Archive for the the novella Category

Scene 19

Posted in the novella with tags , , , , on January 30, 2012 by somnambulant

0616 hours.

 

− They’re moving, Carvalho tells the team of plainclothes cops he has deployed in the neighborhood around the hotel.

The gang walks up the street, away from the beach. They go several blocks until the street rises toward a steep mountain, part of a ridge that juts all the way into downtown Downbeat City and the bay.

− They’re walking toward Mangueira, 0815 tells Carvalho through her chip-size radio. She is an old lady walking a chihuahua.

Carvalho and Amarelo are walking on the next parallel street.

− Why not just haul ‘em in, boss? Amarelo asks Carvalho.

− Because they haven’t done anything, idiot.

− You know we get paid by the number of arrests. We’re so far from making quota! Amarelo whines. And it’s not like the dark ages, where we needed probable cause to arrest someone.

− If you’re worried about money, go extort some more dushbars from the underground book dealers, Carvalho sneers.

− Relax. You don’t have to get all pissed off. Seriously, if you’re worried they’re gonna do something bad, why don’t you stop them now?

− Because I want to know what they’re up to.

 

0702 hours.

 

Twilight. The sun melts the jungled mountains east of Downbeat City in fire. Golden flames lick the top of Mangueira ridge and roll down the slope.

 

− Pssssst.

− Jules looks to her right, sees a shadow in a doorway.

− Jules!

− Hold on, she tells the gang. She joins the figure. What are you doing here, Bêto?

− I saw you walking up the hill from my balcony. I recognized you with my binoculars.

− I told you to wait at the house, Jules whispers to him.

− You’re being followed. There’s a whole team of whoever around us right now.

− Oh, shit, Get us out of here, quick.

 

− She’s talking to the man who walked toward them and hid, 7681 tells Carvalho.

− They know we’re on them. Pick them up, he says into his chip.

 

The gang runs in single file up a narrow alley between shacks. They follow Bêto through a maze of alleys. They come to a dirt lot. A crescent of men and women stands there, facing them. Nate, at the tail end of the gang, looks back. Two very large men stand at the south end of the alley behind them.

− They’re behind us, too.

− Move. Try to break through them and make the alley at the top end of the lot, Aria says.

The gang disgorges into the lot. They make a run for the alley, but the other group closes in on them. An athletic looking man locks his hand on Jules’s wrist. She elbows him, inverting his nose. He falls backward. A woman grabs Nate from behind and they fall in the dirt. Aria is rolling in the weeds with a pudgy man. A teenage boy backhands X across the face, and X falls backward. Another man and Nel trade furious punches and blocks. Bêto sidekicks a skinny woman in the belly. As she slumps forward, his upper cut knocks her out onto her back. Aria’s opponent lies in the dust, unconscious. The woman on Nate straddles and chokes him. One of the big men swings at Aria; she blocks and punches him in the solar plexus. Then she kicks him in the balls. Flex and the other big man are grappling like sumo wrestlers. Nel’s opponent is out. She moves on and chokes Nate’s tormentor from behind, then drags the unconscious attacker off of him.

The teenage boy jumps on Nate’s back. Aria picks him off, slams him bodily on the ground, head first. Jules smashes a rock over the big man’s head. As Scarface lets go, the man slumps to the ground.

Jules and Aria help X and Nate up.

− Let’s get the fuck out of here! They run into the upwards alley. Carvalho and Amarelo sprint up the downwards alley, stinger pistols in hand.

 

The gang runs into Bêto’s house, a sprawling, three-storey shanty that looks like Peter Pan’s house in Neverland.

Aria takes out her chip.

− You can’t do it now. They’ll be here any moment, Jules pants.

− I can’t wait any more. I have to do it. It’s now or never.

− Give me the chip. I have to open the portal.

The gang are in Bêto’s living room, a large, high-ceilinged room with tropical plants and wooden sculptures depicting animals and monsters. Jules sticks the chip behind her ear.

− Joe.

− Hi, Jules, Joe shouts above the roar. Joe is walking down a lane between giant iron smelters in a steel foundry. The smelters are at full blast.

− It’s time.

− Give me a minute. Then put Aria on. I’ll patch her through.

− One minute, Jules tells Aria, giving her the chip.

Nate looks out the window. X picks up a cane from an urn with a collection of elaborately handled canes, and stands next to the door.

− Do you have any weapons? Nel asks Bêto.

− No. This favela is so overrun with weapons, I’m safer unarmed.

− Is there a back door? Scarface asks.

