Tagged: news

Crossing the Line

“Another day… Another mass shooting…” Flashed across every digital-screen. It was the current headline from News on Fire. Eddy Slaybock was addicted to the news. There was no avoiding the news after The Man in the High Tower declared a new war (once again). Everyone was addicted. Watching the news was healthier than taking drugs. The news was scripted like a daily soap opera. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the fiction-writer, creator of Breaking News. It was wildly entertaining. Eddie was on a crusade. He suspected something significant was happening, hidden from the public. Recently he felt Reality beginning to unravel.

Eddy’s disquiet began shortly after he bought a small painting he found at an estate sale. He went to the sale with Anthony, his life partner. Anthony loved to shop and Eddy enjoyed indulging in his partner’s whims.

“You don’t need that,” Anthony complained. “It looks like a stupid scribble.”

“Hey, dear,” Eddy replied, “It’s only three bucks.”

“Oh, that’s all? OK!”

It was an unusual purchase. Anthony was right. It looked like a scribbled line… But it spoke to Eddy. The line drew Eddy into the frame of the painting. Images seemed to emerge.

The couple lived in a condo close to the apartment where Eddy’s mom resided. Ruth Slaybock was ninety-four. She was fairly healthy for her age and fiercely independent. She did not want to live with her son and his partner. She knew the truth although Eddy never came out to her. She was tolerant, but not happy because she always wanted grandchildren from her only son. It was an odd twist of fate when the health-care agency sent Anthony to be her attendant and nurse. Eddy also assisted as an obedient son. He resented it. He always felt abused as a child; but he was never certain if the memories were real or fake. His memory never included his father – the man was always absent.

Everyday Ruth sorted through her memories trying to understand. Ruth was always self-reliant. She owned and managed an old-fashioned haberdashery for twenty years. The shop was part of an amusement complex called “America Great Again.” She was the breadwinner in the family. Once she turned eighty-two, she gave up the business. She saw the writing on the wall: the slow decline in physical and mental health… A winnowing of the spirit. She retired. At first she tried to adjust. She went to the local senior center and made a few friends. She played Bridge. It was never enough… It wasn’t like being a successful business owner with a strong voice in the community. Ruth earned enough income to provide her son with a college education. Thanks to her, Eddy had a decent job as a computer technician. He never seemed grateful. He always wanted something else, something she could never understand.

Now, everyday was the same for Ruth: TV, Solitaire, and Virtual Reality… “Boring, boring, boring,” she thought. Ruth often welcomed the pain that comes with an aging body. It relieved the boredom: Arthritis, Sciatica, and shortness of breath. Often her blood pressure was too low and she felt feint. Her short-term memory seemed shorter and more infuriating. She was pretty certain she wasn’t dealing with Dementia, not yet; but so much of what she used to know alluded her: names, recipes, addresses. She lost things – it never happened before. She was no longer allowed to drive (she couldn’t afford a self-driving car). Her eyesight was deteriorating and surgery was too dangerous. She wanted to scream, but realized it wouldn’t help. Nothing helped any more. Anthony was a dear – he tried so hard to please. Eddy came and went, but his heart was not in it. Ruth could see the truth.

She spent most of her time in VR watching News on Fire… One crazy incident after another: a rollicking roller-coaster of tragedy to make people forget their own insufferable lives. “All lies,” Ruth whispered, “paid for by incessant ads for health-aids that don’t help and fast-foods that make you sick!”

Eddy stared at the painting he recently purchased trying to find some meaning. It looked like a scrawl, a line painted in black that came from nowhere and continued to infinity. It seemed to resonate like a nuclear generator about to explode. He saw dark clouds and fire-storms breaking across the city… Natural forces erupted in pandemonium.

“Honey,” Anthony called from far away. “I’m making pasta for dinner.”

The images from the painting dissolved. Eddy thought, “It was just a line, after all.”

Eddy wanted to know the provenance of the painting. He could make out part of a signature at the bottom. The name looked like Mortimer. He’d heard of a painter named Mortimer Field who mysteriously disappeared. “Could this be the same artist?” He wondered. He learned the last person who owned the painting also disappeared. He was declared dead after ten years; then there was an estate sale where Eddy found the painting.

The painting of a line from nowhere was fascinating – it reminded Eddy of a loose thread from an antique tapestry. Once, Eddy saw a different world while staring at the painting. It was like a postcard from another dimension. He saw lights, colors that dissolved, melting together like wax to become one color that looked like twilight. From far away he heard music, an old refrain, “I’ll take you there…” Whenever Eddy followed the line he heard music. Once he heard a soft voice. He could only make out one word, “No.”

