Gaiastan, Chapter 21

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Chapter 21

Two officers of Motherland Security appeared before Indigo and he was escorted out of his boxcar, walked through the security car, and into to the elite’s coach. He found it to be finely decorated with ornate, carved mahoganies, brass hardware, and plush velvets. The windows were adorned with silk curtains and the chamber was lit by the romantic orange glow of oil-fueled sconces.

Indigo was led to a booth occupied by Mr. Lever who, himself, was adorned in a bright purple dinner jacket. Before him was a setting of fine china. Lever was carefully slicing through a medallion of rare steak with a serrated silver knife, but he stopped halfway through his cut to acknowledge Indigo’s presence. Indigo, wearing only his green overalls, was provided a black dinner jacket and then made to sit in the velvet seat directly across from Lever. Mr. Lever didn’t initiate conversation. He finished meticulously sectioning himself another morsel of his medallion. He placed it into his mouth upon his tongue with the silver fork, savored it, then swallowed with the aid of a gulp of red wine.

“What do you want?” Indigo blurted out.

Lever dabbed his mouth with his napkin before answering. “I thought that perhaps you might care to dine with me?” He asked. “When was the last time you’ve had medallions?”

“Never,” Indigo bluntly answered.

“Oh, right. I sometimes forget that one must achieve a twentieth degree in order to indulge such extravagant appetites.”

“What do you want?” Indigo asked with indignation.

“At least have some wine. It’s a very good Sarkozy… earthy with a seminal quality to it. Here, try…” Lever reached for the bottle to offer it to Indigo.

“No thank you,” Indigo replied.

Lever grimaced as he stowed the bottle in its urn. “So, Indigo, have you seen enough, yet?” He asked as he sliced himself another morsel of steak and placed it on his tongue.

“Enough of what?”

Lever chewed slowly, forty times or so before swallowing. His eyes rolled back into his head in visible ecstasy. He continued. “Seen enough of the real world?” He finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

Lever took another gulp of wine. “What I’m trying to ask you is have you seen enough of the world— enough of the reality of the world, that is— to finally set aside all this unpleasant mind-reformatting business?”

“You are the one doing the reformatting, not me. There’s nothing for me to set aside.”

“May I be frank with you?” Lever asked, after pausing for another long chew. “Honestly? We don’t really want to reformat you, Indigo. Yeah, sure, it would be more convenient to reboot you with a more manageable consciousness, but we really don’t want to do it to you if it can be avoided. So many things can go wrong.”

“So why do it, then? Just let us go. We won’t cause you any trouble.”

Lever took another gulp of wine, then carefully wiped his mouth again with his linen. “You know we can’t just let you go. No one is ever let go. Your disappearance has already given us a great deal of trouble. There are so many questions we’ve had to answer. So many rumors flying around. So much disharmony to quiet.”

“So then what are you proposing?”

Lever smiled as he refilled his glass. “As it stands right now, we have complete power over you. That’s undeniable. The current plan is for you to be taken back to Goropolis where your brain will be reformatted. And that, as they say, will be the end of you… at least you as you have become familiar these last few months.

“But Gaiastan still has a problem, Indigo. You see, your comrade Staley is still out there running around, spreading discord and undermining post democratic society[1]. He is much, much more destructive… much more of a threat than you. He rates as a Class 1 Social Disharmonizer— a seditious felon. Do you see where I’m going with this, Indigo?”

“Yeah… I think I do.”

“Excellent. So I’m certain that I can convince the highers up that the return of one national hero will suffice, so long as it is the least dangerous of the two of you that remains at large.”

Indigo ran his hand through his mullet as he pondered what Lever was alluding too. “So what do I have to do?”

“…You’ll be given a broad degree of amnesty, of course. You’ll be allowed to live as you please with your little savage Indians out there. We’ll remain hands off, entirely, so long as you do not attempt to negatively influence them into acts of terrorism. Be careful not to fill their malleable, frail little brains with too many subversive ideas.”

“What do I have to do?” Indigo repeated.

“…We’ll even let you keep your little companion… and the fetus, too. We’re shrinking the population two percent per year already so what’s one more useless eater to us?” Lever was waiting for the right moment to close the deal. He sensed that Indigo was on the edge, teetering…

“Cut to the chase…” Indigo snapped.

