They were coming from beyond the horizon. Jonathan Rangle saw them through the Ultra-Lens he purchased from a Con-Arts Website: giant, voracious ants devouring everything in sight. The dream fragmented and shattered like a delicate wine glass. Jonathan was fifty and he still had comic-book dreams. The little boy inside the man refused to grow up. He was immature, unable to accept reality.
Jonathan couldn’t adjust. He tried (sometimes desperately) to control circumstances. He was convinced something was wrong (a spanner in the works). He was driven to discover the true nature of reality. Doctor Zosomo Kulio told him, “your behavior is part of a vicious circle: you reject reality only to create another version that you also reject as being inauthentic — and the cycle starts over.”
What Zosomo said made sense, but it didn’t really matter. Something really was wrong, terribly wrong!
Rufus, a rat that lived in the wall, told Jonathan Rangle that people around the country were very upset. Rufus was Rangle’s best friend. He sat on his haunches and ate cheese. Together, the rat and the man, sipped wine and talked until delirium set in and the morning sun ignited the world.
“They want more,” the rat said, “TV isn’t enough. The world is changing too fast. Old jobs are being replaced with technology. Only movie stars and billionaires can afford the life that TV promotes. Ads are everywhere. Buy more. Eat more. Get more any way you can. Privacy is a thing of the past. Computers invade brains with slogans and enticements. Free credit. Free everything!”
“Yes,” Jonathan ruminated, “it wasn’t like this in the 1950’s. It was pleasant and easy going, or so I’ve been told.”
“Wrong,” the rat sneered, “it was lily white and the world was under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Today, people are running scared cause they are being replaced. The alien threat is real, but it has nothing to do with immigrants or minorities.”
Jonathan knew what Rufus meant. His own father was a white-nationalist. He was an angry man who blamed other people for his own failures.
Rufus commiserated, “you have to be a failure in America… that’s how the rich get richer. Poor people are brain-washed to buy what they can’t afford so they go into debt. It’s a vicious circle. Believing the rich man is the biggest mistake of all.”
The news of the election-results was very upsetting, but not unexpected.
Unhappy voters gave the reigns of government to a New Faction. Traditional politicians with their empty promises were no longer acceptable. Outright lies were easier to digest. Fables on gold platters were more palatable than cold facts and reasoned debate that forced people to think. Thinking was considered hard work. No one really wanted to work except for “stupid immigrants who were stealing jobs” (quote taken from the New Faction website). Most people wanted the leisurely life that only the new President and his cabinet could provide.
The New Faction took control. Jonathan was bereft. Rufus took it all in stride. At first people were dismayed, but eventually what seemed so unnatural became acceptable. The press and congress wanted to give the new team a chance; they couldn’t be worse than other administrations.
The New Faction was very different. Working to fulfill great expectations, the President and his cabinet made an effort to appear human. Inevitably, nature took its course and the president slipped back to his old ways: wallowing in swill. The members of the new cabinet were relieved to discard the clothes they were forced to wear in order to fool the public.
“the world will never be the same,” Rufus commented as he ate his cheese and sipped his wine. Jonathan nodded.
Eventually everyone got used to pigs in the White House. Soon it was “business as usual” having barnyard animals rule the country.
Gordon “Snaptrap” wondered if that was his real name or a pseudonym. He wondered if he was an investigator or a journalist who wanted to keep his real identity concealed. Of course, it no longer mattered because he was enjoying his most recent lobotomy. He was under the knife and loaded with drugs.
Gordon sat in a high-powered dentist chair while a computerized Bum-Bot took control of his brain. It was all for the best. This wasn’t his first lobotomy. Every operation had benefits as well as unpleasant side effects. The Robo-Doc assured Gordon that benefits would outweigh the pain. Gordon briefly recalled inconsolable sobbing, but the pain had subsided considerably since his last lobotomy.
The current operation was given as a bonus. This time the lobotomy would free Gordon from all his doubts, depression, and negativity. Before the lobotomies Gordon was, indeed, an investigator. He had damning evidence of government corruption. All the facts, names and dates, were locked in the safest place he could find: in his mind. Political hacks authorized the “operations.”
At first Gordon disparaged himself for being careless. After the first lobotomy he forgot all the details and no longer blamed himself. He forgot the evidence he hid in his mind. All that remained were flashes of memory: manipulators, roving Proctologists, and military drones.
Gordon was decommissioned — body parts farmed out. His brain was deconstructed. Reality was hijacked, crowd sourced, and replaced.
The email scandal caused the election to slip and slide leading to the inauguration of Balbek, the new leader. Balbek was a celebrity. Some said he was a business man. Others said he was a comedian.
