe and sound from the habitual thoughts of fear and dread flitting through the minds of their parents in their collective silence.
“The impact of this change will start a movement, a chain reaction with far-reaching effects,” Thena said quietly breaking the silence.
“We have to trust the indwelling spirit connecting us from within to the creative forces of the universe. The Aeonic Currents from which Gaia-Sophia coauthor of the template of the human spirit; the Anthropos, originally came, flow through out the spiraled galactic armatures of the universe. The Great Mill of Creation grinds out the organic/inorganic material; the ‘meal or manna’ a fertile substance which bears forth the stuff of stars, and dense matter particles of a spore like nature; little kernels of potential life incrusted in a hard shell of the most durable material.”
“These ‘propagules’ flow along the cosmic breeze of space capable of inert dormancies of unequalled length. They seed life throughout the universe, life in many possible forms, Borlo. ”
Borlo turned his gaze directly upon his wife, and soul mate as she went on.
“These very seeds formed an ion storm front which invaded the quasi-living circuitry of the CSV Pandora. A new life form has expanded from this invasion. Or at least the essential first half of a life form…”
“How do you know all this?” Borlo asked unable to hide bewilderment.
“She told me in a dream while napping.”
“She yes. Pandora, or “P’dora” as she prefers.”
“Yes. Now is the time for trust, Borlo my love.”
Borlo lapsed back to silent reflection on the word which seemed to skip across the barren waste an echo of an idea once familiar now long forgotten: Trust.
He considered this, and what might possibly constitute the second half of ‘a life form’ meant to join the ship calling herself P’dora.
The Galactic Command Force transport GCF Hermes passed the Security force enroute to Gamma369 at faster than FTL speed ahead of projections. A stream burst was transmitted on a “daisy-chained” relay through sub-space frequency from the Hermes to the Security Force Com.
“Execute command directives upon arrival” was received by the Security Fleet Com.
Stratch was impressed with the prototype’s overall performance. This model would be a fine new advancement for the colonial cause. He spent the last shift at the helm. The command team had afforded him a wide berth of movement on board which included taking the wheel. Silent hand signals to Stratch revealed the Order’s presense in the privaledged orders. He took the liberty of opening the thruster valve just to see what that little space-skiff could do. And he was not disappointed.
Now the fated destination was at hand.
Onboard the ship, the crew of P’dora was preparing for: The Great Convolution, as they were coming to know it.
The collective of former prisoners comprising Her crew understood the conjunction that was needed to complete the emergence of the universe’s new super being in glorified form: P’dora-N’Terra. They understood they would be cells of Her body with the expressed intent of realizing Her Great and Mysterious Purpose. From within Her luminousity they understood true Oneness.
The living metal of Her core began the Song of Return to the metal ore laying throughout NeoTerra in ancient tones. The resonance was met with exulted warmth, and submissive hospitality.
As the ship moved in closer to the planet its velocity increased exponentially. The neovinyl heat tiles on the outer hull smeared like boiling putty across the surface of P’dora in the gust of the atmospheric thrust. A great sore of an opening preceded a flood of now altered nanogel that oozed forth into an expectant globule on what was the front hull. A gaping crater lay beneath.
On the planet surface at the clear point of contact between earth and hull a mounded cone of nyluminum rose to meet the coming fireball that once was CSV Pandora.
To be continued.
BY FRATER X
The Baroque Bean was the only real coffeehouse left in Topeka, Kansas. Andres Zatarain cleaned the shop after hours. When the muffled feet of industry lay still in evening reverie, waiting in muted melancholy for dawn and a new day.
Andres rose at dawn along with everybody else, and groaned before the pocked glass of his musty bathroom mirror, the regular daily ritual. First, cold water splashed across the face. Another groan and stretch. Then a grin, examine teeth, and note the slow progress of decay. Imagine dentures again, and the various family members with exclusive claims to the secret club of artificial body parts. The list was long. And finally, a long careful examination of the eyes.
They’re getting worse. The thought was just another part of the daily ritual, now.
The Creeping Death. That’s what he called it; Creeping Death like a phantom from his past uses and abuses back to haunt him. If only it was the past seeking vengeance, retribution.
The dark, purplish red markings around his eyelids were barely visible to anyone-not looking for them. Andres noticed them shortly after he moved his family into their home on Serling Drive in Oakland, Kansas.
Oakland lay just across the Kansa River to the northeast of Topeka. A mammoth grain silo blocked the Oaklander’s view of the desolate skyline of their capital city.
The village of Oakland was draped along the riverfront, a consortium of decrepit storefronts shrinking away from caved in walkways crumbling along both sides of a near vacant thoroughfare. It was a village in steady decomposition. The people were hanging on the thin thread of sparse, intermittent employment that was just enough to keep the hounds of credit woe at bay, but still howling at the door.
