creative catastrophizing…how I ended up writing a (short) novel

I feel I need to apologize. For awhile I was relatively active in my blog…and then all of a sudden, I disappeared–both from my blogging and from reading others’ work. I’m vaguely surprised at how self centered I am; and how hard it is for me to commit to being part of this community.

Of course, my excuse is lack of time and energy. Even though with the pandemic and with recent health issues (I call them “mobility issues”) I am at home, on my own, most of the time.

One of my favourite expressions is: “Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.” Awhile back I put out to the universe that I would like to do my writing as my main work. And guess what–that’s the situation I find myself in… though I wasn’t actually thinking about a pandemic and–let’s be honest–the onset of arthritis, (which isn’t surprising at my age; but then I’m not sure how I ended up this old–which is another whole topic!)

And being a good catastrophizer, I could spend all my time and energy focused on my “mobility issues” racing to conclusions that aren’t even warranted…and the truth is that when I’m on the computer writing, I feel fine, and can get on with whatever I’m doing…I can feel blessed in that…

And so I find myself writing a novel…in all things the Horror genre…I believe that I’ve written about how surprised I am with the genre that I’ve ended up writing in…partly because I don’t like horror for the sake of horror. But I do like a central question that comes up: what is the nature of evil?

I’ think of evil as being the violence that we inflict on each other…Particularly the idea of sacrificing others for what I perceived to be my welfare. The most obvious example of that is the ancient practice of human sacrifice. The belief was: if we make this sacrifice to the gods we will be safe–so the other person must be sacrificed. My premise is that we still practice this today–though in a more sophisticated way so that we don’t see it.

The protagonist is Teichui, who starts off as resident of the ancient city that does indeed practice human sacrifice. But I also emphasize the home life that she has growing up; and the fact that many people in the city did live ordinary, even productive lives–dimly aware at the same time of the human sacrifice performed and accepting the need for it, or possibly just ignoring it as much as they could.

Teichui’s brother fall afoul of the authorities and her whole family is sacrificed as traitors–she’s the only one to escape. She ends up as a translator to the new pseudo European invaders…only to discover that they in in turn see the need to sacrifice the indigenous people and their culture–in order for them to set up the kind of world in which they feel safe.

The demon in the story starts out as a High Priest in the ancient city; but quickly changes sides and becomes a priest with the pseudo Europen forces, advocating that: “…we are simply instruments, destroying Satan’s forces…and you will be rewarded for doing God’s work…” thus also justifying the sacking of the city and the men stealing everything they can get their hands.

In the climax of the historical section (though I emphasize this is a fantasy NOT a historical novel) Teichui is confronted by the demon, who points out that she’s benefited from his actions (after all the affluence of the city that she grew up in came from the city’s constant wars and the tributes that were forced from their “subjects”; not to mention that she is now living off the spoils of the pseudo European victors.) Teichui realizes that is true…though she does challenge the demon in such a way that it’s obvious that the demon’s victory isn’t complete…though he certainly has played a powerful hand…as we will see as we continue into the modern era where the main character is Teichui’s descendant Terry.

I’m totally absorbed in writing this story…and it’s good for me to get outside of it and not only blog but also read others’ material…which I commit myself to doing.

I’m missing out on so much otherwise.

Just some thoughts

M.C. Piper

Creative Catastrophizing…venturing into Horror fiction…

I suppose it’s a sign of the times that I’m even thinking about this. During these weeks of self isolation, I found myself listening to Audio Book Ghost/Occult Stories/Horror Babble, etc….discovering “new” authors as I go along, eventually ending up with Stephen King. (not exactly a “new” author either!)

I’ve never cared for that genre. And yet I do feel that I have a story idea that could fit it. It involves the horror of human sacrifice (usually based on appeasement to the gods) and the premise that we still do it today, though in a much more sophisticated, “rational” fashion. It doesn’t make it any less barbaric, of course; or any less evil… (I hesitate to use that term; but after all, isn’t this what the Horror genre is all about? )

The main character could be the devil, or facsimile. I’d love him to have some sort of Ancient name (I ask myself: does it have to be “him”? and yet for the the main character to exercise the power and influence he does over the centuries–he would have to be male)…

I would open the story placed in an ancient society, who, like the Aztecs, practiced human sacrifice on a disturbing regular basis. A quick reading of some reference material (I know very little about the Aztecs, or any other Mesoamerican peoples) suggests that the Aztecs believed that the gods sacrificed their lives and their blood in order to create human beings. So human beings owed a debt to the gods that could never be repaid. The only action that they could take was to try to appease the gods by offering the blood of sacrificed human beings. Then–maybe just maybe–they would get whatever they needed– bountiful harvests, victory in war, etc–in order to survive. They realized at some level the their very human vulnerability; and out of fear, tried to control the situation by sacrificing other people.

The main character Mesphostopheles (for want of a better name) could be the architect of the actual sacrifice plan, encouraging the leaders to believe that they are only safe as long as the required number of people are sacrificed on a regular basis.

It’s important as well to portray the ancient society as a functioning society, where people not only make discoveries, and build monuments etc; but where average people lived meaningful lives in their day to day activities. They were aware of the sacrifices; and just assumed that they needed to take place as a way of ensuring their continued existence as a people. …Something totally out of their own hands…

Fast forward to the present, where Mesphostopheles is now a powerful figure in the area of High finance. He urges the financial leaders to make a decision that will destroy the lives of many innocent people. They need to do this to ensure of the continuing support of their god– the free market system. The free market gives them the certainly of survival that they crave, by keeping their wealth in tact. And if they have to sacrifice other people to do so…so be it…

I also want to point out that these actions also concern society as a whole. I’m aware that my prosperity over the years has come living in North America–which in no small part–is due to financial structure of the world, which favors people like me, even if I’m not one of the elite. I may not like the system, but in the end I participate in it fully–because therein, I see my economic security as well.

The irony is that, given what we now know about the earth, and the interconnection of all life we now see how the free market view of the world is as delusional as the world view of the Aztecs. It doesn’t reflect the actual reality of the physical world we live in; nor does it reflect the interconnectedness of all human beings. If there is one area in the world, where people are malnourished and don’t have access to proper health care, then pandemics will have a foot hold in our world, and flourish and none of us are safe. It is in our interest to protect and look after each other.

But evil plays on fear… and the illusion that we can control our fate by sacrificing others to is all too common in our world today….and the outcome for me–is the personification of evil.

And how that plays out in our very human lives–over the centuries, and continuing today—is something I could be interested in exploring in a story.

Just some thoughts

M.C. Piper

Creative Castrophisizing…when it’s all too much, write a story…Growing up

I hate to admit how old I am…and how it’s only now–that I feel I’m actually growing up.

When my writing consultant Ori described my latest story–“The Magic Threads of Iolar Firean”–as a coming of age story, I cringed.

My idea of a “coming of age” story involves a young person who–by the end of that “glorious summer”–has miraculously learned what they need to learn to enter adulthood.

I don’t believe I was ever that teenager. And when I admit I lament that even Oldies stations these days veer away form the music I grew up with—-preferring music of later decades–you’ll realize that whatever happened in my teenage years is far behind me. I’m not even sure those years were all that formative for me.

And yet it is a story about finally growing up…even at this late stage. It’s in the form of a modern fairy tale. The protagonist Morgana is being hounded by a Wolf which she fears will devour her. She approaches a healer and mentor Iolar Firean, desperate for help. But it is far from a “perfect fit.”

Iolar seems to demand things of Morgana that “just aren’t fair”. And Morgana can easily see inconsistencies in Iolar and judge her for them.

In the end, Morgana does leave Iolar’s Community.

And yet she realizes that she did get the healing that she needed. Not because she and Iolar agree on everything. But because Morgana sees Iolar as she is her own right ; and accepts the miraculous wisdom that Iolar Firean gives her–by simply being who she was.

It is this wisdom that Morgana uses to confront the Wolf in her own life–once she stops expecting others to do it for her.

I love my fiction writing because it gives me the opportunity to explore this situation–which is a reflection of something that happened in my own life–at a depth I couldn’t get to otherwise.

What a gift!

M.C. Piper

Part 5 of Napoleon’s Syndrome…Creative Catastrophizing… Computer style…

I always try to be upbeat…and really it’s nothing all that serious…just an updating of my computer program…and at the moment I can’t even open a new file on my word processing program!…now I’m sure it’s something simple that I’m just not doing right; and typically– in my catastrophizing– I go to: I’ll never be able to create a new file again! (no drama there!) …. and in a few days, I’m sure I’ll figure it out…and after a while it will all become routine. Meanwhile I did manage to paste Part 5 of Napoleon’s Syndrome onto my blog…so I might as well go ahead and “put it out there”. This is the last and final installment of the story.

For me, “Napoleon Syndrome” was a passion, a story that I needed to write. And I want to have others read it.

And the truth is that other people have their own passions, stories that they want to tell. “Napoleon Syndrome” may not even be the kind of story they want to read, or even relate to.

So I really appreciate anybody who takes the time to read it. I hope you enjoy it and it adds something to your life, even if it’s just a “good read”, which I hope it is!

Sincere thanks for your precious time and consideration.

M.C. Piper

PART 5

ASHEAH CATORI

As they often do—things went back into a routine of sorts. I told Pax about my meeting with Petrov, and we both agreed: odd person that he was, he didn’t show any signs of duplicity. I reasserted my allegiance to him (an odd thing to do in a lover’s bed, but I did it), and he accepted it fully. Though for some reason, I couldn’t quite bring myself to give him the coordinates of Reina’s s estate.

I put it out of my mind, and became my same old self, teasing Pax and listening him talk about his deepest concerns. Pax was more withdrawn, no longer his spontaneous self. The war weighed heavily upon him. But he seemed to enjoy my company: maybe it reminded him of a simpler time.

But then it happened, and any semblance of a routine was shattered.

Two days later, I was on duty. I was mindlessly patrolling a sector when I gasped.

Myles, who usually ignored everything except what was on the screen in front of him, immediately transferred to the sector was I looking at. I was looking in horror at a group of civilians being led through a path of rubble. They could barely lift their feet high enough to stumble forward. The first one was a frail ,terrified Daphne .Following her were the children—Tammy and Jesse, small fragile, emaciated shadows of the children they once were. I felt sick.

“I know these people.” I could barely get the words out.“They lived in my family cluster.”

“That explains it,” Myles put in. “You left and joined the rebels. They were all rounded up as suspects.”

He must have caught the horror on my face, for he added, “What did you expect to happen? That Fischer would move them into a shimmering mansion with an ocean view?”

The truth was that I hadn’t thought about them at all.

“Now,” I heard Myles’ voice, “They’re about ready to—”

Three shots rang out.

“Execute them.”

I don’t remember the next while.

Every nerve in my body tingled constantly. Misery and dread flooded over everything, colouring any emotions with a distant dullness that made them impotent. Nothing or no one could offer me any joy, or any feeling.

I had been vaguely aware that Pax had visited me during my illness, though I didn’t remember any actual conversations, or interactions.

Even Pax meant nothing to me.