− In the basement. Bêto points out the stairs leading down. They are at the end of a short ramshackle hallway leading off the living room. Scarface disappears.

− Are there any other access points to the house? Nel asks.

− Windows on the second and third floors; the roof. Nel runs upstairs.

 

− Now.

Aria sticks the chip behind her ear and begins emoting.

Aria finds herself in total darkness.  Slowly, stars begin to shine all around her, even under her. She floats through space, bypassing suns. She passes brilliant nebulae and a nova in the middle of exploding. A tiny yellow dot dead ahead gets bigger and brighter. She passes a rocklike planet, and after a few moments, a giant, tan planet with rings. She veers off the sun-course, traveling at light speed, until she sees a blue planet ahead. She slows down and soon makes out clouds, continents, oceans, ice caps. The moon zips by overhead. Slowing down more, she approaches Earth, which spreads out to receive her. Soon it fills her vision. She begins to have the sensation of falling. The clouds are rising to meet her. Hot wind shoots up, burning her. But she stays whole and slows down more, as if by a parachute. She sees Africa under her. By her feet, Europe. Under her left knee, Asia. She focuses on the land, and as if with super-vision, she sees all the people in their houses, on the streets, in offices, on the land. Their heads are tiny points of light.

− Good morning, Gaia! Aria shouts. She performs her fantasy.

 

− They went into the three-storey on the knoll ahead, 9600 tells Carvalho. He and Amarelo are running up the mountain.

− Where are 0155, 1938, 9332, and 0385? Carvalho spurts between pants.

− They’re off line, 9600 says.

− Something is very wrong.

− We need a plan. Let’s wait for backup, Amarelo says.

− Fuck backup. They’re about to do something big, and I’m not going to let them do it in my precinct. 9600, meet us at the door, Carvalho says.

They run up to the house. 9600 is there, a steely-looking guy in shorts and flip-flops with stun stinger drawn. 9600 and Amarelo stand to the sides of the front door. As Carvalho lifts his leg to kick in the door, three shots ring out from a nearby rooftop. All three cops lurch forward, smashing against the house. They collapse on top of each other in a heap. A moment later, three men drag them off.

Scene 18

Posted in the novella with tags , , , on January 29, 2012 by somnambulant

0356 hours.

 

Flex, Nate, X, and Nel get out of the taxi at the Copacabana Hotel and walk in. The cops’ unmarked car is parked a block away.

− Vera, access the Copacabana Hotel guest log.

− There has been no change to the guest log since 2205 hours yesterday, Vera tells him.

Merda! They’re going to see someone who already has a room. Scan the interior security cameras for movement.

Carvalho is transported to a hallway in the hotel. The gang comes out of an elevator and walks toward him. They walk through him and continue down the hallway. The large, scar-faced man knocks on a door. The door opens, and they file in. Virtual Carvalho tries to follow but can’t.

− Vera, get me into that room.

− The guests have covered all the hidden cameras.

− Get me audio. Carvalho hears samba music and nothing else.

Puta!

 

− What did they ask you? Aria whispers to Nate in the room.

− They asked a lot of questions about what we were doing in Downbeat City. And they got a lot of personal information from us.

− Might be routine. Or they’re on to us. I don’t want to stay here.

− Anywhere we go, they’ll follow us if they’re watching us, Jules whispers.

− They might come through that door any second. I need a safe place. A live performance cyberfantasy is not something I can speed up, not even with a computer’s help.

− The Downbeat City favelas are some of the few places on earth that Aethon Blue does not yet have complete control over, Jules says. I have some friends in Mangueira.

− How far is it?

− It is just up the hill from here.

− Let’s walk.

Scene 17

Posted in the novella with tags , on January 28, 2012 by somnambulant

21 February, 0220 hours

 

− Probably shouldn’t have let them leave the airport. But I want to know where they’re going, who they’re meeting.

The taxi pulls away from the taxi stand. Lieutenant Alcione Domingo Carvalho, Downbeat City police inspector, raises his hand. The driver, Sergeant David Amarelo, rests his hand on the gear shift. The taxi is now a few hundred meters down the airport exit road.

− Go.

Amarelo puts the car in gear and pulls away from the passenger platform in front of the terminal. The detectives follow the taxi onto the highway.

− Get off here. Carvalho points at an exit to a suburb of Downbeat City.

− We’re gonna lose them.

− I have the taxi number.

Amarelo takes the exit. Using the chip behind his ear, Carvalho accesses the law enforcement mainframe.

− Vera, where is airport taxi 24 going? Carvalho momentarily travels to a white room with a Saudadean woman in a navy blue jumpsuit in it.

