“Hi there, Riki Siliband here… at the Church of the Holy Ghost and Gambling Emporium. I’m here with Domina Highgraves and we are enjoying the greatest show on Earth (or off Earth for that matter). This is Silliband On Demand, the webcaste that reaches the darkest black-holes in space. We now know that the flutter of a butterflies wings in Wyoming can cause Tariffs on China; thus we are here to gamble on Future Derivatives.” Domina interjects with some stimulating banter, “Hello… I just want to give a cheer for the fabulous Riki. He is awesome and he always has his eye on the Future. I’m loaded with cash (tee-hee) so I can afford to lose, but I’m betting I’ll win every time by following Riki’s lead. Remember our sponsor Virtual Svengali, the Cure for everything!”
“I keep telling myself to focus… in order to enter another dimension, to see beyond the five senses… I have to focus.” Aubrey Beaderslee was in trouble… he could not adjust to reality. He was fifty-five and wondered how he survived. He constantly asked why he wasn’t dead. He often thought the world was Hell… it was out to get him: noise, weather, traffic, inane gibberish, phones, and computers – everything. He was driven to find another world. He was building a machine. It could change everything, but first he had to contact the ghost, the ghost in the machine.
The reason this story is familiar is because it has been written a thousand times before. Each time the characters are slightly different. The conclusion to the story is also slightly different time and again. Reality shifts. A new determinant is at play: Loop Quantum Gravity has been entered into the formulae for decoding existence.
Aubrey Beaderslee looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of his life from birth to death. “Each stage of my life was telescoped before my eyes.” It was a shattering experience. He couldn’t comprehend the meaning. He lay in pieces across the floor. Everything was recorded. Eye-spies were everywhere. The Bureau of Reclamation retrieved the pieces. Aubrey’s thoughts, emotions, and memories were recycled – his flesh and bones were reassembled and a new vessel was born.
“Are we living in the End of Days?” Sister Monica Dwarfkin asked the Holy Father who stood before her like a stone monolith. The Father was a statue imbued with life (he was a step beyond Quantum Intelligence). Sister Monica was a man when she first joined the Order of Transformative Science. She was never comfortable as a man. The religious order offered succor and sustenance and provided a pathway to reassignment. Anything was possible in the land of Milk and Honey, the new Virtual Reality.
The Holy Father answered Monica’s question, “The world is no longer with us.”
“Your Eminence… what does that mean?”
“My daughter, things have changed in the last one hundred years. The world perished. I am here to help you in your transition.”
Monica was shaken by Father’s words, “What happened to the world?”
“It needed to be replaced. I came along to help. Everyday people faced tragedy. Finally the world tore itself apart.”
Monica innocently asked, “How did you help.”
“I provided a way out, beyond the fray. I’m known by many names. I am Mr. D. I’m the Angel. I am the Ghost in the machine.”
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.”
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.
He had to relieve himself, there was no question about it. He used his hand until he felt satisfied. It no longer worked with another person. He was old and nothing worked easily anymore especially if someone else was involved. He didn’t mind as long as he could still function on his own. Even when he was young nothing was easy. Harrison Vincent was half Jewish and half Italian. He was hammered by guilt from both sides of the family. He was proud of himself for surviving. It would have been easier to succumb to drugs and alcohol… or to any of the vices of the modern world. He survived; but now he had to face a new danger: a changing world and the collapse of everything he knew.
Diego Arnez was Puerto Rican but vigilantes thought he was Mexican so they locked him in a cage and lost the key. Times was changing! Diego stopped screaming for help. His voice gave out. No one came. He was alone, deep in the bowels of the machinery that controlled the social networks, below ground in one of the many sub-basements used for unclassified storage.
Harrison sat at a table in a rundown Mexican Cafe. He sat with a shadow, a man named Frankie. “How can we ever be together?” Harrison asked. “You are hardly substantial.” Other people in the cafe were used to Harrison’s mumbling. They assumed he was loco, always talking to himself.
“I always loved you,” Harrison’s voice shook with emotion. “It was impossible. You were never real.” A flash of light caught his eye. He looked through the grimy window. Police were harassing people demanding IDs. After several people were arrested, fights broke out. A teenage gang joined the fights. the police used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Sirens charged the air with electricity. The police left the scene to the newly arrived paramedics. It was the same every few night like a staged play.