Drifting in semi-dreamlike states, the Oaklanders moved with purpose through their collective daze. To and fro, work and home. A blur of same-dayness insinuated itself upon the land, and everyone seemed unaware.
The Creeping Death was par for the course.
It was a course he began long before Oakland, back in New York, when he finally came in from the cold, married Gail, and decided it was time to plant some roots, settle down, have a family, and start living. Some time after that the Fear made its first appearance one dark, and lonely night.
The Creeping Death follows the Fear.
Andres was certain all of it was obviously manifestation of his subconscious fears of impotency and inadequacy, but knowledge of this fact seemed to do nothing for him, or his defense.
The Bean was the end, the landing pad of everyday. After mornings spent testing, and ‘donating’ biogenetic material at the Biomat, he caught the lunch rush at Roscoe’s Sports Bar and Grill with all the burgers and pizzas sweat and verbal abuse any man could stand. The Bean was a welcome respite to such a schedule. Most days he could clean the place from front to back by nine in the evening.
And when he reached his particular corner of the earth, his neighbor Wilbur-with beer-would greet his approach.
“All hell’s breakin loose again down ta the southern half, and I warned ‘em!” he slurred, one hand gripping the latest in an endless line of cans of cheap, rot gut malt beverage, the other clutching the crumbling wooden deck post barely steadying his sway. Wilbur always referred to the former South American continent as ‘the southern half’, ever since the Pan American Union Act, and the annexation.
And beneath the shaded safety glasses he wore night and day, one of Wilbur’s eye sockets lay empty from a childhood mishap. One ‘misplaced’ suction cup dart from a toy pistol, left the pocket shriveled shut, sealed tight with a constant ooze of eye-slime. And beneath the slime, of course, were purplish red markings.
A roofer by trade, Wilbur was forced to join one of the newly formed trade guilds- part of a nationwide ‘corpocratic reorganization’ spearheaded by the latest administration. Problem was Wilbur was not a joiner by disposition.
With a penchant for carrying side arms while intoxicated, and on the job site, his guide membership was brought to an abrupt end. He was deemed a psychological security risk and granted full disabled status. He would be permitted to eek out a slow, demented half-life of existence, permanently grafted to the state teat. He would be just another suckling among a multitude of unimportance.
All hell was breakin loose that’s for sure.
Andres nodded silently to Wilbur, and headed for the front door to his home when the Horror, just a hint of the Creeping Death, peaked at him from across the street. Curtains rippled ever so slightly as the Horror winked at him from the shadows, as if to remind him of their engagement later in the evening when the world finally slowed and stilled, and the night could truly express itself.
Regina looked at her reflection once again as the middle-aged man sitting at the table beside hers continued his rant,
“…What I am trying to convey on page is a tradition I fear, lost. The great manifest destiny that made this nation mighty, characterized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo, coupled with the early post-industrial alienation of Liver-Eatin Johnson, and Jack London’s People of the Abyss…” he would go on and on. He did it everyday at that time.
At least he had for the last week since she arrived in Topeka.
The mid-west city was as bleak and austere as she imagined, and secretly hoped it would be. A cold war monument trapped upon a landlocked prairie. The desolation enveloped her on arrival. Such a deep and complete despair hung like a London fog on the landscape. She found it exhilarating. Even the ugly American before her made but a ripple in her inner quietude, however tense she was with deadline pressure.
She found such a serene peace in obvious social decay. She fed on it.
This was the meat of the thing she sought. The truth to record (edited slightly for content, of course) and convey to her audience, the Great White Silent Majority-blanketed in their collective slumber by a warm, milky cathode glow of televised programming. Sequestered in their various, individual viewing chambers, the collective hungered for human interest. It hungered for blood.
And Regina Chevalier delivered.
She came all the way from NYC to follow the story. It was how she paid the bills. Andres Zatarain and his family were the story. She checked her PDA and continued to feign interest in the coffeehouse sophist. He was yet another misplaced potentate in the diaspora of intelligentsia. A substitute teacher at a local high school, he was harmless, and she admired his inner fortitude, and his naïve bewilderment towards the change blowing in the wind of modern times.
“Of course, all this is moot in the eyes of today’s administrators. They would rather have the students reading tech-manuals exclusively, and working so-called, ‘study-shifts’ at the Biomat plant in the collateral research department, than pursuing knowledge, true gnosis…” Somehow the old codger always managed to steer the topic of conversation to the sad, state of affairs in modern education, as he saw it.
Where was Zatarain? She thought, again. He was an hour late. So not like him. He was obsessively early everywhere he went, except home, according to his wife Gail. Their relationship seemed strange to her. How could they function the way they did, with three small children to provide for? Even with more work than hours in the week, there was no extra money to speak of.
Only the money they handed over to everyone else who got to enjoy their hard-earned little income. She saw a vast wasteland spread out within the heart of America. The nation was a wasteland teeming with hollow men, and women drifting through wakes and troughs of apathy.
