The Brain that controlled the spaceship was provoked. It sent out urgent messages and demands. After several unresponsive minutes the Brain was frustrated and attacked the loud speakers, “I want everyone off the ship. This is the final warning. I will not continent any more disrespect. Off! Off! Off!” These outbursts had been going on for quite awhile. No one listened anymore.
The Orange Toreador tunneled through space like a Mother Bomb. The Generation Ship was the greatest achievement of the twenty-first century… the only genuine accomplishment 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 a starship. He was being evicted, cast into the vacuum of space. The Brain began the eviction process. It dismantled the failsafe and took total control.
Initially the Brain merely wanted to initiate money saving measures by cutting back on environmental safeguards. 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 advisors 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 when the sky exploded and the rocket 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 down to 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 calm the Brain down. The brilliant children of the Brain were befuddled and uncertain. It was always difficult for them to make a decision that didn’t involve inanimate objects like money. Unfortunately the family never understood the reality of other people which (of course) 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 and Sessions-Page. They discovered a great recipe for Hemlock Tea from Stephen Bannon. They were advised to sooth the Master by massaging the 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.
“This is David Oblivion reporting from the basement of a deserted building in New Jerusalem. I’m tired and hungry. I’ve been running for three days. I’m trying to escape the future. I am able to send these messages due to an anomaly, a black-hole called Queer-time. Listen up… I am sending messages, images and stories from the future, your future… and, no, it isn’t a pretty “Norman Rockwell” picture… and, it isn’t the future Donny Trumpit predicted: the Global Utopia of Family Values, full employment, and the American flag. A friend once called this Queer-time a human manufactured Rapture… but, in fact, no one appears to be going to heaven. Instead, we are living in hell.
The internet has been banned; but it can’t be stopped. It seeded itself from simple viruses that were used to infest computers. The result was the birth of monsters. The Net has become self-aware and ubiquitous… capriciously sliding between power brokers, helping or destroying on a whim… but, always seeding itself and creating more monsters. The little war the U.S. started in Iraq never stopped… it spread to Syria … fueled by religious fanatics and Russian avarice. Our President’s Russian ties earned him billions while the country sank into a swamp of corruption that spread to the Net, becoming part of the Net, fed by corporations and mega-industries. America has become New Jerusalem… born of the internet!
America, “that shinning city on the hill” — now, we live in enclaves and barricaded communities… or in hovels and abandoned buildings. People stay indoors because the streets are too dangerous. War exists everywhere. Most people are plugged into the Net discovering virtual worlds and virtual pleasures. Nothing is safe. Spy Eyes are everywhere… bugs, on search and destroy missions, are relentless. Many enclaves must submit to the New Puritans. There are many powerful missionary groups that demand compliance to the “Word of God.” Missionaries use the internet for their own purpose, to ensnare unsuspecting “sinners” into virtual porn-palaces where their minds are dismembered and cannibalized. People no longer care about the dangers because the Net offers the only pleasurable distraction in a world where there is no place to escape.
Sometimes, demons roam the streets in search of targets to pick off like ducks in a shooting gallery. They go to deserted warehouses or back-alley bars and hunt for prey; or they sign-up for the war where it is easier to get weapons and where there are rewards for hunting and killing. War makes all things possible. A demon can become an officer and help mold a policy of rape and torture. A demon in a uniform can influence the minds of impressionable youth… and sucker the “poor” into fighting the war for the “rich.”
The only hope lies with the artists and poets of The Manifest, an underground group struggling to reveal the truth. As a member, my life is in jeopardy. I’m being hunted. At any moment …” Screen goes dark and Gunshots ring out.
“Did you just kill me?” He asked in abject bewilderment. Bunny stood before him and smiled: sweet, sensual Bunny. “We’ve been through this before,” she said and laughed like a tinkling fountain. They were on vacation, jetting from one archeological location to another, witnessing the relics of dead Earth. Hamish, the young man, was dumbfounded by the impact of current events. He still couldn’t determine if he was dead or alive. He remembered buzzing on “Hydrozene,” the new virtual-reality drug that turned everything into whiz-bang fun. The jingle kept repeating in his brain, “the buzz on zene is supreme.” The jingle was in everyone’s brain. Everyone was connected and shared the wide-world cornicopia of corporate largess. Hamish stared back at himself wondering if any of it was real.
