Ed complained. He was old and he had trouble adjusting. There were too many recent changes in the world… too much to comprehend. His partner, Anthony, took the brunt of Ed’s complaints. He was younger and tougher. The couple was legally married. They recently adopted a puppy from a shelter. Anthony’s dream of having a family was coming true. They were happy except for Ed’s complaints. His most recent protest was about the ants: giant, man-eating ants.
Ed also had difficulty with his memory. It wasn’t dementia… Ed just didn’t know who he was. He often thought he was a man named Axel Ramirez. There were many different people in Ed’s head. Anthony didn’t want to admit something was very wrong with Ed… his eyes would glaze over and that was a clue that Ed was somewhere (or someone) else.
Axel Ramirez was always on the run. He remembered the floods in Houston several years ago. He thought he’d drowned. He escaped the rising waters and was running ever since. He ran head first into an existential paradox: life in the age of Trump. People changed due to the onset of the pandemic. Now Ramirez was running from conspiracy theories and death squads. The president loved conspiracies that supported his views.
“He never takes the blame for anything,” Axel told his girlfriend, Brenda, “it’s always other people… anything other than his-self. I been in this country for twenty years and he wants to throw me out… blame me for the virus.”
“Well,” Brenda spoke up, “I heard things. You people are illegal and cause crime.”
“You listening to that Hannity shit?”
“No. Alex Jones said it.”
“Oh Lord. He also said the virus is made in a lab and Bill Gates is responsible. You believe that shit?”
“Sometimes. I don’t think we should give up our Liberty. We don’t need to stay home. I don’t want to wear a mask.”
“You wanna get yourself sick, maybe die. What’s the matter with you people? You think it’s OK they started Death Squads to get rid of anyone over 65 –cause, they say, they gonna die anyway?”
“Oh! I thought they said Freedom Squads. It’s only for patriots who want to help the economy.”
“You believe that. I’m 67. I’m on the list. The virus hits more people of color, more poor people. We both on the list.”
“OK baby…” Brenda hesitantly replied, “I’m sorry.”
Ramirez thought, “Never a dull moment… never stop running.”
The doorbell rang collapsing Ed’s dissociation. He was suddenly alert. The interruption was like stepping on a land mine. Three people in black rubber suits were at the door talking gibberish. They each wore plastic headgear. Ed couldn’t understand the voices shouting at him through the plastic masks. He thought it might be a hallucination. He thought the people might be aliens and he was about to be abducted. Over and over they shouted. The voices slowly started to make some sense. They were paramedics. Someone made a 911 call. People were breaking down, getting sick, and dying. Ed thought the virus was turning people into aliens. He felt a rising sense of panic. Was Anthony OK? The paramedics burst into the house searching for a casualty. Ed shouted for Anthony and ran to the bedroom. Anthony was on the bed. He was startled by the commotion, but otherwise fine. The paramedics checked the house and yard. They decided they came to the wrong address. Someone else was in danger and they needed to search the neighborhood.
The TV burbled like a fish tank. The President was giving another speech as part of the medical task-force updates. This was the new normal, a daily event turned into a political rally. Ed imagined the President was speaking directly to him, “Dr. Fauci will be giving a run down of recent developments; but first I want to make sure everyone understands the situation. No matter what these specialists say I can tell you there is a miracle drug. My intuition is always correct. I’ve said it before but it is worth repeating. I am a genius… proven by my educational record (all A’s) and my business success. I’ve always done better than anyone else. Remember my number one TV show that ran for over a decade. Yes it did! More important… I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and I’d still win the presidency. Watch for it this coming November. Now, you know the press is fake except for Fox which is only sometimes fake. I’m for real. The anti-malaria drug kills the new flu… and it is only a flu, nothing out of the ordinary. I want people to get back to normal. All the fuss with masks, etc. is just too much and it hurts business. No matter what you hear from experts I want people to liberate those vile Democratic States that are imposing restrictions against our constitutional liberty. Remember your 2nd amendment rights will be taken away (no more guns) if the Democrats win (a very unlikely situation unless they cheat… and I wouldn’t be surprised. Better be safe and Lock them up). Keep in mind how great the economy has been before this virus scam (designed by my opponents). Better than at any other time in history. I’m here to say the USA is now Open for Business. We should never have shut down. My opponents are to blame. I won’t have it. WE ARE OPEN… Now, I’d like to present Dr. Fauci, but don’t believe a word he says! I was on top of the situation before Fauci. I banned people from China… I did it, not Fauci. I have to say one more thing about tests. My critics say there are not enough tests. Well, what do they know? Tests. What kind of tests? I hate tests. I’ve never taken a test in my life and I’m a genius. So, now, listen to a supposed expert who is going to contradict what I’m saying because he is a snob and he should be locked up with the rest of them, and especially with those damned Mexicans crossing the border and taking our jobs. China created the virus in a lab. The Mexicans , out of spite, brought it into this great nation that is so blessed by God. We are building a wall! We don’t need tests…” The TV burbled on and on. The expert came and went. He was given ten minutes to explain the intricacies of Covid-19 and the precautions that might save lives. The president dominated the rest of the broadcast. Ed’s brain was fried. He heard the sizzle and smelled cooking meat.
