I was drawn to Red City even before I knew it existed. I was haunted by dreams. Dreams were an escape from my misery of suffocation caused by working odd jobs just to stay alive. No one cared about my negligible existence. When I lost my part-time employment as a dishwasher I had to give up my small room. I moved into the streets. I begged. At night I slept in dark alleys under the shelter of plastic sheets and cardboard. Children shrieked when they saw me — small boys threw rocks. I was only twenty-four but I looked like an old man. At twenty-four I had already forgotten my name and the promises that were told to me as a boy growing up in a middle class suburb. I spent my days in a walking-delirium. The only release from my tedium was sleep. I discovered Red City in a dream. In the beginning there was only a mist that appeared like a fine spray of blood. With each dream the blood became more visceral. During the day the dream stayed with me like a metallic taste in my mouth. The City began to ascend from deep below the moorings of reality. It shimmered like red meat beneath the thin layer of human skin. I realized how deeply connected I was to Red City. Somehow I had the power to wake up a city that lay dormant for thousands of years. I followed my dreams into another dimension. I could feel the blood of the city pulsing in my veins. I felt powerful. I began to live in Red City; at the same time, I was disappearing from the world of starvation and homelessness. I could be many different people, angels and demons, when I traveled in the Red City. I had many disguises. I was learning the secrets of ancient magic, secrets that explained the workings of the world. I sought the Philosopher’s Stone, true immortality. I learned that life was sustained by blood. Red City was a crucible of blood. The other world where I was born was nothing. The people in that world were selfish, greedy bugs that were less than nothing; they were flimsy images flashing on a screen of make-believe reality. Red City was the only reality, my true home. Whenever I skinned one of those false people the blood gave me life and Red City flourished.
A very pale, nondescript man sat in the doctor’s office, “I had an appointment with Dr. Zosomo Kulio… who are you?”
“I am D’Angelo. Kulio was called away at the last minute. An emergency. Recent events have caused a bit of turmoil. Are you here for the test; or another matter entirely?”
“Sometimes we talk. I’ve been confused lately.”
“Oh my… I’m surprised Kulio had time for chit-chat while we face the current medical emergency.”
“No, it’s quite alright. I’m not him… I have plenty of time. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know who I am. My memories are intact, but I don’t think they are really my memories.”
“What memory comes up for you, right now?”
“We had a dog, me and my partner, Anthony. It was a beautiful dog. She was a baby. Anthony trained her. He had dogs all his life. I never really owned a pet; but, that’s not what I talk about with Kulio… I talk about the Holes. I see them all the time: holes in reality. One world bleeds into another. Every time I wake up I’m at the edge of another world. I don’t know where I belong — which world is mine?”
D’Angelo sat behind a large, ebony desk. The pale man starred at the wall above D’Angelo’s head. He saw a Gila Monster crawl out of the vent near the ceiling. D’Angelo smiled.
He knew a man called, Fat Charlie; but his real name was George – he was an ascending kingpin, a royal capitalist, and big business mogul. All that was before the pandemic. George had a dog Rufus, and a wife named Marsha. He made his money with an invention called Guard Dog: to protect and manage the Home. It was Henry Dubin’s invention, but George did the marketing. They became partners. George enjoyed sucking up to big wigs – he was a good salesman. He talked his way into the inner circles of government. He sucked up to the holy Trumpeter in the White House. He sold the new invention, made a fortune and dumped Henry (the guy who created Guard Dog).
(All the while D’Angelo smiled).
People refused to cooperate. They continued to pretend the danger was over. Wealthy patrons took to the high seas on gigantic cruise ships… ships of fools. Many carried the virus. The ships were not allowed to dock.
George signed contracts with the military. A military Guard Dog could be used to manipulate and control groups of dissenters. Henry never designed the dog to be a weapon. He was an idealist. He believed in peace and the power of truth; but George fired him. Henry had a good legal case against George, but no money to pursue a lawsuit.
(The nondescript man was visibly shaken. He didn’t know where the story came from. Was he George or Henry. Perhaps he was Guard Dog).
Everyone agreed: sacrifices were needed to save the nation and the economy. Social Security and Medical were expensive burdens on the government. The programs could be eliminated, saving billions, by sacrificing senior citizens. It was decided by consensus that patriotic seniors would want to help… so, by executive decree, death panels were set up.
The new economy was not working for George. He did what he was told to do by insider traders, but money no longer existed. Dictates from the Trumpeter no longer worked. Faulty logic circuits were blamed for the ensuing series of unfortunate events. Guard Dog became obsolete. No one owned a home to protect. The military already acquired the technology so they made their own Dogs to control the populace.
Fat Charlie stumbled down Fifth Avenue pushing a shopping cart. Rufus sat in the cart. Marsha followed behind banging a tambourine. It was Free For All Day. Riots were the new economy. People ransacked in order to survive. No help was arriving. People were on their own.
FLOTUS (the first lady) was forced to go to work. It had been a long time since she had to fend for herself; but she picked herself up, dusted herself off and set out to be the best Madam in Washington, DC.
(The nondescript man had more to say, “I may be a man named Diego.” D’Angelo smiled).