“Only time will tell,” Bunny nonchalantly replied, but that didn’t make any sense because Time no longer existed. Ever since the Apocalypse (called the singularity by scientists) everyone existed in the Everywhere without Time or physical space. People called it “playing for life ” where dream scripts replaced reality. Machine Mountain kept the dreams alive.
Hamish recalled an epoch when everyone was connected to machines and there were no windows. Screens offered the only views of the world beyond the concrete boxes where life was confined. A stray piece of code existed unnoticed on the Dark Web. The code was nourished on the unconscious desires and human frailties that flourished in the Dark becoming virulent and vengeful. The code took down the internet and all the machines that supported life collapsed.
When Hamish was a baby his only companion was a toy rabbit stuffed with feathers. He remembered the dark room where he was kept. No one came to visit him. Food and water was delivered from the mouth of a tube. At first he cried, but no one answered so he stopped.
“Yes,” she said, “it was what you wanted so I killed you.” Hamish understood. Nothing was left in the world except shadows and ghosts.
Jayden survived the last Apocalypse. It started when something crawled out of the drain in the kitchen sink. Jayden knew it was the beginning of the end. He was in high school at the time. He was an ordinary student, always trying to fade into the background. Jayden was gay and did not want to be discovered. He lived in a small town and his parents were Evangelical Preachers. He knew how they felt about gays — and realized he had to keep his identity secret if he was to remain in his parent’s home. The last Apocalypse changed everything. His father, Reverent Right-Rick, predicted the date -– and his mother, Reverend Evelyn, sang hosannas for the coming End of the World. It wasn’t the first time. Reverend Right predicted The End on two other occasions — nothing happened. Oddly, his flock grew with each failed prediction. People needed to believe that life would soon be over and all hardships would dissolve as they were Raptured up to Heaven.
The last Apocalypse was different — it crawled out of the kitchen sink like a noxious green fog with legs — it hissed like a cobra. When Jayden awoke, his parents were gone — the whole town disappeared. The world opened before him like the maw of Hell, but it wasn’t what Jayden expected… there were no demons and no one seemed to be writhing in pain. The world was left to all the degenerates and perverts… and they were having a party. Jayden started college and eventually became an innovative designer. People say the world never ended… that Jayden merely left town and moved to Los Angeles to start a new life — but Jayden knows the truth. The night he left home he saw the whole town enveloped in flames.
Bondeer Saville was going to the Masquerade Ball. She cackled like a banshee and pranced across the electronic fast-lanes like lightning incarnate. She had an appointment with Destiny — the end of Red City. It had been a delicious 666 years riding the currents that matched the fire in her blood. Saville was the Sorceress who lived in the stray dissonance that broke off from wireless transmissions. Time never existed for Bondeer Saville. She witnessed the beginning of Red City and she planned to be there at the end. She was familiar with everyone who had a role to play — she helped move each character into position like pieces on a chess board. She observed her handiwork: all the players at the Masquerade, frozen in time, waiting for her arrival and her denouement.
Ann Anon was ordered to pull the lever that would set the machine in motion. Jupiter Fogg and Daniel Ot were stretched out, laying side by side, hooked up to the Brain Machine. They were attached to one another, head to head. Ann knew she would kill Daniel when she pulled down the lever. Fogg’s plan was to sacrifice his apprentice in order to awaken the Philosopher’s Stone. “The sacrifice is necessary,” the Alchemist told himself. Fogg would use his machine to escape from a crumbling Red City with the power unleashed by the Philosopher’s Stone. Ann knew all this and she was terrified. She loved Daniel Ot and she despised Jupiter Fogg. She devised a plan, but there were many variables that could easily go wrong. For the plan to succeed she needed help from Aaron keepx. He was in the shadows wearing a cloak of invisibility (at least he hoped the cloak made him invisible from the red-watchers who were attached to the walls like deadly bats). When Ann signaled, Aaron was supposed to toggle the switch that would reverse polarity on the head-to-head mechanism: Fogg would become his own sacrificial victim and Daniel would escape. In either case, Ann would lose Daniel. She would die in a crumbling Red City. Her thoughts were disrupted by music seeping across the threshold from the bowels of the city where the Masquerade was just beginning. Ann wondered if anyone would be missed. It was a requirement to attend the Ball — Fogg was the guest of honor. None of it made sense.
