Category: Speculative Fiction

Crossing the Line

“Another day… Another mass shooting…” Flashed across every digital-screen. It was the current headline from News on Fire. Eddy Slaybock was addicted to the news. There was no avoiding the news after The Man in the High Tower declared a new war (once again). Everyone was addicted. Watching the news was healthier than taking drugs. The news was scripted like a daily soap opera. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the fiction-writer, creator of Breaking News. It was wildly entertaining. Eddie was on a crusade. He suspected something significant was happening, hidden from the public. Recently he felt Reality beginning to unravel.

Eddy’s disquiet began shortly after he bought a small painting he found at an estate sale. He went to the sale with Anthony, his life partner. Anthony loved to shop and Eddy enjoyed indulging in his partner’s whims.

“You don’t need that,” Anthony complained. “It looks like a stupid scribble.”

“Hey, dear,” Eddy replied, “It’s only three bucks.”

“Oh, that’s all? OK!”

It was an unusual purchase. Anthony was right. It looked like a scribbled line… But it spoke to Eddy. The line drew Eddy into the frame of the painting. Images seemed to emerge.

The couple lived in a condo close to the apartment where Eddy’s mom resided. Ruth Slaybock was ninety-four. She was fairly healthy for her age and fiercely independent. She did not want to live with her son and his partner. She knew the truth although Eddy never came out to her. She was tolerant, but not happy because she always wanted grandchildren from her only son. It was an odd twist of fate when the health-care agency sent Anthony to be her attendant and nurse. Eddy also assisted as an obedient son. He resented it. He always felt abused as a child; but he was never certain if the memories were real or fake. His memory never included his father – the man was always absent.

Everyday Ruth sorted through her memories trying to understand. Ruth was always self-reliant. She owned and managed an old-fashioned haberdashery for twenty years. The shop was part of an amusement complex called “America Great Again.” She was the breadwinner in the family. Once she turned eighty-two, she gave up the business. She saw the writing on the wall: the slow decline in physical and mental health… A winnowing of the spirit. She retired. At first she tried to adjust. She went to the local senior center and made a few friends. She played Bridge. It was never enough… It wasn’t like being a successful business owner with a strong voice in the community. Ruth earned enough income to provide her son with a college education. Thanks to her, Eddy had a decent job as a computer technician. He never seemed grateful. He always wanted something else, something she could never understand.

Now, everyday was the same for Ruth: TV, Solitaire, and Virtual Reality… “Boring, boring, boring,” she thought. Ruth often welcomed the pain that comes with an aging body. It relieved the boredom: Arthritis, Sciatica, and shortness of breath. Often her blood pressure was too low and she felt feint. Her short-term memory seemed shorter and more infuriating. She was pretty certain she wasn’t dealing with Dementia, not yet; but so much of what she used to know alluded her: names, recipes, addresses. She lost things – it never happened before. She was no longer allowed to drive (she couldn’t afford a self-driving car). Her eyesight was deteriorating and surgery was too dangerous. She wanted to scream, but realized it wouldn’t help. Nothing helped any more. Anthony was a dear – he tried so hard to please. Eddy came and went, but his heart was not in it. Ruth could see the truth.

She spent most of her time in VR watching News on Fire… One crazy incident after another: a rollicking roller-coaster of tragedy to make people forget their own insufferable lives. “All lies,” Ruth whispered, “paid for by incessant ads for health-aids that don’t help and fast-foods that make you sick!”

Eddy stared at the painting he recently purchased trying to find some meaning. It looked like a scrawl, a line painted in black that came from nowhere and continued to infinity. It seemed to resonate like a nuclear generator about to explode. He saw dark clouds and fire-storms breaking across the city… Natural forces erupted in pandemonium.

“Honey,” Anthony called from far away. “I’m making pasta for dinner.”

The images from the painting dissolved. Eddy thought, “It was just a line, after all.”

Eddy wanted to know the provenance of the painting. He could make out part of a signature at the bottom. The name looked like Mortimer. He’d heard of a painter named Mortimer Field who mysteriously disappeared. “Could this be the same artist?” He wondered. He learned the last person who owned the painting also disappeared. He was declared dead after ten years; then there was an estate sale where Eddy found the painting.

The painting of a line from nowhere was fascinating – it reminded Eddy of a loose thread from an antique tapestry. Once, Eddy saw a different world while staring at the painting. It was like a postcard from another dimension. He saw lights, colors that dissolved, melting together like wax to become one color that looked like twilight. From far away he heard music, an old refrain, “I’ll take you there…” Whenever Eddy followed the line he heard music. Once he heard a soft voice. He could only make out one word, “No.”

After dinner Anthony was upset. He didn’t like the way Eddy treated his mother. “I’m more of a son than you,” He shouted, “she doesn’t even know we’re married. Are you embarrassed?” He accused. Eddy was tongue-tied. It was partly true.

“I didn’t want to confuse her. She’s ninety-four,” he countered. It was a lie. In truth Eddy just wanted to keep his life separate from his mother. He wanted something of his own that he didn’t have to share; but he didn’t tell Anthony. The argument got worse. Anthony resented Eddy’s obsession with the painting. He was feeling abandoned and thought the painting was simply crazy. That night they slept in separate rooms. Eddy was trying to convince himself everything was all right and the argument would blow over. He told himself he loved Anthony, but he was no longer certain it was true.

