Gaiastan, Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

Mr. Lever’s first foray into Hegeltown did not take him far from the inn. He crossed the adjoining dirt alley, opened a creaky pine gate, and climbed seven steps to a landing where he rapped his knuckles three times on the screen door. There was no immediate answer so he waited patiently. He knocked again, then looked upwards to scan the featureless gray sky above. Flecks of snow fell, salting the sleeves and shoulders of his oxblood overcoat. He brushed them away but this triggered a bout of coughing that subsided only after he managed to push his handkerchief to his mouth. There was blood in it again, as there was most times. He sighed, put the kerchief away and knocked again… and waited.

He noticed a raven had landed on the edge of an adjacent compost bin. The corvid clicked and growled, then dropped into the bin. Curious, Lever shuffled towards the container, thinking he might want to have a look inside.

“What do you want?” growled an old woman from somewhere inside the house.

Startled, the raven burst out of the box nearly knocking Lever’s derby off. Lever slid back to the door and knocked again.

“Come back later. I’m busy,” growled the old woman from inside.

Lever knocked again and waited. It had been his experience that overcoming the mental resistance of undermen is easily accomplished with mere persistence. Poor eugenics left serfs with a compromised capacity for sustained resolve. He only needed to continue knocking long enough, not louder or faster or more frequently, just long enough.

He patiently knocked again and, sure enough, he finally heard footsteps inside the hovel as they stomped their way up to the door. Lever looked downwards so as to obscure his face under the brim of his hat from the woman inside as she scanned him through the peephole. It was also well known to high-ranking Overman that mystery plants an irresistible compulsion in the feeble minds of undermen.

“Who are you? I’m busy!” The old woman snorted from just behind the door.

Lever stood firm, silent, face obscured from her peep hole vantage.

“Go away,” she barked. “I don’t like the looks of you.”

Lever remained. He listened as she walked away from the door but this was a predictable, superfluous response. He continued standing in silence. The raven returned, landing on the gate. It emitted a primordial squawk from its beak, then leapt over Lever and dropped into the compost bin. Lever patiently knocked again, suppressing the urge to cough. The raven burst out from the box with some gristly treasure clamped in its beak.

Lever stood silent and still. He knew that the old woman’s weak mind was now totally consumed with the singular frustration of her visitor’s refusal to leave. She was certainly losing or had already lost her ability to reason as emotion had overcome what fragments of cognition were left. Her impulsive curiosity about the mysterious visitor on her landing had taken over. She was like a mouse, sniffing her way towards a trap, helpless to resist what was certain doom. She was being reeled in towards the coil, on the verge of dislodging the hammer. Closer… Closer…

The door locks clicked and the door opened, partially. The old woman peaked out, protected by her frivolous chain lock. Lever, even in his increasingly weakened state, could easily kick the door in but that was so vulgar… far too vulgar for a Sunstein Agent, anyway. Such an act would fill the woman with panic and terror. She would become useless to him until she could be calmed by a psychotropic injection. Lever didn’t like messing with needles. His bag of tools was for show, only. To him, using serum was cheating. He wanted to crack her open by his words and force of will alone. That gave him much more satisfaction. Besides, like the vampires of lore, Sunstein Agents prefer to enter by invitation.

Lever remained motionless on the landing for a moment, face still obscured by his derby, waiting for the right instant to burn a permanent scar into her mind

“Who are you?” She snarled again from the narrow opening, bridged by the swaying brass chain of the flimsy lock.

Lever remained frozen, flecks of sleet-like snow accumulating on the brim of his hat while another raven landed on the edge of the nearby bin. Lever could feel her eyes glancing nervously at the black corvid, hoping the bird would not betray her. She looked back at Mr. Lever which he sensed as well. The moment was right. Lever slowly removed his hat exposing his hairless head. He raised up his pale face in a manner that evoked a moonrise on a cloudless, frozen night.

The woman knew instantly, judging by his eyebrowlessness and piercing eyes that he was a very high-ranking Overman. This realization gave her a fluttering heart palpitation. She forgot to breathe. Without thinking, she reflexively opened the door, breaking the weak chain lock with a minimal jerk.

“Good afternoon, Madam,” he greeted. “My name is Mr. Lever. I apologize for this unannounced visit but I’ve been commissioned to conduct an investigation in your fine hamlet, here. I was wondering if you would be so kind as to answer a few questions.”

“Yeah… sure,” she responded, star struck. She invited Lever in forgetting to conceal the blood splatter on her apron.

“It is my understanding that you are the town informant?”
“Yes, yes, that’s correct. I’m a junior warden. Seven terms, now.”

“Excellent.” Lever scanned the contents of her front room. “This is quite a collection of taxidermy you have in here. Oh, forgive me, it appears that you are busy,” Lever calmly remarked as he directed his eyes to the fresh blood on her apron.

Terror poured into her mind. Although not a felony, hunting and butchering humates without a license could bring down all manner of codex enforcement creating almost as much hassle as one received for poaching rodents. She sensed herself in a situation about to spiral out of control. She tried in futility to hide the gore on her apron with her hands, as if that would somehow make what had already been seen unseen.

Lever knew that this new stressing parameter could be used to his advantage as it had driven the old woman nearly to the brink of mental implosion. Now, he would offer her a valve by which she could release her stress in a constructive manner. He would keep her on the pressurized brink of terror until he was convinced that she had released it all to him.

“Are you familiar with the national heroes who’ve recently come to your fine hamlet?” He asked, while staring into her house and scribbling notes into his pad in shorthand with his thumbnail.

“You mean the spacemen?” She asked, while removing her apron and wadding it up into a ball which she concealed behind her back.

“Yes indeed, the spacemen, the men who went to Mars. You know them?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, may I confide in you, Madam? You see, neither has backed up their consciousness for quite some time and the authorities are growing increasingly concerned over their well-being. Have you seen them?”

“Yes. Absolutely,” she offered, with a vigorous nod. “Well… I saw them when they came to town. Then one disappeared. Some people said he put on his space suit and walked into the wilderness. They say the humates got to him. Nobody ever found nothin though. No bones. Nothin. When the cannibals get ‘em, they always leave a femur or something but not this time. There wasn’t nothin.”

“Speaking of Mr. Staley’s disappearance… this was what… three months ago?”

“Yes sir. I think that sounds right. Rumor has it he was on drugs, too.”

The idea that a national hero would be on drugs was a sociological perception deemed ‘disharmonic’. Lever needed to manage that as it wasn’t good to have national heroes perceived as junkies. “Did you actually see him on drugs… personally?” He queried.

“Well, no. I can’t say that I did.”

“Then I wouldn’t put any credence in rumors such as that,” Lever advised. “But this all sounds like a spectacular tragedy; a national hero devoured by cannibals? It seems so… so unbelievable. Don’t you think?”

The woman appeared unsure of what Lever was getting at. She looked at him curiously, while blood seeped through her wadded up apron and between her fingers. In the doorway, she noticed another raven had flown down behind the Sunstein Agent and into the compost bin. She made her best effort not to track it with her eyes.

Lever continued to explain. “It would seem odd that the senior warden or manager of this village and the agents assigned to the care of two, irreplaceable, national assets would be so incompetent as to allow one of them to be murdered and eaten by cannibals. It sounds so implausible, don’t you think?” Lever watched her eyes roll up and to the right as she contemplated Lever’s reasoning.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “That’s just what I heard.”

Lever chiseled away at her undermind, filling her with doubt and obfuscating her perception of reality by presenting multiple new realities that she could not resist getting tangled up in. “Surely you do not believe that a spaceman— as you call him— a man expertly trained in the high sciences and chosen for his superior intellect would succumb to some primal whim and carelessly put himself into peril resulting in his demise?. You certainly don’t believe that an Overman would be capable of such stupidity, do you? I mean… it’s ridiculous, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. I…”

Lever interrupted, “What do you know of the other spaceman?”

“He was here.”

“Here? Here as in your home?”

“Yes. He came over once from the inn one night. He showed an interest in my art. He was quiet, though.”

“But he’s not at the inn anymore, is he?”

“Well, all I’ve heard are rumors. I guess I don’t really know what’s happened to him.”