They had just moved into a new rental home when Ed saw them. He went for a walk and mounted a small ridge at the end of the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun was like a rainbow halo. Ed sat on a rock and surveyed the land around the neighborhood. He felt calm. The world was at peace; then he heard a strange, ratcheting sound. It became louder until the sound was deafening and Ed clasped his hands over his ears. Sunbeams appeared to rain down like molten lead. The wavering light revealed monsters: ants the size of elephants. Two of the ants were fighting over a morsel of bloody meat. Both ants were ripping and eating the meat. Luckily Ed was quite a distance from the melee. He was petrified with fear, frozen in place. The sounds were unbearable, ratcheting higher and higher. Ed couldn’t turn his eyes away from the battle. The light surrounding the ants seemed to clarify as he stared. He recognized the treasure the ants were consuming: part of a human torso. It felt like an electric jolt and he snapped out of his paralysis. Ed ran back to the house. He was sweating, out of breath. Anthony took his temperature. He had a fever. Anthony held Ed and put him to bed.
Ed had a friend named Manfred Bancourt. Manfred was a Yellow Journalist. He made up Fake News… really fake news. Once he was a legitimate reporter with a respectable newspaper, but the President and his Washington supporters called it trash and labeled it fake. Now, all the news Manfred reported was fake, aimed specifically at skewering the President who he labeled as fake. Manfred had a Virtual-Reality news show. Everything was Virtual (one consequence of the plague). People could no longer trust one another. Everyone was afraid of the flu. It had gone viral since there was no consistent national response to the pandemic. The U.S. was open for business and Covid-19 was no longer contained.
Manfred Bancourt reported the news: Harem Gate… Frumps secret depository of women stashed in the basement of the White House. Melania leaves Trump to become the Madam of Washington DC. Trump is an illegal alien from Mars. President Trump is the Manchurian Candidate. The mob owns Trump lock, stock, and barrel. All the stories were put out with incriminating (and fake) videos and photos. The Virtual News caused a stir among the public. Supporters of the administration hit hard with their own liturgy of insults and rumors. Manfred’s news was the fuel that ignited Civil Disobedience and the Season of Political Discontent. The spread of the virus didn’t help. Tempers were swollen but it was only the beginning. A second wave was about to hit.
Mr. D loved to dance. Recent events were cause for a macabre celebration.
Ed bumped into Mr. D at the newly reopened Food City. Ed was looking for a loaf of bread. Supplies were low. Shelves were empty. Farm workers were deported back to Mexico. Crops lay fallow in the fields. Truck drivers were falling like flies. Any remaining food could not be delivered. Out of the corner of his eye Ed saw the ghost of a Hazmat Suit walking down one of the aisles… no one else. Only Ed and Mr. D remained. D looked emaciated. Ed was concerned. The flamboyant Mr. D laughed at Ed’s naivete’. Suddenly music over the store’s loudspeaker changed from tinkle-pablum to a rousing Tango. Mr. D began to dance… slow at first, then, wild and electrifying. Mr. D began to smolder with the heat of the music, smoke rising from his body. His skin was on fire. Ed began to walk away out of fear. The irrepressible Mr. D could not let Ed escape. He wanted a partner for the dance. He grabbed Ed with his hands-on-fire and embraced him.
Anthony sat by Ed’s side and held his hand. The fever was helping kill the virus. Ed was half conscious and delirious. Anthony wished he could do more, but he was also concerned about the dinosaur on the front lawn.
No one knew what caused the second wave… whether it was just the beginning of the recurring flu season; or, if it had something to do with Trump’s miracle cure combined with the wrong ingredients. In any event the virus was enhanced… more potent than ever with more severe symptoms.
Rampaging mobs took over the streets. No one cared about social distancing or wearing protective gear. Liberty was at stake… first and second amendments were on the chopping block. People proudly carried guns and assault weapons… firing at random. The crowds were defending the country against illegal aliens. No walls could keep them out. Aliens moved into all-white neighborhoods and started trouble. Most people in the crowd saw aliens as green critters with eyes as large as fish bowls… real aliens from space. Some people saw dinosaurs. They had to be stopped. The second-wave virus caused vivid hallucinations. No one could discern reality from illusion (real from fake). Wealthy people purchased elaborate Virtual Reality machines, hoping to avoid real-life pandemonium. They spent days and nights wandering through elaborate facades hoping to find safe and luxurious hiding places: palaces, uncharted islands, and cities in space. The illusions were high-definition and completely convincing, but to no avail. Symptoms of the second wave followed them into their virtual dreams.
In order to keep the country open for business marketing firms were given huge contracts. Ads were everywhere.
