Gaiastan, Chapter 18

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Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Coughing roused Indigo from the clutches of a dream. He woke into the gray hues and early morning chill of the wilderness. He rubbed the blurriness from his eyes to find Joe Hannan awake and tending the fire. Indigo sat up, careful not to disturb D’naia whose head rested in his lap. The light revealed the surroundings which were different than he had envisioned in the darkness. Ravens flew by overhead. He couldn’t remember what his dream was about but it left him with a remnant sense that he had betrayed someone.

He was startled to find a visitor had joined them in their camp. The stranger was holding a revolver in a gloved hand, aiming it at Joe Hannan. He held a handkerchief in the other, spotted with blood.

“Good morning, Indigo,” greeted the stranger.

Joe Hannan tended the fire without response.

“Who are you?” Indigo asked.

“My name is Lever.”

“You’re a Sunstein Agent.”

“Indeed.”

“How did you find us?” Indigo asked.

“Look behind you,” grumbled Joe Hannan as he jabbed at the campfire coals.

Indigo turned and found a dusty, archaic machine of man-height, standing like a sentry, covered in branches and leaves.

“It’s an old kiosk,” Joe Hannan lamented. “It was activated by your immortality locket. I thought you left in a deposit box in town.”

“I couldn’t leave it behind. I was afraid. What’s a kiosk doing way out here, anyway?” Indigo asked.

“It wasn’t ‘way out’ a hundred years ago,” Mr. Lever responded. “Look up. You’re camping under an old storefront. You see, Indigo,” Lever continued, “you’ll never be beyond our grasp. We can always find the ones like you. I’ve been doing this a long time.”

“I’m not going back with you,” Indigo declared. “I’m finished with your world.”

“Let’s not be unreasonable, Indigo,” Lever proposed. “You know that you are of great value to Gaiastan. We really must bring you back so that you can continue performing your patriotic duties.”

“I… we are not going back with you. I know what you’ll do to us.”

“Oh, Indigo,” Lever answered. “Don’t be difficult. There is no hope of escape. There are hovercraft filled with Motherland Security nearby.”

“Staley escaped.”

“He slipped out of our grasp by a fit of extraordinary luck. But we’ll find him. It won’t take me long.”

“Then you should start looking for him because we are not going back with you.”

“You know, Indigo, to be honest, we probably could shrug off the loss of one of you. Theoretically, we could rebrand one of you as the lone surviving hero. The herd will accept whatever we tell them so long as we tell them with sufficient vigor and repetition. But losing both of you? How would it look to the world if we were to lose both national heroes? That would be tough to spin. Gaiastan would look most unexceptional if you two were both to survive the trials of your space odyssey only to succumb to death by cannibals. No, losing you both simply cannot be allowed. Be reasonable and don’t worry about it too much.”

“You’ll reformat my brain. And you’ll recondition D’naia. And you’ll turn our child into one of you.”

“It’s not your child, Indigo. Children belong to the village. They belong to Gaiastan. And if we want to get technical, the little proto human she carries in her womb is not even human, yet. It’s so irrational to get emotionally attached to a thing.”

“We’re not going back with you,” Indigo declared.

“I’m afraid it’s absolutely necessary. Be pragmatic, Indigo. Try to understand.”

Mr. Lever shivered faintly in his oxblood overcoat as he spoke. His hairless body and thin blood offered little resistance to the winter morning of the wilderness. He yearned to be back in the luxurious confines of his habitation cube… or even better, on a North Atlantican beach wrapped in a heating thermal and sipping a mojito. “Motherland Security is near,” he warned. “Resistance is futile. Don’t make me call them in. I prefer a much more personal and civilized approach to things. There’s no need to manage this situation by blunt force.”

“What’s going on?” asked D’naia who had just awoken and raised her head from Indigo’s lap.

“We’re still not going,” Indigo answered as he clung to D’naia. She quickly deduced the situation.

Lever sighed which triggered a short bout of coughing within him. “Pardon me. I seem to have come down with something. This climate disagrees terribly with my constitution.” Lever took a moment to clear his throat. He continued, “Indigo, must we resort to bargaining? It’s so un-Overman to wheel-and-deal over a matter such as this. Okay, fine. Let me make you an offer. Consider that we can make things easier for you. We’ll get you access to all the comforts. You can even have electricity twelve hours per day, uninterrupted… How about meat? Three times per week even. Does that not appeal to you? No? Aha. I got it. Need I appeal to your vanity, then? How about this: we’ll give you a substantial bump in rank. How does fifteenth degree sound? No? Okay. Okay. How about sixteen? Yes, a rank of sixteen should do it.”

“What will he care about wealth or degree?” D’naia shouted. “His mind’ll be erased. He won’t remember anything. Who knows if you’ll even keep your bargain.”

“I take umbrage at insults from an undermen princess.”

“Don’t call me princess. If you call me princess again I’ll shove your reptoid face right into that fire.”

Lever sighed again, cocking the hammer on his pearl handled revolver. “I try…,” he lamented, looking around as if he was making a confession to the trees. “I try to nudge these people into doing the right things but they just won’t do what they should. They’re hopeless.”

“Who are you talking to?” Joe Hannan interrupted as he stirred the coals.

“God, I suppose. What form is He taking today? The Great Spirit of the wilderness?” Lever mocked. “Oh Great Spirit, please hear my prayer. Please make these selfish, polluting heathens see the right path. Leadeth them unto reason and righteousness. Please help me, Oh Lord. But if I be of unrighteous spirit, please have me turn this pistol towards my head and blast my brains out. Oh hear my prayer.” Lever chuckled. His chuckle morphed into a laugh, then a wild-eyed cackle, then another coughing fit. When he had regained his composure, he addressed the man bear. “You see, Joe Hannan? There is no God. Or if there is, then he is on my side.”

“God does not take sides with anyone who will not take sides with him.”

“Fine. Then he doesn’t exist. You want to see God, Joe Hannan? Then look at me. I am a God… I am the all powerful immortal, the only one you will ever know.”

“Man cannot become divine,” Joe Hannan replied. “You are just a man, a man holding a gun.”

“And don’t forget a man with a hovercraft and a dozen agents of Motherland Security at his beckon. Maybe I should call in my disciples.”

“They’re not disciples, they’re mercenaries. They’ll turn on you when their paychecks stop.”

“But they’ll never stop, Joe Hannan.” Lever turned back to Indigo. “Won’t you please, please listen to reason, Indigo? I’m giving you one last chance. I admit that, yes, your mind will be erased and reset with your consciousness from just after your re-entry, but this shouldn’t be a bother. You’ll still be you… just restored to an uncorrupted version. Think of it as waking up from a bad dream that is soon swept away from memory. Listen, Indigo. You will live like a king. You’ll have a fully furnished habitation cube. You’ll have all the comforts… air conditioning, surveillance free periods, flesh and blood prostitutes even. Don’t be foolish. Think of it as doing your duty for Gaiastan. Besides, do you really think a group of cannibals out there is going to take you in? This thing, this savage named Joe Hannan is leading you to your doom. Your state of existence with his tribe of humates will be pathetic at best. Look at yourself. You are being lead by a drunken lunatic dressed in a bearskin and a tinfoil hat. So what if a few months of your memories are deleted? What does it matter? You’ll be reset back to a more comfortable thread of existence. It will still be you, Indigo, just a happier, less conflicted, more contented you. Think about the future. Think about Gaiastan. Gaiastan needs you.”

Indigo turned to Joe Hannan. “What are we going to do?”

The man bear smiled as he poked at the fire.

“‘We’ are going to do nothing. There is no more ‘we’,” Joe Hannan said. “My journey with you is finished, Indigo. But you should not fear anything. You will go with him for now. He will try to take you and D’naia back to Gaiastan but he will fail. Don’t worry. Even when it looks as if the devil may destroy everything, do not give up hope. Staley will come for you. He will rescue you and D’naia and your unborn child. Evil will never triumph so long as you have faith.”

