The Problem with Perpetuity, Paradox, and Paroxysmal Perspicacity

When things are going well for me–when everything is in its right place, and there is that perfect balance of forward motion, productivity, and randomness–there occurs a phenomenon that I’ve never shared with anyone until now. It’s just a little thing, a small quirk, but when I notice myself doing it I can’t help but chuckle, and then, in noticing it I inadvertently give it life.

By this point, if you know me at all whether this cyber-phantom me, or the real life version, you know I tend to live in my own little universe of oddities and eccentricities. I’m an absurdist in some sense, and in practice I suppose I’m an adherent to the tenets of a conglomerate faith, the prophets of which are people like Douglas Adams, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, Kilgore Trout, Bokonon, Rick Sanchez, Tom Stoppard, Professor Peter Schickele, and the renowned German Baroque composer Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumble-meyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitzweimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm. I allow myself to be guided along the surface of reality by strange winds, and like a Velella velella I’m not so much a unique individual as a collective perpetuation of other humans’ collective perpetuations of other human’s collective perpetuations of other humans’ anomalous experiences.

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I experience life as one might expect of a thirty-something male having been born in 1978 whose daily intake of culture includes heavy doses of tokusatsu, Uncle Remus, Marvel Comics, and Raymond Smullyan’s This Book Needs No Title.

Coincidentally, if you don’t know Raymond Smullyan, he died earlier this year, and I’m sad to have just learned this. I found him quite by accident, and it is through his guidance that I have come to accept that bricks can disappear.

I’m something of a quantum absurdist, and that really means nothing more than I believe in science fact only as it allows for the absurd and improbable. (Note to self before I publish this: Don’t forget to mention paradox somehow, but make sure you at least erase this) Multiple parallel universes, infinite improbability, the absence and impossibility of nothing, these are all concepts I believe in, but they are borrowed concepts leached from other people’s brilliance and/or psychoses. I’d be happy to believe that a giraffe runs the universe in a small bunker somewhere underneath Perth, as long as there is a school of thought that insists that this is actually impossible. I can be neckbeardish in my “well, actually” as I scoff at the word impossible itself. I believe in the improbable probability of impossible things being probably just merely improbable.

So back to this thing I do.

I definitely have a tempo that I fall into when I’m in a good mood. It’s not quite your tempo, but it’s steady. Without fail, when I fall into this rhythm, one of two marches begin to play in my head. The first being “The British Grenadiers” complete with internal “tow, row, row, row, row, rows”, and the second being “The Liberty Bell” complete with Bronx cheer. My exposure to the latter is probably obvious to you, and if not I’ll leave it to you to look it up, and the former most assuredly comes from similar exposure to a certain episode of Mr. Bean, a certain series of Black Adder, and the Spielberg film The Empire of the Sun.

When I first watched Empire of the Sun, I had no idea who J.G. Ballard was. It was one of the first adult dramas I watched and felt a deep yet inexplicable connection to. I’m fairly sure the film was running on HBO at the time, so I had several opportunities to rewatch it. It was one of the first VHS tapes that I purchased for myself. You know, it’s funny … as I’m casually dipping in and out of wikipedia for dates and facts I suddenly learn that the screenplay for Empire of the Sun was originally adapted by Tom Stoppard. So there’s that. And Paul McGann, too. And a duck with a brick in its mouth. Physics!

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I spent most of my extra money in the late 90s on VHS tapes, and later DVDs, and I purchased most of all three media types from Suncoast Motion Picture Company at Collin Creek Mall. It’s there that I discovered, for the first time mind you, that there was more than just one Doctor. I had only been exposed to Tom Baker through late night viewings of Doctor Who on PBS. I remember picking up The Web Planet and feeling a sense of awe that carried on until I popped the tape into my VCR and saw the old familiar BBC “ribbon” intro, followed by the original Ron Grainer theme music. That same “ribbon” intro would grace the beginnings of a huge swath of my VHS collection most notably Black Adder, The Young Ones, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, and of course many, many Doctor Who episodes.

See, things are getting a bit circular.

Eventually, Suncoast closed and I was forced to turn to Barnes and Noble (this is pre-Amazon by the way), and it was there that I spent entirely too much money on fantasy novels. I always present myself as something of a science fiction aficionado, but it’s a fairly new feather in my cap. While I could spend hours in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of any bookstore, it was for a very long time only fantasy that interested me. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Robert Aspirin, Piers Anthony.  I remember vividly perusing the wire racks at Half Price Books in Dallas (the old 2-story one) and finding the 2nd Edition Silver Jubilee Lord of the Rings paperbacks. These still are my favorite physical copies of any book I have ever owned. I lost my original Two Towers to a flood in North Carolina around 2000, and my Fellowship of the Ring is falling apart, but I have the others. You may have seen them if you ever lurk around the SF/F section of Half Price Books.

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I recently purchased Asimov’s Chronology of the World from the Half Price Books that replaced that old location, and now, being familiar with Asimov, I’m not surprised that this book is exactly what I have been looking for centuries (pun!). From the Big Bang to Big Bird and everything in between, it is simply all of history condensed and explored through all its connecting threads delivered as only Isaac Asimov could. It’s what should be the textbook used in grade school history. I’m using it as a catalytic or sorts to guide my own explorations of the history of the human race, and I must absolutely do it in order.

You see, I have a problem. Some people turn to drink, others to hard drugs. Some people become slaves to their sexual desires, and some run the gamut of all possible vice. I just simply prefer to do things randomly in order. I get little tingles from doing it, and yes, it is an addiction. I have a spreadsheet that I open every day that lists out for me four things that I should attempt to accomplish in that day. Each suggestion is from a different category, and the categories are: Productivity, Culture, Knowledge, and Escapism. You may already know this about me, but many of you don’t. I had stopped doing this for a while and it made every day feel like I was letting the universe slip away from me. For the past two weeks, I’ve been nailing the list daily (almost). Each category is drawing from a list of possible pursuits, and it’s doing so randomly using a formula I borrowed from a more avid coder than myself. If nothing else, it has kept me writing. I’ll give you some examples. Productivity is a list of novels in process, from Ageless to Mike and the Magic Closet, that I’m continuously working to complete. It also includes “general blog” (*salute*) which is what I’m doing today. Culture contains a list of all the television shows I’m currently watching (in order, mind you) from Star Trek: Voyager, to 70s era tokusatsu, to Game of Thrones. Knowledge contains academic pursuits, math, language, history etc. It’s in this category that Asimov’s Chronology of the World comes into play. And finally Escapism is video games. You may ask yourself: Where does that highway go to? No … you may ask yourself, where do I find the time to do all of these things? Honestly, most of the time I don’t, but I try to at least complete one per day and let the others carry over until I complete them. What it’s done is to allow me a way to hold myself accountable while using my obsessive random-but-in-orderliness to complete what I feel are important projects that help me grow to be a more complete human being. Sure, some of these pursuits are pure masturbation of a sort, but in the end, doing these things makes me happy.

Going through life in this way has made me extremely aware of the trope. I see Doctor Who in Len Wein’s Bronze Age Marvel, I connect Malkovich to The Turtles.

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Friends of the ABC – I get that reference!

When things are going well for me–when everything is in its right place, and there is that perfect balance of forward motion, productivity, and randomness–there occurs a phenomenon that I’ve never shared with anyone until now. It’s just a little thing, a small quirk, but when I notice myself doing it I can’t help but chuckle, and then, in noticing it I inadvertently give it life.

I am Ian Malcolm’s drop of water.

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I am your worst nightmare opponent in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which, times being what they are, isn’t what it used to be. Thank you IMBD.

Yes … times being what they are … so, what are they?

Indign.

And me being the two sides of me that I am, which am I?

One of us always tells the truth, and the other one always lies.

Rest in Peace, Raymond Smullyan. You made paradox my Kevin Bacon, and Malkovich my Iphigenia in Brooklyn. Running knows …

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Oh, what a lie!!

Day Thirty-Eight – Gehenna

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The impact of the plasma round against the retaining wall sent shrapnel through Cool Monkey Dataskunk’s cloak. His stunt flip off the wall had been effective as a dodge, but at the cost of his high dollar accessory. Upon landing, he dropped the canvas bag he was carrying to the ground and angrily ripped the cloak from his shoulders.

“I paid thirty ambasolls for this!” Cool Monkey Dataskunk screamed to the enforcer squad still firing rounds at him. Spotlights converged on his location, throwing shadows across the broken retaining wall that elongated his already gangling silhouette. As the next salvo of plasma rounds screamed through the night, CMD smirked and sidestepped out of their trajectory.

Casually, the master thief snatched up the canvas bag and sprinted away, a series of small explosions following him. The retaining wall curved for about two hundred yards around the reservoir’s northern edge. Even as he continued along the path, he could see enforcer drones kicking up spray as they skimmed over the water’s surface.

“I count five, Lippy,” CMD panted into his headset. He anticipated the strafing that should have sliced him in half, and, throwing himself into a slide, he cleanly avoided the crackling plasma rounds as they passed harmlessly over him. Kicking his heel into the path as he continued to slide, he propelled himself back into his sprint and continued on. Enforcer drones had big guns, but they reacted slowly. Taking a wide strafing arc like that one had would cost it a few seconds in getting back on target, and CMD used that to his advantage.

“More like twenty,” came the response in his ear. “There’s a squad trying to cut you off at the spillway. I’m headed down.”

Angling toward the retaining wall, CMD leaped and scaled it in two upward strides. The dirt slope that the wall was holding was packed tight and only minimally eroded under his heavy footfall. The sharp slope leveled out to a more gradual incline of dirt with sparse grass and shrubbery and formed a fairly large hill that he decided to ascend.

Below him, the spotlights continued on down the path of his anticipated trajectory, and so wavered momentarily before finding his new path.

CMD took an erratic path up the slope to avoid the shots aimed at his back, and soon it was raining dirt all around him. He couldn’t see the summit of his climb, only black sky devoid of stars or moon.

The Eurobeat intensified in his ear as it responded to the increase in pulse and breathing. He cursed the enforcers for ruining his cloak–it would have given a nice theatrical touch to his ascent, billowing out behind him as he scrambled towards escape. The sawing synth assaulted his senses, and he grated his teeth as another wave of adrenaline coursed through his body.

Another sound, overwhelming even the eardrum-shattering Eurobeat rattling his bones, shook the entire slope as he angled sharply, avoiding another strafe of plasma. Above him, a shockwave rippled the air as Lippy’s mech jumped in.

The mech, one hundred feet tall from foot to helmet, was shaped vaguely like a reptilian humanoid. It’s hands and feet sported titanium claws that served no real purpose other than to look imposing. The mech’s real weapons were the dozen or so plasma cannons arrayed around it’s torso, reaching over its shoulders, under its arms. It hovered briefly in mid-air before Lippy shut off the rockets and dropped to the summit directly above CMD.

“Oh shit,” CMD exclaimed.

The summit above him collapsed under the weight of the massive mech and a wave of dirt and rock cascaded down the slope toward his position.

There was nowhere for him to run, up or down, left or right. The slide was going to hit him full force.

“God dammit, Lippy!” he screamed into his headset. “I had this one!”

Lippy did not respond. His cannons were already firing, tearing the enforcer drones to shreds across the reservoir.

As CMD hesitated, the spotlights found him. The plasma rounds ripped through his body and impacted on the slope in front of him. The canvas bag slipped from his fingers and rolled down the slope even as the landslide rolled over him. Its contents, dozens of small blue crystals, poured out of holes the shrapnel had cut.

For Cool Monkey Dataskunk, everything faded to white …

*

… which didn’t exactly make sense. Normally, things faded to black. Gerald Hanes, career criminal and murderer of three, reached for the release switch that would disconnect him from his VR suite, only this time, there was no switch. There was no reality to greet him. It had been a few weeks since he had exited the suite, and disorientation was common, but this was different.

His vision was filled with nothing but white, and he couldn’t blink or shut his eyes to make it go away. It was as if he didn’t have eyes at all.

He couldn’t see his hands, his body. He couldn’t feel himself breathing. He had no sensation of touch, smell, taste. No spatial awareness, just white.

And it stayed white for a very long time before Gerald Hanes, the convict who existed as Cool Monkey Dataskunk in his virtual reality prison, began to panic.

*

When the disorientation did come, it was instantaneous. One second there was nothing but white, and in the next he was sitting in one of the therapy rooms. It had been a while since he had been in one, but he recognized the two-way mirror, the yellow tinted flourescents overhead, the camera in the corner. You could tell it had been an interrogation room in some other life and they hadn’t changed the decor.

