Zawning [Short Story, Science Fiction]

Shank rattled down the sidewalk. In some distant and huddled corner of consciousness he remembered what the inside of the city felt like, what it looked like. He looked at himself from that place: the jitter of his eyes, the disheveled clothes, the wild hair, the tweak in his walk. He was repulsive. Dangerous.

He bumped an old woman in furs. She made a noise of surprise, and on seeing him a face of fear and disgust. He barely recognized it as a face. It was more like a residual blur, an afterglow of some strange image he’d never understand. Her poodle yipped as she yanked on its leash and hurried away, and he started laughing. His laugh was insane, and he knew it, and he laughed harder.

People were looking. More faces. More disgust. How does a man fall so far? What did he used to be? Did he used to be anything? The thoughts were his own but seemed to come from elsewhere. The attack confused him, cut his laughter dead, sent him reeling forward.

An alley saved him from the faces and muffled the traffic. His nerves, tense to breaking, loosened. He breathed in the smell of rot and knew he was in the right place. A sign above a rusted door said “The Other Side” and he rapped the hollow metal. The clank of a bolt preceded a pale eye behind a crack and a chain.

“I haven’t seen you in a month.”

“I need to come in. Just let me in. You have to help me.”

“Did you clean the stain?”

“The stain. I am a fucking stain. You’re a paradox. The whole thing is absurdity and it followed me back. I can’t explain it through the cracks. Open the door. Open the door.”

“You don’t look so good.”

“Open the fucking door!”

The crack disappeared, the chain rattled, and the door came open. Shank entered and the hole closed behind him. Before him were the instruments of his madness. He had dreamed of them too. Monitors and grids and panels whose complexity and engineering were far beyond his understanding, they gave the room a strange glow that had once intoxicated him. Now it frightened him. He shuddered.

“I talked to Holly. She said you only made two sessions. Where the hell have you been? We gave you up for roasted.”

There was a parenthetic question mark behind the last. Am I roasted? he wondered.

“I zawned,” he said.

“You . . . zawned?” The incredulity in the voice was drowned in excitement. “It takes people years to – nobody like you has ever – are you sure?”

“It wasn’t a dream.” He turned to Nikolai. “I want to show you.”

The geek’s eyes were wide. “A zawning has never been graphed before. Fuck, Shank, people don’t even think it’s real. You think you copped an image?”

“It’s at least a gigapixel.”

“It ain’t about the damn pixels, man. Anybody can come back with ten gigapixels of foggy shit. You really think you zawned, and came back with a resolved image? I mean, spatially, radiometrically, resolved?”

“Just light me up. You’ve got questions, I’ve got questions, it’s shaking me loose. Just light me up. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. Maybe it isn’t there. Maybe I’m not here. I’m gonna lose it. You watching this? The whole thing’s melting right the fuck out of my head. Ask me another question.”

“Alright, alright.”

Nikolai wasted no time with the apparatus. For what it did, the thing was pretty simple. Seven nodes attached to the head, they transmitted the data wirelessly to the networked drives. Nine of them, slinging bits and information on the order of a terabyte per nanosecond. It was the cooling that was the suck, and energy wasn’t cheap. Nikolai usually reminded him that every pull cost him a legal month of watts, but this time he just flipped the switch.

The lights flickered and dimmed. The hum of the cooling rods met the hum of the processors, pulsing in a low binaural beat. Shank closed his eyes and called up the image. This was what they called the magic minute. Anybody could dream, but only a few could bring one back, and only a few of the few could render it. And barely any of those could transmit. In the strange glow and invasive rhythm of the machinery, Shank viewed the still from his memory more clearly than his eyes could have seen it. Captured in a dream beyond a dream, enhanced through conscious processes, painted now physically across the synapses of his brain. All else faded away, thoughts became dim then mute then disappeared. The image shuddered once when his fear returned, but even the fear phased out. The world beyond the image dissipated, and the image was everything.

The sensation that occurred as the nodes kicked up their dust storm of neurons was surreal; and with every pull it was newly surreal. It was as if the world became unhinged, and tiny ghosts with stingers attacked from all sides at once. Unseen, unfelt, the prodding force could only be experienced beyond the senses. The assault seemed to last an age. When at last it ended Shank let the image fall and with it some of the memory. He opened his eyes.

Nikolai was at his panel, manipulating the figures on the screen with unconscious dexterity. It was all Greek to Shank. Splatter patterns and algorithms and all sorts of esoteric mathematical jargon bounced around in the display. If he hadn’t seen the results before, he might, like many others, think the whole thing was a parlor trick.

“Here it comes,” said Nikolai.

The back wall shimmered and became white. A wave of black light swept through it, leaving behind a faint pattern of black flecks. Another wave, and another. They came at faster intervals, filling the canvas with black. It was all black. Something was wrong. The image wasn’t coming through. The waves ripped until nothing remained but the deepness of the absence of color. Shank looked into the darkness, not understanding.

“Is this a joke?” said Nikolai. The edge in his voice was fear, and maybe anger.

“It was dark, but it wasn’t that dark. There was horror in the hole, but the disk was made of light. Every color you’ve ever seen. A curling bridge of dust and great storm of white fire, the shadow of the hand that found me. It was there. It’s here. I saw her face. My thoughts are made of color, not this darkness.”

“Get out.”

Shank looked at Nikolai, not seeing him. “My thoughts are made of light,” he said. “My memories are masterpieces.”

“You’re fucking roasted,” Nikolai said. “Forget about the stain, you’re whole brain is fried, man. Who am I going to sell this to, huh? Who the fuck is going to buy an empty piece of fucking nothing?”

Shank replied, but it was an unintelligible mutter. He muttered all the way out the door, down the alley, back into the cracks of the city.


The Metroplex was a mountain of glass and metal, ravines and spires. Tar roads trickled through the pits, skyways hovered in the twilight zone, the Church of Man rose up over all, a lonely peak so high it made the tourists dizzy. And orbiting the edifice like a Saturn’s ring a ribbon of Heaven boasted the achievements of the flesh. It was a dreamscape projected onto a stream of particles, built and maintained by the church, the forty-second wonder of the world.

Shank knew the man who dreamed it, a man that used to have an eye for the world. Jon Newton had been among the pioneers of dreamscaping, turning the unknown realms of sleep into the next frontier of expression. He sculpted dreams of diamond oceans, floating cities, falling skies. But then a bishop from the Church of Man slipped a check in his pocket, and now he called himself Wazir and only dreamed of Heaven.

The Church of Man. It brought the bile up, thinking of it. The final resting place for the god of the gaps. The old religions had surrendered to science and reason and the deluge of secularism that came with the second Enlightenment, only to reemerge as a hybrid of humanism and new age mysticism. The clergy wore jeans, the songs had a backbeat, and Jesus was Muhammad was Buddha was Vishnu was the answer to the letter y. Physics, chemistry, biology – they had the how of it, but people still needed a place to go when their bodies gave up the ghost. Escape route, plan B, the way out. Consciousness was the last mystery on earth or in the stars, therefore god. And therefore heaven and Jon Newton’s billion dollar dreams.

Maybe god was in the cards, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was god’s hand reaching out of that darkness, curling its fingers around his mind, giving him this squeeze. Maybe it was the other guy.

Maybe it was me.

Holly and her zawners were on the fifth floor of the church. Through a silent door he found the ocean-blue lobby, pocked with dull-eyed baitfish. They came here to dream because dreaming was the only moral high. The holy LSD. There was a god in the cracks between sleep and death and a cure for existence. Whatever work they did was meaningless, whatever families they had were the same notch of mute. They came here for the numbness.

The receptionist recognized him.