− Airport taxi 24 is traveling west on Interdistrict 9 at 115 kilometers per hour. It is located 7 kilometers east of the Downbeat City limits.

− Take Interdistrict 12 to Downbeat City, Carvalho tells Amarelo. Hurry up. We want to get there before them. We have to be there when the driver drops them off.

Scene 16

Posted in the novella with tags , , , , on January 27, 2012 by somnambulant

Downbeat City, February 20. 1458 hours.

 

− You’re late.

Jules, wearing a sarong, a bikini top, and flip-flops, lights a cigarette. She has just joined Aria at a beach café. They sit in white plastic chairs at a table under a sun parasol that advertises Antarctica, one of the two Saudade Sector beers.

Oi! Uma caipirinha por favor, Jules shouts to the waiter. Relax, you’re in Downbeat City, she says to Aria.

− Yeah. I’m still waiting for the downbeat. This city used to be hopping. The stories my granddad told me. The biggest party on earth. Carnaval. Where is everybody?

− At least they’re off the streets. The gun battles between drug gangs in this city used to put conventional war to shame.

− The last people on earth I would think would become headset addicts. The people of Saudade Sector used to live for music, for dancing, for socializing, for lolling about on the streets. The city’s a ghost town.

− You can party just as well in the virtual world.

− The virtual world is like the Hades of the ancient Greeks. Not even the Greek heroes were happy to be in the hallowed hall of dead war heroes. When you’re in hell, you’re still conscious as you were when you were alive. You just have no flesh. You can’t drink because the cup you put to your fleshless lips pours mead into your mouth, and it just runs down your rib cage. You can’t hold any food or water. You’re always hungry and thirsty. You can’t sleep. You’re damned to eternal, disembodied consciousness. Sartre’s Hell of No Exit. An eternal room, where you’re alone with your thoughts until eternity.

− Is that how you imagine it? I find the virtual world as stimulating as the real one.

− Then why don’t you go there?

− I will. I’m here to take you with me.

− If I’m the last person on earth with no headset on, I can live with it. I was born to this world, and am not so eager to leave it just yet.

− Then why do you make headset art?

− Because it’s the only way to reach people. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

− My sentiments, exactly. Oi, dois caipirinhas de mais, por favor. Your problem right now is that you’re sober.

− When is the deal going down?

− I expect, within 24 hours.

Aria slouches in her white plastic chair despondently. Jules gives her the once-over. Baggy t-shirt and boxer shorts, sneakers and white socks. Black sunglasses that look too practical, that blot out her eyes. She looks as if she is self-consciously rebelling against the sensual beach fashion of Downbeat City. Dressed as a Productivity Sector tourist.

Aria downs the drink in one gulp without even looking at it and resumes her depressed slouch.

− Come here. Jules stands up and takes Aria’s hand.

− What?

− Let’s go swimming. Aria lets Jules pull her along. The waves splash onto Ipanema Beach. No one else is there. It’s surreal. Aria pulls her t-shirt off, revealing her big, motherly breasts. Jules loses her sarong and shows her little breasts and bikini bottom, her gorgeous, strong thighs.

They jump in the water, let the waves carry them, hold each other, kiss, caress each other, and forget time.

 

They plop laughing and exhausted on the beach. Jules toe-wrestles with Aria as they lie side by side in the sand. Off in the distance, on Leblon beach, they see a figure. A man incongruously dressed in shirt and tie. He is looking at them.

 

− Hello? Aria answers her cell.

− Hey, we’re at the airport. They’ve got us in a room. They said they want to ask us a few questions.

− What the fuck? (She looks at Jules.) They’ve stopped them at the airport. We’ve covered our tracks well. There’s no virtual paper trail. Don’t worry. Just tell ‘em you’re Productivity Sector tourists. Call me as soon as you can.

− Okay, honey. See you soon.

− That was not supposed to happen, Aria tells Jules.

− I’ve been in touch with my people, too, Jules says with a scowl. I’ve made sure that we would disappear from Productivity Sector without a trace.

− Is somebody on to us?

− I don’t see how they could be. Unless they’ve been talking to someone who knows you from Efficiency City.

− Let’s get out of here.

Scene 15

Posted in the novella with tags , , , on January 26, 2012 by somnambulant

Jules clambers up the last rocks and reaches the summit. She sits down against a boulder, takes out her Nalgene bottle, and swigs several gulps of water. She can see the mountains in all directions from here. Mountains as far as the eye can see. Lushly forested mountains, shrouded in mist. It is a very quiet morning. All she hears is the breeze, wetting her hair with tiny droplets. The air is cool, delicious. She feels the misty air on her skin, in her hair. She can smell rich, live earth. The world from here looks like the Garden of Eden, where the first humans were struck by awe, wonder, and fear of the unknown. ‘What lurks in that forest down below? I don’t know, and I’m scared. But I’m thrilled and curious. I can’t wait to find out. Here we go,’ they might have told each other.

