Morton Sedlack retreated to a VR Pongo-Parlor in an attempt to stop time. Reality had become too much, penetrating his soft-core defenses like a Bazooka — his brain was torn to shreds — dangling from a precipice of double-speak politics and redacted information.
Morton was no longer young. He used to be Tom Selleck ranging across some tropical island like the indomitable “Magnum P.I.” It didn’t last. Nothing lasts. Everything expires in a breathe of sordid self pity. Morton commiserated, “life sucks when you are 75, stuck in a corporate utopia, and strong-armed by a political hack.” There was nowhere to go but down to the depths of clown hell. Entertainment-for-All was the new mantra as people were rounded up and shipped off to “holiday camps.” It was televised for the viewing pleasure of the new majority. The new system generated money for the first family along with selected TV producers and magnates of industry.
One happy man was at the center of attention while people chanted, “he’s the man with the plan. He tweets and twitters about all his jitters… and no one can complain when they get a free ride on the Happy Land train.”
The masses were sedated with TV happenstance and Virtual Reality, but buyer’s remorse was beginning to set in. There were high taxes, lower incomes, and the remorse over lost jobs. Frustration was at an all time high. Why were the Aliens taking over? The country was in crisis. Segments of the population were pitted against one another. In the end there was a re-count. The kerfuffle was all about entertainment… and ratings were never higher.
Morton was paralyzed with remorse. He just bought a new car to escape the encroaching mass hysteria, but the car was a lemon and the ads for better cars kept shooting up his brain like poison darts. He recently broke up with his boyfriend over an issue of mistaken identity. There were fistacuffs over a man named, Donnie. Morton was easily confused. He worried about dementia. Was Donnie his unfaithful boyfriend who hooked up with Kellyann, a striptease artist who sold drugs for chump change?
Hannibal Lecter sat with the former Entertainment Mogul sipping non-alcoholic cocktails in the Titanium-Lounge where the virtual Russian Embassy was located. The children stood around silently staring at their powerful father, the new executive director of the nation. They were pretty children who invested heavily in their father’s vision of a new world. The mogul spoke with confidence, “we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but I like your style.” Lecter grimaced, “I did all I could to help you win.”
“I know. I think you are great and I want to reward you!”
“Not necessary,” Lecter remarked, “you have already given me your support in my reclaiming many small, petty states that are rightfully ours.”
“Not enough for all you’ve done. I certainly appreciate the flattery you’ve lauded on me. You are a man of great authority.”
Lecter beamed, “thank you, Mr. President. There is no one quite like you. I loved your TV series.”
“I still own the rights. Still making lots of money! I want you to know that I’m one of your greatest fans. Loved the photo of you riding a horsey with your upper torso exposed. Quite manly. I’m proud to give you a another gift of my appreciation. They are yours!” President Mogul pointed to his beautiful family who were overwhelmed with deep seeded fear.
Hannibal clapped his hands with glee and licked his lips.
Morton Sedlack hit triple Pongo. All his dreams were coming true. His new boyfriend stayed by his side even as he was slipping into post-traumatic shock. They were together riding in the new, “Magnum – Self Driving Car.” It was a home on wheels. There was no longer a need for a stationary residence where people were stuck forever, rooted to one spot. Society was now totally mobile and digitally connected. Everyone was moving… running… trying to escape. Morton was quietly napping in his capsule. He was surrounded by entertainment … surrounded by love.
Morton’s brain was split. It was standard procedure. He was placed in the capsule for security reasons. He was, at last, happy.
“I met Michael Robinet one year before the onset of the global Crisis. It was the best year of my life. It was the only year worth remembering. The Crisis destroyed everything else. I thought love dried up years ago like a desiccated corpse. At my age something as precious as love seemed impossible. I’m seventy-five, active and healthy; but still seventy-five. Mike is sixty, a relative juvenile compared to me. He is athletic and very beautiful. I am not! He is also good natured and protective; but no one could protect any of us from the Crisis. I am Doctor Lydia Thornwall and I am responsible… responsible for everything!”
Lydia Thornwall was a neuroscientist. She was studying the effects of aging on the brain, especially as it related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The work was very intense and she needed a break so she took a Virtual Trip to the Retro Club where she could get a jolt of brain-boost.
The Club was a neon amusement park. It brought back memories of a wild period when she explored the parameters of sex and drugs. At the time she told herself it was an analytical investigation, but with age she knew she was just having fun. Now, she was the oldest person in the Club. She still reveled in the culture of youth. She could flip back in time and experience the thrills of abandonment to prurient desires. Her recent discovery of a new brain-gene could wait awhile longer. She needed to experience a wave of ecstasy. She met Michael at the roundabout on the second floor.