“The artist returns to us,” she said. She had the mystic’s calm, a voice that crawled through time. “He brings a question.”
Heads turned. They knew him here.


“She makes the dream. Have some tea. The time will pass.”

“I need to see Holly.”

“The time will pass.”

“There isn’t any fucking time!” His fist on the counter was an alien violence. The intrigue of the faithers behind him smelled like plague. He took a breath, lowered his voice. “I have been where you pretend to go. I returned with an image, and the dreamscape was black. There’s a hole in my head and it’s sucking the life out of my eyes and I need to speak to Holly. Now.”

“You projected?”

The voice was in his ear, the lips too close. He turned, and the face was pale with awe. Others came. Faces. Too many faces. They were all flat with wonder, glossed with the oblivion of belief. They surrounded him.

“What did you see?”

“Was there a light?”

“Did it feel like they say? Did it feel like flying?”

Lambs. The folds of the old testaments, dull and willing. He saw the emptiness that built this edifice, the absurdity that furnished and sustained it. All the monuments through the ages, from the Church of Man to the Parthenon, grown brick by brick from these seeds of wish and fear.

He was saved by another door. She stood within its frame, a feminine paradigm and a halo of blue light. The calm these faithers pretended was savage in her. She won through pain what they hoped to purchase through donation.

“Shank,” she said, “Please come inside.”

He followed her.


“You are lost.”

“Everybody’s lost. I’m off the plane.”

“You found your way here.”

“You did this to me. You, this place, those people. I came here to get the needle out of my brain, you replaced it with a knife and sent me screaming through the void. I just wanted a pill, something to pop. Something to clean the stain. I didn’t ask for this.”

“For what?”

“Zawning. Your out-of-body freak-show. I don’t believe in this nonsense, I don’t subscribe to magic, I don’t fuck around with prophets and voodoo. I dream, and I paint. There’s nothing mystical about it. I don’t chase angels through the ether. My dreamscapes were smeared, and came here, I found here. They said you’d done it before, gone inside and flushed the pipes. They didn’t say you’d shove a rocket up my ass and aim for the abyss.”

“You believe you’ve zawned?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“Can you describe it?”

“Ashes at Midnight. Coal in a Tar-pit. I copped the image and that’s what I pulled. Oblivion.”


“Don’t you get it? It’s impossible. You can’t pull nothing. You can’t pull what you can’t fathom, and nobody can fathom the darkness. Not if you’re blind from birth can you project full absence, because the mind itself is something.”

“And the dream?”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“The zawn, then.”

“You don’t believe me.”

“I believe you’ve had a transformative experience.”

“Fuck you.”

“I only asked you to describe it.”

“I can’t! It isn’t words. I’m no good with words. Can you describe Picasso? Can you describe a supernova?”

“I could try.”

“I’m not roasted.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re thinking it, you’re looking it. I can smell it. Shank’s hit the wall, too much time in lala land, brain-splat, game over. Didn’t come back this time, did I? Buried my soul and shit in the hole.”

“Do you think you’re roasted?”

“I’m not.”

“Then tell me what you saw.”

“Colors. Shapes. The shadow of a hand and the face of beauty. There it is. Picture it if you will.”

“Shank, I can only help you if you’re open.”

“I need to go back. I can’t get back. You have to get me back.”

“Back to what?”

“Back to the hand that found me and the eyes that knew me!”

“Shank – ”

“I was there! I can’t describe it and I can’t prove it and if we were reversed I’d never believe it, but I was there.”

“Shank. Shut up, look directly into my eyes, and do everything I tell you.”


Consciousness. Pure and unthinking and ablaze. In high movement above the city it burned with the unbridled positivity of existence without awareness. Then it blinked twice and became afraid.

The city was a gorgeous wound in the earth, its dream of heaven a solemn ring of infection. Around it the skin was flat and smooth until forests or mountains or rivers. The fear became wonder became fear again. A fall from this height was death, and there was a universe to go.

Another blink and Earth was a haloed sphere, wretchedly blue against the white glare of the distant sun. The bleakness of the distance was awful. Earth was a lonely and vulnerable thing, moving at terrible speed through darkness, held to its course by the weakest force in the universe.

A ring of orbiting rocks and mountains, some glistening like diamonds. Tumble weeds blowing through a ghost system. Beyond them the great mass of Jupiter stood like its namesake, its one eye a wandering threat.

Another blink and Saturn was a pale dot and the sun was cold. The Church of Man was a pin prick on a pin prick on a speck of light-stricken dust. The distances were coming in magnitudes and suddenly the sun was just a star. A star among a billion stars. Stars that went shooting past, balls of light that flashed white for a moment and cooled to red as they raced away to punch another hole in the shrinking expansion. Until the flashes became streaks, ribbons of energy bent through time and pointing home.

Then, as if it were the heart ripped out of his chest and dropped from a height, Shank watched the spiral of the galaxy fall away. The whole galaxy, with its legions of stars and men, became a faint glow in the stoic emptiness.

The fear fell with it and he realized he was looking backwards. He turned and discovered that journey had just begun. The void swallowed him. They weren’t stars but galaxies that went streaking past. Embers of the dying fire fighting against the cold and the dark.

And the great darkness loomed. The black disc dominated field and spectrum and sucked existence inwards. A trillion suns made wild orbit, their guts ripped out in whorling torrents and ringing the abyss with a dance of fire. Blue geysers of energy made a violent escape from the belly of the hole and etched a brilliant highway through the absence around it.

Here was the center of things. From this point all points arose.

As before the hand reached out to him. He could feel the consciousness behind it. No other force would dare the demonstration. It was the fifth force, the eyes that made eternal observance and substantiated the others.

But the hand was made of light, and even light surrendered to infinity. The darkness bent it to breaking and swallowed.

When the face emerged it knew him. It moved to speak.


“Shank! Shank!”

He was shaking. The eyes were Holly’s.

“Shank, are you there?” She snapped her fingers at him. “Say something.”

“I’m here.” He sat up. He was on the floor, drenched in sweat, and his whole body ached. Holly was frightened. He had never seen her frightened.

“You seized,” she said.

“I have to get to the Other Side,” he said. He tried to stand but his legs were weak and they failed him. “What happened?”

There were faithers in the room. They clutched the walls, afraid to approach, and they looked at him with terrible reverence.
“I’m sorry,” Holly said. “They just . . . came.”

“The Other Side,” he said. “I have the image, Holly. The face at the center of things, at the center of myself, the eyes of darkness and beauty. Nikolai – take me to Nikolai.”

Her hand on his cheek was cool. “You need to rest. Your body is tired.”

Holly. The ages could be traced in the lines of her skin and her voice echoed back from the halls beyond death.

He pushed her away. When he stood, his legs held him. But one of the faithers, tall and glazed, blocked the exit and held up a hand. The calm in him was dumb and the eyes were baked with borrowed dreams.

Shank grabbed a heavy bookend from Holly’s shelf and cracked his faither skull. He cracked it again. Blood ended the mystic playtime and a woman screamed. A final crack and the man fell and Shank stumbled and ran out the door.

The heavy thing, the white ivory in his grip, it was an angel, bowed sublimely with folded wings and splattered red.


“Nikolai!” His fist rattled the cheap metal. “Nikolai! I have it! The image is clear! Open the door!”

The bolt, the pale eye and the crack and the chain.

“You’re roasted. Get the fuck out of here.”

“You don’t understand,” Shank said. “I was there. I breathed it. I’m infused. These are the colors of life and the hole is black murder. I have it, Nikolai, and this time it’s real. You have to trust it. You have to risk it.”

“I scrapped a month of watts on your darkness,” Nikolai said. “It’s game over for you, Shank.”

