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.”
“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.”
“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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