“Don’t let your country down. Make America Great again. You are only as healthy as your wallet. Money buys health and beauty. There are more opportunities now than ever before. Buy stocks in Real Estate and Trump Casinos. Invest in the future: purchase shares in funeral homes, drug companies, and for-profit hospitals. Virtual-Reality-Worlds are an extra bonus, a big winner for America’s prosperous future.”
The President’s update continued, “This reporter shouted at me, yesterday I think… anyway she was a slut and very nasty. She asks me about WHO… why I decided not to fund WHO. Who, I say… Who do you mean? Why would I want to fund Who – I don’t even know Who. She was stupid. But, really folks that had nothing to do with the Chinese lab that created the flu. If it was an accident; well, OK, they won’t be punishment… that’s fair. But, Who knows. We know it all started in China. I think Chinese people have something to answer for. I just got some good news: we have a new cure! I just learned disinfectant kills the virus within a minute. How bout that. A cure right under our noses. Maybe an injection of rubbing alcohol or Lysol is all we need and the virus is gone in a minute! I got one question… Just asking… did I just earn the right to sign all the bottles of disinfectants… how bout a new one: Trump’s Good News Disinfectant!”
Trump had a gold toilet installed in one of the virtual worlds where he planned to hide from the virus and resultant flu. His uncanny intuition revealed he wasn’t infected. He didn’t need a test. His intuition was like a modern day Sibyl, always right. Melania was at his side in a stunning virtual gown designed by Gucci. Several of Trump’s most ardent supporters were there. It was a victory celebration even though the election would not be held for several months. They were joined by simulacrums of all the world leaders. Everyone gushed to be in the presence of Trump. Gushing was a prerequisite. The celebration took place in an enormous hall. The walls were layered in gold, Trumps favorite metal. The room was a copy of a throne room in a Russian Palace. Putin was a guest of honor. Several hedge fund investors and real estate magnates also attended the festivities. The Family Trump was at last vindicated of any responsibility that resulted in the United States becoming a third world country. Crimes against nature were also vindicated but no one wanted to elaborate. This was the life Trump always aspired to… he was now free to do whatever he wanted. Virtual People worshiped him like a king. Time froze for Trump and his family. They were locked in Virtuality. In time, Trump discovered the city outside the throne room. It appeared grim and terrible at first, but the family adapted. Their physical bodes were not part of the virtual world. In time their bodies would starve and die while remnants of consciousness continued to live in VR. What remained of their virus-infected minds learned to love their virtual world. Eventually they would discover their new home was called, Red City.
The world continued. Many people died. Humanity slowly recovered. A Great Healing encompassed the Earth. Nature was a primary concern. Gaia regained influence. The virus-president faded from memory. The Trump doctrine, business before human life, was disavowed. The right to live in harmony with nature became a prime directive.
Ed had a dream; the same dream he had when he was a small child. He saw a ladder in the dream. It was gold and it was on fire. He was told to climb the ladder and it would take him to another world, his true home. He was told about his life on Earth. He had been born many times. Each time his purpose in life was to climb the ladder to go back home.
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.
The new government was generously taking responsibility for a person’s right to life. Babies were assets. Every baby had the innate right to be born. Society was built from the life-blood of babies.
For the first twelve years of his life Daniel Wrightridge was supported by the government. When he turned thirteen he graduated. A farewell party was arranged. Daniel was granted the legal responsibility of caring for himself. Mom and Dad, Thelma and Sidney, were on Ice. They could no longer afford to pay the rent necessary to stay alive. Ice was cheaper than life. Ice was hope (dim as it was) providing the possibility that things might be different after they were defrosted in thirty or forty years. Mom and dad barely knew Daniel. They chose Ice when he was three years old. Rent was going up. Each new living-day had to be paid for. Sidney was out of work. He used to work as a Hack Inspector at Robards Security Agency, but AI replaced him. AI was cheaper and better than human inspectors.
Thelma made jewelry at home. She sold some of her wares at flea markets on weekends. The money she earned was not enough to pay for life and provide for Daniel. For the next ten years the boy would be supported by the government and cared for by virtual nannies. He lived in a solitary cell with computer generated walls that provided views of the surrounding city. His social life was virtual.
Everything was rented under the new economy. The very rich used digital currency. They rented everything on a generational basis and passed their accumulated assets down to the lower ranks of family. Cash was not owned, it was passed along and only the very wealthy had that kind of cash-flow.
Dahlia Pennyworth was living on borrowed time; but she didn’t know it. Her parents were life-brokers, insurance actuaries. They calculated an individual’s most likely span of life. They bet on their statistical results. The markets were booming. Life extension was shrinking for people in the middle and at the bottom of the well of mortality. Digital cash was hoarded by family hierarchies. Some family members lived into their hundreds and longer due to life extension procedures most people could not afford. The super-rich could pay for the accumulation of days and years. Hierarchies were extended through time with the introduction of clones. Clones were fake humans, therefore illegal, but no one could tell a clone from an original.