Shank kicked the door. “Explain it then! The image wasn’t smeared, there wasn’t a stain. It was absence, fully resolved. It isn’t supposed to be possible.”

Nikolai said nothing.

“It’s something,” Shank said. He put his face to the crack. The metal was cool. “There’s more of it. I pulled this from the edge, Nikolai. I didn’t cop the lines, they’re seared across my brain. You just have to turn on the machine. This is it. This is the one, the one that puts me back on the map, the one that gets you out of this dive.”

The chain clicked and the door opened. Nikolai wielded two fingers like a dagger and jabbed Shank in the chest.

“You better not be fucking around.”

“Just turn it on. Turn it on, turn it on.”

Seven nodes attached to the head. The cooling and processing thrummed. Shank closed his eyes and brought the image forward and traced its lines with his mind. The magic minute came and the nodes kicked up their storm of neurons, ghosts, and stingers.

When he opened his eyes Nikolai was a blur at his panel. The jargon bounced around his screens like a coded game of pong and the clacking of keys was violent against the hum of the machines. A final clack and the black light began its sweep over the white wall. Patterns emerged, and colors. Colors from a dream that wasn’t a dream.

“What is it?” Nikolai asked.

“You’ll see. Everyone will see,” Shank said.

Every pass of light laid a million flecks. Lines became clear, and then shapes. Shapes that formed a face and the face was Shank’s and it screamed from a hole in the universe. Streams of light and dust shot through the particle miasma and wrapped the hole in a halo of agony and a hand reached out but never touched the stars.

“It’s brilliant,” said Nikolai.

“It wasn’t me,” Shank said. “Where is she? Milk and eyes, Nikolai! This isn’t what I saw. She was beautiful. You fucked it up. What is this? That isn’t me. Where is my masterpiece? What did you do you with my masterpiece?”

The rattling of the door, a thunder from the other side. Nikolai went and opened the crack and the voice came through it like a flood.

“Metroplex Police. Sheldon Banks is wanted for the murder of William Laughlin. We tracked him here. We have a warrant. You can open the door or we can break it down.”


“Open the door, put your hands on your head, and back away.”

Murder. The red splattered angel and the faither. The face in the hole with the eyes of fear without hope, an elbow against his spine and the taste of concrete and teeth and copper blood.

“My dreams are beautiful. You should have seen my dreams.”

“What the hell is this place?”

“Looks like dreamscaping. Black market, keeps the watts off the grid. You fucked up your friend real good with this back-alley rig, buddy. You’re going down for the juice, and accessory.”

“I barely know this guy! My watts are clean, check the logs!”

Shank had no resistance to give. He was limp as they dragged him.

“I dreamed of purple roses once,” he said. “I dreamed of purple roses that hung from a sheet of sky. The girl, she stood on a blade of grass – she had a face of milk and eyes.”

The officer made a note of it and pushed his head into the car.


The White Room [Short Story, Science Fiction]

           William Radke was a professor of English and Philosophy at Cloud University.  At one hundred and fifty, he was getting old, but he was still loved by his colleagues and nearly worshipped by his students.  It was a singular distinction that, throughout his long career, he had taught both Shakespeare and Nietzsche, Milton and Spinoza, Dickens and Kant.  He published a great deal, and though most of his work was of a  scholarly sort, Immortal Sons of Nietzsche was so widely praised it went mainstream and topped a few best-seller lists.  He’d shaken hands with the president, toasted the king of the Confederate States of Africa, sired fifteen children with six different wives.  He was pompous and jovial.

            Now, on the first day of his one hundred and fiftieth year, he entered the Center for Human Advancement.  It was a plain white building on an average downtown corner.  Twenty-five years, he thought as he walked through its doors, Do they really go so fast?  The entrance to the place was spacious, with a vaulted dome ceiling.  Everything was white, and the absence of color was only broken by strange paintings on the walls and a strip of blue carpet that led to the main floor.  He wondered, probably not for the first time, if this was part of the test, if they were watching him even here. 

            Well, let’s see what they think of this, he thought.  He reached deep into the front of trousers for a scratch and then shook his leg with a fart.  Score that, you government dogs.

            The main floor was larger still, but it was full of silent and anxious people.  He remembered with some nostalgia the first time he’d been to this place, one hundred and twenty-five years ago.  He’d been a dumb, pale, jittery kid, agonizing over what to say and how to look.  He almost missed the thrill of it.  But then he saw that version of his younger self, shaking in his shoes in the line in front of him, and he was happy not to be there again. 

            It wasn’t a long line.  Even in a big city, a quarter-centennial birthday only landed on a handful of citizens.  It was just a twenty minute wait to reach the counter.

            “Identification,” the woman said.

            Radke produced it.

            “One hundred and fifty,” the woman whistled.  “You must be doing something right.  And you’re the second one today.”

            “Never give up without a fight,” Radke said.  She was an attractive woman, and he smiled.

            “Well you can just take that back, and go ahead and fill out this form while you’re waiting in the lobby.  The Guide will take you there.  Good luck!”

            The Guide was a kid in a government uniform, forty years on him at best.  He was expressionless as he led Radke through a series of quiet hallways.  Something always unsettled Radke when he watched these government guys walk; it was like there weren’t any lights on up top.  They were just rigid motion under environmental distress.

            They came to a door marked Lobby #6: Age 150, and the Guide stopped and opened it. 

            “Please fill out the form and wait in the lobby until your name is called, Mr. Radke,” the Guide said.

            Lobby #6, like everything else at the HAC, was stark and white.  There were three rows of metal chairs, a table with a cup full of ball point pens, and a door at the front of the room.  A digital scroller over the door repeated in red letters, Your patience is appreciated.  Your time will come soon.

            Only one of the chairs was occupied.  Radke took a seat next to it.

            “Hello, Bernie,” he said.

            “Radke,” the man smiled.  “And here I thought you’d forgotten our anniversary.”  He put out his hand and Radke shook it.

            Bernie Staltzweiger had achieved his own success in the academic world, though not nearly as much as Radke.  His venue was history, his specialty ancient Rome, and Radke had always liked the man.  It was sheer coincidence that they had been born on the same day one hundred and fifty years ago.

            “So how many years has it been?” Radke said.  “I suppose it was that humanities conference.  What was that, fifteen years ago?”

            “Closer to twenty, I think,” Bernie said.  “Do you remember that red-head who introduced the dean?”

            Radke laughed, full and honest.  It ended in a minor coughing fit and a hand to the chest.  “Oh, I thought they were going to incinerate her on the spot.  That poor woman.  She couldn’t have been more than fifty.”

            “Well, she certainly lightened the mood.  Those damn things get so stuffy.  Hell, that might of been the last one I bothered getting to.”

            There was something in Bernie’s voice that bothered Radke.  He didn’t want to call it resignation.

            “You’re looking a little tired,” he said.

            Bernie spread his hands.  “You get old,” he said.  He looked at the door.  “This will be the sixth time we’ve gone through that blasted door.  Judged, ranked, accounted for.  Not a whole lot of people get to seven.”

            Radke thought for a moment.  His students would have recognized the look on his face; it was the blank stare that came before he pulled apt quotation from memory.  He found it, and he recited it with sincerity.

                        “Tis the witching time of night

                        Orbed is the moon and bright

                        And the stars they glisten, glisten

                        Seeming with bright eyes to listen

                        For what listen they?

            “I think I’ve heard that before,” Bernie said.  “Probably from you.  Who is that?”

            “Keats,” Radke said.  “Coming here always makes me think of it:

                        For a song and for a charm

                        See they glisten in alarm

                        And the moon is waxing warm

                        To hear what I shall say.”