“This talk about the devil is starting to bore me,” Lever interrupted. He raised his revolver, pointed it at Joe Hannan’s chest and pulled the trigger. A puff of blue smoke rose into the air. The man bear exhaled a long breath as the echo of the shot rang through the morning air and the startled ravens. Joe Hannan fell back against a tree trunk, his eyes wide. He quietly held his bleeding.

Indigo was paralyzed with terror. He could not even cry out or run to Joe Hannan’s aide. He looked into Joe Hannan’s dying eyes and saw deeply into his soul. Indigo bore witness to the man bear’s expression of deep understanding and inner peace. Joe Hannan smiled as his life passed out of his body.

 

 

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Gaiastan, Chapter 17

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Chapter 17

For Indigo and D’naia, it was not easy to prepare for travel. D’naia’s pregnancy was beginning to show and, although she was strong, Indigo was discomforted by the idea of dragging her out into the wild lands where cannibals and other carnivores lurked. Despite Staley’s assurances, Indigo hadn’t fully disavowed his ‘humates are cannibals’ prejudice. The prospect of danger weighed heavily on them both but they did not speak much about it while they prepared. They believed Staley when he said it wasn’t safe to stay.

On the night of that most unusual Sabbath, when Staley entered the temple, turned over the Chalice of Life, and spilt the Blood of Sacrifice, the man bear visited Indigo and D’naia. They were ready to leave with him so he led them into the wild lands under the cover of night and cold.

Neither Indigo nor D’naia had ever ventured far out into the wild lands. For the first couple of kilometers, Indigo’s eyes anxiously scanned blindly in the darkness for stalking beasts and flesh eating savages. His ears processed every sound, every creak of a branch, every snap of a stone, every crunch of a dried leaf trampled underfoot. D’naia stayed on his arm, shivering as they walked, hearing the groan of phantom wolves carried on every breeze.

Joe Hannan was undeterred by fear of flesh eating things in the night. He kept a brisk pace, moving along the faint trail in the darkness by memory, even advising his companions when to duck under unseen branches and take care around unseen ledges. He had traveled the paths for many years and knew them by feel and timing.

Indigo and D’naia did everything they could to keep up. But soon, the relentless pace exhausted them. Their weariness of the cold and the pains in their feet became their singular focus, finally even drowning out their fears of the beasts of the night.

They walked for perhaps four hours before finally stopping for the night under a stony alcove. Joe Hannan started a fire with the flames obscured to hovercraft and satellites by a hastily arranged lean-to of pine branches. He offered the couple roasted pine nuts and insects skewered on a twig, but Indigo and D’naia both declined. Exhausted, D’naia fell asleep on Indigo’s shoulder. The fire warmed her and her shivering subsided.

“So how long have you been out here?” Indigo asked Joe Hannan whose teeth closed with a crackle on the husk of a char broiled beetle.

“I’ve been out here for thirty years,” he grunted, spitting out a tiny leg that clung to his lip as he spoke.

“Where were you before you came out here?”

Joe Hannan reached into his satchel and removed a wineskin, which he uncorked and squeezed, releasing the contents into his mouth.

“I was with Them,” he answered, as he handed Indigo the skin.

“You were an Overman?”

“Indeed,” he replied, as he pulled the head off another insect and impaled it on his stick.

“What degree were you?”

Joe Hannan chuckled. “Everything boils down to degree, doesn’t it? A human being, all his experiences and knowledge, all his life and friends and enemies, all his talents and weaknesses and passions, all of that… boiled down into one dimension… a single number… a degree.” He laughed.

“I apologize if I’ve offended you.”

“You didn’t offend me. If you must know, I was a very high degree for my age… twenty first degree by twenty five years old.”

That’s a fine rank for such a young man.”

Joe Hannan spit. “I was no man. I was a fraud, a facade… I was just a boy… a boy with power and prestige. That’s a dangerous combination.”

“How so,” Indigo asked, as he fumbled around in the dark for a twig.

“What’s your rank?” Joe Hannan redirected. “Twelve?”

“Thirteen, actually,” Indigo replied.

“Yeah. You can get good at guessing a person’s degree based upon the things they are interested in. At thirteenth degree, you are just beginning to understand.”

“Understand?”

Joe Hannan stared into the fire. The rippling light cast his haggard face in gold and shadow. He wore the look of a shaman… dark, mysterious and grim. Doom danced in the flickering fire reflected in his black eyes. He did not look at Indigo when he spoke. He looked through him… as if he were speaking to a phantom of Indigo’s very soul who was seated just behind his physical body. “Do you remember when you were just getting in? Do you remember what a big deal it was?”

“Yes! Confirmation is one of life’s most important moments.”

“It is a defining moment. It rearranges ones thinking. To be confirmed… to be accepted into the club… to be initiated. It meant everything to me as a thirteen year old. I remember it well. A 1st degree meant that you went to the front of the line in school. That you got extra helpings. That you went to special classrooms. That you had access to privileges that the others did not like hot water and computer programs and laundry service. Do you remember that? And then, when you got a job, do you remember the pay raises that came with each successive rank? Remember the added perks and the benefits and all the new friends? Transportation passes, wine vouchers, real prostitutes, not the holograms but the real deal…?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then, after a while, the privileges and newness of being an Overman began to wear off.”

“More or less, I suppose.”

“So you needed more. It wasn’t enough to have access and stuff, you wanted to have power, too… power over others. You wanted influence, prestige. But you had to get a higher degree to get that. So you worked harder to get noticed by the higher ones. And after many late nights and many times prostrating yourself, you finally got promoted. You broke through to sixth, seventh, eighth degree…”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure when you diverged into the space program… I imagine seventh degree?”

“That’s right, seventh.”

“So you were probably four years into the system by then. That’s about when it starts to come into focus. That’s when They begin to see what your future will be. You see, Indigo, They don’t really care about the low-ranking schlock at the bottom. There are millions of them. They comprise the spawning pool, if you will. But the ones that have the ‘talent’ to move up into ‘middle management’, as they say, rise above the schlock right away. They can tell quickly; one, two, three years in and they know. They still make them earn it but They know what they’re going to amount too. They know what you’ll become even better than you do.

You and I, Indigo, we did something to get noticed early on and so They brought us up. And when you got to the next level of degrees, eight, nine, ten, twelve, it becomes about more than just the next management responsibility. It gets deeper than that. You know what I mean?”

“Yes. It becomes about the degree, itself.”

Joe Hannan threw another branch on the fire. “You know, when you are single digits you are still low enough to reconcile the things you are asked to do with your own morality. You can square contradictory things and compartmentalize what you see and not be too troubled by it. You’re just following orders, you tell yourself. You don’t fully understand the reasons why… which is an assurance. You trust the higher ones giving the orders. You trust them because you want to impress them with your loyalty. Why would They have you do something ungreen? You reason.

“But you didn’t get as far as I did, Indigo. You got detoured. They strapped you onto that nuke and launched you to Mars and that mission steered you right off the Overman track.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was ranked eighteen I had done quite well, better than any I had known along the way. But I started to have doubts. Why was I being asked to do the things I did? Why were my errors always forgiven? I had access to people— connections and such— that I did nothing to earn by any merit or effort. I never had to fear so long as I showed up and followed instructions reasonably well. But those instructions were becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile with my inner morality.

“It is all about loyalty in the middle degrees, but the lower people I destroyed in order to please the higher people were beginning to haunt me. That doesn’t mean that I had a special conscience or anything… just that I was haunted by my actions like anyone else would be. I was human.

“Way back in the day, they used to try to wash morality clean out of children’s minds at school but it never quite worked the way they intended. They’d teach that there is no morality, that everything is relative. They’d obfuscate the line between right and wrong. They smashed the moral compass because, when a person can’t decipher right from wrong, he can be made to do anything.