PAX INTI

Asheah’s breakdown… I felt for her, yet seeing her like this frightened me deeply.

She was not able to deal with the reality of war. I hadn’t fully acknowledged that to myself before.

Right now, when I saw her she seemed to be in her actions, but she was not. She “knew” who I was and yet there was a distance in her eyes. Her sentences were disjointed, unconsciously put together. Or else she stopped talking mid-sentence and whatever came out would just hang there…

I knew the one thing she did do: enter her hologram program. Given her state of mind, I wasn’t sure I should allow it. But I couldn’t bring myself to cut off the one thing that she connected to. And the worse thing is I wondered, maybe she was the leak all along and didn’t even realize it. I thought I knew  Asheah.

But now I found out that she’d been holding out on me.

Now that the Legislature had been destroyed, Fischer had moved his headquarters elsewhere. I suspected it was to Reina Hideaki’s estate—but Kris, as formidable an enemy as always, blocked anyway that I could get the coordinates.

And then I discovered that Asheah could have them already. It was purely by accident.

I had hurried down to see Myles on some matters that needed attention. But he wasn’t in the Drone Control Room. The only one there was Dee. As I often I did, I went to say hello and give her support.

I looked at her screen and sighed. “If only we could get the coordinates of Reina Hideaki’s estate…”

“But surely,” Dee replied innocently, “Asheah has those. She told me she visited Reina’s estate—you know, before all this happened. She would have her computer module with her. It would have recorded the coordinates automatically.”

I was stunned .I knew that Asheah had meetings with Reina, but I had assumed they were in a more public place, or possibly her apartment. But she’d actually gone to the estate. Why didn’t she tell me? Why was she holding out on me?

Maybe in her hazy thinking, she’d gotten mixed up—it was before the war and she was simply keeping up an old acquaintance.

Or maybe she was just too weak to survive in the world as it now was.

I had to face that—unpleasant as it might be.

ASHEAH CATORI

All I could bear to do was go into the Hologram.

At first, it made little difference.

I simply experienced myself sitting with Great Grandma Rose by the lake, wrapped in an old blanket she had given me.

But I continued to go. Why not? There was nothing else I could do.

But one day as I sat, listening to the call of a loon as I often did, something shifted in me. I felt the breeze on my face.

I turned to Great Grandma Rose who smiled gently. “Welcome  back my child.”

I opened my mouth. The words came out in a jerky fashion. “I’m no-t sure want to be ba-ck.”

Great Grandma Rose looked over the lake and, as she often did, she started telling another story about herself that seemed totally unrelated to the situation. “I was a foolish young girl. All I did was talk, talk all the time. Any petty matter, I gave it breath, and out it would tumble in words.”

I waited, unsure of how to respond. The truth was that Great Grandma was never at a loss for words when it suited her.

“But then one day, my Nokum took me aside, and told me that my constant chatter was being disrespectful. Nokum said, ‘Words can be powerful. Treat each one with respect.’”

Great grandma Rose looked at me meaningfully. I took that last statement to be an instruction.

I struggled to respect each word. “I”—the painful vulnerable mess that swarmed inside—“am not sure”—the overwhelming uncertainty of everything but violence—“I want…to be back…” Back to be alive—if this torment was what it meant.

As I went over every word, opening myself to all that it meant…

I felt myself spiral further and further into my being.

I only vaguely heard Great Grandma say, “Nokum taught me: the gift of words is the miracle the Creator. Use them only to pass on the good things of life.”

And then all became a blank.

* * *

When I became conscious of myself, I was lying on my bed in my room, the hologram program stopped.

I was feeling. I realized: yes, I’m feeling! Sad , hopelessly vulnerable, but alive. Tears filled my eyes.

Something had shifted. I was keenly aware of that when a beep from Pax indicated that he wanted to see me.

Nervous, I agreed.

Pax noticed a difference in me right away. He greeted me warmly with a hug. “You’re back.”

Gently, he sat me back down on the bed, and got himself a chair to sit opposite me.

“It’s good to see you respond, Ash.”

For a moment it hit me: I had been disconnected from the world around me this entire time. It was an eerie feeling.I would struggle with all it took to reconnect.

“It’s good to be back—I guess,” I said, smiling slightly. The more I said, the more connected I felt.

Pax seemed conflicted. Even in my state, I picked up that something was wrong. I dreaded getting involved—I wasn’t sure if I could take whatever it was.

“I’ve had some strange hologram experiences,” I blurted out. “With my Great Grandma Rose—for hours, by a nondescript lake.She gifted me with the healing words I needed in order to come back.”

Pax gazed tenderly into my eyes. He brushed back a piece of hair off my face.

“Ash, the hologram you were using was a blank program. Whatever you consciously or unconsciously program into it is all that’s there. Now I admit the unconscious component is a new touch.” Pax smiled slightly—which I hadn’t seen him doing in weeks—admitting, “I’m not sure how it works myself.  I just stimulate certain area of the brain, and the unconscious can also be downloaded as well. It added another dimension to the program.”

“But it seemed so real!”

“But it was nothing more than your imagination,” Pax insisted. “No more real than that.”

Pax got up, obviously ill at ease—any smile he had had hopelessly faded. He turned to me earnestly.

“Ash, we have to deal with reality here. Even if it’s hard. There’s a serious breach in security happening. The enemy knows too much about what we’re doing. And it’s come to my attention that you’ve been holding out on me.”

My brain was fuzzy enough for me to just look at him. I couldn’t remember past actions well enough to know what he was talking about.

“You didn’t tell me about being at Reina’s estate.”

Suddenly the memory of that—in distinct detail—came back to me. I was relieved. Fragile as I felt, I could at least deal with the situation.

“I guess I didn’t,”I said.

“And you know full well the implications. You always carry your computer module with you. You would have the coordinates—”

“Which you can’t get otherwise.”My voice was dull. I didn’t have the energy for it to be otherwise.

“Kris Hideaki is a worthy adversary,” Pax replied.

He began to pace, his hands behind his back.

“Ash” Pax’s expression became dead serious. “This is not a game. We believe that not only Reina and her family are at the estate. But Cayman Fischer and Mallick are there as well. That’s their headquarters. If we could wipe them out…Why, Ash are you holding out on me?”

My mind was in a fog: I couldn’t really say.

“And look at what they did to your friend Daphne and her kids!” And suddenly angered, Pax was in my face. “Think about that!”

He turned to leave. “I could take it from you, Ash. But I don’t want to. I want you to release the coordinates yourself. Show me that you’re loyal to me and support me all the way.”

And he left.

Sobbing, I fell onto the floor in a  heap.

* * *

I don’t even remember entering the hologram program again, but I must have, for in it I was.

I found myself furiously running through the scrawny woods, along the path to the clearing. I burst from between the trees and ran down to the lake below. Great Grandma Rose’s house was beside the lake, as well as a fire pit and a chair.

I could barely contain my fury. Having arrived at the lake, I knocked down the chair by the fire, and kicked sand in the air.

Great Grandma Rose came out her house calmly. She had a walking stick with her. She went over to the chair, picked it up and sat on it, leaning both hands on the top of her walking stick.

“How could they  kill Daphne and her children?!” I screamed. “They didn’t deserve to die!”

Great Grandma Rose looked at me calmly .Did I catch disapproval in her eye?

I somehow felt I had to justify myself. “At least I’m feeling something!”

Great GrandmaRose shook her head.“ We use our anger to block out our true emotions.”

“Great!” I turned to her. “My true emotions, eh? I feel shitty! And so sad…so unbearably sad…”

I fell to my knees, unable to do anything but sob.

She let me weep. Only when I stopped did she gently place her hand on my shoulder and speak. “The sensitive part of ourselves is our true emotions. They tell us the truth about what’s around us. Isn’t it right to be sad?”

Of course. How could I feel otherwise?

I have no memory of leaving the hologram program but…

Awhile later I found myself sitting in numbing darkness of my room.

The door buzzed. I nearly dropped the module. I put it on the table and said, “Come in.”

Dee entered, and immediately the overhead light came on.

She was cheerful as usual and had a tray with her.“Some good, wholesome, natural food.”

I stared at the tray. “How can we grow this? The scorching fires, melting sea ice, debilitating smog…”

Dee responded, “We don’t have to depend on nature anymore. You, of all people, should know that.”

Dee went to place the tray on my night table. I quickly removed my computer module and put it down on the bed beside me.

Dee continued, “Myles says that we will be able to have all we want soon. It’s just a question of learning the right computer code and we can make whatever we want ourselves.”

“I take it that he would be quite happy living in a computer, too. Isn’t that Kris Hideaki’s goal?” I joked.

I swear that for a moment I saw a flicker of panic cross her face.

“I don’t know,” Dee said with a shrug. “You’re the one who met him.”

“It was his sister I met,” I said coolly.

I didn’t want to continue the conversation.

“Thanks, Dee for bringing the food. It looks delicious,” I said,trying to be more appreciative note .“It’s kind of you.”

“No sweat!”And she left.

It was somewhat later that my module beeped. I started.

I shook as I heard it continue—the relentless jarring sound.

I knew: only one person would contact me this way—Reina. What did she want? Dare I take her call? Would that be the ultimate sign of betrayal? Shouldn’t I tell Pax? That would cement my loyalty once and for all.

But somehow, I couldn’t quite do that. And I knew I couldn’t ignore the call. Slowly I picked up the module  and tapped it.

I read the message. “Let’s meet in hologram program…” followed by the access code and a single initial: R.

Mechanically I dialed the code, and suddenly found myself in a hologram of the estate by the swing. The sound of the ocean waves echoed in the background.I took a deep breath, taking in the fresh ocean air, rich in oxygen. It felt good, even if it was just an illusion.

Reina was there, seated on an old-style quilt. Her daughter Lucy was beside her, nestled into Reina’s arms as she moved some shapes in the air around her. She clapped for joy as a pattern fell into place.

Cesare , I saw was on the swing—up and up he went until he jumped off, landing on his feet and then running giggling to his mother and sister, tumbling onto the quilt.

Reina put out her hand and fondly ruffled his hair.

She looked up at me. “I never apologize for my family’s wealth or my use of power.”She stood. “We deserve to be at the top, and I will fight for all we deserve. “

Reina continued, “I made one serious mistake, though. I never thought it would come to war. I had you come to the estate and you inadvertently took away the coordinates with you.” She paused. “I’m not sure what you have done with them. I never understood people like you.”

Lucy stood by Reina’s side, hanging onto her mother. Cesare tumbled away, but not too far. There was unease, even fear in his eyes.

“But I love my children,” Reina continued.“I plead with you. Don’t give Pax the coordinates. He’ll kill them both.”

I wanted to say: How dare you! You who cared so little for anyone’s else’s children! You were prepared to let them die to fill your family’s pockets!

It was all true. Reina stood in front of me, as unrepentant as ever.

Horrified, I saw myself step away. And withdrew from the hologram and the program…

PAX INTI

Myles has just contacted me: a hologram program from our base—identified as that of Asheah Catori—has contacted an outside program, believed to have originated from enemy bearings. The actual coordinates have been encrypted but all indications are that the transmission is from Enemy Headquarters, Reina Hideaki’s estate. I’m stunned.