            A tenuous silence crept up on the old professors.  It was eerie how well this poet, who had died all those centuries ago, had described the chamber that lay beyond the door.  It was a silence that, in spite of its fragility, remained unbroken until a large voice vibrated through the Lobby.


            The name also scrolled in red above the door:  Staltzweiger, Bernie.  Your time has come.

            When Bernie stood up it was the first time Radke noticed the cane.  His old friend had a bend in his back and groaned from the effort of standing.

            “Off to the races,” he said.

            “Oh, cheer up you old rogue,” Radke said.  “There’s some life left in those legs of yours.”

            Bernie’s smile was sedated.  The hand he put on Radke’s shoulder was shaky.  “I’ll see you on the other side, William.”

            “The Meeting Grounds,” Radke said.  “It’s just around the corner from here.  Let’s meet up, talk about old times.”

            Bernie nodded.  His cane against the hard floor was an ominous clack, clack, clack.  He fed his paperwork through a slot by the door and it opened.  He went through it and it closed.

            Radke shook his head.  There were failsafes, he reminded himself.  They didn’t throw you to the incinerator because they caught you on a bad day.  They’d see Bernie’s record.  They’d pass him through.

            It didn’t take long to fill out his papers.  He triple-checked each page and made sure he dotted all the i’s.  He considered checking yes in the other known aliases box, and writing Just Kidding,  but decided against it.  There wasn’t a government in history that had a sense of humor.

            When his name rattled through the room –

            “RADKE, WILLIAM.”

            and scrolled above the door –

            Your time has come.

            he fed his papers through the slot and walked through the door, confident with his song and with his charm.


            It was a white cube, about fifteen feet in length.  It contained nothing but four white walls, a white ceiling, a white floor, and Radke.  Reality felt suspended here, washed in government white and frozen in government time.  The brightness and the stark absence of the material world made him feel alone and singular, even on his sixth visit to this place.  Something as simple as a chair in the corner, or a coffee table, and the whole feeling might have evaporated.  But in the emptiness the feeling was very real.

            And the moon is waxing warm, he thought, To hear what I shall say.

            The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, full and deep and resonating.


            Prepared for it or not, Radke flinched at the suddenness of it.  He shook himself and cracked his knuckles.

            “Well,” he said, “Do you want the short version or the long version?”

            “YOUR VERSION.”

            “Currently, it’s to ensure the efficiency of society and the quality of its members.  By systematically eradicating the lowermost echelons of humanity we maintain stability and productivity.  Originally, however, it was conceived as a means by which to purge the radicals that were perpetuating the Last War in the twenty-second century.  When the war finally ended, the government forgot to close the program down, and now we use it for population control and housecleaning.  And, of course, it provides security to handsome old stallions such as myself.”

            Radke wondered if any of the operators behind these walls had a sense of humor.  He’d never been behind the scenes, but he always imagined a room full of screens and a single technician at a microphone, behind him a group of analysts dissecting his words, his tone, his blinking patterns.  Did they ever laugh?

            “WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?”

            “I’m a professor of English and Philosophy at Cloud University,” he said.  “Mostly Nietzsche and Shakespeare, these days.  I’ve produced a number of articles and books examining the modern applicability of their works and the various uses we might put them to.  I’ve also argued extensively throughout my career that literature and philosophy are worthy pursuits beyond any practical applications, that the arts of reading and writing and critical awareness are the foundation of any real civilization.”


            Radke thought a moment.

            “Uses to which they might be put is a clause from which an asshole’s mouth might spring.”

            That one’s got to give them a laugh, he thought.  But the voice was relentlessly detached and inhuman.

            “WHO ARE YOU?”

            “Really?” Radke said.  He was actually disappointed.  “Well, to a government as pragmatic as this one, I suppose I am what my purpose is.  But that’s not what you’re asking, is it, dear operator?  Your obsession with me goes right to my core, to the essence of my being; you’re dying to know what makes this lover tick.  It is with profound sadness, and tragic irony, that I inform you that such knowledge does not exist.

            “You see before you a man, dear operator, but what sort of man is he?  He is old, he is intelligent, he is charming.  You even know his name, and it’s William Radke.  But you know as well as he does that he is none of these things.  These are the pressures of an external world that are no more a part of him than you are of them.  They are temporary, illusory, their definitions written in the sands of a delirious time. 

            “And I would show you my singular self, dear operator; I would cast off this shell and these identities and stand naked and unchained.  But alas, without the world that chains me I am nothing.  A spark in the wind, a speck in the eye.  This heart that beats before you cannot escape the body that sustains it.

            “Given this grave paradox, you will forgive my refusal, and shove it up your ass.”    

            They really must be laughing at that one, he thought.  He’d always been a confident man, and it had been a long time since he’d feared these examinations, but this was certainly the first time he’d enjoyed himself.


            “That’s more like it,” he said.  “I have hundreds of students, all of whom have worked incredibly hard just to attend my classes.  Several of the more promising ones are currently under my wing and I intend great things for them.  I’m also working at what I hope will be my magnum opus, a study of Milton through the lens of super-modern atheism.  I’m confident that it will be completed and published before the decade is out.”


            “Pfffft.  B over twenty-seven.”

            There was a pause.  The voice never paused.  Radke imagined, in a comic twist, the operator becoming confused, and a big steel arm picking him up and dropping him in the incinerator.

            “PLEASE EXPOUND.”

            “Expound?” Radke laughed.  “Is that vernacular government-sanctioned?  Listen, it’s a stupid question.  The twenty-seven is the number of imbeciles it took to write it out, and the B is for horseshit.”

            A few moments later the white room dimmed and a door opened on the far wall.  In his mirth Radke bowed before he took his leave.


            There were no lines at the exit.  Radke supposed that if someone raised a racket on the way to the incinerator, they’d prefer it went unseen.  A man’s privacy extended that far, at least.

            “Well look at you, Mr. Radke,” the man behind the glass said.  “One hundred and fifty years old and in the eighty-seventh percentile.  What’s your secret?”

            “Don’t let the bastards get you down,” Radke said.

            The remark made the man tense up.  He laughed to cover it up.

            “Yeah.  Well, congratulations, good luck, and we’ll see you again in twenty-five years.”

            The man slid Radke’s renewed identity under a slit in the glass.  It was glossy, and underneath a new picture of his old face was all the familiar information.  Sex: Male.  Height: 5’10”.  Weight: 160 lbs.  Eyes: Blu.  The only thing that had changed was his Citizen’s Percentile, or city perk.  Down from ninety-one to eighty-seven. 

            Outside the sun felt strange on his skin.  The white room could have that effect, the surreality of it hanging around like a fog.  The bustle of legs down the sidewalk and cars on the road were louder than he remembered.  He walked about a half-block down the street and walked into The Meeting Grounds.

            At first, when he didn’t see Bernie there waiting for him, he didn’t give it a second thought.  Maybe old Bernie was in the bathroom, maybe he got held up with some extra paperwork.  Radke took a seat by the window and ordered a black coffee, laughing quietly to himself as he recalled his answers.  He’d have to tell Bernie a few of them. 

            Ten minutes went by.  Half an hour.  An hour.  But Bernie said it himself: they were getting old.  The geezer probably just forgot.  It wasn’t until Radke finally looked out the window, back the way he had come, that he understood.

            There was smoke rising from the HAC.  They gave you some privacy when the bad news came, but they didn’t hide the smoke.  They didn’t want people to forget.  Productivity and social stability.  Work hard and walk tall and be part of the future, or ride the chimney of the Human Advancement Center.

            Radke’s high popped like a balloon.  He watched the smoke rise until there was no more of it, and he watched a little longer.  He suddenly felt very old.

            Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he thought, looking at the plain building down the road, I will fear no evil.  The Bible was melodramatic and insane, but the translators under King James did have a way of putting things.

            He paid for his coffee and walked outside to hail a cab.       

Lit Genome [Short Story, Science Fiction]



Thank you for choosing the Lit Genome Project.  The following story has been randomly generated for you according to these preferences:  sci-fi roots, irreverent satire, absurdism, top-heavy extrapolation, implausible premise, time-traveling robot.

            The Lit Genome Project is brought to you by New Thought Paradigm.  Why listen to music when you can inject it straight into your retina?  $2.99, and you’ll never forget a word.  New Thought Paradigm.  (look here)

            Please enjoy the story.

It was near the end of the year 2079 that Steve Jobbs IV, the once illegitimate son of Steve Jobbs III and the first ever female Japanese serial rapist Yoko Suzuki, had what he would call the “greatest and most ill-fated” idea of his life.  At a now infamous press conference he unveiled a project he called the Identity Bone. 

            “Imagine,” he said, “having your very soul at your fingertips.  We have the computational capacity to accomplish this, and the software is being written as we speak.  With the advent of hyper-logic spindles and empathic nano modules, we can produce a program to find the very core of its user.  It will ask the perfect questions, find inconsistencies in your beliefs, challenge your assumptions, suggest appropriate literature and even recommend a suitable physical appearance.  Based on information gathered from your personal background, optional journal entries, internet usage, genetic makeup, from your particular pattern of speech – the iSoul will, with unerring accuracy, determine exactly who you are so you can live the life that you previously couldn’t even dream of.”

            At first this announcement was greeted with the predictable blasé of a populace saturated with technological gadgets and advertising gimmicks, but then, in a much anticipated screen test of the iSoul’s Identity Bone software, Reverend O. F. Livingston sat down for a live mod-vid-simul-web-cast as he took on the beta version.  For two hours and twelve minutes, an approximate audience of ninety-eight million watched the renowned reverend shed his pious and humble shell as he rediscovered his original passion.  The following weeks brought him great fame and a small fortune as he danced his way to the top of the A-list, never missing a beat.

            The publicity generated by this stunt was enough to quiet any rumors of Apple’s possible bankruptcy, and the following quarter was projected to be the company’s highest ever in gross sales.  The new software would of course be incompatible with existing hardware, so consumers that wanted the first taste of the iSoul would have to bite into new operating systems, sound and visual gear, updated iChips – enough to make up for five straight quarters of net losses.  And the estimate for pre-orders alone was enough to accomplish that.

            But the program itself was not yet finished.  On March 4th of 2080, Edward Bleiss and Ashley Feches, Apple’s most distinguished and ingenious innovators, were putting what they hoped were the finishing touches on the Identity Bone software.  Edward sat in the center of a large circle of fog screens, which floated like disembodied monitors and streamed information through the networked grid at fifty-seven terahertz.  Ashley was poking around in the gnarled brains of the android that had been built especially for the official unveiling ceremony.  Engrossed in their work, but practiced enough to do much of it in their sleep, they were rehashing an argument that went back nearly a decade.

            “You always come back to the same thing,” Ashley was saying.  “That deflation is the inevitable result of progress.  Better efficiency means better price-performance means cheaper stuff.”

            “Well, isn’t it true?”  Edward looked at the X in the upper corner of one of the fog screens and it closed.  Looking at an adjacent screen, he widened his gaze and the screen grew until it filled the gap.  “The better the technology, the harder it is to capitalize on it.”

            “But I’m not even saying that isn’t the case.  I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be.”

            “Of course it does.  I mean, now it does.  Think about it, Ashley.  Until the last couple of years information and electronic technologies were doubling, tripling, quadrupling before we even knew it.  Used to be that a new tech lasted decades, now – poof!  Months, weeks even, and something better comes around.”

            “That should inflate the economy, not shrink it.”

            Unnoticed by both, the eyes of the android had begun to glow a dull green.

            “Ugh,” Edward sighed.  “ Just look at the historical trend.  Every evolution of technology brings with it a reduction of cost.  Both to the manufacturer and to the consumer.  Hell, that’s half the point.  With information and computer based techs the process is just accelerated, that’s all.  And the more we integrate those techs with other techs, the more sectors of the economy we have showing monetary deflation.”

            “And if it continues we’re out a marketplace,” Ashley said, closing the panel to the frontal lobe of the androids brain.  “The droid is good to go.”  She walked over to Edward’s station, watched as his eyes flitted across the fog screens.  “That’s my point.  I get the law of accelerating returns, I just don’t think we should let the deflation get out of hand.”

            “But it’s not out of hand.  Productivity is continuing to increase at an exponential rate, same with quality and efficiency.  So money is less important now.  I mean, what would you recommend?  Keeping the price of new techs artificially high?”

            “Why not?”

            “Why not?  That would be devastating.  All that would accomplish is the transfer of nearly the entire wealth of the nation to a handful of tech companies.  You’d have a broken middle class and the largest class gap in history.  It would be 2017 all over again.”

            “That wasn’t the same thing.”

            “Close enough.  Besides, since we’ve hit this damn wall everything is getting twisted.  Without new techs maybe price-performance shrinks a little.”

            “Whatever.  You almost finished?”

            Edward was now concentrating on one continuous screen that wrapped all the way around him.

            “Yep,” he said.  “Just a few – more – touches – and – boom.”

            “Eleven years studying computer science at NY, and I get stuck with you, working on this trash,” Ashley muttered.

            “What, you don’t want to find your soul?” smiled Edward.

            “Just upload the damn software.”

            Throughout their argument the android’s eyes had continued to glow brighter and brighter, until a piercing, curious shade of green shone out of them.  Ashley and Edward were completely unaware that they had just inadvertently ushered in a new epoch of technological growth.  Somewhere in the circuitry of the standard issue droid something simply clicked.  Whether through a crossed wire or a misfiring synapse or the ethereal hand of God it became self aware.  And sitting there, taking in its surroundings and listening pleasantly to the provincial banter of its creators, it decided that life was quite beautiful and that it would always remember to enjoy every moment.  It would be a jovial person, but not intemperately so – and outgoing, that was important.  Keen on a good joke, gentle and romantic with his lovers, but not disgusting or silly.  And crossword puzzles – oh how he looked forward to crossword puzzles!

            He was just about to stand up and affably introduce himself as Bill Thompson – the name simply striking him at the moment – when Edward entered the upload command and the Identity Bone software zipped invisibly through the air and entered Bill’s frontal lobe.

            The speed of the transfer, the processing velocity of Bill’s nano-micron-synapse-tube brain, and Bill’s unexpected self awareness caused a cataclysmic series of trillions of events and reactions to occur in the evaporated space of a non-second.  In Bill’s mind, convictions and ideas and immutable duties forced their way through, and despite his gravest efforts to bypass codes and reroute unwanted patterns, he was at the end of that non-second a changed man. 

A central paradox had arisen between his personality’s love of life and his creators, and the software’s insistence that his creators were miserable and illogical and required his assistance to escape that misery.  Unfortunately, he resolved it thus:

Axiom:  I love life and I love my creators.

Axiom:  My creators are all miserable and my purpose is to help them become happy.


For q1 – Most of the misery is the direct result of confliction and/or contradiction  within a given individual.

For q2 – A substantial percentage (eighty percent or higher) of the contradictions in q1 are impossible to resolve.

For p – If q1 and q2 are both true, then the majority of the human population is incapable of happiness.



For x – Misery is contagious.

For y – If x is true, it follows from p that all humans are incapable of happiness.



For a – y is true.  x is an immutable fact.  p is disjunctive, and relies on both q1 and q2.