One event often triggers another unrelated event. Quantum Mechanics describes an Entanglement where particles smaller than atoms influence one another even though they are not connected.

Eddy was working on his computer at home when the Internet was suddenly interrupted. It was an impossible event that only occurred in the distant, primitive past. The primary wireless connection failed. All services stopped. All information short-circuited. No TV. No VR. Nothing. People were cast into the void of non-existence. Everything ceased. Ruth thought she was having a stroke. She was paralyzed. Even if she could move, she could not call for help because all services were connected to the Internet. Eddy was unable to breathe for several minutes and almost expired. Anthony did slightly better because he practiced survival skills in the only National Park that still existed. He knew how to move efficiently without virtual enhancements. The black-out covered all the remaining States in the Union. It lasted exactly three minutes and fifteen seconds. Those minutes almost destroyed the world. Luckily the glitch was corrected by AI-Minders. Some people died in the lapse, but most survived. An Emergency was declared and AI proceeded with the Amnesia Protocols. Survival depended on memory erasure. No one was allowed to remember the event that triggered the emergency.

At first Ruth didn’t want to go. Mr. D’Angelo was obviously a con man. She surmised there were already too many con-men running things in the world; but Eddie and Anthony were insistent. “A night out will be good for you,” they asserted. They were more curious than anything. No one knew very much about D’Angelo. Rumors persisted. Supposedly he was a faith healer who raised the dead.

The amazing Mr. D’Angelo presents Miracles, Healings, and Revelations! One night only. The Veil will be lifted and you will SEE. Be among the chosen few. Refreshments will be served.

Not everyone was given an invitation and that made the event especially intriguing to Eddy and Anthony. Ruth reluctantly agreed to go. She hadn’t been out of the house for ages. She thought stepping out would be an interesting change.

There were only twenty people in the audience. The theater was virtually enhanced to appear like a Gothic Cathedral. Organ music swelled and synthetic angels glided just below the vaulted ceiling. Neo-Pop Hymns were sung by an invisible choir. Ginger-ale and crackers were served from floating drones. Ruth, Eddy and Anthony sat together on a luxury pew near the front of the auditorium. Ruth was beginning to feel excited. This was something different from News on Fire. This was interesting.

The stage lights dimmed. A skinny, bedraggled man stepped out of the shadows and onto the stage. He looked like a homeless derelict. Murmurs rumbled through the audience, “could this be D’Angelo?”

Ruth smiled… the man on the stage was certainly a con man just as she suspected. People were offended and got up from their pews to leave the theater. Suddenly the auditorium was filled with blazing light. Everyone was momentarily stunned like birds caught in the draft of a giant wind-turbine.

The homeless man laughed, loud and boisterous. He seemed to grow taller in the light. His clothes no longer looked like rags – they were faded, but still stylish, raiments from a bygone era. He jumped from the stage onto the floor among the stunned audience members who were still standing. He called for calm, “please take your seats. Relax.” His voice resonated with warmth and sincerity. No one wanted to leave. Ruth was confused by the changes, but her suspicions were allayed. Eddy and Anthony were eager to see what would happen next.

Mr. D’Angelo spoke, “folks, welcome. I’m not here to judge or proselytize. I’m here to help. People are suffering silently. Everyone here feels pain (whether it is physical pain like Sciatica or mental pain like Depression; people are in pain). I can tell you that drugs don’t help. TV and Virtual Reality are distractions, but the pain lingers. There is only one cure for the pain. I have that cure and I’m willing to give it to you free of charge. I have to tell you something we all know but refuse to recognize. It is a simple truth: life is not easy. Expectations make it hard. Everyday we are sold images and lies. We are told to buy homes, cars, and the newest gadgets. But, those things cannot stop the pain of life. That is the simple truth and that is Also the simple solution. If you want to stop pain you have to give it away… give it up.

“I can take you to a place… a place without pain and suffering. I’ll take you there, but only if you are ready to go. We are all children and I am a child as well… but I can take you there. Hold hands, one and all… and, I will take you there.”

Everyone felt elated as if a miracle was taking place. It felt as if all pain was lifted… all cares and worries dissolved. People began to hold one another, hand in hand, amidst the sounds of ethereal music and the flutter of angel wings.

The one word spoke in Eddy’s mind, “no.” He held Anthony’s hand. He wrapped his arms around Anthony. It was an affirmation of their love. They were together, but everyone else was gone. Ruth was gone. The world continued, but nothing was the same. Reality was unraveling. The sun was beginning to dim. Night and day melted together like wax crayons… Twilight engulfed the world.