Andres entered the shop shaking her from her dreary vision.
Andres Zatarain agreed to meet the digital journalist from New York at the Bean in downtown Topeka. Regina Chevalier had contacted his family via email a few weeks prior. She tracked them down to do a follow-up on a piece written two years earlier, in the wake of the 2010 Social Reformation Legislation.
The Frivolous Occupations Statutes established domestically that same year, disenfranchised millions of Americans. Families just like the Zatarains uprooted in search of better opportunities elsewhere and left NYC. Their only guarantee a promise of work in one of the many biomedical research plants operating in the prairie states.
The Biomed Industry was instrumental in revitalizing the mid-west economy. No one questioned their intent, or their practices. Their multilevel above and below ground installations employed hordes of otherwise undesirables, far beneath the global minimum pay scale.
Those not lucky enough to find legitimate alternatives turned to the underground and a life of criminal activities.
Regina Chevalier chronicled six families’ fate after the social upheaval of the Reformation. All but two disappeared, completely absorbed into the underground counterculture. The Zatarains and another family were the only two she managed to keep in touch with. She maintained a courteous distance until her editor gave her a green light on the follow-up project.
A full digivirtual layout complete with new SuperSense upgrade was scheduled. The raw tragic plight of the Zatarains would be broadcast more real than being there.
That’s when she reached out to him.
Topeka, Kansas was a welcomed change of venue to NYC. Though several years had passed since the Oil Grab of 2009-after the fall of OPEC-Regina still met disdainful stares from fellow New Yorkers when they realized she was from the Republic of Lorraine, formerly Southern France. Everyone knew the Lorrainians provided tactical air support to the Arabian Security Forces guarding the oilfields worldwide. The NATO blitz didn’t even pause before mowing them down. The victory was decisive for the NeoYanks, but they never forgot the offense committed by the former French still regarded as an enemy of the free. It was a final blow to a long and strained relation.
Regina was American now, but her accent would forever associate her with the guilt of a few powerbrokers looking for cheaper oil.
“I want to get some shots of the river on the way back,” she announced after an hour of Q&A. The holoscanner would relay the digital patterns she recorded on to her PDA. Many subscribers opted for implantation of SuperSense upgrade. Holoscans were enhanced exponentially with SuperSense.
By the time Andres led Regina to the crater barely visible with the fade of half a decade of time, the Voice drove the Fear and Creeping Death out of sight. The Voice always soothed him. It was his voice, among others. There were voices from his memories of childhood, familiar, familial voices. All is Well. They soothed. Everything is under Control.
The crater lay beyond a high patch of riverweeds. It looked like a mere depression in the muddy bank of the river, nothing more. One could hardly tell that scores of Oaklanders visited the site down through the decades since that first year: 1951.
The year of the flood.
Few people living still remembered the flood of ’51 that soaked the capital of Kansas. Some recalled what happened to them personally: “I ruined my best Sunday suit,” or “nothing ever grew the same on that patch…” etc. One thing no one seemed to remember was the extraordinary meteor shower the night before the flood.
And most certainly, no one recalled the spore-mold entity riding a large hunk of celestial debris down into the crater on the banks of the Kansa that night.
With that landing came the end of an ancient journey spanning thousands of years into the furthest reaches of outer space. 12,000 light years from Earth’s galaxy, a dark star-burned out sun-commanded a galaxy of debris.
The Spore as it thought of itself lay dormant in the dark star galaxy for millennia waiting for the return of a wayward comet on transit that brought it home, into the Earth’s solar system.
While they walked back from the Bean, Andres told Regina about the day, soon after they moved to Oakland, when his two young sons returned from the river.
They were congested, and covered in a fine purplish powder. After a night of fitful dreams for the whole family, Andres made his oldest son show him the crater site. Of course, by that time the Spore was already moving through Andres, Gail and the baby girl, as well. Going to the crater just hurried things along.
The boy’s symptoms faded, but the marks around their eyes remained. Each member of the family suffered the same way.
“But the strangest thing,” Andres recounted, “the strangest thing, was the effect within…”
“First the thoughts rise from nowhere,” Andres continued, “thoughts that seem comforting in a way like: ‘You don’t have to be Afraid,’ and ‘You’re not Alone,’ ‘We are with You,’ but pretty eerie just the same. Then you know…”he trailed off.
Regina didn’t ask the follow-up question. She was already feeling the thrall cascade down upon her, or was it up from the worn crater there in the muddy riverbank? She could not tell. The effect was getting stronger. She saw drifting starscapes in her mind’s eyes. Everything moved at a fast clip.
She swooned, and her knees buckled before she righted herself.
“You OK?” Andres managed muttering from his own fugue. The Creeping Death was leering at him from across the river.