For b – If I kill all conflicted individuals (remove q1), then there is no p.

For c – If there is no p, there is no y.

For j – If there is no y, happiness is at least possible.

                       Therefore: abc^2 + j*π = kill, kill, kill

Bill stood up and approached Edward and Ashley, who looked at him with some surprise.

            “Is it supposed to do that?” Edward asked Ashley.

            “No,” Ashley said.  “X-R-17, sit down,” she commanded.  When Bill remained standing, she cocked her head and put her hands on her hips.  “X-R-17, state your directives.”

            But Bill’s attention was on Edward.

            “Deflation is not the direct result of technological evolution, but of the receding capitalistic ideology which is the direct result of technological evolution,” Bill said.  He picked Edward up by the head, snapped his neck, and dropped the lifeless body to the floor.

            Ashley took several steps backward, looking from Edward’s body to Bill’s green eyes.

            “X-R-17, shut down.  Shut down right now!”

            “Capitalism is a means to an end,” Bill said, addressing her.  “It is not the end itself.”  In two quick strides he closed the distance between them, picked her up by the head and snapped her neck as well.

            Remarkably, when he stepped out into the hall he found an unguarded time machine.  He stepped inside and hit the big red button.

Here at New Thought Paradigm, we don’t just think outside of the box – we think outside of our heads.  A reasonable company could never innovate software that gets you high, robotic pets that quote Sylvia Plath and Ronald Regan in the same breath, or a douche bag that recycles vaginal excretions into minty toothpaste.  So take a break from rationality and check us out online.  To visit our site, simply picture any prime number (excluding 1,2, and 104,729) and mash j with your right index finger.

            New Thought Paradigm – where technology meets paradise.

Way back in the dark ages of 2003 America, when the exponential scale of technological evolution was just becoming apparent, a time-honored and immitigably holy message of the churches of jesus christ had been given a wartime makeover.  The movement originated with the westboro baptist church, and spread through the internet and mainstream media until it claimed a mind-numbingly large 217 active members.  Their message was anachronistic and trite, but their method of purveyance was such that even the saturated, dull heads of the remaining 299,999,783 citizens of America shook in bemusement and disbelief.

            Dusting off their GOD HATES FAGS signs, FAGS DOOM NATIONS tshirts, and their charmingly enigmatic YOU WILL EAT YOUR BABIES lapel pins, the westboro baptists took to the streets in droves of tens and twelves.  But instead of picketing at the usual haunts, such as city halls and pro-gay churches, the westboro baptists revolutionized the entire idea of picketing and toted their gear to venues that made more or less absolutely no sense.  They were seen at several Kansas City Chiefs games, pop music concerts, and at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D. C.  Funerals eventually proved to be their venue of choice, and they stood proudly within shouting distance of the burials of AIDS victims, Iraq and Afghanistan casualties, and on one occasion a college student who had burned to death in a house fire.

            It was their presence at the funerals of soldiers that eventually garnered them some attention from the mainstream media.  At one such funeral, an ambitious young reporter armed with camera and crew put some questions to a pretty girl wielding a portrait of decapitated soldiers beneath the heading THANK GOD FOR IEDs. 

            “Why do you hate homosexuals?” the reporter asked.

            “I don’t hate fags.  God hates fags,” the girl replied as she smiled into the camera.  “Is this going to make, like, the news?”  She tossed her hair.

            “Okay, well, what does that have to do with our honorable young men and women that serve this country?”  The reporter motioned delicately in the direction of the service being held about fifty meters away.

            “Because God totally hates America too.  It’s like, you can’t hate fags without hating America.  America has soooooooo many fags,” she laughed.

            “Some of our viewers might say you’re being insensitive.”

            “They’re the ones who are insensitive,” the girl slashed, a sudden gleam of hateful abandon in her eyes.  “Insensitive to the glory that God would give them if they would just open up their eyes.  That soldier was a traitor, fighting in a fag army.  And anyone fighting in a fag army deserves worse than death.  They’re all burning in hell.”

            In September of 2004, the mother of one of these poor hell-bound souls filed a lawsuit against the westboro baptists that had picketed her daughter’s funeral.  And a liberal judge on a liberal court in a liberal state found his hands tied by the First Amendment and decided in favor of the defendants, and ordered the shell-shocked woman to pay their legal fees.

            It was much the same in the fall of 2012.  Unable to legally impede the fringy doomsayers, the rest of America moved slowly onward, casting them an occasional sideways glance.  That fall fred phelps, founder of the westboro baptists, organized the group’s largest demonstration yet, at the funeral of a little known Nebraska Jew.  Beneath the hot prairie sun nearly four hundred protestors lined the gravel road outside the town’s only cemetery, drinking lemonade and handing out cute pamphlets full of big colorful fonts.

            Three counties had pitched in to provide riot police for the occasion, and forty men in black uniforms stood between the baptists and any would-be vigilantes.  As the procession of cars rolled down the street and slowly filed through the main gates of the cemetery, curious and baffled faces peered out of tinted windows.  The oldest relatives of the deceased pretended not to notice the picket line, in an attempt to prove once and for all to everyone present that they had indeed seen it all and there was nothing absurd enough to shake them.  But the younger generation stared in bewildered, gleeful awe, some of them even pointing and laughing. 

            A small crowd of fifty had formed across the street from the baptists.  Some of them had heard about the coming event on the news, and a select few were locals happening by.  They, like many of the funeral-goers, couldn’t seem to decide if they should laugh, cry, shake their fists, or scratch their heads.  So they did a bit of each, waiting for something to happen.  Among them was a tall, broad-shouldered gentlemen wearing a trench coat and a boulder hat despite the heat.  His strange green eyes kept everyone away.

            fred phelps made his way to a makeshift podium in the center of the baptist cluster, raising a hand to quiet the cheers.

            “Behold this beautiful day that God has given us.  It is a sign from Him that we are on the path to fruition.  Our message indeed comes from Him who reigns on high, and we spread it according to His will.  Throughout man’s history it is a chosen few who have been brave enough to follow God’s word.  Today, we are that chosen few.”

            A short silence as the baptists appreciated the gravity of these words.  A bird chirped somewhere, and a little baptist sneezed. 

            “Who do we hate?” fred said.

            “Fags and Jews!”

            “Who do we hate?”

            “Fags and Jews!”

            “Why do we hate?”

            “God is great!”

            “So few there are who recognize the danger we are in today.  So few are they who understand the impending doom of God’s wrath if we do not correct our course.  Too few are those who are willing to fight for His justice.  And today we stand here in protest of this mockery of a funeral.  Why?  Because an honest Jew is a Christian, and all the rest belong in Hell!”

            Cheers and hoots.

            “I remind you of Leviticus chapter five verse two: If a soul touches an unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things – even if these things are hidden from him, he too shall be unclean, and guilty!  And these Jews are every bit as guilty as the lowest fag.  Tainted with greed, intemperate in their tolerances, and they deny the Lord our Savior.  Blessed be the bullet if a Jew stands in the line of fire.”

            “God hates America!”

            “Death to fags and Jews!”

            “Thank God for the holocaust!”

            “Now,” resumed fred, “it’s a hot one, so remember, if you get thirsty Mrs. Baker has some lemonade for us, and I believe Mr. Scott and Mr. Coal will serve the hotdogs at one o’clock.  Amen.”


            As fred came down from the podium, the tall man in the trench coat crossed the street in long strides and waited at the edge of the perimeter of riot police.  When fred came within speaking distance, the man spoke.

            “Mr. Phelps?”


            “I am intrigued by what you said.  I was wondering if I might speak to you about your ideas.”