I examined his screen.

“I don’t believe it!”I swear. “Asheah would never betray me!”

“Facts are facts,” Myles replied, adding coolly, “She did with hold information from you.”

“But to sell me out like that!” I still couldn’t get my mind around it.

I started to pace around the room.

“Maybe it’s her break down,”Myles suggested. “Maybe out of some kind of weird sympathy, she’s reaching out to Reina, trying to make peace. She could be so muddled that she doesn’t realize what’s she’s doing.”

I was horrified to admit, “That could be it! They’re taking advantage of her! M’God she could let out our coordinates! A few scraps of data and Kris could figure them out!”

“I’ve instigated a block—” Myles began.

I looked over his shoulder.

“Wait a minute there!”I suddenly interrupted. “You left out a link—” I took over Myles’ console. “You’ve left us hopelessly exposed.”

It was a basic mistake—one that any rookie could make. But Myles wasn’t a rookie, and I was furious that he made it—in such a life and death situation.

Myles, his head down, muttered with defensive defiance, “Sorry!” Adding bitterly, “But I didn’t learn from the Master—”

“The Master that’s about to kill us!”I interjected.“If we let our guard down.”

I locked my designation code onto Myles console. I had sole authority over blocking Kris Hideaki.

And I left.

ASHEAH CATORI

I was suddenly aware of a commotion in the hall outside my door .Someone had detected the call. They were coming. But I couldn’t talk to anyone. Not now. I quickly encrypted my hologram access number—it would give a little time—and entered it.

I fell to my knees, unable to do anything but sob.

Great Grandma Rose let me cry,  then repeated the words she had said before. “The sensitive part of ourselves is our true emotions; they tell us the truth about what’s around us. Are you not right to be sad?”

That was when it hit me. I was unbearably sad about Daphne and her children’s death…and I could not bear the sadness of Reina’s children dying such senseless deaths, too. It had to stop somewhere!

“I can’tdo it!” I screamed “I can’t be part of murdering those children!”

My thoughts scurried on.

“But what about Pax?  I love him! I can’t betray him! He wouldn’t kill innocent people. Not for any reason.”

“Is that what your heart tells you?” she asked.

I desperately wanted to say “yes.”But I couldn’t.

Instead, I heard myself say, “I have nothing left but Pax.It can’t be wrong for me to hold onto him.”

I sat for a momen tand then found myself say, “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it ?I know in my heart what I need to do .But to give up all I have, to give up Pax…I don’t know if I can do it.”

Great Grandma Rose smiled gently, pulling herself away from me. “When was a young girl, I had a boyfriend. He was so good looking—and wild. He’d sneak a drink or so out of a bag, and urged me to do the same. I didn’t like taste, but I drank it. He always had money, and he would buy me things to wear—but if I ever wore them, I felt itchy all over.”

“Maybe you were allergic?”I suggested ruefully. I was surprised at how I was now focused on her story, but I was.

Great Grandma Rose continued, “One day, I wore his itchy clothes down to this very beach, and sat down beside him by a roaring fire. It was getting dark and he was restless. He wanted something to do. We had many drinks from his paper bag, and suddenly he picked up a dry stick and lit it. He said he wanted me to help torch a mean old man’s shack. Everyone hated the old man—nobody would care”

Great Grandma Rose stared into the fire pit as if the blaze were still burning .In my mind’s eye I envisioned the scene.

She continued, “But I knew there was one person who would care—me. As my boyfriend danced around, more and more enamored  with his frenzied idea, I stared into the fire. Suddenly in the flames I saw  my soul screaming, being eaten up. The screams became louder and louder and finally I tore my itchy clothes off and threw them into the fire. And I walked home, stark naked. I had no clothes or a boyfriend, nothing to hold on to—”

“What about Great Grandad?” I muttered. “You must have picked him up somewhere.”

“Oh,” she responded, “he was the village fool. But”—she added with a smile on her face—“he had the true feelings of a soul .Never lose your soul.”

I smiled slightly, “You’re beginning to sound like Petrov.”

Great GrandmaRose came over to me and lovingly stroked my face. “The people that we hold in most contempt are often our best teachers.”

I felt a peace within me, and around…then I heard a sudden click and the hologram dissolved around me.

* * *

I opened my eyes, and Pax was in front of my face. I’d never seen him so angry. He had his hand raised to hit me. I slid away from under it and stood up.

“I loved you! I thought”—his voice broke—“that you loved me! But you’ve betrayed me!”

“I’ve haven’t betrayed you!”

“Then who is it?!” Pax was fierce.

Suddenly my mind was clear for the first time in a very long time. “Dee knew I went to Reina’s estate, but I never told her. Myles repeated details about the estate that I never mentioned, either .And Dee became nervous when I joked about Myles being a fan of technology and of Kris Hideaki.”

Pax closed his eyes, for a moment ,and then opening them, tapped his device.

“He’s trying to erase my block! Myles is trying to erase my block!” His shock turned into fury, “That little shit! And his whore—they’re going to pay!”

He furiously tapped his device. For a moment I thought: he’s going to kill them!

“No! Pax!” I shouted. “I could be wrong! Even if I’m not, they’re just kids! Going after what they were taught to go after.”

Pax flung himself on the bed, his device coming to rest on the bed beside him.

“You know, Ash, I swear you are the biggest traitor of all. You say you love me, but you won’t do what’s needed to protect me. You won’t even give me those coordinates.”

“I do love you!”I replied. “But don’t you see, Pax? I can’t do it! I can’t order strikes that will indiscriminately kill children. It’s not right—”

“Oh, that’s it. Reina’s children. That’s who I’m being sacrificed for now?”He sat forward, glaring at me.“Do you think Reina gave a piss about Daphne and her kids?! Or any of the others she and Cayman Fischer thoughtlessly disposed of?”

“No,” I answered, surprisingly calm. “But that doesn’t make it right for us to kill her children.”I paused, and added, “You’ve changed, Pax.”

“You’re damn right I have! I’ve grown up!” Pax turned to me, a savage look in his face.“I now know the brutality that it takes to survive!”

“To survive for what?”I threw back. “How are people supposed to put their lives together after this? How will we be able to even talk to each other—let alone create a civil society after all this?”

Pax calmed down for a moment, “There will a time of transition, of course when we need to make sure that Fischer’s forces are defeated—”

“How long will that last, do you think?” I ask.

“For heaven’s sakes, Ash, ”Pax blurted out. “You think the people are so smart! Do you know what one of Fischer’s henchman said to me—when I told him that Fischer had his family killed? He said, ‘It must have been a mistake. Fischer is like my father—stern but always looking out for me .I wished he’d been told what they were doing to do. He would never have let that happen.’ But it was Fischer who gave the order. The man saw what he wanted to see! That’s how smart people are!”

Suddenly, it hit me.

“You also have an image ,too, Pax,” I said coolly. “A compassionate young freedom fighter who would never knowingly kill children or go after people just because they oppose you. And that’s what your devoted followers will see. Rather what you actually do.”

“What happened to you, Ash?” Pax turned to me with sober look. “Don’t you realize the stakes here?! They’re playing on your sympathies! It’s all a ruse. They’re using you to get our coordinates—”

Suddenly, he grabbed my module.

A  rumble. The bunker began to shake. Part ofthe ceiling fell in—knocking Pax down.

Suddenly my module switched on, and Cayman Fischer stood there, glowering with brutal satisfaction. “You dared to oppose the fittest and you will die like the dogs you are!”

Stunned Paxlooked up. “My God!Myles managed to erase enough that Kris now has our coordinates! They’re going to kill everyone here! Ash—you’re our only hope!Give me their location!”

I heard my voice in my ears, as if the words were spoken by someone else. “I have already deleted them.”

What had I done?

* * *

I opened my eyes,my tortured voiced moaning, “What have I done!? I’ve killed us all!”

I jerked up and found myself on a plush bed,with plastic nodes attached to either side of my temples.

“On the contrary,” a young woman said calmly, as she gently removed the nodes, “you have completed the test successfully.”

I started: the young woman looked like Reina’s daughter, all grown up.

“Lucy?”I asked, feeling the quivering in my voice.

“Yes,” the woman replied.

“But how could that be?”I was totally confused, in a bewildering haze.

“You need rest now,” Lucy said gently. “You’ve been through a lot. Later it will all make sense.”

I’m not sure how long I rested. The next time I was woke up, the haze was gone and I was famished.

As if on cue, a man brought a tray of food in, and placed it on the table beside the bed.I sat up, once more surprised.

“Petrov?”He was older and calmer, but nevertheless it was Jeremiah Petrov.

“Gulity,” he said with a slight smile. “I can still be officious and a bore. But I’m working on it—as we have to do. Now, eat, Lucy and I will be back after you’re finished.”

I felt better, more lucid after I ate. Things were coming back to me. Not all that clearly, but at least they were taking shape.

Awhile later, a young woman came in to take my tray.

“Daphne?” I asked in astonished recognition.

A nod and a slight smile acknowledged that I was right.

She left just as Lucy and Petrov entered.

There were three chairs in my room. Petrov arranged them in a circle and Lucy invited me to sit in one.

My legs almost buckled beneath me as I got off the bed. It was hard to walk the short distance to the chair.

“It’ll take some time to get used to walking again,” Lucy said, holding out her hand for support if I needed it. “You haven’t used your legs for some time.”

I sat down. Petrov and Lucy sat in the two chairs in front me.

“You remember where we are now,” he began.

“At the Fischer Institute for the criminally insane,”I replied. “I’m here to undergo a psychiatric assessment—as part of my application for a leadership position. I just came out of a virtual simulation that was the main component of my evaluation. I passed and therefore considered sane, though”—I added with a slight smile—“the simulation all seemed so real and  I’m not sure how sane I feel.”

“It all happened to you in your mind,” Lucy began. “It’s all real to you. You need time to recover.”

“That’s why it will take several weeks before we will submit your name for a possible leadership position.” Petrov added.“Pending the general elections, of course.”

That’s when it hit me. “What about Pax?”

“Pax Inti. The man who underwent the test with you,”Petrov clarified.

“Of course,” I said briskly.

“He didn’t make it,” Petrov stark words hit with a thud. “He’s been certified as insane and will remain here.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I blurt out. “He’s a genius, he’s the most capable leader that we could produce!”

“And he was your good friend, came to mean even more to you,” Lucy affirmed gently.“But you know about the diagnosis: Napoleon Syndrome.”

I closed my eyesand heard myself repeating these words.“There’s a story about the Emperor Napoleon. When he would inspect the troops, he would learn pieces on information about the men before him. So he would greet a man using some personal detail here and there. And the man would think, ‘The Emperor knows me and cares about me!’ Which was blatantly untrue.  Napoleon despised what he saw as their petty lives—he only wanted them to fight to death for him. They were little more than cannon fodder in his grand scene of things.

“Such a blatant dismissal of others as mere objects that can be disposed of—and not as full human beings—is a pathological disorder of the highest degree. Grandiose homicidamdonari… otherwise known as the Napoleon Syndrome.”