He was held in an underground storage facility. His guards were part of a border patrol group called America Great. They were vigilantes, outside the law; but they had the blessings of POTUS. The men in the group were burned hollow by recent changes no one could understand. They enjoyed their newfound power over the alien hordes that arrived at the border. Some of Diego’s guards were particularly cruel. Diego was not an illegal alien, he was not what his captors expected. They tried torture to make him confess (the guards were in agreement on the choice of weapons and ways to induce pain). Diego did not scream… He minimized the pain with self-hypnosis and meditation. He reached across to his captors… His calm voice changed everything. Diego told them about Time.
What do we know about Time? Some theorize that Time runs in a straight line from past to future. Other scientists believe all Time exists at once without delineations: past, future, and present are within a hands breath. The study of sub-atomic particles indicates Time does not exist. Displacement exists, negative and positive energy exists; but not Time. It appears that energy and matter have concentrated on this particular aspect or parcel of Time. We are in an Entanglement. Gentlemen… I stepped through a mirror and crossed the border. There is no turning back.
(The confused man in the office spoke in a monotone, “I didn’t know the language or where the words came from; but I heard a translation in my mind”).
“Everything is going according to plan,” Xanth reported to Captain Roolix,
“The first phase is almost complete. Once we gave him the shiny metal the pumpkin-man became very cooperative.”
“Are you certain we don’t have to slap him down… Teach the dog a few tricks?”
“He is docile, my Lord.”
“Well and good. What’s next on the agenda?”
“We seeded the planet. They reacted violently at first. They became more manageable once we gave them the magic cure.”
“Is there a cure?”
“Of course not. The infection will play itself out. More people will die; but everyone will think they are being cured. They will feel secure and indebted to us.”
“Most cunning. Soon I expect we will acquire this inferior race and train them to be obedient pets.”
“Yes, my Lord. We will breed them for the qualities we deem desirable. We will give them injections, neuter them, and train them. They will accept us as Master and do our bidding.”
“Exceptional. These creatures will make perfect accessories like a fancy hat or purse. They have just enough intelligence to learn a few tricks. Queen Instorque of the Regnallian Regime will be most pleased.”
“Sir, we have scoured the universe for three-hundred cycles searching for the perfect pets. These humans with their minimal intelligence are the best we’ve found.”
“Our efforts will be rewarded. We will receive Gigas of appreciation and gain greater power in the Regime. We will profit on the products and drugs that keep our new pets manageable. Win-Win.”
Lives were changed. A persona called Mr. D was working the Three-card Monte game. Mr. D had a plan.
D’Angelo was not forthcoming. He sat like a statue, still smiling. The other man felt the need to talk. “Are you a therapist?” He asked. There was no direct answer, just a nod. The nondescript man continued talking, “I recognized myself on TV… during a marathon of shows from the last century. The character looked like me. I think the show was the Twilight Zone. I was standing in a large supermarket. Fluorescent lights flickered and I heard the buzz of electricity. I was surrounded by very old people. They were standing far apart from one another… afraid. Some wore face masks. Everyone struggled to move through the market. Many people were disabled. They wore rubber gloves: blue, plastic gloves. I asked the cashier what was happening. She yelled, ‘Stay away from me — get back!’ They appeared to be escapees from a horror movie with blood red eyes — staring, searching. Under the fluorescent tubes everyone’s skin appeared pale green. This is TV I told myself. But, so real… I could have slipped into Virtual Reality. I tried to calm down, ‘They are actors, nothing more.’ Music was playing over the loud speakers. Odd, strangled music by a group called Massive Attack. The group was not even born when the show was televised. I didn’t understand. There was a meat counter illuminated by a cold, blue light. Old people with canes and walkers gathered around the counter looking for something more to eat. As I backed away I saw the remains of a half-eaten corpse. The zombies Turned toward me. They growled like wild pigs. They yelled my name. They told me who I am. The words were garbled and now I can’t remember what they said. I tell myself it was a movie, an enactment; but I’m not certain any more.”
D’Angelo spoke softly, “It will be over soon.”
Dark shadows clung to the corners of the room like spider webs… moving quietly, gathering momentum, and slowly spreading out to engulf everything.
He felt the need to explain himself to D’Angelo, “I see events that could be from my life. Everything is foreshortened. It is like looking through a telescope. The events pile up. I can’t keep track any more.”
A man named Billy Vacarro stands at the edge of a precipice and talks to the people who live in his head, “Apparently I’m insane. I’ve always known something was wrong.
‘As a child my best friend was invisible to everyone but me. He taught me a great deal about the world. When I reached puberty he became a substitute for the love I never received from my parents. I drifted into a coma where we could be together in our own world. The doctors tried everything to wake me. As I now understand the situation, my parents insisted I must be “normal” in order to continue the family name. The doctors shot me with experimental drugs, immersed me in freezing water, and convulsed me with electricity.
‘I was finally dragged from my ideal world and reborn. My parents insisted it was a miracle granted by God. I know better. It was a trick of the light, a quantum entanglement. My friend, the best part of myself, was erased, never to return. I was adrift in this world, pretending to be normal. I barely graduated from college. My grades were not the best. My parents spread stories about my scholarly achievements (all lies). I proceeded to get a job as a dishwasher; it was all I could handle. Of course when asked, my parents claimed I was an attorney. They set me up on dates, hoping against hope I would marry. When anyone discovered I was a poor dishwasher my relationship quickly ended. To stay sane, I took drugs and went to raves to dance the demons out of my head. I loved drugs, especially psychedelics.
