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Gaiastan, Chapter 4

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[Next Chapter 10/17/17]

Chapter 4

With a piercing screech of metal on metal and one giant whooshing exhale, a rickety steam locomotive came to rest alongside the weathered pine platform of the Hegeltown Station. The old engine’s whistle screamed a geyser of translucent steam that rippled upwards into the crisp, gray, springtime sky. A conductor, tucked away inside, pulled a cord that toggled a brass bell which signaled the passengers to make their way out onto the platform. The lonely outpost of Hegeltown was the end of the line, literally, as the rails stopped a mere hundred meters beyond.

A big crowd had gathered which was a good representation of the entire 862 undermen who resided in Hegeltown and outlying areas. Perhaps three hundred or so crowded the landing and anxiously awaited the emergence of the space heroes for whom they had heard so much gossip about while attending temple. Some of the undermen had come from the farthest corners of the sparsely populated Hegel Valley where the rim of high plain filled in with pines and climbed upwards into the jagged, icy, Ivy League Peaks. Many of those far out homesteaders had to rise early in the darkness and chill and ride their burros several kilometers into town by the light of the near full moon and the twinkling stars of Aquarius rising in the deep blue southeastern sky.

A big crowd had gathered which was a good representation of the entire 862 undermen who resided in Hegeltown and outlying areas. Perhaps three hundred or so crowded the landing and anxiously awaited the emergence of the space heroes for whom they had heard so much gossip about while attending temple.

The Hegel Valley was itself one of the remotest outposts of Highlands District 53; which itself was a mere geographical inkblot in the north of the Atzlan Sector; which itself spanned the greater part of the southwestern quadrant of the North Americo Region; which itself comprised half of the habitable land area of greater Gaiastan. The greater nation state of Gaiastan had emerged from the Old World’s self-destruction. She was the culmination of the glorious Anti-Renaissance and the final evolutionary leap in geopolitics.

 

Gaiastan! Long Live the Motherland!

 

Hegeltown, staked into the end of the railroad line, was a place where both sides of the track were the ‘wrong side of the track’. No better end of the line could be envisioned as the crumbling village was located in a landlocked island, walled in on all sides by the enigmatic Ivy League Peaks and a two thousand foot wall of crackling blue ice known as the Gunnison Glacier which ground ever southwards.

Indigo was slow to prepare to exit the train and kept the muslin curtains of his tiny chamber drawn. He dreaded another public appearance, even if it was the final one, and wanted only to find a quiet room at the inn where he could sleep for three days. His astronaut’s pension would not have gotten him very far in the great Gaiapoli, but out in the hinterlands, it might be just enough to fund a long, lazy sabbatical. It was an exhausting triumph and a very long, very bumpy, nerve-racking train ride. He very much looked forward to the rest.

Indigo sighed as he thought about the long ride now thankfully behind him. The train journeyed from the smoky, coal-fired industrial sectors of the Huxley Region, over the Great People’s River, across the vast, grassy buffalo commons that spanned a thousand kilometers of Dehumanized Zones[1].

The entire journey was made in that one rickety steam locomotive and the dark nights crossing the steppe in that rusting, rattling machine were the most unnerving for the transcontinental passengers. Their terror simmered at every abnormal sounding ping or clang that might indicate a pending engine breakdown. A breakdown in the Dehumanized Zone would be a most unfortunate circumstance. Everyone knew that, for one, the Dehumanized Zones were populated by roving clans of humate cannibals that stalked the railways waiting to pounce upon and devour the sweet meat that rode aboard the trains; and two, the steppe was far too remote to expect a timely rescue by Motherland Security’s hovercraft in the event of said cannibal attack. The passengers, whenever afflicted by that terror, had to remind themselves to ‘think green’, which is to think pleasant thoughts in order to distract oneself from terror.

The steppe was humate turf, to be crossed as quickly as possible. It was an enormous expanse of territory, over a million square kilometers, far too big to patrol and subdue in any sustainable manner. The little locomotives that traversed the DZ were equipped with a security detachment, an archaic machine gun and a few hundred rounds of ammo. It was far too dangerous to equip them with an energy blaster as it might fall into humate claws. The detachment, which was actually just one volunteer conscript manning the aforementioned machine gun, was given instructions to shoot any and all filthy, disease-infested humates on sight. Humates were dangerous and crafty, it was said. They were often known to surround a broken down train in the darkness, taunt the top-gunner until he expended the last of his ammunition, then clamber aboard dragging their knuckles, gnashing their jagged teeth, and dribbling drool down their chins. The passengers would be quickly overpowered by the soulless creatures that would savagely rape everyone then gnaw off their appendages. Then the passengers would be drug off into underground caves to be impaled alive and cooked and eaten. It happened all the time far out in the DZ, at least so said the mainstream media.

The most sinister aspect of it all, according to consensus, was that the humates had plenty of beasts to hunt and berries to forage out on the steppe without having to bother with a menu of civilized human beings. Yet they attacked and devoured them nonetheless. The most respected and highest-ranking Overman sociocrats reasoned, and it was universally accepted based upon scientistic consensus, that the undermen were heathen savages and committed these atrocities due to their rejection of the Gaian religion. In contrast, Overman, by virtue of their superior eugenics, had enough faculties to control the mental creep of ungreenness. Civilized undermen may have lacked good genes, but undermen had the blessing of their Overman benefactors who provided for them a sustainable, civilized culture delivered by holovision, vaccine, temple, and codex enforcement. Undermen were the Overman’s burden. Humates, on the other hand, did not have the benefit of Overman maternalism. It was generally regarded that constant bombardment by correct-thinking probably wouldn’t have any impact on them, anyway. Humate brains were feeble and consumed with base emotions like envy of the higher castes of humankind. Their hatred led them to violence and barbarous cannibalism.

No, a locomotive breaking down way out in a DZ was not a desirable predicament to find one’s self. Thankfully, the train carrying our spaceman heroes made it through unscathed. A Motherland Security hovercraft was kept on high alert, however, even if it was probably out of range.

Indigo waited in his cabin as the steam engine cooled and the bustle of shuffling passengers diminished. The crowd that had come so far to witness the spectacle of the heroic spacemen grew restless. Indigo’s pulse started to race, compelling him to action. He could feel himself sweating as he finally mustered himself.

He peeled back the muslin curtain of his compartment and examined the crowd. There were no dragging knuckles or drooling muzzles out on the platform. The townsfolk who rode in on their fine burros had decorated them with patriotic green, white and blood red ribbons. The females were dressed up in their finest pantsuits, hair closely cropped, fingernails sharpened into ceremonial claws. The men wore their most festive Mao tunics, each embroidered with Gaian folk symbology— all seeing eyes, fertinlity goddesses, clenched fists. The men kept long, mulleted hairstyles, neatly curled, moussed, and colored, and their eyes were accented with black liner. Children were each decked out in their khaki overalls and blue shirts, all of them the same, obedient little hobbits, gender neutral and utterly indistinguishable. No, these were not quite the Neanderthals Indigo expected to find, but they were not easy on the eyes. The undermen’s asymmetrical faces were blotchy, contorted and lined by years in the sun. Their jowls were sunken from inadequate nutrition. Their postures were hunched and their spines were misaligned. They were short, ugly, trollish little humans. The sight of them started to creep Indigo out. He had seen them before on triumph but he had never ventured into one of their crude hamlets to be utterly immersed in them.

“Gaia help me,” he thought. “Why did I come here? This place is a zoo— worse yet, a stable. I can barely stand the sight of them. I bet they smell, too.”

But, despite their broken down appearance, the Hegeltown folk were quite energized for the event. To them, two superheroes were somewhere inside the train in front of them. They had never had such important celebrities visit their village before. Rumor had it that one of them intended to stay for good as the Hegel Valley Commissar.

“I heard that his Great, Great, Great, Great Granddaddy was born and raised right out that away, before the glacier came,” a townsfolk gossiped with populist zeal. They didn’t know which of the two it was but it really didn’t make any difference to them. One celebrity was as godly as any other. The gleeful townsfolk envisioned their hometown champion somewhere in that train, a hero swelled with pride in his great accomplishment. No doubt he was peering out at them from the darkened windows, from behind the muslin curtains. This lifted up their undermen hearts.