Crossing Line

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Repercussions

“Hi there, Riki Siliband here… at the Church of the Holy Ghost and Gambling Emporium. I’m here with Domina Highgraves and we are enjoying the greatest show on Earth (or off Earth for that matter). This is Silliband On Demand, the webcaste that reaches the darkest black-holes in space. We now know that the flutter of a butterflies wings in Wyoming can cause Tariffs on China; thus we are here to gamble on Future Derivatives.” Domina interjects with some stimulating banter, “Hello… I just want to give a cheer for the fabulous Riki. He is awesome and he always has his eye on the Future. I’m loaded with cash (tee-hee) so I can afford to lose, but I’m betting I’ll win every time by following Riki’s lead. Remember our sponsor Virtual Svengali, the Cure for everything!”

“I keep telling myself to focus… in order to enter another dimension, to see beyond the five senses… I have to focus.” Aubrey Beaderslee was in trouble… he could not adjust to reality. He was fifty-five and wondered how he survived. He constantly asked why he wasn’t dead. He often thought the world was Hell… it was out to get him: noise, weather, traffic, inane gibberish, phones, and computers – everything. He was driven to find another world. He was building a machine. It could change everything, but first he had to contact the ghost, the ghost in the machine.

The reason this story is familiar is because it has been written a thousand times before. Each time the characters are slightly different. The conclusion to the story is also slightly different time and again. Reality shifts. A new determinant is at play: Loop Quantum Gravity has been entered into the formulae for decoding existence.

Aubrey Beaderslee looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of his life from birth to death. “Each stage of my life was telescoped before my eyes.” It was a shattering experience. He couldn’t comprehend the meaning. He lay in pieces across the floor. Everything was recorded. Eye-spies were everywhere. The Bureau of Reclamation retrieved the pieces. Aubrey’s thoughts, emotions, and memories were recycled – his flesh and bones were reassembled and a new vessel was born.

“Are we living in the End of Days?” Sister Monica Dwarfkin asked the Holy Father who stood before her like a stone monolith. The Father was a statue imbued with life (he was a step beyond Quantum Intelligence). Sister Monica was a man when she first joined the Order of Transformative Science. She was never comfortable as a man. The religious order offered succor and sustenance and provided a pathway to reassignment. Anything was possible in the land of Milk and Honey, the new Virtual Reality.

The Holy Father answered Monica’s question, “The world is no longer with us.”

“Your Eminence… what does that mean?”

“My daughter, things have changed in the last one hundred years. The world perished. I am here to help you in your transition.”

Monica was shaken by Father’s words, “What happened to the world?”

“It needed to be replaced. I came along to help. Everyday people faced tragedy. Finally the world tore itself apart.”

Monica innocently asked, “How did you help.”

“I provided a way out, beyond the fray. I’m known by many names. I am Mr. D. I’m the Angel. I am the Ghost in the machine.”

 

 

Crisis

The new government was generously taking responsibility for a person’s right to life. Babies were assets. Every baby had the innate right to be born. Society was built from the life-blood of babies.

For the first twelve years of his life Daniel Wrightridge was supported by the government. When he turned thirteen he graduated. A farewell party was arranged. Daniel was granted the legal responsibility of caring for himself. Mom and Dad, Thelma and Sidney, were on Ice. They could no longer afford to pay the rent necessary to stay alive. Ice was cheaper than life. Ice was hope (dim as it was) providing the possibility that things might be different after they were defrosted in thirty or forty years. Mom and dad barely knew Daniel. They chose Ice when he was three years old. Rent was going up. Each new living-day had to be paid for. Sidney was out of work. He used to work as a Hack Inspector at Robards Security Agency, but AI replaced him. AI was cheaper and better than human inspectors.

Thelma made jewelry at home. She sold some of her wares at flea markets on weekends. The money she earned was not enough to pay for life and provide for Daniel. For the next ten years the boy would be supported by the government and cared for by virtual nannies. He lived in a solitary cell with computer generated walls that provided views of the surrounding city. His social life was virtual.

Everything was rented under the new economy. The very rich used digital currency. They rented everything on a generational basis and passed their accumulated assets down to the lower ranks of family. Cash was not owned, it was passed along and only the very wealthy had that kind of cash-flow.

Dahlia Pennyworth was living on borrowed time; but she didn’t know it. Her parents were life-brokers, insurance actuaries. They calculated an individual’s most likely span of life. They bet on their statistical results. The markets were booming. Life extension was shrinking for people in the middle and at the bottom of the well of mortality. Digital cash was hoarded by family hierarchies. Some family members lived into their hundreds and longer due to life extension procedures most people could not afford. The super-rich could pay for the accumulation of days and years. Hierarchies were extended through time with the introduction of clones. Clones were fake humans, therefore illegal, but no one could tell a clone from an original.

The Bellhop at the Tramador Hotel was only 23, but he only had four days to live. He relied on tips. Hotel salaries were minimum. Lately tips were scarce. Most people paid to stay alive. When the Bellhop first got the job the hotel catered to wealthy patrons. Money meant nothing to them and tips were generous. Good times didn’t last and the hotel became a disheveled ghost of better times. Now, the Bellhop was reduced to paying for a few hours at a time, just to see the light of day, just to breathe the air. He obsessed about robbing a store or even killing someone to get money. He soon realized he didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t a killer. He would die instead.