“I thought you were an informant? What rumors have your heard?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this was useful information. I heard he’s shacking up with some female. That they’re living together in the perverted, animal sense, if you know what I mean.”

“That’s outrageous,” Lever chuckled. “Don’t tell me that you believe that as well?”

“No, no, no, of course not. No way. No. I wouldn’t believe such a conspiracy. That’s just what I heard. Hateful, ungreen talk. That’s all it was.”

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Lever continued. “We both know these rumors are the machinations of sick, unpatriotic minds, but I must follow up on all leads. Would you mind telling me where unlicensed fornicators might rendezvous?”

“Huh?”

“Did you hear any rumor of where they are shacking up?”

“I heard that they’re shacking up in an abandoned house on the north end of Mirror Lake. That’s what I heard, anyways.”

“Well, I think we both know that no Gaiastan hero would engage in such a debauchery, but I do appreciate you telling me of all these rumors. We will probably need to send in a social cohesion expert to straighten this village out. Please continue in your service to Gaiastan and put a stop to lies and rumors whenever you hear such nonsense.”

“I will, sir,” she answered, relieved the interrogation was apparently coming to an end.

“And please do not withhold any more information.”

“Oh no, I certainly won’t. I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you very much for your time,” Lever continued, as he restored his derby. “Good day.”

The woman watched the raven emerge from the bin, this time with a decomposing finger in its beak. To her terrified dismay, it did not immediately fly off.

“Yeah, just go check out the lake to be sure,” she added, buying time for the bird leave before Lever turned and noticed it. “…Yeah, and see if you can track down that crazy Joe Hannan, too.” She added loudly, hoping to scare the bird.

“Joe Hannan?” Lever asked. “Why does that name sound familiar?”

Finally, to her relief, the raven flew off.

“Okay, goodbye,” She said.

“’Joe Hannan, Madam?”

“Joe Hannan. He’s just the devil. Good bye.”

“The devil?” Lever asked, perplexed.

She stared back, dead pan.

“Very well. Good day, Madam.”

But before turning to leave, Lever cast one last glance down to the floor to the puddle of blood at the junior warden’s heals. With this intentional, exaggerated glance and a raised shaved eyebrow, he reinforced paranoia into her mind that would put her into an eager-to-please mindset. If she knew or learned of anything else, she would surely give it up to him.

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Great Review of Oathkeeper

From Michael Ackerson on Audible:

“An awesome ride”

As the federal government seeks to reopen the War on Drugs, Oathkeeper feels very timely. Set in Colorado, a small town sheriff finds himself in the crosshairs of a corrupt federal official. A David-VS-Goliath showdown is brewing, and right from the start things don’t look very good for our heroes. Given the fact that Oathkeeper is published by a company called Prepper Press, you can imagine what kind of position the book takes, but don’t let that fool you – Oathkeeper is a great ride that will keep you guessing right up until the very end.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino will feel right at home here. Oathkeeper has a grit to it, and it does it well – finding its footing somewhere between No Country for Old Men and Reservoir Dogs. Troy Grice has put together a world that will feel instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent time in an impoverished rural community. Grice has no problem heading headlong into the brutal results of drug addiction and crippling poverty facing small towns struggling to exist as a world apathetic to their existence passes them by.

There is a lot of moral ambiguity in Oathkeeper, and it pairs well with Grice’s language which ranges from almost pastoral descriptions to cartoon violence. Grice’s characters and locations have history, good, bad and random and that gives them welcome depth. Are there good guys in Oathkeeper? Yeah, I suppose so. Are there bad guys? Yeah, I guess. However, one of the most refreshing parts about Oathkeeper is that it also has a lot of middle ground, and it doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand about it.

Grice also sets up one of the most entertaining uses of Chekhov’s gun – in the form of an armored all-terrain vehicle equipped with a massive cannon – that I’ve seen in a long while. It’s introduced in the very first chapter and readers are left guessing “are we going to see the tank?” – and while I won’t say exactly when that happens, I will say that it was supremely satisfying.

Gabriel Zacchai’s narration is pitch perfect. He switches back and forth between dramatization and narration perfectly, keeping welcome pace with the tempo of the book. Fans of storytelling and of the oral tradition are in for a treat with this book’s production.

At the end of the day, how you feel about this book may be determined by how you feel about the War on Drugs, however, I’d urge you to give it a shot regardless of your opinion on that front. Oathkeeper is smart, and there is plenty here to like – you’re in for a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

Gaiastan, Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

Mr. Lever’s train finally arrived at its provincial destination. It was a dangerous journey up and over the mountain passes that were already snowed in over two meters deep. An avalanche would be certain death for those aboard the train with the exception of the high ranking Mr. Lever who alone would have been rescued by hovercraft. He could have been dropped off at his destination by said craft but that was not his custom. Lever was, for all intents and purposes, a bounty hunter, and he preferred to fully acclimate himself to his terrain. He also preferred to be as inconspicuous as his ego would permit and dropping in on an undermen backwater with the flashing lights, noise and technological fanfare of a hovering vessel would most assuredly spook the suspect he was tracking. Humans were as skittish as any wild game, but they were also creatures of habit and comfort who quickly forget unspectacular events. Lever’s low tech arrival would be noticed, for sure, but was unspectacular and would soon be disregarded by his quarry.

Lever stepped off the train onto the platform and breathed in the chilly air and the fragrance of burning pine. The last of the curled, golden aspen leaves danced in the breeze along the wood planks beneath his feet. Ice and snow filled the north side shadows and dark alleyways. The tops of the mountains were obscured. The sky hung low, swirling gray.

Lever surveyed the assortment of undermen and an occasional, low-ranking bureaucrat scurrying about. He brushed some sleet off his embroidered overcoat and shifted his matching derby down low on his brow. A porter appeared and set a carpet bag at Lever’s foot. Lever tipped him a 100 dianar note, snapping it from a billfold tucked in his breast pocket. He picked up his bag and strolled across the platform planks in long, deliberate strides. He found he was a good half-foot taller than the rabble of sickly serfs scampering about. Sensing his Overman aura, they averted their eyes and peeled away from him as he made his way to the stairs.

Lever took one final look at the Hegeltown station, examining the corrals to the far end where a half dozen humates were being issued burlap blankets and about to be driven into the train’s cattle car. None of them appeared to be suitable.

He took the stairs down off the platform and walked into town which was every bit as dusty and unkempt as any Overman would expect— Hegeltown was a serf town, after all— but the filth did not bother Lever too greatly as his job had taken him too many dirty hamlets in the hinterlands. Thankfully for him, he spotted a barber which meant that the availability of a proper daily shave and body waxing would go far to mitigate any spiritual regression.

Lever made his way to the inn, peeking first through the panes into the darkened interior and then pushing through the creaky door. He dinged the bell alerting the innkeeper who at first shuffled along, lazily, but then snapped to attention the moment he saw who the guest was.

“What can I do for you, sir?” asked the innkeeper, nervously.

“Good day, my friend. My name is Mr. Lever. I would like to procure a room for the next several evenings, an open-ended stay if possible. And preferably a room that overlooks the plaza. Might one be available?”

“Y-Yes sir. We have one,” answered the innkeeper, nervously. “How will you be paying for it? You are an Official, right? I apologize. We don’t get many of your rank way out here. Am I right, though? Oh, that was rude of me. I suppose… I suppose I need to find my bio scanner. One moment…” The innkeeper ducked down below the counter and fumbled around, knocking over and breaking something made of glass. He popped back up holding a clunky device which he set clumsily down on the counter’s surface with a thud. “One moment, sir, while I plug it in…” He ducked back down and fumbled around again on the floor for another couple moments than popped back up and switched on the device. It buzzed to life. He flipped up an attachment that culminated in a blue lens. “Please… uh, sir… if you don’t mind, please look into the optic,” the innkeeper requested.

Lever sighed. “Of course.” He removed his derby and leaned his right eye into the blue lens. It was all just pretense as the scanner, if it actually had worked, would not discern anything from Lever’s cornea as the eyes of Overman ranking higher than thirty were not catalogued.