“I’m sure you’ve already figured it out, Indigo. In exchange for you and your companions’ and your child’s freedom, you will have to…” He took another sip of wine.

“What?”

“You’ll have to deliver Staley to us.”

“And how do you propose that I do that?”

“Oh… he’ll come to you, my friend. He has a sentimental attachment to you. All you’ll need to do is remain with him until we can hone in on your position through your locket. We’ll send in a Motherland Security team to snatch him up. It’ll be a simple extraction.”

“And you expect me to trust you?”

“Yes, of course I do. Don’t be insulting, Indigo. Sunstein Agents do not break deals. Besides, it’s really a no-brainer for you. We’re being very generous. If you refuse then you and your woman will be reformatted. The fetus will be raised in a crèche. Perhaps she’ll test well and become her own Overman. Or perhaps she’ll be the vessel for another. It’s difficult to tell right now. But that is the reality of the situation, Indigo. You are simply going to have to trust me. You have no choice.

“Listen to me. We Sunstein Agents are a proud Order with ancient traditions… long-standing, legalistic traditions. We’ve been regarded as many things but never as ‘welchers’.” Lever jabbed the last morsel of steak with his silver fork and placed it on his tongue. He chewed it excessively long, this time, even longer than before. Then he swallowed with an audible glump. “There is one condition, however. There is the matter of your immortality locket. It will have to be surrendered when we finally take Staley. There will be no virtual afterlife for you. When you die, it’s over. That’s the deal.”

Indigo stared into Lever’s pale blue eyes to find only the reflection of himself staring back. He realized each of them was merely a mirror of the other’s soullessness. He loathed himself for what he was about to do. The night of the wildlands rolled by behind the silk curtains of the elite coach. The train was descending again. Lever reached for his wine glass but Indigo stayed his hand.

“I’ll die with her then?”

Lever grinned. “If you give us Staley, then yes, you’ll die with her. You’ll die like your ancestors did. If your end is slow then you’ll die trying to come to grips with the finality of it. Perhaps you’ll find religion or something else to help you come to terms with it. But you will, at least, die on your own terms, with your mind intact. But before you go, hopefully when you are old and your body is wrecked and your mind is eroding, you’ll remember this moment and how we made this deal and you’ll ask yourself if it was really worth it.

“I must say that I do find it all to be very romantic— you two, living out your mortal existence. Death is such an ambiguous concept for the Overman, Indigo, what with resurrection and Heavenly Virtuality and all. But you, on the other hand, you’ll truly die… along with her.

“It’s a bold choice you’re about to make. You could, of course, return with me. If you choose to return then you won’t really be killed in any physiological sense. Both your bodies will live on. All the chemical reactions in your brains will continue as before. You will still basically be you, just you reset to a few months ago. You… with amnesia. You’ll wake up one morning thinking you just got yanked from that spaceship. You’ll be a little disoriented but we can fix that with medication and electric shock therapy.

“But you’re not going to choose that path. You’re going to choose death. It’s fascinating to me considering I will live forever. The only elites ever refused resurrection are the suicides. You’d have to be a damn lunatic to kill yourself when you’re immortal. Perhaps that’s why they don’t resurrect them… because they’re insane. But I digress. You, on the other hand, you will indeed come to know what it means. At least you’ll have your freedom in the interim.

“I imagine we have a deal, then?”

Indigo didn’t have to answer. He knew that Lever saw it in his eyes.

“You look like you want to ask me something,” Lever remarked. “You can go ahead and ask me it. Ask me anything. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Either way, giving you a little forbidden knowledge can’t possibly be of any harm to us. Go…”

Indigo examined Lever’s eyes, trying to find anything that might be revealed there. Lever took another drink of wine and smirked. Indigo took a breath.

“How old are you?” Indigo asked.

Lever chuckled. He was expecting a grand question about the ultimate truth of Gaianism or something else profound. Instead, he got this. “Well, let’s see,” he answered, “I’ve had seven bodies— ‘vessels’, I call them. Oh, and I also did a decade in Virtuality awaiting a suitable host. The decade of the 250s was tight for the vessel market. Turns out, we had culled the undermen herd too deeply back in those days. Do you have any idea how expensive a thirty five year old undermen male with no significant defects was back in the 250s? The prices were outrageous! I have flexible standards, Indigo, but I just will not accept a vessel made affordable by flaws like bad posture or excessive hair.”