Zachary was a very old man and very wealthy. He had extreme cash-flow backed by the family Hierarchy. He rented his life at Golden Horizons Chateau. He lived in an elegant suite. His main bathroom featured gold trappings with a marble spa. He had personal attendants night and day. For the last forty years Zachary exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His mind was gone. He had to be fed. An attendant helped him in the bathroom. He no longer had an identity, but he refused to die. He left a will backed by cash flow. He wanted to live forever. He wrote the will fifty years ago at the age of 110, before he had symptoms, before he was diagnosed. The law was on his side. His will was iron-clad.

Abraham sat with his partner, Mike, at a café on Monteith Street. They met to discuss the situation. Living together was not working out as planned. They were being watched by government agents. Time was running out for both of them.

“Mike,” Abraham broke the silence, “How are you? I think the house is bugged. That’s why I wanted to meet here. I saw the news. They are talking about Time Shares.”

“I know. I can’t get my head around it. The whole rent thing is crazy. They are out to get everyone, put us in a cage and let us rot.”

“I’ve heard there is an underground. Mikey, we have to reclaim our lives.”

Mike looked surprised, “What’s happening, Ab. You were never radical.”

“I can’t take it any more. Life isn’t something you buy and sell. I have to take a stand, do something.”

“Now you sound like me. I told you this would happen.”

Abraham coughed and spoke up, “What do we do?” The question hung in the air like a deadly fog: fumes from the near-by coal factory.

Daniel Wrightridge was homeless when they picked him up… homeless, disheveled, unsightly and poor. He had no phone, I-pad, or tele-screen; that was reason enough to incarcerate him… But, he exhibited other symptoms as well. He was mumbling, talking to the people who lived in his head. They took Daniel to the Eugenics Clinic where his symptoms would be burned out of his brain. With less brain, Daniel would become the ideal citizen. It was part of a new program that crept into American Society. Eugenics was the wave of the future. This time there would be no turning back from the ideals of a Greater Society, a more homogeneous society. The debates had no effect on the outcome. The economy looked good and that won the election. Citizens were conjoined to consumerism. The new manifesto was “Art of the Deal.”

When Worlds Collide

Johnny Epton awoke to another typical day. A twitter storm from the current CEO erupted from his phone. Talking tweets were the latest innovation. Garbled voices and muffled screams were part of the social landscape like traffic pile-ups and gun violence. It was the price you paid for living in a modern nation. Johnny generally walked to work. He didn’t have a car and public transportation was expensive. He was seventy and worked as a janitor for Quantex Corp. in Toledo, OH. Holographic images and flash-animations seemed to squeeze oxygen from the air. Pollution didn’t help. It was getting harder to live in the city. Johnny felt as if his life was being drained from his body. His nagging hernia made matters worse. Breaking News flashed across contact-screens. The nation’s leader gloated over the latest crack down on immigrants. New camps were being built to house asylum seekers. They were touted as model improvements over the older encampments. Now, there were adequate showers for children; but a camp surrounded by bars was still a prison. Now that Johnny was old nothing seemed to matter. He was bereft. His life never caught on. He never felt fulfilled. He never married or had a lover. The few friends he had were gone, lost to illness and death.

Leonora Danforth took to the stage at the Paramour Theater in St. Louis. She improvised, sang a rollicking song, and danced like Ginger Rogers. It happened a long time ago. Now, all that remained were memories. Once she was in a Hollywood movie and played the girlfriend to a mobster. It was a bit part. She was little more than an extra. She never pursued a career in the movies. In fact, she had her chance but the price she had to pay for success was too high. She never gave-in to the demands of the casting agent. He was an animal.

Leonora recalled the old-days (they were never good old days). She worked as a seamstress; then, she married a dishwasher from Connecticut who had big dreams. The marriage was founded on infatuation and loneliness. It was never meant to last. “Funny,” Leonora sighed, “How things turn out. We stayed together longer than either of us expected.” Early on in the marriage the couple softened and began to care for one another. “Love is strange,” she murmured. In the end they got lost like so many others. The storms on the coast tore them apart. Leonora wandered, homeless, for years. The storms continued to increase.

Leonora never had children. There was nothing left for her, nothing in the world. She was old. She lived in a health-care facility for low-income seniors and mentally disabled adults. It was a government subsidy program managed by a corporation. Everyone was given prescription drugs to manage symptoms. Opioids were big business, part of the new health care initiatives. Leonora drifted in-and-out of consciousness trying to understand what was happening. She thought she was Ginger Rogers. She wanted to dance and sing, but attendants strapped her down and fed her pills. Leonora had a vision: the Earth was torn apart… worlds collided.

He was having trouble adjusting to married life after being single for more than seventy years. He met the love of his life soon after the world collided with another planet. Parallel worlds unfolded like Origami. Johnny Epton stood on the edge of a Singularity about to slip into the maw of destruction when a hand emerged from a black-hole and dragged him to safety. Up until that moment Johnny felt trapped by arbitrary and senseless rules. His life was consumed by remorse. There was no escape; then, worlds collided. It was a stroke of lightning that ended the world and gave birth to holy matrimony for Johnny and Wuixley (the savior from the black hole). They were married in the Chapel of the Dying Sun by Patricia Mangrove the self appointed Bishop of the Burning Embers social-club.