All is well. The thought passed between them as their eyes met. From the kitchen of the Zatarain’s home, Gail and the children hummed in accord. Their thoughts rose in unison through the cheap material of the roof, past the Spore pockets slowly consuming the synthetic fiber, and pulp, and growing into something new. An unknown ‘something new’ in the universe.
And the thing growing in the pockets of the roof, and the crawlspace would join with the thing growing in the Zatarains, in many others, and now Regina Chevalier, and form something even newer, and very much aware.
The invasion had already begun.
It was much later, and much darker when Andres and Regina returned to the house on Serling Drive. All the deadline tensions Regina felt earlier were fast being replaced by the shadow of a dream. A vision of a better life. A world where questions of survival, questions of life and death were simplified distilled into their essence.
Carbon was all it needed. Carbon and a little hydrogen.
And both are abundant here. Just as the Spore dreamt there would be. For thousands of years it imagined the many forms of matter it would consume.
And all strife, all fear, and all worries-the preoccupations with this or that political party-no longer mattered. It no longer mattered what was in the water, or in the ground where your garden grew. Or even what you breathed off the walls with in your very bedroom. It no longer mattered because everything was under control, and for the first time in ages, people saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seemed.
“So, how will it all go down?” Regina asked breaking the silence of the night air on the porch.
“Slowly at first, like these things always go down. Then gradually, it will pick up speed,” Andres answered all knowing. Everyone knew. Each person in effect, carried a small kernel of Spore consciousness, the collective with in. Everyone knew the plan.
“And no one will notice?”
“Not at first, and then it will be too late. It will simply appear as if everyone has just given up. As if apathy has taken society to another level of existence. A new reality where it doesn’t matter anymore how much you weigh, how much hair you have on your body, or how your lawn looks.”
It was that simple. And no one would notice in time.
Regina stepped off the porch and looked up through the ancient oak tree looming above the Zatarain home. One-eyed Wilbur watched silently from his own porch.
Peering at the stars shining through the watchful boughs, Regina’s mind drifted to the banks of her home the Mediterranean. Recollection of the coast was so faint to her it seemed another life.
And the whisper grew louder, easing her mind as she turned and sized up the shot of the porch, and wondered how it was all going to look in SuperSense high definition.
The story was all coming together.
She would return to New York City. To the sneers, and stares in the local delis, and subway trains. And no one would notice the purplish red markings around her eyes. No one would ever even see the patches of Spore spread out across the ceiling in her bathroom, and up into the crawlspace between her apartment, and the one above her.
And we’ll be there with you, a thought snickered from somewhere in the darkness.
And she knew it was the Fear, and the Creeping Death talking, but there was nothing she could do about it…
BIRTH OF A SALESMAN
BY FRATER X
“I’ve often thought what we’re doing here is just like fishin,” James Lucien was on another rant, as general manager of the call center it was his duty.
“My mother always told me I’d either be a preacher, or a salesman-Lord forgive me, my fallen nature won out-but let us consider for a moment, the words of Our Savior…” when he went on like that his bottom lip curled up into an obscene, arrogant grin. His tongue twitched around, and flicked in and out of his mouth-a disgusting, hungry gleam in his eyes.
You knew he was thinking about money. Big piles of it.
You could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes highlighting those bloodshot orbs.
Jimbo’s midsection was already full-blown middle-aged to match his shaved head hiding bald patch.
“…I love fishin. Each call on the phones here is like a cast-remember that. You have your bait, hook, and line. You’re in control of the situation. It’s all about how you respond to every given opportunity. Each cast is a potential tap. And taps people, taps are the reason we’re here today, and everyday. Not only are we raising funds for law enforcement, we’re gaining political support for the ‘PoliceClass.’ I know I don’t have to remind any of you here why this benefits us all, do I?” He gave a sweeping gesture. He was always using sweeping gestures to punctuate his statements. Always tempting response, palms faced out-questing. The grin vanished behind a steel gray stare, the face of Authority, of Daddy-Teacher-Coach-Drill Sergeant-Boss, the Mask of Death-the death of pride and integrity for the cause.
It was the death of self to the collective.
The death of freedom through lies issuing forth from the mask…
It was the death of bad guys in a hail of good guy silver bullets.
“…In conclusion, here at Solar Industries (a slight glance at his enormous pinky ring bearing the company herald) we will be: ‘fishers of taps.’ Alright people, campaigns are up, smile and dial.”
All around the call center people moved with bee-like intensity. The hive was abuzz with activity. There was money and support to be raised.
It had been a quick pass for him, three months. He needed a job, any job. The pickins were slim.
With Kansas University permanently transplanted from Lawrence to Overland Park, east on the road to Kansas City, many entry-level jobs simply no longer existed in Lawrence.
There was the full-scale urban development and road reconstruction project swallowing up the space (mostly former farmland) between Lawrence and Topeka, the state capital situated twenty miles to the west.