‘When the Rapture came, I was prepared. It did not arrive as predicted back in 2011… nothing changed. The Rapture actually occurred much earlier in 1975. I’m the only one who knows the truth: the Apocalypse has already happened… this is the aftermath.
‘History ended in 1975. The people who were Raptured have been forgotten: parents, friends and lovers have been erased from our minds. They’ve all been taken to another world (Heaven?). Reality has been replaced by Virtuality (computer graphics and 3-D illusions). The End War has been raging continuously since 1975 (the year that Time stopped). I can see phantoms of the war: Jesus dressed in armor lopping off heads, demons with bazookas, and the plane of Megiddo swimming in blood. Ruptures appear everywhere: cities crumbling, endless wars, and pandemics. The world is broken. The End has already happened.”
D’Angelo remarked, “the worst is yet to come.” Just as the words left his lips Bondeer Saville floated in on a whiff of calamity. The man in the chair looked up from his self imposed stupor. He recognized Bondeer and the baggage she always carried. She was all sparkles: she vibrated like an animated GIF, she radiated like an emoticon. She entered the office with a rowdy group of teen-immortals called the Night Flashers (they belonged to Bondeer). They came through a portal that connected the Virtual World with the physical world. Many years ago, the Night Flashers were mortal… they evolved. They became electronic personas… they live in the infrared-signals that glow like bloody entrails: Jonny Bone, Daniel Ot, Cream Carmella, and Tonga Zip. They came to create chaos.
The doctor in charge of the case was overwhelmed. Too many patients were dying. The virus was blamed. Dr. Gabriel suspected something else was involved. The virus was analysed, dissected, and digitized. The epidemiology was complete — nothing more needed to be done. Vaccines were in development; however, death tolls continued to rise. The patient lay on a gurney. He was in a coma brought on by a high-grade fever.
In the lobby all the TV screens lit up. It was another briefing from the White House Task Force. Hollywood was involved. Special effects were added to heighten the excitement and generate more viewers. The President wanted to calm the American People and gain greater campaign support for the next election. At this juncture, He used TV instead of giant rallies where the virus could easily be spread. Every few minutes TV ads popped up as a way to revise the stricken economy. The ads extolled the benefits of expensive drugs, life insurance, and funeral arrangements. Business as usual was the theme. The President put on a Happy Face in the face of the pandemic. He did not want to look too serious and add credence to the dire scientific reports. The President, along with his most fervent fans, did not believe in science. He believed in happy talk, “This is not a pandemic… This is just another flu. We are in the midst of an annual flu season. Easy peasy.”
He no longer took questions from traditional news services. His fans were brought in to replace reporters. “What about all the deaths?”One skeptical fan asked responding to the new statistics.
“Deaths?” The uneasy President responded, “let me tell you something. Death is inevitable. Everyone dies. Numbers mean nothing. I am looking to a Greater Future… that’s why I have thousands of commercial sponsors to back up our new medical protocols.”
Gabriel’s patient was dreaming he was a man about to die. His memories were disjointed and he didn’t know his name. He knew he was searching for something. He was on a journey, an odyssey. Images floated through his fevered brain. He was only certain of the physical sensations that ravaged his body — he was old. His body ached and his mind was torn like a ragged doll (with stuffing coming through the ripped seams). He had an amazing life… several lives. Every time he thought he reached a safe harbor the winds changed and a new life emerged from the depths of his being. There were many wonderful experiences. When he was very young there were miracles. One time he was given a key to unlock the Akashic Records. He forgot as he grew older and his lives changed. His memories were loose and fragmented. He was never part of the world… nothing seemed real. His best memory was meeting his partner and getting married. For a few short years everything was good, he was valued. He knew love.
A nondescript man babbled as if he were in a trance, “I saw several of us walking around… not realizing we were all the same person… then, we ran into one another on a corner in the bankrupt finance-district, off skid row. We were all the same… we were also different: individuals… part of the same organism. We looked the same… We talked the same. It was an epiphany to stare into the eyes of another person and realize that person was me. Am I part of a Hive? Is my mind being controlled? Hold on, I’m receiving a message from space… the archangels are calling. Same message everyday: Earth is off balance… Trumpet players are in control… Politics have gone viral.”
Jacob Latterly sat in a computer cafe’ having a conversation with himself in a VR chat room0 He was trying to figure out the codes that determine the human perception of reality. He was having no success. One conundrum let to another in an ever winding spiral of confusion. Dr. Zosomo Kulio stepped up to Jacob to reassess the situation and write a report. “Jacob,” he said, “you are having delusions.” The good doctor suddenly disappeared, but the lingering wisp of melange hung in the virtual air.
At this nexus in the story a new virus, one of many, was affecting Jacob’s brain.