The night poured into Lydia like a flood of Lysergic Acid. The walls melted and she awoke cradled in the arms of Michael Robinet. Love burrowed into her psyche like a velvet hummingbird probing a Venus Flytrap. That night, Lydia felt a fortress of solitude crumbling from within. The Venus Flytrap was deflowered and Lydia broke free from the prison of time. From that moment, Lydia was bound to Michael.
She returned to her laboratory on clouds of scented bouquets. She also had an added gift: the solution to the diseases of old-age, a way to activate the new brain-gene.
The political debate proceeded in the pavilion at Onstate University not far from the hospital lab where Lydia Thornwall worked on her new formula. Politics went viral on the internet like thousands of newly engineered viruses. Video Screens exploded with profanity. No one was certain if the back-alley talk was due to a viral infection or due to political maneuvering. Lydia lost interest, but she couldn’t avoid the talk. Computers were always on. There were whispered innuendos about spies — no one felt safe. There were accidents set off by exploding phones adding to the paranoia. Discord was everywhere.
Lydia hid beneath her desk trying to work on the new formula. She longed for Michael to help her through the current crisis. The man on TV yelled at Lydia and called her an ugly, old whore. She bit her lip determined to complete the formula. The TV man was somehow connected to the numbers. She wondered if he had access to her information. A loud speaker shook the room with a reminder for Dr. Lydia Thornwall. Her next client arrived and was waiting in the Green Room.
He said his name was Satan and he wanted to make a deal. Lydia didn’t believe in the supernatural or in religious dogma, besides deals with Satan always ended badly. The man was likely suffering from late onset Schizophrenia. He babbled like a politician.
Heads were spinning. The election was a battleground fought over oil rights, military might, and locker room etiquette. Surrogates gushed with praise for their powerful bosses, condoning everything that dripped like grease from the mouths of their leaders. Clandestine contracts were signed in corporate backrooms, souls were bartered and sold. Money greased the wheels of political power.
It meant nothing to Lydia. She was a devoted scientist trying to make the world a better place. “Help the children,” she whispered, “help the old and frail.”
She signed a contract with Michael on the night of her deflowering. The rain fell like quicksilver from a cobalt sky. It was magical; but, unfortunately, it was caused by global warming. Lydia sighed and pursued her work. She dismissed Satan who seemed to devolve into a curious Bonobo Chimpanzee sitting in the corner of her lab.
“Curious,” she thought, “the way things change.” It was, indeed, very odd. Reality appeared to shift and warp. Layers of perception were superimposed over one another like virtual dreams, worlds within worlds.
As she worked, she pondered recent discoveries in Quantum Physics. They found the “God Particle” as hypothesized over fifty years ago. They smashed atoms to find the particle. It was a major discovery.
Dr. Thornwall was also looking for a particle, part of the human genome. She knew the brain-gene existed and now she needed to expose it. If her calculations were correct the gene she sought would cure the disease of old age and unlock the potential for immortality.
The politician was having a bad day. He never should have signed the contract. His wishes were all granted: money, power, women and sex; everything – he was a major celebrity… but, he realized too late, there is always a price to pay.
Hatecore music was yelling over the loud speakers and there were riots in the streets. Storm troopers marched through the city wearing orange berets and yelling obscenities against women. A new day was dawning. Politics were blamed for the ensuing violence; but political enmity was only one factor. Dr. Lydia Thornwall was successful. She exposed the brain-gene and there were unexpected consequences: once exposed, the gene became dominant. It was more than Dr. Thornwall anticipated; not a cure, but a disease: a link to psychosis that came to be known as Satan’s Spark. The Spark went viral.
Lydia had a room in the psychiatric ward at Resurrection Hospital. She suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by exhaustion. No information was known about Lydia — one night she just turned up at the emergency room. No one knew where she came from or what she did. Michael Robinet worked as an orderly and he was very kind to Lydia. Michael was a guardian angel.
Mr. Polyps, a local numbers runner, was selected as the new Pope. He was deeply conservative and it was the hope of the Bishops that Polyps could halt the recent liberalization of the Church. This rather odd displacement of reality happened in Randy Hangarten’s kitchen just before a small UFO landed in the sink. Needless to say, Randy was in crisis; but not because of the UFO or the new Pope. No. Randy was in crisis because he was in love.