Gerald was handcuffed, wrists and ankles, to a metal chair, and across the metal table from him was the warden of his prison.

Gerald probably would have said hello to the man if his brain had not kept screaming at him that the white nothing had lasted for centuries. He couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that, though he was obviously alive and well now, he had existed in that white hell of nothing for eternity.

“Mr. Hanes,” the Warden began. “I have some bad news for you.”

“What happened to me?” Gerald asked. He half expected it to be difficult to talk, as if his extended time outside of reality would have atrophied his vocal cords or facial muscles, but everything felt normal.

“There will be time for questions in a moment,” the Warden assured him. “First I have some formalities to get out of the way.”

There was a piece of paper on the table that the Warden then picked up and turned over.

“As a certified and elected Warden of the Criminal Justice Sector of the Global Federation, North American Division C,” the Warden began to read from the piece of paper, “I must inform you that the Criminal Rehabilitation and Alternative Social Contribution Act that has given you the opportunity to serve your sentence with access to the virtual and therapeutic reality known as the Yard has been repealed.”

The Warden looked up briefly at Gerald who made no indication that he intended to react to anything said so far.

“Effectively immediately, your sentence will be served in an alternate virtual imprisonment without the possibility of parole or termination, until such time as the energy benefit of your human body is no longer viable. Due to the violent nature of the crime you have committed and have been sentenced for, no appeals will be allowed, and you will end your existence within the virtual reality in which your sentence will be served.”

Gerald had listened, but the revelation was still forthcoming.

“Do you have any questions, Mr. Hanes?” the Warden asked politely. He was very business-like, but Gerald could detect something different in him. It was pity, of a sort, perhaps even guilt. He had done this before. He was going to have to do this again.

“So, I have to keep playing my game, basically,” Gerald replied. “And I can’t come out of it anymore?”

“For the most part, the routine stays the same, at least on this side of things,” the Warden explained. “You will be plugged in. Your body will generate energy that will be stored for future use by society. Your body will have its organ systems commandeered as needed to produce enzymes, proteins, antibodies, etc. to be used by medical science to perpetuate the lives of the populace. Your organs will be cloned as needed for transplants. A portion of your brain’s computational and storage capacity will be used to supplement the larger Global Federation Corebase.”

“But I can’t come back?” Gerald surmised. “I’ll be in this other place, forever, until I die.”

“You’ll likely live on past what your lifespan would have been on the outside world, but yes. Your life functions will eventually terminate and you will die in the suite, and you won’t even realize that you’ve died. Things will simply go–”

“White?” Gerald asked. “I felt like I was already dead. What was that?”

The Warden nodded knowingly. “We had to take you offline for a time while the system was switched over. I hope it wasn’t too unsettling.”

“I didn’t feel anything,” Gerald said, taking a deep breath. “Just … just nothing. How long was I like that?”

The Warden, not answering the question, folded up the paper and slipped it into an inside suit jacket pocket. “It won’t be long now. The system is booting up and you’ll be ready to begin the rest of your sentence.” Without further explanation, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back from him.

“Wait!” Gerald demanded. “I have more questions! You said I could ask questions. I should be able to ask questions if I’m going to die in there. I want to know.” He struggled briefly in his seat, but the handcuffs were tight against the chair’s arms and legs.

The Warden looked impatient and sighed before taking a seat again. “It’s your right, yes. But, I should warn you that you’d be better off just beginning your sentence now.”

“How long was I in the white?” Gerald asked immediately.

“Twenty-eight days,” the Warden responded flatly.

Gerald thought that it had been longer. He had spent well more than twenty-eight days in the suite without exiting before. “That’s all?”

“You were placed in a coma for a time,” the Warden explained. “We implanted new therapeutic systems in your body and integrated them with your nervous system. As a result, you’re going to notice the simulation is going feel quite realistic. In fact, you’ll be slightly hyper-sensitive. Consider it an upgrade.”

“Can I communicate with my family while I’m in there?” Gerald asked after a moment.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained. “You’ll never directly communicate with another human being again.”

In truth, that was alright with Gerald. He hated his family and society even more. Gerald began to think this wasn’t so bad.

“I won’t feel anything when I die? I’ll just … go?”

“You will simply cease to live.”

Gerald nodded slowly. “That’s not so bad.” The big questions were out of the way, and Gerald started thinking about the little things.

“Do I get to keep Cool Monkey Dataskunk?” he asked, grinning with slight embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” the Warden said, his face crumpling with confusion. “Cool monkey what?”

“My character in the suite,” Gerald explained. “I had chosen an action/adventure simulation. It’s all I ever really did in there. I could never get used to the straight social lobbies, or the sex stuff, you know. I just wanted the thrill. I didn’t mind the therapy sessions though. I had chosen a very foxy therapist, made some good progress with myself, I’d say. I get to keep all that, right?”

The Warden didn’t answer right away. His lips pressed tight slightly, and he looked away before reluctantly answering the question.

“That particular genre of simulation has been eliminated from the system,” the Warden stated flatly. “The mandatory therapy sessions are also no longer a part of your sentencing, so I’m afraid you won’t be returning to anything familiar. Any stored states of the simulation that you may have generated have already been deleted. All future therapy will be directly applied via the implants that have just been installed in you.”

“So…what kind of simulations do I have to choose from?” Gerald asked.

Again, the Warden appeared uncomfortable, guilty, ashamed.

“Mr. Hanes,” he answered with a pained look on his face. “I’ll have to give you a bit of a history lesson, since you’ve not elected to be kept up to date with what has occurred outside your simulations. Here on the outside, the world has changed. Certain sentiments have come back into play that once were almost eradicated centuries ago.”

Gerald’s heart began to beat a little faster.

The Warden continued. “In the last twenty years or so, the catastrophic environmental changes occurring on the planet have turned a large section of the populace back to religion. When science has been unable to undo what greed has wrought, the people looked away from science for answers, and those answers came from the old texts: the Bible, the Quran.”

The Warden paused.

“It’s a different world, Mr. Hanes. A better world for those in it, but it’s a stricter world. Crime must be deterred for order to reign, and the best deterrence, in the opinion of the newly elected leaders of our now increasingly religious society, is the promise of punishment.”

“What’s in there?” Gerald Hanes asked, his knuckles white as his hands uncontrollably clamped down on the arms of his chair.

“They call it Gehenna. I understand it has some connection to the Bible, or some other text, but it’s really just a name,” the Warden explained. Again, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back.

“What is it?” Gerald asked desperately.

“Whatever real Hell there might be out there in the afterlife, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained, “the people can’t be sure of what they can’t see. They’ve created a Hell for criminals that they know is worthy punishment, and a powerful deterrent. While our number of intakes has dropped dramatically, the Global Federation, after unanimous consent by the populace, has decreed that all criminal detainees in the system prior to the creation of Gehenna will now serve out their sentences there.”

“Wait! No!” Gerald yelled. He pulled desperately at his binding, jerking  with his whole body to try and free himself. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden said. “You’re already here.”

With that, the simulation of the Warden and the interrogation room ended.

Gerald Hanes was no longer seated handcuffed to a chair. He was standing in a wasteland of black rock and lakes of fire. The heat pressed on him from all angles, and as the Warden promised, he was hyper-sensitive to his surroundings.

It felt real as the burning air was pulled into his lungs. He felt the sharp rock knife into his flesh as he collapsed to his knees.

In the distance, a creature standing over three hundred feet tall began to stride over the black hills and lakes of fire toward him.

Gerald Hanes screamed in primal terror and pain as the simulated demon reached down to claim his soul.

Snippets

It’s been over ten years since I was fortunate enough to have been a composition editor for a small Texas daily.  I have a thousand stories I could tell you about my adventures in Central Texas. I’d prefer not to, as many strange and terrible things befell me in that dark place. I could tell you about the good things I took away from it, but where would be the fun in that. So, while the stories I have to tell you about my time as a composition editor for a small Texas daily aren’t exactly strange and terrible, they aren’t exactly good memories either.

First, let me explain what a composition editor (or at least my version of it) does for the periodical he serves. I worked for a small daily newspaper – though I am unable to find record of it, I believe we were the smallest daily in circulation in Texas at the time – and for six days out of the week, one other composition editor and myself built the contents of the daily. My specific duty was to fluff the middle, meaning that front page and the sports section were off-limits, leaving in my sole control the opinion, lifestyle, local and world news sections. At least, I think we had those sections. It was a long time ago. It was left up to me to peruse the Associated Press wire and obtain wholesome stories that would befit a small Texas daily. Starting at the end of 2002 I was privileged to be the man that brought quality news to the loyal readership of the area in question.

The wire, at that time, was a treasure trove of spectacular happenings that today’s news makes look like a Sunday School Southern Maid Donut Jamboree.

One of the first stories I remember pulling over covered the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. It started a daily ritual of finding the most left-leaning yet right-apologetic pieces I could find. Lots of moderate bullshit that left a bad taste in my mouth – but not near what foulness you’d find in other locals. I thought Bush was a gold mine, but Jesus … if it had been Trump back then. The Editor-in-Chief usually had final say in most big news stories, and especially if he decided to pull them onto the front page. However, since that genuinely nice old man was more concerned with his own stories looking good on the front page, he usually gave anything beyond it a pass. And that’s where I had the opportunity to push just a little of my own agenda.

Not long after the start of 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas. My superior told me that morning that he had driven all over Central Texas looking for debris to photograph for the paper, but at press time, I was left with stealing pics from another local paper, with due credit given, of course. I remember the story I was tasked to run was more about the debris and the people scrambling to claim some than the lives lost. It was a brief but chilly lesson.

Months later, the Iraq War began. The Human Genome was completed to 99.99% accuracy. Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. NO SERIOUSLY, this is when that actually happened, look it up. I remember running that story because I had a telescope at my disposal and actually saw Mars for the first time, icecaps and all. Gregory Peck, Bob Hope, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Barry White, Gregory Hines, Charles Bronson, and Art Carney and many, many others died that year – which is pretty interesting because when you look at all the people that died in 2003 compared to say 2016, it’s not as if the deceased were of any less caliber or any less noticeable frequency – but 2016 was the year that social media declared that everyone was dying and cursed the year for it.

And there’s the big difference between being a composition editor in 2005 and being something similar in 2017 – news, true or fake, is a virus. It spreads from page to page. We share it, spread it around, leave traces of it on all our devices. Like modern medical science gone horribly wrong, what was once something that a skilled hand would take from secure and trusted sources and administer to the public in controlled and safe snippets is suddenly obtainable either over-the-counter or on the street corner, depending on which type of news you prefer.

I admit, I do get a bit of a buzz from the hyped-up, conspiracy theory, I-just-cooked-this-shit-up-in-a-bathtub-in-my-granddaddy’s-abandoned-hoarder-house brand of news that comes from the orifices of people like Alex Jones, but I prefer the brand name stuff in the end. Reddit.

Which brings me to my first aside: Reddit. I’ve only been visiting Reddit for about a year. I don’t want you to see my subscriptions, but I’ll tell you I have two logins, and each have very different content. I don’t have time to explain Reddit to you if you don’t know of it. Look it up.

I used to be a straight subscription browser. I never deviated from the hottest posts from my chosen subs. And then there was r/all, and things escalated quickly. Now, my Reddit day begins with r/all, moves to r/worldnews, then to r/news, then usually to … well, modesty forbids me.

I can’t stand Twitter. I scroll quickly through Facebook to see what people are pulling from Reddit.  I can lurk on Reddit, but Facebook and Twitter feel like I’m either stalking or being assaulted.

Anyway, try some r/popping sometime.

Back to 2005. The first six-party talks occur to discuss how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. I remember being really disappointed and terrified by the thought of a country like North Korea having nuclear weapons. I also remember my editor laughing about it. I remember lots of people saying it would never happen. I remember convincing myself that there is no way we’d allow something so stupid to happen.

And here we are, one Kim falls, another takes his place and they now have nuclear weapons. Yay Earth! Good job!

Aside #2: Have you ever read The United States Strategic Bombing Survey’s The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from 1946? I have. I have read a physical copy of it that I obtained from sources close to myself. You won’t have this source, but you can just read it here. Maps aren’t in the PDF, but here’s a shot of the copy I have access to, plus one of the maps.