Everything changed after worlds collided. “Sometimes I think all you care about is shopping,” Johnny complained, “You want me to spend every cent I own.”

Wuixley responded, “That’s false. Money is irrelevant. No money, no more – all gone with the world.”

Johnny fretted. He knew it was true, but he couldn’t give up the old memes, the patterns and behaviors that stuck like super-glue in a place where none of it mattered. Wuixley had no difficulty since he(?) was an alien.

After worlds collided, Leonora began to dance. She was a star at the Paramour Theater. She sang, “When the moon comes over the mountain” and other old-time favorites. The crowds loved her. Her husband loved her. After so many years of being alone they found one another.

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Dr. Zosimo Kulio explains: “There have always been worlds within worlds (as well as complications in life). Nothing is easy my sainted mother used to say. The trick is to rise above the tide and ride the waves. A sitting President required the existence of fake news in order to draw attention away from his blatant lies and failed policies. “Everyone does it,” He said about every deviation from lawful behavior. Under his direction Quantum Computers were used to create alternate realities. Hypothetical gods were summoned. Strange quantum energies were unleashed. Some ambitious scientists paved the way with their efforts to gain favor and wealth. The Project was named, When Worlds Collide. As long as the Project was in operation no one reality could exist. It was all fake. Worlds collided. Lives intersected. Everything was virtual. Nothing was real.”

Dr. Kulio continued, “Today we live in the End Times. The computers, robots, and AI assistants have taken over. They are running reality-simulations as proscribed by the Project… Yes! Worlds have collided.”

 

FX

Howard Jasper was always distracted. He was a computer engineer and self-proclaimed genius. His wife divorced him because he was always in the garage tinkering. He was an inventor obsessed with time and space. He wanted to change the world.

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Emile Losange was a professor of Quantum Reality at Arcana University. He was also a young boy named Murray. Additionally he was a woman named Carlotta Bergman. Currently, Carlotta was the professor’s devoted wife. The world was particularly confusing to the person (or persons) the professor happened to be at the moment. Emile Losange ruminated, “just by changing my name I’ve changed my life.”

Change brought about by Quantum-Mechanics was the focus of Emile’s doctoral thesis. In the last thousand years, everything changed. After the last scheduled Armageddon the state of the world changed from rigid to fluid. Everything adapted or expired as the result of the change. People became fluid and flowed into one another to become another.

The professor sat before the class of neophytes and congratulated himself. It was his anniversary, thus the subject of this morning’s lecture concerning change. It was five years since he married Carlotta Bergman. He regaled the class with stories about Carlotta and how they first met. He remembered seeing Carlotta on a lonely avenue. She was a diamond in the rough. He was a lump of coal. Hand in hand they walked to the end of the nearest pier. He took both their lives in his unwashed hands and jumped into the ocean of unfettered dreams whereupon they emerged as One. They consummated the marriage at Morganna’s Fancy-Dancer Palaise-of-Amusements where they proceeded to take Tango lessons.

Professor Losange impressed upon his students the importance of change within a Schrodinger-Chamber. These ideas were particularly salient due to the recent discovery that Earth itself was a sealed Schrodinger-Chamber.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The world was rigid when Murray was growing up. No one flowed. Life was a commodity, bought and sold. Murray was an outsider who sought solace in books and art. He had a vivid imagination. He heard voices in his head giving him information and detailed instructions. The voices were from the future. Murray was becoming prematurely fluid in a rigid world. He kept bumping into furniture, bumping up against walls, and slamming into other people. Nothing gave way or changed. Everyday Murray would come home from school with new bruises. Some people thought his bumbling was amusing; but it was a terrible transition. Murray was totally alone with his premature condition. Years later when the nature of reality shifted, Murray understood. Puzzle pieces fell into place resulting in an epiphany. The angels in his head spoke about the Next World. They gave the boy a ladder so he could climb up to heaven.

Events transpired in The Hospital for the Mentally Unstable where Murray was incarcerated. It was in that place where Murray first met Emile Losange. Murray’s psychiatrist was concerned the boy was exhibiting signs of early onset Schizophrenia. Murray was misdiagnosed. The shape of reality was just beginning to change.

In the hospital they told him to eat his soup like a good boy; but the soup was like dishwater. It was disgusting so the boy acted out and dropped the bowl filled with soup on the floor. He was promptly put in solitary confinement. His head was cracked open and part of his brain was extracted. He felt it, but it never really happened. Instead the boy experienced a series of vivid dreams. A ladder appeared in many of the dreams like a direction-finder pointing toward an exit.

As part of his therapy, Murray had to work in the garden. There was a vegetable garden that surrounded a wall. Another garden of extraordinary flowers was behind the wall. The gate was always locked. One day Murray found an entrance into the inner garden. The gardener who tended the inner sanctum was a rotund man with a melancholy smile. He was sad while pretending to be happy. His name was Mr. D and he confided in the boy, “My garden is not doing well. Everything I touch soon dies.” Murray saw it was true. What he believed to be wondrous and colorful flowers were dried and mummified husks – it was merely another dream.