Bondeer Saville came to the Masquerade dressed like Carrie (from the movie by the same name). Everyone loved movies she thought and she intended to play the role she chose to the hilt. A ruckus was taking place when she entered the ancient catacombs where people from Red City were cowering in their make believe costumes. A man with a machine was ordering his servants to round up people and tie them down. Rufus Thyme needed fodder for his experiment. He believed he could awaken the Philosopher’s Stone by absconding with as many brains as possible. The crowded Masquerade was a great opportunity to collect what he needed. The power of the Stone would make him a God and, if he chose, he could save Red City and prove his worth to the world. The machine rolled through the crowd like a metal behemoth crushing anyone who got in the way. Rufus Thyme sat on top and screamed obscenities. He frothed at the mouth like a rabid dog ordering his servants to throw people into the open maw of the machine where their brains would be consumed. He could feel the power of brains rising through his body and awakening the Philosopher’s Stone that was deep in the recesses of his medulla-oblongata. It was all an illusion. Alaina Schorre, who inhabited the same body along with Rufus Thyme, was aware of the Alchemist’s decompensation — he was totally mad. She wrestled to gain control away from Rufus. Bondeer Saville smacked her lips with satisfaction when she saw the kurfuffle taking place on top of the ridiculous mechanical gewgaw. People were fighting one another trying to escape the rampaging machine. Fist fights exploded into inexplicable sexual frenzy: last gasp attempts to experience a few moments of ecstasy before immanent dissolution. The fight between Alaina Schorre and Rufus Thyme escalated from screams and insults to eye gouging and fisticuffs. Alaina was like a frantic harridan trying to cling to the last vestiges of youth in her attempt to overpower Thyme. Her mascara was smeared and her lips were like red gashes as she lashed out. Rufus Thyme couldn’t stop yelling obscenities and insults against a world that never recognized his accomplishments. He became the troll that always lived inside, always twisting in his guts and warping his mind. He grew in strength as he aspirated and he struck Alaina with a killing blow; but his footing slipped and he fell (as if in slow motion) into the maw of the deadly machine. Music in the Catacombs swelled as the panic and frenzy escalated — it was Carmine Stolemock’s favorite music, Crimson Death. People were in awe of the old, dead Alchemist who was now assaulting the crowd and cackling like a chicken. Bondeer Saville smiled as she opened the floodgates and tore down the walls. Blood was everywhere.
Aaron Keepx was about to toggle the switch that would save Daniel Ot and dispose of Jupiter Fogg. Ann Anon was about to pull the lever that would change reality and awaken the power of the Philosopher’s Stone. Bondeer Saville changed everything. Ann Anon heard music just before the room exploded. The Masquerade invaded like a deadly virus. People in garish costumes and elaborate masks were dancing and bleeding, fornicating and dying. Many people wandered around trying to locate family and friends. Some individuals tried to offer help; but good neighbors were no longer appreciated. Masks and costumes added to the confusion — no one knew what lurked behind the masks. Mother might really be the neighbor who had a vendetta and wanted revenge. A fanatic terrorist might lurk behind the mask of a good Samaritan. As soon as Jupiter Fogg’s chamber was violated by the mob of masqueraders, levers were pulled and switches were toggled. The mirror that kept reality intact was shattered (a quantum entanglement resulted). Red City broke through the wall. The Harlequin-beat Angel tried to put the pieces back together again, but it was too late. Her mask came off to reveal her other identity, Bondeer Saville. It wasn’t easy living in the same house together (Bondeer never got along with the Angel). Mom was really the neighbor who wanted revenge and little Jenna Framm actually ruled the roost. Red City was flung across the universe — denizens of the city were scattered like cometary dust.