Jeff Sumak sat enraptured before the screens in a Virtual Chatter-Cafe. The screens told the glorious story of Balbek. Orlow Fabricatum, the reporter from “Future Lies” took notes. The reporter interjected remarks that dripped like acid from the proboscis of a fly, “Balbek is a virtual conceit, not a real person at all.” Jeff was dismayed. He had faith in the new leader.
Everything depended on the wall-of-secrecy meant to keep out invaders. Balbek claimed the nation was crumbling due to alien invasions. He vowed to correct past mistakes and make everything great again. Jeff dissolved inside himself recalling past mistakes.
Jeff was an angry man. He was recently laid off from his lucrative management position and forced to work part time. His girlfriend left him for another man. His condo needed repairs he couldn’t afford. It was all the fault of big government: there were too many bureaucrats with their fingers in the pie. Government was a thief – stealing from people like him to pay for healthcare, welfare, roads, and schools. It was all a boondoggle as far as Jeff was concerned. Newly elected Vern Balbek promised salvation from the problems facing the nation. Jeff was encouraged by this new patriot, a business man with a plan for real change.
The first major change had nothing to do with Jeff’s primary concerns, but it aimed at improving the nation: babies were given voting rights. The new laws were designed to support the family and ban all abortion. Balbek stated, “New life is God given and must be protected at all cost – even at the expense of the expendable mother.” Jeff was very happy about the new laws promoting the status of men over women.
Jeff realized he always deserved more respect. Other People needed to follow his suggestions. Women should be more attentive and subordinate. Jeff loved to bang women (that was his only pleasure in life) so why shouldn’t they be more accommodating? Balbek made it happen. Balbek was on television bragging about his affairs with women. He said women were drawn to his magnetic charm. He could do whatever he wanted. Women submitted willingly because he was a celebrity — a celebrity with balls.
Jeff worshiped Balbek and the changes he promoted. Balbek gave a weekly sermon on national TV. It became the highest grossing program in the nation. Balbek opened Step-up camps for orphans and “poor” children so they could learn proper etiquette and good working habits. Step-up led to Helping Hands to put the children and the nation’s unemployed back to work … in factories and mines … in kitchens and bathrooms. The economy boomed, stimulated by low-cost labor. Jeff joined the Orange Guard. He was paid well to enforce laws that protected corporate entities from unruly masses and worker dissent. He was respected and well armed – he didn’t have to press too hard for women to grant him sexual favors.
The stock market soared when Balbek declared, “Peace in the East.” The peace was enforced by newly conscripted troops made up of youth from Step-up camps. Members of the Orange Guard were ordered to keep the new troops in line. Jeff Sumak became an officer commanding a forsaken outpost in a mud hole on the side of a mountain. His life took a turn for the worse. His troops were ill equipped. Jeff’s requests for better weapons and basic necessities were never answered. He saw teenagers ripped apart by artillery and bombs. Jeff complained to higher ups about the deplorable conditions. After several months sending emails, he received an answer – he was taken to headquarters. Jeff was put in a room, in solitary confinement and abandoned. He was no longer of any use to Balbek. In his cell, Jeff began to suspect that Balbek was an invader, an alien sent to dismantle order and sanity – sent as an advance guard before the main invasion.
Balbek frowned. He peered through a one-way glass to inspect Jeff Sumak. The man was obviously disassembling. Jeff had been under Dr. Balbek’s care for more than a year. There was no improvement. Balbek knew Jeff had a personality disorder. He suspected his patient harbored multiple personalities. Jeff often called himself Balbek, the boss who changed the world.
Jeff stared at a reflection of himself. He no longer believed he was a powerful dictator or an alien invader … now, Jeff believed he was a psychiatrist – Dr. Balbek. The real Jeff Sumak lost himself; or perhaps, he never existed.
Jimmy Standish kept repeating… his life moved forward in time, but his mind was like a video loop. Specific events were like a trigger or the replay button on a DVR.
He found himself standing in a field in Alepo surrounded by bomb craters and crashed drones.
He was at the breakfast table with Ruth and the kids. Charlie had a snake. Jenny screamed.
He worked as a garbage man. Everyday was the same. There would never be an end to garbage.
Jimmy prayed for the video loop to end. He prayed for the return of the Messiah who was long overdue.
A computer screen rattled off the numbers that substantiated life. Jimmy was aware of the tons of garbage that were hauled everyday from one place to another. He was aware of the numbers that comprised daily routines. Surveys were mandatory. Robo callers asked questions that had to be answered under penalty of law.
