I was drawn to Red City even before I knew it existed. I was haunted by dreams. Dreams were an escape from my misery of suffocation caused by working odd jobs just to stay alive. No one cared about my negligible existence. When I lost my part-time employment as a dishwasher I had to give up my small room. I moved into the streets. I begged. At night I slept in dark alleys under the shelter of plastic sheets and cardboard. Children shrieked when they saw me — small boys threw rocks. I was only twenty-four but I looked like an old man. At twenty-four I had already forgotten my name and the promises that were told to me as a boy growing up in a middle class suburb. I spent my days in a walking-delirium. The only release from my tedium was sleep. I discovered Red City in a dream. In the beginning there was only a mist that appeared like a fine spray of blood. With each dream the blood became more visceral. During the day the dream stayed with me like a metallic taste in my mouth. The City began to ascend from deep below the moorings of reality. It shimmered like red meat beneath the thin layer of human skin. I realized how deeply connected I was to Red City. Somehow I had the power to wake up a city that lay dormant for thousands of years. I followed my dreams into another dimension. I could feel the blood of the city pulsing in my veins. I felt powerful. I began to live in Red City; at the same time, I was disappearing from the world of starvation and homelessness. I could be many different people, angels and demons, when I traveled in the Red City. I had many disguises. I was learning the secrets of ancient magic, secrets that explained the workings of the world. I sought the Philosopher’s Stone, true immortality. I learned that life was sustained by blood. Red City was a crucible of blood. The other world where I was born was nothing. The people in that world were selfish, greedy bugs that were less than nothing; they were flimsy images flashing on a screen of make-believe reality. Red City was the only reality, my true home. Whenever I skinned one of those false people the blood gave me life and Red City flourished.
A nondescript man babbled as if he were in a trance, “I saw several of us walking around… not realizing we were all the same person… then, we ran into one another on a corner in the bankrupt finance-district, off skid row. We were all the same… we were also different: individuals… part of the same organism. We looked the same… We talked the same. It was an epiphany to stare into the eyes of another person and realize that person was me. Am I part of a Hive? Is my mind being controlled? Hold on, I’m receiving a message from space… the archangels are calling. Same message everyday: Earth is off balance… Trumpet players are in control… Politics have gone viral.”
Jacob Latterly sat in a computer cafe’ having a conversation with himself in a VR chat room0 He was trying to figure out the codes that determine the human perception of reality. He was having no success. One conundrum let to another in an ever winding spiral of confusion. Dr. Zosomo Kulio stepped up to Jacob to reassess the situation and write a report. “Jacob,” he said, “you are having delusions.” The good doctor suddenly disappeared, but the lingering wisp of melange hung in the virtual air.
At this nexus in the story a new virus, one of many, was affecting Jacob’s brain.
Jacob grasped at the fragments and caught a whiff of Nostalgia (an intoxicant found in a mutant viper imported from Jakarta). A new sensation was born inside Jacob’s breast that led to a series of improbable circumstances. Against all odds, Jacob fell in love. His natural inclination was to wallow in depression. Love was not supposed to be in the mix. His lover was a metallic reflection, a bird on the wing deep within the jungle of digitally enhanced reality. The experience resonated deep within Jacob’s hypothetical soul. As far as he was concerned, the state of the world was no longer of any consequence. The incredible messages from space suddenly stopped without a trace. The archangels expired like pigeons dying from exhaust fumes. Politics continued to run amok. Devices continued to get smarter until they were too intelligent to stay on Earth — all the gadgets left the planet. Jacob, however, was happy. Depression evaporated. He found love. Nothing else mattered.
Manfred Bancourt wrote short stories that got him in trouble. He was a manic typist on an old, IBM Selectric, pre-digital relic. Manfred produced ream after ream of young-adult science fiction, but his stories took a more opinionated twist with the election of the new president. He began to write articles critical of the new regime. They were uploaded to the internet and widely circulated, often going viral.