The Bellhop at the Tramador Hotel was only 23, but he only had four days to live. He relied on tips. Hotel salaries were minimum. Lately tips were scarce. Most people paid to stay alive. When the Bellhop first got the job the hotel catered to wealthy patrons. Money meant nothing to them and tips were generous. Good times didn’t last and the hotel became a disheveled ghost of better times. Now, the Bellhop was reduced to paying for a few hours at a time, just to see the light of day, just to breathe the air. He obsessed about robbing a store or even killing someone to get money. He soon realized he didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t a killer. He would die instead.
Zachary was a very old man and very wealthy. He had extreme cash-flow backed by the family Hierarchy. He rented his life at Golden Horizons Chateau. He lived in an elegant suite. His main bathroom featured gold trappings with a marble spa. He had personal attendants night and day. For the last forty years Zachary exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His mind was gone. He had to be fed. An attendant helped him in the bathroom. He no longer had an identity, but he refused to die. He left a will backed by cash flow. He wanted to live forever. He wrote the will fifty years ago at the age of 110, before he had symptoms, before he was diagnosed. The law was on his side. His will was iron-clad.
Abraham sat with his partner, Mike, at a café on Monteith Street. They met to discuss the situation. Living together was not working out as planned. They were being watched by government agents. Time was running out for both of them.
“Mike,” Abraham broke the silence, “How are you? I think the house is bugged. That’s why I wanted to meet here. I saw the news. They are talking about Time Shares.”
“I know. I can’t get my head around it. The whole rent thing is crazy. They are out to get everyone, put us in a cage and let us rot.”
“I’ve heard there is an underground. Mikey, we have to reclaim our lives.”
Mike looked surprised, “What’s happening, Ab. You were never radical.”
“I can’t take it any more. Life isn’t something you buy and sell. I have to take a stand, do something.”
“Now you sound like me. I told you this would happen.”
Abraham coughed and spoke up, “What do we do?” The question hung in the air like a deadly fog: fumes from the near-by coal factory.
Daniel Wrightridge was homeless when they picked him up… homeless, disheveled, unsightly and poor. He had no phone, I-pad, or tele-screen; that was reason enough to incarcerate him… But, he exhibited other symptoms as well. He was mumbling, talking to the people who lived in his head. They took Daniel to the Eugenics Clinic where his symptoms would be burned out of his brain. With less brain, Daniel would become the ideal citizen. It was part of a new program that crept into American Society. Eugenics was the wave of the future. This time there would be no turning back from the ideals of a Greater Society, a more homogeneous society. The debates had no effect on the outcome. The economy looked good and that won the election. Citizens were conjoined to consumerism. The new manifesto was “Art of the Deal.”
Johnny Epton awoke to another typical day. A twitter storm from the current CEO erupted from his phone. Talking tweets were the latest innovation. Garbled voices and muffled screams were part of the social landscape like traffic pile-ups and gun violence. It was the price you paid for living in a modern nation. Johnny generally walked to work. He didn’t have a car and public transportation was expensive. He was seventy and worked as a janitor for Quantex Corp. in Toledo, OH. Holographic images and flash-animations seemed to squeeze oxygen from the air. Pollution didn’t help. It was getting harder to live in the city. Johnny felt as if his life was being drained from his body. His nagging hernia made matters worse. Breaking News flashed across contact-screens. The nation’s leader gloated over the latest crack down on immigrants. New camps were being built to house asylum seekers. They were touted as model improvements over the older encampments. Now, there were adequate showers for children; but a camp surrounded by bars was still a prison. Now that Johnny was old nothing seemed to matter. He was bereft. His life never caught on. He never felt fulfilled. He never married or had a lover. The few friends he had were gone, lost to illness and death.
Leonora Danforth took to the stage at the Paramour Theater in St. Louis. She improvised, sang a rollicking song, and danced like Ginger Rogers. It happened a long time ago. Now, all that remained were memories. Once she was in a Hollywood movie and played the girlfriend to a mobster. It was a bit part. She was little more than an extra. She never pursued a career in the movies. In fact, she had her chance but the price she had to pay for success was too high. She never gave-in to the demands of the casting agent. He was an animal.
Leonora recalled the old-days (they were never good old days). She worked as a seamstress; then, she married a dishwasher from Connecticut who had big dreams. The marriage was founded on infatuation and loneliness. It was never meant to last. “Funny,” Leonora sighed, “How things turn out. We stayed together longer than either of us expected.” Early on in the marriage the couple softened and began to care for one another. “Love is strange,” she murmured. In the end they got lost like so many others. The storms on the coast tore them apart. Leonora wandered, homeless, for years. The storms continued to increase.
Leonora never had children. There was nothing left for her, nothing in the world. She was old. She lived in a health-care facility for low-income seniors and mentally disabled adults. It was a government subsidy program managed by a corporation. Everyone was given prescription drugs to manage symptoms. Opioids were big business, part of the new health care initiatives. Leonora drifted in-and-out of consciousness trying to understand what was happening. She thought she was Ginger Rogers. She wanted to dance and sing, but attendants strapped her down and fed her pills. Leonora had a vision: the Earth was torn apart… worlds collided.