Jules sees another hiker deftly climbing toward her. He’s wearing jeans, hiking boots, a sturdy workman’s shirt. A baseball cap. He is tall and athletic. He climbs right up to her and sits down against the rock next to her.

− Beautiful morning.

− Yeah.

They sit side by side silently for a few moments, contemplating the view.

− Makes you remember there’s something out there beside yourself, huh?

− Umm.

− It’s good for me to get out of that awful box and see the world once in a while. Especially Productivity Sector. I climbed around these mountains when I was a little kid.

− I have a hard time imagining you as a little kid, Semper.

Semper Wombat laughs.

− I’m just like anyone else, no one special. Sometimes I wonder whether people think I was served up on the half shell when I was born.

− People probably think the Hounds of Hell dropped you off outside the gates of Styx.

Semper laughs again, this time humorlessly. He is silent for a moment.

− That’s why I like you, Jules. You speak your mind. You don’t hide your feelings from me. You’re not afraid of me, and you’re not trying to kiss my ass. Without a few honest associates, I would never have gotten this far.

− What did you want to speak to me about?

− How are things coming along with Freddy’s Gang?

− I haven’t talked Aria out of her dream of launching that cyberfantasy.

− I’ve been thinking about it. It would be easy to disappear them all, Freddy’s Gang. They’d never be heard from again. But I looked over Aria’s work, the cyberfantasies she created for the online ‘zines. She is too talented and valuable. No one is going to be able to dissuade her from pursuing her dream. So, go ahead. You have my green light. Let her do it.

− How?

− I’ll talk to my people. Just tell Aria you’ve made progress with your contacts, and they’ll be able to open a window into cyberspace for the time she needs. Set her up with a headset, and let her perform the cyberfantasy live. My people will make sure it’s broadcast around the world for 24 hours.

− You’re not worried about the consequences?

− The main reason I rule the world is because I understand people. I know what they want, and I know what they are afraid of. I know how to inspire them to do what.  They are going to see this fantasy, and then, nothing. The main outcome is going to be that OmniFantasy will be flooded with phone calls. People will complain and ask why the company broadcast a fantasy they didn’t order.

− What if some people get inspired by the fantasy and rebel against the system?

− Do you think the system is perfect? No matter how much control Aethon Blue exerts over people, no matter how carefully we teach people from the earliest age, there are always those folks out there that think they know better. Nothing can cure them. They’re going to think differently, act out, no matter how much we try to influence them. Those are the guys we subvert. We use their creativity for our own purposes. We hire them at OmniFantasy or put them to work on some other creative endeavor in some part of the world where they’re not going to do too much damage. Heck, we channel them into Zen Buddhism. We give ‘em a job as a nature guide. We draw them into a university. Or maybe they’ll live out their lives in a garret, fuming out insane, unpublished poetry. If they get out of control, they land in prison or a mental hospital. If they are too dangerous, they disappear. Killed or virtualized. Don’t matter. Their effect on the consciousness of the masses is negligible.  The really charismatic ones, the ones who are dead-set on leading the people to rebellion, the ones who have what it takes to do it, we upload them into the computer. Take the hacker Lugnut, for example. We locked her in a virtual cage from which no one can hear her, see her, feel her, smell her, or taste her. Her consciousness is still in there. But the only times we perceive her is when we poke our heads in and examine her for research purposes. After the machine scanned her brain and body, cell by cell, gene by gene, molecule by molecule, energy field by energy field, and the machine uploaded her completely, we burned her body until all that was left of her was a pile of very fine gray dust.

− I think that’s what you’re gonna have to end up doing to Aria.

− I hope not. We’ll see. She’ll get to run her cyberfantasy. I predict it won’t have its intended effect. Just in case, the security forces and secret police will be on high alert. We’ll monitor people carefully through OmniCyber. We’ll blast some soothing cyberfantasies at them for a few weeks. We’ll subdue the ones who start thinking out of line or start acting up. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it.

− Then what?

− I think Aria will be disillusioned. She’ll be despondent that her fantasy didn’t trigger an awakening. That’s your moment. Dangle the job at OmniFantasy again. Tell her it’s time to stop shrieking in the wilderness. It’s time for her to come home. It’s time for her voice to be heard by the people. And OmniFantasy is going to make it happen for her.