I opened my eyes and declared, “Paxis a good man! He would never kill innocent people!”

“He was willing to sacrifice Reina’s children,” Petrov said matter-of-factly. “That’s where it begins.”

Lucy leaned over and, putting her hand on my knee, looked into my face. “We’re all aware, Asheah, of all the leaders over the years who started out as good people. But then something happens: the adulation becomes a drug they find they can’t do without. They are exposed to ways they can line their own pockets, or maybe there’s a war and they find themselves categorizing people into ‘collateral damage.’”

I cringed: it was hard for me to believe that abhorrent phrase was ever used casually to refer to actual people.It made me—and everyone else I knew—sick.

Lucy settled back into her chair. “We don’t like the idea of incarcerating people any more than you do. But think of the horrendous damage the people who develop this syndrome do. They’re insane and will inflict their disease on millions—if given half a chance. Our history is littered with their carnage. We can’t let them out in our world.”

It all made sense. But my whole being resisted it.

“But not Pax!”I blurted out. “Why does have to be Pax?”

“He knew the risk when he applied to become a possible leader,”Petrov pointed out. “He knew that he could be found insane and if so, he would never be allowed to leave the virtual simulation.”

I started to sob.It was just too much.

Lucy began, “I can appreciate what you feel…”

“No! you don’t!”My sobbing got worse.

I could barely get out, “Please go!”Which they did.

* * *

I don’t know how long I sobbed. I only know that sometime later, I found myself on my bed, still sobbing and rolling back and forth.

I must have drifted off to sleep, for I found myself once again sitting on the beach of Great Grandma Rose’s lake.

But the sky was not bright, nor was there a gentle spring rain. The whole scene was enveloped in a putrid gray—large ominous dark clouds crowded the sky, a thin cold fog hung around me. Dread flowed over me. I shivered.

A warm blanket was gently placed around my shoulders. I didn’t see the hands that did that. But I did hear her whisper, “The sensitive part of ourselves is our true emotions. They tell us the truth about what’s around us.”

I felt her hand upon my arm. “Isn’t it right to feel sad, to tend to the open wound of grief?”

I fell to the ground and sobbed. I rolled around the sand, screamed aloud , whimpered like a baby. My heart ached. All I could hear was my wailing—it seemed to pierce the sky. Then in a pause, I heard the haunting call of a loon. I looked up. I saw Great Grandma’s finger point to a small break in the clouds, a patch of light that was getting slightly bigger.

I fell back exhausted…and woke up, to find myself on my bed.

This time it was Lucy who brought in the tray. She sat on a chair beside the bed as I ate.

Halfway through I sighed, and then reflected, “You know something odd? I had a Great Grandmother Rose who was a bit different.  At least, I thought so as a kid. When I was eleven, Great Grandmother Rose insisted I come and stay with her for the summer. I was horrified. But in Dad’s family, were respected the Elder sand her request was to be honoured so I went.”

I took a sip of water and then continued, “I don’t remember her saying anything that summer except these long pointless stories about herself It seemed like wasted time. But Great Grandma Rose was in the virtual world, and what she said—that’s what guided me and carried me along. And that’s not even the kicker.” I put the lid back down on the tray. I’d had enough.

“She told Dad that I had to come because she needed to guide me because I was going to be a leader. The last thing I wanted at the time was to be any sort of leader. I’m not even sure how I ended up here.”

“Welcome to the club,” Lucy replied.“I’m not sure of how I ended up here either.”

I was going to ask her to elaborate but she said, “You need your rest. We can talk later.”

* * *

It was Petrov who, a week or so later, asked if I wanted to see Pax.

I knew that Pax was still very much alive, was even familiar with the glass capsules that the criminally insane prisoners were kept in. They were well-ventilated and were maintained so they could live out their natural years. But they lived out these year snot in the real world, but in a virtual simulation.

I decided to take up Petrov’s offer. It would be hard, I thought, but necessary.

I  prepared myself as we entered the room. Sure enough, along the wall were glass, casket-like structures. In one I saw Cayman Fischer—another, Adam Mallick—still another, Reina. And then next to her I saw Pax. He was standing upright in the glass case, looking dashing and serene. Just as he would want.

Tears came into my eyes as I wandered over to Pax.I put my hand up to touch the glass.

“He’ll be satisfied with his life, living in the simulation. If he’s not prepared to progress. And there’s always hope,” Petrov continued, “that he may progress, and learn what he needs to know. Then he can come back and offer himself for leadership. Some of our great leaders spent many years in the simulation. They were physically impaired, of course, their muscles atrophied from lack of use. But their spirits, their minds, their souls were more mature, deeper in thought and feeling than the rest of us.”

I smiled slightly. “Pax never did anything by halves.”

“Meanwhile,” Petrov continued, “as leaders we are required at times to re-enter the virtual simulation to test our soundness for the job. And there is always the possibility that we might not come back.”

I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

Petrov must have read my thoughts. He added, “You don’t have to follow through and become a leadership candidate. You are sane. You can leave any time you want to. Or you can re-enter the simulation and be with Pax for the rest of your natural life,”

I shook my head sadly.

“No,” I had to admit, “the Pax that I loved no longer exists. All I would do is to stop him from progressing. And destroy myself in the process.”

But somehow the idea of simply going back to my normal life didn’t fit either.

* * *

When I was well enough, Lucy invited me to stay with her.

She had a small yet tastefully decorated house overlooking the ocean. Daphne and her children lived with her already—I’d have thought her house was full. But Lucy assured me there was enough room, adding that I might turn out to be a calming influence.

I wasn’t sure how much a calming influence I would be, though I did get an idea of what she meant the first morning.

I stood by the picture window looking out at the ocean. Lucy was seated, working on a holographic image—putting equations, numbers and shapes  in.

Suddenly, Daphne’s son, Jesse, run into the room, followed by an exasperated Daphne.

“He won’t do his hologram exercises,” she complained. “I can’t get him to sit still.”

“Come over here,” Lucy said to Jesse, who obligingly obeyed.

Jesse sat down with Lucy and she began to teach: “This equation”—the numbers appeared in the air in front of them—“and this equation,which adds 2 onto the sum of the first one”—the second equation appeared in front of them—“creates this figure. Now if we take away the second equation,what do we need to create the figure?”

Jesse’s eyes glazed over. He could barely keep his them on the hologram. I perceived a sense of disappointment in Lucy, but it passed quickly as Jesse wiggled away.

“I’m afraid that Jesse’s never going to get it,”Daphne sighed.

“But Auntie Luce,”Jesse said as he bounced off the couch they were sitting on, “Wanna see me do a headstand?”

Lucy looked appreciatively at him as he stood on his head.

A few seconds later, Daphne’s daughter, Tammy, came in. “Auntie Luce, watch me do my cartwheels.” And she began to do cartwheels around the room.

With an excited woof, a large affable Golden Setter lolloped in and knocked Jesse down, and then started licking his giggling face.

An exasperated Daphne intervened. “We all need to go outside.”She rounded them all up and they left.

All of a sudden, it was strangely quiet.

Lucy started working on her hologram, saying, “They bring me back.”

After a pause, she went on to explain, “I love technology. The equations, the shapes, the figures all dance delightfully in my head. I enjoy it. I I even have, from time to time, made a modest contribution to the field .But if I ever begin to think that this is all that matters, and somehow my abilities mean that I have the right to abuse and trample over other people—”

She paused.

I interjected, “So that’s why you were in the most recent simulation. As a child, of course. But still it would be a powerful reminder of what could happen if you lose your perspective.”

“We are all susceptible,” Lucy said simply. “That’s why we who put ourselves out to  be leaders must periodically take part in a virtual simulation.” She got up from her hologram and walked over to me.“Even if there’s always the possibility that we may not come back.”

I sighed: that would be a terrible burden for anyone’s life.

I turned my gaze to the window. Lucy joined me.

Daphne and her children came into view.

“Tomorrow,” Lucy said, “a meteor might strike and annihilate us like the dinosaurs and the cockroaches take over. But for today, Daphne and her children can walk along a beach. That’s no small accomplishment.”

I agreed, “It is certainly something to work for.”

And I knew what my decision must be.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Caleb Loeb, The Journey: Stories and Prayer for the Christian Year from the First Nations, Anglican Book Centre, Toronto, 1991, pg. 47

Teaching Elder Mary Lee, Website: Four Directions Teaching.com

Website: Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre.

And to Ori Rodriguez without whose editing and consistent support –this never would have been written.

Creative Catastrophizing….Whoa! Stop! too much!…and Part 4

I found myself trying to do too much this morning…I started a post and ended up detailing another story… which would have been okay, except that my idea was to put out Part 4 of my Novella Napoleon Syndrome and have the post to be a short introduction… Whoa! Stop! Too much! …Overkill!

I suspect that’s part of catastrophizing: feeling that whatever I put out or can do just isn’t enough…somehow it has to be more… And when I realize it just can’t be any more–at least on my part– I panic and catastrophize…

Of course, I know the wisdom: “I’m doing the best I can and it’s good enough..” I also really appreciate what Meg Dowell (Novelty Revisions) said when she wrote that the only thing that makes someone a writer is that they make the effort to tell the stories trapped inside of them.

By that definition, I certainly am a writer…! And my Novella “Napoleon Syndrome” is a story that welled up inside of me in response to the ongoing political situation … I wrote it and I am putting it on my blog…on the off chance that it may speak to someone else.

I really do appreciate those of you who are spending your time–looking it over, maybe even reading it. Time is precious these days.

So here it is…Napoleon Syndrome Part 4

PAX INTI

I killed my first person that day.

Realistically, it was not my first, I’m sure. But it felt like the first one I actually targeted and kill. But I couldn’t let Asheah die, or that bumbling fool with her.

I entered my Strategist room, to see Myles there. He was in charge of drone program, one we were increasingly depending upon.

I expressed my frustration, “Some people chose to be so naive. Wandering like that in the carnage, trying to assess  for themselves what’s really  happening . I’m tired of them!”

I sighed. “Not that I wasn’t naive! This whole defense complex—I decided to build it when Fischer was getting increasingly aggressive and violent. But even it was kind of a fun project—a test of my technological skills, especially as it must all be done in secret .But…” I sat down in a chair, putting my hands over my face. “I wasn’t prepared for the reality of war. The mass destruction, the unrelenting violence, the carnage: human bodies strewn like garbage bags among the rumble.”

“I have a question, sir.” Myles interrupted my thoughts. “We encourage drone staff to follow the militia fighters to their bunkers so that they will be targeted and destroyed. But many of the bunkers now have a red cross on their roofs, indicating that there are also civilians inside.”

I responded, “We don’t want to target civilians. Maybe we shouldn’t attack marked bunkers.”

“But recently, the enemy has painted the red cross on pretty well all its bunkers,” Myles replied. “They’re quite capable of hiding behind civilians—in order not to be attacked.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. We had to attack bunkers—how else could we hope to inflict enough damage to win the war?

“My suggestion,” Myles continued, “is that we ignore the marking, even erase it from our screens .We have to fight Cayman on his terms. Or he’ll win.”