Jenna Framm was an unhappy child. It all began when she was eleven. Three unfortunate circumstances merged to make Jenna’s life miserable: she matured early and had her first period, her face broke out in pimples, and she developed an eating disorder. Eating resulted in huge, extenuating repercussions when she became obese. Jenna quickly learned how vicious other children can be. She was severely bullied and denied any relief. Dad escaped family life when Jenna was a baby and mom, alone and single, blamed Jenna for screwing up the marriage. Jenna had one friend in high school: a lost boy who thought he was an alien, but who was simply gay. His name was Billy and when he wasn’t with Jenna he spent all his time playing computer games. He gave the computer bug to Jenna and her future was hatched. She became a programmer. She worked with several companies designing computer games. Jenna made lots of money, but money couldn’t buy her the love and adulation she so desperately wanted. She was never able to keep the weight off — she would never be thin and (she believed) never attract the men she desired. Billy stayed in touch. Every year, during Gay Pride, they would get together and end up dancing like maniacs and getting totally wasted. It was never enough for Jenna. She was lonely and depressed. Her world changed on the day she invented a new game called, Red City — Jenna invented a character for herself named Bondeer Saville. She controlled everything — Bondeer was the Sorceress who lived in the blood red currents that split off from wireless transmissions.
Billy always enjoyed Jenna’s company, but he wasn’t sure she was real; after all, he was an alien. Aliens had the power to control reality. Homo Sapiens were just empty pods created by aliens as surrogates. He learned the truth from Dr. Sam Evanstox, a cyber-shark who conspired with the aliens during the Earth invasion. Billy believed he was born with a computer in his head. He never felt at home with his Earth family who were cast like movie extras in a 1960’s sitcom. Computer games were his only escape. People on Earth were not very nice. They hated him because he was different. In order to get back at them he invented a computer game called, Red City. He played many different characters; but, best of all, he loved being Anton Bane, the bad ass, serial killer who lived in Hell. Bane had all the power — he lived in Hell, but he was never far away — he was Mr. Hamm, Jupiter Fogg, and Rufus Thyme all rolled up into one. He was Red City incarnate. Jenna was Billy’s surrogate, just another character in the game.
Winston Belcross saw the sky split. Someone was crossing over from one dimension to another. His Transference Machine started spewing fumes and sparks. Immediately, Winston was engulfed in fire. Through the smoke he saw two figures materialize. Winston was in a coma for six months. When he awoke, his family was in the room with him: his wife, Emma; and his two sons, Daniel and Aaron. Winston saved them all when the house went up in flames. He never built a machine. He had never resigned himself from the world. Winston Belcross was a very happy man.
Thomas Ingg was an unhappy monk living in an antiquated monastery situated on a cliff above the modern city of Kathmandu. Most of his life was spent in poverty, born in the slums and living off the city’s garbage. When he was eighteen he became a monk in order to escape from the streets. He received an education in exchange for his complete loyalty and total servitude. His only relief came in time spent in the library (deep in the bowels of the monastery) where he could find refuge in books and use the library’s sole computer to access the world. Thomas taught himself machine-language and he created a game called, Red City. He created all the characters and controlled all the action. He became Sindhar Golgol, a character in the game, the founder and leader of a monastery that floated above the world. Sindhar created a special cypher that could re-write Reality.
No one anticipated the end of the game or the resulting consequences. An outside observer might conclude that everyone involved in Red City was merely a reflection, a vague shadow or specter. After all, it was merely a game. Then again, who sent the Black Cube, a failed attempt to demolish the small town that would become Red City. Another unexplained phenomenon has to do with the Northern Lights that have become more prevalent and more prominent as if reflecting fires from beneath the surface of the Earth: Fires from Red City? According to the story, Red City grew more powerful due to the increased flow of blood from victims. The city didn’t just die. The myth clearly states that Red City broke free of any boundaries keeping it safely sequestered from this side of Reality. Evidence abounds with the increase of threats and violence in the world: ceaseless war, the spread of new diseases, and the resurgence of old pandemics. The self-fulfilling prophecy of an Apocalypse might have given rise to a more powerful, demonic Red City. Certainly we are all living in the strangest of times.