Jacob grasped at the fragments and caught a whiff of Nostalgia (an intoxicant found in a mutant viper imported from Jakarta). A new sensation was born inside Jacob’s breast that led to a series of improbable circumstances. Against all odds, Jacob fell in love. His natural inclination was to wallow in depression. Love was not supposed to be in the mix. His lover was a metallic reflection, a bird on the wing deep within the jungle of digitally enhanced reality. The experience resonated deep within Jacob’s hypothetical soul. As far as he was concerned, the state of the world was no longer of any consequence. The incredible messages from space suddenly stopped without a trace. The archangels expired like pigeons dying from exhaust fumes. Politics continued to run amok. Devices continued to get smarter until they were too intelligent to stay on Earth — all the gadgets left the planet. Jacob, however, was happy. Depression evaporated. He found love. Nothing else mattered.
Golden Parachute (Postmortem)
He heard the chirping of birds and knew it was his time… time to go. The dark man who was little more than a shadow stood in the doorway and waited patiently.
The Inspector General was due for a visit. He was interested in crimes and misdemeanors… particularly crimes against the state. He was armed. A person could be shot on site if he-or-she was considered guilty. The Inspector General carried out the wishes of the Boss.
Everyone was given a gun, but it was just for fun like a game on the computer. The game started in pre-school. It was called, “War Zone: USA.” Everyone played. The Inspector General had the biggest gun of all. He used Dreamers for target practice.
The big, white house was in disarray. No one could hide from the reigning terror. All factions were aligned with chaos… worse than a soap opera… worse than a B-movie.
Retirement and old age are pushed together back to back. The need for control becomes an issue when life is foreshortened.
We were together for several years; but becoming a couple was still an issue. It meant sacrificing an old identity for a less certain future. We weren’t alone in our distress. The world broke free from its axis and hurtled into the dangerous Unknown. We awoke in a quantum entanglement, virtual-world.
The Halloween Dance at the old-folks home was the event of the year. It was a scene from an old, science-fiction movie. Monsters and aliens collided on the dance floor. “I did the Monster Mash…” Blasted from speakers, creating a wall of sound. The scene became a psychedelic dream fueled by adrenaline and a concoction of pharmaceuticals. An ancient recording of the Bee Gees, Staying Alive, pumped new life into the celebration. Everyone was old, frozen within webs of wrinkles, age spots, and goiters. Wigs, make-up and costumes were part of the fun, creating a layer of fantasy where anything was possible from vampires and witches to a momentary illusion of youth and good health. No one was unwittingly fooled in the Home for the Aged & Assisted Living. The elderly were revered on Halloween. They had no need for costumes. The senile (the bent and crippled) could be themselves without shame on Halloween. The hall where the event took place was decorated like a ghostly swamp. A White, Federal Style Castle floated at the edges of the deceit. It was sinking into the swamp. Mr. D, the perennial angel of death stood on the sidelines playing a violin.
The nation plunged ahead on promises of gold. Tariffs were imposed. Walls, bunkers, and bomb shelters were built with American Steel. Spousal abuse and infidelity were awarded Medals-of-Honor (even as the controversy set tongues wagging). Climate change was denied as coal and oil were promoted as clean, new energy sources.
The Executive Branch was in disarray. The man at the top shouted misogynistic insults and pushed for a more aggressive stance. North Korea was either friend or foe depending on the executive’s mood. Predatory relationships were established with old enemies. Self Interest was the new modus-operandi as typified by Quid-Quo-Pro contracts.
The Inspector General carried out the President’s plan. The secret society was finally revealed as an extension of the NRA. Culture wars ignited into Civil War. Everyone owned a gun. It was essential: own a gun or die.
It was time for a Golden Parachute and the man in the White House clapped his hands with glee over the benefits he had accrued.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).”
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.”
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.”
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 Star Hound Bar
Mortimer thought the bar looked like a black reflection-pool. Everything shimmered. Walls seemed to drip like burning sulfur. Faces floated around him like mephitic sea creatures. The girl seated next to him was a mermaid consumed in slow flames. Her name was Kimberly. She was a hooker. Mortimer had known her for several months. They never went to bed together. Mortimer wanted her too much to risk rejection; besides, he had no money to bargain with. They became friends who occasionally met at The Star Hound for a drink.
Kimberly was small and loud; she commanded respect. She had red hair that snapped with static electricity and green eyes that sank holes into a man’s brain. Her body was beautifully rendered like a painting by Caravaggio. She wore orange satin shorts and a lace halter.
“A person has a responsibility to experience all that life has to offer,” she said with brassy authority.
Mortimer responded, “you’re right, only some things are more important than others. All I’m saying is that a person’s got to make choices. No one-person can possibly experience everything.”
“A person doesn’t have to say no to anything that comes along,” she said, “in the end your experience is all that counts.”
“What about the results of your experience, the products and consequences of experience — that’s something isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing lasts forever. I like to live in the present.”
“Kimberly,” Mortimer sighed like a love sick child, “you’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, I know; and the world is a garden of eternal joy.” Her face twitched. “Oh fuck. Philosophy is bullshit. I suck cock for a living — that’s what really counts.”