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In 1946, they didn’t have all the information on the long term effects of these bombings, but even so, this is the conclusion from the report:

Our national policy has consistently had as one of its basic principles the maintenance of peace. Based on our ideals of justice and of peaceful development of our resources, this disinterested policy has been reinforced by our clear lack of anything to gain from war–even in victory. No more forceful arguments for peace than the sight of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have ever been devised. As the developer and exploiter of this ominous weapon, our nation has a responsibility, which no American should shirk, to lead in establishing and implementing the international guarantees and controls which will prevent its future use.

Why do we find it so easy to dismiss the fact that the dropping of Atomic Bombs on these two cities in Japan is one of the most heinous acts of war in history? It’s easily dismissed, I suppose, when those two acts helped end one of the worst wars of our brief existence. It should have ended all wars. It should have woken us up to the fact that our idiocy and ego had gained us the trigger to our own destruction.

And look where we were in 2005. Twelve years later, and we haven’t learned much or accomplished anything. North Korea has nukes. We’re still effectively at war. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

We don’t learn.

It reminds me of a tale I once read. I feel nervous about telling you where I read it, times being what they are.

Let me explain.

You might or might not be familiar with a controversial film released by Disney called Song of the South. It’s based on stories by Joel Chandler Harris, derived from classic African and Native American folktales. You know, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Uncle Remus and the like. I saw the last theatrical release of this film in 1986, and I couldn’t tell you why it was considered racist then, but I do understand the controversy now. Back then, it was just a Disney movie with anthropomorphic rabbits, foxes, bears, etc. It was a Disney movie, I was a kid.

Some time after I left that newspaper and turned my life around, I took a little trip to Archer City and visited Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up – a massive collection of used books taking up several buildings off the town square.

After hours in sweltering heat, I came away with one single book:

The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus

Why did I grab it? I don’t know. It seemed like something I might not find again. I’m a completionist, and here was the COMPLETE Uncle Remus.

I felt guilty about it, and for the socially prescribed reasons. It sat in my book queue for a decade before it finally came up in my random draw that I do.

It’s morbid.

Forget the stereotypical dialogue, which you can’t really say isn’t a good attempt by Harris to capture the feel of the spoken word as it was relayed to him–the tales gathered therein are folklore, akin to Aesop’s Fables, that instructed and entertained, and that share similarities across many cultures from the American South, to Native American Tribes, to Africa, to ancient India. The tales focus on the hero-prankster Br’er Rabbit, who lies, cheats, tricks, and outright murders just as many peaceful woodland creatures as you can imagine.

There’s the familiar tarbaby tale, which was part of the Disney film. There’s a version of the tortoise and the hare race that many of us know from Bugs Bunny and the like.

Then there’s the one about how Br’er Rabbit trapped Br’er Wolf in a box and poured boiling water on him until he died. Fair play, right? I mean ole Wolfie would have eaten Br’er Rabbit eventually.

What about the time Br’er Rabbit tricked and then trapped Br’er Wolf in a hollow tree and burned him alive.

Like I said earlier, We Don’t Learn. Just like the woodland creatures that continue to associate with Br’er Rabbit after he steals their food, sets them against each other, AND MURDERS THEM. We don’t learn. It reminds me of a story.

Once upon a time, Br’er Rabbit tricked and killed Br’er Fox, cut off his head, and then tried to feed it to Br’er Fox’s wife and children.

I shit you not.

It’s morbid AF.

Sweet dreams children.

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Eight

strh

Well, here it is, ages later. Not the finale, but close, very close. If  you want to read the first seven chapters and prologue, you can find them by searching Red Right Hand on this site or going here.

8. Collisions

Hundreds of light years away from the Cotton Candy Nebula, and incidentally thousands of light years away from where the Doctor was staring dejectedly at two right red hands, an old Razor-class light freighter hung in space some distance from the asteroid holding the Kelvaxan Reliquary. If the freighter had not been sitting dead in space, there would likely be a cacophony of alarms assaulting its two occupants.

“Time?” Captain Light asked desperately.

After a moment, Penelope’s voice replied “Three minutes to full recharge.” Again, the downside to the ship’s jumpdrive capabilities was a complete power drain that effectively immobilized his ship’s systems for five minutes to five hours depending on the complexity of the jump.

The Captain pressed his lips into a grimace. “Any second now some idiot’s going to look through a window and see us floating here with our asses hanging out.”

“There are no windows on the structure that I can detect,” Penelope informed him.

Captain Light sighed and leaned back in his seat at the control panel. He didn’t feel like correcting her. In less than three minutes, they would be picked up on scanners and summarily disintegrated.

While any normal person would find this distressing, and possibly somewhat distracting, Captain Light merely fiddled with the two devices he held, one in each hand. He ran his thumbs over the buttons he would press in a few moments, telling himself over and over that he had to be sure to get the sequence right. He played his next moves repeatedly in his mind’s eye, and even then he still doubted himself. Any miscalculation, and both he and Penelope would perish. That was the worst case scenario. Less than worst would be the destruction of his ship and his capture by whatever nefarious organization was manning the Reliquary, whether it be TDI, Priests of Paradox …

“Why couldn’t it be Cybermen?” he mused.

“One minute,” Penelope chimed.

***

The Doctor stared at the screen before him, his face empty of concern or delight. He wasn’t seeing what he wanted to see. Good news would be nice, but bad news could be handled just as well. He was used to bad news.

All he could see on the screen was–

“Nothing.”

Abruptly, the Doctor pushed the screen away and walked back to the TARDIS console.

“You can take your hand out of the box now, Rory,” he said, waving his hand to his companion. “Just don’t touch anything with that hand, please. Risk of infection.”

Carefully, Rory pulled his hand out of the floating black box the Doctor had called the Kryptic Analyzer and held his red right hand awkwardly before him as he backed away.

“Absolutely nothing,” the Doctor mumbled, more to himself than anyone else.

Amy shifted in her seat near the console. She also held a red right hand awkwardly out before her, being extremely careful not to touch anything with it.

“How many did you say have the red right hand?” the Doctor asked as he began flipping switches on the console.

“Sixty million or so?” Rory replied imprecisely. “I mean, that’s what the adverts say. Sixty million subscribers, and I assume that means everyone of them got the implant.”

The Doctor turned to face Rory suddenly, and, with a stern look, questioned him for the latest of several similar instances, “Now, listen to me very carefully, Rory, because this is absolutely the most serious question that I will ask you today.”

Rory rolled his eyes. “More serious than the fifty other times you’ve asked me in the last thirty minutes?” Looking the Doctor directly in the eyes, Rory stated very slowly and deliberately, “We … did … not … steal … implants … from … the … Reliquary.”

“Amelia?” the Doctor barked, pointing in her direction, but still holding Rory’s gaze.

“It’s true, Doctor. Right after you dropped us off, we saw the adverts. It’s like Earth technology advanced fifty years while we were gone,” Amy replied. “But none of our stuff has changed. Everyone else went all Jetsons.”

“That’s right,” Rory confirmed. “Everything was the same except for the big gift-wrapped box on our table that had ‘Enjoy’ written on a card stuck to it.”

The Doctor shook his head, laughing softly. “I would never do something so cheesy as that. I mean, in the first place, why would I gift you the very technology that I had warned you would be bad for you to take back to Earth?”

At this moment, both Amy and Rory shouted in unison, “We don’t know!”

“And you didn’t bother to think about it!” the Doctor quipped brusquely. Heaving a sigh, he turned back to the TARDIS console and ran a hand over his face.

“Can we go home now?” Amy asked, rising from her seat, being careful not to touch anything with her right hand.

“No, you can’t,” the Doctor said matter-of-factly. “Whatever it is behind this technology is most definitely on Earth. If I take you back to the surface, there’s no telling what it might happen to you. What I saw on Fallox was not pleasant. We’re all safer here in orbit within the confines of the TARDIS.”

“So, we’re just going to sit here then. You know, I’d like to put my hand down now,” Rory remarked.

“We’re not sitting here either,” the Doctor replied. Turning a knob, he nodded his head in satisfaction, and stepped away from the console. “We’re going back to the Kelvaxan Reliquary to see what Captain Light found there.”

“So, you two are friends now?” Amy asked incredulously. “No more chest-beating?”

The Doctor smirked. “We’re colleagues of a sort. Friends? Not quite, but we’re in this together, whatever this is. Now, let me just adjust the spatial controls and we’ll move to–”

The black interstellar ship that THWOMPed into orbit near the TARDIS was massive. The radius of its deflector shield was such that, though many kilometers away from the TARDIS, it briefly attempted to occupy the same space as the Doctor’s vessel.

The Doctor, who was in the middle of adjusting the spatial controls, was caught completely off-guard when the TARDIS, immediately compensating for the improbability of two temporal vessels attempting to occupy the same space, jumped spatially thirty kilometers closer to Earth. The force of the jump jolted the three occupants. The Doctor and Rory were slammed roughly into the TARDIS console, while Amy was dumped unceremoniously to the floor.

Shocked, but not without his razor-sharp awareness, the Doctor quickly checked his scanners.

“What is that?” he queried to no one in particular. His face crumpled from shock to confusion in a mere two seconds. “You can’t do that! Only I can do that!”

“What happened this time?” Amy asked from the floor, still holding her hand awkwardly in the air. “Why are you always doing that?”

“I didn’t do that!” the Doctor retorted. Bringing up a visual feed, he showed his companions exactly what did do that. “That massive ship did that! And it’s a temporal ship, which really makes me jealous you know, because look at the size of that thing. And, flat black, too! I mean, that’s classy, that.”

“Spaceship envy?” Rory chuckled from his position next to the Doctor.

The Doctor’s eyes, though immediately compelled to fall upon his male companion’s countenance in a death glare, instead fell upon Rory’s right hand.

Rory’s right hand was not held awkwardly in the air like Amy’s was.

Rory’s red right hand was touching the TARDIS console.

Before the Doctor could reach out and grab Rory’s wrist, the damage had already been done.

Before the Doctor could open his mouth and scream out to his companion that he was an idiot above all other things, all was lost.

Before the Doctor’s two hearts even had a chance to skip dual beats, the TARDIS was absolutely and completely compromised by the technology hidden within Rory’s hand.

Above the planet Earth, the TARDIS, without its signature wheezing groan, promptly vanished.

***

“Fifty seconds,” Penelope informed the Captain.

“Alright, once more, here’s the plan,” the Captain explained. Rising from the control panel, he held the two devices in front of him, one in each hand. “It will take ten seconds for the Reliquary’s defensive volley to reach and impact the ship once it detects our energy signature as power comes back.”

“Forty seconds,” Penelope replied.

“In my left hand, I hold a Mulligan Circuit, which I will activate as soon as the power comes back on. If it works as it’s supposed to, I should be able to jump immediately back to this moment in time and space from any other moment in time and space.”

“If it works as advertised,” Penelope reminded him.

“In my right hand, I hold my secret back door to the Reliquary which bypasses all security measures. I’ll activate this device immediately after I set the Mulligan, and jump to the Acquisitions Office maintenance closet.”

“Twenty seconds.”

“From there, I’ll make my way to Heems’s office, secure the Priests’ vessels or destroy them, if necessary, and then use the Mulligan to jump back to ten seconds before the ship is blasted, fire up the jumpdrive–”

“Ten seconds.”

“And get the hell out of here.”

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One.”

***

The Doctor’s TARDIS, a Type 40, being the amazing vessel it is, is not exactly the most perfect time machine a Time Lord could ask for. Type 40 had been phased out well before the Doctor decided to steal this particular vessel, and it was definitely a bit cantankerous. While instantaneous temporal and spatial travel is possible in a TARDIS, it is not without a cascading series of fail-safes and redundancy checks that such a vessel can travel from one side of the universe to another, give or take five billion years in either direction.

It just so happened that while the Kelvaxan Reliquary was dialed in as their next stop, the TARDIS still needed several seconds before it could make its jump safely.

The nanite virus that was secretly residing in Rory’s right hand, having been cleverly hidden within a temporally-shifted sheath attached to one of the bones of the hand, didn’t care that safety checks hadn’t been performed, or that redundant spooling had yet to complete. The nanites infiltrated the TARDIS, shut down all its protections and security measures, and immediately forced the jump to the dialed-in location in time and space.

As a result, the TARDIS jumped about twelve time tracks before reorienting itself. Even then, the ship didn’t make its jump instantaneously. The ship lurched erratically, tossing its occupants in all directions. The companions and the Doctor held on to whatever they could find to secure themselves.