They imagined their hero’s cabin, too, which might have been adorned with gold leaf, bamboo inlays and, quite possibly, a satellite radio which was itself a spectacular luxury. There were only three radios in all of the Hegel Valley, each possessed by a high-ranking district bureaucrat. For one to have access to a radio while travelling the Transgaianental railroad in this post-post-modern age, where such extravagances were shunned, was nearly unimaginable to the townsfolk. Walking on Mars was a heroic achievement. Having access to a satellite radio was something otherworldly.

The townsfolk envisioned their heroes lulled to sleep at night by all the wonderful, enlightened, sophisticated state radio programs while they traveled in velveteen and bamboo luxury, rolling under the twinkling stars in perfect comfort through the DZ. Perhaps their hero was even served neo-meat! “Amazing! Spectacular! How positively green!” The townsfolk just had to catch a glimpse of the heroes. They sighed longingly and held their hand over their breast patriotically while they waited.

Mr. Indigo did, in fact, have access to a satellite radio on the train. He used to listen to episodes of the serial written by Poet Supreme Sanger Wilson Wells…

 

The critically acclaimed play, broadcast in twenty one three hour segments on the Gaian Broadcasting Corporation, was a period piece set in a manufacturing kibbutz in a place once known as Detroit (which has since been covered by a kilometer of advancing ice). The story centered around an enlightened, middle-aged, Ivy League PhD who heroically had himself castrated to protest the continued use of plastic grocery bags.

The privileged yet failing Mr. McWhite took in an undermen ‘family’ as a gesture of his enlightened beneficence. The family— families were an anachronism in modern Gaiastan— consisted of an overworked and systemically exploited single ‘mother’ and her precocious love child named Tyler whom she was considering aborting before the age limit of five. The series focused upon the frustrations McWhite endured educating and nurturing the defiant, little, autistic, transgendered proto-human who consumed all of his fleeting energy that had once been applied to the publication of his Gaian justice essays.

Along the way, around episode twelve, the old man comes to the realization that mentoring the proto-human is a somewhat socially valuable accomplishment in its own right. He earns the love of the mother and at the last possible moment, McWhite convinces her to reconsider the abortion of little Tyler. The sexual tensions build with the play culminating in the couple’s sexual union and McWhite’s transcendent triumph over his physiological limitation. The final scene captures their climactic release which seizes McWhite’s heart and ends his life while the young little Tyler, who was in the next room mischievously fumbling through McWhite’s papers, finally manages to read his first complete sentence aloud. The climax and death, much more easily and graphically portrayed at a seated play or on holovision, became a huge hit on the radio format purely on the actors’ convincing crescendo of orgasmic groans, McWhite’s death throes, his lover’s cries, and little Tyler’s culminating declaration: “There is no god but the State.”

 

Curtains. Standing ovation.

 

The play was a special favorite amongst the mid- ranking Overman crowd as it stirred an upswell of frothing personal pride and feelings of superiority watching a proto-Overman improve the lives of a poor, eugenically disadvantaged, undermen ‘family’. Modern, mid-ranking Overman were obsessed with pride and superiority that usually came at the expense of the some undermen’s dignity… especially if the aid they gave could be given with no real expenditure of personal effort on their behalf. They called this process “voting[2]“.

 

Indigo finally decided he was ready to face the crowd of undermen trolls this one last time, and then he would slip into obscurity somewhere in the cold mountain town. He pushed himself up from the velveteen upholstery and approached the cabin’s mirror to make an examination of his face. He found that the face staring back did not look so heroic. He discovered he was in need of electrolysis as his beard stubble and eyebrows were coming back in. He pondered putting on the space suit to hide his failings but the nausea instantly appeared once he thought of it. He reasoned that since this was not an official triumph stop, it would not be appropriate to flaunt state property.

He examined what he had chosen to wear. His own Mao tunic was made of the finest cotton that one thousand dianars could buy. It was custom fit and thus had no sags or pleats or asymmetries that affected the Mao tunics of the frumpy Hegeltown folk he was about to regale. He also chose to forego the eyeliner that was customary for men at public appearances. His once extravagantly curled, colored and oiled mullet had yet to fully grow back since splashdown which caused him further disappointment in himself. If there were to be paparazzi they would capture him with insufficient hair, a scandal preserved in holovision plasma for all eternity. But nothing now could be done about that. Indigo hoped only to escape open ridicule by his peers.

It was expected to be a quick appearance, affording the undermen throng with only a fleeting glimpse of the celebrities. Indigo cinched his pleather waist belt, winked at his disappointing reflection, flicked off the LED lantern and left his chamber.

Indigo’s co-celebrity, Staley, was supposed to be waiting outside the door but predictably he was not. Indigo took six steps down the faux wood aisle of the sleeper car and rapped his knuckles on the lacquered bamboo door. There was no answer. “Staley, I’m coming in!” He slid the creaky pocket door open revealing what he had suspected: Staley, half-ready, frantically stashing his drug paraphernalia.

Indigo both admired and pitied Staley. His flaxen-haired comrade was once an unflappable Overman social climber. He was handsomer than Indigo and he always made a good model for holovision plasma with his strong chin and smoldering eyes. Staley was a natural at celebrity and the womyn adored him, too, which played no small part in his committee selection as a Mars astronaut. He had all the physical traits one would expect of a hero and, despite his drug-eroded state, wherever the two of them ventured on the triumph, Staley would receive unmarked parcels containing the naughty undergarments of adoring fans. Staley originally got quite an ego-boost from these self-demeaning, desperate acts, and he was more than willing to exploit his allure by bedding many dozens of adoring females on the first part of their triumph. But that habit gave way as Staley injected himself ever and ever deeper into the needle.

Indigo gathered Staley up from his cot, straightened his tunic out, and the two whistle-stop heroes made their way to the caboose of the train to make their final celebrity appearance. Each was adorned in their purple Mao tunics and patent pleather belts and extravagantly oiled but insufficient mullets. One instant before they opened the last door of the last car to receive the shouts of praise from the adoring underman crowd, they looked briefly into each other’s eyes. It was an awkward moment, lasting far longer than a pocket watch might indicate. But at that instant, they mutually experienced all the grime and terror and loneliness and claustrophobia and death they had endured while they were imprisoned together for eighteen months in that titanium can called the Astarte. They were brothers, now, as close as any two who had shared a womb. Long term confinement and the looming, psychological weight of eminent doom will do that to even the most incongruous pair. Indigo wanted to say something poignant to memorialize the moment but before he could speak, Staley switched on his energy with a smile, threw open the door, and stepped out into a roar of applause.

Indigo noticed that Staley had lost a tooth but never mind that.

The two celebrities stood there on that caboose and waived to the paparazzi and their flashing holovision plasma sensing arrays. The pant-suited maidens heaved their breasts and smiled seductively alongside their oblivious, domestic partners who tended to their androgynous, foster children temporarily assigned to their care. The steam engine at the other end of the train puffed a slow succession of puffs as its furnace boiled up again. The festively adorned burros brayed under their green and red and white ribbons and the sky broke apart with cotton ball clouds floating by overhead and dropping behind the ominous Ivy League Peaks.

Shouts and calls burst forth from the throng. “Behold our glorious heroes!” “Champions of our generation!” “Long live Gaia!” “Long live our beloved Motherland!”

The two spaceman heroes waived to the crowd and stepped off the caboose and mingled and shook hands and kissed the crèche babies dressed in khaki swaddling clothes.

“What great humans you are!” People in the crowd called out to them. “Will you take up ecofarming somewhere in the valley, now?” “Thank you so much for your sacrifice.” “Will you run for Commissar? We heard Ceremonial Vizier is up for selection this year. You’d certainly have my support.”

Indigo and Staley worked the crowd as they had so many times before giving DNA autographs on cotton swabs and pretending to care about what the rabble had to say. Staley, mentally eroded as he was, still got many offers from the females (and some males and other genders, too) that were written on tiny notes and clandestinely stuffed into his pockets.

The meet and greet lasted ten times longer than Indigo had hoped and when they were done and could take absolutely no more of it, the spacemen were ushered into a stagecoach pulled by proper horses and whisked away to the inn where they would spend the evening hobnobbing with the party bosses and drinking the finest Cascadian wine and stuffing their faces with neo-meat tenderloins and real potatoes and whole carrots and truffles shipped in from Ozarkia.