“Of course, you’re right,” I admitted. I stood up. “We’ll do that—at least for the time being. Until we can come up with something else.”

I felt suddenly sad, and sighed. Myles looked at me quizzically.

I said, “I must admit—looking back fondly to the ‘good old days.’”

“I trust that you’re not becoming a Traditionalist!” Myles said with a smile.

“No!” I said briskly. “Of course not!”  I took it in the humour that it was meant.

“And I was wondering about your friend,” Myles continued.

“Asheah?”

“And that fellow who came in with her. Petrov—I believe his name is.” He paused. “I’m wondering if after they’re cleared, if they might not become drone technicians. We’re in desperate need of personnel and they both held responsible positions previously. They could come and work with me. Then I could keep an eye on them.”

“Always recruiting.” I chuckled.“And I don’t see why not. Everybody has to do his or her bit.  Anything else?”

After a few more pressing details, Myles left. My heart warmed towards him. He was good at his job, and though cautious, he had the potential to make a real contribution to technological research .I was determined to give him that opportunity.

I went over to the wall and pressed a button. A door opened. Inside were my civilian clothes—my tunic, sash, black pants.

I longed to change out of this uniform. But a beep sounded.  Another urgent request. I had to answer it.

I would go and see Asheah when it worked out—whenever that would be.

ASHEAH CATORI

I don’t remember much about the next few days. I was taken to a rest facility and was given the care I needed. Gradually the shock wore off and I started to feel human again.

During that time, Pax, despite his grueling schedule, would drop in to see me every once in awhile.

He usually came dressed in his tunic and light cotton pants, with his shoulder length black hair drawn back into a ponytail.

He looked like the old Pax I knew. And not by accident.

He told me, rather tongue-in-cheek, that he liked to visit me because it reminded him of a more innocent time.

Another time I asked,“Where did all these underground facilities come from? They couldn’t have been created overnight.”

Pax responded with a wry grin and admitted, “I always knew something like this would happen, so I built the facilities over the years. Granted, at the time it was a fun project.” He paused, a look of sober weariness crossing his face. “I never realized what it would be like to actually use it.”

That day he was dressed in his combat fatigues. He started to come that way more often.

“Is there some way, Pax, in which I can help?”

“Actually, I’ve had a request for your assistance,” Pax replied. “We’re in desperate need of drone guidance technicians. Myles spotted you right way as possible recruit.” Pax paused to smile.“Even though he didn’t know about your quilting.”

My quilting…I used to enjoy old-style quilting, but gave it up long ago when my work schedule became so crazy. I was touched that Pax remembered.

“Guiding drones is similar to creating those kinds of patterns. And essential too. It gives my people the support they need to physically engage the enemy.”

I was surprised. “Is that necessary? With technology as it is…?”

“The militia are Traditionalists. They want the adrenalin rush of the chase, of the ‘kill or be killed.’”

I was horrified.

“I don’t understand it either,” Pax said gravely. “I felt no rush when I killed my first person. “

“That wasn’t…?” I began.

“When I saved you and your friend.”

I was about to say, “He’s not my friend.”

But I didn’t, because the whole gravity of what Paxwas saying laid on me.

“You killed someone to save me?”

“He would have killed you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt overwhelmed. Pax left shortly.

I was all for whatever Pax needed. I would have gone right away to the drone guidance centre but Pax had wisely suggested I wait a few days.

* * *

And so, it was a few days later that I approached the drone guidance centre.

I felt odd, as I was dressed in the drab khakis of drone technician. A further sense of strangeness flooded me when I saw a sign beside the door reading: “Preserve energy for the war effort.”

I inwardly cringed. I still wasn’t used to the idea of war. But I had to admit: what else would you call it?

I pushed the heavy doors open. For a moment I wondered: how could I do this? I’d used my arms so little since coming here. I didn’t know why my arm muscles hadn’t atrophied more.

But that thought was short-lived, as I entered the drone guidance centre.

The name “drone guidance” was more of a historical one. What the people in the centre guided were explosions, or hits on specified enemy targets. The actual devices used were more along the line of the Annihilator, and getting more and more sophisticated all the time. I wasn’t developing them, only deploying them.

I became aware of Pax standing beside me. I felt comfort in that.

The doors swung open.

“Ah, there’s the other recruit.”I was stunned. It was Jeremiah Petrov.

“Not him,” I muttered to Pax. “He’s a staunch supporter of Fischer.”

“Until I filled him in on some details about what Fischer was really up to,” Pax replied. “He’s not a bad sort—just fixated on the Lord. Luckily, his Lord does allow for a holy war or two.”

Petrov’s stony glance showed that he had no more regard for me than I had for him.

Pax introduced us to the two other technicians before setting us down at our stations.

Both were totally absorbed at their screen. Only Pax’s gentle touch on the shoulder got their attention.

They were both young. Dee with her frizzy brown hair reminded me of Daphne, though her dark eyes were more focused, less vague. And  there was Myles,a techie , whom Pax had mentioned before; and whose intense dark expression came from single-minded devotion to the screen. I wondered what I’d had in common with either of them.

But I had to concede: they were the veterans here. I must admit that my heart pounded as I sat down at my station. I found myself totally focused on the screen in front of me.

It flashed, and then the picture of the outside became alive. Two men came scrambling out of the rubble. Desperately they ran along, sometimes falling, barely able to get up again. Suddenly, a militia man appeared. One shot. The first man fell. The other man put his hands up, and turning to the militia fighter,began begging for his life. A second shot rang out. The second man fell like a sack of potatoes.

I sat back, horrified. “They’re little more than animals.”

I heard Pax’s steady voice. “The militia follow patterns. Keep an eye on this fighter. Don’t order the hit right away. Wait until he meets up with some colleagues at least. Better still—when he gets to the bunker. The more we can take out, the better.”

“You mean kill them,”I said dully.

“Ash,” Pax began. “If we don’t kill them, they will kill us.”

“You say ‘we’,” I said in stunned tones, “but you could have been one of the privileged ,the elite. You didn’t have to take up our cause.”

“Nonsense,” Pax replied. “I couldn’t cut myself off from the rest of you. It just wasn’t in me to live that way.”

I suddenly felt the surge of love that we all felt in Pax’s modest presence. He didn’t have to risk his comfort, his life, but he chose to connect himself with our plight. He wasn’t born into it as we were.

Pax became grave once more.“We need to take them out before they dispose of us.”

“Dispose? Like garbage? “

“Whether it’s by shooting ,or by slowly depriving us of the food and oxygen we need to survive—we are to be disposed of. It’s the supposed natural order of things, when we are no longer of use to them.”Pax’s voice was hollow. “We would all eventually become street rats.”

Pax glanced at Petrov who, having had Myles to guide him, was already working at his station.“Some  are closer to it than others.”

Petrov?

He was always talking about returning to simpler times, where people lived in a straightforward physical way. Was he afraid that he would be disposed of in this new order, where really, he was just one step away from being a street rat?

And his insistence that the Lord loved him was because he was afraid that no-one else in the prevailing scheme of things did?

Perhaps. But there were much more pressing things to think about.

PAX INTI

I’m finally back in my room. Exhausted, I hope for a little sleep before I’m called on again.

I try not to think of my day. But it all comes tumbling at me—especially the time with Asheah. It’s hard to be reminded of what it was like. The horror she felt at what we do: I once felt too. I would have sworn that I would never stoop to their level of violence, but I have. And I have even outwitted them at times.

But Myles was right: what else could we do? Let Cayman Fischer win? And that’s what would happen if we didn’t fight with the same viciousness that that they did.

A horrible sentimentality filled me. I was a young man again—a kid really, bright, hopeful, a visionary in technological research. And my mentor was Kris Hideaki, was the lover of my fragile mother: that’s how I met him.

It was a favor to her, really, that he even paid attention to me. And I never did quite trust him. He was cool, aloof, but relentlessly brilliant, and the simplest compliment from him—they were very far and few between—created rapture in my childish soul. He was the only real father I ever had.

But then when I started to get ideas of my own, when I started to sneak out into the real world and felt compassion even for the street rats, whom I didn’t experience as being beneath me, and certainly not expendable—when I became the only person I could become—Kris turned against me. His cool aloofness became a hard rigidity that erupted into an all-out desire to kill me. Yes, kill. Before I would have said—maybe disarm me, or somehow get rid of me. But now I  picked up his signature signal in Fischer’s technological feed, and his plan was really to kill us all.

I could hardly stand the thought. Uneasy feeling swelled up inside of me. I thought I’d go mad.

A beep. I had to gather my thoughts. I was being summoned.

I answered the call.

“We got him now, sir.”

That referred to a militia man whose family had been killed by Cayman Fischer. I had hopes that he might turn and give us the valuable information that we needed.

“I’ll be right there,” I replied.

ASHEAH CATORI

Once the war started, I began to forget that anything else had existed. It wasn’t an exciting time—at least not for me. It was, if anything excruciatingly boring

True, there were times when I had to make life and death decisions. But I dreaded them for the most part. I was never sure if I had targeted the right building—and even if I did, I didn’t relish killing the people inside.

The one exception to that was when Pax was on maneuvers. He didn’t hide who he was—though it would have made sense for to have done. But that was not Pax.

And so, I was doubly careful making sure he was covered, and not thinking twice about targeting anyone posed to knock him off.

I was so efficient that Pax once reproved me for taking out a militia soldier, reminding me that we were not there to get individuals, but to have them lead us to their bunkers—so that we could takeout as much of their operation as possible. But, he added with his usual smile, he was deeply touched that I should go out of my way—to make sure he was safe.

Indeed, Pax was the only bright light in all of this. The bunker system was large—and endless, comprised of several different communities, as well as military and technological sites.

Pax and his associates—and he had hired thousands of people over his career—must have taken years to build all this. This is where he’d obviously invested the bulk of his money. Could he had been preparing for war all along? There had been a rumour that he was doing just that—he had denied it, and I dismissed it as alarmist .But I could see where the rumour came from.

And yet Pax seemed as distressed by the war and—the horrors it involved—as everyone else. Though he did his best to keep everyone’s spirits up.

I often entered the hologram program, becoming immediately conscious of all the other participants. I was at one of Pax’s speeches.

He was relaxed, and his eye contact seemed to be with me alone.

“I know how hard you have suffered. How you despair. With you I abhor the violence, and long for peace. But we know,” he added in a sincere tone, “what we fight for is just.”

His voice was becoming louder.“We fight for all the people of the earth, that they can have clean air, good food for their bellies, education and opportunities for their children. We fight”—Pax’s voice reached and crescendo—“for our lives!”

I was moved to tears.

Pax appeared everywhere. In holograms and in person, he gave speeches, offered personal words of encouragement, and did whatever he could to give the people hope.

I couldn’t help admiring him and had to admit that my feelings might have even gone beyond that. And I was pleased that despite all his duties, he seemed determined to keep our friendship going.

And it was my friendship with Pax that first caught Dee’s attention .I liked Dee. She was young, and when she was off duty, she maintained an air of frivolous joy. I’m not sure how she did it, but I wondered if she saw what we doing as being more like a computer game, not quite real.