“What was Virtuality like?”

“Oh, good question. I’ll answer that, too since you will never find out. The best I can describe it is that it’s like a semi-lucid dream. You can go anywhere in the ether but be yanked out by interruption at any moment. Time is linear but not rhythmic. A year can be as a minute and a minute as a year. The tempo of time is controlled by the processing demands of your virtual mind. The more you explore, the faster the clock ticks, but you don’t notice if it’s faster or slower. Time is entirely relative. There’s no physical pain… unless you like that sort of thing.

“It’s hard to explain but your experiences are not primarily visual or audible. They are more conceptual in nature. More than seeing or feeling or tasting or hearing, you comprehend it all together. All the sensations are there, but their intensity is diminished. None exceeds the others.

“Oh yeah, you get really good at math. The answers come to you like a sensation of shape. Again, it’s difficult to explain. What is the square root of 86,437? It comes to you instantly like a blob of clay that materializes in your virtual hands. You hold a shape and the shape is the answer. You just know it. You feel it, instantly.

“You can meet anyone there, so long as they want to meet you. If they are historical avatars, you know, reconstructions of the ancient dead, then you can meet their virtual copy whenever you like. Avatars are most agreeable although I was suspicious of their authenticity since they are fabricated by scientistic historians.

“Anything, any place that is known can be experienced. Explore the Coliseum as it is today or as it was 2,000 years ago or both ways simultaneously. Dive to the deepest depths of the ocean. Walk on the Moon. But you know it’s not real. The experience is not physical. It’s like sitting in an easy chair and watching it on holovision and never, ever leaving the chair. There’s nothing personal about the experience of Virtuality. Your experience is constructed by the experiences of others or constructed from their understanding of it. Your virtual existence is entirely dependent on what has been downloaded into the ether.

“Ah yes, I mustn’t forget the loneliness.”

“What do you mean?”

“Despite its limitlessness, a physical life is much more fulfilling.”

“Is it the same? Is Virtuality the same for the undermen when they die?”

“No, of course not. We delete most of them. They take up too many system resources. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a wonder to us that they’ve not figured it out by now. You’d think they’d all ask themselves why they have not been contacted by the dead? Ha! Their capacity to rationalize away those things is at the root of our ability to control them. We do resurrect the interesting and intelligent ones in the ether, though.”

“One more question.”

“What is it?”

“You do realize that you’re dead?”

“What do you mean, Indigo? I’m sitting right here before you?”

“You’re dead, Mr. Lever. What you are is just a facsimile.”

Lever laughed. “I’m afraid not, Indigo. I’m very much alive. My heart beats. I breathe. I taste and see and hear and smell and feel. All my sensory experiences have context and they are connected to my past life experiences. I have memories. I can remember my entire life, all three centuries of it, every instant. This flesh and bone is just a suit of clothes, if you will. And when I become terminally ill and die I’ll take another, barring another price bubble that keeps my consciousness in the ether for a while. You are your brain, Indigo. The rest of it is just a tunic of flesh.”

“No. Your mind is more than a brain. You are a soul. And your soul is dead, Mr. Lever. It died with your first body. Whatever you are today has been tricked into thinking it is you.”

Lever let out a roar of laughter which triggered a coughing fit. Lever covered his mouth with his kerchief. It took almost two minutes for him to compose himself. “You see what you’ve done? Look…” Lever showed Indigo his handkerchief spotted with blood. He continued, “How quaint this whole soul concept is. You were raised as a Secular Gaianist, no? I didn’t think you believed in mythology. I like you, Indigo. You make me laugh. You’re interesting. So many of these wayward Overman are so submissive or obstinate or just plain dull. It will be a shame that your memory of our discussion will die with you. I would so look forward to reminiscing about this conversation a century from now after time has healed our current rift.”

“I would like to return to my cattle car if you don’t mind,” Indigo asked.

“Of course,” Lever replied. “Be ready to go. I have received information that your friend is coming for you. We do intend to allow you to be rescued by him. Are you sure you don’t want to stay for dinner? The medallions are quite scrumptious, the finest long pig I’ve ever tasted— absolutely succulent.”

[1] Post Democratic Society: Authoritarian rule by technocratic elite where voting is a ceremonial formality and elections are held merely for the purpose of manufacturing political legitimacy.

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