“Welcome back. How long have you been home, now?” A fat party boss asked as he wiped the driblets of wine from his double chin.

“We’ve been back for three months,” Indigo answered.

“So tell me,” the boss continued to pry, “What was it like?”

“What do you mean?” Indigo asked, hoping the boss might actually have some empathy for the survivors of the mission and ask something else.

“You know, you know…” the fat boss continued after another gulp of wine. “…What was it like? What was it like walking on Mars?”

[1] Dehumanized Zones (or DZ for short): Massive sections of national territory set aside as nature preserves where human settlement is prohibited (due primarily to the cost of bureaucratic administration and codex enforcement). They are believed to be populated by roving, cannibalistic homo-sapiens referred to as “humates” or “unhumans”.

[2] Voting: An archaic civic duty involving the ritual exercise of determining the allocation of other people’s wealth.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

One week (ten days) later, Mr. Indigo was waked, dressed, briefed, and taken to a drab parlor room. The accommodations were Spartan, even by hospital standards. The walls, floor and ceiling were fashioned of gray cement. The only color and texture, the only life sounds or music, the only organic elements of the chamber were provided exclusively by the Spirituality Kiosk. Essentially a holovision orb shaped like a fertility goddess, it projected 3d imagery and 360 degree sound, turning the walls into virtual windows. Enveloping the device was a faintly crackling corona of white flame, a heatless hearth of colorless fire formed into a floating ring giving the goddess the aura of the sun during an eclipse. The room was otherwise purely angular, stark, and utilitarian. Even Indigo’s chair lacked any comfort with its rigidly upright back and cold, recycled plastic surface.

It was not unusual to find such hard-edged décor in religious or government locales. Utility, discomfort, and minimalism were valued highly by Gaian society, at least in the minds of the Overman and, in particular, in the minds of those who had exceeded the twenty-fifth degree. Their neo-puritan preference for prickliness was traditional. The natural, the organic, the plush, lush, cool, soft, and pastel were the designs of nature. Attempts by mankind to replicate nature were attempts to usurp her— vulgar blasphemies!

The Spirituality Kiosk, sensing Indigo’s discomfort, began to speak, filling the room with a hypnotic, feminine voice.

“Hello, Indigo,” she said.

Indigo replied only with a forced grin.

“I see that you have not attended temple in over two years.”

Indigo tried not to roll his eyes.

“Indigo, you are in need of spiritual rejuvenation.”

Indigo tried to ignore what was coming.

“You are alive, Indigo. Your life is a gift of the natural world. The natural world is the spirit world. Nature is the true expression of Gaia. Complete. Perfected. You, Indigo, are one expression of Gaia. Insignificant yet indispensible.”

Indigo stared into the closed eyes of the fertility goddess.

“Gaianism is man’s comprehension of Gaia. Gaianism is the revelation of the Great Mother to man. Gaianism is the way. It teaches that it is man’s unrighteousness that causes him to stray into evil path of materialism. Do you want to be evil, Indigo?

“Materialism is the desire of the flesh. The flesh is weak. It is man’s materialism that poisons the natural balance of the earth. The natural balance is the source of life. Materialism is thus anti-life and thus it is evil. Evil is sin. Materialism is therefore sin.

“Gaianism teaches us that man is evil by his origin. Man is therefore a state of unrighteousness, thus man is a state to be overcome.”

Serene images of mountain vistas and flowers and waterfalls and frolicking baby mammals dissolved into smoke stacks reaching upwards like towers of Babel and streams of liquid, bubbling waste extruding from the bowels of sprawling factories. The sky turned black as sackcloth and the holovision voice darkened.

“Man must transcend the weakness of the flesh, Indigo. Man must transcend himself. Man must be reborn, recast as the Overman.”

A brute savage appeared. He was grotesque, clothed in furs, hunch-backed, covered in hair and his own filth. He stood over a machine, pulling a lever that was skinning a fawn. He appeared amused.

“Man must transcend himself, Indigo. This is the righteous purpose of Gaianism.”

Behind the brute appeared the Overman, naked, hairless, upright, armed with a shining blade of steel.

“The Overman must overcome the unrighteous nature of his filthy, inner savage. He must overcome his own nature. He must slay the devil that resides within. He must focus inward rather than project outward. He must overcome himself rather than overcome nature. This is the way of Gaianism.”

The Overman raised his blade and slew the savage.

The voice softened again. “Transcendence requires complete focus and mental rigor aligned towards the elimination of material temptation and distraction. Gaiastan is dedicated to providing environments that encourage the transcendental development of her dedicated subjects. We are hoping to see you at temple next Nineday.

“The preceding message was brought to you by the Gaian Broadcasting Service…”

Indigo, just a mid-ranking Overman, was bored by religion. He had seen and heard the meme a thousand times before. He got it, yet he unrighteously yearned for a cushion for his seat. The holovision sensed Indigo’s spiritual fatigue. The aura of flames faded into mainstream media programming. Indigo was not yet ready for the intense mental rigor required of higher Overman degrees.

Indigo was a little surprised to see an image of Staley and himself appear in the holovision field. They were dressed up in their space suits, standing and waving to a gathering of a few hundred under a shower of compostable ticker tape. They stood at the foot of a monumental obelisk that penetrating five hundred meters into the heavens. The Overman loved his symbology.

Now that Mars had finally been conquered, mankind would soon be launched ever outward, out across the celestial Acheron, to bring the life spawn of Gaia to the rest of the galaxy. Gaia was pushing man out from Eden. Indigo and Staley were pioneers of human destiny. They were the first children of Gaia to touch another planet and return. It was a big deal. It had taken two hundred years to finally conquer Mars.

But that appearance by Staley and Indigo at the obelisk, waving to the masses under the rain of confetti, was a media fabrication. Indigo had not left the hospital since the Astarte splashed down. He studied the hologram, zooming in, changing perspective. It was, at first, amazing to Indigo that anyone would even think that it was him. The fake Indigo’s posture was all wrong. His neck was too short. Indigo never waved like that, with a bent wrist. But suddenly he felt guilty for thinking it was wrong. Who was he to question official media? He was just a nothing man, a mundane, an inconsequential, mid-level Overman. The holovision sensed his uneasiness and halted the video feed.

“All individuals are inconsequential,” explained the holovision voice. “A human’s only valid meaning for existence is derived from his service to the living planet. Alone, you are nothing, but you are indispensible as part of a species playing a role determined by our Great Mother.”

Indigo suddenly felt better after having been reminded of his egoism by the Spirituality Kiosk. It was as if Gaia herself was personally speaking to him. The holovision resumed the feed and Indigo watched his avatar waving, smiling, walking, and speechifying. He noticed the face was vaguely his but the expressions were wrong, too, as if his skin was peeled off and layered over some dissimilar skull… Indigo cursed himself for backsliding so quickly. “Blasphemer!” Even a Secular Gaianist like he— an agnostic, more-or-less— was conditioned by fear of the wages of sin. “Blasphemer!” He cursed again. “Never question the motives of Gaiastan. Never question Gaianism. Never question Gaia. There is a perfectly rational reason for this avatar to have been created. There is a higher purpose. It’s been done for the greater good. Suppress your ego, Indigo. Suppress your vanity. Suppress your pride. Pride never helps a person,” he reminded himself.

Then Staley appeared in the parlor before him.

He was there, staring down at Indigo— not a hologram, but in the flesh. He had a curious look on his face, like some mad scientist examining some perplexing phenomenon.

“How are you?” Indigo asked.

“How do I look?” Staley replied.

“You don’t look well.”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Has thinking made you ill?”

“I’ve learned that the tree of knowledge bears a bitter fruit.”

Indigo didn’t know how to respond to that.

“Do you have your locket?” Staley asked.

“It has never left my person.”

“Have you brain dumped, lately?”

“Not to Virtuality. However, the doctors have downloaded my mind recently for SHIV.”

“You should use a kiosk and download whenever you get the chance.”

“Why?”

“Because you never know when you may be in need of resurrection,” Staley answered with a smile.

“Do you have reason to believe we have outlasted our usefulness?” Indigo asked mockingly, implying Staley was suggesting their imminent physical demise.