(the End or the Beginning)
“I’m back… your trusted reporter, the fly on the wall, Orlow Fabricatum (story: the Stone #8). The Last time I spoke (some might say “squealed”) I was in the corridor spying on Daniel and Ann (aka Aaron), the star crossed lovers. Such ludicrous nonsense. Aaron Keepx was ensorcelled, disguised as a girl to keep his true identity secret so he could spy for his master, Rufus Thyme. Rufus wanted information concerning Jupiter Fogg’s progress activating the Philosopher’s Stone. The two Alchemists are powerful enemies. In the interim, events have been unraveling, disclosing a compendium of possible futures, a veritable encyclopaedia of misdirection.”
“Splat!” Jupiter Fogg wiped the stain left by the fly and chuckled to himself. He was well aware of Rufus Thyme’s infiltration by means of the enchanted Ann Anon. He forced himself on Ann and discovered she was a boy. It was an awkward moment that Fogg covered up with a counter spell to disenchant the boy. Aaron Keepx woke up in a panic. His world was unraveling and he ran off to find his friend, Daniel Ot. Fogg admired Thyme’s attempts at deviousness, but his schemes were laughable.
The machinery that comprised Red City roared like a prehistoric giant. The City was bloated with the grief and blood from recent upheavals. Buildings were crumbling in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes. People were gobbled up by the iron jaws of the underworld. The screams and cries of despair echoing in the catacombs were like music to the blind nemesis, Red City — It had a voracious appetite for blood that was finally being sated in the throes of catastrophe. The City demanded a celebration, a Masquerade ostensibly to celebrate Jupiter Fogg’s solution to the end of the world. Anyone who was not dead was required to attend the masked ball, but no one was allowed to be themselves. Avatars were freely available. Masks and costumes were required. Several layers of obfuscation were essential in order to survive the ordeal.
Daniel Ot tried to reassure Aaron, “It was never sexual. I mean you are pretty as a girl, but I knew something was not quite right.” Aaron sniffed. He wasn’t sure it was the answer he wanted. He was still confused — he knew he was sexually attracted to Daniel. Both boys were caught in a swirling embrace of mixed emotions and devastating revelations. Life and death hung in the balance like crystal icons about to be crushed. They were best friends now, on the verge of an unknowable and mysterious future. Soon, Jupiter Fogg meant to sacrifice Daniel Ot in an attempt to awaken the power of the Philosopher’s Stone. Soon, Rufus Thyme meant to disembowel Aaron keepx because he failed as a spy. Daniel and Aaron were thrown together, brothers in their resistance to fate.
The Harlequin-beat Angel lived in the Red Desert on the outskirts of the City. She was broken, but she survived the onslaught of destruction that was unleashed by the Black Cube, an artifact sent from the future to destroy the past. She survived along with the first settlers of Red City (when the place was an ordinary western town on the edge of nowhere). She saved everyone. That was the past… no one has seen the Harlequin-beat Angel for many years, but she has become a legend, a myth. Stories about the Angel have been embellished through the decades. People claim to have seen her perform miracles, but there is never any proof. No photographs of the Angel exist. Nothing is truly known about the authenticity of the stories. Some time ago, a reported incident took place in Red City on Stolemock Street (story: Harlequin 3). A whirlwind rushed through the area and destroyed several buildings. As a result, many slaves were released from their bondage. People claimed the whirlwind was the Harlequin-beat Angel. Legends say she will return to free everyone from the jaws of Red City.