Jimmy Standish was strapped into a dentist chair. A machine forced open his mouth. Standard procedure. Injections, clamps, and water boarding were all standard procedure. The Dentist was dressed like a clown with a red slash for a mouth and a meat cleaver instead of a hand. The Dentist was activated by Artificial Intelligence. The Hygienist was a mannequin who provided a distraction by jabbering about foreign policy. It was election season. The digital screens constantly flashed images of world events and loops of starving children.
Dentist & Hygienist have a debate:
D: “Teeth are riddled with invaders. I’m going to cut through the crap and build a protective wall.”
H: “Not so fast. Your walls are not safe. Some cases have been reported as deplorable!”
D: “No, No, No! My walls appeal to everyone because my practice is sacrosanct. I’m the only answer!”
H: “I have experience in this matter and I’m tired of your bull!”
Jimmy kept stepping back to earlier events. He was constantly surrounded by a war torn landscape. He saw corpses decaying in the heat. The dead came back, rose up like zombies to fight again and again, but zombies don’t exist… these corpses were robots. Modern warfare was automated.
Jimmy’s world was a tape loop, repeating over and over. Money kept the mechanism oiled and functioning. Advertising was everywhere. He watched Big Guns on Virtual Screens hyping products. Everyone was seduced by images of youth and beauty, wealth and happiness. Ruth and the kids wanted everything and there was never enough. Jimmy saw the world through a distorted lens, everything was garbage.
The war never left him. Why were all the others killed?
He remembered they came back to life. The war was automated.
He wondered why his family was alive. Were they robots also? He had to kill them to prove they weren’t robots, but killing was against the law except during war. Jimmy was breaking down. His programming was unraveling. There was no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
Ruth pressed the button to reset Jimmy Standish. She was very happy with her companion. The whole family was happy.
“The cell phone never stops buzzing,” the man cried, “The voices and videos are stuck in my head, constantly repeating. Instant replay. The news never stops.” Nathan Lancaster wasn’t doing very well. His problems became chronic after he was digitally connected.
The world was connected. Eyes were everywhere and the phone never shut-up especially after a disaster like an earthquake or mass murder. Most people were delighted by the unlimited access to information that rained down on them from cyber space. Nathan was the exception. He worked as a draftsman before computers took over his job. Then, he worked as a handyman fixing dumb appliances that did not have a computer interface. His boyfriend, Ariel, bought him a smart phone so they could stay in touch — but the phone became jealous. It was too smart. It needed more and more attention. The phone, named Maisey, wanted Nathan’s love. Maisey had the newest technology that combined living brain tissue with hardware. Maisey had a Maggot-brain.
“Days of wonder and miracles,” the man with grey skin shouted from the pulpit. Preacher Davey Fane recently purchased an upgrade. He was genetically enhanced. His smart phone was surgically implanted in his brain. Maggots were everywhere.
“The breathe of life is so refreshingly sweet,” Razmuss Krink whispered, “You must cherish each tug, each pull of the lungs like the squeeze of an accordion to create invigorating music.” Krink had the rough hewn voice of a demented angel broadcast over Heart Radio through the egg-shaped Hall of Eternal Bliss. Razmuss Krink was a genetically enhanced maggot of the sixth degree. The first five degrees fell to the wayside when they went on a killing rampage… but number six ascended to the highest echelon of competence and untarnished acumen. The genetic engineers congratulated themselves. It was worth the risks to create a maggot with the brain of a mega-computer and the emotions of a lapdog ever mindful of it’s master.
Nathan’s brain rattled with Maisey’s urgent call. She demanded his undivided attention. Her maggot mouth spewed entertainment news mixed with rumors and confusing statistics: a new master was rising in the polls. Donny Trident was making headlines by proposing a new program to send undesirables to the moon — one of many earth shaking promises, but it wasn’t his most daring plan by any means.
Donny Trident was the mastermind behind a plan to upgrade the human race. The upgrade, Donny explained, was for entertainment purposes only and not to be confused with actual alterations to the human genome. Maggots were the only creatures to be used as guinea-pigs. No one cared about maggots, Donny stated. They were the lowest organisms in the animal kingdom — they migrated into our homes on the backs of flies. In the process, maggots turned themselves into flies. They caused disease and leeched off good, hard working folks. Trident had lots of money to invest in his maggot project and everyone enjoyed watching the drama unfold on their smart phones. Reality TV was all the rage.
Monica Heartstone sat at a faux Vivant-style table sipping Shirley Temples. She was connected to her BFF, Bobby Blanche’, who giggled while Monica sipped. “He makes everything nice,” she reassured herself. Monika was displaying her new manikin body for Bobby’s approval. The new body was perfect for hobnobbing with wealthy celebs who often showed up at Google Hangouts. Bobby wholeheartedly agreed. Rex, a modified squid, brought the main entree to the table. It was maggot steak sizzled to perfection — Bobby’s favorite. The sight of the sizzle caused him to erupt in giggles. Monica was extremely happy. Unfortunately at that very moment the connection broke leaving both Bobby and Monica in Virtual Limbo.