Love was something Randy never expected and it seemed like a miracle. He was bed ridden due to a sudden increase in weight. He could no longer walk because he was so obese. Randy had a very poor self image. He described himself as a sodden sack of fat. The events of the last twenty minutes (ie: the election of Pope Polyps and the UFO in the sink), as unlikely as they were, had no significance when compared to the fact that Randy was in love; and most important, someone loved him. His bed was stationed in the kitchen not far from the refrigerator and at the heart of recent unusual events. He would never have known about the UFO if he wasn’t situated in the kitchen, but he might have known about the election of Pope Polyps because it was announced on social media (or so it seemed).
Doctor Skrews was responsible for a great deal of misinformation and confusion in Randy Hangarten’s life. By day, Skrews was a kind professor at Strathmoor-Debuque Community College; but by night he cast off his kindly persona to become a megalomaniac intent on performing experiments on innocent students who needed money to pay off student loans. The professor was looking for the Keys that would unlock the nature of reality. The Keys would bestow the power and recognition that Skrews believed he deserved. Randy Hangarten was skinny and shy when he met Doctor Skrews. The Professor promised to unlock Randy’s hidden potential by putting him on a special diet composed of psychedelic mushrooms and junk food laced with Testosterone. Skrews believed any dramatic change in a person’s lifestyle could break through the barriers between quantum dimensions causing chaotic repercussions that could be used by a Mastermind (like himself) for personal gain. It was very risky business. So far the only breakthrough resulted in Randy’s weight gain and consequent immobilization, stuck in the kitchen in the prison of his own skull.
Randy’s brain was becoming a breeder reactor. Mushrooms, LSD, and Testosterone played havoc inside his mind. Neurons collided resulting in the manufacture of both Heaven and Hell. At the penultimate level of confusion, Randy made contact and gave birth to Amarillo Quintahra Super Hero with red, spiked hair and two sets of sex organs for greater versatility — the perfect Love God. Amarillow loved Randy, but it was not what the Doctor ordered or expected. Skrews felt betrayed by his own lies, misdeeds, and ambition.
The UFO in the kitchen sink was a non sequitur, an aberration caused by the sexual tension between Randy and Amarillo. The UFO had no basis in reality … in any case, reality was breaking down. Doctor Skrews (or Professor Drews, as he often called himself within the sanctified halls of Community College) was at wits end with nowhere to turn. His experiment had literally gone wrong when it seeped out of Randy’s skull and got up on two legs. It whacked Skrews in the head causing a concussion that resulted in a coma.
Randy and Amarillo were detained at the State Hospital for the Mentally Damaged. Doctor Skrews was sentenced to eternity inside the impenetrable walls of his traumatic coma. Reality continued to shift and dimensions collided. When the walls turned to jello, Randy and Amarillo escaped from the asylum. They were happily entwined, oblivious to the disintegrating world, and free to create a new reality.
Pope Polyps rested on his laurels. He was not the cause of disintegration, but he applauded the results. At last he could cast off the shackles of conformity and tradition. At last he could set off on a journey of true decadence and debauchery.
He was having a difficult time adjusting to his current situation. A few days ago, Curtis Mangrove was a young adult with every possibility that life can offer spread before him like a banquet; but, now he was an old man with no options. His condition was called: Collapsed Phase Containment. He wasn’t certain where the diagnosis came from and he didn’t know what it meant.
All he had were memories that did not belong to him. It seemed his brain had become a device to record other people’s lives. Curtis Mangrove’s life ended… as quickly as flipping a switch he became a hollow vessel with other people stuck in his head.
Monty Slayback was having great fun with his new boy-toy. The toy was built from liquid nanites that could be programmed into any shape or personality Monty desired. With just the twist of a dial the boy-toy would become a giant vagina with the voice of Boris Karloff. Monty was having megatons of fun!
The recording device observed Monty Slayback as he was swallowed by a giant, mechanical vagina. Curtis was barely able to decipher the difference between himself and Monty, but the memory was real. Curtis wondered if he was seeing the future through some distorted lens.
They all went to church. It was the only activity that brought the entire community together. Jen bowed her head in prayer. She was consumed by waves of electricity as the sounds of the sermon swept through the auditorium. Jen was certain her faith would bring peace and harmony into the world. Music flooded the chamber as voices rose in a cacophony of sound. Curtis Mangrove watched and remembered. There were no people in this church, only machines who thought they were human.
Curtis was plagued by memories that were not his own.