Staley’s mind, however, was drifting away, even before his smile had dissolved…

 

Staley had journeyed a hundred million kilometers and six months backwards in time, back to the Astarte. Back to the black and white of space… Back to the stale air of the cabin… Back to the spinning vertigo of raining stars… To the sweet smell of ozone… To the blinking gold and red indicator lights… To the constant undercurrent of psychosis… To the ever present claustrophobia… To the sensation of being on a flimsy wooden raft, floating rudderless downstream towards a thousand foot waterfall.

Staley’s brain called out, “Jump Off! Jump Off!” But his mind intervened. The brain calls out like a barking dog. But the mind muzzles it. The brain is the animal, the primal man. The mind is the spirit, the Overman.

In the Astarte, it was best to focus on the knobs and dials and the gold and red indicator lights; better to immerse in the colors and sounds and strains of routine in order to tether the barking dogs of the brain.

“No! Open the hatch! Be done with it.” Staley shouted in his dream. “Only a few gasps of nothing, then a burning cold, blindness, then mercy.”

His mind clenched and pulled back on the leash controlling the psychosis. Staley always pulled it back, sooner or later. He could always subdue the urge to jump out the airlock and end the agony. Staley’s mind would come back into focus. The dogs were subdued.

Then Staley remembered Athena.

“Are you okay?” She asked with an insouciant toss of her wispy, chestnut mane. Before he could answer, her angelic face blossomed into a flirtatious grin followed by her making her way past him to the control center of their cozy titanium space can…

 

Thankfully, before the entranced Staley broke apart into emotional rubble, a page appeared and escorted the two of them away from the Spirituality Kiosk and out of the hospital altogether. They were led onto the street where they were loaded into a luxury limousine. The car, one of only a hundred or so in the city powered by an internal combustion engine, throttled up and whisked them away toward Grand Central Station.

The highest degree Overman elites were always whisked away in methanol powered vehicles. It has been said that all men are inconsequential… but some are less inconsequential then others. The importance of the elites necessitated exception to the rules against hydrocarbon power. No one questioned this as it was a pragmatic necessity.

Inside the expansive vehicle, their handler greeted them. It was a pointy-nosed Mr. Brzezinski who handed them their cleaned and pressed space suits and had them strip down and dress right there in the back of the car. Within ten minutes, they were at their first function. They parked in the bowels of a great concrete edifice, took a service elevator to the lobby, were hustled along through dark hallways, and finally into another parlor. When the moment was ripe, the pointy-nosed Brzezinski led them through one last door and out into the bright LED light.

It was blinding white.

A crowd, invisible to them behind the brilliant glow, roared with approval. Brzezinski approached the podium to give a short speech. He described for the crowd the duo’s triumphal, inter-solar exploits, and the fulfillment of a goal requiring two centuries of struggle. The crowd roared again and again.

Indigo and Staley stood near on the dais, silent, listening to the exaggerations of their endeavor, fully-robed in their astronaut grandeur, holding their space helmets in their arms. Their couture added much to the spectacle and awe. Their symbology clarified, for even the lowest-ranking Overman in attendance, exactly what the elite Mr. Brzezinski was talking about: selfless heroism. The undermen, relegated to the back of the assembly, were merely humates[1]  hypnotized by the light and energy. The grand symbology was utterly lost on them.

Although many members of the press hailed both of the astronauts with questions on the curiosities of .3 gravity, long-duration isolation, and what it felt like to “walk on Mars,” Indigo and Staley had been given very specific instructions by Brzezinski not to speak in more than one word answers. The two could not yet be trusted by the Gaian authorities and Staley had not passed his SHIV test.

It was pondered by the bureaucrats that they might just save themselves any potential trouble by rebooting Indigo’s and Staley’s consciousnesses with more amenable, albeit fabricated, algorithms. But the Gaian authorities ultimately decided that reformatting their brains and reloading them was an even more risky endeavor. So much could go irreversibly wrong. Furthermore, the dimwitted undermen, who may have been barely one notch above chimpanzee  having been intentionally and systematically dumbed down with jingoism, religiosity, distraction, violent sports, inane celebrity, toxic vaccines, and slow starvation, remained stubbornly and acutely attuned to the wavelength of human authenticity. A rebooted celebrity, behaving like a robotic sycophant, would be immediately discovered by and quickly rejected by the undermen who made up the bulk of society.

In addition, there wasn’t an Overman with sufficient brazenness to even dare to attempt to write the code necessary to give the two icons a new consciousness. The Overman was as arrogant as any patrician had ever been in human history, but he was chronically paranoid of the perceptions of those of higher ranks. Writing a consciousness that was too-authentic would draw suspicion and jealous scrutiny from those above. No Overman wishing to climb the ranks wanted to be noticed for anything other than that which would get them to the next level. Loyalty is the only sure fire method of self-promotion in a bureaucracy. Cleverness and creativity are not traits that hierarchical systems covet. The clever and the creative are perceived as unmanageable and threatening. Overman paranoia was the price one paid for having superior eugenics.

The two spacemen just stood on the podium, coached to smile, but only Indigo smiled. Staley was barely conscious as he had surreptitiously found his way into an opiate-induced fog. Staley didn’t originally like giving himself injections but that wore off rather quickly when his new medication was introduced.

The drugs, supplied by the Gaiastan patho-bureaucrats, were issued to Staley as a means of keeping him sedated and addicted. In other words, the idea was that they could keep Staley compliant, dutifully fulfilling his obligations to the State while he was progressing along the way to his next fix.

This seemingly worked well as everything was going according to plan. The two astronauts stood before the crowd, showered by enthusiastic cheers and biodegradable confetti just like the holovision had predicted. And just after the crescendo of adulation, but not so long after that the emotions cooled into embers, Brzezinski raised his hand to signal the security agents to part the sea of humanity with electrified tape. Brzezinski signaled Indigo and Staley to put on their space helmets. Staley needed to be prodded from his dream state but he finally complied. The crowd roared with approval! Then the trio stepped into the narrow channel that cut through the crowd before them.

The undermen in the crowd grew rabid as the heroes made their way through. The mob thrust hands at them. Their fixated faces bounced up and down behind the human levy like wind-whipped caps of turbulent sea. The crossing for the astronauts was tense as it felt that at any instant the flimsy tape barrier would give way and a tsunami of crazed humanity would crash down on them in a suffocating explosion and rip them to pieces as they tore off their space suits for souvenirs. Indigo tried to quicken his pace but Brzezinski held him back. A sudden move to the train car would fuel the urgent hysteria making the situation unmanageable. Chain reaction mass insanity was a phenomenon not to be encouraged.

The heroes moved onward, deliberately, timidly waving, taking long, sasquatch-like strides in their silvery space suits. Their flash shields were down, concealing Indigo’s wide-eyed terror and Staley’s grim, detached dopiness. How far a walk it was for them through that parted, undulating, screaming mob.

Finally, the stairs!

Up they went, up into the train. Indigo disappeared inside. Staley turned back to stare at the sea that had crashed in on the channel behind them. He raised both of his gilded, silvery arms up in a priestly sort of way. As if by magic, the mass of hundreds fell completely silent. Staley held them with his magical gesture and they looked back into their hero’s black flash shield, mesmerized and frozen.

“You…” Staley called out to them.

They stared back, mouths agape.

“You…!” Staley repeated.

They hung frozen, captivated by his superhuman presence.

Staley’s black visor scanned from left to right across the breadth of his congregation. He inhaled and held that breath, allowing the collective eyes of the mass to transfer their energy into him. Then he shouted…

 

“You-are-the-dead!”

 

There was no response from the crowd.

Staley took this to mean that he had reached them in some profoundly spiritual way. But instead, all that the crowd actually heard was a muffled “Ooo ar uh deh” due Staley’s helmet muffling his voice.

The pointy-nosed Brzezinski, who also didn’t hear what Staley had said either, yanked him into the coach. As it pulled away, the crowd roared like they do at the grand finale of a pornographic-rock-and-roll-euthanasia festival.

And that was how the National Triumph of the great space heroes Indigo and Staley began.

 

#

 

Their Triumph took them to all the great cities of the People’s Republic of Gaiastan. Their locomotive, powered by the most modern steam engine ever developed by government engineers— christened The Big Mother— rocketed the national heroes from gaianopolis[2] to gaianopolis at the blistering, inconceivable, mind-boggling land-pace of forty five kilometers per hour. It was unimaginably luxurious to be ferried about the vast country in such manner. For mid-ranking Overmen like Indigo and Staley, the experience was exceeded by nothing else except perhaps the storied reports from those fortunate enough to experience travel by hypersonic hovercraft, a mode of transport reserved for Motherland Security[3] and the high elite.