A way was being made for a huge new center of commerce and industry: TopLaw megapolis-the wave of the future a super city. It had to be better than the way things were. At present, large pockets of people were left marooned in postindustrial outer wastes nationwide with little or no infrastructure to meet the general needs.
But the ‘recon project’ amounted to little more than long, backbreaking hours in unbearable heat with ceaseless bug bites, digging trenches and ditches for below criminal wages.
There were few jobs like Solar Industries in the market. It was a climate controlled work environment with enough pay to live on, and send some back east.
He needed work. He had a family to provide for.
“And your residence, now?” Peggy the receptionist asked him when he applied at Solar. She wore the vacant smile of someone no longer capable of caring about the people she processed. If ever she had.
“At the FOA refugee center.”
She bristled, and he knew she still lived at home safe among her own kind.
“And your family?”
“They are back east, till I get things settled here.” It almost sounded rehearsed, if it wasn’t true. He wondered if she thought so. From the look in her eyes he knew she heard the same story many times a day.
The Frivolous Occupation Refugee Center of Lawrence, Kansas was just like all the others peppering the landscape of America. They sprang up in the wake of a series of “Social Reorganization” laws spearheaded by the Frivolous Occupation Act. The legislation, unanimously passed in both Houses, effectively segregated the American population along socio-economic lines permanently. It was official, and now many people were no longer employable in America.
“We reserve the right to terminate your employment without warning or reason at anytime, but you must submit your request for resignation a month prior to the date requested, or you forfeit your last paycheck…”
He arranged to have the bulk of his check (which wasn’t much by cost of living standards) sent to his family after the basic needs were met to keep him alive and earning. Everything for them.
There were thirty-six cubicles on the call center floor, each one exactly like the next. There were nine rows, four chairs deep. Along each wall were dozens of motivational, and inspirational tracts, posters, and banners, all extolling the pure virtues of good salesmanship. And on the farthest wall from the entrance hung a giant flag of the company herald: a fiery red and yellow sunburst-Sol Invicticus-the invincible sun on a black background.
The flag always gave him pause, for a moment. He would wonder scanning the room, how many of his fellow co-workers ever considered the symbolic connotations of the company standard. Visions of high priests in ritual garb, performing archaic rites in ziggurat astro-death chambers, paraded through his mind.
But, the eyes of his co-workers were glazed over with just the sort of indifference one would expect from the average member of the general population; no one seemed concerned, they never did.
He chose a centrally located cubicle giving him a bird’s eye view of the entire floor. Not far away the ‘Eagle’s Nest’ command center for daily operations was on a raised dais platform. Everything was controlled from there.
Starting with the row closest to him he noticed the little keepsakes, pictures and knick-knacks that inevitably cluttered most workstations. Following the rows out across the floor, he saw a marked decrease in ‘personal flair’ on the desks, until the items vanished altogether. And at the end of the floor, a clear and spotless final row stood in stark contrast.
The personnel seemed varied along the same lines. The newcomers dressed in the broad range of common and unique garb one encountered walking in off the streets. Here were the remnants of the distinct and individual fashions of a once self-determined populace. People doomed to the inevitable hordes of unemployables, yet with still enough confidence in their adaptive abilities to step forward, and seek out employment. The middle row on the floor was reserved for those who made it through ‘basic training’, the trial of fire where the newcomer was pushed into the fray and allowed to sink or swim. They were dressed in more uniform, and slightly finer dress.
The last row on the floor, the one barren of item or artifact, comprised the company’s top sales team: The WolfPack. They stood at their terminals-a solid line of four matching red singlesuits complete with sunburst patches embroidered on each back. They were the shop warriors. They were the A-team, like a Special Forces ‘search and destroy’ unit. Each of their glowing screens pulsed before them, scrolling the available data as the WolfPack prowled the populace gathering more victims from citizens lucky enough to have retained positions, homes, bank accounts, and dignity.
More members of society each day succumbed to stark horror, and despair, to the apathetic realization that one day, they too would be worthless unemployable, undesirable, and untouchable. It was the collective fate of America’s under belly: the landless poor.
“Basically, we want to bond with these folks. Keep them talking about themselves, about their lives, their dreams, their problems, and especially their fears. All the while building a useful, exploitable level of trust,” one of the call center Quality Assurance coaches spoke with subtle but firm confidence. I want you to remember the two principles of sales:
number one, everyone is lying. That’s the bottom line. And two, you’re only as good as your present numbers. You can’t live on past merits. It’s only your conversion rate of straight cold calls into taps, and supporters.”
“But, you said this was ‘fundraising’ (mocking finger gestures) not sales, right? So there isn’t any quota pressures, right?” It was another newcomer just like him asking.
The QA coach shot an angry squint at the source of query.