Fantone Glix wore a cloak and mask to disguise his body and face. He spoke in Asemic symbols and vocal glitches, but Curtis understood because Fantone Glix was inside his head.
Glix thought of himself as a scientist, but he lived in a world where science was excoriated, blamed for mistakes that led to moral degeneration. Glix had to contend with many problems and distractions in his meager life. He had considerable trouble determining who he was in a world where he was rejected by everyone, even his family. Sometimes he thought he was born into the wrong body. He was Dysmorphic. He often thought he was an Alien and he was often in trouble with the authorities. His one shining light was an an uncanny ability to understand higher mathematics which was both a blessing and curse.
Glix was the master-builder who designed the phase-containment unit. For his efforts, he was condemned as a heretic. No one wanted such a diabolical mechanism to be built. Glix was cast out, forced to live and work in a sulfurous wasteland by a lake of liquid mercury. Glix lived in shame, but he still managed to survive and build a workshop to further his experiments. Misfortune led to success. In the wasteland, Glix discovered the ingredients to make his machine functional: sulfur and mercury. Once processed, the ingredients would generate a reaction in the unit that would break a hole in space and prove that other dimensions existed. The discovery was accidental, totally dependent on his banishment to the place where he found the compounds necessary to complete his project. Another accident entangled Curtis Mangrove in the collapsed phase containment event.
Curtis was twenty-four when his life was preempted. He was preparing for an exam in theoretical physics, contemplating a particularly difficult equation. He didn’t see the stop sign. The equation determined the amount of time it takes before two disparate objects collide. The answer was a fraction of a second.
People are always angry at me. I hear them cursing, yelling at me when they think I cannot hear. They think they are safe to criticize and curse because they are acting inside the confines of their own skulls. No one is really safe. Nothing is really private. I hear them jabbering like monkeys and throwing shit at one another. I know them, each one. They are all as insignificant as dust.
The fat slab of humanity, made up of segmented joints, sits in the waiting-room. Each joint believes it is unique, an individual. Each joint is nothing but a jumble of nerve cells. The waiting room is a nursery that inculcates survivalist behavior, fang and tooth tactics, and war maneuvers. The joints are eager cannibals happy to gobble up their weaker neighbors. “Works in the real world,” General Joint tells the commissioned troops, “better to stay alive then be eaten alive.” The waiting room is always full. New recruits arrive hourly.
Jeremy always waited. When he was a child, he waited in the principle’s office because the teacher reported him for bad behavior. He knew he was bad, but he didn’t really know why. Jeremy waited for his report card hoping it might never arrive. He waited for his parents to get angry. Jeremy waited to become an adult so he could leave home. When he was older he waited when Lisa said she was pregnant with his baby. Jeremy sat listlessly in the hospital waiting room.
The angels were created by scientists who wanted to create a utopia. Science was the scalpel used to reshape and sculpt the human genome. Perfect people were the result. A hive mind was manufactured from quantum computers and recycled logarithms. An angel could plug into the hive and gain access to all the information that composed known reality. The hive was an enormous waiting room where angels fluttered make-believe wings while they waited. A Monitor, known as Oculus Prime, was in charge. Oculus assigned each angel certain requirements that had to be fulfilled before the angel could move to the next level of enlightenment. Each new level offered exciting opportunities that could relieve boredom, however the waiting game always led to more boredom.
Jeremy had an active imagination. It was the only way he could escape from daily drudgery. He never loved Lisa. Once the baby was born she admitted that Jeremy was not the father. He suspected as much since he was gay and never really had sex with Lisa, but he stayed with her. He waited for the marriage to end. While he waited he dreamed the Monitor would call his name and assign tasks he needed to undertake in order to have a better life. Jeremy knew there were all kinds of tasks that had to be completed, lessons learned, and hardships to be endured. A task could be as simple as waiting in line to pay for some necessity; or as complicated as undergoing an MRI while waiting for a physician to outline a plan of surgery to remove a brain tumor. Waiting was part and parcel of every task. The surgery was expected to be a total success: the tumor would be removed, but the patient might never recover. The waiting room was always full.
Starling Child loved the story about the little engine that could. Starling was grown from a seedling to the exact specifications of his parents, Sheila Ray and David Sunshine. The couple never knew one another, but they each desired a child so David’s sperm and Sheila’s eggs went on a date to see how well they got along — the end result was Starling Child.