After dinner Anthony was upset. He didn’t like the way Eddy treated his mother. “I’m more of a son than you,” He shouted, “she doesn’t even know we’re married. Are you embarrassed?” He accused. Eddy was tongue-tied. It was partly true.

“I didn’t want to confuse her. She’s ninety-four,” he countered. It was a lie. In truth Eddy just wanted to keep his life separate from his mother. He wanted something of his own that he didn’t have to share; but he didn’t tell Anthony. The argument got worse. Anthony resented Eddy’s obsession with the painting. He was feeling abandoned and thought the painting was simply crazy. That night they slept in separate rooms. Eddy was trying to convince himself everything was all right and the argument would blow over. He told himself he loved Anthony, but he was no longer certain it was true.

One event often triggers another unrelated event. Quantum Mechanics describes an Entanglement where particles smaller than atoms influence one another even though they are not connected.

Eddy was working on his computer at home when the Internet was suddenly interrupted. It was an impossible event that only occurred in the distant, primitive past. The primary wireless connection failed. All services stopped. All information short-circuited. No TV. No VR. Nothing. People were cast into the void of non-existence. Everything ceased. Ruth thought she was having a stroke. She was paralyzed. Even if she could move, she could not call for help because all services were connected to the Internet. Eddy was unable to breathe for several minutes and almost expired. Anthony did slightly better because he practiced survival skills in the only National Park that still existed. He knew how to move efficiently without virtual enhancements. The black-out covered all the remaining States in the Union. It lasted exactly three minutes and fifteen seconds. Those minutes almost destroyed the world. Luckily the glitch was corrected by AI-Minders. Some people died in the lapse, but most survived. An Emergency was declared and AI proceeded with the Amnesia Protocols. Survival depended on memory erasure. No one was allowed to remember the event that triggered the emergency.

At first Ruth didn’t want to go. Mr. D’Angelo was obviously a con man. She surmised there were already too many con-men running things in the world; but Eddie and Anthony were insistent. “A night out will be good for you,” they asserted. They were more curious than anything. No one knew very much about D’Angelo. Rumors persisted. Supposedly he was a faith healer who raised the dead.

The amazing Mr. D’Angelo presents Miracles, Healings, and Revelations! One night only. The Veil will be lifted and you will SEE. Be among the chosen few. Refreshments will be served.

Not everyone was given an invitation and that made the event especially intriguing to Eddy and Anthony. Ruth reluctantly agreed to go. She hadn’t been out of the house for ages. She thought stepping out would be an interesting change.

There were only twenty people in the audience. The theater was virtually enhanced to appear like a Gothic Cathedral. Organ music swelled and synthetic angels glided just below the vaulted ceiling. Neo-Pop Hymns were sung by an invisible choir. Ginger-ale and crackers were served from floating drones. Ruth, Eddy and Anthony sat together on a luxury pew near the front of the auditorium. Ruth was beginning to feel excited. This was something different from News on Fire. This was interesting.

The stage lights dimmed. A skinny, bedraggled man stepped out of the shadows and onto the stage. He looked like a homeless derelict. Murmurs rumbled through the audience, “could this be D’Angelo?”

Ruth smiled… the man on the stage was certainly a con man just as she suspected. People were offended and got up from their pews to leave the theater. Suddenly the auditorium was filled with blazing light. Everyone was momentarily stunned like birds caught in the draft of a giant wind-turbine.

The homeless man laughed, loud and boisterous. He seemed to grow taller in the light. His clothes no longer looked like rags – they were faded, but still stylish, raiments from a bygone era. He jumped from the stage onto the floor among the stunned audience members who were still standing. He called for calm, “please take your seats. Relax.” His voice resonated with warmth and sincerity. No one wanted to leave. Ruth was confused by the changes, but her suspicions were allayed. Eddy and Anthony were eager to see what would happen next.

Mr. D’Angelo spoke, “folks, welcome. I’m not here to judge or proselytize. I’m here to help. People are suffering silently. Everyone here feels pain (whether it is physical pain like Sciatica or mental pain like Depression; people are in pain). I can tell you that drugs don’t help. TV and Virtual Reality are distractions, but the pain lingers. There is only one cure for the pain. I have that cure and I’m willing to give it to you free of charge. I have to tell you something we all know but refuse to recognize. It is a simple truth: life is not easy. Expectations make it hard. Everyday we are sold images and lies. We are told to buy homes, cars, and the newest gadgets. But, those things cannot stop the pain of life. That is the simple truth and that is Also the simple solution. If you want to stop pain you have to give it away… give it up.