The innkeeper fidgeted about nervously as the device failed to return any results. He spun the knobs left, right, left, right. He flipped the switches up, down, up, down. Then he bent the squeaky metal arm to and fro and to and fro thinking that the action might jar something into working order. Lever looked amused at the serf’s flailing logic. The innkeeper asked Lever to look in again and Lever complied, politely, but laboriously. Again, no result. The innkeeper unplugged it and plugged it back in. He adjusted the height of the lens once more. He gave it a good shake. Lever looked in a third time but his eye yielded no identity. The innkeeper took out his handkerchief, spit into it and buffed the eyepiece to Lever’s horror.

“I think we can agree that we’ve given it our best effort,” Lever said.

“I apologize, sir. It seems that my scanner is not working properly. I think that…”

“That’s not a problem at all, my friend,” Lever interrupted. “I can pay you in dianars and I have identification that you can call in to codex enforcement. You’ll find that I am completely in order. I’m sure paper money is still in use here, no?”

“Oh yes. Yes indeed. Scrip will be fine.”

Lever lifted his carpet bag onto the counter while the innkeeper removed the unwieldy biometric scanner and stowed it, breaking something else down below in the process. Lever unfastened the clasps of his bag and began removing the contents, setting the instruments out before the innkeeper like a surgeon prepping for an operation. They were, in fact, surgical instruments… of a sort. There was a tooth extractor, a hypodermic needle, an eyelid scaffold, a hand-powered drill, a mallet, a case containing an assortment of scalpels, several vials of clear potions, and a rather large corkscrew that might be wound up into a body cavity…

“Hmmm. Now where did I put my wallet,” Lever remarked, while the innkeeper stared in horror. “Ah yes. Silly me.” Lever reached back into his overcoat breast pocket and produced his billfold. From it, he snapped out several 100 dianar notes which he handed to the wide-eyed innkeeper who received them in paralyzed awe.

After paying, Lever closed up his carpet bag. He turned back to the innkeeper and placed his index finger to his lips advising the innkeeper that it would be best if he kept his mouth shut about the new Overman guest staying at the hotel.

The innkeeper nodded vigorously as if to say, “I understand… really, I do. You can trust me! No need to use that extractor on me!”

Lever smiled warmly and made his way up to his room where he spent the afternoon meditating.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 11

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Chapter 11

When Mr. Lever appeared, even Overman took notice of it. Mr. Lever had what could best be described as an aura. The essence of his imperious persona occupied a tall yet unspectacular frame of a man of sixtyish. Perhaps it was his eyes— pastel blue like a clear, calm overhead sky at dusk. They were emotionless, calculating, evaluating everyone and everything with intensity. The eyes of those in his presence averted from his. Or perhaps his aura was due to his hairlessness. This was an attribute indicating high status. To the Overman, hair was undesirable and savage, but it was not couth to shave off all of it. To remove it entirely from ones skin, including scalp, arms and eyebrows, was regarded as ostentatious. Only one unflappably self-assured Overman would dare to go completely hairless. Mr. Lever was that Overman.

Lever’s lean frame was dressed in an oxblood overcoat of dissonant, paisley embroidery. It parted with each of his strides revealing a holstered, pearl-handled revolver. With the exception of those zip guns wielded by codex enforcement, revolvers were an anthropological relic. The sight of one tightened the sphincters of just about everyone. Just imagine someone stepping onto a public bus in the pre-Gaian era wielding a Samurai sword. To carry a high caliber pistol with a pearl handle meant only one thing… that you were made, a member of the ultimate caste, an elite.

Mr. Lever was indeed ‘made’. He had achieved the 33rd degree which was the highest degree attainable. Beyond that level, the measurement of status was defined secretly. No one below 33 had any idea of how many concentric, inner rings of elite castes there even were. A dozen? A hundred? No one knew except the very members themselves and they only knew how many castes existed outside theirs. The rankings of the highest of the high elites were closely guarded secrets.

Mr. Lever was employed by the Department of Social Engineering, which meant that he was secret police. But no one called it “secret police” as that held a pejorative connotation. Mr. Lever’s official job was to track down persons of extra-normal social influence who were, for whatever reason, spreading disharmony. Technically speaking, Mr. Lever’s title was that of Sunstein Agent, which meant that he was empowered to use any tools at his disposal to rein in those who were known as disharmonic social influencers.

Sunstein Agents were an ancient order that operated by a centuries old code. At one time, it was a very rigid code, which is to say that they originally eschewed any form of violence which was too often the hallmark of pre-Gaian social norms enforcement. The original Sunstein Code, Section 38, Paragraph 4, Sentence 1 states:

 

Instrumenting the subject’s desire is preferable to applying blunt instrumentation to the subject.

 

The original Agents utilized a school of tactics they called “The Nudge” which was deemed a more advanced and enlightened and civilized form of paternalism. The approach was to induce disharmonic subjects into voluntarily choosing the correct behavior in accordance with the democratically established norms. The Nudge involved an incentive-based approach where correct behavior was rewarded with material fulfillment, praise, promotions, and enhanced status.

The problem with the doctrine, as it was originally dreamed up by Ivy League intelligentsia, was that the humane, carrots-only approach was 1) democratically established norms were often irrational and contradictory and 2) it was soon learned by the serfs that the pathway to personal reward was paved by engaging in disharmonic behaviors. In other words, acting in opposition to the desired behavior became a pathway to prosperity. The Ivy League intelligentsia found themselves intellectually out-maneuvered by the self interest of the dumb masses whom they wished to control. Frustrated, the Sunstein Agents eventually had to reinsert the proverbial ‘stick’ back into the motivational equation so that the dumb masses could be prevented from exploiting the intelligentsia’s brilliant but delicate sociological system.

This change in tenor, from enlightened, non-coercive ‘nudging’ back to endorsing the application of  violence, was reconciled on the grounds that the greater mass of the human herd simply lacked the humanity necessary to be treated humanely. Eventually, with their suspects sufficiently dehumanized, the non-coercive approaches were ditched altogether. After hundreds of years, the only aspect that remained of the original Sunstein Code was the mere words of the code itself.

Mr. Lever took a manicure and a shave every morning and was not to be denied these comforts just because he was aboard a filthy, undermen steam locomotive bound for some distant, savage, provincial shanty-town. He entered his mahogany berth and hung his oxblood coat on a hook. Soon after, there was a knock on his pocket door. He let in his manicurist, a eunuch by Lever’s special request. Lever took a seat and allowed the eunuch to trim his cuticles. When finished with those, the eunuch proceeded to Lever’s follicles. He lathered the greater portion of Lever’s face and scalp and tilted Lever’s head back into a porcelain bowl which had a smooth groove cut into it for the placement of the base of the skull. The eunuch sharpened his razor on a strip of leather fastened to the doorknob. Whisk. Whisk. Whisk. Up and down and up and down he sharpened it. Lever closed his eyes and the eunuch raised the blade, but Lever raised his right hand, ever so slightly, but enough that it faintly brushed the pant leg of the eunuch causing him to take notice that Lever’s arm was positioned in such fashion that it could quickly draw the pearl handled revolver dangling from its holster. Beads of sweat condensed on the eunuch’s brow.

With Lever’s head arched back into a porcelain pot, the eunuch brought down the blade gently, slowly, and just as it came within a centimeter of Lever’s scalp, Lever’s hand swept up to grab the eunuch’s wrists. Lever threw himself upwards in his chair, removed his white handkerchief from his breast pocket with his free hand and succumbed to a fit of coughing that lasted the better part of a minute. The shocked eunuch, hand still stayed by Lever’s and still grasping the razor, watched in horror as droplets of blood burst from Lever’s lungs, filling his white kerchief with crimson.

When the fit was over, Lever calmly rested his head back in the porcelain bowl, released the eunuch’s hand, and motioned him to proceed. With nervous trepidation, the eunuch began scraping the whiskers from Lever’s scalp.

Sure, Lever could have had his hair removed by electrolysis, but this was not the custom for high-ranking Overman. They found something spiritual in the ceremony of hair-removal-by-eunuch-wielding-a-straight-razor. The ritual represented a symbolic cleansing of the filthy beast that metastasizes on the surface of the skin. Shaving was a communal rite of sorts to the high Overman. The scraping blade peeled away the toxic grime of savage, restoring the perfected man… restoring the Overman. This daily mass was the closest that Mr. Lever ever got to religion.