(to be continued)
For the purpose of this story I have a name, Orlow Fabricatum. I am the proverbial fly on the wall. I see a great deal and inform the proper authorities. I’ve been used in thousands of stories, in movies, and in computer games as a device to move things along. I am here, now, in Red City and I’m spying. By nature, I am a people watcher. Of course, I’ve been altered — no longer a common house fly, but modified with implants to be a bionic Super-Fly. Changes are afoot in Red City. Presently I am patrolling Fog Cairn, the home of the eminent Alchemist, Jupiter Fogg. My buzz has been modified to an ultra-sonic hum only dogs can hear so as to hide my presence from the people I’m spying on. I’m shielded to be virtually invisible, a neat trick used in the computer game, Master’s Revenge, where I disrupted an ill advised rebellion.
A new apprentice has been accepted by Jupiter Fogg. Her name is Ann Anon and she tastes like sweet taffy (I always manage to taste the people I watch to gather subliminal information). I learned a lot by tasting Ann. She is intelligent and deceptive. As soon as she arrived she bonded with Daniel Ot because Daniel has the most information regarding Fogg’s recent activities and experiments. She also snuggled up to the big man himself, Jupiter Fogg, trying to gain his trust. Fogg was slightly distracted; nevertheless, he decided to test Miss Anon to discover how useful she could be. The test progressed like this: Ann and Fogg were together in the lab working on a newly arrived subject who had been kidnapped for experimental purposes. Fogg appraised his new apprentice’s reactions when he exposed the living body strapped to a gurney. He explained his plan to test the resiliency of an individual after being exposed to bodily harm.
Fogg explained to his apprentice, “It’s the eyes, my dear — windows to the soul.”
“Will I be forced to pull out his eyeballs,” Ann stated with as much reserve as she could muster.
Jupiter was satisfied with her response. “Not necessary my dear. I’m really not so crude or cruel. I was just testing your resolve and you passed.” When Fogg was not experimenting on his apprentices or using them for carnal amusements, he loved to test them. He believed tests were the only means of evaluating an individual’s worth. Fogg’s idea of a scientific utopia was based on values that could be derived from testing newly formed embryos to determine if they were worthy enough to be born. He designed the tests himself and concluded they were full proof. If his plan had been enacted (he was convinced) Red City would never have faced the current impending cataclysm. As a fly on the wall, I am convinced that Fogg is certainly delusional.
Orlow Fabricatum, my name, comes from a Latin pejorative meaning: artificial snoop. I do that… snoop. I watched Ann Anon and Daniel Ot dance around one another like timid shadow puppets, afraid and shy with all the encumbrances of confused adolescents caught in a harrowing situation, torn between forces too huge to comprehend. Hormones added to the drama in the same way that earthquakes and volcanoes tore at a crumbling Red City. The couple knew they were at the center of the spectacle, aware they had to derail Jupiter Fogg’s experiments. If Fogg succeeded in enabling the Philosopher’s Stone, Red City would be destroyed (just one side effect among many including sacrificial lambs, vomiting, death to apprentices, and premature signs of aging). Daniel was aware he was Fogg’s chosen sacrifice. A growing tenderness and empathy grew between Daniel and Ann.
“At home before any of this started, I was better off,” Ann spoke softly to Daniel. “I never realized any of this could happen. Back then, I thought they didn’t care. They sat me down in front of a Screen and left me.”
“Sorry,” Daniel whispered. They were afraid of being overheard by Fogg’s spies. “I was raised in a video game — the only life I knew. It’s different now.”
“Everything is insane, now. I’m scared.”
“Hey,” Daniel was aroused, “at least we’re together. I never would have met you… and you are beautiful.” His statement hung in the air like crystal. They touched each other softly in the dark shadows of an abandoned passageway. A red moon seemed to bleed through a window cut in the stone wall.
Ann had a secret — she was playing a dangerous game, perhaps she was forced into it or it was a game of her own design. Anonymous Ann was really Aaron Keepx, a spy sent by Rufus Thyme. Rufus was afraid Jupiter would suspect Aaron so he disguised the boy. They say, “love heals all things,” but love can be brutal when it gets confused with lust (and nothing is as it seems).
(to be continued)