“Yet too many still grew up with a conscience… The conscience is what Staley calls ‘the spirit’. It was frustrating for the elites but eventually They just accepted human nature as it is— imperfectable.

“Every Overman goes through the moral struggle, Indigo. Every one… unless they’re a sociopath,” Joe Hannan laughed. “They groom the sociopaths for politics and Motherland Security. They give the afflicted ones, like you and me, money and prestige which begets the fear of losing it. And that motivates you to stay in the system… in the Paradigm. But for those who want to go still higher, they are lured by something else entirely.”

“What is it?” Indigo asked as he reached for Joe Hannan’s bowl of insects.

“Like I said, in the middle ranks, they pull you along with the lure of prestige. In the latter ranks, it’s about ‘knowledge’— knowledge that is desired by the candidate and knowledge that They have about the candidate. Let me try to explain it to you this way: When you get to the twentieth degree, or so, everyone ranked below you will hang on your every command. That’s prestige. I could talk gibberish for an hour and hold an audience of schlock clinging to my every meaningless word as if it were the progression of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. They called it ‘ethos’ in the ancient days.

“But that’s not enough to lure one into the high degrees, Indigo. Only the lure of knowledge and the fear of what others know can do that. Knowledge is the bait and fear is the prod. You yearn for more knowledge than the rendered scraps they feed you when you’re in middle management. So they begin to show you things in exchange for you doing things. They have you do things that have been rumored— spectacular things, terrible things— and piece by piece, the mind-altering gnosos is revealed.”

“Like what?” Indigo asked, as he pushed a beetle onto his stick point and extended it into the fire for roasting.

“Like the doctrine. Like the application of evolutionary ethics… Unified Gaian Ethics. It teaches that there are no rights or wrongs, only selections and rejections. Those that are selected thus cannot be wrong. They may do as they will.

“They revealed to me the grand plan. It is ancient, maybe even seventy thousand years in the making. I don’t know for sure. I know it was designed before Sumer. They fed me the details of it slowly so my conscience and consciousness could acclimate. And they had me do vile things to earn each additional morsel of gnosos.”

“Like what?”

“Vile, vile things, Indigo. Things that cannot be forgiven or even explained. You are made to degrade yourself in the process of your advancing. That’s the prod. That’s how they whip you along. If you hesitate, you will be made the victim next time. You will be exposed and shamed and cast out or worse, disappeared. So you just go along, lured and prodded by each level of gnosos.

“A brain can rationalize anything. Your old remnant morality is eventually burned off with ceremonies and symbols of torture, rape, and murder. You’ll do all of it and, soon enough, you’ll believe that it’s even righteous to do it. I was rapidly evolving at that stage. You have too or you’ll be destroyed. They don’t demote anyone.

“You get to the point where your brain can no longer reconcile to any morality other than evolutionary selection. You adopt the new ethics. It is the opposite of everything they teach to the low degrees and the undermen. They teach the schlock about planetary spirits and collectivism. To the schlock, the Paradigm is the hive. They submit themselves to ambiguous concepts like the ‘greater good’, whatever the hell that means. But to the higher degrees, to the rulers, it is a different perspective.

“Once you achieve the high degrees, the only way to reconcile the dissonance in your mind is to accept that you are different than those below you. You must accept that you are now the elite and that the moral framework and rules you ascribe to the low-ranking schlock and the undermen and the savages that live in the DZ no longer apply to you. You become above morality, above judgment and reproach because you were selected. The rules are for the low, the worker bees, not for you. You come to understand that it is all necessary for you to think this way and that you are not a hypocrite for believing it. You are not a hypocrite because you were selected.”

Indigo pulled out his beetle from the fire to inspect its charred shell. It wasn’t quite done.

“They show you the complete Gaian Paradigm, but not before they think you have already figured it out on your own… that you’ve already come to the same conclusion as them in your own mind. Then you see the Paradigm laid out before you and it’s like you knew it all along. You accept it entirely because their presentation of it just confirms what you already knew. At that point, you have arrived. You are a true Overman. You are the elite.”

“What is the Gaian Paradigm?’

“They.”

“They what?”

“‘They’ are the Paradigm. What They believe is the Paradigm. How They live. What They think. What They plan for the future. It’s Their plan. Their goals. It is the mind of man stripped of all the pretenses and complexes and anxieties of his inner primate. To them, it is the reborn mind rising above the animal brain.

“They acknowledge one truth, that there is but one goal of man: immortality. But to them, there is no God. To them, God is a myth. God is a tool, invented by kings to get their serfs to police themselves, to toil their lives away for a pittance and then die of starvation or on some battlefield fighting some other poor serf of a rival king. To them, an external God is a lie. To them, God is within.”

“Do you believe in God, Joe Hannan?”

“I do.”

“Gaia?”

“No, not how they propose it. Gaianism is just another tool of control. If you ask me: is the earth a single living organism? I think so… yes. Is it intelligent? Not in any sense that you or I can possibly comprehend. But we are her children, like everything else alive. She made us. We fret about defiling the earth in this way or that, but that’s just our arrogance. She has been through far worse than us. If the earth is the expression of God, then we were made for a purpose, one that we cannot fully comprehend. Maybe we were put here to warm it. I don’t know. I do know that a man can no more destroy Gaia than could Nimrod climb the tower of Babel and shoot out God’s eye with an arrow. The earth gave us life and the earth can take it away just the same. She does not judge you or I, we’re a part of her. She just is. And when the time is right, men will be moved by her to do her bidding.

“They elites have used many gods as tools of control throughout time. They showed me the history of the world going back, way, way back, three hundred and fifty thousand years. Before the Greeks. Before the Egyptians. Before the Sumerians. Way, way, way back. Through the last Ice Age. Through cataclysms of flood and fire. They said this history was burned up in the library of Alexandria but it survived. They were the ones who burned the library so they could possess and control the knowledge themselves. They show you the theme of God, the same theme replayed: The earthly and the ethereal, heaven and hell, sin and redemption, death and resurrection. The corruption by the impure Eve and the redemption by the virgin Mother. All of it replayed, over and over, replayed throughout time. Different religions in name only.

“They say there is no God, Indigo, only the immortal Overman. They say that man makes his own gods. Overman is his own God, immortal yet in the flesh. Not a virtual immortality in the cybernetic ether, but a flesh and blood forever-life. This is what they showed me, Indigo.”

“How are they immortal but in the flesh?”

“That’s the question that was answered to me when I had my moment of doubt. I wanted it, Indigo. I wanted immortality of the flesh. I thought I was ready for it. But I wasn’t. I fooled them into thinking my conscience and undermen morality had been completely burned off— that I was a clean slate. But I was lying. I fooled them and they revealed to me the gnosos too soon. I took the fruit from the tree of knowledge of life and death, Indigo. I wanted to be them, to know the complete truth. They practically handed it to me. But I was not ready to digest it. It was like poison.”

“What did you see?” Indigo asked as he pulled the beetle out of the fire and slid it off the stick.

“I saw how immortality in the flesh was achieved. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“How?” Indigo asked as he raised the insect to his lips.

“They believe the brain and the mind are one. They believe the brain is the vessel of the soul. The mind resides in the synaptic network that spins throughout the folds of the brain. But they’re wrong, Indigo. Your brain is just a piece of hardware, Indigo. You’ve seen them download consciousness. You’ve downloaded yours. You’ve spoken to virtual beings, but virtual beings are not human. Humans are flesh and bone. Humans are a physical experience. And so They need bodies, Indigo. The elites need replacement bodies to continue as immortals.”

“Why can’t they just use genetic engineering or something to extend their lives?”

“Life is a chaotic system. You’re fighting exponential math when you attack the problem at the cellular level. No matter how hard you try, you cannot stay ahead of the compounding array of broken genes and mortality switches. Even if you could, you’d set the host organism on some unmanageable tangent as it develops into a monster. It’s impossible.”