Big Mother chugged and puffed and puffed and chugged, belching her filthy black soot upward into the gray skies. Her wheels wound their way down diamond-hard rails of the absolute finest Manchurian steel ever to be imported as she rolled from city to city. The urban population centers were gleaming gardens of pyramidal architectures, each adorned at the top with the all-seeing eye. The largest structures, the arcologies, often stood a kilometer high. Their spires pierced the clouds. Each arco was an engineering marvel of the age, constructed with prefabricated, foamed aluminum and puffed plastic.

What a surprisingly sturdy and downright green material puffed aluminum was, having known to only fail during uncommon global warming induced blizzards. The marginal risk of the top seventy floors of a man-made, Styrofoam being sheared off in a frozen gale and dropped on the quaint neighborhoods far below was but an inconsequential externality, a level of risk approved by the government as tolerable as less than two such events were expected to occur in any given decade. The miracle building material was light and cheap. If the low impact construction method saved the life of one spotted Preble’s snow squirrel, wasn’t it worth it?

On their Triumph, Indigo always took extra time to absorb the majesty of the brilliant metropolitan skylines. The skyline of the city of Rahmcago was especially breathtaking as the two hundred storey pyramids of cobalt blue and magenta were dwarfed against the backdrop of the ever-advancing, two kilometer high sheet of glacial ice that was slowly shaving the city off the face of the earth in a grand geological swipe of Gaia’s straight razor.

Mother Nature, in the form of glacial ice, advanced one meter per annum and could not be stopped, not even with nukes. But just as soon as the toppled and flattened city structures could be cleared away and the bodies recovered, the engineers were directed by the economic development bureaucrats to rebuild the towers a hundred meters to the south. This had the effect of creating a city that swelled upwards in a wave of construction cranes and ever-taller structures that stood like a frozen breaker against the slowly crashing tidal wave of unstoppable ice.

Indigo had a secret hope that maybe, if he was vigilant in his observations, he might actually bear witness to a ten million ton chunk of the great Helcaraxe Glacier calve off and pulverize one of the foam skyscrapers while he watched. But that thought made him ill so he blocked it out.

Staley was unimpressed by any of it— the towering arcologies, the grinding ice, the omnipresent eye, the Gaian symbology, the jubilant fanfare, Big Mother chugging along with her puffs of steam and soot. He remained in his own chamber, usually asleep or completely drugged up and detached.

If Indigo hadn’t known what Staley had been through, he might have been prone to pester him about his antisocial behavior or snitch him out to the patho-bureaucrats. But Indigo knew what Staley had been through and he knew how the world worked. He still fancied himself as one suitable for promotion to the next Overman degree but knowing too much is not conducive to bureaucratic advancement, unless it’s knowledge that can be used as leverage against someone with the power to promote. He kept his mouth shut but he thought about promotion a lot.

“How perfectly green it would be to crack the 20th degree before my mortal body dies,” Indigo would often contemplate. Higher degrees meant more of everything. Higher degrees meant a life of meaning and importance which required uninterrupted access to electricity. Not just electricity during non-peak hours, mind you, but electricity around the clock. How extravagant, he thought. Higher degrees implied a menu that might occasionally include meat. I know, I know, Indigo thought before the nausea returned, seeking advancement for the sake of selfish extravagances like electricity and meat is decadent. But higher degrees also meant better health care rations, death panel deferments, and more frequent consciousness downloads— or “brain dumps” as they were called. You never know when you might suffer an unexpected physical demise. It was best to have your virtual consciousness up to date and ready to take over. A long gap between brain dump and actual brain death might be a source of dissonance and disorientation. Stop being so selfish and egocentric, Indigo lamented to himself. He felt the queasiness in his gut that so frequently accompanied his ungreenness. Indigo so wanted to be a good Overman.

Big Mother rolled on from Rahmcago, breaking down only sixteen times during their Triumph. She eventually wound up in the urban center of Goropolis— a city of at least a hundred thousand Overman and perhaps ten times that number in undermen serfs.

No official stats were kept on undermen. They lived in the clustered hovels that rimmed the industrial sectors, far away from the Styrofoam skyscrapers and quaint urban neighborhoods of the core city. Big Mother cut right through the undermen section.

Indigo watched as their brick shanties and broken glass and smoking chimneys flew by as his train puffed and chugged and chugged and puffed towards the Overtown precinct. Those pathetic undermen in their rags, he thought. Thank goodness Gaiastan is here to provide for those wretched souls. Where would they be without Gaianism?

Big Mother passed through the outer serfdom and into the industrial zone. Ash from the coal fired power plants and mills vented upwards from hundreds of kilometer high fabric smokestacks. The haze of aerosols obscured the dim orb of the sun, casting the earth below in shade.

Aerosols! Aerosols! They were the great savior of mankind! Once considered an evil pollutant, the microscopic specs of sulfurous soot found broad scientific acceptance. Aerosols were the antidote to global warming which had elevated earth’s mean temperature a whopping .8 degrees in the shockingly rapid time span of 300 years.

Aerosols! Aerosols! They saved mankind from the catastrophe of a global winter foreshortened by 8 days. Upon the arrangement of scientific consensus, national directives were issued, public works projects were launched, scientistic bureaucrats were deployed, methanol powered bulldozers were ignited. Financial alchemists were tasked with designing new instruments and derivatives to turn reality into abstraction. Trading exchanges began listing Aerosol Debit Derivatives… symbol: ADD. The economy was completely rearranged in a more enlightened, earth-friendly, sustainable manner.

And the amounts of particulates pumped into the atmosphere by kilometer high smokestacks held aloft by zeppelins rose and rose and rose. The aerosols filled the stratosphere where they reflected the sun’s infra red light that had fueled the pernicious, relentless advance of global warming that threatened to raise sea levels a catastrophic 8 centimeters. It took far less time to reverse the ravages of a degree of warming than the Thirty Year Plan computer model predicted. Almost immediately, the apocalyptic global warming began to reverse.

Pollution was, paradoxically, the State’s brilliant solution to the ravages of pollution. There are no limits to theory so long as it can be formulated via the insight of circular reasoning. It takes an Ivy League degree and an Ivy League ethos to find such grand applications for circular logic.

And as the coal ash aerosols increasingly obscured the sun’s rays, Gaia was finally cooled…

 

And cooled…

 

And cooled…

 

Big Mother puffed and chugged and chugged and puffed through the industrial sector, under the black ash from the foundries and power plants that hung like a hood in the sky. Finally, they passed into the greenbelt zone where the clouds parted and the dull orb of the sun magically emerged through the haze.

The industrial zone had filled Indigo with dread but the dread dissolved just as soon as they passed into the comparative Eden of Overtown. More or less a gigantic park encircling the core city, the Green Zone was filled with thousands of Overman enjoying the latest, government approved leisure activities. Indigo observed the numerous engagements of whims like the nude pogo stick hoppers and the self-flagellating contortionists and the flaming skull jugglers all joyfully utilizing the landscaped paths and gleefully maximizing their allotted blocks of personal lifestyle time.

Indigo wasn’t into any of those pursuits but they were all the rage and he appreciated that they must have been spiritually cathartic to those who endeavored to engage in them. He wondered when, or even if, the State scientistic bureaucrats would ever devise a way to implant flaming skull juggling skills into a brain via computer upload so that he too might enjoy the pastime without spending many years perfecting the talent. The scientific problem preventing this was that muscle memory simply was not very easy to influence by electromagnetic stimulation. It wasn’t for lack of effort, mind you. Many quadrillions of dianars were spent attempting to ‘teach’ candidates how to hold multiple, zirconium encrusted, humate skulls simultaneously aloft via computer skills upload, but the result was almost always a rapid muscular dystrophy that rendered the humate guinea pig a crippled ward requiring immediate euthanasia.

 

Oh the sacrifices made for scientific advancement!