Isabelle Trope, the waitress, looked down at Harrison Vincent. She was waiting to take his order. “Are you OK, Mr. Vincent?” Her presence had a calming effect.
“Yes, yes,” he replied, “it’s just the shadows. They are very real tonight. Thank you.” He ordered a senior-special and continued to talk to shadows.
Isabelle was called Mother Mary at the Church of the Golden Sepulcher where she volunteered. The church was a sanctuary for immigrants who came seeking asylum, but were denied by the new administration. Isabelle helped the children whose parents were deported back to the hell where they came from. She was a woman from another century. Her clothes and mannerisms were archaic. Her belief in Jesus was old fashioned. Her goal in life was to help others less fortunate than herself. She loved a man named Diego Arnez. He should have arrived weeks ago. Isabelle did not know Diego was detained, languishing in a cell below ground.
Harrison Vincent couldn’t sleep. Recurring nightmares kept him awake. He kept seeing an army of half-naked children, broken and crippled, walking through a blistering desert. They were marching to the border preparing to invade. They carried rocks. Soldiers lined up at the terminus. They carried grenades and rapid-fire rifles. The sun blotted out the sky. Everything glowed red like the surface-burner of an electric stove. Vincent was afraid to sleep. Afraid he might have an accident. A few nights before he dream’t he was drowning — he woke in the center of a soaked mattress. He felt humiliated, ashamed. There was no one to turn to for help. Frankie was gone. Did he know? Harrison began to sob.
Tectonic plates were shifting and climate change was having a devastating effect. For fun, Black-water vigilantes tortured Diego Arnez.
TV painted a glorious picture of the new American Economy. Tariffs and taxes boosted growth. The small war with Mexico was an important line in the sand… us against them. The country’s CEO kept his promise by closing the border. A man named Miller assumed the role of “Secret Santa” whispering in the leader’s ear offering advice on purification and social control. Every event resulted in the construction of a new room in the Golden Palace. The grand edifice was like an M.C. Escher maze worthy of hiding government secrets and tax returns. Palace construction led to a new real-estate cycle of boom & bust. The levels of complexity set off a rumbling in the digital-plates, platforms for Virtual Reality and Fake History.
Frankie was much more than a shadow… he was Harrison’s husband. He was much younger, but he was devoted to the life they shared together. Recently Harrison seemed to change. He appeared confused and rattled. Frankie was worried. The changes seemed to take place after the Doctor moved into the house next door. Dr. Cosimo became Harrison’s personal physician. He saw his patient every day and called his treatments an intervention.
Guns on the border were fired at the same time that church bells rang out. The centuries old Church of the Flowers stood like an adobe sentinel, guarding the border, keeping track of death. The church was a Way-station. When it was feasible people were allowed to travel through the gateway that was harbored within the walls of the church.
Dr. Cosimo had no medical training. He was a scientist with three PhD’s in Quantum Mechanics. He pretended to be a medical professional to gain Vincent’s trust. His assistant, Sally Magneto, was a practical nurse and theoretical physicist. Sally was also an amateur actress in the local theater group called Mummers’ Folly.
“I’m feeling upset,” Harrsion confided in his doctor.
“Please explain. I need details.”
“I’m old. My legs hurt and I get cramps at night.”
The doctor appeared distracted, “umm.”
“I peed the bed two nights ago. I didn’t tell Frankie.”
“Oh… go on. Have you had any dreams?”
“Bad dreams… nightmares about the border.”
The doctor became more attentive, “tell me about the border. What did it look like? Was there a wall?”
Harrison felt queasy. He wanted to change the subject, “I think it was something I saw on TV. I read about the control TV has on our brains… Phones, ads, apps — everywhere. There is no getting away…”
“What about the border, ” the doctor interjected.
“It’s not real… just a dream.”
The doctor excused himself and went into the adjoining room.
Diego Arnez was held in an underground storage facility. His guards were part of a border patrol group called America First. They were vigilantes, outside the law; but working with the blessings of POTUS. The men in the group were burned hollow from daily hardship and violence. They enjoyed their newfound power over the alien hordes that arrived at the border. Some of Diego’s guards were particularly cruel. Diego Arnez was not an illegal alien, he was not what his captors expected. They tried torture to make him confess to the crime of invasion (the guards were bonded in their 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 Arnez 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 away. 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.