She had her own circle of friends, but gravitated towards me on occasion.

I was sitting in the staff recreation area, admittedly trembling. I had ordered a strike during my shift, and now I was beginning to sense that I may have made a mistake. I tried to control myself. I did what seemed to be best at the time. And there was no concrete reason to suspect I’d made a mistake, just some facts that didn’t fit in a way that I liked.

Dee sat down across from me. Without any preamble, she stated, “You know Pax personally.”

“We go back a long way,” I said. “There has to be an advantage of getting older.”

“And you even met Reina Hideaki?”

That seemed so long ago—almost a different life.

“I once went to her apartment,” I admitted.

“The beauty of it all!”Her eyes sparkled. “The shimmering apartment overlooking the city. What was it like?”

Despite Dee’s enthusiasm, I had no desire to relive the experience.

“I was only there once,”I felt compelled to say. “As part of my work  I’m from a background similar to yours. I worked as a Legislative Assistant to Karen Parks.”

“In  the same legislature  you just targeted? Oh, I’m sorry.” She seemed genuinely embarrassed. “It’s not officially out. Myles gets all the latest, and he passes it all on to me—”

Suddenly, I heaved, and rushed into the wash room .I dropped to the floor and vomited into the toilet .It quickly disposed of the vomit and cleaned me and the area.I fell to my knees and began to sob.

I felt someone’s arms around me. The next thing I remember was being gently led out of the sterile washroom to a couch in the recreation area.

When I did finally look up, I saw that it was Pax who sat beside me.

Pax began, “I’m sorry, Ash. It must be devastating for you.”

“But Karen !She was more than just my employer—she was a friend! And I did it! I ordered the attack!”

“I know, I know,” Pax said gently. “But sometimes these things happen in war. They can’t be helped. “

I was stunned. “You’re okay with this!”

Pax was taken aback by my outburst.

He stood and declared, “No! Of course not! But Ash, we have to be realistic. They were propping up Cayman Fischer’s government. Think of what will happen if he wins!”

“I’m so confused!”

I almost screamed.

Pax sat down beside me, intensely staring into my eyes. “I don’t like it any more than you do. But it’s the new world we live in.”

There was a beep and Pax moved off the couch.

“I have to go now,” he muttered, squeezing my hand.

Justas he was leaving, Petrov emerged from the shadows. Pax was not surprised to see him.

He approached Petrov and patted his arm, “Sorry. I realize this is hard for you, too .I want to talk but I have to go now.”

Pax left.

“He’s beginning to like it,”Petrov said.

Then he left, too.

CAYMAN FISCHER

It was the underlings who were killed in the Legislature bombing. Pax Inti did me a favour. No more “accountability” to the pathetic masses. Gone was the façade that they mattered. As if they ever really did!

Of course, we knew that the rebels were approaching the Legislature.

Lowell, my top aide, came to me with the proposal of evacuation.

He stood in front of my desk, in the stiff spotless uniform that indicated that he was part of the provisional government. I, too, now wore the same type of uniform.

I smiled at Lowell. He and his followers had fit in well, easily exchanging their Lord for me.

Lowell clipped his heels—as was his way—before addressing me.

“President Fischer, we have to consider evacuating the Legislature. We can relocate to the Hideaki estate which is much better protected.”

“All of us?”I asked.

“Ideally yes,” Lowell stated, adding, “Though in practical terms there may not be the time and resources evacuate everyone in safety.”

“That is most regrettable,” I replied cautiously.

“But you must save yourself and our leadership,” Lowell continued. “Without you, our cause is lost. The rest of us don’t matter.”

My heart swelled with gratitude when I heard this. But I knew I must be practical as well.

“You, of course, are an indispensable government official and will be evacuated with us.”

Did I see a look of relief on Lowell’s face? I was amused: here was the kind of underling I wanted to keep.

It was only a few hours later that, protected by my own personal guard (I refused the protection of the militia ,much to Mallick’s chagrin), I hurried out of the Legislature into the waiting vehicle. Lowell followed me.

I was slightly surprised—though maybe I shouldn’t have been—that Mallick was already seated in the vehicle.

He didn’t even acknowledge me. He had his computer module set up to small screen and was giving his full attention to the military scene unfolding on it.

A militia unit had captured some civilians. They looked to be little more than street rats: painfully thin, clothed in assorted rags, skittish, terrified. The militia had rounded them up and now was awaiting orders.

Mallick nodded his head. The militia fired, and the civilians dropped like flies.

He muttered, “Weeding out the chaff…”

Lowell looked straight forward, trying to ignore what I suspect he saw as excesses. He could still afford to be squeamish about some things.

I could not. I didn’t care about the people killed—it was their fate to die, as they had shown themselves to be unfit to live.

But I did care about Mallick and the power he was accumulating. The militia had given him a sense of purpose and concrete direction. No longer having to justify his actions, he now moved with a sense of confidence and increasing self importance. I didn’t trust him before .I trusted him less now.

I decided to use the one leverage I still had.

“Let’s have a drink,”I suggested.

Mallick didn’t drink as much as he used to There were even days when he was reasonably sober. Still, he seemed to need it  And it didn’t always take much to get him to get him unhinged.

PAX INTI

I left Asheah with turbulent feelings .Of course, I loved her as much as I could love an individual, given the scope of my duties. But she seemed so immature, so sentimental.

That much I was aware of as I entered the war room where Myles was patiently waiting for me.

I plopped myself down in my chair. Myles, though young, looked at me quizzically. I felt comfortable with him, so I spoke my mind.

“I understand Asheah’s revulsion at ordering the attack that killed her former friends,” I began, my words heavy. “But this war! This is how it is now! I want to tell her: Grow up!”

I felt anger at being the only one who was willing to accept the realities of war, tired of comforting people who still wanted to indulge in childish sentiments.

I got up from the chair and began to pace the room.

Myles diplomatically cleared his throat. “It’s hard to take on the responsibilities of being leader. You have to make sure some very unpleasant things are done—things that other people would prefer to ignore.”

I turned to Myles and gave him a fatherly pat on his arm. “How can one so young be so wise?”

Myles said modestly, “You were a lot smarter when you were young.”

I waved that aside. “Nonsense! I was a silly child, indulging myself in world that no longer exists!”

“But surely, you were only training to become the leader that we now all need.”

I smiled. “Now Myles, be careful. You’re going a bit too far in your flattery.”

Myles smiled faintly, and then as if gathering up courage, added, “But you bolster the people up, encourage them in the struggle. In you, they see their dream and find the courage to march towards it.”

Suddenly it hit me.

“Myles, you are a dark horse,”I said playfully.“As a drone technician, you are all work, barely able to take your eyes off your screen. You don’t have any friends—except Dee, of course .I always imagined that she was the one who drew you out—”

“She does,”Myles said smiling.“And it’s very pleasant.”

He paused, then added, “Something that I’d recommend, sir. Everyone would understand if our leader had a lover. It would make him more human, and dare I say, give you an outlet beside your work.”

“An outlet?” I asked. “Asheah is an old trusted friend, not an outlet.”

Neverthelessm deep down inside, I felt a warmth stir. I liked the idea . As I was sure Asheah would.

Myles stood to leave. “I must go now. Duty calls.”

Before he could exit the room, I said, “About the Legislature being destroyed. I’m not sure everyone could handle that. It may be best not to upset them with it.”

“A wise decision,” Miles responded. “Reality isn’t for everyone.”

He left.

I sat there, my eyes closed, hearing in my mind the people’s adulation: their boisterous cheers when I made a speech; their joy at seeing me, delight in talking to me; and the encouragement they felt when I told them to hang on—our cause is right, and we will be victorious.

Maybe Myles was right: reality wasn’t for everyone.They needed me in way I’d never been needed before .I was their one true leader. That was something.

ASHEAH CATORI

The rest of the week I was in a haze. I was given the next day off, but didn’t feel that I could take more because we were so short of personnel.

The first day back was a nightmare. But I was on restricted duty, basically given fairly obvious situations to handle—though every time I called a strike, I shook within. In my mind’s eye I saw the Legislature Building tumble down around Karen and my former colleagues, crushing them to death, as they made a desperate attempt to flee.

The only bright light was Pax’s occasional visit. He liked to talk about old times, gently calling me “Ash” with a wistfulness that made him even more enduring .I could see the war was taking its toll, and I was beginning to hope that he had the same feelings for me as I had for him.

I wasn’t the only one.Pax was adored by everyone. With one possible exception—Jeremiah Petrov.

Ironically, it was Pax who encouraged me to speak to Petrov. I wasn’t sure why. I had the feeling that maybe he wanted me to check Petrov out. So, I did try.

Petrov was sitting in the recreation area all alone, as he often was. I sat down with him.

He looked at me stiffly, obviously uncomfortable.

“I just thought I’d see how you’re doing,”I began.

“As okay as one can be after one’s former friends and family are essentially dead,” he said bleakly. “They all changed their loyalty to Lowell. Even my wife and my stepchildren took his side against me when I made the decision to go outside and see the situation myself. I had been corrupted by Satan, they said.” I detected a crack in his voice. “But they were my family and I love them. I mourn for them every day.”

I wasn’t prepared for him to so blunt.

I could barely say, “I didn’t realize—”

“No, of course  not.”He looked at me directly. “You seem to take it all in stride.”

“I’m not sure I do,” I admitted. “It’s just the way things are. We have to move on—”

“But is this the direction the Lord wants me to take?” Petrov  got up. He began to pace.

I lost it.“The Lord! The Lord!” I stood up, too. “Can’t you talk about anything else?”

“You mean, your Lord?”Petrov’s voice dripped of sarcasm. “Pax Inti?”

I was taken aback.

“One tender word from him and you forget your former colleagues and friends. You follow him like a puppy, ready to do his bidding.”

“Pax has always brought the best out in me,” I fired back.

“Do you realize that the destruction of the Legislature has been hushed up? He’s not prepared to tell his followers about it. He doesn’t want to be honest about what we’re really doing.”

I admit for a moment, I was taken aback. Pax was always so engagingly honest .But maybe now with all his new responsibility…

“I would be careful not to make him my Lord,” Petrov added.

“Are you saying we shouldn’t trust Pax?”

“No,” Petrov replied. “I’m just saying Pax is human, open to temptation like the rest of us.”

“Religious gobbledygook,” I muttered.

“On the contrary,” Petrov continued. “I would highly recommend a study of temptation .I know you don’t like my faith, but what about the religion of your pagan ancestors?”

“Pagan?” I wasn’t sure I cared for the term.

“Pre-Christian then,” Petrov said. “I’ve done some study in the area since I’ve been here. And I must admit I was surprised to see a similarity between many of their teachings and the teachings of my Lord.”

I still wasn’t sure what he was talking about until he reminded me of my long-forgotten historical designation—which included Plains Cree.

“I don’t believe in giving too much weight to historical designations,” I replied.

But he had planted a seed. The next time when things got rough—as they often did—I began to toy with the idea.