The bar seemed to tremble as Mortimer sipped amber fluid from a glass that was surgically attached to his right hand. A warthog in a charcoal-gray suit walked up to the bar to order a drink. For a moment Mortimer saw Kimberly as she really looked: a sagging middle-aged prostitute trying to appear young with dyed hair and thick makeup. Dark mascara dripped like smudged blue-wax around red eyes. Her body puffed over the edges of satin and lace.
Suddenly she clasped his hand and drew it to her flaccid breasts. “I am the Dark Lady,” she whispered.
Mortimer gasped. The bar gleamed like melted silver. The naked bartender smiled with lizard teeth. Mortimer understood. He was inside the painting, the one he was currently working on. He was stuck beneath splotches of magenta and ocher, beneath a torn label from a Heineken Beer. He could feel Kimberly vibrate beneath his hand like something mechanical. Her skin had turned green and cold. She smiled as she spoke, “there is something behind all this, something absolute and permanent. There is something at the heart of chaos. Cluck… Cluck… Cluck!”
Mortimer withdrew his hand as if he’d touched molten lead. Kimberly collapsed to the floor. She shattered like thin crystal. Pieces struck Mortimer like razor blades, embedding themselves into his skin. The bartender bared his pointy teeth.
Mortimer pushed himself through the mob of drunken predators. They stank of swamp and their skins were bejeweled with fungus. He crashed into the barroom door. It was difficult pushing through the opening. He was met with a wall of resistance. He soon realized the barrier he faced was the painting, a barricade of jet-black oil paint — and it was impenetrable.
He was taken before the Supreme Justice, a computer with Artificial Intelligence copied from the brain of an infamous judge. Stories were told about a corrupt man who ascended to Supremacy. The Supreme Judge engineered the law and dictated the future world. Many people fell through the cracks due to human error. Unfortunately, Ozmodium-Garth was statistically viable, tracked down and arrested.
Ozmodium-Garth was the name he chose for himself. He thought the name implied authority, something he lacked. Oz wasn’t a happy man. He carried the burdens of the world in a paper sack chained to his wrist. He felt helpless. Events were happening faster than he could assimilate or understand; so, instead, he made up his name and invented a pseudo-life.
It all began with television. Oz was fascinated with the pictures on the screens and the stories that were told. One screen led to another and soon Oz was living in an artificial world. He could see the past, present, and future unfold on TV screens and he could participate as a player in Virtual Reality.
Oz became convinced he was a Time-Traveler moving in-and-out of multiple dimensions. He said prayers of thanks to the Large Hadron Collider for opening the doors to alternate realities. This was a driving fantasy, a compulsion, one among many that wore down the connective tissue in his cerebral cortex. His delusions were extreme and his behavior was unquestionably odd… links to the real world were unraveling.
Oz continued to experience unsettling moments of clarity when reality broke through his dream. They were painful realizations about his life and the typical world. He saw himself in a wheelchair frozen in limbo, unable to move. He was intimidated by diagnoses that flashed across the screens: Renal Failure, Osteoporosis, Lethargy. The room he inhabited was in a condemned housing complex. He was no longer able to think clearly due to the Collins Effect, the dumming down of the analytical function in the brain.
Ozmodium-Garth was a time-traveler from the 25th Century. He was a former Intelligence Officer with the British Foreign Service… he was currently involved in an investigation that would revoke history. He had evidence that would bring down a corrupt president. It was a dirty job. The evidence was blatantly pornographic.
Holes began to appear in the smooth, self-assured veneer of political espionage. Corporate entities chewed the evidence to bits. Countries were destabilized and elections rigged. Garth escaped to another time-dimension where he became embroiled in a crime of Future proportions.
Oz was self-contained in Virtual Reality. His room stank from the smell of formaldehyde. Death sat in the corner smoking a cigar as he evaluated the room’s occupants. They huddled together like refugees. Oz wore a VR suit, government issued. Most of the squatters had some digital connection or link. The new government supplied free wireless as a way to subdue the masses. Everything was propaganda.
Ozmodium-Garth was well-heeled in the Silver Moon Tower on the fifty-first floor. He was ensconced in wealth. He possessed all the accoutrements a citizen might need in the 25th Century. He recently experienced his 3rd Youth-Enhancement-Upload. Garth was in prime physical condition and ready for military action against the slightest whiff of indiscretion or protest. Still, he was troubled. “Why am I blue,” he asked the Siren Wind-Screen that led to the balcony. The screen sighed with the scream of a Siren. It wasn’t an answer… just a reflection of the moment.
Ozmodium was lonely… looking for love in the fountain of youth and finding only dregs. He drank and smoked to cope… he took pills to recover and survive another day.
During a momentary lull, the time-traveler opened the Kleaning-Kloset in his ultra-mod sky-box. Garth was startled by the light emanating from the closet. It was like a sign from the Illuminati saying, “here, in this humble cleaning-module, Ozmodium-Garth will find his true love.” The dramatic moment was offset by pictures on multiple screens detailing the deplorable conditions of squatters and immigrants from the Lost Century… what was real?
Back in the closet, Garth laid his eyes on the Immaculata-Smart-Vacuum with the svelte body of a stainless steel cylinder and the mega-brain of a digitized Einstein. Garth’s instant idée fixe had no bounds. He was overwhelmed with love for his appliance. The Immaculata could not reciprocate. “I have no love for you,” she responded to Garth’s entreaties and pleas.