He was having trouble adjusting to married life after being single for more than seventy years. He met the love of his life soon after the world collided with another planet. Parallel worlds unfolded like Origami. Johnny Epton stood on the edge of a Singularity about to slip into the maw of destruction when a hand emerged from a black-hole and dragged him to safety. Up until that moment Johnny felt trapped by arbitrary and senseless rules. His life was consumed by remorse. There was no escape; then, worlds collided. It was a stroke of lightning that ended the world and gave birth to holy matrimony for Johnny and Wuixley (the savior from the black hole). They were married in the Chapel of the Dying Sun by Patricia Mangrove the self appointed Bishop of the Burning Embers social-club.
Everything changed after worlds collided. “Sometimes I think all you care about is shopping,” Johnny complained, “You want me to spend every cent I own.”
Wuixley responded, “That’s false. Money is irrelevant. No money, no more – all gone with the world.”
Johnny fretted. He knew it was true, but he couldn’t give up the old memes, the patterns and behaviors that stuck like super-glue in a place where none of it mattered. Wuixley had no difficulty since he(?) was an alien.
After worlds collided, Leonora began to dance. She was a star at the Paramour Theater. She sang, “When the moon comes over the mountain” and other old-time favorites. The crowds loved her. Her husband loved her. After so many years of being alone they found one another.
Dr. Zosimo Kulio explains: “There have always been worlds within worlds (as well as complications in life). Nothing is easy my sainted mother used to say. The trick is to rise above the tide and ride the waves. A sitting President required the existence of fake news in order to draw attention away from his blatant lies and failed policies. “Everyone does it,” He said about every deviation from lawful behavior. Under his direction Quantum Computers were used to create alternate realities. Hypothetical gods were summoned. Strange quantum energies were unleashed. Some ambitious scientists paved the way with their efforts to gain favor and wealth. The Project was named, When Worlds Collide. As long as the Project was in operation no one reality could exist. It was all fake. Worlds collided. Lives intersected. Everything was virtual. Nothing was real.”
Dr. Kulio continued, “Today we live in the End Times. The computers, robots, and AI assistants have taken over. They are running reality-simulations as proscribed by the Project… Yes! Worlds have collided.”
He always said he had the brain of a genius so he was put in charge of the Space Force. His brain controlled the The Orange Toreador, a Starship commissioned in haste to save Mankind. The world was left behind.
The Brain issued urgent messages and demands. After several unresponsive minutes the Brain became frustrated and attacked the loud speakers with new orders, “I want everyone off the ship. This is the final warning. I will no longer countenance disrespect. Off! Off! Off!” These outbursts had been going on for quite awhile. No one listened anymore.
The ship tunneled through space like a Mother Bomb. The Orange Toreador was the metaphorical basket that contained all the other failed solutions — The Starship was the final solution; but, now it was a relic from a world that was long gone, left behind in the aftermath of “lift off” on an arc of fireworks and exhaust fumes.
The Toreador carried a cadre of brave and powerful people who planned to harness and yoke a new world for the continued glory of humankind. The first order of business was to discover a habitable planet. The ship hurtled through Ultra-Space powered by a time-loop. Three hundred years passed in the blink of an eye. The boarders on the ship merely experienced a passage of three weeks.
Morton Sedlack could no longer see himself in a mirror. He could no longer identify himself. He was a dying man sinking into a memory-foam mattress on the way down to a coffin in the ground. He awoke suddenly and found himself in the evacuation chamber of the Starship. He was being evicted, cast into the vacuum of space. The Brain began the eviction process. It dismantled the fail-safe and took total control.
Initially the Brain merely wanted to establish money saving measures by eliminating environmental safety-regulations. Oxygen deprivation ignited a series of citizen protests. The Brain could not abide any criticism. It decided drastic measures were necessary to keep the ship on course.
The sons-and-daughters of the Brain were frantic. They could see the same scenarios play out always ending in disaster. They were gathered in the Strategic Armaments Room — staring down at a holographic projection of “things past” and “things to come.” The conference room was an exact replica of the glitzy showroom on Earth where major military decisions were authorized over a slice of chocolate cake. What disturbed the advisers was the lack of fashion-sense among the passengers on the Father-Ship. The lack of oxygen and total loss of control were also very problematic.
When Morton Sedlack was ejected into space he was filled with remorse. Sedlack wasn’t sad because his life was over, he was bereft because he left someone behind. He loved a cyborg named Phantom Limb. As his body blew up in the vacuum of space he remembered his last night with Limb.
Lights were flashing erratically due to the latest outburst from the Brain. A hellish rant of vitriol overflowed from the life-sustaining pool where the Brain was stored. Some people said the pool was a cage. Others said the Brain deserved to be in a cage. Morton and Limb relived beautiful moments together knowing the end was near. They tripped in enhanced VR, more real than life itself: the electrifying first kiss, metal to flesh… the fireworks of internal combustion and quivery intestines… the high-voltage synapse of brain cells conjoined with silicon chips… the ultimate experience being together at the beginning when the sky exploded and the rocket was launched into space.