I could do some research and create a hologram that would include an elder. That way I could do some interactive learning. It could be another diversion, and any diversion from the reality of war would be welcomed.

* * *

It was amazing that Pax found time to fine-tune the hologram program. Now—as never before—an individual could create a hologram which, filled with the computer’s knowledge, could interact as a more-or-less full participant.

I would have thought he’d have more to do with his time than that .But then, Pax would have enjoyed creating it, and he would also realize the need for people to get away from the daily grind that characterizes a continuing war.

I never appreciated the availability of the program until the first day I entered my new hologram .I was exhausted, feeling worn away by the numbing violence of what was now my everyday life. I was  teetering  at the edge—knowing that I would continue my work tomorrow, but wondering how much longer I could carry on.

So, I was grateful to be able to plug a few coordinates into the computer and then find myself far away in another world.

Though I wasn’t so impressed by where I ended up.

I had programmed the“Plains Cree Elder”setting, and immediately I realized that I expected to be beside a mountain stream, with the grandeur of rugged snow-clad peaks in the distance, or on the cliffs of an ocean shoreline with the sound of pulsating waves in my consciousness.

Instead I found myself on a path through spindly trees, in a gentle rain. It was cool—the leaves at the top of the lean birch were lime green and barely emerging, and the evergreen trees were tall and thin.

My heart began to beat faster .I thought: this is the land of my great grandma, Rose Catori. The memory of her was vivid enough. But how could that be? A poor woman who could somehow afford the oxygen needed to live outside?

Yet, when I entered the clearing, I saw her standing by a small lake. She was wearing her usual blue checkered blouse, faded blue jean skirt, and the old hide jacket that she had decorated when she was young. It was quite a feat, she’d often say with a chagrin, “Don’t let anyone tell you that all our people can sew!”She never did decorate another jacket.

It all seemed so real—as if it was a real memory. But it couldn’t be. It was just a hologram. Wishful thinking—rather than actual memory.

A gentle rain was falling .Great Grandma Rose was watching a beaver swimming on the lake.

I headed down, drawn to Great Grandma Rose, and at same time, mindful of every step my foot made on the ground, taking care to avoid the small emerging plants that littered my way.

When I came up to her, she took a deep, satisfied breath and then said, “The peace you seek is here. In this moment after the fresh spring rain, in the calm and beauty, all of creation is gathering its forces to surge forward, to grow, to blossom and to bear fruit—with the single focus of becoming all it’s meant to be. All is well with the world.”

She called to the beaver, who swam up the shoreline, then walked up to her.

I stood there in awe. I had never seen a lake like this, or even a beaver. The woodlands in front of me had been cleared away or destroyed by the global warming fires. Yet the memory of all this was so vivid, so real.

I felt a peace as I bent down by the water, and throwing a stone in, saw the ripples gently flow out from its centre. It was a beautiful experience—one that filled me with calm and serenity.

A feeling that quickly left me when I returned to reality.  All was not well with the world, I told myself.

Still I appreciated the hologram. It was an a badly needed diversion from the grinding reality of war.

* * *

I can’t say that I ever got used being a drone guidance technician. After the Legislature was destroyed, it was even worse. I kept thinking: only if  I hadn’t been part of it. Maybe I wouldn’t have even known about it. Why didn’t they just use AI to home in on the targets?

I asked Pax about it after our night together.

He had been tense. I’d tried to tease whatever was bothering him out of him. But it hadn’t worked.

So I asked him in a half serious manner, “You’re always so keen on AI. Why not just devise a program that would make the decisions about the strike, leaving the human factor out of it?”

He was putting on his battle fatigues after he climbed out of our bed. He looked older, his face pale with frown lines that never quite went away. He was no longer spontaneous, yet had a purposeful bearing, a charisma that eradiated confidence and drive.

“What a question, Ash,” he said with a smile. He leaned over and kissed me. “Now I thought you’d be the one who would argue that we needed the human factor.”

“It’s just that the hologram Elder said, ‘All is right in the world.’ And I guess I always thought that all would be right in the world if people would only do the right thing. But now the right thing is—” I couldn’t bring myself to continue.

“Come on, Ash.”Pax looked at me, slightly disapproving. “You’re being sentimental. All wasn’t well in the world—even then.”

He went to put on his combat boots. I thought for a moment—how odd he was wearing those boots in the bunker. He certainly didn’t need them. Yet, they were part of his uniform, and lately I only saw him in his uniform. It was beginning to be hard to imagine him without it.

He started putting one on. “Weren’t you the one who had an unnamed ancestor with two families—the first family having been wiped out in an epidemic? I could understand stoic acceptance of the inevitable. But when it doesn’t have to be inevitable…”

He put his second boot on.

I wasn’t totally satisfied.

Pax could see that, so he came over to me, as I put my feet over the side of the bed.

“I don’t come from that background,” Pax continued. “My ancestors were the Inca .We conquered, built cities, created an amazing system of roadways, studied the stars. We never thought: ‘All is well with the world.’ We were fierce warriors and changed things because we could.”

He sat down beside me, adding, “Maybe that’s why it’s important not to take the human factor out—even if we could.”

I froze. The words, though icy ,came tumbling out. “You’re beginning to like this.”

“Oh, Ash, of course not.” He gave me a hug. “I hate the violence. But it has to be done.”

He sighed.“Just as I dislike asking this—though it has to be done.”

I shot him a quizzical look. “Ask what?”

His voice was grim. “We have a leak—valuable information is, somehow, reaching Fischer and his associates. Do you know anything about it?”

I was horrified. “You don’t suspect me!”

“Of course not.”

But I looked into his eyes and I swear I saw a moment of doubt. It had crossed his mind.

“I trust you with my life—”he said, gesturing at the unmade bed.

After all, hadn’t we just made love?

“But that associate of yours—Petrov—possibly we didn’t vet him properly. You have some background with him. Maybe you try to engage him some more—see if he’s up to something? Or if you pick up anything else…”

He gave me a peck on my check and stood up.

“Of course,” I said, scrambling to get my thoughts together.

Pax turned with a faint smile. “Ash, this is war. We all have to ask the unpleasant questions. Even do the unthinkable. I wish all was right with the world.”

And he left.

CAYMAN FISCHER

My essential military staff and I were now comfortably settled at the Hideaki Estate.

I should say “comfortably” in both the physical and military sense.

We evacuated essential military personnel out of the Legislature. Kris Hideaki had reinforced the technology of our weapons systems. Whatever was destroyed had now been replaced, and then some.

I also found my living quarters much more to my liking. Despite the war, the sheer luxury of the Hideaki estate was intact. I appreciated it even more now, after enduring the primitive living conditions of the Legislature.

But I couldn’t say that I was comfortable in my mind.

For one thing, I wondered about the Hideakis’ loyalty.

Reina had been more than unusually cool with me. Kris, though doing his work, had avoided me. Did he—indeed did both of them—consider me out of their league?

I became wary of them—even more so after I realized the mistake that Reina made which had placed all of us in jeopardy.

I was outside the house, enjoying the precious oxygen-laden air, and standing by a tall oak tree. There was a children’s swing tied to the tree’s main branch. I cringed asI remembered that Reina had children.

And sure enough, a young boy dashed out of the house. He ran over to the swing and jumped on it.

Looking at me he said ,“Give me a push, Mister?”

I could barely hide my anger. One of Reina’s brats. We had never met. He didn’t know who I was. But my bearing and my uniform should have demanded his respect. He should never had dared to talk to me, let alone address me in this way.

“Like the other stiff man,” the boy said. “He pushed me way up to the sky.”

Furious, I felt frozen to my spot. I had to restrain myself: I wanted to slap him, but I knew better.

I heard Reina’s voice behind me. “Come on Cesare.  It’s time to go in.”

Cesare climbed off the swing, grumbling, “I just wanted him to push on the swing like that stiff man did. And you could see how high I could go—just like that kind lady.”

The boy’s words jarred me.

“The stiff man?”I wasn’t sure who that could be.

“He means Petrov. He was here once.”

I felt anger rise in me.

That insignificant piece of shit!I made him what he was, and he betrayed me.

But I had to stay focused.

“And who,”I found myself demanding, “was the kind woman?!”

Reina’s stony stare made me calm. I wasn’t going to get anywhere demanding things of her.

After a few moments, she said, “Asheah Catori was there that day, too.”

“Asheah Catoricame to the estate?” I was stunned. “Do you know what that means? She would have had her computer module with her. She would have access to the coordinates of the estate. And need I remind you that she is now in the camp of the enemy?”

Reina’s words were cool and steady. “Out and out war was never part of our plan.”

There it was again: the admission that she and her Kris had not wanted the war. Somehow that was all my doing—a blunder on my part.

Obviously, they did not have the vision of the new order that I had. They could not be trusted to follow me with true conviction.

The only reason that they still supported me was that they had no alternative. Pax and his crew would destroy their freedom, supposedly for the collective good—though more likely out of sheer revenge.

I was furious. I found myself pacing around, one idea burning itself into my brain.

“To be betrayed by that sniveling  bitch !I’m going to hunt her down and tear her apart piece by piece! She has to be made an example of.”

I stopped, aware that both Reina and her son were looking at me. This was not the time or place.

“You’re overreacting,” Reina said calmly. “Asheah’s not worth it.”

How dare she say that?! I could have smacked her. But I had enough sense to keep my cool.

Reina took her son’s hand. “It’s just a fluke that she’s in a position to threaten us. We have to deal with that—that’s all. I’m taking Cesare to his room. We could meet in maybe a half hour—say in the Conference room. Maybe Mallick would be so gracious as to join us.”

I inclined my head in deference. We needed her money and her brother’s expertise.

I had to be gracious even as I wondered: was she protecting Asheah? If so, why?

* * *

A half hour later, I entered the Conference room, one of my private guards following me. I always have a personal guard around me now—sometimes unseen, sometimes not.

Adam Mallick is already there, seated at the table. He has two of his militia commanders with him.

They both stand up to attention as I enter. “Ari Hyde Smith: Persian, Chinese and English!” one barked out.

The other barked, “Jon Suzuki Miller: Japanese, German and Mongol.”

I nodded my head in acknowledgement, grinding my teeth in order to quell the fury inside.

Since Mallick was the commander of the all-powerful militia, he now had bodyguards.

He seemed to have forgotten who gave him the militia in the first place, just as the men in his militia seemed to forget who their leader was supposed to be.

When we were victorious, I would remind them who was boss.

My thoughts were interrupted by Reina’s entrance. She sat down at the table, indicating that the rest of us still standing were to do the same.

The militia men, at first, resisted. They wanted to stand as the bodyguards they really were. But Reina’s dark frown changed their minds. Or rather, they looked to Mallick, who indicated that they should sit down. They did. My bodyguard remained standing, as there never was the pretense that he ever was anything else. I was pleased.

Reina began, “I called this meeting because we have a problem.”

Wait a minute now, I was in charge. I called the meetings. Lately, Reina had been showing me no respect. I glared at her, but she didn’t care to notice.

So, I did the best I could. “A problem caused by your sloppiness.”

It was Reina’s turn to glare at me.