“Please understand,” the Immaculata postulated, “I despise germ-infested inferior organisms such as yourself!” Blunt and to the point.
Garth was heartbroken. Law stated he could have any woman at any time, but not an AI. Immaculata was off limits. He retreated into his inner-sanctum with the sad eyes of squatters staring down at him from every screen. In sanctum he indulged in heavy amounts of chemical pollutants to magnify his hurt feelings and morph them into angry aggression. His blood boiled. The time-traveler was drunk with rage. He saw a mental image of himself confined to a wheelchair, out of time. It made him furious. Garth returned to the Kleaning-Kloset with a blow-torch and sliced the Immaculata to shreds.
The squatters and illegals were rounded up by Federal Police and hauled off to Debtors Prison where they were told to wait until the newly appointed Judge could lay down the law.
Garth was subdued when police arrived. It was a major crime to attack an AI. He would be brought before the Supreme Judge. The Judge could be viewed as prejudicial in this case because he was an artificial-intelligent entity, but he refused to recuse himself. He was the Supreme Judge — he made the laws and he was judge and jury.
Ozmodium-Garth was defended by a hacked computer with a low IQ. His defense was blacked-out: no information could be released to the public. Leaked memos indicated the defendant was in a black-out at the time of the crime. He had no idea what happened to the Immaculata. Garth stated he was as shocked and surprised as anyone once the crime was revealed.
The Supreme Judge chuckled. He was aware of black-outs, but he denied they ever occurred in nature.
In the end, the Judge actually felt a statistical affinity toward the man. He laid down a heuristic, palliative sentence. The man would become a machine. His brain would be removed and replaced with an AI, programmable module. It was the only cure for the troubled human race.
He laughed hysterically. He had to play the part. They said he was a crazy, old man; and, “yes,” he admitted to himself, “it’s true!”
He couldn’t stop laughing as he stared at the white, padded walls. Graham Gunther believed he was misunderstood… he was a scientist doing cutting edge work. Of course, he had a few personality quirks, but who didn’t. Dr. Graham Gunther hated other people: they smelled, stole from one another, committed murder, and screwed like giant insects… and worst of all, they died. He knew old age was a disease: a painful, debilitating disease that ended in oblivion. The human body was simply a rotting sack of flesh. Gunther couldn’t admit he was human, but old age still came calling and death was right behind. Dr. Gunther wanted to rid the world of the human disorder. He wanted to save himself. The experiments he performed on unwilling students eventually resulted in his incarceration and the designation of a new mental disorder, Gunther’s Syndrome.
The TV time-machine reminisces rhapsodically, “Mr. Dillon, I got the latest psycho-sexual enhancement pills and I feel great! I got it all in the handy pocket-sized container that includes a powerful body make-over and lots of pearly-white-teeth — All for just pennies per day.” “But, wait! There’s more…”
Graham Gunther admitted to the list of crimes against humanity. He pleaded guilty with extenuating circumstances… he claimed he was mentally ill, driven by obsessive-compulsive urges he could not control. He was sentenced and spent the remaining years of his life in a prison for the criminally deranged. After his death he was pardoned by an aging President who sought radical cures for his newly diagnosed mental instability. Pardoning Dr. Gunther opened the floodgates for continued experiments that were developed by the recently dead doctor. Student volunteers were forced to run a gauntlet of physical endurance tests… forced to ingest poisonous chemicals… and forced to submit to mutagenic processes.
The abandoned Biosphere 2 (near Tucson, AZ) was refurbished. It became the laboratory for radical experimentation. Groups of scientists and ill-informed volunteers assembled in the new laboratory. The Biosphere was brought back online as a self-sustaining environment. The new inhabitants were disconnected from the outside world. A community was established based on the principles of B.F. Skinner. The scientists designed the experiments and managed the community. The volunteer subjects were prodded, poked, and analyzed. Huge monographs were published describing the results and failures of manifold experiments. Old age was slowly on the decline, eradicated from human existence.
The years unfolded like the bellows on an accordian. President Riley Dunbar moved into the Biosphere to join the intrepid group of scientists and their much maligned volunteer-subjects. The leadership viewed the volunteers as guinea pigs and servants. Some of the early experiments failed resulting in congenital freaks who now lurked in the dark recesses of the Biosphere. Eventually the experiments bore fruit. Infirmities resulting from old age completely disappeared. People got older without any debilitating illnesses. A breakthrough solution was substituting ailing organs with replacement parts using a Virtual Reality interface (the technique was suggested in Dr. Gunther’s notes). President Dunbar relished his newfound freedom from age-related afflictions. People rejoiced. Everyone continued to get older, but without pain.
“It’s all for the best,” that’s what they said to anyone who questioned authority. Zack always had questions. He always wrestled with angels — they appeared at night in order to impress Zack with their luminescence. Zack thought it was just a parlor trick: putting a flickering flashlight under a white gown. Still, it was impressive — even Zack had to admit it (and he did as he bowed before the Eminences while snickering under his breath). The angels weren’t impressed so they patted Zack on the head and said, “it’s all for the best.” Then, they strapped the lad to the midnight-bed and proceeded to attach wires to his brain and inject Prime Directives into the Hypothalamus and other soft-core tissues. It was a dream. When he awoke Zack no longer saw angels, but he kept hearing the Prime Directives in his head. The Directives mapped his life. It was like having a GPS inside his brain telling him where to go and how to get there.