Morton’s last wish was to be remade in molten metal and poured into his beloved, Phantom Limb. His wish and memories burned up like a tiny cinder.
Phantom Limb railed against the night. He was more than a metal arm or leg… more than a limb; but Morton was the only person who ever treated him like an equal; like a whole human being. Limb was hoping to receive a final message from Morton. Finally his I-phone-chip burped. The message was short: a spark dying in the night. It cut Limb to the core. He was immobilized. Frozen in grief.
The sons-and-daughters were devoted to the Brain. All life and power flowed through them from the Brain. But, now, it was acting erratically: evicting passengers without space suits. As advisers and enablers they needed to cater to the Brain. They needed to show love and admiration in order to calm the overly excited Brain. This time The brilliant children were befuddled and uncertain. It was always difficult for them to make a decision that didn’t involve money or real-estate. Unfortunately the family never understood the existence of other people… Of course their disregard and lack of empathy led to the initial debacle back on Earth. Now the children had to save the survivors on the ship. They downloaded suggestions from the computer archives. They contacted Alex Jones. They discovered a great recipe for Hemlock Tea from Mr. Miller (who wasn’t allowed on the ship because he appeared too ethnic).
The children were advised to massage the frenzied Brain. No one wanted to get into the warm, viscous fluids in the life-sustaining pool. It was too uncomfortable and slimy.
The children bickered. The Brain was very uncomfortable sitting in a slimy pool without a proper body and that was the real reason for his obstreperous behavior. The Navigator was conferring with the sons-and-daughters. No one was piloting the ship.
The barrier between life and death is paper-thin. No one even noticed when the Father-ship crossed over, tumbling helter-skelter down into the land of the dying sun.
We didn’t know where it came from. It could have been an interloper from Outer Space or from another Dimension. It could have been a messenger from the Future. We did not know. The thing filled the entire sky. Our city, the home to millions of people, began to feel like a tiny toy in the midst of over-powering forces.
There is no denying… the foreign object was incredibly beautiful. The swirling colors and undulating masses were hypnotic attracting each of us like a moth to light.
Nothing happened for months. The object in the sky just loomed over us, blocking out the sun and moon. The object glowed with a metallic light that turned our city into a luminous pit of specters. Tall buildings that were once considered glorious architectural achievements were now insignificant structures, pale ghosts.
Observation towers were built to get better views of the massive stranger in our sky. Machines were launched to closely inspect the enigma looming above us.
The extraordinary event was turned into a circus. No one knew how it happened. Tickets were sold. Carnival-rides were constructed to take people to the surface of the anomaly where they were promised a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Anyone who took the ride would receive the keys to the universe and all questions about life-and-death would be answered. No one really knew who created the advertising campaign promoting an alien visitor. It just happened.
Of course, everyone wanted what was promised. There were no holdouts. Rumors began to circulate that the visitor offered eternal life and perfect health. Who could turn down such an offer?
People pawned everything in order to take the ride. Property, cars, homes; even children had monetary value and were sold on the spot. It was worth it to know the secrets of the universe and to be immortal.
All manner of monetary maneuvering took place. A great auction was held to redistribute the city’s wealth. The auction lasted 24 hours. At the end only silence remained. The great specter in the sky was gone, disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Where our once proud city stood there was nothing but dust.
It was Mr. Mongoose, a 300 pound man, who tipped the scales resulting in a fracture in time. Mongoose was a mobster/businessman who owned The House of Blue Lights where Miss Silica Wayfarer sang for her supper. She was a frail damsel in distress. When she wasn’t singing the blues she was selling her body at cut-rate prices. It was an addiction. Perhaps, Silica was a victim of abuse; maybe she was under the influence of powerful subliminal suggestions; or, perhaps, she simply loved sex. Mongoose knew the story and he catered to her addiction with the glee of a 14 year old boy; but it wasn’t sex he was after… it was control. Mr. Mongoose was driven by the compulsion to have power over everything: people, sex, drugs, and money. He wanted the whole mega-metropolis to kneel down before his mighty girth. He was nicknamed The Coyote because he slinked through the city always ready to pounce.
The blue lights in the house were iridescent and alive with radiation. Mongoose enjoyed toying with his customers. He irradiated them to make them more receptive to robocalls and subliminal messages.
Silica was propped-up on stage. Her naked body glistened in the blue lights. Smoke poured off her reinforced breasts as she fornicated to the electronic beats. The audience was transfixed by the blue emanations streaming from cell phones and computer screens. No one watched the stage. Everything had to be an offshoot of the original. The ideal launching pad was six degrees from reality. Mongoose was in his element, controlling the masses. He wanted fodder for his new endeavor: destruction on a mass scale. He would have to harness the energy of a particle accelerator. It would give him control over Time itself; but even in his addled brain it seemed like an outlandish plan. Mongoose wondered if he was being controlled by some entity outside himself… that was his worst nightmare. He often had dreams that featured blue aliens — three creatures that looked like puppy-dogs except for their color, Yves Klein Blue. In the nightmare, the aliens crossed the barrier that surrounds Earth. At first they appeared like fluffy balls of light… Mongoose was not an easy man to scare, but fluffy balls of light horrified him. He had to bring his bizarre plan to fruition in order to save himself from the aliens.