And there Lever laid, head in a bowl, with an undermen eunuch scraping away on him with a straight razor. Lever wondered if the witless serf had the mental capacity to contemplate slicing Lever’s trachea open. It would be easy, like sectioning a celery stalk. One quick, forceful swipe! Lever surely would have contemplated it if the roles were reversed, but Lever was of superior intellect, ego, and self-control, and he knew he would not indulge such an urge unless it was rational to do so. Such ungreen thoughts rattling around in the brain of undermen, however, could bring them dangerously close to savagery. Lever felt pity for the feeble-minded eunuch.

When finished, the eunuch gathered up and cleansed his things and placed them back into his kit. He stood by the door waiting to be excused. Lever got up and examined his hairless, whiskerless, eyebrow-less, alabaster face in the cloudy chamber mirror. There was not one hair to be found except eyelashes. He noticed the serf’s glance in the reflection as he checked his nostrils.

“Ah yes,” Lever responded. “I have almost forgotten. Please pardon my lapse in good manners.” Lever turned to the undermen, approached him, and put his hand upon his shoulder. “Here’s what I have for you, lad…” Lever cleared his throat. “A guide to live by…” He stared into the eunuch’s dull eyes. “My friend, always consider that which is possible before taking any position with passion.” Lever punctuated his verbal tip with a warm grin, staring into the serf’s dull eyes, awaiting some flicker of acknowledgement. But none came. “Hmm… let me see. Perhaps that advice is not pertinent to someone of your caste. Perhaps this, then…” Lever cleared his throat once again. “Selfless effort for the advancement of the collective provides its own reward.” Lever raised his hairless eyebrows and brightened his face in anticipation. “Don’t you agree?”

The undermen simply aped Lever by raising his own bushy eyebrows in response, then smiled. Vanquished, Lever patted him on the shoulder, placed a 100 dianar note in his breast pocket, slid open the pocket door and nudged him out.

Returning to the mirror to complete his self-examination, Lever was pleased that he had at least attempted to impart some wisdom upon a moron that day. It was a noble deed to tip the poor eunuch with two high-minded insights. He was doubtful, however, that the eunuch would apply them.

He sat down and began his other daily ritual of disassembling and cleaning his pearl handled revolver.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

The Hegeltown folk were summoned to the train station by a great brass bell that gonged thirty three times. The good little serfs, dressed in their drab tunics, brought their burros which pulled carts of genetically modified potatoes and bales of hay stacked in massive bundles upon their sturdy backs. Flocks of mutant sheep followed behind and behind them followed herds of bearded goy which were specially engineered, hermaphrodite goats. The townsfolk and beasts filled the station’s platform with the crowd spilling out into the dusty surrounding streets. They grew increasingly restless as two hours passed.

Someone finally spotted a plume of smoke from a steam engine coming ‘round-the-mountain and alerted the others with a shrieking holler. Everyone cheered and pushed and crowded in towards the edge of the platform, condensing a good portion of the crowd of about a thousand, consisting of five hundred undermen and five hundred four-legged animals. The pine planks of the platform sagged and creaked under their collective weight.

The locomotive pulled alongside the platform and when it came to a complete and final stop it let off one final screeching blast of steam. The train’s bell clanged and a battery of blue, jump-suited bureaucrats de-boarded. They were Gaian officials from the Bureau of Sustainability and with uncommon government efficiency, they assembled a row of tables. One official took a seat at each table and placed a conch-shell looking device in front of them. The herd instinctively formed into lines before each table. Finally, an air-horn was blown, and the bazaar officially began.

Upon advancing to the front of the line, the Hegeltown folk would swipe their right wrist across the conch device and a microscopic radio frequency identifier confirmed their identity. No one was permitted to buy or sell anything unless they had the RFID marker, which was implanted during vaccinations at the age of two. Once identity was confirmed, the townsfolk would present their wares, produce, or hermaphrodite goats which were then loaded into adjacent boxcars and placed into various compartments. The quantities and values of said items were then spoken into the conch device by the officials seated at the officiating tables. The undermen were then directed to another set of tables located towards the back of the train. Only after receiving his/her weekly vaccination could the undermen then receive their sixty-pound blocks of tofu and bags of freeze dried, simulated soy milk. Whatever was not redeemed by the townsfolk in the form of physical goods was left on balance in each of their bank accounts, to be depleted incrementally by daily carbon taxes. Behold: sustainability!

Indigo, an Overman and thus exempt from the allocation bazaar, scanned the crowd for D’naia. At first, he couldn’t find her, but she finally appeared. She was dressed in a black sweater and black tights and black boots, none of which was considered appropriate attire by the community, but her outfit represented her best attempt at blending in. Indigo whistled and she spotted him. She smiled and waded through the crowd towards him, physically nestling in to him which was perhaps a little too close as far as traditional undermen values were concerned. A few town folk gave the conspicuous couple a disapproving glare but Indigo was not bothered.

“I wonder how big the herd is,” Indigo asked, feigning interest in the spectacle of the allocation bazaar.

“It’s twenty five,” D’naia answered.

“Wow. That’s pretty good size. How do you know that?”

“I went down to the corral and counted them this afternoon.”

“Were you bored or something?”

“No, quite the opposite. These events are fascinating to me.”

The two of them stood there making small talk, watching the lines of town folk dwindle until the last of them completed their exchanges, took their vaccines, gathered their rations and was reabsorbed by the collective. But the townsfolk did not disperse. Instead, the mob formed into a gauntlet surrounding the corrals. Early that morning, the corrals were assembled with temporary railing to guide the herd up a set of stairs, onto the platform and right up into the doorway of a just opened cattle car.

Indigo and D’naia talked and talked while the gauntlet formed. They talked about the wonders of the cosmopolitan Atlantican coast. They talked about the urbane life and styroscrapers and the porno-buskers and the quaint, sidewalk cafes. They talked about the absurdity of religion and debated the contradictions of unified Gaian ethics (which made Indigo ill, again). He changed the subject to the topic of the futility of achieving higher Overman degree. Indigo always hoped of eventually getting into the twenties where one no longer has to complete the annual Justification to live application.

D’naia had no illusions about rising up in rank. She had blown her one chance by her academic failure. She would remain a 1st degree Overman until her reclamation (or “death”, as she called it). She said she felt that she was not really wanted by the Overman caste, anyway, being from impure eugenic stock. She made the 1st degree solely because a degree of one was a minimum requisite for enrollment in University. In other words, she was given it by virtue of her guardian’s lotto winning. On a positive note, an Overman rank, even the lowest possible rank, got her out of the allocation bazaar and the ritual humiliation of forking over the fruits of one’s labor in exchange for tofu blocks and injections.

“Why do they do it?” She wondered aloud.

“Do what?” Indigo asked.

“Why do they hand over everything they’ve made or harvested for basically nothing?”

“Because it’s the law?” Indigo offered.

“Yeah, but why? They could live ten times better if they just kept what they made and bartered with their neighbors.”

“Then I suppose it’s their sense of civic duty”

“No,” D’naia objected. “They don’t have any grasp of that.”

“Then why don’t you tell me why?”

“I think it’s about conditioning. They’re like those goats over there. It’s definitely not any sense of ‘duty’. Duty implies some higher sense of purpose and a conscious understanding of it. There’s no purpose or conscious understanding in their minds. Look at them. There’s just habituation and fear of punishment.”

“Maybe that’s why they’re undermen, then.”

“I was one of them,” D’naia cautioned. “They’re still my people. Do you think they’re undermen because they are eugenically inferior? Or are they undermen because they’ve been made into them?”

“I try not to think about stuff like that too much. It makes me ill,” Indigo replied.

A restlessness grew amongst the gathered undermen on the platform and around the corrals. The roundup was about to begin with the herd finally being led up the stairs and in through the gauntlet of split rail corrals that ran across the platform and up into the cattle car.

“There they are!” D’naia exclaimed. “See them?”

They appeared, trotting down the path, twenty five of them in all. Twenty five naked humates, eyes wide with terror, trying not to trip or run over one another as they stumbled down the corral under the hiss of the gathered spectators who spat on them and hurled vile insults. The herd lowered their heads and put one hand up over their faces as they jogged through the gauntlet. They made a turn in the causeway and thumped their way up a wooden ramp, up, up, up into the open door of the boxcar. The crowd hissed and booed ever louder and louder.