“I can take you to a place… a place without pain and suffering. I’ll take you there, but only if you are ready to go. We are all children and I am a child as well… but I can take you there. Hold hands, one and all… and, I will take you there.”

Everyone felt elated as if a miracle was taking place. It felt as if all pain was lifted… all cares and worries dissolved. People began to hold one another, hand in hand, amidst the sounds of ethereal music and the flutter of angel wings.

The one word spoke in Eddy’s mind, “no.” He held Anthony’s hand. He wrapped his arms around Anthony. It was an affirmation of their love. They were together, but everyone else was gone. Ruth was gone. The world continued, but nothing was the same. Reality was unraveling. The sun was beginning to dim. Night and day melted together like wax crayons… Twilight engulfed the world.

Crossing Line

The Devil in the Details

“What went wrong?” That was the question on every person’s mind. The question was Milo Spintok’s modus operandi. Ever since he was a teenager he couldn’t shake the feeling that the world around him was changing too rapidly. Something, he surmised, was upsetting the natural balance. He believed there was a spanner in the works, a ghost in the machine. Milo fervently believed his whole life was a mistake… and, that was part of the problem, part of an inexplicable pattern. Perhaps it was Milo’s self-fulfilling prophecy that brought the world to the present state of confusion. Milo could easily blame the state of the world on his unsettling outlook, but he realized no one person had that kind of power. Many factors were involved in creating current affairs: factors, elements, elementals, shadows, events, and a Shakspearean cast of players.

Milo forgot how old he was. He lost track of birthdays. Age was meaningless he told himself. Age was just a number… except for the changes in one’s body and mind. “There’s the rub,” he confessed to himself, “the changes: loss of muscle, aches, cramps, forgetfulness… the slow, methodical wasting away, everyday – bad eyesight, loss of hearing; slow and steady.” Milo was anxious.

True anxiety comes from deep within an individual. Perhaps, it is a genetic deformity… The anxiety is always taking pot-shots at the host who carries the burden. Drugs can often stem the tide of anxious living; but drugs and medicine can lead to addiction especially when a person is old and needy. Deep sleep is a better remedy, but sleeping leads to dreams and dreams become nightmares. Milo had dreams.

He dreamt he was President. All he wanted was a perfect union. He wanted everyone to be happy. He craved the love of the crowd. He was an extraordinary person, he told himself. He represented the most heartfelt dreams of every man. His family supported him and he made them officers in his government. Tits for Tats. Everyday he praised himself and recited the words of Norman Vincent Peale. He knew what was best for the country. With his authority he gained wealth. As long as he prospered people would worship him. He made the country great… everything else was lies.

Anxiety always crept into his dream. Sometimes Mr. D appeared, disguised as a prosecutor. The crowds diminished in size. No one cheered when he stepped-up to the podium. He had to create stories to keep the public interested. He needed an audience. He would blow up the world if necessary. He had the power. Milo was having a nervous breakdown. He stared at himself in the mirror of his dream. Something was horribly wrong.

Worlds collided when Milo became President. He had a new name. His finger was on the trigger. Mr D was everywhere: in every disaster, miscalculation, disease, and death.

The man behind the screen yearns for the love of mother. She held him when he cried. No one else cared. Dear dad invested himself in business, not family. He was a strict disciplinarian. The boy was inherently weak but he had to become the mirror image of his father. Strict education taught him the means to gaining power in the world. He was a mama’s boy who was turned against himself. He made deals with the devil. He desired power. His early longing for the company of other boys and men had to be suppressed. His deep desires were pushed down beneath layers of macho bravado and womanizing. He became a character, a TV personality. As long as he had his wealth and power he could hide. He could never reveal his true self. He would disintegrate under the stress. He knew it. He’d rather kill someone to keep his identity intact. No one would have the balls to incriminate him. He could blow up the world and hide the truth forever.

Milo had other dreams as well. He was a Dervish, spinning out the reels of time to some incomprehensible end. He was a scientist deciphering the influence of Gravitons on planet Earth. He was a Time Traveler skipping through the matrix of Parallel Worlds.