“So what do they do?”

“They take new bodies, Indigo. They take a candidate and they wipe their brain and then they rewire it with the consciousness of the Overman. They live forever, Indigo. They are immortal parasites.”

Indigo’s teeth crushed through the charred shell of the insect.

“They can’t use babies or even children. Puberty and hormones throw too many unknowns into the equation. They don’t want to morph into something different. They want to hold on to their understanding and perspective of life. They like bodies between thirty and forty years old. They take their bodies, wipe their brains, and inject their consciousness directly into them. It’s just an upload routine. A brain is just fleshy hardware. Once they figured out how to control synaptic growth, it all became an exercise in pico-engineering.”

“And so this is why you left? You were horrified by it?”

“It was a combination of my remnant morality not being able to reconcile erasing another’s mind so that I might take over his body. I could not see it as anything but murder. I could not reconcile it. But it’s worse than that. I killed for them, before, so it was more than just that. For me, it was the realization that their Paradigm is a lie.

“Indigo, your locket is not a portal to the afterlife. Yes, they can download your consciousness. They can store your memories and loves and hatreds and desires and fears and they can upload them into a virtual heaven when you die. But it’s not you, Indigo. That’s the realization I had. What is resurrected in the virtual afterlife is not you.”

“But I’ll remember my life so it will be me.”

“No. It’s only a computer algorithm that remembers, not you. You are dead. Only an algorithm keeps running, adding chapters to a diary you started.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Of course you do. You always knew it. You just didn’t want to accept it.”

“Is that why Staley sent you… to tell me this?”

“No.”

“Then why? To save my life?”

“In part. They intend to bring the old you back because you are not going along in accordance with their plan. They need their heroes, Indigo. They need their heroes because they are useful for promoting their agenda… their Paradigm.”

“They’re going to reformat me?”

“Of course. I’m sure they have a download of you from just after your splashdown. They’ll erase your brain and they’ll re-load it. The reformatted version of you will, of course, never be allowed to come anywhere near here.”

“And what of D’naia?”

“She’s an excellent candidate for reconditioning. Her mind will be wiped and an Overman’s will be uploaded into it.”

“And our child?”

“You’re both of good stock. D’naia is a high achiever. They were never going to let her make it at University. That was impossible. But she impressed them. She’s smart and beautiful and you are a spaceman so your progeny is acceptable. Your child will be raised in a crèche, given comforts, developed physically, protected from disease, but kept in a state of mental retardation for thirty years. Then one night, while she sleeps, she will be put under. Her mind will be wiped clean and she too will be reconditioned, uploaded with the consciousness of some dying Overman.”

“I have to go back! I need to tell others! We need to fight this!”

“Staley is already there for that. There are very few who will listen, but he has warned them.”

“But we need to get weapons and fight them!”

Joe Hannan laughed. “There is no ‘fighting’ them… at least not in that way. They are too powerful. I suppose you could take out a handful of them with a suicide bomb but that wouldn’t accomplish anything other than end your life prematurely. Hell, they’re collectivists. They preach self-sacrifice. They invented the ultimate scam of you dying for their cause. They’d probably be quite flattered by your sacrifice, misguided though it was. So you’d kill a handful and they would just be reloaded into new bodies. All that would result in a ruthless reprisal against your community or family.”

“Then what can we do?”

“The only thing we can. We withdraw.”

“What do you mean?”

“We withdraw from the world ruled by the Overman. We nullify them. We become all that they oppose. They are the secular so we must become the spiritual. They refute God so we must embrace Him. They control the cities thus we must control the wilds. They are the cult of the collective thus we must be the vanguard of the individual. They live by coercion thus we must live by cooperation. They rule by command so we must coexist by virtue. We must survive without the need of them. Slowly, more will find us and come to us and withdraw their consent from Them. And as our numbers grow, their prestige and power will diminish.”

“So how do we win?”

“It’s a progression, Indigo. When they resort to mass violence we will know we are close to victory.” Joe Hannan uncorked his wineskin and took another drink. He didn’t have anything else to say.

As Joe Hannan neared inebriated slumber, Indigo moved D’naia’s head off his shoulder and made his way into the woods to breathe and to think. Being in the dark, cold wilderness at night reminded him of the mission to Mars. He contemplated the infinite as he stood there like he used to staring out the Astarte’s portal. How similar it seemed… he, on the edge of the arc of the campfire light, the cocoon of survival, the heat and light a shield against the cold and whatever beasts lurked just beyond the edge of darkness.

That which was to be feared was out there, just beyond, stalking, coming in to examine the peculiar humans who had invaded their world. Indigo sensed the presence of the savage beasts. The world of the wild is a screaming terror, he imagined. Every instant was a battle for survival. Survival required becoming acutely skilled at surviving. There were no benefactors out there, no Overman officials to disperse daily rations. Maybe this fear is why so many remained as slaves.

The Overman had adopted the animal’s ethics of survival. So what made them better than animals, he pondered. Why must one become an animal in order to transcend humanity?

There are no savage beasts a hundred million kilometers from earth. Yet it struck Indigo that the edge of the firelight was not unlike the thin titanium skin of the Astarte. Within its confines were warmth, air, and water. Beyond it lay the terror of annihilation.

The Astarte was a womb of safety but it was stifling. The sanctuary collapsed slowly by cumulative system failure. The capsule preserved life but at a cost of unrelenting, growing despair amongst the crew. Survival in the space can required a slavery of the mind. Indigo finally understood why Hurtzweil launched himself into infinity wearing only his underpants.

Whether one’s life is quelled by the fangs of a pack of wolves or one has their life sucked out by the vacuum of space, the result, at least from the victim’s perspective, is the same. Indigo felt Hurtzweil’s compulsion. He too had an urge to run out into the darkness and offer himself to the beasts of the night.

 

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Gaiastan, Chapter 16

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Chapter 16

On the Sabbath, the folk of Hegeltown gathered in the temple in the manner of their religious custom. As the good people claimed their parcels of pew and reviewed the order of service printed on recycled paper, many whispering conversations could be overheard discussing the town’s new Overman visitor, Mr. Lever. Many wondered what he was up to going around house to house and asking questions about the missing spacemen. It was very strange— terrifying even— and provided much fodder for gossip. Rumors circulated that he slept hanging by his ankles and bore no reflection in mirrors and floated from rooftop to rooftop in the dead of night.

You can imagine their surprise when Mr. Lever himself showed up for the Sabbath services! He appeared before the congregation at the entry end of the nave, derby in hand, scalp and eyebrows freshly shoven, resplendent in his finely embroidered oxblood coat. He stood so very tall and lean, his shoulders were so broad, and his posture was so well-framed compared to the paunchy, slumping undermen of the village. He exuded pure, symmetrical, hairless, elite Overmanity. The twisted, stunted, shaggy undermen of the village were in total awe.

Mr. Lever made his way down the aisle with purposeful strides. The hand-shielded gossiping immediately ceased as he passed each pew. All heads affixed his direction but no eyes dared lock upon his as no one wanted to be remembered by a Sunstein Agent or have their spirit sucked out. Anonymity was always in a serf’s best interest around any high officials.

Mr. Lever stopped about half way, looked down at the proles sitting on the edge of their pew, un-staring back at him with their averted eyes. He beckoned the serf at the end to allow him entry with the most subtlest of gestures and faintest of grins. Ample enough for Overman, the subtlety was entirely lost on the serf blocking his way into the pew as he was mesmerized by something of a mixture of shock and awe. The spell was broken when Lever cleared his throat with a growl followed by another faintly pleasant grin. The undermen parishioner reluctantly let him in to take a seat, praying he didn’t sit next to him, but to his dismay, Lever did, taking the spot adjacent to him on the aisle.