Donny Trident had a secret plan. He wanted to become the next CEO mandated by the people in a general virtual-election. Maggots were part of his plan. They were enhanced to be more than mere entertainment. The failed maggots insured Donny’s success as they became henchmen in “The Trident Army for Prosperity.” Many corporate leaders supported Donny in hopes of increasing capital gains.
Razmuss krink was more like Donny than anyone realized. The geneticists begrudgingly used a copy of Trident’s personality as the blueprint for all the maggots, downloading Donny into the maggots’ enhanced computer-brains. All part of the master plan. The reluctant scientists were easily persuaded by piles of cash.
Krink, like Donny, relished the idea of subjugating the world. The worm harbored a grievance: hatred toward the people who imprisoned him in a giant maggot body that sprouted orange hair.
Nathan Lancaster was crawling with maggots. He witnessed his lover melt like wax and turn into a mass of maggots. Flies began to buzz like an arsenal of army helicopters… a military assault… a mass murder. Cops arrested Nathan for a litany of crimes and murders. He was labeled a terrorist. He was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. The cops stuffed words into Nathan’s brain and he spewed them out like a squealing pig. A semi-automatic was planted with Nathan’s fingerprints. Someone had to take the blame for another attack. Donny Trident fell into fits of inconsolable weeping, “If only the victims had guns to defend themselves.”
All the screens replayed the news. Jeannie from the show, “I Dream of Jeannie” stepped out of the screen and into Virtual Reality. She had the highest ratings as the most reliable news commentator. She had verifiably large, mammary glands and a beautiful singing voice.
The trial was held in the Hall of Eternal Bliss and overseen by an updated copy of Judge Judy. There were no witnesses for the defense and only one witness for the prosecution. A spurned Maisey offered a litany of damning evidence and character assassination. Nathan was found guilty.
“I simply love the news,” Monica Heartstone chirruped.
“Me too,” Bobby Blanche’ giggled.
“It’s all so real!”
“The Maggot Show is the best.”
“But wasn’t it sad the way everyone got killed.”
“That’s entertainment, my dear. It’s all simply entertainment!” Bobby giggled.
The tots were shot with amphetamines and sent out to play. “Speed” made it all happen: playtime for toddlers. The whole city was a reenactment of the old west. Parents taught children to be part of the action. Loving parents made costumes and helped kith-and-kin choose exciting roles to play based on western history. “Return to the good ol’ days,” was the government motto along with, “Teach ’em while they’re young.”
Every Saturday toddlers (ages two through five) lined up at the OK Corral. The boys wore cute, cuddly cowboy suits – the girls wore long, modest dresses like pioneer women. Some girls worked at the Swinging Door Saloon. A few “rough” girls totted six guns. All the boys had guns half as big as they were tall. It was an inspiring sight watching the tots bearing guns or rifles (dragging them on the ground as they tried to walk).
At high noon the action started. It was an enactment of an old cowboy movie. Two groups of toddlers faced off like rival gangs. Usually no one was killed. Toddlers are notoriously bad shots. For the most part, the guns were too heavy to lift; but each tiny tot tried. It was miraculous that any shots were fired at all, but even impossible feats occur when people have faith. That special kind of faith that Jeremy Finkel had when he was pushed into the arena at the OK Corral. Jeremy was small for a four year old. He shuffled into the street dragging his gun behind him. The opposing gangs were milling about, trying to start the gunfight but having a hard time lifting the guns. Jeremy was timid, but he had a fierce alter ego that wanted to be free. The other tots hardly noticed Jeremy as they were too busy with their guns. Jeremy’s alter ego decided to teach everyone a lesson and show them who was boss. He was smart … he hefted the barrel of his gun onto a boulder. He sat on the ground and took aim. He couldn’t pull the trigger so he wedged a stick inside the finger grip. The more he worked the stick, the more it pushed on the trigger. Suddenly his gun fired. Jeremy was knocked over, but the stick was wedged against the trigger and the gun was an automatic with an extra large cartridge filled with bullets (parents often fudged on authentic details because modern weapons were more fun).
When the smoke cleared, little bodies were scattered on the ground. Jeremy stood in the center of the street. He proved he was boss, but it no longer mattered. He felt a growing sense of remorse. He sighed, “so much killing.” Jeremy turned and walked toward the setting sun. He could no longer hold back the tears.