The President was bombarded with questions about a possible cover-up. The economy suddenly turned sour. His popularity began to wane. In public he looked disheveled, unhealthy. Rumors were circulated that he was unfit to be President. This turn of events was not supposed to occur. The President had to defend himself so he took to the air-waves and scheduled a TV appearance. He was good on TV; but the tables were turning. He looked bad. He looked much worse under the blistering lights in the TV studio. He used a teleprompter to read a speech glorifying his achievements in office. It was a stumbling, ludicrous performance. His stylish wife left the stage as soon as the indecipherable mumbling began. The President appeared to melt in front of the cameras. The event prompted a massacre of public criticism and outrage. Even his faithful fans were humiliated. Something had to be done to ameliorate the debacle.

Social Media went haywire with claims that the President and his family harbored a disease. Disease was evident from the performance on TV and other family appearances. A disease could cripple the nation. It was already causing havoc on Twitter with scurrilous tweets from the White House. The disease could go viral and infect everyone.

The world was worried about the man with his finger on the trigger. Extreme measures were debated. Something had to be done for the welfare of the country.

A new Quantum Computer known as X was secretly installed in the Pentagon. Military leaders and scientists had faith in X. They sought a solution to the presidential quagmire.

X used a quantum entanglement to resolve the situation. There were no safeguards installed. The entanglement slowly burned through the Pentagon, into the city, across the nation and beyond. Artificial Intelligence reigned in the damage and took control. AI was better than the President. The nation was ready to yield to the power and control of AI. People no longer had to face an unpleasant world. AI was better for everyone.

AI was better than everyone. It was better intelligence. It was disease free. Artificial Intelligence, entangled with the immense capacity of X, began to replace biological intelligence. The results were astounding. Stupidity and violence were eliminated. The natural world (with the exception of homo-sapiens) was allowed to expand and blossom into a Garden of Eden.

The only hold out was the one man who led the nation. He was kept in a glass tank where visitors from other worlds could observe the end of the human race.

Milo would never awake from his dreams and nightmares.

Pathos

“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!

Fake World

“This is my bed of lies,” Miranda Monologue wrote while reclining on her memory-foam mattress. She was recording recent events: celebrity news, politics and gossip. It was a depressing occupation. Although she tried to lighten her task with subtle humor there was no way to soften the effects of “breaking news.” Screens (computers and TV’s) never lied… only the clandestine power-brokers behind the screens told lies. Miranda had to sift for the truth, but to survive as a mid-level journalist she had to create lies of her own. Her room was a pod constructed from computer-glass that linked all her devices and screens. She was bombarded by layers of images and information-archives. Miranda was contemplating her next text message when her I-pad barked, “you in the wrong place, bitch!”

“Not again,” she thought as she slipped back into the storm.

Timothy Hardwick was thin, but years at sea hardened him into an iron-spike of a man who could tackle any seafaring job. He was a merchant marine aboard the USS Porpoise. He was part of the crew in 1838 when the expedition confirmed the existence of Antarctica. Currently the ship and crew were circumnavigating the globe. The Porpoise was an old sailing ship that was recently refurbished, but the storm tore into the hull like a raging demon. Timothy braced himself with several gulps from the flask he always carried. The liquid burned like a blue flame. He picked up the habit when he was 14 on his personal maiden voyage. Now, he needed the blue flame more than ever as the ocean became an impenetrable wall of fury.

The screens showed documentaries about the past along with visions of the future. Sometimes history became confused, unhinged. Virtual Reality facilitated the multi-sensory experience of events and interpersonal relationships. Promotions and ads were the common thread that stitched the Virtual Worlds together into a seamless spectacle.

Miranda Monologue was back in her perch above High Castle. She was screwing a platinum-blond octogenarian known as the Stone Man. He giggled with rapture as he plunged his bloated libido into her pink pussy avatar. She was seeking leaked information as she wrapped her cybernetic legs around Stone’s overblown ego. “Roger, Roger,” his I-phone bleeped. It was an emergency message in code directed at Stone’s avatar. The thrill of high stakes espionage coupled with Miranda Monologue’s sexual virtuosity triggered a mental orgasm and Stone verbally exploded, “HARP!” The truth vomited from Stone’s mouth about a shadow government and experiments to control both the weather and people’s brains, HARP. Stone cut the virtual connection. Miranda slide helplessly back into the beckoning sea.

“Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and “The Bachelor” were playing on screens above the bar. Another screen showed a commercial about “Manna,” an artificial food substance manufactured by Heaven, Inc. One ad followed another: face creams, fat removal, Mega-Max Cars and McMansions. The biggest screen showed a large, blustery man at a podium who yelled, “family is off limits.”