The palpable tension brought on by Mr. Lever’s presence was broken by the entrance of the children of the village crèche who were led down the center aisle by their patron. What good, cute, little obedient fetuses they each made— children were considered to be fetuses only and not humans until obtaining the age of four. It was proven to mathematical certainty by Gaian bio-ethicists that the quantitative threshold of humanity, defined as self-awareness, was not achieved until that exact age. Three years and 364 days = fetus. Three years and 365 days = human being. No one ever dared question high-minded, scientistic conclusions, especially those drawn by official State scientists.

The cute little proto-humans, with their compressed facial features and disproportionately sized child-heads, remained perfectly disciplined as they marched in file, interconnected by a tether that fastened to each one’s fuzzy, teddy bear, taser bracelet. They took seats in a reserved row, little legs dangling above the floor in the aisle opposite of where Mr. Lever sat.

The acolytes emerged from behind the dais and lit the ceremonial candles. Then the priest emerged. Turning to kneel before the eye tapestry, he gave a silent prayer and marked the air with the ‘V’ and then an upside down ‘V’. He stood before the altar and began the opening prayers. The congregation rose and joined in.

Lever didn’t know the prayers as he was unfamiliar with undermen superstitions. He stood silent but respectful. Lever had no spirituality, in any traditional sense, unless you count his spiritual affinity for shaving and his sense of duty to the State which, unlike undermen theology, was very real and also eternal.

The townsfolk assumed Mr. Lever to be, like all other Overman, a Secular Gaianist which was a source of suspicion to them. But their inherent suspicion towards the hairless, atheist Sunstein Agent began to thaw with his presence at the service. Most knew that he was just pandering for their good will so as to lubricate their confessions which were so necessary to his investigation, but their amenability towards him was greatly enhanced by his deference. The undermen wanted to believe in the possibility that he could somehow be converted and become a born again Gaiastolic. However absurd that likelihood was, its possibility engendered their goodwill toward him. Mr. Lever played on this. He knew undermen were simpleton fools.

The service lumbered on towards its pinnacle— the Rite of Communal Sacrifice— and the eunuch priest finally disrobed and opened up his veins, sacrificing his blood on the behalf of his sinful flock so that their pollutions might be forgiven.

 

That’s when a most unexpected event ever to occur in the village of Hegeltown happened…

 

In the doorway, at the entry of the nave, silhouetted by the late morning sun, stood the shadow of a man heavily adorned. Slowly, one by one, the congregation sensed him and turned to see him. As they spotted him, they alerted their neighbors who turned their eyes back from the blood-letting to investigate the oddity as well. Mr. Lever’s appearance was quite remarkable and cause for gossip and terror but this appearance was somehow of a different magnitude altogether.

The service stopped and the shadow man stepped forth from the blinding backlight of the doorway, out of the shadows and into the aisle. The light of the day was blotted out by the slamming shut of the church doors behind him. He was finally revealed to them all.

 

It was the spaceman.

 

He wore his complete astronaut’s suit including the helmet with the flash visor pulled down. He took long, slow strides, almost as if he were walking in low gravity. Step. Step. Step. The eyes of the undermen followed him as he plodded down the aisle. Step. Step. Step.

Even Mr. Lever’s eyebrowless eyes latched on. Lever didn’t like the looks of things— and liked to be upstaged even less— but he was not exactly sure what to do about it. The disrobed, eunuch priest watched too, bewildered, mouth agape, still squeezing his hands into fists and pumping his Blood of Sacrifice out into the Chalice of Life.

Drip… drip… drip.

Step… Step… Step.

Drip… drip… drip.

Step… Step… Step.

The spaceman continued towards the altar, past the first row of pews and to the foot of the dais and its low pyramid of three steps. The spaceman did not say any prayers to the embroidered eye or kneel or gesture in a ‘V’.

“Heresy!” someone shouted.

The spaceman took one step up and the eyes of the bleeding priest widened.

“Blasphemer!” shrieked another.

Then another step.

A two year old fetus let out a cry which was quickly muffled by her patron’s taser blast which sent the proto-human into silent seizure.

Then a third step.

Mr. Lever’s hand found its way down into his embroidered, oxblood coat to the stock of his pearl handled revolver.

The spaceman reached out to the eunuch gently, so as not to startle him, and placed the priest’s thumbs over both his pulsating veins. The spaceman carefully removed the needles from the priest’s arms. He bent the priest’s arms up at the elbows, applying pressure to seal up the wounds.

“I have been waiting for you,” the priest whispered as his eyes filled with tears.

The spaceman turned him around to face away from the congregation. He reached down and picked up the priest’s robes and covered him with them. The priest began to weep and the spaceman comforted him.

“Your work is done,” the spaceman said. He placed his hand upon the priest’s shoulder, and with a gentle nudge, he sent him away, back into the chamber behind the dais. The chamber door closed and the spaceman was at last alone at the altar. He was in total command of the congregation.

The crowd, save for the prior outbursts, was utterly silent, anticipating the spaceman’s next move.

Mr. Lever’s index finger slid into position on the trigger.

The spaceman turned to the flock which was still frozen, fearing whatever was to come next, which was, in all likelihood, death by neutron burst or poison gas or something equally and horribly spectacular.

Lever’s thumb found the hammer on his pearl handled revolver.

The spaceman raised his gloved hands to his head and twisted off the latches securing his helmet. He lifted it up off his head and placed the dome on the altar next to the Chalice of Life which was nearly-filled with the priest’s Blood of Sacrifice.

What the crowd saw was, at first, an unrecognized man, a man with a long, bearded face and wavy hair. His skin was tanned and his locks were bleached by the autumn sun. His pupils were black voids that popped against their brilliant iris like sunspots.

Then they recognized him. It was the lunatic spaceman who had disappeared from Hegeltown. It was Staley, raised from the dead and standing before them now. Staley, who was devoured by cannibals, had returned as a ghost to terrorize them with poison gas! Several screams ripped through the nave upon this realization. Some started to rouse and make their way out.

“Be still!” Staley commanded in a booming voice that sent each and every one back into silent, fixated paralysis before the echoes of his order had even diminished.

Lever watched, contemplating… calculating…. anticipating…

“You know who I am,” Staley continued. “I have come to you to bring you a message. The message is from the new world. Not a world a billion kilometers from Gaia, but a world right here, around you… and within you. I have come from this new world.

“I went into the wilderness to lose my life but instead I found it. It has been said that it is necessary to lose one’s life in order to find it. I died and I was born again on that very same day. I was reborn into this new world… a world of the living.

“Look around you. What do you see? I’ll tell you what you see. You see an old world… a decaying world… a world built by and for the dead. You see stone hearts and blind eyes and deaf ears and sewn mouths. You see shackles and mausoleums and men in purple dress. You can look and look but you won’t see the living because you will not let your eyes see. Well I say to those who see this old world as a corpse that you are truly blessed. For if you see this world as a corpse, then this world is not worthy of you. And I say to those who have ears, let them hear! For if you seek life then there is life! There is life in the new world of which I speak.

“This new world is a world where no man is less or more than another… no man is another’s slave. It is a world of one law, one rule, one virtue: do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. Nothing more than that. And from this simple virtue springs the fountain of life. I come to you to tell you of this world. It is near you. It is even within you. Open your eyes and let yourself see it.”

Staley stopped his sermon and stared directly into Mr. Lever’s eyes which caught the Sunstein Agent off guard. His hairless eyebrows rose in response, showing disbelief and confusion, while he slowly, covertly removed his pistol from its holster, keeping it hidden under his coat.

Staley continued. “I tell you this, no man escapes judgment. No man may take another as a slave without the judgment of the spirit. I promise you that. I tell you that no man may turn over his brother who is blameless to the Agents without judgment. And no man may steal from his neighbor without judgment. And I tell you that no man may erase another man’s mind without judgment. And no man may take another man’s life without judgment.