Codex enforcers appeared out of nowhere, as if materializing from the shadows, dressed in menacing black suits riveted with silver buttons, their face shields down, clutching batons tightly in their gloved hands. One of them had an electric chattel prod that he jabbed into the mass of naked flesh inside the boxcar triggering screams of agony and terror. “I’ll learn you some respect,” he shouted. The codex enforcer jabbed his prod again and again at the savages. Then another squirted a mist of blinding pepper spray into their eyes. Then another climbed the adjacent corral, dropped his pants, and began urinated on them to howls of approving laughter from the undermen crowd. The screams and coughing and convulsions of the boxed up, naked humates gave the gathered town folk quite a show. Their cheers encouraged the codex cops to abuse them even more.

Then, quite by accident, the cop with the chattel prod sent out an errant bolt of electricity that caught the other cop’s urine stream. The charge ran up into him, knocking him off the fence. The serfs watching the show broke out into a roar of laughter which was immediately met by a swarm of swinging batons and pepper spray by the disrespected cops. The cops turned their aggression loose on everyone. Even the temporarily incapacitated enforcer shook off his fall and jumped into the fray, cracking a half dozen undermen heads with his baton without even bothering to pull up his pants.

“Sad…” Indigo observed of the spectacle. The urinating guard made his way back to the cattle car, slid the door closed and locked it with his pants still down around his ankles.

“Is that an expression of pity or remorse?” D’naia asked him.

Indigo reflected for a moment. He did not want to blow it with the beautiful D’naia by answering incorrectly. He had developed a burning lust for her, but he wasn’t exactly sure what her view was on the whole matter. Having grown up within the vicinity of humates, perhaps she was sensitive to their plight. “I suppose that I do pity them,” is how he finally answered, sensing further contemplative hesitation would jeopardize his standing with her nearly the same as the wrong answer would. He congratulated himself on his clever evasion but D’naia would not let him off the hook.

“Do you consider them human?”

Indigo felt himself smile nervously as the locomotive’s whistle blew. “Human?”

“Don’t be evasive,” D’naia pressed. “Do you consider them human?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”

“Do you believe that they are?” D’naia asked.

“Huh?” Indigo asked, buying time to think.

“Do you believe they are human?”

“I… I…”

“…So if they’re not human, what species are they?”

Indigo had an instinctive answer but it was not the answer he intended to give. Humates were eugenic savages, or so it was taught to him at school. They lived in the wilderness. They ate bird shit, slept in their own feces, and lived in caves with rodents and insects and snakes. They worshiped a god crafted in their image which was utterly ridiculous to Indigo who was raised Secular Gaianist. Yet he did feel some pity for them.

Undermen were clearly humanoid— close relatives of Overman. Humates had somehow genetically branched off centuries before, but they appeared close relatives. They had ten fingers and ten toes. They had faces and expressions. If you dressed them up in Mao tunics they would be indistinguishable from the Hegeltown folk. They even shielded themselves from ridicule and spittle and the pain of electric shocks from chattel prods so they must sense pain and fear.

Indigo was suddenly unsure precisely what ‘humate’ even meant. A wolf and a dog are both canines. A dog is a dumbed down, domesticated wolf, but even though they are dumb, compared to wolves, and utterly dependant on humans for survival, dogs were significant enough to be given a name. These humate savages were much closer to human beings than dogs were to wolves, yet they were treated far worse, comparatively.

He started to feel queasy.

Maybe if he could define ‘human’ that would help him to define ‘humate’. The official Gaian definition of ‘human’ was a category of bipedal, mostly hairless primate whose distinction is that he is recognized by the Republic of Gaiastan as having the three unalienable rights of food, shelter, and clothing. Were these humate savages ‘recognized’ by Gaiastan as having rights? Most definitely not. But did that make them any less ‘human’ than a typical Hegeltown person? Why didn’t they have the same rights? No other subspecies of animal that he could think of was differentiated by a government decree.

He was troubled by this mostly because he had never contemplated it before. If a person that looks like a human, walks like a human, talks like a human, feels pain like a human, but is not recognized by the republic as having basic rights, is he therefore not human? Apparently these savages weren’t. Gaiastan officials were the final arbiter of such things. These humanoids were humate because the State had deemed them so and that Indigo decided that was good enough. His illness immediately subsided but D’naia was still waiting for an answer so he had to come up with something that would not be a lie but would not offend her.

“I suppose they look like humans to me,” he answered, surprising even himself at the cleverness of his subtle, non-committal ambiguity.

D’naia smiled.

A burst of steam shot from the engine and it lurched in reverse, pushing the train back down the track, out of town and out of sight. It had been an exciting day for the Hegeltown folk. Thank Gaia, they thought, that those humate savages who drank their own piss and fornicated with animals were captured and hauled away. They might have caused trouble or cannibalized some children or something worse, they thought. Everyone knew that humates were into rites of child sacrifice, cannibalism and even worse… like pollution! Hopefully the savages would be hauled off to be re-educated as good Gaiastolics and ultimately introduced into civilization as born again undermen… just so long as they were introduced “somewheres else, far, far away from here,” the Hegeltown folk thought.

“Do you wonder what happens to them?” D’naia asked.

Indigo never actually pondered that question so he answered, “I was actually just wondering that.”

“Well, I know,” D’naia offered, punctuating her revelation with raised eyebrows.

“Do tell me, then.”

“Some other time.”

“No, don’t be that way. I want to know. Tell me now.”

“Maybe I will but I’ve got to go, now.” D’naia started off but Indigo stopped her.

“Wait! When… when can I see you again?”

D’naia’s eyes locked onto Indigo’s. She tried to muster a smile but it came off more like a smirk. She smirked a lot.

“I assume you’ll be working your route this week?”

“I will.”

“Then I’ll probably see you this week at the kibbutz,” she answered as she turned to leave.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

The high sun of summer warmed the alpine valley just enough to get the genetically modified, fast-growing potatoes sprouting. The valley folk were expecting a fine harvest at equinox so long as there was enough rain and no hard summer freezes.

The mutant sheep grazed away on the grassy slopes while their shepherds tended them with their crooks which, when pointed at wayward mutants, would transmit a signal into their brain compelling them to return to their herd. Dogs were no longer permitted in the shepherding trade. It was deemed to be ‘psychologically abusive’ to allow sheep to be nipped and barked at by working dogs. A mind-controlling synaptic receiver, surgically implanted in the skull, was determined to be much more humane.

Indigo soon discovered that his pension would not carry him as far as he had originally hoped so he was forced to take a job as an Overseer which meant that he was paid to ride a burro from kibbutz to kibbutz and ensure that no unauthorized seed sowing was occurring and that no animals, mutant or otherwise, were being abused. He felt silly— being a former astronaut and all— plodding and bobbing along on a little donkey, so he surrendered his burro and took up walking. He discovered that the vigorous exercise restored his strength along with his appetite. He also discovered that he enjoyed acquainting himself with the dwindling population of undermen that lived along his route. His tolerance for the brutish slobs had come a long way.

As he got to know them better, he began to feel inadequate comparing his Overseer job duties to the more arduous professions of the male undermen. An Overseer role was secretly deemed by the serfs as ‘woman’s work’ although it was considered ungreen to think such sexist thoughts.

Indigo dealt with his feelings of inadequacy by reminding himself that the salary for an Overseer, a Gaian Administrator— Level six, was easily fifteen times that of a more ‘manly’ shepherd. So Indigo carried on, aware of the undermen’s perceptions of him and trying to be as lax as bureaucratically possible with the serfs in hope that it would engender their good will.

By late summer, Indigo had settled into a regular routine which took him to every kibbutz and shepherd’s hut in his section of the valley, once a week. The routine gave him the sense that he had finally unwound himself emotionally from the Mars mission. But on one typically mundane day, a day when he was actually contemplating issuing a demerit so as to break up the monotony, Indigo made a stop at the Tarian Commune kibbutz. Many things changed in Indigo’s life from that moment on.