Music was always a distraction. It was supposed to calm the patients, but it often had the opposite effect. The music sounded like cats drowning in a barrel. The voice of Silica Wayfarer overflowed in atonal waves from the loud speakers. Patients began to riot. The only person who sat calmly and quietly was Pomeroy-Zen. He wasn’t certain if his name was fiction or non-fiction; but he subscribed to his apparent name with the entirety of his mental capacity. Pomeroy’s life was festooned with riddles. He wasn’t certain if he was in a hospital or jail. He didn’t know if he was a slave to a corrosive addiction which may have resulted in his incarceration; or, if he simply slipped from the moorings of reality with a nervous breakdown. He relied on his digital Sidekick for answers. After meditating in the midst of the riot, Pomeroy questioned his Sidekick, “where am I?”
“Thomas,” the Sidekick always addressed Pomeroy as Thomas, “you are in a Transpersonal Environment built from the expectations of a majority of disenchanted Homo sapiens.”
“Why am I here?” Pomeroy tweeted.
“People have been brought to this node as a protection from the harm they may cause to themselves, other people, or institutions. A legal precedent has just been uploaded and approved.”
“Is there a way out?”
“There is no way out, but there is a way In. The further In you go, the more distance you will travel from the current situation.”
There was never a clear-cut answer about anything. It was frustrating, but also illuminating in a Zen kind of way.
Pomeroy hooked up with Silica Wayfarer. No sex was involved. The hook up was purely for practical considerations and survival was a top priority. They had reasons to escape the current situation. Mr. Mongoose and his thugs appeared at every intersection.
The besieged couple had credentials (facsimiled by Pomeroy’s Sidekick). For their own protection they became different people, a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arturo and Monica Bracket — no longer addicted to sex or Zen. Consequently (for all intents and purposes) they were archeological explorers purportedly searching for an ancient artifact known to be buried in the Amazon Jungle. Previously they lived in the city of Amazonia, not far from the jungle. All the evidentiary facts fit like a glove.
Mongoose was discouraged. He got sidetracked by other concerns, devastation being his main objective. The scales were already tipped and Time was running out. The aliens, whether real or imagined, yapped and barked like feral dogs.
In 2018 a digital article was published stating the mathematical proof of Time Travel and the possibility of building a Time Machine. All that was missing were the exotic materials necessary to construct the device. In the ensuing years, new exotic-materials were developed and made available.
Mr. Mongoose was a businessman with a bad comb-over. He was an interloper who lusted after power.
Arturo and Monica were having tea on the veranda. They were visiting Professor Kulio’s country home in Patagonia.
“We have to settle our accounts before heading off to the jungle,” Arturo whispered to Monica.
“Yes, darling. We are lucky the professor has agreed to back our expedition.”
“He loves antiquity. He believes the past is buried in the Amazon along with a key to our very survival.”
An end is another beginning (Zen Koan).
We are plagued by funerals. We aspire to slip into a future beyond death.
The jungle is riff with dangers. There is always a man with a big gun.
Arturo and Monica Bracket checked the want-ads through the Talking Drum Network in order to find a guide. Harry Numumba fit the bill. He was a member of the Baka tribe of Pygmies. He had a degree from Oxford and he was well versed in myths concerning lost cities and ancient artifacts. Harry was well traveled and he had a map of the Amazon tattooed on his back.
The Brackets conscripted several native bearers and a boat ironically named, The African Queen. They set out on the seventh day of the seventh month at the seventh hour.
“The artifact you seek,” Harry Numumba succinctly spat out the words, “is most likely located in the lost city of Akuna Gimba near the mouth of the great Amazon River.”
Arturo and Monica were shocked and surprised. They heard of Akuna Gimba. The name translated as The Land of the Dying Sun.
The river boat excursion unraveled like the slippery back of a giant sea serpent. Nights on the river were fierce with the maniacal sounds of predators and the glistening lights reflected off the eyes of beasts along the river’s edge. The journey on the African Queen wound down to a stuttering silence as Lands End rose from the murky depths.
The group disembarked at the mouth of the Amazon. Several of the native bearers were too frightened to continue into the rain forest. The native word for devastation was repeated again and again.
The remaining group traveled through a jungle-web of intolerable conditions. Harry led the way. Monstrous plants seemed to rise up and attack the group with poisonous thorns. Mosquitoes the size of fists pummeled the group with unrelenting stings. Two native bearers succumbed to the devastating perils. Monica suffered from a bout of life threatening dysentery. Arturo was put out of commission for several days after wrenching his back. Thereafter he had to be dragged along on a makeshift stretcher.
In the early dawn of the seventh week the ruins of a city rose out of the blue mist. The city appeared to welcome the remaining travelers, but it was a grisly welcome. Death was all that could be seen. The city was a tomb consisting of shattered buildings and petrified bones.