Dr. Cosimo entered the viewing room where Sally was busy with actuarial charts and computer projections. She sat in front of the NODE, a quantum nexus connected to ten other NODE’s. Qubits were fighting for dominance. AI augmented the hypervalence of Quantum Decoherance. The power of one Quantum Computer was one-million gigabytes; but ten connected together was incalculable. Connecting the computers was part of an investigation into Quantum Mechanics; but Harrison was the experiment. Sally was the expert. She recently published a book, The Lady in the Room is Not a Lady. It dealt with differential displacement of sub-atomic particles. She was far more accomplished than Dr. Cosimo. The doctor was fighting to regain his stature in the scientific community. He depended on Sally’s discoveries, but refused to give her credit.
“He’s ready.” Cosimo instructed, “I put him in a trance and attached the Quantum Equilizer.”
“Another trip could kill him. The brain cannot deal with the induced levels of stress.”
“Sally, dear… We have the President’s backing. He wants this. It could benefit his agenda… and we have to know. Harrison is ready for the next world.”
The crux of the experiment was to prove the Many Worlds theory developed by the physicist, Hugh Everett.
Sally remarked, “POTUS doesn’t believe in science.”
“If he can profit from something, he believes it. He feels our work has potential.”
Electricity surged through Harrison’s brain. Memories flickered in his mind like a silent movie. He remembered the protest. Parts of America were up for sale. National parks and historic monuments were on the auction block. Harrison recalled the rally. He was arrested by the New Guard and incarcerated… taken to the Hospital for the Mentally Indigent. Electric Shock was standard treatment (designated as an intervention). Harrison bit down on the rubber mouth-guard as his brain convulsed. He was lucky to be alive. When the treatment ended Harrison was returned to his cell. He was confused. His face in the tin mirror above the sink was strange, unrecognizable. He was younger than expected. His vision was better. The body aches due to arthritis were gone. What happened? Where was Frankie?
Sally advised, “he’s slipping into a coma. He may die.”
Yes. Unfortunate. But the results of the experiment are astounding. Our work proves that Many Worlds exist. We can travel to other dimensions. We can travel through time.”
Mr. D was waiting in the anteroom across the hall. He was disguised as a gondolier. He was getting ready to take Harrison to The Land of the Dying Sun.
As the result of the experiment new technology was developed. Time Travel changed everything. Reports were altered. No disparaging evidence was discovered. Agents from the future crossed the border trying to correct the cataclysmic alterations and reestablish Truth. The border was an energy vortex where all the Ley Lines converged. The Leader of the Nation was determined to build a wall, a great wall, to keep the agents out. Nothing was foolproof. If necessary there was a Plan B… escape to another world.
“I occupy a room on the rim of the world,” he said to no one in particular. Leonora sat by the bedside reading the news on a digital screen. She was a mirage, a figment of his over-active imagination born from the womb of his loneliness. He led a long life; now, he was retired. He reclined on the memory-foam bosom of Time collecting the residue left from unfulfilled dreams.
The man in the White House kept throwing twitter-bombs at Frankie Bernbaum, an innocent bystander. Frankie was a third-rate comedian on the virtual Borscht Belt in the Catskills. Frankie’s shtick was not very funny – it was more therapy than comedy. Frankie needed therapy. He stood on the “realer-than-life” stage and confessed to being a hypochondriac with obsessive-compulsive tendencies and mother issues. A few people thought it was funny enough to keep bringing him back. But, Frankie was getting worse. His agent, Frosty Dick, thought Frankie should be committed to an asylum. Frosty had issues. He worshiped the man in the White House. Bernbaum’s criticisms and exaggerations infuriated Frosty.
Frankie had a new shtick, “Oy Vey, I got a hernia,” he told the five people tuned into the Velvet-VR-Lounge at the Mogen David Motor Lodge. “It’s such a pain,” he said, “but pain is all I got. I named it… I call my hernia Donny after our beloved presidente’.” No one in the audience laughed. Frankie assumed they were all supporters of the president. Frankie was upset. He began to rant. “Dumb schmucks,” he yelled at the audience.