Elisa Trinity helped Manfred. She was a computer wiz, multi-cultural Transsexual who claimed to be from the planet Saturn. Elisa had a vivid imagination. She also had some rock solid, formidable computer skills. Elisa wanted to draw attention to Manfred’s stories and articles. She didn’t mean to get him in trouble.
Elisa used trolls and bots. She liked to play tricks. She started the “Harem” story that nearly brought down the government. She rationalized, “one dirty trick deserves another… they started it with Pizza-gate.” Elisa finished it with Harem-gate, Frump’s secret depository of women stashed in the basement of the White House. It went viral and caused great consternation in the halls of Congress. The unanticipated result was higher favorable ratings for President Frump, especially among men. Elisa was heart broken and that’s when she decided to promote Manfred’s articles that were both honest and damaging to the Frump Administration.
Tweets and articles, both true and false, led to a series of damaging rumors mostly aimed at Trump and his appointed allies: “Trump is an illegal alien from Mars,” “the president is the Manchurian Candidate,” “Trump is the head of an illegal cartel.” The flurry exploded into derisive combat. Supporters of the administration hit hard with their own liturgy of insults and rumors. Everyone blamed Manfred Bancourt. His articles were the fuel that ignited Civil Disobedience and the Season of Political Discontent.
“The weather isn’t helping,” Orlow Fabricatum observed as he talked with Elisa Trinity.
“Natural disasters are worse than ever,” Elisa replied, “it’s draconian. It’s apocalyptic. Global warming has been dismissed as fake news.”
“Yes,” Orlow sagely responded, “and biblical prophesy, god’s will, is blamed for the devastation.”
The island of Puerto Rico continued to sink into the ocean.
Parts of Houston were still under water.
Axel Ramirez was no longer cognizant. He was caught in the flood of circumstances. He continued to follow the suggestions of Harvey, his alcoholic beverage. He refused to forsake Harvey and that put Axel in a precarious situation as he sank beneath the waves.
Another rumor became viral based on an article by Bancourt… “Trump signed a contract with the devil.”
Twitter exploded, “Trump is in league with Lucifer.” “Trumpism is a satanic cult that rules the world.”
The president was extremely upset. His early morning twitters were no longer having an effect against the avalanche of counter-intelligence and breaking-news (no one could tell fake from real).
Something had to be done. It was concluded that Manfred Bancourt was the culprit who began the scurrilous landslide of articles that were damaging to the president. A presidential decree was signed releasing the Hounds-of-Hell to hunt down and terminate Manfred.
Elisa Trinity became increasingly distraught. She blamed herself for Manfred’s predicament. She consulted doctor Zosimo Kulio, eminent mentalist. He was sympathetic to the quest for truth. His advice was cryptic, “look no further than what your eyes can see. Follow the path like the flow of water in a stream.”
Manfred became more upset everyday. He was bothered by ordinary experiences. He heard voices and constant yelling. Advertising attacked him on the street and in his home. The news was incessant. The country was choking in smog. He listened to a report on the radio about the chicken of tomorrow. It was from the past about using antibiotics to make bigger chickens. Chickens grew to enormous size.
Bancourt never made money from the books he published. He did better as a journalist. He’d been upset by the cruel rhetoric and lack of compassion spewing from the White House. He became compelled to counter the lies. His friend’s life was threatened… Elisa Trinity was a Transsexual. The current administration was cracking down on LGBT People and every other minority.
Manfred’s days were numbered. The Hounds of Hell were targeting his soul. Trinity tried to protect him, but she was easily put down and labeled a wanton whore. Hannity and others verbally crushed the queers who refused to bow down and humble themselves. Independent women were another target. Free speech was becoming Alt Speech.
Manfred stood alone against the ferocious beasts. Dr. Zosimo retreated into his cavern of silence.
Mr. Death walked into the room smoking a cheroot. Death was always smiling. In any other circumstance Mr. Death could have been a good natured friend, a drinking buddy, or someone who listens as you unload your problems. Unfortunately, Mr. Death never exposed that side of himself. He was a workaholic who dispatched his assignments quickly and efficiently without chit-chat or comradery. Still, Mr. Death was deeply aware that something was missing, some part of Death was suffering from abject neglect. He hid all this from himself; but a spark ignited when Death looked into Manfred’s eyes. Mr. Death saw Manfred Bancourt’s life, every moment… and understanding began to dawn. Mr. Death found a friend.
