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.
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.”
“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.
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!