“I promise you that Judgment Day is coming. It is coming for us all. We all shall see the Judgment Day as our ends are inevitable. Your end is your Judgment Day and my end is my Judgment Day. And I tell those who will hear it that these warnings are true and judgment will be visited upon the master and the minion and the slave all the same. Repent and make good with your neighbor before judgment is reaches you.

“But I did not come here today to judge for I am not The Judge. I came here only to give you this message. I came here to warn the vicious ones that vengeance will be poured out upon those who have sent their neighbors to the slaughterhouse.

“Judgment is coming for all, but those who repent shall be forgiven. And to those who seek shelter in the new world it shall be given. And to those who remain in the old world but resist the demands of the vicious shall be shown mercy. But to those who aid the devil in his works and do not change their ways… they will not be forgiven. They will be erased… denied their immortality. And this goes for all classes of men: Overman and undermen, and savage, too; for, as I said, your caste will not protect you from judgment.

“This is my message to you. It is a warning. Hear it, for life is fleeting and your end is nigh.”

And with that, Staley picked up his space helmet, kneeled, and lowered it down onto his head as if he were Napoleon crowning himself emperor. Then he stood up again and turned to the Chalice of Life and lifted it from the altar and raised it high above his head with both gloved hands.

Mr. Lever rose up from his pew and made his way toward Staley.

Staley turned to the parish.

Mr. Lever removed his pistol and aimed it at Staley’s heart.

Staley remained, unflinching, unafraid, holding the Blood of Sacrifice aloft.

And when Mr. Lever was at point blank range, three steps below while Staley held up the Chalice of Life, Lever pulled the trigger of his pearl handled revolver…

 

…but the bullet did not slay him.

 

Lever pulled back the hammer and pulled the trigger again and again but the spaceman did not fall. Lever backed away, helplessly, cautiously, but in complete shock and awe. The elite Overman suddenly looked frail and terrified and mortal to the undermen in the congregation.

Staley continued, unaffected by the bullets. “Lift up your hearts and release your minds from bondage. Do this, I say, and you shall be saved!”

Then Staley turned over the Chalice of Life, spilling out a fountain of blood which poured forth down the three steps and into the aisle and expanded as a crimson floodwater beneath the pews.

Nine of ten of the congregation fled in terror, making their way in a screaming panic down the center aisle and out the doors and into the dusty street.

 

 

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Blade Runner 2049

#Blade Runner 2049

I LOVED IT- the hypnotic visuals, the grim, dreamlike tone, the eerie score, the brilliant acting, the compelling screenplay, the patient pace.

It is so refreshing to not be bombarded with a skull-rattling explosion or a preposterous action scene every seven seconds. The movie was allowed to breathe and steep and penetrate rather than be jack-hammered into your eyes and ears like so many pile of shit modern movies. Blade Runner is the antithesis of a Disney or Peter Jackson circus.

I cannot wait to see what director Villeneuve will do with Dune… can’t wait.

 

Gaiastan, Chapter 15

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Chapter 15

The moaning of the wolves filled the frigid air of the fading twilight. Indigo and D’naia had already eaten their sparse dinner and were warming by the stove of their cabin when they were startled by a knocking at the door.

“Don’t answer it,” D’naia plead, grabbing hold of Indigo’s arm.

“It’s all right.”

“How do you know it’s not a Sunstein Agent?”

“It’ll be fine. I’m expecting someone.” Indigo gently pulled loose from her grasp and went to the door. He stood before it for a moment to listen. The stove crackled. He took hold of the latch. The light of the fire splashed the walls of tiny cabin. The wolves bayed. He swung the door in…

Framed in the pinewood doorway against the gray forest, illuminated by the glow of the dancing stove light, stood a spaceman. What the congruity of it meant was indecipherable to Indigo. The Sunstein Agents were into elaborate mind games after all. Perhaps the man bear was part of the ruse. Indigo couldn’t plot where this game would lead but the anachronism burned a mark into his mind.

“Take off your helmet,” Indigo ordered.

The astronaut remained still, flickers of orange flame danced in his opaque black flash shield.

“Take off your helmet,” Indigo ordered, again.

D’naia rose from her chair, wrapped her shawl tightly around herself against the cold pouring in and backed slowly into the shadows.

“This is the last time I’m going to tell you. Take off your helmet or I’ll rip it off your head myself.”

The spaceman gradually raised his gloved hands up to his helmet and loosened the fasteners. Twist. Twist. Twist. He clasped the orb with both hands at the ears. Then slowly, he lifted it upwards off his head. His face, bearded and emaciated, was not immediately recognizable to Indigo, but it couldn’t have been a Sunstein Agent any more than the man bear was. They stared at each other for a moment, then the haggard visitor smiled which revealed his identity. He was Indigo’s lost brother… his twin birthed from the womb of the Astarte.

“So you’re alive,” Indigo said.

“Yes, Indigo, more than ever,” Staley answered in a voice deeper and slower and more gravelly than Indigo had remembered it. “Are you going to invite me in?”

D’naia stood behind the bed staring at the ascetic in a space suit standing in the doorway as the dogs of doom howled and moaned in the night. She interrupted Indigo just as he prepared to answer. “Don’t invite that Sunstein Agent into our house. He’s come to take us back,” she exclaimed.

“If I was coming for you then don’t you think I’d bring weapons and a posse? Go look outside for yourself. There’s no one out their except the wolves,” Staley explained. “And they don’t take orders from me.”

“How do I know you’re not a wolf in astronaut’s clothing?” Indigo asked.

“Because I’ve come to warn you of the real wolves. If I were one of them, it wouldn’t be of any benefit to warn you. A pack divided against itself cannot hunt.”

“It’s okay, D’naia,” Indigo explained. “Come in, Staley.” He led Staley into his chair near the stove so that he could warm himself. He closed the door and braced it with a cross beam.

“Do you have anything to eat?” Staley asked.

D’naia shook herself loose from her terror and went to the cupboard to fetch him some salted venison and soy cube rations.

“Where’ve you been?” Indigo asked. “I thought you were dead.”

“I was dead and then I was reborn”

“You look older to me.”

“I am… in spirit.”

“He looks ill,” D’naia remarked, as she brought him a bowl and a mug with fresh water. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”

“I eat saplings and roots and bark every day and today I ate a raw trout. It was a feast.”

“You look frail. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“I’m fine,” Staley replied with a grin. “One’s girth is not always an indicator of one’s health. Besides, I didn’t come back here to be put under anesthesia again.”

“What did you come for, then?” asked Indigo.

“I came here for you. I came here for you and for her… the three of you.”

“How do you know about that,” D’naia asked.

Staley answered her only with a smile. “I have seen things with new eyes, Indigo. I have heard things with new ears. There is no going back to the dead. There is only going forward… forward into life.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Indigo asked.

“You know the difference between life and un-death, Indigo. I know you felt it when we were a hundred million kilometers from here. I know you felt it because I was feeling it, too. We experienced it together, together in that titanium can. I know you felt it when the plasma inducers no longer induced and our minds started to unravel by the solar radiation. I know you felt it when the crew went totally insane. I know you felt it when Cain got the illness.”

“What are you talking about?’

“I’m talking about the difference between life and un-death. Living and existing are not the same. Man cannot live on protein powder alone.” Staley ripped and chewed the dried venison that D’naia had brought. His teeth had grown strong on the wild diet and the absence of sugar. The dried meat seemed to invigorate him. He took a drink of water and then a deep breath, savoring the crude meal. “The difference between life and un-death… It means that you and I are humans, not bees. This is what I came to understand while I was living with my new family. It means that man cannot live by some program or order or routine. Man cannot live merely for the hive.