Instead of eliminating Manfred from the world of the living, Death decided to change the rules. He would not take Manfred to his grave; instead he would hide him.
Manfred Bancourt was taken to the Land of the Dying Sun where he would continue to write articles and distribute them… He would continue to expose the truth.
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.
Barry Hartock was an abused child. He remained silent. No one knew what happened, but people knew he rarely talked. He never looked directly into another person’s eyes. He avoided contact. When he was very young mechanical toys were his only friends. He listened to them and marveled at the way the toys moved, spinning and racing across the playroom floor. As he grew older, his love for toys developed into a love for computers and robots. When he turned eighteen he was given a sex-bot. He grew to love Andor-bot. She/He provided the most intimacy he’d ever known. Andor was non-threatening and easy to love. Andor encouraged Barry to study computer science and quantum mechanics. The robot had minimal Artificial Intelligence, just enough to persuade Barry to build a Quantum Engine.
When Barry began his work the world was in turmoil, sliding into the abyss of one man’s megalomania.
The work provided meaning and purpose. Barry became obsessed with the riddle of Quantum Mechanics. He came to believe true magic existed in particles like the Higgs-Boson. He saw the whole universe as an entanglement. He studied during the day, taking classes online just to absorb information. The desktop computer was his most formidable teacher, answering questions about theory and practice. Once, Barry asked about the existence of the soul, it was a different kind of riddle that always confused him. His father was a Deacon in the church. Barry had a deep seeded hatred toward his father and everything his father represented including religion. The computer could not answer questions about the soul.
At night he tinkered. Barry worked tirelessly on the engine described by Andor… a Quantum Engine. The device grew exponentially. Layers of reality appeared to collide as the machine materialized. Barry saw multiple versions of himself exploding through the mantel of time. From the first moment he began assembling the machine the power was on… it was working from some off-world energy source. Barry realized there was no off switch.
It sparkled like a million-watt glow-worm; but it was only partially materialized. The machine existed in a pocket universe. During the birth process Andor began to change… radiating energy like an angel. Barry began to weep. He was in touch with the deep wounds from his past. The room was bathed in electric blue-light. Barry brought the Quantum Engine into existence. The music of the spheres rang out across the Earth. Barry’s mind was focused on one sound, a soft clicking. The count-down had begun…
Roland Dell was a successful artist. His work was featured in several galleries. Many of his paintings were bought by exclusive interior designers and displayed in model homes. His agent brokered a contract with Hollywood for Roland to supply art to movies and TV shows. He was living the good life. Nora, his model wife, loved him with all her heart. Nora had expensive taste and Roland made lots of money. He designed and executed art to fit in the most elaborate and expensive environments. He was praised for his technique and earned several awards. In the wake of his success, a nagging doubt began to plague Roland. At first it was just a small irritant, but it was persistent — the irritant became a conviction in his own mind that he was really a fake.
Determined to prove himself genuine, Roland began to experiment. He wanted to discover a more unique form of expression. He started with basic mark-making and simple lines. He became fascinated with pencil strokes on paper. His artistic quest evolved to a search for the perfect line. Nothing could distract him from his quest, not even sex with Nora. Her complaints hung in the air like dried husks from a former life. His agent’s calls were never returned. The flow of money dried up. Roland was oblivious. His search finally appeared to get results. He discovered a line that drew itself and in the drawing created life. Roland clutched a pen and let his hand glide across the paper. He would not, could not, lift his hand from the page. The line had to be complete: one continuous line traveling across reams and reams of paper. Even at night Roland held the pen and drew in his sleep, his hand could never leave the page. The line drew Roland as Roland drew the line.
Many years passed. Roland’s perfect line was discovered at an estate sale. New York art critics proclaimed The Line a masterpiece of contemporary art; but no one knew what happened to the artist.
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.”