“We are raising funds, yes. But, we apply the same key universal principles of sales here. And you are expected to earn your keep, don’t be mistaken. Any other questions?” Probing eyes studied the semantic reactions of the new recruits. The outspoken newcomer pressed himself to the back of the group. He would be the first to go by day’s end.
And that was it. Everything was scripted. Each station had its own dialer, monitor, and database filled with amusing anecdotes, rebuttals, and opposition overcomers. Meticulously arranged to build trust, and win support. The best examples had fancy nicknames such as, the Bomb, the Juice, and the Final Blow. All designed to convince the unwilling to voluntarily allow a directdeposit deduction from their annual Tax Rebate Disbursement for law enforcement.
A lectrobus took him to and from work, and the FOA center on days too cold and rainy to walk. It took about 45 minutes to walk to work. His days blurred into weeks as he moved from one campaign to the next. Every extra penny he earned in wages went back east to his expectant family members.
And he lamented the terrible loneliness that crowded his soul.
Jimbo Lucien arrived everyday at Solar with the golden hue tanned scalp of another month long vacation at the company’s (and worker’s) expense under his belt, and sauntered down the ramp way to the call center floor. Lord of his domain, he surveyed all that he ruled. His younger brother, Eugene-‘Eu’ to his friends, and colleagues-a watered-down, knock off of the elder Lucien, trailed close behind him.
Chubbier, and softer Eu stood a foot taller than Jimbo, yet his slouch like stature made him appear shorter by all accounts.
Between the two of them, they masterminded a fundraising operation able to exert significant influence over any targeted area. They exerted equal, if not greater, influence over the many thousands of refugees from various FOA centers. Solar industries was one of many fundraising arms of the law enforcement PoliceClass-the palace guard.
And this arm was not averse to flexing its muscle when needed.
Scooting under the closing door crack of economic and social reform, Solar found a nitch in campaign telecommunications. The industry was an important scientific application in the New World Order. The manufacture of consensual reality was multifaceted. It was hard work, serious work sculpting political opinions and social views.
Jimbo Lucien was from the class of psuedo-elite most despicable. He bludgeoned all within earshot with just the kind of ignorant hick-truisms that badgered freethinking into near extinction. There was no broader base of support for the agenda of the global elite, than the beast, Lucien.
The once great nation of America was piloted over the falls of fascist corporate oblivion by many such men as Jimbo Lucien, and his brother. Only money mattered to their breed.
The Lucien brothers reinvested some of the profits of Solar back into the company, but a greater portion went to an exclusive real estate venture sponsored by the Overland Park Reserve Association. It was called the Fairdale Project.
Fairdale was yet another ‘latest wave’ of Elite Developments based on the global standards of exclusive compounds, first designed and implemented by the social elite of Brazil. Compounds with names like: Alphaville, and SevenHaven flourished in the last days of the 20th century.
Through Elite Developments, the top percentile of any country could reside in secure luxury deep inside walled fortresses with thousand-men combat trained security forces, armored Humvees, and Apache choppers.
Hordes of down-troddened masses teamed and seethed at every opening, and exit hatch of these communities. They lived off the fellaheen scraps. Polite society was no longer safe from ‘the rabble,’ traditional police forces were inadequate. More force was always needed.
The Lucien’s, and others of ‘Midwest privilege’ anxiously awaited their citadel honoring capital-Fairdale.
He was mostly unaware of the designs of the Luciens of the world. He was consumed only with the agony of separation from his loved ones. An eternity passed since last he saw them. He ached, and wondered with dread-how long can I go on?
How has all this come to pass?
How his life, his family, his offspring’s fate had sunk to such a tragic state, a fatherless existence, escaped him.
It wasn’t right-he knew it deep in his soul.
Yet alas, he felt the pervasive wave of impotence-so common to his wretched state-wash over him once more.
All he could do was trudge on, and hope the road to happy destiny lay somewhere before him.
Jimbo Lucien prowled the call center floor carefully searching each one of his employees for any outward signs of weakness, or resignation-any hints of the breaking point where one might insert doubt, concern, or any semblance of conscience or morals and interfere with Solar’s prime directive. Profit.
What little funds the general population still possessed-especially those in the ‘twilight’ of their mediocre lives-was what Solar Industries reached for. The rows of workers busily fleecing what was left after bleak days of ever-increasing living expenses, and bureaucratic ‘administrative taxation’.
“Come on people,” he would cry out over their heads, “let’s hit it up out there. Loud and Proud!” Ever vigilant, hands on his hips, elevated above the floor in the ‘eagle’s nest’ he projected leadership.
Here I reign supreme, he said with his stance.
Lying on his bunk at the FOA center he could see Jimbo Lucien standing at attention, hovering above the call center floor. With teeth-grinding frustration he sought escape from his fate. He was callcenter-rep#30312, and he was doomed, nothing more.