− One unsuccessful fantasy, and you think she’ll be ready to concoct drivel for your company?

− Not overnight. I think she’ll at least give it a try. She’ll take the job to see what it’s about. It’s a war of attrition. We’ll give her these mindless assignments. She’ll scheme to insert a little meaning, a little edginess, a little rebelliousness, into each one. That’ll be the compromise with herself. She’ll tell herself that at least she’s reaching all these people. And if they read between the lines, maybe they can learn something from the slop she serves them. And hey, at least she lives well, she’s comfortable, and she’s powerful. Gradually her interest in fulfilling herself at work will subside. Maybe she’ll take up some interesting hobbies. Hey, maybe she’ll become a cyberfantasy junkie, too.

Semper smiles as the sun rises above the mountains and spreads a blanket of glimmering gold over the hilltops. Jules looks at him. How can someone so evil be so pleasant-looking?

− Freddy’s Gang is still on The Land, Jules says. I’ll meet them and set them up.

− Keep your reports coming. This is turning into a very interesting story. Aria is going to do some wonderful things.

− What do you have planned for her?

− I don’t know. We’ll see. Worry about your own career. If you nab Aria, and she turns into the star I expect her to, your reputation will be secure. You’ll be an agent with stripes.

− I hope not everyone I scout in the future will be this hard to hire.

− Don’t worry, they’re not. Most artists drool at the chance to work for us. Your problem isn’t going to be talking people into signing on. Your challenge is going to be finding real talent.

As the sun climbs into the sky, it burns off the tips of the mist, which continues to swirl in the shadowed valleys.

− Ah, the Smoky Mountains. The Indians called it ShaConage, “Like Blue Smoke.” There’ll be plenty of blue smoke in the air soon, but that’s going to be from the exhaust pipes of earth-moving equipment. TyphonTek has found giant mineral deposits under these mountains. In about a year’s time, all these mountains will be dug up. It’ll look like a giant sandbox that dogs and cats crapped in.

For the first time, Jules’s face expresses an emotion: Disgust and horror. She quickly composes herself.

− Hey, why not keep some of the old world around, even if just for research purposes?

− The old world is dead, honey. I am the new world.

Scene 14

Posted in the novella with tags , , , on January 25, 2012 by somnambulant

CHM, February 12. 0030 hours.

Half past midnight. Semper Wombat’s eyes open abruptly, as if because of a sudden, loud noise. He listens into the dark, but hears only the regular breathing of his sleeping wife. He studies the back of Margaret’s head, the long wavy blond hair in swirls cascading into the covers like a tall, narrow waterfall plunging into a crevice. He turns onto his back and stares at the onyx ceiling. His eyes get lost in the limitless void of the black surface and as his mind wanders, images appear in the void, frightening creatures. He turns onto his left side and looks out the slanted glass wall. Stars. He gets up as quietly as he can. Margaret doesn’t stir. He walks nude to the glass wall. He may be 52 years old but his body is tall, erect, thin; athletic without the bulging muscles of the compulsive body builder. He has the chiseled facial features, close-cropped dark brown hair, and hazel eyes of an army colonel. Usually his facial expression is calm, indulgent, almost kind. He makes a decision that dooms thousands of people to a horrible death with the same friendly face as when he increases people’s retirement benefits. Tonight, he is expressionless, his eyes vacant, his mind is very far away.

He looks over the vast city. Almost completely dark. The city government installed dim streetlights and ordered windows shaded from above to protect the night sky. And the stars are brilliant. They are so bright that Semper feels he can see that the larger, brighter ones are balls of fire. The Milky Way is a bright superhighway across the dome of heaven. Semper spots Capricorn, his constellation, his protector, and he feels better. When Capricorn is watching over him, he feels he will be safe.

Semper walks out into his study. Then into the kitchen. He brews himself a cup of coffee. He walks out into the living room and on into the front hall. Out the door and up the stairs. Through a set of double doors, down a long hallway. He comes to a narrow flight of circular stairs. He ascends them and arrives in a large, pyramidal room. Above, nothing but stars. Here, too, the walls are made of glass. On all sides, the city, the rivers, and on the horizon, the plains and hills.

The room has a large conference table at one end. The rest of the room, perhaps fifty meters on a side and fifty meters at its peak, is nothing but hardwood floor.