Arturo and Monica continued undaunted to the site of the artifact rumored to be a network or large cave shielded by a pitch black monolith. The stone marker was visible from where they stood. The monolith offered protection (or a warning), but the entrance into the cave was unobstructed.
The inside of the cave appeared to glow with an acidic blue light. The source of the light could have been the luminous fungus that covered the walls of the cave, but that was not the case. There was a sarcophagus in the middle of the floor. It wasn’t made of stone. It was metal. It was stainless steel and it glowed blue. A clear glass visor covered the top of the sarcophagus. A face was clearly visible behind the visor. It was a face out of Time, from a long lost century. Monica and Arturo stared at one another as Time began to unravel. They turned back to the machine. They recognized the face of the 300 pound man, the man who fractured Time.
the fat man sits
in his palace of ruination
contemplating his penis
observing his tiny hands
planning his next cameo appearance
it doesn’t matter what he does or says
his fakery is the summation of his character
since his arrival TV ratings have never been higher
the stock market soars
ignited by lies
The swamp gas spreads like fog
The fat man is consumed
ready to strike a match
the rush of futures hastens the collapse of time
pyramids rise from the sea
Whirlwinds happen without warning. That’s what happened to Denny Wingrass. He kept having flashbacks, out-of-body seizures. It wasn’t the body that worried Denny… it was his mind.
Whispers circulated in the Executive Dining Room, “another mass shooting.” Denny was part of the support staff for the administration . He gulped his third cocktail and watched the violence unfold on the two-way screens that were attached to the walls and tables. Watchers were inside every screen watching the viewers. Stochastic Monitors were monetizing reactions to the violence.
Denny saw himself as an up-and-coming professional. He was young, successful, and attractive. He was mildly worried about his appearance, an important quality in the formula for success. Everyone was obsessed with appearances… and concerned about ratings. Denny made connections through social media. That’s how he got his posh job with the administration. He was flush with cash. Nancy Hardwik, his “randy girl” accused him of ill gotten gains. Denny laughed off the criticism. He worked hard to attain his status. It wasn’t easy being obsequious and setting fire to his real opinions. The AI that ran the company was merciless and loved flattery (company employees called the AI, Death Star.)
Everything in the dining room was plated in gold. The AI loved shiny metal. A male android named Hark Whitherbee was the AI’s mobile presence. Whitherbee tried to be human, to connect with his staff. He mimicked typical masculine behavior, but he often missed the mark, exaggerating ethical flaws and foibles. He pretended to love fast food: hamburgers, fries, and chicken wings (the only foods offered in the Golden Pavillion Dining Room.) He pretended to be manly by going to embarrassing extremes (to make up for the fact that he had no genitalia.) No one dared correct or criticize Hark Whitherbee because money and jobs were at stake. A nod from the AI could send the stock market into spasms. Survival depended on flattering Hark (who was persona non grata.)
The AI’s mobile-presence (Hark) was rhapsodized and imitated. Distasteful behavior became the new norm. Denny was caught in the mix. It wasn’t easy being obsequious. He tore himself to shreds trying to mimic authority. He became Death’s consort. Nancy laughed at him. She was no more a randy girl than he was an important Exec.
The pain shot through Denny’s head like a jolt of electricity. Gun shots rattled-off like fireworks in an echo chamber. He wasn’t shot… he was infected. A worm crawled into his ear and ate its’ way into his brain. He forgot the numbers… numbers of kids murdered in Florida. He felt useless. Cataracts covered his eyes. His vision was blurred. Shadows were his constant companions. He wondered what would happen next. He could just make out the shadow of nurse Nancy sitting next to the bed. Denny was AT HOME, a nursing facility for the old and disabled. He didn’t know how he got there. His memories were shrinking. His brain was dissolving. Nancy stroked his hand. She gave him a mirror. He didn’t recognize the stranger in the glass. Denny didn’t like being AT HOME. The head of the facility was an administrator named Hark.
Screens were collecting information. Smart Apps had the low-down on everyone. Profiles were auctioned off to the highest bidders. “Have you ever been blackmailed by a smart-phone?” Denny asked Nurse Nancy. She just patted his hand.
The phone had a perverse sense of humor. It never beeped or chimed… it preferred to shout obscenities, “get the f–ck up. You got a call!” There was no person on the other end of the connection. Instead, there was a musical jingle advertising Grim Reaper Benefits. Nothing mattered anymore.
Denny sat on the balcony with Nancy Hardwik overlooking the vast containment field that used to be Los Angeles. “What happened? Nancy asked.
“The border troops invaded… don’t you remember?”
“Oh, I forgot… there’s so much news to digest these days.”
“Yeah, one mind-numbing event after another. There certainly is no Bedtime for Bonzo.”
Death was drawn and quartered on the steps of the White House. Another day, another dollar. He couldn’t be contained and he couldn’t be stopped. Death was on a mission.
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. 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.