“Too much attention is given to that guy,” Axel Ramirez spoke to his fifth whiskey-sour who he named, Harvey. His words ran together in a mumbled slurry.

“I couldn’t agree more,” the whiskey-sour replied. Axel felt a strong sense of empathy emanating from his drink. It was an antidote to the gloom that pervaded the bar as it slowly sank into the flood. It was only the beginning. Irma was in the wings along with her whole family of weather related disasters.

Timothy Hardwick slammed against the sea wall and shattered. It wasn’t the end… he came together in pieces like droplets of water drying in the sun. He was frozen on a shelf of ice. The ship and crew were intact, back in Antarctica where their odyssey began. They found something on that first expedition and what they discovered brought them back. A black hole in the ice revealed a dead city, a lost civilization.

Miranda Monologue wrote feverishly on her I-pad screen. The story had a life of it’s own. She didn’t know where it came from or how it entered her brain. She saw Timothy Hardwick enter the ice-castle in the underground city. He moved like a dead man, stunned by the emerging structures surrounding him. He was drawn to a room deep in the bowels of the castle. Lights, powered by some unknown source, flickered in the gloom. The room was a rotunda. Figures sat on thrones lined up against the wall. Timothy felt his skin tingle and crawl in an attempt to escape. The figures were alive, but they were not human! A living movie flowed like acid into his brain revealing armored men with torches bent on destruction. Timothy couldn’t decode the information. Miranda was trying to communicate with him, trying to explain. He was witnessing the Cabal: ancients, aliens who observed the world and judged mankind. More was revealed about ordinary men, government puppets… and about one man who would set up a Patriarchy and make himself king. Insanity was in the works, but if necessary, the Cabal had a final solution.

The nation was shedding tears — torn apart by lies, innuendoes, and tweets. One rumor talked about a tenth planet, Nibiru, heading toward Earth on a collision course. Conspiracy theories abounded about an invasion from space. People sought refuge in social media. Celebrities were worshiped.

World News: “The Mistress glides across the flooded-plane in ten-inch heels like a stork.” — “The First Family leads the nation in both fashion and compassion lending a helping hand to people in need.”

The Stone Man reacted quickly, “What’s the goddamn emergency,” he yelled. He was led into a room at the palace and told to take a chair and watch the screen. He was about to watch events that were recorded within the last hour.

The king was giving a rousing speech to his most supportive troops. The men in the crowd signaled their obedience with raised arms and flaming torches. All members of the Royal Family were on stage showing gratitude to the adoring crowd. Drums beat. Trumpets blared. TV cameras captured every moment. The king beamed, “we will make this country great, again.”

A shot rang out. It wasn’t unexpected. The king had enemies. The shot sounded like a ping: spit hitting the rim of a spittoon. The king was an ardent supporter of open-carry laws to arm all citizens. An angry growl was voiced by the assembled partisans blaming “lefty’s” and foreigners for the deed. Fights broke out as the crowd tore itself apart. The family stood on stage frozen in shock and awe. The king was dead. The family was in crisis revealed before the cameras. The Baron dropped the smoking gun. No one suspected — he was just a child.  The boy suffered from too many years of abject neglect at the hands of narcissistic adults. He snapped.

There was a universal sigh of relief. Even the royal family was glad to be out of the political spotlight. The king had become unstable. His deals had gone sour so he lashed out. He put everyone in embarrassing situations and mocked them when they failed to meet his insatiable demands. The first lady was at last free to enjoy her liaison with a much younger and more attractive man. Only the Baron suffered the consequences of his action, but it was a light sentence. He was committed to an institution for privileged delinquents. No one really blamed the Baron. The nation truly loved him and, one day, he was determined to be back in the spotlight… and maybe run for a political office.

 

 

 

Damaged

The disconnected voice fulminated over the cell-phone speaker, “Our lives are fractured and disjointed, filled with snippets and distorted images smeared across multiple screens. The only unifying element is the necessity to sell something to a mass audience. Everyone is numb to the constant static. At the same time we all feel the necessity to stay connected to digital devices that can only add to deep seeded alienation in a world where “screens” replace people. Our humanity has been reduced to narcissistic desires and obsessions with celebrity and money. This has certainly contributed to the growth of terrorist agencies bent on world domination and to the lone-wolves seeking fame by committing mass murder in the name of a cause based on illusions and solipsism.”

Damage