 

Big Mother puffed and chugged and chugged and puffed through the Green Zone and into the core of quaint neighborhoods and styroscrapers[4]. Every city was essentially the same, except for Rahmcago which had a five thousand foot cliff of ice bulldozing its way through the middle of it. So similar were they that every city essentially became the same city to the Triumph-weary Indigo and he soon tired of them all. He tired of the whistle stops and the waving eye flags and putting on his space suit and helmet. He tired of feigning enthusiasm and silently waving to the fanatical masses. This ungreenness, of course, brought on new bouts of stomach sickness which Indigo was sick of as well. He finally wanted nothing more than for the Triumph to end and to escape to some quiet place to take up the craft of naked pogo sticking.

Finally, like everything (except for Gaia which is eternal), the Triumph did end. And when the tour had finished, after six weeks and sixteen Big Mother breakdowns, Indigo decided that he was going to rest for a long while. He planned to visit his guardian’s childhood home, way, way out in the wilderness, away from the masses and the bureaucrats and the styroscrapers and the stomach ailments. He thought he might find the remoteness and smallness and egalitarian-ness of a rustic vacation relaxing. He was convinced that being far away from the transformers and holovision and whooping fanfare would cure his ungreenness. He believed that the rigors of the Triumph were the source of his ungreen thinking and thus the cause of his constant illnesses.

The pointy-nosed Mr. Brzezinski agreed wholeheartedly with Indigo’s idea of a rustic vacation, on the condition that Staley would tag along. In Brzezinski’s mind, there was very little damage a drug-laced, semi-comatose Mr. Staley could do way far out in some Luddite village surrounded by the things that lurked in the unpoliced Dehumanized Zones. The lifestyle of constant fear, subsistence farming, and regimentation of ration bazaars was not conducive to energizing any political scandals that might spread via the digital ether and embarrass the State. Undermen had far too many things to do and far too little technology to spread gossip about any potential flameout of a national hero. “What a perfectly green idea,” the pointy-nosed Brzezinski declared.

Indigo was forced to agree to taking Staley along even though he preferred time away from anything related to the Mars mission. This was not because he disliked Staley but rather because Staley’s presence would be a constant, stressful reminder of their interplanetary challenges. But upon completion of their final rally, the two spacemen were transferred from the sleek, powerful, technologically advanced Big Mother, onto a lesser steam locomotive bound for the undermen country.

[1] Humate: an un-evolved human regarded by Overman as a form of primate or savage.

[2] Gaianopolis: A sustainable, earth-friendly, densely populated metropolis.

[3] Motherland Security: Federalized, heavily armed, paramilitary codex enforcement.

[4] Styroscraper: Term for a 1000+ meter tall habitation complex constructed of foamed aluminum and plastic. Prone to collapse under high winds.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

“Mr. Indigo,” asked a young man dressed in lab coat. “Your test results indicate that you are making good progress.” He announced this with an authoritative, baritone voice that seemed mismatched with his youthful features. “…All your bone density scans are near normal. Your muscle mass is responding well to the electrolysis and the isometric regimen. Your chart even shows that your psychological variability has nearly returned to acceptable ranges. Things are looking good for your timely re-assimilation.”

“Aren’t you a little young for a senior physician?” Indigo asked, still groggy from the early morning medical wakeup call. It was a question that exceeded the acceptable ranges of social protocol. His follow-up of “You look barely out of med school,” was soon followed by a queasiness in his stomach.

The internish-looking doctor chuckled. “This is my sixtieth year in the medical profession.”

“Funny,” Indigo replied. “You don’t look a day over twenty-five years old.”

The doctor was un-amused. He whispered downward into his clipboard, “Patient still displaying some class 4, asocial outbursts… assuming it to be episodic only.” He grinned a phony grin at Indigo, then continued speaking into his clipboard. “Typical, interpersonal bluntness often associated with post traumatic stress. Normal aspect of recovery from long-duration-isolation. Prescribing anti-psychotics and opiates. I do not expect this to be an obstacle to social reintroduction on the predetermined schedule… still expecting full, seamless social harmonization.”

Indigo felt a little offended at the doctor’s public diagnosis but his thoughts were diverted to his growing nausea. In hopes of bringing relief, he changed the subject. “So what’s up for today, doc? Swimming pool? Isometrics? Four hours of holovision[1]? I’m bored with holovision. It seems like such a waste of time. Maybe we could go outside, today?”

The doctor cocked his head and gave Indigo a curious look before responding. “Those holovision sessions may seem insipid and pointless to you but they are invaluable as part of a complete program of social re-integration therapy. Those holovision programs help to recondition your brain into thinking like a functional member of Gaian society. You were away from Gaia for eighteen months, Indigo. Your brain needs to be retrained as to what constitutes appropriate behavior.”

“I didn’t like holovision before I became an astronaut.”

“Well, Mr. Indigo, you are a free man. You are always free to choose the choices prescribed to you. You can watch four hours of holovision or you can do four hours of communal therapy. Should I wheel you into the Green Room? I believe a session is about to begin.”

Indigo’s face filled with disappointment at the ‘freedom’ embedded in the doctor’s Hobson’s choice. The doctor dropped his clipboard down to his side and, in the most condescending tone imaginable— even for a doctor— he asked, “Please tell me, Indigo, why are we so ungreen[2] this morning?”

Indigo didn’t answer but was convinced that it should have been obvious. Four weeks of intensive rehabilitation in what amounted to a prison was fueling an irritability that thinly veiled an emerging depression. Humans need sunlight and fresh air. The irradiative welding arc of the sun that astronauts are blinded with in space does them no good. Humans must have the warm, golden glow of the sun whose healing rays are gently diffused by the earth’s atmosphere. Indigo yearned for the sunlight of earth. He conveyed this line of thought to the doctor with a mere longing glance towards the window. Indigo’s disappointed body language was interpreted imperfectly by the senior physician.

“Indigo,” the doctor said with a faint smile which revealed only a superficial understanding of Indigo’s longing, “we’re rapidly approaching the end of the program, here. You’ll be out in two months, depending partly on how you test out this week. I think you should be looking forward to your final days in convalescence. When you are out of here, you are going to experience a tremendous amount of psychological strain. Your obligations to Gaiastan will weigh heavily upon you. You’ll have to endure your National Triumph. You’ll have numerous public engagements and media events to deal with. There will be an endless list of demands placed upon your limited time. It’s going to be quite stressful, Indigo. The expectations are very high. Gaiastan expects much from those to whom it gives much. You should consider this insulated and antiseptic place as more of a spa than a prison.”

Indigo was well aware of all that. All he wanted was to go outside and absorb some sunlight and breathe some fresh air, but he didn’t want to press the doctor who was keeping a tally of his asocial outbursts. “Of course,” Indigo replied, with emotionless monotone.

The baby-faced doctor smiled again, faintly but genuinely, and turned to leave the room.

“Oh, wait,” Indigo called, stopping the doctor in his tracks. “What can you tell me about Staley? I haven’t seen him or heard anything.”

The doctor grimaced a little while pondering his response. “Let’s see. Ahem… well… his physical health is… uh… I suppose the best way to describe it is ‘fair’. His recovery is definitely behind schedule.”

This came as no surprise to Indigo.

The doctor continued. “I don’t have to tell you that the actions Staley was required to take out there, which were all necessitated by the challenges presented by the mission, have weighed very heavily upon him. Unlike you, Indigo, Staley hasn’t accepted those events as rational necessities in pursuit of the greater good.”

“So what can be done for him?”

“We’re doing everything we can, now. We are hoping that, with time and electro-shock therapy, he will become more receptive to the social re-harmonization program.”

“Maybe I could speak to him?”

“We don’t think that is appropriate for you or for Staley just yet. We don’t want you two to catalyze each other’s psychological dysfunction. You aren’t completely rehabilitated either, Indigo. But don’t worry, when we get his mind healed, you will get plenty of hours together to share your Mars experience.

The doctor left and Indigo spent the next four hours absorbing cultural re-assimilation via holovision while nurses extracted his blood, urine, and stool, scanned his vitals, and removed an array of nodes glued to his shaved scalp.