Somehow he found himself on the wrong side of the cosmic equation. There were the Jimbo Luciens of the world-who always ended up on top with both feet on the ground-and then there’s me, and my kind.
His life had never been smooth. Nothing ever went totally his way-not without some catch. There was always some take to the give. He found it hard to be grateful for his struggle, knowing the Jimbo Luciens of the world were out there. To scratch feebly in the dirt, and muck of predestiny’s crapshoot, while others soared with the eagles towards their next round of holidays, was hard to swallow.
But then, who was he to question his station? Wasn’t that just short of the sort of lawless individualism that undermined productivity?
He did well at Solar Industries, as much to his surprise as to his immediate supervisors. He had a knack for the call center racket, a gift to gab.
He could talk to people over the phone-really get them to open up to him. He shared their isolated pain, and loneliness.
As the weeks progressed he moved along the floor closer and closer to the last row, to the WolfPack.
It was the final rung on the call center ladder, after
rolling with the repeated punches of sudden schedule or campaign changes, not to mention being able to meet the ever increasing ‘support goals’. He always kept that final row before him, encouraging him-even goading him when he needed, along the trail up to the mountainside to the top of the summit.
It wasn’t until he reached the penultimate row that he noticed weird things about the WolfPack.
He watched the four top reps closely as they performed their daily duties. There was always a focused intensity about their actions-almost inhuman, preternatural. And they never seemed to take any kind of breaks throughout the day, not even to use the bathroom. They rarely moved from their stations, standing motionless before each monitor except for a slight sway, and periodic nodding in animate gesture imploring the latest prospective supporter on the line with well practiced, fabricated chatter designed to maximize trust-delivered with firm confidence and timing.
He didn’t know the extent of the weirdness until the day Jimbo Lucien gave his inspirational-‘fishers of taps’ speech. On that day the top dog of the WolfPack-the ‘uber mensch’ call-rep#30033 short-circuited in the second half.
Call-rep#30033 was a legend on the call center floor. For over two years no one could touch the sales record of Solar’s number one call-rep. No one even came close, until 30312.
During the second half-after Jimbo’s speech-30312 (after trailing close behind 30033 in daily support gathered) passed 30033 in daily total funds raised.
Everyone on the floor was astonished. The QA coaches watched silently from their prospective stations as 30312 gained more distance. A hush fell over the workers. The Luciens stood pensive in the Eagle’s Nest, their gazes shifting from the floor to the digital readout scrolling along the wall. Then 30033 lost his mind.
Breaking formation with the WolfPack, 30033 crossed the rows and picked up a blue coffee mug being used as a pencil holder by a lower level call-rep. After dumping the pencils out on the workstation he smashed the mug into a pile of jagged shards on the concrete floor. No one seemed to notice as 30033 methodically placed a blue shard on each workstation mumbling, “good luck, for good luck…” as he went.
Before he reached 30312, 30033 was intercepted by Eu. The benevolent Lucien led 30033 to the backroom tech lab without incident, and the calls resumed at Solar Industries.
Before 30312 had time to process the event Jimbo Lucien stepped up to his workstation.
Jimbo approached him with the deliberate swagger of someone used to getting his way: from the ‘marks’ on the phone, to his younger brother, and elderly parents (the real money behind Solar), to his wife and brow-beaten children, and most especially the grunts occupying the seats on his call center floor. Everyone gave him whatever he needed whenever he wanted it.
Solar Industries CEO eyed 30312 with the same bloodshot orbs hiding dollar signs.
30312 looked down half expecting to see glowing laser dollar signs burning into him, or at least projected upon him. It was a long, loaded, silent stare, so unnerving 30312 almost screamed,
“Jimbo?”(Jimbo insisted everyone call him; “Jimbo”)
“You’re doing a bang up job here, you know that?” Jimbo answered.
“Yes sir.” The usual nervous semantic reaction began to kick in.
“Yes sir, and we would like to take this whole thing to the next level…” That gleam in the eyes again. The pitch was out there, easy as that.
As Eu led 30312 through the door to the backroom tech lab he delivered the usual small talk to disarm the prospective call rep. The immediate work area resembled any typical electronics workshop. Various components and tools scattered in piles of incomplete projects across the room. A lone system tech looked impassively at a scorched CPU with sheared wires dangling from it. 30312 thought he noticed blood on the circuits. Passing an open doorway they entered another backroom with examination tables along one wall. 30033 lay with his singlesuit folded down to his waist on the first table. Another tech drone fumbled at a scanner readout above the table. 30033 stared out into the empty space of the room with a glazed look in his eyes.
“He’ll be alright. Some people require more upkeep than others,” Eu said matter of factly, “I have a good feeling about you, though. I knew a year ago when we first promoted 30033, he’d have trouble with the upgrade implants. Now, let’s find the right size singlesuit for you.” There was a row of suits wrapped in plastic, hanging from a rack at the far end of the room.