It has been quite a journey. The son of a Sears furniture salesman from Tobacco City put himself through college with no help from his family. He studied engineering and built and sold high quality ball bearings. He designed and built cogs, levers, pulleys, chains, wheels, spokes, and other machine parts. He branched out into tools and electrical motors. When his company, Wombat International, went public, he was worth $280 million. He always kept 51 percent of the shares. As good as he was at designing and building components and machines, his managerial skills were even better. While a team of engineers dreamed up new products and a team of craftspeople, computers, robots, and other machines built them, he concentrated on running and expanding the company.

He did not bother learning how to design a computer, be a lawyer, or sell groceries. But with a keen mind he learned the business dimension of each of those enterprises. Wombat International began buying other companies that built miscellaneous products and rendered miscellaneous services. He reorganized the acquired companies and formed new Wombat International divisions.  Without regard to seniority, his human resources team rooted out the deadwood, sometimes firing as many as 99% of the employees. On average, they let 35% of the people go. The team found the bright ambitious minds and put them in positions of power in the division.  If the acquired company was large and powerful, Semper would bring its keenest employee onto Wombat International’s board of directors. Sometimes that employee had been low in the acquired company.

In 2040, Wombat changed the name of the corporte megalith to Aethon Blue Incorporated.  Around this time, ABI was one of only six other sovereign corporations, which between them had corporate control over the little blue marble halfway through the solar system of a smallish sun, on one of the outer arms of a galaxy in a not very fashionable corner of the universe.

2048 A.D. It was a time of chaos in the world. Religion, political ideology, the division between the rich and the poor, profiteers vs. environmentalists, the indigenous vs. colonists, gay vs. straight, black vs. white, people found every superficial difference between others and themselves as an excuse for hostility. War was endemic. The leaders duped the people into going along with war after war, deftly manipulating them by scaring them, making them afraid of the others, vilifying the others, and by appealing to visceral patriotic instincts.

While people were occupied flailing at ghosts, the conglomerates consolidated their power. Overtly and covertly, they crept out all over the world like an oil slick. The most important victory they achieved was a fundamental shift in peoples’ consciousness. They gradually turned the citizen into a consumer, the republican into an idiot. They lulled people into believing that life is done to them, life is not something they actively live. The people came to believe that thinking for themselves was too tiring, and passively receiving media messages was more fun, satisfying, and easy. Even sex, intimacy, physical closeness to another human being, and love, became scary. When they tried it, it often resulted in pain. Fantasy was safer, and they thought, more satisfying. While arguing with someone close to them was painful, playing video games and coasting down the chute of a cyberfantasy was reassuring and easy, and bolstered the ego.

The conglomerates succeeded in severing the ties between people and people, and people and nature. Nature shrank as the companies developed more and more land. They virtualized nature as most people began to experience it exclusively through the media, for example through cyberfantasies that took the nature documentaries a step further and made them interactive. By severing the physical bond between human and nature, the companies achieved another victory. They robbed people of their souls. They cut the peoples’ roots to Mother Earth.

Then they had the people alone, individuals severed from other humans and from the Earth. Through the media, they sculpted the spiritual world people would live in. From each person’s early age, the companies molded the personality that was best suited for their purposes.

Hard workers. Dull thinkers. Avid consumers. Churners of natural resources. Worker ants. Obedient. Loyal. Quick to carry out orders. Dependent on the boss for thinking and decision making.

People did not stop talking to each other. They did not completely stop having sex and forming families. It is just that their lives, their inner lives, had been sucked into their headsets like a precious fluid into a vacuum hose.

 

Semper thinks to himself:

I am here because of my hard work. My strength of character. My intelligence, creativity, cunning. Cunning, like a wolf. And because of my wife’s skills and support. I am the first man in history to rule the world. I’m up to the task. Never tired, I always know what to do. I can handle it. I love management.

I am the king of the world! I can do anything, say anything, make people do anything. I could sleep with a hundred gorgeous virgins. I can build palaces on a thousand hills. I can enslave millions. Make the people sing my praises. Humiliate people, torture people, make them worship me. I have realized my dream, the most ambitious dream a man can have.

So why am I unhappy? Do I need more power? Control over the galaxy? How much power and wealth do I need?

I have everything. Am I going to spend the rest of my life like a late Roman emperor, orgying, waiting the Huns to come down and kick my ass and rape my daughters?

What’s my next project? We already control all the people.

A challenge. If I only had a challenge that’s up to the level of my genius.

Semper gazes out the window for a long time, then stretches out on the hardwood floor, his coffee mug beside him, his hands folded under his head; and gazes at the stars until he falls asleep.

− Good morning, Semper. The folks from TyphonTek are here. Oops! You’d better get some clothes on.