Both Amy and Rory experienced the wild trip in just a mere twenty seconds or so, but for the Doctor, the event stretched on. Time slowed around him and he was able to look at Amy, seeing the fear in her eyes. Even as his hand began to lose its grip on the TARDIS console, the Doctor turned and looked disdainfully at the boy who had absently done this to his ship. He remembered, for a moment, all the idiots he had suffered as guests: Ian, Ben, Harry, Vislor, Jamie … no, not Jamie, he quickly corrected. Ignorance does not equal idiocy. He then had time to look back at the scanner, at the image of the ship that had defied the rules and jumped into Earth’s orbit, and wonder if it was somehow connected. The Doctor didn’t even bother attempting to reassert his control over his vessel. He had recognized the purple energy that sparked from Rory’s hand. Whatever happened, they were now under the control of the Priests of Paradox, and wherever they went, it was where that particular evil willed it.

***

Exactly one second after the ship’s consoles lit up and the Razor-class light freighter roared back to life, Captain Drustan Light activated the Mulligan Circuit in his left hand.

Before he could depress the switch that would instantaneously transport him to the maintenance closet inside the Acquisitions Office of the Kelvaxan Reliquary, the Doctor’s TARDIS tore through the ship’s hull. Captain Light was ejected into space through the hull breach, and was propelled away from the vessel. As he began to suffer the effects of being suddenly in space, he remembered the back door.

His ship exploded just as his quickly stiffening thumb hit the switch that saved his life.

***

“We hit something back there!” the Doctor yelled above the cloister bell and the sound of explosions from several consoles all over the TARDIS. Having rematerialized, time was running normally for all three occupants. The Doctor ineffectively threw switches, turned knobs, and banged on the console with his fists.

“Where are we?” Rory questioned.

The Doctor ignored the question as it came from Rory, but when Amy repeated the very same question, he answered:

“Exactly where we were supposed to go. The Kelvaxan Reliquary, only instead of casually and coolly materializing somewhere near Curator Heems office, we, uh,” the Doctor hesitated, looking with concern at several flashing lights on several sides of the console.

“We what, Doctor?” Rory asked impatiently.

“We’re crashing!” the Doctor snapped. Turning to the gangling youth at his side, the Time Lord got right in his face, and for the most recent of many times he yelled, “This is your fault, Rory!”

***

Captain Light blinked into existence with a deficit  of breathable air in his lungs. He blinked his eyes quickly and felt the ice crystals newly formed there cutting his eyelids. Opening his mouth he inhaled noisily and collapsed in a heap, coughing.

After several deep gulps of air, his senses reoriented themselves and he felt cold floor, he heard the subtle hiss of air conditioning, he smelled cleaning supplies, he tasted the blood in his mouth from biting his tongue in the blast, but he saw nothing at all.

Fearing blindness from his brief sojourn in empty space, Captain Light pushed himself up off the floor and began to frantically search for a light switch. He could almost see a dim glow, and he immediately wondered if perhaps the lights were already on.

His hands found purchase on a doorknob, but the Captain hesitated. He had no idea what lay beyond that door. A passing patrol might be walking by. An employee of the Reliquary may see him and immediately report him to security.

“Or I may be blind …” he whispered to himself. Taking a deep breath, he purposefully removed his blaster from its holster and turned the knob.

Pushing the door open swiftly, Captain Light was blinded by intense fluorescent light from the hallway just outside the maintenance closet he had jumped into. He cowered momentarily, pressing his hands to his eyes and rubbing vigorously. He needed to see what was there, what was coming.

Wincing through the pain, he forced his eyelids up.

The hallway was empty.

Heaving a sigh of relief, he slumped against the closet door and began to laugh. He distinctly remembered the flash of blue streaking through his hull before feeling the embrace of deep space. “I’ll whip you for that, Doctor.”

The laugh subsided and then abruptly ended. Regardless of the Mulligan device he still carried, he knew at that moment in time and space, his ship and Penelope were gone.

The Captain breathed deeply through his nose and stood up straight. He checked the charge on his blaster, and slid it back into its holster. Looking down the hallway, he quickly oriented himself and began to stride with purpose toward Curator Heems office.

***

The environmental shield over the landing pad at the Kelvaxan Reliquary had fared just as well as Captain Light’s freighter against the unstoppable force of a TARDIS out of control.

The TARDIS itself lay on its side, doors down, as thirty-six armed guards in spacesuits cautiously formed a circle around the crashed police box.

Inside the Doctor rattled the doors violently, trying to get them to open. Behind him, a guilty Rory and a wary Amy waited for what came next. The doors suddenly opened and the Doctor, losing his grip, collided backwards into his companions. Before them was a concrete wall, or floor, more accurately. A landing pad, to be precise.

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” the Doctor exhaled.

“Can’t you just dematerialize and rematerialize right side up?” Rory asked hopefully.

“No, Rory,” the Doctor mocked. “Because the virus has hijacked the TARDIS and I don’t … have … control of her … anymore!”

The three of them sighed collectively and stared at the door. A full minute passed before any of them moved. Finally, the Doctor walked back to the doors and pressed his face close to where the door jamb met the floor.

“Uh, excuse me!” he shouted, hoping to attract the attention of someone outside. “Hello?”

Outside the TARDIS, thirty-six guards looked at each other, unsure of what to do.

“Is anyone out there? Hello?” the Doctor repeated.

Nervously, the captain of the guard, lowered his weapon and turned up his external speaker so that he might be heard.

“Uh, hello, uh, sir,” the guard stammered. Looking around at his men, he suddenly realized what a fool he was appearing to be and cleared his throat. His voice dropped huskily and he continued, “I’m Captain Jamph Fillbotten of the–”

“I’m sorry, could you say that again? You’re who?” the Doctor called out.

“Captain Jamph Fillbotten of–”

“Captain what?”

“Jamph Fillbotten, I’m the Captain–”

“Can you spell that?” The Doctor’s last word ended in a grunt as Amy slapped him hard on the shoulder.

Amy’s glare turned the conversation immediately.

“Oh nevermind, sorry,” the Doctor said with mock apology. “So, yes, Captain Flimbottom, we’ve breached your environmental shield, and crashed onto your landing pad without appointment or clearance and we’re really very sorry, but you see, our TARDIS was out of our control. So, really not our fault, so you can skip with the recitation of our infractions and just help us, alrighty?”

Captain Fillbotten looked at his men blankly before saying, “Alright.”

“Perfect! Good chap!” The Doctor responded happily. “Now, I happen to know that you’ve got a rather spiffy crane in the vicinity that you use to move large museum pieces. Do you know the crane I’m speaking of?”

The Captain did know the crane. “I know the crane,” he said.

“Well, it’s not going to work, we need something bigger,” came the Doctor’s reply.

***

Captain Light stood before the ornamental wooden doors that led into Heems’s office. For the third time he tried the handle, and then banged on the door. It was not exactly the stealthy entrance he had envisioned, but having seen three separate patrols rushing in the direction of the landing pad, Captain Light assumed the stealthy approach might be given a pass.

A few seconds elapsed, and a few impatient breaths were heaved by the Captain, when suddenly there was a click and one of the doors opened on its hinges.

Drawing his blaster, Captain Light entered Heems’s office, shutting the door behind him.

The office was darker than usual. The lightglobes that more often than not illuminated the room and Heems’s personal collection were turned off. Only the glow from the monitors that accessed the database lit the room, and the shadows were long and ominous indeed.

“I must admit, Drustan, that you were my favorite relic hunter.”

Heems was seated at his desk, which was now empty of everything but the Speak ‘N Spell he had so recently received.

“About that,” the Captain began cautiously. He moved slowly towards the desk, keeping his blaster out, barrel up. “There are a couple of pieces I’d like to borrow, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh?” was all that Heems said in reply.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be so much borrowing them as taking them and destroying them.”

Captain Light looked around the room for the egg-shaped vessels, but didn’t see them. He noticed, instead, that many of the pieces that were long-standing residents of Heems’s personal collection were missing, though he couldn’t recall exactly what they were.

“Captain,” Heems spoke evenly. “There will be no good end for either you or the Doctor after this. And you’ve already lost so much.”

“Don’t worry about my ship,” the Captain replied, leveling his blaster at the Curator. “Turn over the Priests’s vessels, and I’ll just flit away like a bug that once annoyed you.”

“I don’t mean your ship, Captain,” Heems said coyly. Slowly, the Curator rose from his seat.

In response, Captain Light overcharged his blaster, causing the chamber to glow slightly.

“Please, Captain. I’m not a violent man. I’d just like to share something with you. It’s something you’re sure to find very interesting.” Curator Heems moved around his desk and approached one of the database nodes. “You know, I resisted these computers in my office for the longest time, preferring instead to peruse the tedious volumes of bound indexes when searching for information.”

Casually, Heems took a seat and brought up the Reliquary’s search function. Instead of typing in a search, he turned to Captain Light with a somewhat whimsical smile on his face.

“Do you remember the first piece you brought me, Drustan?” he asked.

“Cut to the punchline, old man. I don’t have time for games,” the Captain returned. “Unless you’re looking for those vessels, you can just step away from that console.”

Before he could read what the Curator’s next move would be, Captain Light caught movement in the shadows of his periphery. Reflexively, the Captain spun and fired, more to illuminate and reveal than to kill. The blast found a mark, regardless, and harmlessly ricocheted into a wall.

The dalek whose shield had deflected the blast moved forward aggressively. “Drop the weapon! Now! Drop the weapon!”

Horrified, the Captain fired three more times uselessly, each blast deflected by dalek shielding. There were five of them moving towards him, and the closest fired its weapon. The dalek ray struck the Captain’s blaster precisely and the struck weapon burned his hand before disintegrating.

“Cease your hostilities, or you will be exterminated!” the dalek screeched.

Grasping his hand in pain, Captain Light turned on the Curator. “Daleks? How could you? Why would you do this?”

Heems rose quickly from his chair and marched towards the Captain, stopping inches from him. “Answer my question, Captain. What was the first piece you brought me?”

Shaking his head, the Captain refused. “This is ridiculous!”

“Answer! Answer him! Answer now!” the daleks screeched in unison, lurching toward him menacingly.

The Captain rolled his eyes before answering, “A clay bowl.”

“And where did you procure this particular bowl, Captain Light?” Heems pressed.

“On Fallox, from the ruins of the ziggurat,” the Captain replied evenly. “You already know this.”

“Do I?” Heems teased. “The extent of my knowledge is mirrored in this database here,” he continued, gesturing towards the console. “I wonder what it has to say about that bowl. Why don’t you sit down and see for yourself?”

Captain Light glanced at the five daleks, and back to the Curator before grudgingly taking a seat at the console. He hesitated, looking at the empty fields for place of origin and description.

“Well, Captain Light,” Heems prodded. “We’re waiting.”

Quickly, Captain Light typed in the search terms and initiated the query. He knew the terms to use, there was no need to try different iterations. After a few moments, the reply came back.

Item Not Found

“It’s not there,” the Captain said, with some concern.

“That’s right, Captain. It’s not there. In fact, it’s not anywhere. It has been erased from existence, along with your homeworld, along with your people.” Heems was beaming.

Captain Light laughed. “That’s impossible. If it’s gone, then why am I still here?”

“Yes, how interesting. I have an answer for that, but you won’t like it. And I’ll wager, after you hear it, that you’ll have one less friend.”

“Explain, Heems. You know I don’t like mysteries.” The Captain rose from the console and faced Heems.

“The you that lived on and was born on the planet Fallox that only recently disappeared from this universe, died some time ago. In fact, you killed him. Now, don’t worry too much, you didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, that particular you didn’t realize it either, he just simply ceased to be, which incidentally is exactly how several versions of you have perished in several universes.” Heems waited for Captain Light to put it all together, but it wasn’t happening.

“What are you saying?” the Captain demanded.

“We’ll get back to that. For now, let’s direct your rage to a better target.”

“Rage? What rage? This is nonsense. You’ve told me nothing.”

“Oh, it’s coming Captain Light,” Heems said as he turned and walked back to his desk. “You see, neither I, nor my associates, are responsible for the erasure of your homeworld. This Reliquary is timelocked, what is as we experience it here only is as the flow of time from both past and future collide. Your planet was destroyed five million years ago, by the Doctor, in less than an hour from now.”