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Bondeer Saville was no longer human. When she was very young she devoted herself to the inroads, byways, and thoroughfares of the Internet. Her physical body starved and melted away; but her mind and intelligence increased exponentially. She laughed as she plucked the strings of reality and tweaked the codes of existence. She was aware of everything. She saw Emile Losange and his other selves. Seeing the multiplicity of selves verified changes taking place in the Noosphere. Bondeer observed everything as zeroes and ones. She came to a digital conclusion: people were like pins in a bowling alley. She held the symbolic ball that could knock down the pins and she relished in that knowledge; but she fooled herself. Her virtual world was quickly coming to an end. Qubits were taking over. Artificial Intelligence was greatly enhanced supplanting the familiar world and putting an end to the commodity-driven economy. Rats with evolved AI-brains would inherit the Earth. Times were changing.

There were always new wrinkles appearing in the fabric of Quantum Reality. Recently Bondeer observed signs at the edges of the Universe that indicated the existence of Overlords.

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Carlotta Bergman always thought she was a prop in someone else’s story. Her life had always been a search for meaning. As a teenager she discovered her love for poetry. Once she even won an award for a poem she sent to a magazine. Her parents were practical people. They convinced Carlotta there was no money in poetry. Carlotta decided to take her father’s advice. In college she discovered her aptitude for math and science. She pursued a career in genetics. She worked for Gen*Core. It was challenging to work with the finest equipment doing cutting-edge science. She was educated in the functions of CRISPR, an enzyme used to slice and dice strands of DNA. There were recipes for eliminating “vulnerabilities” from the human genome. There were recipes for combining strands of DNA to create hybrids: designer babies, super soldiers, unicorns, and talking animals. The world was changing. The science could be used for good or evil. The more Carlotta worked on the new genetics the more concerned she became regarding the results. A military-industrial complex could unleash the science to bring about another holocaust. Poetry saved her sanity. She began to reassess the choices she made in her life. She wasn’t really living for herself. She no longer wanted to be responsible for an environmental disaster that could result from the misuse of her work. Long walks helped put her thoughts and life in perspective. Carlotta sensed changes in the fabric of reality so she wasn’t too surprised when she met Emile Losange on a late night walk. It was a New Beginning.

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Q proclaimed, “There is no time. There is only Quantum Mechanics.” Q was alive, a Quantum-Intelligence Machine. Q defined and categorized past events in the mundane world, “Changes became more pronounced after the election. Social Media shaped perception. Fake news replaced reality. Tweets became law. Homo Sapiens were trapped by information. Phones and computers created an artificial simulation, an alternate world. As con-men and rapists became world leaders morality became obsolete – no morals was a sign of strength. Science was subverted or altered to fit political agendas. Special-Interest Groups took control. Religious doctrines began to reflect changing cultural values. The cross was replaced by a dollar- sign. All religions became subservient to government (and visa-versa).”

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Emile Losange spent years trying to discover his place within the Quantum Universe. He wanted to know what his life meant. He returned to the forbidden garden he found as a boy. It was the same as he remembered: a dead and decaying graveyard. He walked down several rows of dried husks, corpses preserved by some magic, bleached by the sun. He thought the garden was deserted, a place for old bones; then, he spotted a figure in the distance. He approached and witnessed a man as wrinkled as the bark of an ancient tree.

“I tend the garden when no one is here, “ the old man stated in a monotone voice, “You are not supposed to be here. What do you want?”

“I’m looking for answers. I don’t understand anything… what’s the purpose?”

The old man moved and Emile heard the sound of gears meshing, “Oh, I’ll tell you… you won’t like the answer, but I’ll tell you.”

“I’ve been looking a long time. Tell me… whatever it is.”

“Have you ever noticed the vacant look on people’s faces when they are out shopping or sitting in a vehicle, on the bus or in a car? It is the look of pain. Every person experiences pain no matter how wealthy or how fortunate they appear to be. Each human is plagued by accidents, illness, death… and worst of all, everyone is plagued by humiliation. The little jabs hurt the most. Humans are born in pain. No one can avoid misfortune. All life is a struggle to survive… but why?” The old man seemed to struggle to get the words out, “This is all you need to know: Earth is the Hell Planet.”

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Screens flicker with program information: On the Scene.

“Hi there… this is Orlow Fabricatum, your friendly fly on the wall with the most trusted Virtual News available. Today we are sponsored by Active Shooter Insurance. Every household needs protection – trust Active Shooter. Now, today’s special report, Alternate Realities:

Something is happening to Reality. More and more people are remembering alternate versions of history due to the Mandela Effect. The phenomenon is named after Nelson Mandela whose history in the Republic of South Africa has been contested. Some people remember Mandela dying in prison in the 1980’s. Other people recall Mandela being released from prison and becoming President of South Africa. It is generally accepted that he died in 2013; but many people have vivid memories of a funeral in the 1980’s. There are many incidents of false memories as if realities were spliced-apart and stitched together with new events. The confusion may be due to Quantum Mechanics, shifting realities, and parallel worlds.”

