Monthly Archives: December 2017

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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