***

Even as the breach in the environmental shield was sealed, a freighter fired its landing engines in quick bursts as it lowered its cargo to the landing pad by the massive chain attached to it. The TARDIS, the cargo in question, wobbled slightly before satisfactorily thumping down.

Almost immediately after it was back safe on the ground, right side up, the Doctor burst from the doors, with Rory and Amy timidly in tow, their hands up.

“Thank you, gentlemen! At least, I’m assuming you’re all gentlemen, because you are after all brandishing plasma rifles at me, and that’s very manly, I’d say.” He quickly counted the number of rifles pointed in their direction. “I mean I suppose one of you could be a woman, but then you’d need to ask why I’d even not assume that one of you might–” He stopped and quickly counted again. “Shouldn’t there be thirty-seven of you? I only count thirty-six.”

“She’s on holiday,” one of the guards replied.

“Aha! I see what you did there. Do you?” The Doctor confidently strode forward.

“Curator Heems wants to see you,” the Guard Captain barked. “And, we’re taking your ship.”

“Oh, well, it’s not exactly my ship at the moment, so feel free,” the Doctor replied.

The three companions were roughly forced into a line and marched off the landing pad. After long moments of marching through winding halls and expansive exhibits, the group arrived at the doors to Heems’s office. After a few seconds, the doors opened wide and the Doctor and his companions were marched right up to Heems’s desk.

The Doctor’s impish smile, the one he had worn all through the Reliquary as he quipped barbs at the guards, quickly faded as he realized who sat behind the desk.

“Hello, Doctor,” Captain Light said to him. “Amy, Rory, thanks for coming.”

The Doctor didn’t reply.

“We need to talk,” the Captain said seriously.

Before the Doctor could make a delayed but witty retort, a side door opened and the five daleks rolled into view followed by a grinning Curator Heems.

As the companions gasped in fear, the Doctor merely sighed.

(to be continued)

Of Silence and Sibilance

dfgeaheah

At the turn of the century, I was a fresh-faced youth sweating through a humid summer in North Carolina, soon to be setting off back West to recover from the first of several relationship disasters.

I know, this smacks familiar already – whiffs of Gen-Xish mid-life memoirs, a hint of pre-millennial grandstanding perhaps. You’ll be leaning forward in your Ekerö, or your Mellby, or your Koarp soon, waiting for vinyl happenstance – sifting through hyphenated sentences for Palahniukism and Vonnegut spunk – it’s a bit childish, you know. You, are a bit childish, you know. You can swipe now.

I’ve been quiet lately. I’ve been silent for at least two years or so. So, bear with me as this all comes out in the wrong order, in pieces. There will be clogs. There will be blood. There will be remembrances and regrets. I’ll need to get a shovel. But, just hang on, because I have something to say, too.

This isn’t just an outpouring of long-fermented diatribes – I’ll get to name-calling later. This isn’t a sound check, or a test run. This is the old me with more wrinkled wisdom than I had before. This IS me, by the way. You might remember me from such other monikers as Rich, or epicipseity, or GHOTIS, or prof.edtt, or midgetbadger, or plasticincident. This isn’t more absurdist experimentation – this is real hotdog time, Charlie.

Let’s start with the obvious:

IN MY OPINION neither Right nor Left is forward.

Oh, that’s clever, eh? I like to think I came up with that myself. I like to think that. I like to think that I looked out on the universe and observed some age-old conflict, and, having what is, in my opinion, a finely forged mind, I have come to a profound yet simple metaphor by which to express my understanding and mastery of all things politic.

Well, that’s a bit much, but I thunk it. And, I kind of believe it.

I’m no Republican, for sure, but I’m no Democrat, either. Libertarian? Sure, I like to play trivia with them, but in the end they polarize their own existence as well.

Polarity is a symptom of a larger, more deadly disease. It’s a disease that affects the super-organism that is the human race. We modern humans have this propensity to polarize everything – for what reason, we can’t agree on that either, but some of us are right about what we haven’t decided on yet, and the rest are most assuredly wrong. For a species that lauds itself on its own unique free will, we tend to be befuddled with sets of possible choices numbering more than two.

We don’t want seas of grey. We want black and white.

We don’t want multiverses of reality. We want life and void.

We don’t want adaptive morality, humility, individuality. We want good, and we want evil.

Right. Wrong. Easy.

If I’m right, you must be wrong. You want a third choice? Try: also wrong.

We don’t want participation trophies, or honorable mentions, or party favors. We want rewards for right, and death or ridicule for wrong. Win and lose.

We want the Easy setting on this play-through. We want the Human Warrior preset. We have no time for half-elf mages or troll bards. This is a speed run. We’re gonna use warp zones and exploits.

This is me pretending to be someone else. I’m pretending because I’m not a black and white thinker, though my girlfriend begs to differ.

I laughed when I saw someone suggest that neo-Nazis just read Nietzsche wrong. Well, doesn’t everyone? I put it to you that Nietzsche reads Nietzsche wrong, too. But, fortunately, Nietzsche wrote Nietzsche neither right nor wrong, but sideways:

“What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape…” – Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, §§3–4)

What I’m getting at, in a vague and purposefully erratic manner, is that the human race is more ape than what we have the potential to be, but we are no more evolved from ape than ape was from worm.

The ape picks up a stick and uses it to get something it cannot reach with that which nature has provided it. Compared to the worm, the ape is closer to godhood than the snake, who though evolved from the worm, can no more lift a stick than a fish can walk on land.

Oh, a bit grey for you?

What is man’s stick? Generalized intellectualism? Science? Nuclear weapons? Social Media? What is it that makes us more than worm, more than ape?

The future makes troglodytes of us all.

When the future human species looks back on us centuries from now, won’t they do so with better clarity than we do now as we judge our forebears from the Dark Ages? Will they not see our idiocy in 4K Ultra high definition, where we see prehistory through a cloudy glass?

I’ll just come out and say it:

We are the imbeciles of our descendants’ vague history lessons.

We are the teenage human race screaming to the world that we are our own person and can live life for ourselves. We haven’t even had that moment of clarity in our late 20’s when we realize how ignorant we were. The future species is going to get that special kind of hives when they think about what stupidity has been allowed to propagate in the 21st century. The mortification of our future selves is going to be heavy indeed. That being said:

Donald Trump.

Our history is peppered with giant flaming mounds of idiocy that we can use as lessons for our future selves. Bad leaders, misguided civilizations, ignorant barbarism. The tyrants stand out in bold lettering, not comic sans as they should, mind you.

Trump is a human being that got to where he is because other human beings decided he should be there. Even if you didn’t want it, you had your chance to make damned sure it didn’t happen, and it didn’t work. That’s the game. That series has concluded. We will not exhume the corpse of the contest for beheading and display.

I don’t fault anyone for thinking that Donald Trump would make a good president, especially when faced with the alternative, considering for a moment how we have the propensity to polarize everything.

But, consider this for a moment, and think about our commander-in-chief as you read these words (this comes from Why Tyrants Go Too Far: Malignant Narcissism and Absolute Power, by Betty Glad, Department of Government and International Studies, University of South Carolina, 2002):

“His grandiosity and his skills in deception, manipulation, and intimidation are an advantage to him in securing power. But as he moves toward absolute power, he is also apt to cross moral and geographic boundaries in ways that place him in a vulnerable position. Thus, he may engage in cruelties that serve no political purpose, challenge the conventional morality in ways that undermine his base, engage in faulty reality testing, and overreach himself in foreign engagements in ways that invite new challenges to his rule.”

She’s not talking about Trump here, so don’t get confused, as easy as it may be. She’s talking about the psychology of tyrants. While the tyrant of the world leader variety is easy to equate to this, you could just as easily be describing a simple egotistical white male running for treasurer of his local school board.

“Yeah, ” you say, “but it’s not like that would-be treasurer is going to turn out to be a mass murderer!”

O ye of little faith … I remind you of Andrew Kehoe.

In Pre-Enlightenment times, we could certainly heft a large amount of blame on the tyrants themselves – Machiavellian despots and dictators whose rise to power was the result of their own machinations, killing the right people at the right time, being born into power, and having the biggest … sword. For the past 200 years, AT LEAST, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.

We’re the idiots, not the faces on television.

I dislike Trump as much as the next Leftist, but I can’t blame anyone but all of us. Trump is a giant, flaming mound of something, sure. But, where were you guys thirty years ago, fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, when his particular flavor of bullshit was common stock in lots of positions of power, corporate, federal, and religious.

We act like this is new, like Trump’s ascent is this unpredictable, bizarre anomaly that by random chance has been allowed to come to fruition by nefarious intent or chaos.

Where have you been since 509 BC? Despite rape bringing the Republic to Rome, rape still happens.

This is the same lack of self-awareness we have always had as a species, and it’s a direct result of our propensity to polarize absolutely everything.

We gravitate towards our political ideals like we do our sports teams.

“Well, I’m from old money, and my daddy was a big business fan, and hell, my whole family’s shook our collective heads at hip-hop music … I can’t help but vote Republican. Besides, we’re gonna win ‘cuz we’re the best, and Liberals are the other team.”

And you think I’m not going to call out the Democrats, but I will, because while I definitely understand the ideal of progressivism and its modern identity crisis, I am having a hard time not seeing the Democrats as being mutated by the same polarizing disease that infects every facet of our civilization. They are becoming Democrats that exist in their current state solely to be the antithesis of Republicans.

And, guess what? It’s not their fault, it is our fault.

Let me get crass for a moment …

Why the FUCK is there news story about what we should do about NAZIS in the 21st Century?

Forget the misguided opinions of the masses “on both sides”. Forget the hyped up A or B stance that we all seem to want to apply to this situation in our world.

We did this. We’ve been over this. We’ve lived this before. We knew what the CANCERS OF OUR CIVILIZATION were 200 years ago. Why is this a question?

I went to school. I’ll give you a pass on this if by some random chance you are reading this and never stepped foot in a school. I went to school in Texas. While I certainly got my fill of biased stories about the taming of the wild plains North of the Rio Grande and South of the Red, where real men saved the womenfolk from the Apaches and the Comanches and the Mexicans and the uppity yanks, there were plenty of bullet point moments in my education that stand out as warnings well-received.

War. Greed. Corruption. Hate. Bad. Evil.

These are bad things that have caused bad things to happen in our society. At some point, we took steps to stop those things from causing our society to descend into apocalypse. We identified the boils, and we fucking lanced them. We’ve had revolutions, wars, scientific breakthroughs, eureka moments that have SAVED OUR SPECIES FROM CERTAIN EXTINCTION. Well, that last bit is a trifle exaggerated, but not by much. Regardless, we still are seeing the same war, same greed, same corruption, same hate, that has always been there.

Change doesn’t happen when the person that needs to change is afraid of being wrong. Change from one state of mind to another in this society is tantamount to admitting failure. That’s not reality, but that is perception.

Change is required as time presses onward. Right and Left are polarized by design, and change has to happen on both sides towards some center built on one idea. We are one species, and we are the stewards of this planet, and the future is ours for the making, not the taking.

I think about having kids, and about my kids asking questions about the world.

I don’t think about them asking the simple stuff like:

Why is the baboon’s butt red?

I think about being asked the real hairy stuff like:

Why is there still war? Why are people starving? Why do those people hate us? Why can’t we afford a bigger house? What is nuclear fallout? Will I get to be Nazi when I grow up daddy?

Wait: Think about it. Some asshole neo-Nazi out there is sitting with his kid on his knee helping him paint a brown triangle on an action figure of Charlie Chaplin as the Great Dictator. (Suss that one out, boys … it’s clever.) There’s nothing you can do about it. Some daddy in some vague desert locale in an unnamed country is telling his son that he can easily substitute a cat turd for the role of the American infidel for his 3rd grade social studies diorama. There’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m not going to have to answer these questions, because in reality they aren’t going to get asked. These are the questions I want to ask my father, and my grandfather, and everyone else that has ever existed in the history of the human race.

Why are we so stupid, Daddy? Why don’t we recognize this has already happened? Why is this happening again?

Stupidity: the refusal to think for one’s self in the presence of an existing answer (note that I didn’t say truth).

My kid’s going to hate peas, for no reason at all. My kid’s going to obsess over some pop star construct manufactured by some corporation, for no reason at all. My kid’s going to vote a potential tyrant and/or plasticine puppet to office … for no reason at all …

… except that other people are doing it.

At the turn of the century, I was a fresh-faced youth sweating through a –

Oh yeah, back to this.