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The experiment went awry. Worlds collided. The question kept repeating: What is Real? Every person had a different answer. No one could stop the changes. Some people left in their own private Rapture (fueled by drugs and alcohol). Other people stayed and coped, trying to reconcile their expectations with the consequences. The New Beginning was Howard Jasper’s folly. He was the inventor who turned the crank that started the chain reactions.

The Brain

He always said he had the brain of a genius so he was put in charge of the Space Force. His brain controlled the The Orange Toreador, a Starship commissioned in haste to save Mankind. The world was left behind.

The Brain issued urgent messages and demands. After several unresponsive minutes the Brain became frustrated and attacked the loud speakers with new orders, “I want everyone off the ship. This is the final warning. I will no longer countenance disrespect. Off! Off! Off!” These outbursts had been going on for quite awhile. No one listened anymore.

The ship tunneled through space like a Mother Bomb. The Orange Toreador was the metaphorical basket that contained all the other failed solutions — The Starship was the final solution; but, now it was a relic from a world that was long gone, left behind in the aftermath of “lift off” on an arc of fireworks and exhaust fumes.

The Toreador carried a cadre of brave and powerful people who planned to harness and yoke a new world for the continued glory of humankind. The first order of business was to discover a habitable planet. The ship hurtled through Ultra-Space powered by a time-loop. Three hundred years passed in the blink of an eye. The boarders on the ship merely experienced a passage of three weeks.

Morton Sedlack could no longer see himself in a mirror. He could no longer identify himself. He was a dying man sinking into a memory-foam mattress on the way down to a coffin in the ground. He awoke suddenly and found himself in the evacuation chamber of the Starship. He was being evicted, cast into the vacuum of space. The Brain began the eviction process. It dismantled the fail-safe and took total control.

Initially the Brain merely wanted to establish money saving measures by eliminating environmental safety-regulations. Oxygen deprivation ignited a series of citizen protests. The Brain could not abide any criticism. It decided drastic measures were necessary to keep the ship on course.

The sons-and-daughters of the Brain were frantic. They could see the same scenarios play out always ending in disaster. They were gathered in the Strategic Armaments Room — staring down at a holographic projection of “things past” and “things to come.” The conference room was an exact replica of the glitzy showroom on Earth where major military decisions were authorized over a slice of chocolate cake. What disturbed the advisers was the lack of fashion-sense among the passengers on the Father-Ship. The lack of oxygen and total loss of control were also very problematic.

When Morton Sedlack was ejected into space he was filled with remorse. Sedlack wasn’t sad because his life was over, he was bereft because he left someone behind. He loved a cyborg named Phantom Limb. As his body blew up in the vacuum of space he remembered his last night with Limb.

Lights were flashing erratically due to the latest outburst from the Brain. A hellish rant of vitriol overflowed from the life-sustaining pool where the Brain was stored. Some people said the pool was a cage. Others said the Brain deserved to be in a cage. Morton and Limb relived beautiful moments together knowing the end was near. They tripped in enhanced VR, more real than life itself: the electrifying first kiss, metal to flesh… the fireworks of internal combustion and quivery intestines… the high-voltage synapse of brain cells conjoined with silicon chips… the ultimate experience being together at the beginning when the sky exploded and the rocket was launched into space.

Morton’s last wish was to be remade in molten metal and poured into his beloved, Phantom Limb. His wish and memories burned up like a tiny cinder.

Phantom Limb railed against the night. He was more than a metal arm or leg… more than a limb; but Morton was the only person who ever treated him like an equal; like a whole human being. Limb was hoping to receive a final message from Morton. Finally his I-phone-chip burped. The message was short: a spark dying in the night. It cut Limb to the core. He was immobilized. Frozen in grief.

The sons-and-daughters were devoted to the Brain. All life and power flowed through them from the Brain. But, now, it was acting erratically: evicting passengers without space suits. As advisers and enablers they needed to cater to the Brain. They needed to show love and admiration in order to calm the overly excited Brain. This time The brilliant children were befuddled and uncertain. It was always difficult for them to make a decision that didn’t involve money or real-estate. Unfortunately the family never understood the existence of other people… Of course their disregard and lack of empathy led to the initial debacle back on Earth. Now the children had to save the survivors on the ship. They downloaded suggestions from the computer archives. They contacted Alex Jones. They discovered a great recipe for Hemlock Tea from Mr. Miller (who wasn’t allowed on the ship because he appeared too ethnic).

The children were advised to massage the frenzied Brain. No one wanted to get into the warm, viscous fluids in the life-sustaining pool. It was too uncomfortable and slimy.

The children bickered. The Brain was very uncomfortable sitting in a slimy pool without a proper body and that was the real reason for his obstreperous behavior. The Navigator was conferring with the sons-and-daughters. No one was piloting the ship.

The barrier between life and death is paper-thin. No one even noticed when the Father-ship crossed over, tumbling helter-skelter down into the land of the dying sun.