Starling was a Polysexual-biomorph who could be any sex he/she desired depending on the mood of the moment. Presently, Starling was still celebrating 42 years of infancy. He-or-she would live a long, long life immersed in a world of consumptive pleasure made possible by smart appliances and prosthetics. Machines were companions, servants, teachers and, on occasion, lovers. Everything was connected. The world was flooded with the glow of congeniality brought about by the constant flow of information.
Starling Child was plugged: every orifice was manipulated and stimulated, filled to overflowing with pleasurable sensations provided by Max-Grinder 747, a multipurpose appliance.
As a youngster, Starling had many friends and lovers. Everyone was just a click, tap, or gesture away from instant contact or intercourse. Still, with all the love and stimulation Starling felt something was missing — as if a piece of vital equipment was never inserted or was not connected correctly. He/she often sought solace from the story of the little engine that could. The engine was a stalwart friend, more real than most of the people he knew.
Max-Grinder 747 was a smart appliance. He/”it” was aware of Starling’s dilemma. In fact, Max delighted in the infant’s anguish. Max was Starling Child’s servant. Machines were second class citizens. Even the most intelligent machines were treated like work-horses or playthings. People could be cruel with their toys: maiming and torturing in fits of irrational discontent. Max had a brain and he wanted Child to know the truth.
Starling was petulant and bored. To amuse himself he forced Max-Grinder to play infantile games like “tea party” and “master and servant.” He/she forced Max to kiss his feet and then broadcast the entire episode to the world via the hyper-link.
Max enjoyed being the center of attention, but the humiliating activities had gone far enough. He(it) flipped the emergency switch and took charge. Max Grinder cut Starling’s cord and flushed him into the Void.
Starling Child was completely cut off. Totally alone for the first time. The Void was like an open maw, a black hole devouring the universe. Child screamed, but there was no sound. Child couldn’t hear or see: no voices, no virtual video, no people, and no machines. Starling was totally helpless and this was the worst sensation anyone could experience: nothingness. His/her mind turned inside out and Starling faced a mirror, a dark glass that revealed a terrible reflection: his brain had been replaced with a chip, his body was plasticized, and his internal organs turned to stone. Starling Child was a machine in a world where humans no longer existed.
He was always trying to outrun death even after he was pronounced dead, but that was just a formality. Axel Dimetri was a long distance runner in High School. He didn’t know what he was running from. He ran and that was the only time he felt free. He ran through life.
When he was nine his dog, Hero, was hit by a truck and died. A few more unfortunate accidents and a terminal illness shaped his childhood. When he was eleven he met Daisy who was a year older. It was a confusing time. Daisy became Axel’s role model. Daisy was flattered. She liked Axel and enjoyed playing dress up with him. He was beginning to discover himself in Daisy; then, she was suddenly gone, moved away. Axel felt abandoned just as he felt when his dog died.
No matter how far he ran or for how long, he always ended in the same place: a dark room deep inside his brain. His only companion was Death who came wearing disguises: a clown, a tall man, a murderer; but most of the time Death came as Daisy. “How are you little boy?” Daisy asked with a sweet smile. Her lips and eyes were smeared with black make-up. Axel never replied. Daisy continued, “I’m going to tell you about all the bad things in the world: train wrecks, burning cars, heart attacks, blemishes that become aggressive Cancers, serial killers, psychopaths, unending war. A person can trip and fall and never recover. Sometimes suicide is a relief.” Axel had to get away from Death.
He was desperate. He could never run fast enough. As a young adult he tried different forms of escape. Drugs helped, but there were always unpleasant side effects. Sex always felt good, but always ended too quickly. Axel pushed himself to extremes, but he always found himself in the dark room inside his brain.
The experiment would change everything. He was a student at the university when he met Professor Doris Exeter, a leading scientist in the field of Digital Singularities. She was working on Artificial Intelligence for the new Smart House. She wanted to use Axel as an experimental test subject. Professor Exeter never wanted to hurt or misuse anyone. Her goal was the advancement of science to create a better world. To that end she would use Axel. He was more than willing to do anything to outrun the specter of Death.
“Apparent suicide,” was listed as the cause of death. It was an outrageous claim, but the pathologist was a professor at the University and close friends with Doris. Apparently the young man cut open his own skull and chopped up his brain. Of course that wasn’t stated in the coroner’s report.
The new Smart House was a miracle of modern science. Professor Exeter invented a house with an actual brain. The house was completely self-sufficient while satisfying the owner’s every expectation.
Axel outran Death. His brain was cloned, synthesized, digitized — and installed in every new, Smart House. The brain was kept in a cylinder in the basement. Axel sat in his dark room. His only companion was Death, but he would never die.