“Goddamn dumb schmucks!” He believed the audience was spying on him, sent by the government to take him down. He had visions of Nazis.
Two security guards wrestled Frankie to the floor of the make-shift stage. Frosty Dick arranged to have Frankie admitted to the Cold Stone Infirmary for the Disturbed.
Years ago Frankie Bernbaum had delusions of grandeur. When his dream of fame and fortune was crushed by reality, Frankie became a bottom-feeder, just barely hanging on. Nagging pains convinced him to see a doctor. Dr. Zosimo Kulio revealed some interesting results, “Frankie you are the direct descendant of a catfish living in a Louisiana Swamp.” Bottom-feeder, indeed. It was odd news, but Kulio was an odd doctor. “No… I’m joking. Can’t you take a joke?” Frankie wasn’t laughing. The doctor’s real diagnosis was just as astounding. “Frankie, you got a hernia. In my opinion this is not an ordinary hernia. It is developing. X-rays revealed a head. I’m afraid you had a twin when you were born, but the twin didn’t make it. At least that’s what we thought at the time. Seems like… your twin developed inside your body so now you have a hernia with a human head.” Frankie was overwhelmed. He’d always wondered why his mother gave him up at birth. She must have felt the pain of the unborn twin. “Be careful,” Zosimo advised, “your hernia is still developing… maybe a body. We can’t remove it because the hernia is rooted to your spine. For now it might be better to give it a name and try to make friends.” Frankie felt resentment toward his unborn twin. In a storm of sarcasm he named the hernia after the president… and laughed. Changes began almost immediately. Donny started to complain. He became a real nuisance. He took the role of president seriously. He made unreasonable demands based on lies and exaggerations. Donny drove Frankie crazy and that led to the outburst at the Mogen David Motor Lodge.
After the incident at the Lodge Frankie was sedated. He woke-up in a white room. Dr. Zosimo Kulio stood over Frankie with a twelve-inch hypodermic needle. The doctor jabbed his patient with a mixture of psychedelic drugs. Frankie had to confront the monsters in his head.
Donny sat on a stool and smiled. The hernia sported an orange comb-over. Frankie was horrified, “what are you,” he sputtered.
“I can see you are in complete awe because you are standing in my presence.”
“I’m gagging. Talk about ugly…”
“Hey, buttercup, I’m in charge. Treat me with respect or I’ll make your life hell!”
“This is crazy. You’re a piece of my lower intestine, a hernia.”
“I shall call you stupid because that is what you are. I was your extremely mistreated twin; then, I became President.”
“I called you Donny as a joke.”
“I’m no joke, asshole. You were envious of the power wielded by a great man. You wished me into existence. Now, I’m in charge.”
“This is not happening,” Frankie moaned.
“It’s happening funny-man – I mean washed-up hack.”
Frankie felt a sudden jolt of pain and heard laughter like the sound of a buzz-saw.
“That’s right Frankie-boy – you are Out. Fired. I’m in charge and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Leonora Vetch missed Frankie. She hadn’t heard from him in over a month. They had a short-term affair (two nights on a waterbed not worth remembering). The affair quickly cooled down and became an awkward friendship. She was happy about what happened, how it all turned out… Leonora prized friendship more than sex. It wasn’t always easy dealing with Frankie’s obsessions and ideation. Still, Frankie was a comforting presence when he wasn’t rambling on about politics or philosophy. In truth, Leonora didn’t have a lot of friends and Frankie was dependable. She was a newspaper reporter working for the Daily Grind. She met Frankie Bernbaum while doing a fluff piece about the Virtual revival of the Borscht Belt. Leonora liked Bernbaum’s act. He reminded her of Lenny Bruce… only Frankie was not nearly as intelligent or daring.
Frankie always turned up or called every week. If he planned to be away he left a message. Leonora heard about the blow-up at the Mogen David Motor Lodge. She knew Frosty Dick had Frankie committed to Cold Stone; but they could only hold him for twenty-four hours. Frankie would have shown up on her doorstep after his release. Leonora decided to investigate. If necessary she would turn this case into a hashtag frenzy or meme attack. She had the skills.