 

#

 

Three days passed during which Indigo never left his hospital room except for his morning underwater yoga sessions, but it was the ninth day of the week and Nineday[3] meant ‘download day’. Twoday, Fiveday and Nineday were always ‘download days’. The ritual began at 4 (four hours after sunrise) when a nurse would appear with a tray of nodes and a tube of adhesive. Indigo would be propped up in bed and then the nurse would squeeze a dollop of goo onto the back of forty nodes and squish each of them onto strategic points located on his scalp. Once properly aligned and tested, Indigo would be wheeled by chair out of his room, down a glossy cement corridor, and into the opposite end of the wing. They would take an elevator there down into the depths of the deepest hospital basement where the possibility of electromagnetic interference is minimal.

The ‘download’ or ‘brain dump’ procedure, as it was popularly known, was part of what the doctors called Social Harmonization and Integration in Virtuality (aka the SHIV Test for short). Indigo was fitted with a crown of interwoven and intertwining receptor wires which comprised a halo array designed to capture, map and relay the transmissions of his synapses as they responded to stimulation beamed from the nodes glued to his scalp. Indigo’s 100 trillion neurons and 100 quadrillion neural pathways were mapped in about two hours creating what amounted to a 95% accurate copy of Indigo’s consciousness. Once activated, Indigo, at least in the consciousness sense, existed simultaneously in two dimensions: one terrestrial and one virtual. And as the terrestrial Indigo was wheeled back into his hospital room to be bombarded by mind-numbing holovision, the virtual version of Indigo was brought to life in a simulated reality and bombarded with hundreds of stressing events. From the virtual Indigo’s responses to these stimuli, the doctors could determine just exactly how ‘harmonic’ the terrestrial Indigo’s social reactions would be, if he were to be released into society at that moment. It was very important for the authorities to understand and predict how everyone of any consequence would behave in any circumstance. All usefuls went through frequent consciousness downloads and testing

“I don’t understand why you don’t just take the consciousness stored by my immortality locket. All this fuss with nodes and downloads seems like a waste to me,” Indigo whined.

“Relax,” the technician suggested in a soothing voice just as colors and sensations and mild emotional responses and Mandelbrot patterns spilled into Indigo’s mind’s eye. “We never interface with the locket. Who knows what could get uploaded into Greater Virtuality[4]? It’s too easy to introduce corruption routines and viruses.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Indigo replied.

“Besides, a locket download would be complete as it’s done every hour,” Continued the tech. “It’s a 99% accurate mapping. I think I’d be more concerned with what they’d find in the deepest 4% of my mind. Having all my thoughts, memories, and neurosis captured by a quantum-computer and thoroughly examined by a gang of patho-bureaucrats is kind of creepy,” he explained as he monitored the system displays for errors. “But then again, if you don’t think ungreen thoughts about anything, what do you have to hide?”

Indigo found the technician’s diatribe annoying. The techie couldn’t be much higher than third or fourth degree in rank. Who in the hell was he to even attempt a philosophical discourse with someone of Indigo’s level? Indigo said nothing but the techie continued, nevertheless…

“I think the entire notion of our mind being our own is utterly wrong.”

“I don’t care,” Indigo thought.

“What I’m trying to say is: does it really matter if your will is limited by some omnipotent super-being or by some universal, karmic force, or even by just some biochemical accident? Doesn’t it all lead one to the same conclusion?”

“Please shut up!” Indigo thought.

“Do we really own our minds, Indigo? Ha! Does it matter if you answer to some god or the government or your genome? Doesn’t all that imply that we are just slaves? I must admit that I don’t believe in free will at all.”

“Boring. Boring. Boring.” Indigo thought. “‘Free will’ had been debunked by scientists centuries ago. Please shut the hell up so we can get this over with and I can get back to my holovision,” he muttered.

The techie’s perspective may very well have been an accurate description of reality for men in-the-flesh, but for the downloaded version of Indigo, it was a less ambiguous existential framework. The simulated Indigo was, for all intents and purposes, alive, if existing only in an experimental Virtuality. Virtual Indigo had all of terrestrial Indigo’s memories and experience, 95% of them, anyway. He thought and saw and heard and felt and tasted. To the virtual Indigo, the emotions of love and hate and fear and ease and anger and joy and envy and all the rest were all completely real to him, molded by his genome and his simulated lifetime of experiences. The virtual Indigo’s mind was alive, whatever that means, but there was no doubt as to who owned it. The SHIV test patho-bureaucrats were the virtual Indigo’s pantheon of unknowable gods.

Indigo’s 95% virtual copy endured hundreds of simulation tests on that very day. He was presented with challenges ranging from eminent death, violence, and temptation; virtual Indigo was beaten, seduced, and bribed. It was noted that one test resulted in virtual Indigo attempting to upload a self-replicating variant of his consciousness into the cloud to foment chaos. Another showed that his simian mental reflexes pertaining to breeding and family protectiveness exceeded the acceptable aggression/response ranges. ‘Families’ were an anachronism for anyone of Overman class— a relic of an archaic social arrangement since the community crèche reared all the young of Gaiastan. These were extreme simulations, three standard deviation tests, ‘black swan’ events as they say. The scenarios that triggered virtual Indigo’s failed responses were tossed out as outliers.

With the testing complete, Virtual Indigo, who was enjoying a holiday respite on a virtual tropical beach, half-loaded on virtual mojitos, was terminated by his gods with a mere keystroke entry. Delete.

 

Rest in peace, Virtual Indigo.

 

Unlike Virtual Indigo, the Virtual Staley failed miserably at nearly all of the scenarios of the SHIV Test. The doctors needed more time to unwind the knots of mental illness that had intertwined themselves within Staley’s brain by the nightmare that was their mission to Mars. Unfortunately, the political bureaucrats were applying pressure on the medical bureaucrats to get their two National Heroes out on their celebratory Triumph.

“Gaiastan demands her heroes!” argued the political bureaucrats.

“They are not healed, yet,” argued the medical bureaucrats. “They need more therapy!”

“Gaia cannot wait any longer,” the political bureaucrats answered. “The window of opportunity to exploit their achievement is closing.”

“We cannot allow you to put Gaianism ahead of the mental health of these beings,” responded the medical bureaucrats. “They are not fit for the stress of a Triumph.”

“Gaia demands her Triumph!”

“Not until we release them from our care!”

“Oh, really?”

“Really!”

“Remind us again,” asked the political bureaucrats, “what was your budgetary request for next year?”

Long pause…

“We’ll have them ready to go by hour nine,” replied the doctors.

 

[1] Holovision: A black orb-shaped device that projects an immersive, 3D experience to those located within its immediate proximity.

[2] Ungreen: A negative connotation. An unpleasant demeanor, wrongminded thought, unfavorable outcome, or undesired circumstance. The opposite of green (in this context).

[3] Gaiastan operates on a metric calendar with ten, twenty hour days per week, beginning at sunrise, 9.1 weeks per season, and 4 seasons per year, each beginning on either the equinox or solstice.

[4] Virtuality (as in “Greater Virtuality” or “Heavenly Virtuality”): A concatenation of virtual and reality. A simulated, parallel universe where the consciousness of the physically dead is uploaded.

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Gaiastan, Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

The spaceship Astarte was, more or less, a spinning, titanium can with a nuclear bomb affixed to one end. It was visible from the Earth on clear nights, shining brighter than Venus as it completed its low orbits. The ship was a supreme monument, an icon symbolizing the exceptionalism of her builder— the People’s Republic of Gaiastan. Her purpose was to put people on Mars and bring them home again… if possible. The Mars Mission was the deemed to be the grand achievement of the Age.

All great cultures have their grand achievements. The Egyptians, for instance, were renowned for stacking stones really high. The Romans, Mongols and Nazis were incomparably skilled at mass murder. The Mayans made extraordinary calendars. In this regard, the People’s Republic of Gaiastan suffered from an historical inferiority complex. Her contributions to humankind were intangible and nebulous. She needed her own symbol of exceptionalism, her own grand achievement that future generations could point to. Putting a man on the moon had already been achieved so they decided to put people on Mars, instead. What the Gaians lacked in imagination, they made up for in ambition.

Altogether, the Astarte spacecraft took seventeen years to complete. Just clearing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles erected in the wake of the full scale, global-thermo-nuclear-police-action took seven years, alone. The last thing anyone wanted was for more nuclear bombs to be made, but the technology of the day meant that only a fission powered ship could get a human crew there and back before their DNA was ripped to shreds by radiation.

