Gordon “Snaptrap” wondered if that was his real name or a pseudonym. He wondered if he was an investigator or a journalist who wanted to keep his real identity concealed. Of course, it no longer mattered because he was enjoying his most recent lobotomy. He was under the knife and loaded with drugs.
Gordon sat in a high-powered dentist chair while a computerized Bum-Bot took control of his brain. It was all for the best. This wasn’t his first lobotomy. Every operation had benefits as well as unpleasant side effects. The Robo-Doc assured Gordon that benefits would outweigh the pain. Gordon briefly recalled inconsolable sobbing, but the pain had subsided considerably since his last lobotomy.
The current operation was given as a bonus. This time the lobotomy would free Gordon from all his doubts, depression, and negativity. Before the lobotomies Gordon was, indeed, an investigator. He had damning evidence of government corruption. All the facts, names and dates, were locked in the safest place he could find: in his mind.
The world was in his brain.
We live and breathe in peripheral spaces.
A mouse walked around in the supermarket with a cell phone. She wasn’t really a mouse, but the cell phone was real. The market was almost empty at eleven PM. She played out a psychodrama, her and the phone. Talking to the phone. Her squeaky voice penetrated the emptiness. She had a license to kill, government authorized.
Evidence was everywhere: Government collusion at the highest levels. The top dog gave legitimacy to white-supremacy and misogyny. The Special Council was pilloried by political hacks and fake-news outlets. Officials were replaced with clones. Military might was extolled. Tariffs decreed. Mass shootings were officially condoned. Immigrants were hauled off by ICE and sacrificed to the God of Megalomania.
Political hacks and lackeys authorized the “operations.”
At first Gordon disparaged himself for being careless. After the first lobotomy he forgot all the details and no longer blamed himself. He forgot the evidence he hid in his mind. All that remained were flashes of memory: manipulators, roving Proctologists, and military drones.
How can we survive as humans when robots are better at surviving?
Gordon was decommissioned — body parts farmed out. His brain was hacked, deconstructed. Reality was hijacked, crowd sourced, and replaced.
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.
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.
Jimmy Standish kept repeating… his life moved forward in time, but his mind was like a video loop. Specific events were like a trigger or the replay button on a DVR.
He found himself standing in a field in Alepo surrounded by bomb craters and crashed drones.
He was at the breakfast table with Ruth and the kids. Charlie had a snake. Jenny screamed.
He worked as a garbage man. Everyday was the same. There would never be an end to garbage.
Jimmy prayed for the video loop to end. He prayed for the return of the Messiah who was long overdue.
A computer screen rattled off the numbers that substantiated life. Jimmy was aware of the tons of garbage that were hauled everyday from one place to another. He was aware of the numbers that comprised daily routines. Surveys were mandatory. Robo callers asked questions that had to be answered under penalty of law.
Jimmy Standish was strapped into a dentist chair. A machine forced open his mouth. Standard procedure. Injections, clamps, and water boarding were all standard procedure. The Dentist was dressed like a clown with a red slash for a mouth and a meat cleaver instead of a hand. The Dentist was activated by Artificial Intelligence. The Hygienist was a mannequin who provided a distraction by jabbering about foreign policy. It was election season. The digital screens constantly flashed images of world events and loops of starving children.
Dentist & Hygienist have a debate:
D: “Teeth are riddled with invaders. I’m going to cut through the crap and build a protective wall.”
H: “Not so fast. Your walls are not safe. Some cases have been reported as deplorable!”
D: “No, No, No! My walls appeal to everyone because my practice is sacrosanct. I’m the only answer!”
H: “I have experience in this matter and I’m tired of your bull!”
Jimmy kept stepping back to earlier events. He was constantly surrounded by a war torn landscape. He saw corpses decaying in the heat. The dead came back, rose up like zombies to fight again and again, but zombies don’t exist… these corpses were robots. Modern warfare was automated.
Jimmy’s world was a tape loop, repeating over and over. Money kept the mechanism oiled and functioning. Advertising was everywhere. He watched Big Guns on Virtual Screens hyping products. Everyone was seduced by images of youth and beauty, wealth and happiness. Ruth and the kids wanted everything and there was never enough. Jimmy saw the world through a distorted lens, everything was garbage.
The war never left him. Why were all the others killed?
He remembered they came back to life. The war was automated.
He wondered why his family was alive. Were they robots also? He had to kill them to prove they weren’t robots, but killing was against the law except during war. Jimmy was breaking down. His programming was unraveling. There was no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
Ruth pressed the button to reset Jimmy Standish. She was very happy with her companion. The whole family was happy.
They named him Thorax because they were hippies and the word sounded unique. He preferred Thor, but that seemed a bit grandiose so he settled for Ted. He was raised on “magic mushrooms” and organic food in a commune. On weekends, his parents played music in a local bar. His parents were part of the first major shift in consciousness in the late Twentieth Century, but Ted never felt right with his parents lifestyle.