Semper opens his eyes and sees his secretary, Julian, striding toward him. Julian wears a loose-fitting white jumpsuit. Semper gets up and squints into the sun, which is already a few inches above the horizon. He sinks down into his chair at the head of the table.

− Get some more coffee and some clothes.

Julian descends from the circular stairs at the far end of the hall. (The other flight of stairs leads to Semper’s family suite.) He returns with a full coffee mug in one hand and a white robe and sandals in the other.

While Semper dresses, Julian says:

− ABI stock is trading up 8 points. There has been some unrest in New Horizons Sector, but security forces had no trouble putting it down. The Cyberfantasy Division’s sales earnings are up 1.8 percent. The Feeder Division’s sales are down 1 percent.

− Did the TyphonTek guys bring Vaughn?

− Yep, he’s here.

− Good. The others are a bunch of schlubs.

− Shall I show them in?

− Yeah. Have they eaten?

− I don’t know.

− Ask ‘em if they’re hungry and bring up some fruit.

Julian disappears again. A minute later, a half dozen men and women in gray jumpsuits come up the stairs.

− Good morning, Semper. Semper gets up from his chair and strides to meet them. Handshakes all around.

− It’s good to see you all again. Jane, how is your son doing?

− Fine, he just started college.

− I know he’s going to go far. Semper motions to the conference table. Here, here, sit down.

Julian sits down at Semper’s right. The others cluster down the table. Servants in black robes bring fruit for everyone in silver dishes.

− So: What’s the good news?

− The seismic findings are fantastic! Bob says. There is so much more uranium under there than anyone dared dream. It’s not just a vein, it’s a whole fucking circulatory system.

− You’ve lost me. How much uranium is in Black Mesa?

− It’s not just under Black Mesa. There are veins crisscrossing the countryside for about 150 miles in every direction. Black Mesa is just the tip of the iceberg.

Julian takes notes on a legal pad.

− Enough uranium there to run all the world’s nuclear reactors?

− I don’t know, Semper. I’m just a seismic prospector.

− How long is it going to take to get at it?

− Some of the uranium is close to the surface, Vaughn says. Some is as much as five miles deep. We’ve done some preliminary estimating and calculating. With today’s technology, we could get 85 tons of high-grade uranium from this field in the next 20 years

− Looks like our energy future is secured. And with our plans, we are going to need a hell of a lot more energy than we can generate today. Vaughn, what do you guys need to make this happen?

− Well, there’s the issue of the people living on top of the metal. It’s under the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, part of it is under the Grand Canyon, part of it is under Flagstaff, part of it fans out under barren public lands, part of it is under private land.

− Easy. Put the people to work mining their own land.

− They’re not gonna like that. The Indians are a proud people. The first European settlers found out they couldn’t enslave the Indians, they had to kill them. And you know what? The white people in Flagstaff are almost as stubborn.

− Don’t worry about the people, Vaughn. This will be a special project. ABI will dedicate enough security forces to subdue the population. Human resources teams will assess the people and fit them to jobs. Those who don’t want to work, hell. Cart them off to work camps somewhere else. Or we’ll just make ‘em work in the mines come hell or high water. Police and secret police, intelligence services will make sure no rebellions brew up over this. It’ll be synergistic. It’ll be a clean operation. It’ll be efficient. TyphonTek will be able to begin mining the mother lode in a few months, that’s my commitment.

− Careful now, Vaughn says. I’ve lived in the area for years. You don’t know these people. And the Indian land, especially around this area, has a special place in the hearts of people all over. I know people are pretty out of it these days. They don’t care. They do their thing. But even as happy-go-lucky as people are, something like this could start making people pay attention.

− I’ll have a public relations campaign. Maybe I’ll make the Indians look like the bad guys in this. And I’ll remind the consumers of the benefits of nuclear power. ABI will put out some cyberfantasies that undermine people’s nostalgic views of the Indians and bolster the image of modernity. Come to think of it, I may just have the artist to create some of those cyberfantasies. Well, I don’t have her yet, but I will. Keep on prospecting and start surveying. But keep it on the down low there in Scorching Sun District. The less the people know right now, the better. Give me a couple days.

− It’s good to see you again, Semper.

− Yeah, you too. Enjoy the rest of your stay in CHM. You are my honored guests. Vaughn, I want you to come to dinner with Margaret and me tonight.

− I’d be honored.

The TyphonTek people file out.