The previous six manned Mars missions had all failed, disastrously, and this was a source of epic national embarrassment. Mars One, the first attempt, lacked the necessary shielding. The crew members were cooked alive by three weeks in. The second, Mars Two, suffered a catastrophic core meltdown the instant after it fired its fission thrusters. Mars Three miscalculated its trajectory and crashed into the moon. Mars Four made it to Mars but couldn’t achieve optimal deceleration on its approach and is currently half way to the Oort Cloud. Mars Five was destroyed by a collision with a field of space sand travelling two hundred thousand kilometers per hour. Lastly, there was Mars Six whose crew was lost en route to the Astarte when the heat shielding of their shuttle was irreparably damaged by a flock of wayward geese.

With these failures, the efficacy of an entire Revolution was being called into question by a disheartened and increasingly disillusioned populace. Mars had to be conquered, so the regulatory hurdles were cleared, the funding spigots were opened, and the engineering limitations were ignored. Finally, at great cost, cost that included seven hundred payload missions, 99 mortalities, and about a quadrillion dianars[1], the Astarte was completed and readied for launch. Her auxiliary rockets fired. Her orbital velocity accelerated. She was slung outwards into the void where her fission reactor was successfully ignited.

 

#

 

Mr. Theus P. Indigo, Grade 4 Astronaut/Specialist and 13th Degree Overman, was a crewmember aboard that nuclear powered, titanium can bound for Mars. He spent a great deal of time thinking. Eighteen months trapped in a can affords one a great deal of time to contemplate things. Indigo performed his contemplations while gazing out his portal watching the endless, upwards rain of stars caused by the ship’s ceaseless rotation. This spinning generated the equivalent of 30% earth gravity… just enough ‘gravity’ to prevent the crew’s calcium from leaching out of their bones.

Indigo found himself at that portal for hours and hours at a stretch. He thought about things like immortality, the blue skies of Earth, and how he was going to renovate his 100 square foot habitation cube upon return. At one point, some forty million kilometers from earth, for some unknown reason, he contemplated the mind of savage man.

What mystical wonder Stone Aged men must have felt huddled by a campfire, gazing upwards into the heaven’s black dome adorned with her billion shimmering specks of light. “What are those points of light?” Many a savage had undoubtedly asked. Indigo deduced that those pre-humans were every bit as intelligent as any undermen[2] of the Third Century GE[3]. They just lacked the benefit of four thousand generations of accumulated knowledge regarding things like agriculture and physics and electromagnetic mind transference. Those poor, mortal bastards had it rough, Indigo thought. Surely one of them, somewhere, at some point in pre-history, pondered those thousand points of light in the pristine night and correctly deduced that they were distant suns not unlike our own. Probability ensured the likelihood that one of those pre-humans, somewhere, after stuffing his face with wild berries and fire roasted flank of gazelle, presented his radical, cosmological hypothesis to his fellow cavemen gathered around the campfire. And there was little doubt that this unorthodox idea was greeted with hostile ridicule. Such an unconventional explanation of the universe was certainly incongruous with the dominant tribal mysticism of their time.

“Heretic!” would go their rebuke, in their own caveman dialect of course. “Don’t you know that the stars are the frozen tears of the giant, omniscient, flying turtle goddess that forever weeps in despair over man’s selfish unrighteousness? Huh? Don’t you?” The threat of being bound up into a wicker effigy and burned alive would suppress any further suggestion of such radical blasphemy. Cosmology would thus languish in superstition for another hundred thousand years.

But, Indigo thought as he squeezed the last of the contents of his tofu ration tube into his mouth, wouldn’t it be a spectacular thing to go backwards in time and meet one of those paleo-Gallileos, pull him aside— once a suitable method of translation was devised, of course— and congratulate him on being right in that the stars are not, in fact, glittering turtle tears, or gleaming beacons of long dead souls, or pinholes of heavenly light puncturing the sheath of our mortal dimension. It would be simply fascinating to travel in time and meet one of those pre-human intellectuals, he thought. Indigo imagined patting him on the back and assuring him that he was correct in that the stars were, in fact, distant suns just as he had suggested; some were so unimaginably far away that their light had begun its journey while the earth was still inhabited by dinosaurs.

“What’s a dinosaur?” the caveman would ask with a perplexed look… if he could actually formulate the word for it.

“Oh, never mind,” Indigo would answer with a sigh. “It’s probably best to forget about those crazy ideas before the others tie you up and toss you into a tar pit. Here, let me have some of that gazelle meat.”

Indigo’s deep thought was interrupted by an alarm in the cabin. Bursts of green flashed in the portal as ionized particles interacted with the plasma enveloping the ship. Indigo looked around to discover that he was the only one awake. The long journey required lots of sleep time so as to conserve rations, energy, and sanity. He sat still and just waited for something to happen.

The Astarte was well-equipped with adroit and sophisticated quantum computers embedded with virtual copies of the most competent, most educated, highest-ranking human consciousnesses available. They were monitoring the situation and making adjustments as needed. The ship was basically on auto pilot and Theus P. Indigo was, more or less, just along for the ride. Thankfully, the alarms stopped, the green auroras enveloping the ship disappeared. Indigo traveled back in time, again.

Of Indigo’s wakeful hours, five were spent each week with a Mr. Vesuvius Staley, Grade 5 Astronaut/Technician, and also a 13th Degree Overman. Staley was a living breathing human which was supposed to be good for Indigo as it was determined that even the most sociable of embeds (which was what computers uploaded with human consciousness were known as) could not fool the human mind into thinking there was any real interpersonal interaction taking place. The mind knows the difference between an algorithm and a living being. In addition, it’s well known to sociologists that isolation from human contact fuels paranoia, distemper, cynicism, and other undesirable and unpredictable crewmember traits. These neuroses are most unproductive when they manifest, especially during an eighteen-month space mission.

Staley and Indigo became good friends on the journey from the launch pad. In the initial months, their mood was bright and hopeful. In fact, the entire crew developed a wonderful esprit de corp, joyfully completing their mundane assignments and the compulsory therapeutic sexual release sessions.

Eventually, however, things soured with a series of unexpected system failures. Despite the mandatory human interaction, Indigo and Staley eventually ceased speaking to one another. Staley spent their overlapping moments of wakefulness double and triple and quadruple checking the readings on the Birkelund Plasma Inducers[4] while Indigo reverted to staring out into infinity contemplating being a time-traveler contemplating cavemen who were contemplating the mysteries of the universe. In the final stages of the mission, Staley’s mood darkened to suicidally grim whenever his busy-work was finished. By that point, there really wasn’t anything for Indigo and Staley to talk about except the end of their glorious mission… a mission that had not gone according to plan.

A tiny pale blue dot, identified by augmented reality on the portal glass as “Gaia” grew fractionally brighter with each passing week. The Astarte’s fission engine was soon extinguished. Her fuel rods were jettisoned into infinity. The retro rockets fired and the ship gradually decelerated into Earth orbit. The surviving crew moved into the splashdown capsule.

Their re-entry was supposed to be a jubilant time and it certainly was that back on Earth where the people of Gaiastan anxiously awaited the return of their national heroes. The Overmen, the elite upper caste who lived primarily on the east coast, stared out across the ocean and up into the deep blue evening sky. Finally, a bright star appeared unto them— the brilliant Astarte— reflecting the sun and illuminated by 50,000 degree plasma. She fell from the heavens into the sea with a cosmic roar. Naval hovercraft rapidly converged upon her and the blackened and pulverized titanium space can was hoisted onto the deck of a floating retrieval ship.

Her doors were frantically pried open with crowbars. Indigo was extracted first and did the best he could to help with a physiology that had forgotten how to overcome full gravity. The strain caused him to almost immediately lose consciousness. He was poured onto a gurney and hauled away. Staley made no effort to leave the Astarte’s womb at all. They pulled him out clumsily, breech style and face down. It was not immediately known if he had survived re-entry.

There were originally seven crew members aboard the Astarte.

[1] Dianar: A unit of Gaiastan currency

[2] Undermen: The lowest caste of Homo Sapiens considered “human”.

[3] GE: In the Gaian Era. All calendars were reset to year 1 following the revolution. Dates prior to year 1 are known as BGE or Before the Gaian Era.

[4] Birkelund Plasma Inducer: A device that generates an electromagnetic field designed to protect spacecraft from cosmic radiation.

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