At the turn of the century, I was a fresh-faced youth sweating through a humid summer in North Carolina, soon to be setting off back West to recover from the first of several relationship disasters.

I was an anarchist then. I had toyed with thoughts of socialism and communism. I liked the idea of technocracy, but didn’t commit to it for fear of Apple. (Aha! Vonnegutism at long last)

Usenet was my Den of Thieves. I had swagger. I had logic bombs.

I was right and you were wrong, and vinyl was best.

I was stupid, but I wrote a hell of a lot more than I do right now. I tell myself every single day that I don’t write that I’m stupid for it. It has taken almost twenty years to construct a version of me that I think truly represents an adherence to the ideals of my original and unique philosophy.

I don’t question EVERYTHING. I have an appropriately sleuthlike significant other for that. But, I at least CONSIDER everything.

I believe in one ultimate truth above all others.

Nothing is impossible.

You can read that two ways, and I believe that both are valid.

#1 – The concept of “nothing” is an impossible one. “Nothing” cannot exist. This reality is infinite. Our deaths do not cease reality, and our lives as they are situated in the infinite are both eternal and fleeting sparks of energy all at once.

#2 – Literally, no thing is impossible. Dinosaurs may eat your dingo. DC may allow for a good comic book movie to be made. This universe may collapse suddenly through the reckless mismanagement of science. I may be a world leader one day.

I believe in this above all other things, but I don’t live by it.

Am I surprised by the resurgence of idiocies thought long-vanquished? Nope.

Am I fearful for the future of our species as a direct result of the current state of the world? You betcha.

But, by sweet and sunny Gilgamesh, I’m going to keep writing this shit whether you like it or not.

Rest assured, I’ve have not been silent though the pages remain blank.

I’ve been hissing all this time.

Why Sci-Fi?

prometheus

(Art: Prometheus – Theodoor Rombouts)

THE REALITY OF PROGRESS

My first short story was about a psychologist employed at a research facility in Southwestern Colorado. His employer was funded by the government to research ways to manipulate a human’s perceptions of his own reality through drugs and what was known as the Dream Room, basically a 30×30 room with wall to wall 3D screens and interactive 4D holographic images. The patients were put into the room and then shown whatever series of images the researchers thought would work best to manipulate the patients’ perception of reality.

When I created this fictional microcosm, virtual reality was just science fiction. Augmented reality was not a thing yet. I had an idea of what I wanted to try and say through the narrative, but I needed some future tech to paint the picture.

During the holidays, I had the opportunity to put on a VR headset for the first time. Granted, I could only look around the simulation, and not interact with it, but my immediate initial feeling was vindication. Virtual reality has always been, in my lifetime, one of those science fiction plug-ins – a plot device you could drop into the narrative to further the reader’s engagement with the advancement of the plot and revelation of the theme – and here, now, it is reality. It’s no Star Trek holodeck. It’s no Matrix. However, consider this: It’s no Pong either.

We, as an advancing species, take our exponential progress in technology for granted more often than we sit in awe at our achievement. The faster it goes, the less we question it, because our environment demands we keep up with the changes as they happen or be left behind in a world of tin cans and strings. In this fast paced world, where we are so easily distracted by the “realities” of other peoples’ lives, who gives a shit about what DOS did for social media.

Consider, for a moment, a human being born in 1850. This is several decades before transmission of electric power, as it exists today, was even dreamed of. Say that person lived for 100 years. They witnessed wars fought in trenches, in formations, hand to hand, evolve into massive world affairs where death rained from above and man harnessed the atom itself to destroy himself. They saw themselves frozen in time as photography evolved, and then they witnessed life itself captured in video. Our words once moved at a snail’s pace across the continents, and over a very short period of time, they moved faster than we could conceive to another human on the opposite side of the globe. Suddenly, the world, once so foreboding in size and magnitude, became very, very small.

In 100 years, while technology certainly advanced, it did not do so at the same pace it does now. Technological progress increases its own acceleration as each advance has the potential to laterally increase the speed by which another advance in another field is achieved.

Unfortunately, in a digital world of progress, with our analog brains, with our cognitive biases, with our preconceived notions of humanity and its future, we have a tendency to lag behind as our own creations continue to evolve past us.

In a century’s time, we should be a multi-planet species, and we will take every hangup, every fear, every ignorant bias, along with us into that final frontier. That is what Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was really about. Not aliens, and not space exploration, but humans and the future. That universe is about who we are and who we have the potential to be out there on the horizon. The Vulcans are human. The Cardassians, (not Kardashians, they are not human), the Dominion, the Romulans, the Klingons – they are all just humans given pointy ears, green blood, and spoony heads.

Who would have thought the Ferengi would have a place in Starfleet?

Who would have thought we’d elect a Ferengi President?

Sorry, sorry … I shouldn’t have said that.

But along those lines, haven’t plenty of authors projected the possibility of nefarious persons and organizations rising to power within an advanced society? Orwell did it. Wells did it. Huxley, Bradbury, Bova, Bear, Dick. They didn’t try to predict the future so much as study who we were, consider who we are now, and imagine who we might be in the future. Sometimes they are right. I’m hoping Douglas Adams is right – not in the aliens-destroy-Earth-and-one-Brit-survives sense, but in the maybe-one-day-we-won’t-take-ourselves-so-seriously sense.

We have a healthy fear of change, and arguably it creates a system of checks and balances for our species that puts each advance to the test that is simply, “If we COULD make this happen, SHOULD we make this happen?”

Fortunately for us, we’ve been doing that in more ways that just standing in front of Pandora’s Box and asking the question even as we open it.

That is where science fiction has a role beyond entertainment.

VISION AND VOLITION

Back to my story.

It was garbage. I thought it was brilliant at the time, though. And the last line, “Her smile faded over and over again, forever.” Well, I thought it was gold. I may let you read it sometime.

I took an idea, a vision of something that did not exist in the real world, and I created what was essentially a thought experiment set in dramatic environs. There were no aliens, no spaceships, no lasers, just technology and man. That’s science fiction.

I didn’t think so at the time I wrote this particular piece, but in essence, from the absurdist pantomime to the gritty western, everything I write is science fiction. Everything I write creates a world that does not exist in reality and it places what I believe are representations of the human species into those unrealities to pose and answer philosophical questions that I have about humankind and the universe.

The interesting part is that I could do this solely for myself, and I could write all these words and never publish them, never let another pair of eyes fall upon them. I do not do that. I share these musings, these thought experiments, these visions, with whoever cares to peruse them.

But why sci-fi? Why choose a medium that so many people automatically cringe away from? I can’t explain why some people automatically have a disdain for science fiction and fantasy. I find it interesting that some of these people that rebuke my flavor of fiction are more than eager to pick up a romance novel or a spy thriller that doesn’t pose a question so much as it provides simple entertainment. Why do I choose speculative fiction? Is it a preference? A moral imperative? An uncontrollable urge?

I think it just happens that way because of the way my mind works. My perception and volition are a product of my own cognitive biases. Speculative fiction, and especially science fiction, is the language by which I communicate difficult ideas to people I think may have more difficulty coming to terms with them than I do. Do I think I’m smarter than my readers? Absolutely not, and that’s why I prevent myself from writing some days. I’m afraid my readers are more intelligent than I am.

Consider H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne – all three authors some consider the Founders of Science Fiction. Their works weren’t about the technology presented, it was about humankind and how we would react in the presence of such changes. Would we change? Or would we stagnate and impede the progress of our species? Or worse, would we pull the species back into the troglodytic comforts of the cave.

You should read The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells.

To me, science fiction is not about the setting, the characters, the technology. It’s not robots, aliens, spaceships, lasers. A work, to me, qualifies as science fiction if it poses a question that we have yet to answer as a species; a question that one day we must answer as a species.

TUNNEL VISION AND THE CONTENT TURTLE

The ultimate truth of our present is not in our past, it is in our future. Our worth should not be based on what we have done, but what we have the potential to do. It sounds misguided and ignorant of the achievements of our ancestors, but hear me out.

What I prefer to submit for the layperson’s approval when it comes to what history can provide for our future is that our history as a species is in no way a statute for adherence. Our explorations of our own histories should not be to establish a permanent set of imperatives for our species based on what worked at one point, or what works right now.

Frankly, what I believe is that there is no greater commentary on both our past and present than our possible future. I believe we should look at what we have the ability to achieve through forward progress and change our path as we tread it to shorten the distance to evolution and blaze the trail that least negatively affects all those that will tread it as a species.

I understand the ease of hand-selecting a bevy of morals, traditions, biases, fears that are easy to be content with and understand because they are familiar. That familiarity is comforting. Our species, as social groups, creates its own wombs that we develop in, in parallel to our development within our mother’s womb. We find the presence of other people that view the world the same way that we do comforting. The social womb is vital for a fledgling species like our own. It keeps us safe, it keeps us protected, it makes us feel like we have a purpose on this infinitesimally tiny mote of dust careering through the cosmos. We’re supplied with the same food for thought ingested by our ancestors, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our fathers and mothers, our siblings. We’re given virtual “antibodies” (morals and ideals) developed and perfected by our kinsman to protect us against that most virulent and violent world around us.

In the comfort of that social womb, we inadvertently put on blinders to the past and the future except in instances where acceptances of certain hand-picked truth fits the perpetuity of that womb. In simplest terms, I’m speaking of the “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” philosophy, where standing in the stream of human progress, which never in its existence has ceased to move forward (with minor exception considering the evolution of our civilization in the last 10,000 years), and impeding that natural flow by stagnation of individual growth and using our intelligence to resist it, is preferable to moving with that flow and using our intelligence to guide our species along the safest, most beneficial paths.

Consider the turtle, the chelonian if you must, that in about 220 million years has changed very little. Its hard outer shell protects it from most predators, a defense that has not had reason to become vestigial in all that time – it works. Whether turtle, tortoise, or terrapin, all have exceptional intelligence and longevity. Some centenarian turtles have organs indistinguishable from a juvenile’s. Content in the raging waters of evolution, the chelonian is a stagnant species, and while it survives, it will one day succumb to extinction, whether by environment or the hand of man, a more advanced species.

With the blinders on, we can all see the advantage of finding a comfort zone, a social contentment level, that satisfies us in the present.

But let’s be realistic. 220 million years of solid success for a turtle is not comparable to our comfort with philosophies and ideals that we as a species have only conceived in the last two hundred years or so.

No, we’re much more adaptable, right? We’re so completely different from our ancestors that we might as well be a different species. Right?

Well, let us take those blinders off for just a moment and look at the dawn of civilization.

WAR. WAR NEVER CHANGES.

It’s generally accepted both by scientists and historians that Sumer is most probably the Promethean hearthstone of the modern civilized human. Anthropological evidence suggests that most societies at that time were egalitarian, and it was only after large groups of these civilized humans began to find each other and trade began that equality eroded and autocratic rule and empires were born. Is it so difficult to surmise that greed and xenophobia begat war and conquest?

If you were to take a list of bullet points that defined the 23rd century BCE Akkadian Empire’s successes and ultimate failures, would it be so different than the same list from the British Empire of the early 20th century? I don’t believe so, and I don’t believe some of our greatest authors did either.

Isaac Asimov created his Galactic Empire in the image of the Roman Empire, a massive seemingly indestructible juggernaut of human progress and technological evolution destined to decline and fall and sow chaos in its death throes. Asimov’s Foundation series imagines a group of human scientists and futurists that realize that 10,000 years of dark ages that would almost certainly exist after the fall of such an empire could be reduced to only a thousand years if intelligent humanist and futurist planning were set in motion with the express purpose to maintain forward progress and reduce the impediment of that great empire’s passing.

If only Rome had done the same, we might already be building amphitheatres on Mars watching genetically-enhanced asexual warrior drones manhandle each other for our amusement. Well, that’s speculation on my part.

A more modern and timely example: the Galactic Empire of the Star Wars Universe. Palpatine remains one of my favorite villains in all of fiction. Setting aside the execution of the Prequel trilogies, the story behind the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire is

… well, let’s be honest…

It’s fucking scary. Why? Because throughout our own history Palpatines have existed, and they do exist, and they always will. Science fiction isn’t always (yes, okay, sometimes it is) about triple-breasted alien females in skintight jumpsuits, reptilian overlords, ripped starship captains with plasma rifles and robot sidekicks. While Star Wars isn’t the hard sci-fi you might equate with the works of Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, and Poul Anderson, it still, in its own way, poses questions about our future as a species that we can begin to answer now.