His bohemian upbringing only made him long for more conventional values: McDonald’s, television, fast cars, and conspicuous consumption. Ted settled for a standardized life and he was relatively happy. His laissez-faire parents supported his decisions even though they felt momentary pangs of pain and rejection. They even supported Ted’s lifestyle with money they inherited from wealthy relatives. Ted became a computer jockey in the customer service department at a high tech firm, Global Triad. Ted’s contract partner was named Desmond. They had two “In Vitro” children conceived to meet the requirements of their very high standards for beauty and intelligence. Ted’s life was entwined in the second greatest shift in human consciousness.
At work, Ted was given a surprise party when he turned forty — that’s when he realized how much he enjoyed his life. Soon he would be eligible for retirement. He had more free time now that Desmond and the kids were enrolled in “Family Care,” the new application that re-engineered relationships and supported several time-saving sub-routines. Ted’s surprise party was held in the Cornucopia. He was enjoying drinks and canopies with several friends from work. He missed Desmond and the children, but they would see him when he returned home that evening. The cake was extraordinary and everyone sang “happy birthday” in fake falsetto. Ted sat at table # 9 in Cloud Mode where most activities were archived and saved. Manager One (named D’vid), made a working toast to Ted, “On this most auspicious occasion you are noticed and remembered. Happy Birthday, Ted, may you never grow older than you are today.”
All day at work, Filtered Music purred in the recesses of Ted’s mind. There was always music. Occasionally avatars appeared. They offered ideas and apps to make life more enjoyable. Often, Ted felt displaced as the screen suddenly changed or a new layer appeared, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable sensation — it was more like a dream than anything else. His work shifted from customer relations to customer appropriations. He had to gain information on the people who used the company’s products. Information was the most valuable commodity. Privacy no longer existed; but, everyone agreed, privacy only isolated people from one another and restricted choices. Information could only be comprehensive if people were totally open. Private lives were now public and that helped the economy. When Ted shifted to his home module, he immersed himself in virtual environments. If he felt like an adventure, he could step into another person’s head-space and become that person. On every screen he was given options to purchase enhancement applications. The apps could be expensive, but leasing arrangements made them easier to acquire. He had purchased Desmond with a lease and that turned out to be a great investment. Some sacrifices had to be made to acquire the children, but now he could never give them up for all the joy they brought into his life.
Turning forty was a major mile-stone for Ted. Events from his life appeared like a flash animation in high contrast. He wondered what happened to his parents and the commune they struggled to maintain after the economy tanked. Ted never stayed in contact — he used email and his parents never owned a computer. He couldn’t remember if they ever owned a phone. In fact he never wanted to stay in touch — they had nothing in common except some lingering physical characteristics. Ted wanted to become his own person, separate from his family. His memories were making him depressed so he decided to disconnect and leave the house. People rarely wandered the streets anymore. They stayed home, immersed in the entertainment matrix.
He saw a large, yellow box out of the corner of his eye. It didn’t fit so Ted avoided looking at the object. He found himself inside a dark bar sitting at a small, round table. He was talking to himself. He sat across from himself staring into his own face. People were singing happy birthday. the song was mixed with static, broadcast from an ancient radio. “Who are you,” he heard himself ask. The other Ted asked the same question. When he returned home, Desmond and the children were nowhere to be found; instead, a large arthropod sat at the dinner table. Ted could feel the edges of his mind start to slip and unravel. The large insect was eating leftovers: pieces left over from Desmond and the children. The computer screen went blank. Ted was compromised. His life was turned into an application, bought and sold. “I’m no one,” he heard himself answer, “Just code, computer code and nothing more.”
The disconnected voice fulminated over the cell-phone speaker, “Our lives are fractured and disjointed, filled with snippets and distorted images smeared across multiple screens. The only unifying element is the necessity to sell something to a mass audience. Everyone is numb to the constant static. At the same time we all feel the necessity to stay connected to digital devices that can only add to deep seeded alienation in a world where “screens” replace people. Our humanity has been reduced to narcissistic desires and obsessions with celebrity and money. This has certainly contributed to the growth of terrorist agencies bent on world domination and to the lone-wolves seeking fame by committing mass murder in the name of a cause based on illusions and solipsism.”
Dana Otell saw his welfare manager on Thursday. The interrogation was a monthly routine in order to qualify for continued assistance. He took the subway to the government building. The train careened through the black hole like a missile loaded with bombs. The machinery whistled and moaned. Light-and-dark flickered like snapping flashbulbs and smeared faces stared from beyond the car’s windows.
The train screeched to a stop and ejected Dana along with the other passengers. He passed through metal shutters to a platform; he went up florescent stairs and exited a mechanical gate into the chill afternoon. He walked a block to his appointed destination.
The welfare complex was an immense steel construction that descended below ground where numerous files could be stored in subbasements. Dana received a number from a box and waited to be called. He filled out five sheets of personal questions, the same questions he filled out every month. Resignation was forced on him like a plastic body bag. Everyone looked embalmed, waiting to garner another month of food and shelter. Hours passed, but finally his name was called.
He walked down a metal corridor until he came to the designated partition. He waited for the machine to recognize him. The world was run by machines. People were second class citizens. The only diversion was virtual reality, a world of ghosts. Dana lived in a virtual dream. Even his visit to the welfare complex was a dream. The machine that greeted him was a ghost in a dream. There was no end to the layers of dreams … and there was no way out.