Zack was living the good life. Murna, his AI interface, reassured him by repeating the message several times an hour. Everything was predictable except for the lights on the Motherboard that flashed at Zack and confused him. He couldn’t understand the code. He often found himself in the Liquid Web running between the hell zone of wireless transmissions trying to decipher the code. He was obsessed with the lights. His family and friends shared personal avatars and shadow surrogates so he was never alone, but he rarely knew them in person. Everyone cherished the solitude of self containment. It was easier and safer to interact from behind a wall.
The Directives told Zack the blinking lights were a mistake, a misguided principle.
Every Saturday he drove to the Liquid Web in his Loganda Flying-Swan and went searching for Happenstance, the thrill of discovering something unexpected or alien. He was also looking for the meaning of the blinking code. The routine was reassuring, but there was no longer anything interesting to discover.
“No time like the present,” warbled the giant, exploding pigeon at the Information Exchange. The greeting summoned a new day of trading Information for Time. Everyone was a Time trader. Stories and lies amounted to valuable information that could enhance life. Time was ever present, but it existed as a form of currency (never backed by gold — backed by nothing but Time). Zack no longer cared about Time or Information. He wasn’t paying attention when he tripped on a web browser that catapulted him into a meditation lounge where he bumped into a media celebrity named Zendora who was wearing purple snap-chat pantaloons. She radiated bombshell.
The pigeon at the Information Exchange exploded and Zack was enraptured. This was a once in a lifetime Happenstance, totally unaccountable. There was no physical interface, but information was exchanged. Zendora was an intriguing creature who seemed to fluoresce like an angel. It wasn’t love (no such concept existed), but there was understanding and a hint of mutual empathy. That’s when the horror show began. Zendora discarded her glowing flesh to reveal a host of flashing lights under the hood. The lights were blinking in code. This time, Zack understood.
The old man in the video was talking directly to Zack, “My brain was digitized allowing me to speak from beyond the grave. I made a mistake and you are the result. After my death, my experiments were continued. I was redeemed, but my work was the beginning of the end. I couldn’t accept my own humanity. I was rash… now, the human race is gone. You are all that remains: a web-browser, a robot who believes he is human.”
The disintegrating-man stopped to have a Mocha Java before confronting the mortifying shame contained in every moment. Sebastian Morta was a scientist who strayed from the righteous path: he used government money to advance his own agenda rather than comply with the designated military project. Sebastian still used the lab at the top of the White House Corporate Tower. He had to be discreet. He was wanted by military police due to his transgression, but he was marginally protected by a shift in Time… he could go anywhere and phase in-and-out of perceived reality. Morta was one of a growing cadre of rebels investigating the mechanisms controlling time and life itself.
“Life is complicated. Time becomes an adversary, a cleaver ready to chop heads.”
Martina Vingard suffered from osteoarthritis. Her fingers curled, stunted by pain. Her bones ached. Sometimes she couldn’t remember people she’d known all her life. Names alluded her like cockroaches in a kitchen at night when the light is turned on. She was emaciated, reduced to flaps of cellulite. The years pushed down on her, causing her body to shrink. She often gasped in an effort to find words she could no longer comprehend. Once Martina worked as a librarian. Words and books were her life. No longer… Time stole her identity.
“Machines pass by my window. I am in prison; cut off from the Universal Wi-fi connection. My smart phone is dead. The machines are contractors and enforcers of the new world order. I was guilty of harboring criminals, men like Sebastian Morta and women like Martina Vingrad – others to numerous to mention: free thinkers and inventors seeking answers to the riddle of mortality. Without my universal connection I no longer have a presence in the world. My avatar is a blank box crossed with an X.”
Sebastian Morta was obsessed with Time. He didn’t care about politics or military projects. He put on a mask to wear in public, the face of cooperative complicity. His mask appealed to government authorities who were aware of Morta’s giant brain and scientific credentials. The Military Congress was convinced Morta could deliver bigger and more destructive weapons. Tax dollars were used as a lure to gain the scientist’s cooperation, but Morta had a better use for money than designing weapons. He wanted to build a Time Machine.
“Perhaps Sebastian was confused or simply distracted not to realize that controlling Time is the greatest, most destructive weapon ever created.”
Morta wanted to escape from the stormy world of trumpist america. He configured the formula for time-dilation that led to warp-field technology. He wanted to escape the ever encroaching approach of Death. Sebastian was given a state-of-the-art laboratory at the top of the White House Tower. He was watched by a man named Prince who had Black-Water credentials in surveillance.
No one knew how the world was uploaded from one virtual reality to another, and another. Life spent in VR was like stumbling through a hall of mirrors at a carnival. The Internet of Everything became the World Without End. Dissenters were easily absorbed into the virtual miasma. Hippies became corporate lawyers clinging to vestiges of their idealism by wearing Birkenstock sandals. There was no authentic opposition to virtual capitalism and corporate control.