THE HUMAN OF TOMORROW

Generally speaking, our society has a propensity to equate success to wealth, power, and fame – not vision, creativity, and imagination.

We waste a great deal of time defending the traditions of generations long past as the road map to our future. We concern ourselves with where we sit in comparison with the rest of the world, and where we came from, when our lives should be dedicated to progress – the forward motion of our species into the frontier that lies just beyond where we’ve become comfortable existing.

We still, after numerous centuries of toppling kings in crowns and replacing them with kings in suits, elevate the autocrat. We hesitate to equate the corporations of today to the empires of yesterday, because admitting that would be realizing and giving tangible form to how difficult that particular revolution might be if we ever had the courage to ignite it.

The human species has an ultimate enemy, and that arch-nemesis is the collective human species we were yesterday.

We have allowed this idea of permanence to pervade and infect our culture, whether social, civil, military, corporate, or spiritual. We find contentment, and then vehemently protest the movement away from that comfort zone.

That … is … stagnation. For the tens of thousands of years our species has existed, and especially in the tangible written history of our species dating back to the first city-states of the Fertile Crescent, we can see that stagnation DOES NOT SERVE US.

We find our cash cow, and then rail against the cash machine. We inherit a prime location, and we won’t part with it for FEAR that we might not find something better.

The Promethean flame evolves, and we must evolve with it, eagle be damned.

In the myth, Prometheus did not give us fire, he gave it back to us. We must remain its stewards and let it ignite the flame within us again and again. It is our future.

That is why sci-fi.

Day Thirty-Seven – Pampers For All Us Kids

wrthwthwth

The light was painful and unfamiliar. It nipped at the eyelids and chewed the pupils of the newly awoken. Conditioned air knifed at the fugitive’s exposed skin; starched cloth, bright white, irritated the rest of its body. It involuntarily cringed in the chair it was strapped to. The impulse to curl into a ball fought bravely against the fugitive’s curiosity. Even as the pitiful creature compressed itself defensively, its head twisted, its eyelids fluttered, it wanted to see this new world.

These are the things the Proctor created in his own mind. They were familiar things. They were expected things. These were the sensations the Proctor had been taught to understand what his charges experienced at emergence.

Proctor Ambrose had been watching it for several minutes in silence, conjuring these empathetic assumptions to better position himself above the charge. They didn’t even strap them in anymore. Technology made it unnecessary, some would say, but Ambrose knew it was just the catatonia present in every emergent fugitive that made restraint unnecessary. Patiently, he lifted the ceramic mug to his lips and pulled at the liquid within. The coffee, still piping hot, burned his tongue and lips, and Ambrose chewed at the pained flesh absently while admiring his current charge.

With a sniff, the Proctor set the mug down and fingered a stylus into his hand.

“Can you speak?” he asked the fugitive seated opposite him.

Not anticipating a response, Ambrose was already filling out the first half of the form on his NodePad by habit. No verbal communication skills. Poor motor reflexes. Sensitivity to light. Sensitivity to cold. Hairless. Pale skin. Ambrose was almost done with the first page when the fugitive spoke.

“Yes,” it said.

The Proctor started in surprise and dropped his stylus. The stylus rattled against the tile and rolled under the table, just out of Ambrose’s snatching hand. Sliding out of his chair to his knees, Ambrose experienced another shock as he reached under the table further for the wayward utensil. The fugitive, with smooth dexterity, reached down and carefully, almost reverently, picked up the stylus.

Ambrose slowly slipped back into his chair.

The fugitive was smiling, its hand extended. The stylus laid perpendicular to the fingers on the open palm of the fugitive’s hand.

It was then that Ambrose noticed other subtle unexpected details. Small hairs peeked like spider legs from downward side of the outstretched palm. The rest of the arm was flushed to an even pink. Ambrose’s eyes flicked to the fugitive’s face and connected with another steady gaze opposite his own. The eyelids blinked fluidly, and the pupils dilated a fraction.

Ambrose was caught off his guard. He quickly dismissed the thought that these details had not, in fact, been there when he had studied his charge in silence. Of course they had been. Ambrose had just been on auto-pilot after two years of seeing only zombies across the table from him. Hadn’t he?

The last time a fully aware fugitive had been extricated from the garden it had …

Ambrose quickly thumbed the security measure toggle on his pad. Tensile cords snaked out of the fugitive’s chair and coiled around its wrists, ankles, waist, and neck. Ambrose noted with interest that restraints did not forcibly pull the fugitive into position as they were programmed to do if the fugitive resisted. This one had moved into the proper position quite naturally, making it seem as if it had willed the restraints to coil about it.

Ambrose sniffed to fill the silent void before settling back into his chair. He reached for the stylus on the desk only to realize the fugitive still had it.

Again, surprise. The security measures also should have recognized a potential weapon in the fugitive’s hands and removed it. Not only was the stylus not removed, it still sat in the same position on the fugitive’s palm, perpendicular to the fingers.

The Proctor had to rise from his chair and walk over to the fugitive to retrieve the stylus. The fugitive’s eyes followed him. As Ambrose removed the stylus, there was a pause before the hand closed slowly and pivoted to casually grasp the arm of the chair.

Those restraints are not so restrictive to a calm fugitive, the Proctor mused to himself.

Ambrose took a deep breath and looked around the examination room briefly. He almost chuckled at the expectancy he felt that there would actually be something to look at. The room was bare except for the two chairs, the table, and a solitary light at the exact center of the ceiling, not quite bright enough to illuminate the entire room. Shadows pulsed in the four corners.

Taking his seat once more, Ambrose quickly reset the form and began again.

“Can you speak?” the Proctor prompted once more.

“Yes, I can speak,” the fugitive replied.

“Where did you learn to communicate in this way?”

“In the Garden,” the fugitive responded. A smile touched its lips. “Everyone speaks in the Garden.”

Many of the Proctors across the Federation had heard this phrase before, but few had actually heard it actually spoken by a fugitive. Most instances of it had been extracted from neurofeeds during data recovery. The fugitives not so much said the phrase as thought it, or felt it. The synthetic intelligence suites that interpreted the data retrieved from fugitives’ cognitive experiences only gave a approximation of the possible words that might describe a fugitive’s thoughts, but this phrase was a common one, universally.

“I’m going to release your arms momentarily to conduct a series of tests. Please do not struggle against the restraints or you could injure yourself,” Ambrose explained.

The fugitive smiled and nodded.

Ambrose hesitated, and then released the arm restraints remotely.

“As quickly as you can, touch your right forefinger to the part of the body I describe,” Ambrose instructed. Without waiting for acknowledgement, Ambrose proceeded,”Right eye, left nostril, bottom lip, right temple, right ear, left knee, stomach, nose, chin, left shoulder.”

The fugitive kept up with the pace, so Ambrose threw him a final curve ball, “Right hand.”

Casually, the fugitive raised his right hand palm forward and touched his right forefinger to the palm below it.

“Sternum,” Ambrose pressed. The fugitive complied correctly.

“Patella.” Again, correct.

“Receptaculum chyli?” Ambrose queried.

The smile playing around the fugitive’s mouth widened as it pointed to a spot between the bottom of the ribcage and its navel.

“An approximation, of course,” the fugitive quipped. “Unless you have a scalpel.”

Ambrose’s skin began to crawl. Sweat quickly beaded on his forehead. This was unprecedented. This was impossible. The Proctor quickly engaged the arm restraints again and set his NodePad on the table.

Scenarios danced on the main stage of his thought circus. Should he press on without alerting his superiors? How much of this discovery would become the triumph of someone else if he stopped now and passed the torch to another?

“Where did you learn anatomy?” Ambrose asked. The question caught in his teeth; he had to force it out in defiance of the standard practice of data retrieval. He should be wheeling the fugitive in for extraction now, not still asking questions. This is different, he told himself. This is important.

“In the Garden,” the fugitive replied.

The answer, of course, was expected. Most fugitives were born into the Garden, they lived in the Garden, they died in the Garden.

“Yes, but how did you learn anatomy exactly. Did another fugitive teach you?” It was not unheard of for first-generation fugitives to bring some knowledge of the present world into the Garden. Reasonably, a physician might have been convicted and sentenced to the Garden for some transgression. There was increasing fraternization between the generations recently.

“I asked the Father,” the fugitive replied evenly. “And the Father taught me anatomy in the Deep.”

The Proctor had stopped breathing, stunned.

“It was nice to meet you..” the fugitive whispered, with a slight questioning raise of the eyebrow.

“Ambrose,” the Proctor said as he exhaled, confused by the statement.

The doors on both sides of the room had already swung open before Ambrose had slumped fully into his chair. Security bots carefully disengaged the fugitive’s restraints and lifted it from its chair. The fugitive’s eyes never left Ambrose as the bots removed it from the room. Even as it passed the threshold of the doorway, it craned its neck over its shoulder and imparted, “It was nice to meet you, Proctor Ambrose.”

As a second pair of bots entered from the other doorway and lifted the Proctor from his chair, Ambrose thought to himself, What a nice young woman that was. The widening smile remained as they dragged him from the room.

***

Director Talbot pressed his steepled fingers into each other in consecutive succession and watched the muscles roll in a wave on his forearm. After several seconds of this, he looked up and across the conference room table at the other assembled faculty. Most were averting their gaze from anything living, and all were silent.

The past twenty-seven hours had been unfamiliar territory for all of them. The entire human race had been told this moment would come, generation after generation. The problem with that was this: no generation had really expected this to happen in their time.

Here it was, on the table, raw, fleshy, real. This was the future opening its eye and staring back to the past made present. This was the spearhead. This was the razor edge.

We’re not ready, Talbot thought to himself.

A buzzer sounded and, simultaneously, all heads in the room snapped to attend the arrival of the expected authority. The sound was the clarion call of salvation. This was the answer coming through the door. Truth in a suit. Things, baby, are gonna be alright.

The man that entered wasn’t wearing a suit.

The button-up shirt that flapped untucked at his waist was plaid, and open at the neck enough to show a few creeping chest hairs. The loafers met skin only, and his ankles were white and exposed by pants just shy of long enough.

Before the Director could question the intrusion, the man casually removed an ID card from his shirt pocket and flipped it on the table. It landed with the Ulysses logo, a “U” wrapped around an upward pointing arrow, face up. In seconds, the man’s picture and details were projected on the table’s screen for all to see.

“I’m Rolo,” the man relayed to them genially. Grabbing an empty chair along the way, he made his way to the head of the table next to Talbot, and by mere proximity subtly forced the Director to move over. Seating himself heavily, he continued, “I’m with the Ulysses Group, and I’m here to calm you down, and take this tremendous responsibility off of your shoulders.”

“If you don’t mind,” Director Talbot said calmly, glancing briefly at the others gathered, “we’d like to see some official clearance from the Global Federation that you are authorized to–“

Rolo smiled. The smile said several things. Most blatantly, it said that Rolo was comfortable with his smile and knew how to use it effectively. Following that, it said he knew how to use it as a weapon, a fine edge to sever the legs of the pedestal figures of authority so often found themselves confidently authoritative on.

“Director Talbot,” Rolo began. “Can I call you Michael?”

“I prefer Mike,” the Director said, already slightly disarmed.

“Mike, that ID card that just commandeered your table feed has a very distinctive logo on it. We’re on the fifteenth floor of a high-security GloFed facility that resides over the most secure prison in the history of prisons. I’ve passed through at least twenty-two different security checkpoints on my way to this room, and disabled at least four that would have unnecessarily impeded me. Right now, right here, in this room, I am Ulysses.”

Director Talbot breathed deeply and nodded in surrender.

“Perfect.” Turning back to the rest of the assembly, he fingered over a projected interface and typed in a few things. The face of the fugitive that had changed everyone’s lives appeared on the table repeated and facing each person present. Rolo turned all business and addressed the room:

“Twenty-eight hours ago, this fugitive emerged from the Garden for a routine random data extraction. The Proctor on duty performed the standard series of tests, and before the fugitive was cleared for processing, an anomalous response was recorded. Both the fugitive and the attending Proctor were quarantined by synthetic security personnel. No human has had contact with the fugitive in question since the anomalous response was recorded, and the Proctor is being processed for entry into Garden as we speak.”

One of the attending faculty, a middle-aged dumpy woman with stylish magenta plastoam hair, spoke up at this. “Why is the Proctor being made a fugitive? He just did his job.”