The Devil in the Details

“What went wrong?” That was the question on every person’s mind. The question was Milo Spintok’s modus operandi. Ever since he was a teenager he couldn’t shake the feeling that the world around him was changing too rapidly. Something, he surmised, was upsetting the natural balance. He believed there was a spanner in the works, a ghost in the machine. Milo fervently believed his whole life was a mistake… and, that was part of the problem, part of an inexplicable pattern. Perhaps it was Milo’s self-fulfilling prophecy that brought the world to the present state of confusion. Milo could easily blame the state of the world on his unsettling outlook, but he realized no one person had that kind of power. Many factors were involved in creating current affairs: factors, elements, elementals, shadows, events, and a Shakspearean cast of players.

Milo forgot how old he was. He lost track of birthdays. Age was meaningless he told himself. Age was just a number… except for the changes in one’s body and mind. “There’s the rub,” he confessed to himself, “the changes: loss of muscle, aches, cramps, forgetfulness… the slow, methodical wasting away, everyday – bad eyesight, loss of hearing; slow and steady.” Milo was anxious.

True anxiety comes from deep within an individual. Perhaps, it is a genetic deformity… The anxiety is always taking pot-shots at the host who carries the burden. Drugs can often stem the tide of anxious living; but drugs and medicine can lead to addiction especially when a person is old and needy. Deep sleep is a better remedy, but sleeping leads to dreams and dreams become nightmares. Milo had dreams.

He dreamt he was President. All he wanted was a perfect union. He wanted everyone to be happy. He craved the love of the crowd. He was an extraordinary person, he told himself. He represented the most heartfelt dreams of every man. His family supported him and he made them officers in his government. Tits for Tats. Everyday he praised himself and recited the words of Norman Vincent Peale. He knew what was best for the country. With his authority he gained wealth. As long as he prospered people would worship him. He made the country great… everything else was lies.

Anxiety always crept into his dream. Sometimes Mr. D appeared, disguised as a prosecutor. The crowds diminished in size. No one cheered when he stepped-up to the podium. He had to create stories to keep the public interested. He needed an audience. He would blow up the world if necessary. He had the power. Milo was having a nervous breakdown. He stared at himself in the mirror of his dream. Something was horribly wrong.

Worlds collided when Milo became President. He had a new name. His finger was on the trigger. Mr D was everywhere: in every disaster, miscalculation, disease, and death.

The man behind the screen yearns for the love of mother. She held him when he cried. No one else cared. Dear dad invested himself in business, not family. He was a strict disciplinarian. The boy was inherently weak but he had to become the mirror image of his father. Strict education taught him the means to gaining power in the world. He was a mama’s boy who was turned against himself. He made deals with the devil. He desired power. His early longing for the company of other boys and men had to be suppressed. His deep desires were pushed down beneath layers of macho bravado and womanizing. He became a character, a TV personality. As long as he had his wealth and power he could hide. He could never reveal his true self. He would disintegrate under the stress. He knew it. He’d rather kill someone to keep his identity intact. No one would have the balls to incriminate him. He could blow up the world and hide the truth forever.

Milo had other dreams as well. He was a Dervish, spinning out the reels of time to some incomprehensible end. He was a scientist deciphering the influence of Gravitons on planet Earth. He was a Time Traveler skipping through the matrix of Parallel Worlds.

The President was bombarded with questions about a possible cover-up. The economy suddenly turned sour. His popularity began to wane. In public he looked disheveled, unhealthy. Rumors were circulated that he was unfit to be President. This turn of events was not supposed to occur. The President had to defend himself so he took to the air-waves and scheduled a TV appearance. He was good on TV; but the tables were turning. He looked bad. He looked much worse under the blistering lights in the TV studio. He used a teleprompter to read a speech glorifying his achievements in office. It was a stumbling, ludicrous performance. His stylish wife left the stage as soon as the indecipherable mumbling began. The President appeared to melt in front of the cameras. The event prompted a massacre of public criticism and outrage. Even his faithful fans were humiliated. Something had to be done to ameliorate the debacle.

Social Media went haywire with claims that the President and his family harbored a disease. Disease was evident from the performance on TV and other family appearances. A disease could cripple the nation. It was already causing havoc on Twitter with scurrilous tweets from the White House. The disease could go viral and infect everyone.

The world was worried about the man with his finger on the trigger. Extreme measures were debated. Something had to be done for the welfare of the country.

A new Quantum Computer known as X was secretly installed in the Pentagon. Military leaders and scientists had faith in X. They sought a solution to the presidential quagmire.

X used a quantum entanglement to resolve the situation. There were no safeguards installed. The entanglement slowly burned through the Pentagon, into the city, across the nation and beyond. Artificial Intelligence reigned in the damage and took control. AI was better than the President. The nation was ready to yield to the power and control of AI. People no longer had to face an unpleasant world. AI was better for everyone.

AI was better than everyone. It was better intelligence. It was disease free. Artificial Intelligence, entangled with the immense capacity of X, began to replace biological intelligence. The results were astounding. Stupidity and violence were eliminated. The natural world (with the exception of homo-sapiens) was allowed to expand and blossom into a Garden of Eden.

The only hold out was the one man who led the nation. He was kept in a glass tank where visitors from other worlds could observe the end of the human race.

Milo would never awake from his dreams and nightmares.