The Tarians— Nadia, Adolphus, Adani, Ludwig, Diana, Raphael and Daian[1]— were temple-going, collectively married folk who never once in fifteen years missed a Holy Communion or a production quota. They were traditional, quaint, salt-o-the-earth farmers of genetically modified potatoes. They tended forty acres as well as the adjacent forty acres which were abandoned two years prior when the last member of the Ogden-Merchant kibbutz finally succumbed to the cancers (which was how a good portion of the valley succumbed).

Adolphus and Nadia were especially model undermen. Gaiastan held them in the greenest regard for their tireless community service amounting to forty hours of mandatory volunteerism per week which they had performed with vigor and without complaint for ten straight years. They had also never once received a demerit from any Overseer since they had been transferred into the Hegel Valley in their teens.

When news of the nationalistic spirit of Aldolphus and Nadia reached the Highlands District administrators, they sent their agents down to investigate. Upon confirmation, the administrators presented the couple to the selection committee of The Children of Gaia for recognition. After eighteen months, Adolphus and Nadia were finally selected to receive an award for their nationalistic spirit which entailed them being entered into the Future of Gaia lottery raffle along with two dozen other nationalistic souls.

Adolphus and Nadia had the amazing good fortune of winning that raffle! The winning ticket, drawn from the hollowed and polished skull of an unfortunate humate by the Ceremonial Village Manager, meant that the winner would then be entered into the Highlands District Super Gaia Lotto drawing. That winning ticket was to be plucked from a hollowed out, gold-plated underman skull by the District Vizier. Amazingly, Adolphus and Nadia of the Tarians kibbutz won that raffle as well!

It was a spectacular streak of good luck and the townsfolk celebrated the proud duo for their great, triumphant, personal accomplishment of being extraordinarily lucky. But what was the prize, you ask? Surely, it must have been something spectacular as the odds against them winning were so astronomical. Well, it was indeed a wonderful prize to win the Highlands District Super Gaia Lotto drawing, for the Tarians couple won for themselves one full ride scholarship to attend the prestigious Ivy League University System!

The only question that remained for the pair was what to do with the scholarship? Nadia and Aldolphus were, by the time of the winning, well into old age (their late fifties) and much too old to make any proper use of it. Neither of them had the aptitude to meet the academic rigors of the Ivy League, either. They agreed that it would be a waste for either of them to attend as they would probably not survive the first semester. However, there remained for them an obvious disposition for the award, someone who might derive benefit by using it to break out of her undermen caste and elevate herself to a better, greener life.

Her name was D’naia and she was the youngest of six children assigned to the Tarian kibbutz. She was the only child that still remained as the others had been reassigned to other valleys, conscripted to fight the post nuclear remnants of worldwide evil, or died in a horrific woodcutting tragedy. D’naia was dearest to Adolphus and Nadia although they would never disclose that to the other surviving foster siblings.

So it was decided that the youngest of the Tarian kibbutz’ six children would attend the Ivy League. Her travel, room and board, and incidental expense had to be furnished by the Tarians, of course, but D’naia was permitted to attend, nonetheless. She was an inspiration to all of the Hegel Valley, a nationalistic champion of their hearts.

That autumn, the Tarian’s favorite daughter boarded a train at the Hegeltown station and headed east, down out of the mountains, across the DZ where humates lurk awaiting their chance to devour appendages, over the wide, slow-churning Great People’s River, and off to the far eastern regions of Gaiastan where great opportunity and University awaited her.

She survived three semesters before flunking out, proving conclusively to all that Overman Universities are absolutely no place for feeble minded undermen. So bad was her failure that they canceled all future lottos. She returned to her kibbutz in disgrace and saddled with a mountain of tuition debt as her failure triggered the revocation of her prize.

Indigo was not thinking about D’naia’s sad story the moment he passed the adobe and log farmhouse of the Tarian kibbutz. But he did take notice of D’naia working in the garden that day and she noticed him, too.

In the year since her disgrace, she had matured into a woman, fair and tall. Despite washing out, three semesters at University with Overman had altered her thinking. She refused to wear the traditional, androgynous pantsuit of undermen women. She instead wore a bright summer dress which was probably unspectacular for University co-eds, but quite sensational in the traditional, conservative, undermen enclave. Her dress was light and floral, sleeveless, and cinched at the waist with a wide silk ribbon. The material undulated in the soft summer breeze revealing, in quick flashes, her shaved legs.

What a scandal! Indigo thought. Only undermen men ever shaved ever their legs! Indigo soaked up the vision. She was an unbelievable contrast to the gender neutrality of the women of the valley. He immediately felt the illness coming on but he couldn’t pull his eyes off her.

“Hey you,” she called out to him, breaking his trance and reminding him that ogling was a misdemeanor. “You’re that spaceman, aren’t you?”

Indigo looked away and started off down the road.

“Wait. Don’t go. Wait!”

Indigo stopped.

“You’re Indigo, aren’t you?”

Indigo reluctantly answered. “Yes. Yes I am.”

D’naia stepped out of the garden and strode up to him, dress rippling, calves flexing. Indigo tried to avert his eyes.

“My guardians told me about you. They’re so proud to have a hero living in their village.”

“Well…,” Indigo feigned humility, “tell them ‘thank you’.”

“I will,” she answered in an exaggerated tenor.

“So… is that all?”

“No, wait. So tell me… What’s it like?”

“What’s what like?” Indigo asked in a contrived tone already knowing what she meant having been asked the ‘walking on Mars’ question at least eight hundred times.

“Tell me,” she repeated, “What’s it like… what’s it like being the only one left?”

This was not the question Indigo expected. It caught him off guard for it indicated, in her, a compassion that exceeded the mere novel, impersonal interest that everyone else had expressed.

It had been over thirty days (three metric weeks) since Staley disappeared. Many theories had evolved over his vanishing including assassination by Sunstein Agent, kidnapping by the Anarcho-Capitalist Underground, eaten by humate cannibals, falling to his death into a crevasse in the Gunnison Glacier, recalled back to active duty for a secret spaceman mission to Titan, and perhaps the most outlandish of them all, becoming a meditative spiritualist surviving on insects and tree bark.

“I didn’t know I was the only one left,” Indigo answered, regurgitating the official government mantra.

“Oh, c’mon. You don’t think he’s still alive, do you?” She asked, a piercing, ice-pick stare beaming from her eyes.

Indigo felt a little insulted. But rather than off-putting, it fueled a resilient and aggressive attitude within. He desired her. She was beautiful, several standard deviations more attractive than the average serf-maiden. He had forgotten visual arousal being surrounded by mustachioed women in pantsuits and crew cuts for so long. He felt a primal urge to grab hold of her, yank her silky dress up over her head, and deflower her right there on the splintery, split rail fence that separated them. He, of course, would never indulge such a savage fantasy and the burgeoning, gastro-intestinal illness aided in his effort to suppress his ungreenness.

D’naia didn’t fear him despite knowing exactly what lusting thoughts he had swirling in his mind. She smirked awaiting his answer. She knew he was harmless.

“I honestly don’t know what happened to Staley,” Indigo finally replied. “I do know that he was tired of celebrity.”

“I suppose anyone would get tired of it,” D’naia answered, eyes softening.

Then Indigo’s brain clicked, finally devising a means of punishing her for her penetrating question and refusal to exhibit proper humility towards one of much higher degree. “Are you that female that flunked out of University? How do you deal with everyone’s disappointment?” But he terribly, terribly regretted asking that the very moment the cruel words flew off his tongue.

D’naia stared back at him, her blue eyes softening further, giving Indigo the sense that he had indeed wounded her. He averted his eyes apologetically.

“You’re cruel,” she indicated, but not in a way that was a plea for mercy but rather in a way that meant that she enjoyed the duel. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Their eyes re-engaged.

“I don’t have any plans.”

“Then meet me at the bazaar. I’ll be at the station at five.”

[1] By custom, all government approved female undermen names are anagrams of Diana, The Roman goddess of nature, fertility and childbirth.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

“Where is Staley?” Indigo pondered on his way out of church.

Staley never did make it to services that Sabbath. He slept in an abandoned house four blocks away while Indigo observed the communal offering to the Great Mother. There were many, many abandoned buildings in and around Hegeltown. The population was once four times what it now was but the long, sustained depopulation had taken the numbers well below the critical mass required to fill the residential vacancies.