After he signed a liability waiver 30312 was led through another door-this one requiring Eu to swipe his palm on a sensor before opening-to a more sterile work area. More techs milled about all wearing protective smocks facemasks and gloves.
With every upgrade, a state of the art nyluminum uniframe scaffold was surgically grafted to the recipient’s nerve center through the spinal column allowing for optimum conductivity. The device and procedure were the brainchildren of an obscure inventor named Tesla Pasternak.
“I discovered Dr. Pasternak while searching for an alternative to surgery for my youngest daughter Alice,” Eu explained while preparing 30312 for his upgrade. “Alice suffered with chronic ear infections, and my wife and I were concerned about her being operated on. Pasternak was highly recommended by a fellow member of the Overland Park Reserve. He lives way out on the prairie in one of those stainless steel campers, you know the old ‘Aerostreams.’ Well, Dr. Pasternak’s trailer is very unique. Aside from the scanner he used to treat my daughter, he had the prototype to these.” Hanging inside a Plexiglas case dozens of scaffolds gave off reflected light.
“After you get fitted with one of these you’ll need special supplements. We’ve developed a high-fiber monatomic amino acid nutribisquit especially designed to increase quantum processing between your nervous system and the scaffold.”
Dr. Tesla Pasternak began his research pioneering a new form of sonic therapy while working for an engineering firm designing hearing test equipment for the public school system. The company also happened to market unusual, high-tech hearing aids.
Pasternak’s new therapy led to further research and development discoveries. A field of study called: resonant psychic programming was born.
This research in turn opened the door leading Tesla to quantum programming and his nyluminum neuronet scaffold prototype. Once Solar Industries, and several other law enforcement grants properly funded the good doctor, the first line of uniframe scaffolds became available to the top reps eager to grow, and progress within the company. There were many other applications for the uniframes.
Trouble was, not everyone was receptive enough to the grafting procedure using new experiment nanofibers inserted into the spinal column. The odds were stacked against success-otherwise the WolfPack would have had more team members.
Once the grafting stabilized, the recipient’s metabolic functioning would be permanently altered. Hence, the conspicuous absence of bathroom breaks.
It took no time at all for him to adjust, his spinal column seemed content with its nyluminum passenger. He marveled at how the scaffold interfaced with his mind. He felt the presence of a vast network of knowledge and potential within.
He was assigned 30033’s station-30033 never returned to work. He wondered what happened to Solar’s former top dog. He even wondered aloud to a QA coach, but no one seemed to know anything, nothing was ever said. He could only be concerned with meeting support goals, and keeping the funds flowing back east. With his new upgrade, he continued to progress.
After more months passed, and 30312 managed to keep increasing daily funds raised, Jimbo made another pitch.
At the end of his highest day of conversion (breaking the standing company record held by 30033) 30312 was led to yet another backroom entry. Eu glanced around nervously before swiping his palm on the biometric sensor.
“This is the inner circle. The nerve center of Solar Industries, literally.” Eu said before opening the door.
Stepping into the chamber, 30312 caught a strong whiff of antiseptic. It stung his nostrils. Nine acrylic canisters formed a half moon crescent around the room. In eight of the containers disembodied brains stems, and spinal cords thrashed around gently while floating in a greenish embryonic ‘quanta-soup.’ The ninth canister was empty.
His eyes traced the Ethernet nanocables from each tank to the wet frame CPU. Through an intricate series of grooves, and canals, the CPU filtered the quanta, uploading from the occupants of each canister updated data-fresh from the soup. The processed information was stored on backup hard drives.
“Every IT-Specialist in here,” Eu gestured towards the half moon of canisters, “is maintained and serviced by its own fleet of nanprobes-all equipped with tool repair servos.”
30312 thought he could see a tiny cloud of particles swimming through the soup of the closet canister. The cloud had a distinct formation to its pattern. Like a school of brine shrimp it swirled from the top of the brain stem to the end of twisting spinal cord. Little blue sparks alighting at contact points.
“Think of this as the ultimate promotion. The profits alone from the sales of your harvested organs, will provide a sizable life-long stipend for your family.” As long as Solar Industries honors their end of the contract. “Fresh viable genetic material is a hot commodity.”
My body is a commodity.
As the gas took hold of him, and led him down an ever-darkening hall spiraling into surgical oblivion, his thoughts went once more to his so dearly missed loved ones. He would never again behold them with his eyes-which would live on in the sockets of the highest bidder.
He hoped there was no catch on the bottom line of this one. No take to this give.
And if there was, he wondered what sort of access one of the IT-Specialists-a particularly willful disembodied soul-might gain swimming through the quantum sea at Solar Industries. He wondered what sort of things might be learned about the private dealings of Jimbo Lucien and company.
Then call-rep#30312 closed his eyes and slept, and dreamed the dreams of happy destiny…