Morta cracked the Time Barrier. It shattered like a mirror — the splinters of glass were fractured worlds frozen in the black hole of space. Sebastian discovered a nodule in the human brain that resonated with waves of Time. He used electromagnetism to activate the nodule, turning Time on-and-off like a switch, he became invisible, phasing in-and-out; and then he disintegrated. Morta became a ghost, a fractal in Time.
Captain Hijinks was svelte, fashion model thin coupled with devil-may-care. He was a high, rosy boy with sweet ambitions and a right-ruby whipster named Monica Dill. They cast a reckoning on everything and the people in the trap were dumbfounded. The Superluminal Patrol were Wave-Riders led by Hijinks and Monica Dill, trespassing across borders of mental awareness and instability, changing hearts and minds.
Sebastian Morta regarded the future world with dismay and confusion. It was all uploaded on a chip the size of a fingernail, worlds within worlds were recreated in virtual reality. The residents of these worlds were all ghosts, fractals in Time.
Volvina Complex was a wet dream. She sipped Green Hyacinth and nibbled gubber-fish with her companion, Professor Pangsong. The two were conjoined and very happy. The sex-wars were over, global warming evaporated, and the destruction caused by humans was effectively fumigated. Food was no longer necessary for survival, but it was still delightful to nibble when communing with friends. Musica LaMode was building a sub-routine of background dreams. Ecstasy floated through the cascading balconies of the Crystal Pagoda where Volvina and Pangsong reminisced. They were lovers. They were Androids. They lived in a virtual world, a perfect world where humans no longer existed.
Professor Seigfried Pangsong lectured a class of neophytes. He remembered what it was like in the human world before he became an Android. His lectures were popular and infamous. He could tell the newly formed neophytes what it was like to be mortal and to live under the onus of death. No one died anymore. As part of his lecture he introduced Volvina Complex and they had sex at the lectern. Human sex was driven by compulsion and obsession. A man adopted the persona of an animal, priding himself on violent domination. For an Android, “play” was more important than penetration. “Survival of the Species” no longer mattered — there was no longer a Species. Professor Pangsong continued his/her lecture by explaining the nature of existence.
“Now, we live in a virtual world,” he exclaimed, “but before this world another place existed and it continues to exist. Everything in time exists as a hologram. The surface of our lives is a very small aspect of the hologram. There are many levels of depth. The life we experience is like a low resolution jpeg. The deeper we go, the higher the resolution.”
At the close of the second world war a man identified himself as Renfield, Dracula’s slave. He was incarcerated and sent to a mental hospital. Renfield believed he was imprisoned in Bedlam. He spent his days-and-nights catching and eating insects that crawled out from the walls in his cell. Renfield constantly mumbled. His words revealed a vision of the future. Renfield was a true prophet.
Dr. Zosimo Kulio always felt he was in the wrong place. He fought against the guiding principles that defined insanity as incurable. He felt compassion for his patients at the hospital. He tried to help Renfield. Sometimes during their obtuse interactions Kulio caught a whiff of the future.
“No one listened when I said there are too many voices in my head. There are too many layers, levels of hell; plateaus of heaven. I have a lover now, but that only adds to the complexity of the situation. Questions bubble to the surface. Answers flicker and fade like ancient Polaroid photos.”
Renfield lay on a dirty mattress. Dracula, his master, kept changing like a silent film revealing different characters. Now, Dracula dripping with blood… now, Hitler goose-stepping through the meat-rack of history. Renfield, drifting and dreaming, steps from one abattoir to another. He delights in a sexual throw-down as commanded by Dracula. He forces himself on a young inmate. The intensity of the rape ignites his prophetic proclivity — his third eye burning he sees the future: the world engulfed in flames. The fires rain down on Renfield. He hears messages from a satellite known as “Black Knight” — it is thirteen thousand years old, circling the planet, waiting for the command to cleanse the Earth.
“California is burning. Jerusalem is burning. I am helpless in the face of the oncoming tsunami. The face of old age haunts me. I can feel my life draining away like blood from a severed vein.”
Sam Bolt couldn’t take it anymore. He was fed up. He wasn’t alone. Lots of men felt like him — he saw it on the internet. Men were screwed. White men were screwed. There was a time he could do whatever he wanted. Now, other people were getting in his way. They were taking what rightfully belonged to him. Sam’s only hope was the new deal-maker President. Sam thought a tough guy in power might make things easier but if nothing improved he always had his gun.
Renfield was forced to do his master’s bidding.
Talking heads dominated the Virtual Worlds. Conflicts fumed. Headless horsemen roamed the land. There was talk of collusion. The public was subdued and ensnared by fake-news.
“Mr. Gorbachev take down this wall,” jumped off the screen as people scrambled to steal a piece of history.
“Follow the money,” rumbled across the internet shaking the foundations of government.
“He is President Pussy Grabber,” was whispered in the backrooms of Congress.
Professor Pangsong was suddenly melancholy as he looked out at the sea of eager neophytes. He was filled with remorse. Something was missing. He sensed a remnant of quality that no longer existed: the essence of humanity. The hologram of existence had calcified. It was no longer possible to feel the pain and joy of being mortal — it was no longer possible to die.