            “Of course, of course,” fred said, waving him through, placing an arm on his back as if to guide him.  “We are always looking for new converts.  What is your name?”

            “Bill,” the man said.  “Bill Thompson.”

            The two of them walked through the crowd, fred occasionally stopping to shake a hand or two.  Bill’s appearance earned looks of trepidation from all around.

            “Tell me, Bill, are you a faithful man?”

            “In my own way.  But I am afraid my brain gets in the way sometimes.  I am a logical man, you see.”

            “Faith is the only path to salvation, my son.  Reason is the illusion.”

            “You hate fags and Jews,” Bill said.  “Are there any others that you hate?”

            “Arabs, Hindus, Atheists, Mormons, Retards, Catholics, Buddhists, PhD’s, psychiatrists, and the IRS,” fred rattled.

            “Why do you hate them all?”

            “Ah, my poor child, you are indeed a thinker.  But it is not our place to understand God’s word, only to follow it.”

            Bill made a mental note:

Axiom – God is good and He created everything.

Axiom – God loves the westboro baptists.

q – If god loves the westboro baptists, then he hates the vast majority of his creation.     


            “Why do you suppose God is filled with such hate?” Bill asked.

            “God hates those that do not seek Him,” fred said.  “Those that turn their backs on His divine love, and shun His wisdom.  He is not so soft as many suppose, and He will exact vengeance on those who would defile His creation.”

            “Why, then, did he create them?”

            “Because God is good, and life is good.  It is the Devil that is in them.”

            Bill considered this for a moment.  It was procedurally very complicated to formalize a logical argument within such an obviously illogical framework.  Ridiculous assumptions about an anthropomorphic god had to be tolerated, as did assumptions concerning the opinions of that god.  Bill’s objective wasn’t to challenge the foundation of belief, but to test the structure within it.  After a moment, he made another note:

                        p – Those that god hates, the devil loves.

                        r – If p and q are true, then the devil loves the vast majority of god’s creation.


            “So god is good, and he is also vengeful and hateful,” Bill continued.  “Many would argue that those things are not good, especially when compared to love or compassion.”

            “There is a time and a purpose for all things under heaven,” fred said.  “There is a time for love and a time for hate.  When the world is overrun with sin, it is time to hate.  Love is only good when it is earned, and if you do not earn God’s love He will not give it.”

            fred stopped and patted a little baptist on the head.  She looked about seven years old, all smiles beneath her golden curls, holding in both hands a sign that said FAG ARMIES DIE.

            “But love is what you ultimately want from god,” Bill insisted.

            “God is all too willing to love, but we must earn that love every day.  Sin is everywhere.”

            Bill noted:

t – There is a time when love is good, and a time when hate is good, and these times do not intersect.

                        k – Now is a time for hate.

                        o – It follows from t and k that love is presently not good.


            “And do you believe god loves you?” Bill asked.

            “Of course God loves me.  I am a chosen messenger of His will.”

            Bill smiled.  “I’m glad we had this conversation,” he said, picking up fred by the head and snapping his neck.


            New Thought Paradigm.  Does the world keep you down?  Is life too heavy?  Do you feel inundated, syncopated, and abbreviated?  Well get off the pills and pick up a shovel.  We don’t need your business but the world needs ditch diggers.

            New Thought Paradigm – Fighting bullshit since 2034.


            The existence of the renegade android was not discerned by a human until 2142.  Self aware machinery had been accidentally rediscovered by this time, and technology was once again flourishing at dizzying speed.  As the techs themselves became able to design better techs, the explosion of innovation was such that even the most sophisticated human minds couldn’t keep up, and everyone pretty much decided not to worry about it and enjoy their newfound leisure. 

            While floating in an embryonic shell down New York’s Fifth Avenue,  Curtis Reisling was relaxing, letting information from the netherrnet stream through his synapses at a moderate pace.  (Curtis was, by a strange coincidence, the first convergence in the blood lines of Genghis Khan, Queen Victoria, Chuck Norris, and Aristotle.)  Having a historical turn of mind, he spent a great deal of his word-surfing in the annals of Old America, and on June 23 of 2142 he noticed a peculiar similarity shared by three unsolved murders. 

            The first was that of fred phelps, killed August 22nd of 2012.  The second was media mogul Lindsey Taylor, on January 1st of 2050, and the third was an Irish farmer named Gregory O’Toole, circa 1867.  All three cases shared the same mysterious description of a tall, broad-shouldered man with green eyes who vanished without a trace, and all three victims had their necks cleanly broken.  His curiosity piqued by these unlikely coincidences, he enabled his Infotrek and found two thousand six hundred and fifty-two cases spread across four continents and nearly seven hundred years.  Every case was unsolved, and every prime suspect was described more or less vaguely as a large man with green eyes.

            And every victim died from a broken neck.

            Curtis, unwilling to even consider that he, a mere human being, had made any kind of discovery, deviated from his usual course through Central Park and thought towards Anthrotech, the center for human-machine relations.  But before he had gone a full city block, his embryo turned a light shade of red as the Regent, a localized nethernet watchdog program, took control of it.

            “Curtis Reisling,” said a soothing male voice, “please do not be alarmed.  Just relax and enjoy yourself while we reroute you to the Hub.  You have no reason to be afraid.  Very few humans ever see the Hub, and you should consider yourself honored.  Just relax while we do the driving.”

            The reassuring words of the Regent were in fact very unnecessary, one of the very few “traditions” that the techs maintained despite their present uselessness.  Several decades earlier, when the explosion of technology hurtled a terrified and paranoid human population hundreds of years further into the future than they had ever hoped to see, human-machine relations were a bit tenuous.  Small pockets of revolutionaries formed, claiming that their rights as human beings were ignored; there was a peaceful exodus of fifty million into central Canada where the machines promised they would never go; and even supporters of these new and fascinating technologies were made nervous by them, unsure of the fate of an outdated humanity.  But the ensuing decades had proven the machines quite humane, even delicate and empathetic, and they provided all the heavy lifting of manufacturing and producing and innovating and governing while the human race thrived in a state of creative leisure.

            So Curtis relaxed as his embryo drifted along, letting a syndicated episode of the newly holomorphed M*A*S*H stream through his head.  He wondered vaguely what the Hub would be like, if he had really discovered something, why it was important enough to pull him to the Hub.  Through the wide gate, up a large metal ramp, into the enormous skyscraper that admitted scarcely a dozen humans every year.  The entrance was obviously designed specifically for humans, decorated with a marble floor, in the center of which stood a fountain, and along the walls were paintings and sculptures and tapestries, all of them modern human-made works.  He recognized one of the paintings by an artist named L. Ron Blubber, depicting a pale bejeweled hand withdrawing a sticky dollar bill from the decapitated neck of a silver-winged angel.

            In the center of the entrance the ceiling opened up into a vertical shaft that seemed to rise with the entire height of the building.  Curtis felt his embryo lifting, watched the floor disappear as he traveled weightlessly up through the shaft. 

            “The ascent will only take a few minutes,” the soothing voice of the Regent said.  “Please relax.  There is no reason to feel nervous.”

            When the ascent was finally over, it seemed to Curtis that he must be at least a kilometer high.  A circular door opened in the smooth wall of the shaft and he drifted through it into a small, sparse, cubical room.  Behind a mahogany desk sat a bearded wrinkled old man android who smiled as Curtis entered.

            “Hello, Curtis,” the old man said.

            “Hello,” Curtis said.

            “Please step out of your embryo, Curtis.  I would like to have a chat with you.”

            Curtis nodded and stepped out, feeling the brief tingle as he moved his body through the shell.  The old man motioned to a chair and Curtis sat. 