Leonora went to Bernbaum’s apartment. It was empty. She searched the Virtual Archives for information: leftover bits, ramdom bytes – clues with Frankie’s psychic signature attached. Leonora realized she needed help. She found no trace of her friend, but she found something else: the one person who could solve the mystery, Adamine Krator. He was the legendary Detective-Inspector who was incarcerated by the authorities in Red City. He was framed of course, but that didn’t matter in the arcane, digital jungle. Krator was entombed in the One-Zero VR Archive.
Leonora uncovered the digital codes that could give Krator limited virtual-freedom. The codes worked like an electronic monitoring-devise. If Krator strayed too far off course (as described in the compliance-plan set forth by Leonora) he would be pulled back like a rubber-band, back into prison.
The great Inspector was so relieved to be out in the cascading Virtual World that he vowed to solve the case and discover what happened to Frankie Bernbaum.
As usual he went about his work with exactitude. Krator was hyper-vigilant (a characteristic that could be described as a personality disorder; or the defining behavioral trait of a Genius).
The detective followed a routine starting with the onset of events that led up to the disappearance. He researched the places where Frankie was last seen. He recreated the pivotal moments that occurred leading up to the time when Frankie was missed. It was necessary to become Frankie, necessary to walk in the man’s shoes. It was a technique that Adamine virtually invented. In so doing the Inspector found a few clues, very few at first; but every clue told a story and led to larger discoveries. At last, Frankie Bernbaum was found; unfortunately the comedian was not himself. He was found in an alley next door to the White House Bar & Grill. He was cut to pieces and very dead.
The great Adamine Krator put the pieces together to answer the question, “what happened to Frankie Bernbaum?”
Upon release from the Cold Stone Infirmary Frankie went to his apartment. He needed to put everything in order because he did not plan to return. He was in severe pain caused by his hernia. Donny continually badgered and mocked Frankie. There was no let up. The hernia intended to wall off Frankie. There would no longer be communication with Frankie. He would be imprisoned as the enemy. The comedian launched his own attack against Donny: weight lifting, squats, and extreme exercises… all to cause pain to the volatile hernia, to make Donny stop. Of course the pain he caused Donny doubled back on Frankie. Unbearable pain. Frankie staggered into the White House Bar where he proceeded to get blinding drunk. The drunker he became, the crazier Donny became: attacking and swearing, trying to grind Frankie into the ground beneath his feet… the seething hatred could be felt by the patrons in the bar. They were wary of this crazy comedian who sobbed and ranted about the filthy man who was president. A fight broke out. Heads were cracked open spilling brains across the floor. The comedian was yelling and sobbing. He couldn’t take the rising pain. He could not let Donny take control (Donny’s words echoed inside his skull, “I’m in charge and there is nothing you can do about it.”) There was something Frankie could do. He backed into the alley behind the bar and unsheathed the knife he took from his apartment. There was something… and Frankie proceeded to attack Donny, sacrificing his own life in the battle.
Frankie Bernbaum gasped for air. He was finished telling his story. Dr. Zosimo Kulio bit his lip. It wasn’t easy seeing his patient in such a state of decompensation. The man was under undue stress. The sickness was all in his head. The country would get back to normal one of these days and it would all seem like a dream… at least, that was everyone’s hope. He had to admit nothing was easy anymore. It wasn’t easy having his clinic turned into a prison for dissenters and aliens. But, he felt confident it would change… it had to change!
Sammy opened a door in the wall and entered a game room called, Kingpin. There were many rooms in the Stone Edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue. Sammy played at being several characters in the game. In the hall-of-mirrors he saw himself as Leonora Mangrove. She was a knockout manufactured from Fractal-Coherence and anti-matter. Sammy studied Quantum Physics. He wanted to learn how to shine like the light from a nuclear blast. He talked rhapsodic to himself. Many characters emerged. Leonora hummed a tune and Sammy cracked jokes trying to dispel a growing feeling of dread.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He had a stable life with a lover and good friends. He could depend on his job as a salesman… it was boring but paid the bills. Sammy wondered when his life became so heated, so complicated. He remembered getting married. It was finally legal to marry another man. He always believed he was heterosexual. He changed somewhere along the line, but he did not know where or when. Making love to Tommy was like being immersed in molten lead. Tommy broke through the barrier that separated Sammy from the rest of the world.