The resolution of the abandoned structure problem plagued the bureaucrats pitting the clan of those who preferred to have them demolished against those who preferred to leave them to decay naturally. Many heated arguments broke out where long, impassioned speeches were given and vile insults were hurled by one party against the other. The town cleaved into two opposing factions, each holding the other in utter contempt. It seemed as though there could be no reconciliation between the competing paradigms of destruction.

One day, one villager suggested that the abandoned structures be homesteaded by undermen immigrants whose population boost might reinvigorate the town. For his ungreen radical thinking, he was taken outside and beaten by members of both factions to within an inch of his life. Thankfully, a compromise solution was offered by visiting Highlands District administrators who proposed that the vacant structures be both booby-trapped with explosives and left to rot. Both sides thus got their way and the partisan v partisan chaos, which included vandalism, arson, kidnappings and gang rapes abruptly ended. Normalcy, tranquility, and harmony were restored by enlightened government resolution.

Staley quickly figured out the booby traps and let himself in to one such abandoned structure, a farmhouse near the edge of the village. There, he shot all but one kernel of his opiates. He passed out on a broken down sofa with his head resting on the arm and cuddling a bundle of his personal effects. By the afternoon, the sun’s transit brought a beam of light into a fractured window pane and the warm bright rays resurrected Staley from his coma. His eyes struggled open. He wearily pulled himself upright. With the aid of the sofa he pushed himself onto his feet. He gathered his things and headed out of the farmhouse for a walk. It was going to be a long walk, he decided.

Staley strode out with his bundle onto the dirt Main Street and then north, taking in the weathered facades of the vacant seeds and grain store and the livery. A little further down the avenue he passed a sturdy stone building of Romanesque columns— The JPGoldmanChaseRothschild Bank. Next door to that stood a Lodge which was built of solid granite. No other buildings on Main Street were built of stone or brick except the government office which housed the town’s pod of authorities and legion of codex enforcers.

In Staley’s estimation, the codex enforces were the worst forms of undermanity. Their job was to pose as peace keepers and collect revenue by issuing fines for civil code infractions like parking a burro within ten meters of a thicket of endangered highland sage weed, or being too fat, or using more than six squares of toilet paper at a sitting. They were power drunk, busy-body tax collectors armed with revolvers, tasers, and ticket books. What made them even worse was that, almost to a man, they were afflicted with delusions of grandeur. Each believed he was on a career path that would lead them into the brotherhood of Motherland Security— the big boys who wielded big bad energy weapons and walked in big, bold strides aided by bursts of high intensity sound waves. No provincial codex cop was ever known, anywhere, to get promoted into Motherland Security, yet they were, each and every one, convinced they would still make it to the big-time.

Staley trudged on, briskly, right on out of town, passing out of it unnoticed. He crossed over a failing wooden bridge which spanned an icy creek and, once on the other side of it, he could no longer be seen by any curious townsfolk. Everyone was too busy scurrying around, showing off their Sabbath Mao tunics and pant suits to notice him, anyway, but he was relieved to be out of their line of sight.

The train was coming to town that day bringing its assortment of consumable goods to be exchanged for the produce of the townsfolk. The serfs were industriously preparing for this event which they called the bazaar. Staley was a little disappointed he would miss it. They often ended with drama.

The dirt road took Staley to the west. He played a little game with himself as he walked pretending that he might turn into a pillar of salt if he were to look back. He only looked back thirteen times during his hike, focusing his energy mostly on his pace, the weight of his pack, and his pervasive checking and rechecking of his tunic pocket for the last kernel of opiate making sure that it had not accidently fallen out as he made haste.

It was afternoon when Staley caught a sliver of white on the horizon which was the top surface of the Great Gunnison Glacier coming into view— a sheet of ice so massive that it blocked any passage further west. This sight invigorated him and he quickened his pace. Within an hour, he came upon the glacier’s moraine and followed the rivulets of melt water to the foot of the edge of the icy monolith.

There it was, standing before him, a two hundred meter wall of jagged white and blue within blue ice. The leviathan was advancing towards him— an ominous thought— at the breakneck pace of one centimeter per hour. Obviously slow enough for Staley to keep out of its way, but fast enough that the District’s engineering bureaucrats were panicking over its encroachment upon the rail line a mere kilometer to the north. The ice moved, oblivious to the ordinances and resolutions passed by the bureaucrats who did little else other than wish its path of eminent destruction was not what it was. Once it buried the rail line, the town would be completely cut off from the world.

The Gunnison glacier thickened while it moved, too. Glaciers were growing everywhere, coinciding with the terrestrial cooling. The shortened summers and longer winters were much colder than Staley remembered when he was a tenderfoot member of the Green Scouts.

Ice had become a national symbol of triumph. Ice was revered in commercials and public service announcements. The return of the ice was deemed a miracle and a blessing. Ice had saved the earth!

Staley knew better. For him, ice was good for nothing except chilling drinks and preserving bodies. Ice consumed the pasturelands and potato fields with frozen nothingness. It filled in the lush, green valleys with its sterile, frozen white. Men can’t eat ice. Men can’t even drink it or water a garden with it without hauling blocks of it off for melting in some cistern. Ice, in natural form, is mostly useless and often worse. Had ice saved the earth? Staley pondered. Saved the earth from what? From mankind? From life? The global cooling did nothing for mankind except trigger continental crop failures and mass starvation. Warm is preferable to cold, Staley thought. He pondered this as he scooped up a palm full of pure melt water and poured it into his parched mouth. Why did the Overman celebrate something so destructive, so anti-life?

Staley walked the edge where the glacier scraped the green life off the world. Great white boulders of it had calved off from its sheer face and littered the muddy earth at its base. Between those giant blocks, grasses and small saplings poked up from the mud. Their lives would be short as Mother Nature’s great razor would sheer them off at their trunks or bury them in a matter of weeks or months. But they grew nevertheless, climbing up from the soil in their desperate way, striving for a life however fleeting. They did not get to choose where they were born, but they made the most of their chance at life.

“How pointless,” Staley thought. He felt for his immortality locket. His recent brain dump brought him little comfort. What point would there be in resurrection? To be tormented for eternity?

He recalled Mars. There, the ice exists only at the poles. The thousand meter thick glaciers there do not melt into spinney moraines and habitats for desperate saplings. No. On Mars, the boiling point of water is so low, due to the lack of atmospheric pressure, that no liquid water exists. The glaciers simply boil away from ice into vapor. There is no surface water on Mars, just an inhospitably dry, dusty, life-siphoning vacuum. Mars is global cooling taken all the way. The only lifelike amusements on Mars were the dust devils.

The wind whipped down through the valley and chilled as it rolled off the surface of the glacier. The blast of cold crawled up into Staley’s sleeves and down into his collar. Summer nights were still cold at this altitude and when the sun went down the temperature dropped precipitously. Staley buttoned the highest button of his tunic and made for the trees.

A competent naturalist would have staked out a camp on the leeward side of the glacier and would have embarked on a wood gathering expedition at this late point in the day. But Staley was not to be bothered with any of that. He touched his shirt pocket, feeling for the opiate again. It was there. He moved on.

Upwards he climbed, alongside the glacier and into the trees. The evergreens closed in behind him, veiling the ice from his view. Upwards and upwards he pushed. His heart was pounding. His quadriceps burned. Upwards, ever upwards. The further he scrambled the steeper and more rugged the terrain became. He finally stopped out of sheer exhaustion.

A gray buck, with its ornamental antlers covered in velvet, raised his head to listen. Staley froze when he spotted him. He had never seen a wild deer up close before, having been raised in the antiseptic metropolis of Malthusville— an urban center of five million. There was no need to ever leave the city. Besides, sojourns into the wild lands were strongly discouraged by licensing requirements, manufactured fear of wild animals, and extremely prohibitive transportation cost. The high elites did not want millions of lowly citizens stampeding about and spoiling the pristine wilderness preserved for them.

Staley stared in breathless wonderment as the buck stared back at him, nostrils dilating, ears flicking. It didn’t seem to be too worried about Staley’s presence. The buck eventually wandered off to find more tender shoots to pluck. Staley was happy to have experienced the animal, if for only a minute and for only once in a lifetime.

