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.”
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…”
“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.”
“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’ 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?”
“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?”
“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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