Leonora interjected, “you are a confused man, Sammy. You got it all wrong.”
For a moment Sammy looked like he was about to cry; then, he resigned himself to the situation and asked, “how did it happen?”
Leonora reacted, “Don’t you remember being an astronaut… the first person to fly faster than the speed of light? Don’t you remember being stoned by Roger? Don’t you remember the Kingpin?”
“No… none of it. I thought I sold shoes and lived a simple life with Tommy.”
“You did for awhile,” Leonora interjected, “then all hell broke loose.”
A synapse lit up in Sammy’s brain… He remembered a news report about Al Loyd Benson. He was an astronaut nicknamed Lightning. It was reported that Al Loyd crossed the barriers of Time to go beyond corporeal existence. He was a time-traveler from the future. But, Al Loyd was never a man. A human body could never withstand the stress inflicted by Time Travel. Al Loyd was a machine, a robot.
Sammy shouted at Leonora, “pain… doesn’t that make me a man!”
Leonora modulated the color spectrum on her new acetate skin. “Maybe,” she responded, “maybe not.”
Sammy suffered. He was never free of a sense of dread. How was it possible to survive in such a frail human body? He was living in a Hell-world. There was mortal danger everywhere: on streets, in traffic. thieves and bullies roamed the neighborhood. He could fall and break his bones. Collusion and murder were commonplace. His only relief came from his lover’s touch, hand to brow.
“Don’t get maudlin,” Leonora sounded bored, “maybe Tommy doesn’t even exist. He’s just a character. All the characters come out at night.” Her words ricocheted through Sammy’s brain. They were everywhere like zombies, characters, actors unhinged from reality, roaming free through M.C. Escher’s optical illusions.
His name was Felix. He saw himself reflected in a thousand screens and mirrors of illusion. Nothing was real, least of all himself.
There is a switch in my brain that turns on and off and recycles my personality. I am forced from one dimension to another… never certain of who or where I am.
“This is my bed of lies,” Miranda Monologue wrote while reclining on her memory-foam mattress.
Donny Trident was the mastermind behind a plan to upgrade the human race.
“Am I part of a Hive?”
“My name is Morton Slope and I’m part of a conspiracy.“
Madam Celia-Quark conducted a séance. She attempted to channel the spirits of Time and Space.
Benda Creamola looked like Elsa Lancaster in the movie, Bride of Frankenstein.
Starling was a Polysexual-biomorph who could be any sex or gender depending on the mood of the moment.
“I’m the man who wanted to save the world.”
The last time Joey saw his therapist he cried.
Rabbit had a vicious smile and a spine-tingling laugh.
Bondeer Saville was going to the Masquerade Ball. She pranced across the electronic fast-lanes like lightning incarnate.
“My name is Marvin Naivan and I don’t belong here.”
Miss Blossom enjoyed her work at the Night Station. It wasn’t too difficult as long as you kept your mind to yourself and followed orders.
The actor was silently staring at the worm in the bottle of tequila, hoping to forget everything.
Electra Glomm reset her life several times, changing her colors like the lizard slithering across the kitchen floor. Plastic surgery helped.
Roxy Box was a semi-intelligent reporter working for News Corpse, the Internet conglomerate. Roxy was not a woman or man – Roxy was IT, “information technology.”
Chan-X was a skinny teen, a member of the Red Gang, an incestuous family of throwaways, lost and unwanted souls.
Samantha Lux came to the party with a Versace handbag loaded with anti-personnel weapons.
Jason Montieth was certain his identity had been stolen
The rapid-fire memory-flash began to fade and Sammy found himself on a metal floor. At first he thought he was on a train traveling with fellow prisoners, going to Buchenwald. He recognized several passengers. They were old friends, former lovers, and actors he’d known when he was a young man. Leonora smiled and flashed a victory sign. He was on a Transit Ship that broke through the wall that surrounded Earth. Mr. D (a man with the medical condition of Dwarfism) was at the controls. The ship moved faster than the speed of light. Everyone was swiftly transported to the Land of the Dying Sun.