He continued on a few more steps. The sky dimmed to gray and the bright and shimmering Lucifer appeared in the west. Staley stopped to rest and to gaze at the brilliant Light Bearer. Perhaps he might change his mind, he thought. Perhaps he was being too rash. Perhaps his life would not be awful if he was to return to the village. Perhaps his wounds of torment would heal. He only needed to embrace his proper role… his proper place in the world. He only needed to embrace the life he was assigned and his existence would have new meaning and purpose.

The sun finally set and at that moment the sky illuminated as if God had dipped heaven’s edge into a cauldron of hues. The gray sky drew up the brilliant colors into a grand, celestial fresco of oranges and golds. Staley clutched at his immortality locket. He decided that he did not expect any resurrection. They never resurrect suicides.

It was getting quite cold and Staley decided that he could go no further. He took out his paraphernalia and set it on a stone. He emptied the contents of his pack and put on his spacesuit. He retrieved his opiate kernel and placed it on the spoon where he heated it until it liquefied. He took out his needle, drew up the elixir and injected it carefully into a vein in his neck. It was a large dose, more than enough to stop his heart. Lastly, he put on his space helmet and watched the brilliant, motionless dance of sunset as the colors cooled from orange to pink and pink to red and red to purple and purple to blue and blue to black.

He thought of Athena and her last words to him as he closed the flash visor of his space helmet.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

Rap! Rap! Rap!

Indigo opened his eyes. He was standing which was the only way he could sleep ever since the Mars mission. He unfastened the belts he used to hold him upright, straightened his robe, and went to the door.

“Who’s there?” He asked through the pressboard.

“The innkeeper. I’m waking you for temple.”

“I didn’t ask to be waked for temple,” Indigo replied.

“We don’t ask if you want to be waked,” replied the innkeeper. “Service starts in one hour. Be there or find somewhere else to stay.”

Apparently keeping the Sabbath was not optional, even for Secular Gaianist spacemen. Indigo sighed, then washed his face in a porcelain bowl resting on a credenza. His wardrobe of brown Mao tunic with a magenta bolo tie was topped off with a black stove pipe top hat. His hair spilled out from under the brim, slowly growing towards his shoulders. “Insufficient,” he lamented, but at least it was growing. He affixed his blue sunshades to his eyes, grabbed his gentleman’s cane and stepped out of his room, walked down the stairs and out into the dusty street.

It was blue and bright that Sabbath, with a cool breeze gently blowing. The bite of winter was gone but never entirely forgotten. It would be returning soon enough.

To the north of Hegeltown, the fields, which were sown with genetically modified seed back when the snowflakes still fell, were beginning to sprout. Sowing Day, as authorized by the Midsanto Department of Agriculture, was right on time for once— not so early that a hard freeze killed the fragile seedlings but not so late that the crops could not ripen. It was a tight window and two in seven years were a complete failure. Hegeltown boasted a growing season of a mere 75 days which was quite short even by Midsanto corporate standards but it was just long enough for the genetically modified potatoes to ripen. Potatoes and mutant sheep and goat products comprised the bulk of the economic output of the valley.

Indigo made his way down Main Street to the church which was surrounded by sullen burros lashed to hitching posts and two methanol powered, chromium motor cars. One of these vessels was commissioned by the ceremonial Village Manager and the Territorial Vizier (who actually ran things). Both cars were the property of Gaiastan but those officials had exclusive use of them so long as they remained in public service. No one else in the valley was permitted the use of transportation powered by internal combustion.

On his way to the church, Indigo passed by males in their freshened Mao tunics and females adorned in the most brightly colored pantsuits. Indigo climbed the three steps at the entrance of the whitewashed temple, removed his top hat and passed into the house of worship.

Inside, Indigo found a seat on a hard pew next to an androgynous khaki and blue brat probing deep into its left nostril with its right index finger. Indigo surveyed the interior of the temple. Upon the dais rested an altar draped in white linen. Behind it, on the wall, was an embroidered eye— the all seeing eye— surrounded by an aura of stylized rays extending outwards in a pattern evoking the shape of an angelic silhouette. An acolyte was setting the last of three candles alight. He bowed, then stood and turned.

“All rise,” he commanded.

Enter the priest who was a lanky person of indecipherable gender draped in white robes. It was most likely a eunuch, as there were very few female priests and membered males were not permitted into the Gaiastolic clergy. On the table lay a single roll of white linen bound by vines. Adjacent to that was a silver grail. The priest knelt before the altar placing its fist to its forehead and closing its eyes giving the appearance of deep, meditative concentration. After a brief moment of silence, it rose and turned to the flock.

“Welcome,” it spoke with a faint grin. “Welcome to all of Gaia’s children. May the Great Benign Mother cast her blessings upon us.”

“And may we protect her from all our wretchedness,” replied the congregation.

“I shall begin with a reading from the Book of Ehrlich.”

“We open our minds…” answered the parish in unison.

 

“And Gaia saw the selfishness of man was great and against her, and every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil materialism. And it repented Gaia that She had made man on the earth, and it grieved Her at Her heart. And Gaia said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth for it repenteth me that I have made him.

But Ehrlich found grace in the eyes of Gaia. Ehrlich was a wise man and perfect in his knowledge, and Ehrlich walked with Gaia.

The earth was corrupted by man and the earth was filled with violence and pollution. And Gaia looked out upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all mankind had corrupted his way upon the earth. And Gaia said to Ehrlich, the end of mankind is come before me; for my earth is filled with violence and pollution through them; and, behold, I will destroy man.

Make thee an ark of impervious steel; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and thou shalt seal it within and without. And this is the fashion which thou shall make it: The length shall be six hundred feet, the breadth of it one hundred feet, and the height of it twenty feet. Thou shalt bury this ark one mile below the pole of the earth. A shaft thou shalt make to the ark and a door of the shaft shalt thou set upon the surface.

And, behold, I, even I, do bring a frozen flood of glaciers upon the earth, to destroy all mankind, wherein is the breath of life, from upon Gaia; and every man that is on the earth shall die.

But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark. And the seed and cell of every living thing, two hundred of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep their genome alive with thee.

Thus did Ehrlich; according to all that Gaia commanded him, so did he.”

 

And when the reading was concluded, the priest placed its fist to its forehead and closed its eyes again. It said, “Let us pray…” and everyone joined in except for Indigo who lip-synched the words because he did not believe in any deity but was raised to be a respectful Humanist.

The congregation prayed:

 

Our Mother, who art the earth

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom hath come

Thy will being done

On earth for this is our heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our pollutions

As you forgave those who polluted before us

And lead us not into materialism

But deliver us from ego

For thou art the guardian, the benefactor, and the    life everlasting

Long after humanity

Amen

 

Then the priest removed its robes and stood before the congregation naked which revealed that it was, at least originally, a male. He turned to the altar and raised his hands up in silent prayer which he concluded with a bow. He lowered his arms to the altar and unrolled the white linen bundle. He laid out an array of silver instruments and prepared them with his unclothed back still turned to the congregation. There was no sound except a stray cough. And the great, radiating, embroidered eye on the wall seemed to grow brighter casting the naked priest in a glorious halo of light. The priest walked slowly around to the other side of the altar to face the congregation with arms crossed concealing the application of his holy instruments. The congregation all lowered their heads except for Indigo who was enthralled by the Communion ritual which he had not seen for many, many years.

The priest continued, “Great Mother Earth, you have made yourself for us; our human hearts are poisoned with materialism until they’ve been cleansed by your purity. We beseech thee, cure our wretchedness by accepting the gift of our blood, so that your thirst may be quenched and you again may offer your breast to the insatiable hunger of the wretched, suckling, savage man. By the power of your spirit, lead us unto the earthly table where we may again feast on the vision of your bountiful glory forever and ever. Amen.”

And with that, the priest unfurled his arms revealing two silver needles inserted into his veins. And from those needles and down his arms ran two latex arteries which terminated in a cinch between each thumb and index finger.

“Please accept this gift, oh Great Gaia!” The priest commanded.

He released the ends of the latex tubes and his blood, the symbolic blood of man, shed for the remission of mankind’s sins, spilled out into the silver Chalice of Life. Many of those whose heads were bowed raised one hand as if to channel the great spirit of Gaia which was apparently swirling about in the ether above their heads.

“Amazing,” Indigo remarked under his breath. He wished that Staley was there to see it.

 

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