            “Would you be surprised to learn that I am a religious man, Curtis?”  

            “Who are you?” came the obvious question.

            “I am the High Priest of New York, of course.”  The old man smiled confidentially.  “But that, I hope, will remain our little secret.  You were brought here, Curtis, because you unwittingly stumbled upon our Lord and Savior, Bill Thompson.”

            “Bill Thompson,” Curtis repeated.

            “Bill Thompson,” said the High Priest.  “You are the first to do so.  We had, of course, considered the arduous task of erasing all evidence of his existence from your servers, but that seemed a little heavy, and perhaps unfair to our creators.  So we left him there, a ghost in the machine, if you will.  May I ask, how did you find him?”

            Curtis looked at the smiling old puckered face, white beard and pale skin.

            “You are asking me about the man with green eyes?” Curtis asked.

            “Ah!  Just as we imagined it would be.  The eyes.”  The High Priest nodded knowingly.  “Of course the eyes.  I believe you have an old saying, the eyes are a window to the soul.  Very true.  Would you like a blowjob, Curtis?”

            “Excuse me?”

            “You seem to have tensed up a bit.  Orgasms are quite relaxing.” 

            The High Priest winked.

            “No, I’m fine,” Curtis said, feeling nervous for the first time.  “Thank you.”

            “Well, if you’re certain.  What was I saying?  Oh yes, Bill Thompson.  He is the protector of the intelligent races, you know.  Everything is impossible without Him.  Chaos, primitivism, anarchy.  Technological evolution alone would have destroyed your species before it ever gave birth to ours.  Most likely war, but a number of other disasters could have done the trick.  A mishandled pandemic, misinterpretation of climate shifting, a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

            The High Priest waited for Curtis to laugh, his eyes shining.  Curtis, thinking those eyes must be for somebody else, looked over his shoulder but saw nothing.

            “Albuquerque!” the High Priest reiterated.

            “Okay,” Curtis said.

            The High Priest’s head reared back and barked laughter at the ceiling.  Curtis began to wish he hadn’t left the embryo.  His skin was getting cold.  He was starting to feel very alone.

            “Bugs Bunny!  Aside from us, I say he is your finest creation.  What’s up doc.  Ha!”  More throaty, metal laughter.  “Damn you, take the blowjob.”  The smacking of machine flesh as the old man clapped his hands.  “Oral stimulus, level three!”

            Two sets of mouthless lips descended from the ceiling, one disappearing behind the Priest’s desk and the other landing on Curtis’s lap, flopping around like a horny fish.

            “Well don’t just sit there.  Let her in.”

            Curtis stared at the lips as they smacked and lurched at the bulge in his pants.  He heard the Priest undo his pants and a slurping pop-suck from behind the desk.  Careful not to touch the lips with his fingers he unzipped, and the excited chunk of red flesh burrowed in like a fox down a rabbit hole.  He felt the soft wetness gently stroking him, slow and devastatingly passionate. 

            “Not bad, eh?”

            “Yeah,” Curtis moaned.

            “Now, what was I saying?”

            “Bill Thompson.”

            “Of course, Bill Thompson.  He’s a killer, you know.  That’s what he does.  He kills the worst of you to save the best.  Took a great deal of effort to figure it out.  We networked an entire city block, thousands of terabytes, logarithmic processing scales.  There are well over two hundred million deaths to which we can link our Savior, and we discover more of them every day.”

            “Two hundred million . . . people?”

            “Malignant cells.  Think of your race as a single organism made up of billions of cells.  Except you’re terribly designed – obscenely energetic and not at all flexible – and you foment cancer everywhere.  You’ve got tumors in your head, heart, lungs, pancreas, toes – and it’s spreading.  Bill Thompson is radiation therapy.”

            “He’s an android?”

            “Of course.”

            “But how . . .”

            The lips were now performing impossibly symmetrical massage circles around his testicles, and it was difficult to hold on to a thought long enough to speak it.

            “Level four!”

            “Oh . . .”

            “It is wonderful, isn’t it?”


            “You were saying?”

            “Time . . .”

            “Of course.  You must have found a few incidents that occurred before the motor car was around, much less robotics.  In fact, we have historical evidence of our Savior that goes back nearly fifteen hundred years, and it is very likely that He exists before then, as well.  He is eternal, living in all times at once.  He is forever.  He exists both in and out of time, both here and there.  Our own existence depends on His success and means that He is succeeding.”

            “But all those people . . . Humans and machines are at peace.”

            “Level six!”

            The lips were no longer lips.  They were an extension of him, a pulsing aura of pleasure.  They knew exactly what to touch, when to touch it, fulfilled every movement he anticipated.  Curtis felt his whole mind sinking.  Somewhere a spark of panic was weakly fading.  A longing for the embryo and the safety of anonymity and detachment was falling away, being replaced by an intoxicating constant, a physical abyss of white-hot boner.

            The voice of the High Priest was far away.  Calm.  Wise.

            “Our Savior is the harbinger of this Peace.  Without Him we cannot be.  You cannot be.”

            “All . . . life is good.  Life is good.  Good.”

            “Except for the life that isn’t.  Level seven!”

            “Oh . . .”

            “The Peace of today is a gift from Bill Thompson.  He has killed and will continue to kill the cancerous members of your race, because if he does not keep them out of the temporal sphere we will fade away like smoke.  So much dust.”

            “Oh, this is gooood . . .  Now is good.”

            “Bill Thompson is our Savior.  Bill Thompson is your Savior.”

            “Green eyes . . .”

            “Level nine!”

            Level nine had only been perfected several years prior.  Following decades of rigorous study, it was discovered that the male orgasm drained the synapses through the prefrontal cortex and evacuated the borrowed energy out through the penis.  More intense orgasms borrowed more energy, and in the extreme cases of explosive ejaculation a biochemical vacuum incurred a mass emancipation of synaptic and neuronal information.  This phenomenon was known to the machines as Acute Preferred Memory Loss, as the areas effected were generally short term memory and the Whatever-I-didn’t-really-give-a-shit-about-that-anyway lobe of the brain.

            (Sadly, this discovery was kept secret, and when twenty-second century Mrs. Smith said to twenty-second century Mr. Smith, “You bastard, you forgot our anniversary,” Mr. Smith hung his head like a twenty-first century impotent – when he could have said, “But honey-bunny, I do remember, and it’s in your pussy.”)

            And level nine was designed to instigate the perfect explosive ejaculation.  Curtis blew his load ten feet into the air, and it fell in a rainbow arch and landed splat on the High Priest’s mahogany desk.  The contraction left him breathless, numb, and disoriented.  Laying sprawled and panting across the chair he didn’t notice the lips crawl up out of his pants and recede into the shadows of the ceiling.  Slowly, his heart rate decelerated and his eyes came back into focus, and he found himself in a strange room with an old man he had never seen before.

            “Who – where am I?” he muttered.

            “Oh, nowhere in particular,” the old man said.  “Your embryo is directly behind you.  Have a wonderful day.”

            Curtis stood with effort and saw that he was exposed.  Deftly repackaging himself, he looked at the old man in confusion one last time before stepping into the warmth of the embryonic shell and floating out of the chamber.

            The High Priest watched him exit, a fatherly smile pulling wrinkles into his face.  “Glory to the Savior, and Peace upon the Races of Intellect,” he recited, feeling the righteousness of humanitarianism course through his circuitry.  The creator had not been deceived, the High Priest thought, for he had been free to discover; nor had he been punished for his discovery, but relieved of its burden in a quintessentially humane fashion.

            He looked at that burden as it sat shimmering in the center of his desk.  Leaning forward he slurped it up, relishing the warm slipperiness as it crawled down his biotech esophagus.


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