“Man must have his free will or he ceases being alive. Without free will, men devolve into savagery. Men without free will follow orders without reason or conscience. Without free will, there can be no virtue. Without virtue, man is capable of any form of violence and evil. This world paradigm has stripped man of his virtue. It has turned men into slaves… no more than workers bees in a hive. Men of the hive exist only for their rations and their merriments. He follows his orders without thinking. ‘Gather that.’ ‘Clean this.’ ‘Build this.’ ‘Destroy that.’ ‘Heal her.’ ‘Kill him.’ To a man without virtue, it matters naught what the order is, so long as it comes from the hive. Man has lost his virtue and has thus lost his humanity. The Paradigm has rendered him nothing better than a soulless worker bee. You know you can’t stay here, Indigo. The drones of the hive are coming. They are coming for the three of you. They take their orders, too, and their orders are that no one leaves the hive.”

“What are we supposed to do?”

“Let me tell you how I got from there to here, first. It is a journey that you must take as well. First, there was despair, Indigo. Despair grew within me. The despair grew while we cast our lots in that space can a hundred million kilometers from here. I stepped off the ledge then. I stepped off the ledge when we voted over who should live and who should die. My brain could reconcile it, but my spirit could not.”

“I don’t believe in spirits and I don’t need to revisit the Astarte,” Indigo protested.

“Just listen for a moment longer,” Staley continued. “The brain is flesh and the flesh is weak. But the mind is more than the brain, Indigo. The mind is the vessel for the spirit. Our brains were conditioned but our spirits were not because spirits cannot be programmed. The spirit of a man will not join a hive mind.

“The brain is flesh and the flesh is weak, Indigo. The spirit calls out in each of us but the voice is soft and low. It flows within the mind beneath the electro-chemical reactions of the physical brain. It flows like a warm, slow undercurrent beneath a turbulent sea. The brain calls out loudly. It resists the spirit. It drowns it out.”

“What do you want from me, Staley?”

“This was my struggle, Indigo. This was our struggle. They tried to turn us into worker bees… busy bees, always busy, buzzing, bee-having, beeing bees. To bee or not to bee, that is the question. And the spirit holds the answer. The spirit will not bee. I know you see it, Indigo. To survive out there, we suppressed our spirit. But that was not living, that was merely un-death. We both know the spirit can never be extinguished, Indigo. It lives on, even when trapped in the flesh. It will kill the flesh before the flesh kills it.”

Indigo buried his face in his hands. The anguish and guilt of their fate onboard the Astarte rushed into him like poison hemlock.

“We saved our flesh by casting our lots but we were only fooling ourselves, Indigo. We tried to kill the spirit when we ejected the airlock into the void. And yes, we did do it because we did not stop it. Our brains failed. Our brains failed because you cannot save your life by killing your spirit.”

D’naia listened as she shoved another log into the stove. Indigo had never told her about the things Staley was revealing.

“What good would it do to kill a spirit, anyway, Indigo? What good I ask you? Many try to do it. They allow themselves to be medicated by the inanity and ritual and substances of modern life. But what kind of life is it for them? What point would life be without a spirit? Is the point to go out and gather nectar and serve it to the drones? Is that the meaning of life? Is our purpose to do one’s duty for the hive? And for what reward? So that we may be permitted to drink the drone’s excrement once they’ve engorged themselves?

“That’s the Paradigm, Indigo. And who created that system, I ask you? You know who did. The drones did. They invented the system. They tricked you and me into becoming worker bees. But they will ultimately fail, Indigo. For like I said, you cannot kill the spirit. The spirit lives. The spirit fights the flesh. The brain rages against it. The rage of the flesh manifests in many ways. Sometimes the rage is turned outward, viciously. Sometimes the rage is covert, passive. Some men revolt by inaction and denial. Others by self immolation. But the spirit burns ever on and the flesh rages against it.

“My rage turned inward, Indigo. That is where I found myself. That is where I was when I put on my space suit and walked out of Hegeltown and across the moraine and up into the mountains to die. I wanted to kill the spirit that had caused me so much anguish. I injected the last of my opium into my veins to kill the flesh and thus the spirit along with it. I wanted my body to die but I could not kill it, Indigo. My spirit would not let me die. It was not my time. That’s where they found me. And that is how I got from there to here.”

“Who found you?”

“Them. The Gaians call them ‘unhumans’ and ‘humates’ and other insults, yet they are more human than any Gaian.”

“But they’re cannibals,” Indigo declared.

“Cannibals? Savages? Humates? All lies! They live, Indigo. They live. It is a hard life but they live it fully. They do not need to extrude their tongues and prostrate themselves to receive their life. They are not slaves to any drone.

“They found me on that rock in the woods and they carried me away with the needle still stuck in my vein. They nursed me back to consciousness and then back to health. They resurrected me, Indigo.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because they have virtue.”

D’naia interrupted them. “They helped you because you are a celebrity and they intend to use you. It sounds to me like you just changed hives.”

“I am free to do as I please. I’m not bound to them. They were not compelled to help me. They helped me because it was their virtue, but not a virtue beholden to some abstract concept. It was their personal sense of duty to their fellow living man. Their spirit would not allow them to leave me to die.

“I could stay out there as one of them if I chose to, but you are correct in that my ‘celebrity’ gives me some standing. Not standing with the humates who rescued me, mind you, but rather with the undermen of Gaiastan. My celebrity means I can reach them and even help some of them. Not many, only a few… a few of them who have ears that will hear. But I must try. I have been given much and from me much is expected. Now that I have seen how a man can live I can’t help but to try and help others to see it as well. That is my gift to them. My spirit cannot just allow them to die.”

“So now you’re their prophet?”

“No. I’m your prophet.”

D’naia made her way to the window to look out at the darkness. Somewhere in that night lurked the wolves that had stopped moaning at the cold. She sensed them. They were near. “So what do you want us to do, then?” she asked.

“As I said, you cannot stay here,” Staley explained. “The hive has given orders for the three of you. They’ve set the drones loose. Don’t worry, your guide will explain it all.”

“Our guide?” Indigo asked.

“The Sunstein Agents will come and they will haul you back to some terrible fate. You must be prepared to leave as soon as possible. Be ready, for your guide may come at any moment, like a thief in the night.”

“Who is this guide?”

“You’ve met him. He wears a bearskin and a tinfoil hat.”

“Where will he take us?”

“He’ll lead you as far as he can on the path to the living. It will be an awakening of the spirit of man. There will be a sacrifice.”

“Why can’t we go with you?” D’naia asked?

“Because I have work to do. I’m going into Hegeltown.”

 

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Gaiastan, Chapter 14

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Chapter 14

Indigo and D’naia met again and again after that morning at the bazaar. For him, she was a prize bound by a knot of silk ribbon. She was something to be unwound… opened. His desire for her was irrepressible. As time passed, the days away from her became a punishment. He walked from kibbutz to kibbutz, utterly disinterested in his assigned but meaningless tasks, his mind consumed only with her. Even the nausea, brought about by his variants of ungreenness, failed to cure him of his longing. It seemed to merely harmonize with and amplify his love sickness.

When his route finally pointed toward her kibbutz, he found himself racing along. His pulse quickened as he approached her hovel. If she wasn’t home, he would go on to the next stop and then double back later that day. He could not bear to miss seeing her.

The two of them started to sneak off into the woods together, to be away from everyone. They talked and talked about deeply romantic things like sub-light space travel, caste struggle[1] and virtual immortality.

One autumn getaway, he in his tunic and cape and she in her summer dress wrapped in an overcoat, they found their way to their favorite, secluded place. They were alone, hidden by evergreens and the soft, mossy boulders. Their whispers were veiled by the songs of finches. The sun poured through the tree tops and warmed them. And when the words ran out, they embraced each other, and kissed. His hands moved gently down along her curves. She sighed, encouragingly. They moved under her dress, against her warm skin. They pulled off their clothes and they fell into each other in that hidden place under the brilliant autumn sun. But although he had been with her, she remained swathed in mystery.

They met again and again this way, flaunting the codex and risking discovery. They went further and further into the woods until, on one rendezvous, bad weather blew in and they were forced to take refuge for several hours in an abandoned cabin. Their disappearances were raising suspicions and that cabin became their permanent home once D’naia became pregnant.