Scene 13

Posted in the novella with tags , , , on January 24, 2012 by somnambulant

The caravan arrives at dusk. Tiki torches are lit across the tiny settlement of Earth ships (the houses set into the ground,) school buses, and hay bale and adobe houses. The vehicles park in a field of deeply rutted tire tracks and wounded sagebrush. The newly arrived VW buses, vans, and trucks disgorge the residents of The Land and their guests. They walk up to the cluster of dwellings. There are many happy shouts as people greet each other. Freddy’s Gang is seeing old friends for the first time in a long while.

A throng of revelers gathers around Aria, taking turns gripping her in their arms. She introduces me and Jules. Eventually we scatter to the refreshment tables. I find a quiet place on a rock near a bonfire and watch the goings-on. I learn the residents of this settlement call it Gaia Outpost #7. There must be about 40 people living here. All ages, including children and old people. They have drawn well over 100 guests to this party. The dress is of the “tribal” variety. Lots of home-made leather garments. Cotton shirts, denim jackets with patches roughly sewn on and displaying mysterious logos. Everyone looks like the red dust of the area has ground into their skin over the years. People of all races. American Indians, too. Lots of zany people.

A young boy walks by wearing a sheer white underslip and sandals. An effeminate, slight man sports a black leather miniskirt and a tight black wife-beater. Men in various skirts and dresses, tights, high black leather boots with high heels. Women in the same. Other women in dungarees and work shirts and Mexican style cowboy hats. One woman wears a dress made of hubcaps. Another, a bikini of woven strands of fiber optic cable.  They mix happily with orthodox crusty old cowboys, leather-faced farmers, Southwest Latinos with bolo and cowboy hat, who are enjoying the revelry as much as anyone else.

A group of men and women and children clusters in the center of the gathering, beating drums. A floutist, an Andean Pan pipe player, and a clarinetist play the melody above the base rhythm. People dance, and the throng seems to sway together, as if they were one body.

Around the crowd, a ring of fire dancers and fire twirlers forms. Their figure eights, ovals, and spirals of fire create a constellation that, I imagine, must be visible in the heavens.

I fend off the advances of a teenage girl wearing nothing but a thong. It’s not that I’m not turned on by her cute little breasts, her friendly smile, her Satyr horns. It’s just that all this stimulation is too much for me. I hate crowds. A month ago, my headset was my only company. Now I’m in a crowd of well over a hundred. I walk around the settlement for a bit until I find a quiet earthship. I climb down into it. I pour myself a cup of water from a cistern. Outside, the music quickens. I collapse on a couch built into the floor of the dwelling. After I close my eyes and my mind steps onto the path to the world of shapes, I hear voices approaching. I don’t want to be discovered here, so, idiotically, I sneak into the bedroom and climb into the closet. It is a walk-in closet stuffed full of clothes and equipment. The door is a swinging saloon door. I push myself to the back.

I hear two women’s voices in the kitchen. A long conversation, then silence. One of the women laughs. As I peek out from behind a Carhardt coat, two nude women are silhouetted in the bedroom doorway hand in hand, then they’ve both flopped onto the bed. The smaller woman reaches up and caresses the larger woman’s face. Suddenly the larger woman rolls over onto the smaller woman, straddles her, leans her hands on her rib cage, and sits up. Aria’s face shines in the light of the firedancers.

She looks down at the woman under her and massages her grapefruit breasts. The smaller woman caresses Aria’s arms.  She sits up, too, and they kiss deeply, passionately. And Jules’s face burns in the torchlight. Aria pushes Jules down, puts her whole weight on her, spreads her legs apart with her legs, and rubs her crotch against hers. Jules moans, the moan of a she-wolf in heat. Aria grips Jules, her long arms around Jules’s shoulder, torso, and back. Aria kisses her hard. Jules sucks for air and groans. She wraps her legs around Aria’s waist. With her crotch, Aria rubs Jules’s crotch, at the bottom and at the top, above her pubic bone, harder and harder, faster and faster.

Jules is receptive, like an impassioned worshipper receiving the sermon of an enlightened priest. She melds her body to Aria’s, and they pant in unison. Jules’s pleasure gives way to one shout, then a louder, high-pitched one, barely heard above the drums and pipes outside.

Aria arches her back, and she and Jules shudder against each other violently, stronger than most men have ever connected with another person in battle or in love.  Aria collapses on Jules and they lie in pant and sweat for several minutes. I am trying to control my racing breath

Jules plays with Aria’s mane of hair − Aria, her head on Jules’s shoulder, looks into Jules’s eyes sleepily.

− I don’t think you really believe all that bullshit you tell me about working for The Man, Aria mumbles to Jules.

Jules smiles.

− I don’t think you really believe the Kumbaya horseshit you are trying to force down my throat, Jules returns.

Aria smiles back.