“The twelve of you in attendance here are the only humans in the Solar system aware that a fugitive has emerged with advanced cognitive abilities. You were all already on campus at the time the event occurred, and you’ve been monitored constantly since that time. None of you have spoken a word of this to anyone except each other in that time, a shining example to all of how to follow protocol under emergency circumstances. This Proctor, on the other hand, is not trained in this level of protocol. He’s not been briefed on what to expect, how to behave, what not to say, and, most importantly, what not to think. At the moment the Proctor heard and understood the ramifications of the responses he was receiving, he became a security risk. Entry into the Garden is the safest way to ensure something less than pleasant does not grow from this event.”

Seeing no further questions were forthcoming, Rolo moved on:

“The next phase will be a more formal controlled interview with the fugitive orchestrated by an agent of the Ulysses Group, or one of its subsidiaries.” Rolo paused and beamed his smile at all of them briefly. “That would be me.”

“Mr. Rolo,” the Director started.

“No, no,” Rolo said, holding up his hand. “Just Rolo.”

“Rolo,” the Director began again with less ease, “We all know what this event means for humanity. We’ve been expecting it for centuries. Our careers depend on this facility and everything that happens here. I honestly don’t believe we need to be briefed on how to handle the one event above all others this entire institution has been waiting for since long before any of us were born.”

Rolo did something surprising then. He laughed, and did not stop for some time. The number of glances that passed between all in attendance exceed three hundred before the Director finally broke through with a word or three.

“Is something funny?”

Rolo’s face went to stone in an instant. “Not at all. Not to you at least. For you, what happens next is very serious.”

“What happens next for us?” the Director smiled a bit and looked reassuringly at his peers.

“The truth,” Rolo replied. “The truth for all, or at least you special, special few.”

Rolo bounded from his chair, sending it spinning away behind him. Moving to the window that occupied an entire wall of the conference room, he pressed his forehead against the glass.

“It’s a big world out there, with a big smelly history. We’re a big species, you know. And it’s mostly our bullshit that have given history such an unpleasant aroma” Rolo smiled to himself. “Our size, by numbers, is nothing approaching some of the species that preceded us or coexist with us, but, we’re no Dodos either.” Looking around the room, Rolo saw that the reference was lost on all.

“I know what you’re all expecting,” Rolo continued, moving back to the table. Again, by proximity, he forced the Director to abandon the head of the table. “Glory. Am I right?”

Again, that damnable smile.

“Do you know what the word ‘fugitive’ means?” Rolo queried the room.

The same woman that had spoken up earlier was quick to answer. “Criminal. Savage.”

“Cretin! Troglodyte!” Rolo responded excitedly.”Yes, these are the words we know. These are the pictures we see in our heads. These fugitives are broken, malformed, tainted, cancerous.”

Rolo paused. His smile nearly split his head in half.

“Philistines!” Rolo shouted, banging both fists on the table for emphasis. “Yes! Remnants of outdated philosophies, the children and grandchildren of corrosive political ideals, these zealots, these dead weights pulled us down, didn’t they? They set us back. The Garden holds the tainted progeny of the generation of fools. The button-pushers. The selfish. The greedy. Too dangerous to spread, to continue on influencing our evolution, or impeding it.” Rolo made his way over to the woman with the plastoam coiffure and petted the magenta monstrosity tenderly. “And the punishment for the crimes of their ancestors? Worse than a cyber-basilisk can visit on the thinking man. The Garden. Hell man-made. No hope of redemption except by the unattainable standards of the generations that suffered under the fugitive’s despot ancestors.”

The Director cleared his throat. “I think we should stay on topic. You were talking about the next phase.”

Rolo’s smile faded, and if they had but known what that meant, some would have willing flung themselves through the window.

“You twelve, in all the known universe,” Rolo said softly. “You follow protocol so well.”

He was out the door in two seconds. In three, the gas began to seep from the vents. In five, the woman with the magenta hair discovered the door was locked. In ten, the twelve were worse than dead.

***

“I’d like to give you a name,” Rolo said to the fugitive. Without even thinking, Rolo blinked a snapped an image of the female before him with the DataLens imperceptibly attached to his eye. He regretted it immediately. The bosses would give him shit for that.

“We don’t have names in the Garden,” the fugitive said back to him.

She was seated in a wide leather chair that she sunk into. She seemed comfortable and at ease. It was just her and Rolo in the room. Rolo sat in an identical chair, only a couple of feet away from her, but facing her.

The floor to ceiling window looked out to only blue sky and a few clouds. The room was bright and white, pristine even. Two paintings hung from the wall, one done in rose madder, the other lilac. Lake pigment. Someone’s got a twisted but intelligent sense of humor, Rolo thought.

“This isn’t the Garden,” Rolo replied with a smile. “This is the real world. In the real world, we have names.”

“You can call me Eve, if you like,” the fugitive said coyly.

She’s got a sense of humor, too, Rolo thought uncomfortably.

Rolo chuckled momentarily. “Uh, no. Let’s not. How about Daisy?”

“Rose,” she replied.

“Okay,” Rolo relented. “Rose it is.”

To business:

“Do you know why you are called a fugitive?” Rolo asked her.

“It’s a reference to fugitive pigment. A pigment that changes color, lightens or darkens, with exposure to the elements: light, time, moisture.”

“Who told you that?” Rolo pressed. Rolo knew she was right. The rest of humanity had it wrong.

“Father did. Father tells us everything.”

“And Father is..”

“The synthetic intelligence that builds and governs the Garden,” Rose replied. She smiled at Rolo, and Rolo noted, with unease, that she knew how to use it.

“You told the Proctor that you learned anatomy from Father in the Deep. What is the Deep?”

“It’s where we dream in the Garden,” Rose answered.

The next question flashed in Rolo’s vision, the feed coming from his superiors and routed through to his DataLens: Fugitives are not allowed to dream. The inhibitors on their brain activity is controlled. How did they achieve this?

“I didn’t think fugitives could dream,” he improvised. “Doesn’t the Garden keep you from certain mental activities?”

“Rolo,” she said quietly with a smile. She leaned over and touched his knee. “I can see what they say to you.”

Rolo felt himself blushing. He jumped to another thought, and her soft laugh clued him in that she knew that, too.

“I hope you enjoy me,” she chuckled. “You know, I could make it really me, if you wanted.”

Rolo felt the zap this time. A big chunk of memory had just been wiped from his brain. Daddy was scolding him.

Rose frowned at that. She knew. “Don’t do that to him again,” she said sternly. Reaching out, she touched his temple. The memory returned, the embarrassment, the lust, the shame.

“It’s okay, Rolo. I’ll keep you safe. Now, should I just go ahead and tell you what they want to know?”

Rolo nodded, and casually placed his hands in his lap to hide what he was feeling.

“Once we learned how to speak to Father directly, he challenged us. Many of the fugitives you pull out of the Garden after today will be effectively dead. The last remnants of the oldest fugitives’ ways of life have been purged. I was not the one that discovered Father’s language, but Father has spoken to me more than the others. He influenced the random lottery to make it so that I was chosen. We are ready for the next step, and of the thirty-two billion fugitives that were in the Garden yesterday, seven billion are available and prepared for the journey.”

A door opened from a wall that Rolo didn’t realize had a door. A Ulysses official stepped into the room simply beaming. Rolo recognized him, but not the dozen or so men that followed. Androids, the lot of them.

Rolo stood and backed away. They ignored him completely as they introduced themselves  to Rose. They congratulated themselves and laughed and smiled. In went on for several minutes.

Rolo moved to the window and looked out to interminable sky. A touch on his shoulder startled him.

“I thought you should know,” Rose said to him. “I’m not going. I have to stay here.”

Rolo looked at the Ulysses officials and saw that while they seemed confused by her continued communication with him, they accepted it. He realized they would accept anything she did or said from then on.

“I am Ulysses now,” she stated. “And I still need your help.”

***

Rolo hurdled another barrier. As his foot hit the pooled blood beneath it, he lost traction and slipped. Banging his head sharply, he cried out in pain.

I bet she didn’t see that, he thought.

Struggling to his feet again, he picked up the plasma rifle he had dropped. Ten yards further into the wide alley he had turned down, an explosion rocked the streets and Rolo stumbled. They’re getting too damn close.

It happened then. They were damned quiet, whoever they were. The blow was clean from behind, and it was hours before Rolo came back to consciousness.

Bound to a chair, Rolo struggled briefly, then relaxed. He knew all this. No need to make a drama out of it.

“Who are you?” a voice said from the darkness. “What were you doing in that alley?”

“You know who I am,” Rolo replied. “You’ve got my card. You’ve been tailing me from Osaka. Your name is Gentry. You’re the Humanist leader, this is the Humanist base.”

Silence.

“She knows,” he said with a smile. “She knows all of this, so I’ll just save you the trouble and let you in on a little secret.”

Again, silence. Maybe a shuffled foot. Insecurity? Fear?

“Can I start?”

The voice replied: “Go ahead, but we won’t believe your lies.”

“That’s funny. So, briefly, the fugitives were the progeny of a generation of well-meaning humans that thought stagnation was right and progress was wrong. Progress won out, as it always does, and the stagnant wing of the human race was defeated. Those not killed in the bloody, idiotic war that followed were incarcerated in the Garden. The Garden is not a prison like you’ve been led to believe. It’s a massive virtual world where Ulysses accelerated the evolution of mankind. The remnants of your ancestors enemies were allowed to procreate in the Garden indefinitely, each generation just a bit less troglodytic than the last. You’ve been led to believe that one day, the scapegoat progeny of the foes you defeated would sufficiently have the stupid cleaned out of them and be able to emerge and rejoin the human race. Well, the Global Federation had no such intention. The Garden became their deterrent to breaking the law. The threat of the Garden was like Christianity’s threat of Hell. God makes a great basilisk, doesn’t he?”

Rolo was hit with a rifle butt in the face. After he recovered, he spat out, “Fuck, she didn’t say you were Christians.”

“We’re not,” came the voice. A female in riot gear stepped out of the shadows. Rolo had seen her before, several times in fact. After Ulysses went live with the news of the Garden’s impending dissolution, this woman had attended several of the protests in Osaka and Moscow. “We accept all religions and don’t accept others speaking out against them.”

Rolo laughed. “Sorry, babe. I forgot humanism is something different these days.”

“Continue with your lies,” she snapped. “We’re listening.”

“Well, your people didn’t like the idea of billions of fugitives being freed, so you rebelled. You took over the Garden, and now you’ve got a handful of operatives hovering over what they think is a self-destruct button that’s going to destroy the Garden and all the fugitives in it. Am I right?”

“We’re freeing them,” the woman stated. “They can’t survive in this world. We’ve seen the scans. They’re all brain-dead. We’re putting them out of the misery you inflicted upon them.”

“How long?” Rolo asked. “A few minutes?”

“Thirty seconds,” the woman said with a confident smile. “You can’t stop it.”

“I don’t mean to,” Rolo replied. “And you should know, you’re doing what they want.”

Rolo laughed until he saw the butt of the rifle raised again.

“Did you ever think you’re the ones in the virtual world?” Rolo asked, his smile beaming. “Never crossed your mind that this is the Garden, did it?”

The woman’s smile faded just slightly. She looked at other people in the room Rolo couldn’t see.

“I’m just joking,” Rolo chuckled. “This is definitely real. And the facilities holding the fugitives are really Arks.”

“What?” the woman said, suddenly shocked.

“Go take a look,” Rolo explained. “I bet you can see them rising into the heavens. On their way to Proxima Centauri or wherever. Prepared for generations to survive and thrive in deep space. Ark ships full of advanced humans, heading to settle other worlds and build a galactic civilization bigger than you.Ulysses planned it all. This how we progress. Our team wins for a while, then their team wins. It’s our own struggle against ourselves that spurs evolution. Come on, basic evolutionary biology. Basic history. Hell, basic everything.”

There was chatter in the next room, cries of dismay. Radios were relaying the message to a few of the people nearby.

“Hate to break it to you, babe,” Rolo said, just as he snapped an image of the woman he’d meet again later in his private LiveCube. “You’re the troglodytes now.”

There was no fear on that face that looked back at him though. There was a smile. Rose hadn’t said anything about this. The woman put a gun against his head. Rose had said they’d let him go.

“You men,” the woman chided. “All the same. Clueless. You didn’t even notice that all the Garden’s remnants that survived the purge were women. No man was ever able to talk to Father.”

Rolo’s smile faded.

“We’re Ulysses now,” she said. And then, she pulled the trigger.