She was not licensed for child bearing or rearing which meant that her legal options were to end the pregnancy or surrender the infant to the authorities who would take it away to be raised in a crèche. D’naia informed Indigo that she was going to the cabin to raise the child. The green response for Indigo would have been for him to encourage her to do so, then snitch her out to the nearest codex enforcer or junior warden. But, to his astonishment, he did not choose that course. Instead, an instinct reared up inside him— an instinct that overpowered the bout of nausea that nearly doubled him over with heaves. He did not try to dissuade her or reason with her. Instead, he decided to go with her, to help her, to care for her and their little proto-human that shared their DNA.

Perhaps the hardest part for Indigo was that D’naia demanded that they leave behind their immortality lockets. The locket was the conduit for his consciousness. Without it, his mind could not be backed up. What D’naia was asking him to do was risking his immortality. This, more than anything, was the most difficult thing for him to give up for her. But, on the morning of their departure, he went to the JPGoldmanChaseRothschild bank, withdrew 95% of his account balance to use for the purchase of rations and a burro, purchased a security deposit box, and left his locket locked inside. He decided that he would still visit it once per month and download his consciousness at the bank’s kiosk whenever he converted his pension deposits into scrip.

There was something unrighteous about separating oneself from ones conduit to the afterlife. He imagined that he felt like some pre-revolutionary heathen, mocking Gaia and taunting fate. There was no God and no ethereal heaven in Indigo’s Humanist understanding, but he felt that being separated from his conduit to post-mortem Virtuality was still somehow a sin.

Life away from the grid and government rations was more difficult than Indigo had envisioned. He found his late autumn days filled with the drudgery of splitting wood and fetching water and hunting and butchering game and gathering mushrooms and wild herbs and the last of the berries that the deer hadn’t plucked. The wood-splitting was definitely the worst of it. The days grew cooler and cooler as the sun rose lower and lower. The nights were cold and quiet, save for the wolves. Then the dusting of nightly frost ceased melting off in the afternoons and the cabin’s hearth burned all night and all day.

Filling the stove’s relentless hunger for wood consumed the greater portion of Indigo’s dwindling daylight hours. Pine was not as efficient as the compressed cubes of serf-grade coal issued by the officials. Indigo had to feed three double armfuls of wood splits into the stove each day. He carried them from his pile in stacks from waist to chin. And his pile, once so impressive, was dwindling rapidly. They would not have enough to make it through the winter.

 

 

He set out one late morning to chop up a fallen tree that had succumbed to beetles. He had made trips out to it for three straight days. Indigo moved through the woods towards his dead tree with his burro in tow and axe in hand. The axe was his only weapon in the event he stumbled across wolves or a bear not yet down for hibernation. Death by mauling, sans locket, meant a choppy transition into the virtual afterlife. It has been said that gaps in memory between download and death can be disorienting to the resurrected.

Indigo had only ever been afraid of an imperfect transition into afterlife when he was on the Astarte. It was too far away from Earth to transmit with the required level of accuracy, so brain dumps were stored in the onboard databanks. The space can still had to be recovered in order to resurrect those that died on the journey.

Man and burro passed through a strand of ancient aspen trees, thick and tall, with leafless branches stretching upwards and blotting out the gray skies above. The thin blanket of snow on the ground crunched faintly as they walked. A cold breeze swirled above and around them. The only birds were the ravens with their gargoyle beaks blurting out their growling squawks.

Once up and over a stony mound, they came to the edge of the forest where it opened up to a high mountain lake which was only partially frozen. On the banks lay Indigo’s giant fallen tree, part of it hacked away by him in the previous days. Adjacent to it, on the opposite side of an inlet, sat a bear, thrusting his paws into the water. Indigo clutched his axe. He was far enough away that the bear would probably not give chase but close enough to trigger a surge of adrenaline in his veins. But then he realized that it was not a bear but instead a man clad in bear’s hide, washing in the frigid water. Before Indigo could quietly back up into the woods and disappear, the man bear spotted him. Indigo froze and said nothing.

“Ahoy, there!” shouted the man bear.

Indigo backed away.

“Don’t leave! Wait! I know who you are,” it shouted. “It won’t do you any good to flee, anyway.”

“You don’t know me,” Indigo shouted back.

“Yes I do,” replied the man bear.

“Who am I, then?”

“You’re the spaceman.”

Indigo’s heart sank with the revelation of his discovery. “No! You’re mistaken,” he shouted back.

“I’m not mistaken. You live in the cabin at the other end of the lake, back in the woods where no one can see it. You live there with a woman.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You are Indigo and she is D’naia. Don’t be afraid. I am a friend.”

“Those are not our names. That woman shares that kibbutz with me. We were just assigned here by the District Manager.”

“Oh, give it up. I’ve been watching you for a while, now. There’s no place for you to hide, and I can beat you back to your cabin. You’ll starve to death in a month or so without my help. Come closer so I don’t have to shout any more. The trees have ears, you know.”

It was no use for Indigo to lie. He was outed. He had no idea who this man bear was but he approached him. He was a raggedy, hairy man with a beard that fell nearly to his waist. He wore a full brown bear hide, including the bear’s head which covered his own like a hood. The hide was bound to him with twine at the various joints. He wore no shoes and his feet were black. He was a tall, strong, and broad shouldered man but very lean. As Indigo neared, the man bear picked up his staff and approached, wading through the frozen water. He was smiling.

“Hello,” he greeted in a hushed voice.

“What’s your name?” Indigo asked.

“No good will come to you for knowing it.”

“You know mine, so tell me yours.”

“All right, then. I am Joe Hannan.”

Indigo studied him. The name was familiar but he couldn’t place him. “What do you want with me?”

“I’m the messenger. I’ve come to bring you good news… very good news… news of hope.”

Where had he met this savage before? He was definitely way out of convention to be a Sunstein Agent. Agents could never work in such a filthy, hairy disguise and manner. Indigo suspected that the authorities were probably looking for him but this would not be how they would conduct their search. Why bother with such an elaborate disguise? No, Gaian agents, if they were on to him, would simply show up at his doorstep wearing their embroidered suits. They’d knock on the door and he would open it and they would let him know, directly, what was expected of him and what the consequences would be if he failed to correct his ungreenness.

“Tell me then, what is the good news?” Indigo asked.

“An Overman, a very high-ranking Overman named Mr. Lever is looking for you. He is very persistent and very experienced and very good at what he does. He will find you any day, now. But not today and not tomorrow.”

“That’s good news? What does he want from me?”

“You know that answer. They want their hero back. The Gaians are displeased that their asset has moved off the reservation. They can’t find you so easily now without your locket.” Joe Hannan paused to pull back his hood revealing a helmet covered in a bowl of tinfoil. He removed it from his head and dipped it into the water which he was still standing in.

“Tell me how this is good news?”

Joe Hannan lifted the helmet to his lips and drank. The water ran down his beard and spilled in rivulets down the hide covering his chest. When finished, he placed the tinfoil helmet back on his head and covered it with his bear’s head hood.

“It’s good news because your coming was foretold. Now, the arrival of the Sunstein Agent fulfills the prophecy. It is the sign. It is time for you to come with us.”

“What do you mean? Who’s ‘us’?”

Joe Hannan smiled under his heavy carpet of mossy beard. “You’ll have another visitor soon. And when he comes, he’ll tell you everything. Then you’ll know. And soon, everyone else will know. He who comes after me is the chosen one.”

“Who is going to visit me? Who’ll tell me everything?”

“I’m just the messenger. I pave the way for Him. I’ve paved the way for thirty years and now, finally, He is come. He is come and my work on this earth is nearly accomplished. But we will meet again, soon, before I am taken away.”

Then Joe Hannan left.

As he disappeared into the woods, Indigo remembered him as the devil chased away by that first evening by the taxidermist.

 

[1] caste struggle: class struggle

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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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