“I’m only trying to state the case bluntly,” I continued. “Something you say you prize.”

Reina, frowning darkly, showed restraint.

“There is a very serious security breach,” I began. “One of the members of the Resistance has the encryption codes for the estate coordinates. They could launch an attack at any time.”

Mallick leaned forward. “Can’t Kris change the coordinate’s encryption code?”

“My brother’s skills are impressive,” Reina replied with a touch of sarcasm. “But even he can’t change the position of a physical building. Hide it—yes. But any part of the encryption sequence would tell an experienced programmer what he or she wanted to know.”

Mallick shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

I could barely control the smirk on my face. He was losing it—maybe wet brain was finally kicking in.

“It is,” I began in an authoritative voice, “the proverbial game of cat and mouse. We must be the cat. Fortunately, I have assured that we are.”

I tapped the table. A computer module came up from the under the table. It folded out into a screen. Lowell appeared.

I barked out the order.“In the Conference Room! Post Haste!”

The call was quickly terminated and a few moments later, Lowell dutifully walked through the conference room door.

He clicked his heels together as stood in front of me.

“Yes, Sir?”

“Lowell, inform us about the mole.”

Dutifully, he explained, “We have an operative embedded in the enemy’s camp. The mole  is currently pursuing two options. The first is to recover the stolen code from Asheah Catori’s computer module. The second is to communicate the coordinates of the Rebel’s command centre. Pax Inti’s security is excellent. But the operative is in an influential position and is making good headway in his work.”

I was pleased. Expansively I thanked Lowell.“A superb job! Well done!”

Mallick, of course, was not so happy. His gaze at Lowell was steady and cold. “You’re keeping me informed? You can do nothing without the militia.”

“Of course, I will,” Lowell lied. He knew the chain of command: inform me and then I would choose to inform the militia—when and if I desired.

“We are even working with Kris Hideaki. He is available when we need him.”

Reina smiled tightly. “That’s odd. Even I can’t get hold of Kris when I want to—and I’ve told him—it’s a matter of life and death.”

I scowled. I couldn’t wait for women to be put back into their proper place.

Reina noticed my scowling and continued, “But that’s not my one concern here, my concern is Asheah Catori. What’s she up to?”

I muttered under my breath, “That little bitch!” I was furious.

ButI had to control myself—at least for the time being.

I simply said, “Whatever it is, she will be stopped.”

I stood and put out my hand to Lowell.

“Thank you for all your excellent work,”I told him. “Now gentlemen and… lady, I’m sure we all have work to do.”

I shook Lowell’s hand and he followed me to the exit.

As we left the Conference Room, I noticed a young girl sitting at small table. Another of Reina’s children, though instead of running towards a swing she was sitting quietly playing with a hologram, matching shapes and equations in an impressive way.

I went over to her and commented, “You’re a good little girl. I bet Mommy and Daddy are very proud.”

The girl still had a dark frown on her face, but she quietly obeyed Reina. She turned off the hologram and followed her mother down the corridor.

She stared at me, her face so full of contempt that I wanted to smack her. But I restrained myself and gave her a slight nod and a forced smile.

“Lucy.” I heard Reina’s voice. “You can finish up later.”

I watched them go. Would I ever be rid of the children and the fools of this world?

Someday I intended to be.

ASHEAH CATORI

I wasn’t too pleased with Pax’s request.

After I’d talked to Petrov that one time, I had avoided him. I had more to do with Dee and Myles.

Dee certainly had younger friends, but there were times when she just wanted to talk to me. She was an artist—especially when it came to interior design. She showed her portfolio to me once—breathtaking designs of living spaces that came together in arresting symmetry. She even suggested designs that would fit into Reina’s sprawling apartment. I had to agree that they would.

It was a world she longed to enter, and could have made a real contribution to.But I was aware, more than ever, that she had been excluded from that world by her birth. It had become virtually impossible to bridge that gap.

It was really through Dee that I got to know Myles. The only thing he seemed to be interested was technology—but he did like Dee .And Dee knew how to get him to come out of himself. She teased him and cajoled him, and he seemed genuinely fond of her.

But Petrov  I had as little to do with as possible. He got on my nerves.

Still, I sat down with him in the Workers’ Lounge just before our shift. He looked up from his book. He was the only person who read from a book here.

I smiled to myself: that alone was enough to make him suspect.

He glared at me, obviously wanting to talk to me as little as I wanted to talk to him. But I had sat down and there was no way we could avoid it.

“I just thought I’d sure how you were doing,” I began.

His stony expression told me that he didn’t buy that for a moment.

Iasked, “What are you reading? ”As soon as I spoke the words I realized, Of course, it’s the Bible.

“Re-reading it,” Petrov said coolly.“And I have to admit it’s been an eye-opener.”

I must have looked surprised, because he continued, “I know you think I’m just a parrot, squawking out scripture. But I follow Jesus Christ, who died for my sins. I read his word to tell me how to live. Sometimes it challenges me.”

Well, I thought,that’s a new one. Before he was so cock-eyed sure in his self-righteousness.

“Here– ” He consulted the book earnestly. “In Luke it says,‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’”

“You were right,” he said to me, “when you said that my concern for my community was too small. My concern should be for everyone.”

I didn’t actually remember saying that, though I certainly thought it.

“But,” he continued, closing his book, “what do you want?”

I was surprised by his bluntness. So, I decided to be blunt.

“There’s a leak somewhere—”

“And Pax thinks it could be me.”

“You have to admit that at one point you were in the enemy camp.”

“So were you,” Petrov reminded me.

“I was just a petty bureaucrat.”

“You got pretty close to Reina Hideaki—”

“But that was different!”

He looked at me in a way that said without words, “Really?”

This conversation was getting nowhere.

Petrov sensed that, too.

“I don’t betray people,” he said simply. “I’m here at the moment. I do my job. I’m up to nothing else.”

“But you don’t trust Pax,”I put out.

“As much as I trust another person,” Petrov replied. “You forget I had a rude awakening with Cayman Fischer. I trusted him, and look where it got me.”

I was adamant. “But Pax isn’t Cayman Fischer!”

“Maybe so,” Petrov said calmly.“That doesn’t mean that I agree with all that he does.”

“Pax is open to having people disagree with him,” I replied.

“Is he?” Petrov asked, a touch of cynicism in his voice.“Isn’t that why you’re here?  Because I don’t mindlessly applaud every decision he makes?”

“I don’t mindlessly applaud every decision he makes!”I was furious. “If I disagree with him, I tell him!”

“Lately?”Petrov asked.

“Well,” I have to admit, “maybe not so much. But this is different, this is war. I trust him implicitly.”

Petrov took out a computer module. He put it on the table in front of him.

“I never carried one of these before,” he said. “I rejected all forms of technology. But now I see how silly I was. It’s a helpful device. Why not use it?”

I stared at the device.

“Of course, you always carried one. On the day you dared to go out on the streets. On the day you went to Reina’s estate. You could give Pax and his friends the exact coordinates. Valuable information, wouldn’t you say? So why haven’t you? If you trust him so much.”

That was a good question.

“I don’t know why,”I had to admit. I was aware I had the coordinates, but resisted doing anything about it.

“Maybe there’s hope for you yet.” Petrov got up.

I could have killed him.

But he was right.

“Time for us to get to work.”

* * *

M. C. Piper

Creative Catastrophizing…Political Phase Part 3

Interestingly enough, today I’m struggling with basing my serenity/my sense of well being on what people do or how things are “working out”. That is, if I see myself or others falling short of what I think we should be doing; or things not working out as they “should” then I become angry, disillusioned, resentful. I reminded of the song : “Is that all there is?”… I can go there easily enough… and that’s why I’ve always been interested in story/fantasy.

More recently, it started when I returned to the world of my childhood cowboy hero via Youtube. It was was an exciting world where the good guys were incorruptible and the bad guys we just plain rotten. Every week the good guys would win and justice would be served–until next week. I wrote a scene in my first Novella “Passionate Hero” based on an actual scene in one episode. In it, the cowboy hero, Trey Gallant, argues a case against a corrupt judge in a saloon. Having demonstrated to all the guilt of the judge, Trey finds the willing townspeople more than eager to arrest the judge and have him taken take to jail.

If only it was that simple…!

I recently wrote an article that suggested that the issue in modern politics isn’t Socialism vs. Capitalism, but rather the issue of corruption. That is, most politicians start out believing in some form of ideals. But somehow, things sometimes change. Maybe they see the possibility of getting rich if they support certain interests; or maybe they like their power and holding onto it becomes their priority.

Or their actions can have unintended consequences.

I don’t like Nietzche but I do like his quote: “Beware of fighting Monsters, lest you become one yourself.” However noble your cause, resorting to violence can shape you in ways–that you never imagined…

I don’t want to be negative about politicians. They are simply human beings like the rest of us. Human beings–in deed all beings–are really incredible in terms of their makeup, their intelligence, creativity…we need to celebrate that and each other…

And yet we do some very real limitations…one of them being–that we are capable of professing one thing–even think we “believe it”– and doing another.

I’m not sure the source but I love the quote: “You find out what you believe by how you find yourself ACTING.” Such a quote reminds us that what we do–is in the end what tells us most about ourselves….and what we really do believe about ourselves and our world.

Enough of this…As I said in a previous blog. I am now past my “political phase” of Creative Catastrophizing …

And as part of the process of “leaving this all behind” I decided to put my Novella from that “era” on my blog as a five part series…So below is Part 3…

Thanks for your time and consideration

M. C. Piper

CAYMAN FISCHER

It is all going according to plan.

Adam, for all his pompous arrogance ,had a steel-clamped mind when focused on a task .He created the militia with incredible efficiency and they were on the streets within hours of the announcement. Once established, they would be much harder to get rid of.

I chuckled, pleased with myself.

People had seen the full power of what we could do when we were on their side. A graphic warning of what could happen… if they dared to defy us.

I had the support of the Hideakis as well, though it seemed that they didn’t want us to go too far. Reina had come over that morning after consulting with Kris.

She walked into the office—cool and dressed in perfectly coordinated fashion. She was a ravishing woman; my instincts flared up .But I was no fool. Nor was she. I saw in her eyes that she knew the reaction that she caused in me .It took me off my guard—if only for a second.

I stood up and came out from behind my desk.

I extended my hand affably, “Reina! How lovely to see you! I see that you still insist on walking.”

“That’s one of the few things my brother and I disagree on,” Reina replied. “I still see some value in the physical.”

“But I take it”— I indicated the chair in front of my desk, and Reina obliged me by sitting down in it—“That you’re here to talk about things that you do agree on.”

I made my way back to my desk and sat down.

“We agree on our support for you, if that’s what you mean,” she said coolly.“We also agree that the violence shouldn’t get out of control.”

I tried not to show my irritation. “I only want to do what is good for the country.”

“Of course,” Reina replied coolly.

I saw skepticism in her eyes.

We understood each other perfectly. Ambitious, I only wanted what was good for my advancement. Just as she wanted only what is good for the advancement Hideaki Conglomerate, her power base.

And we both needed each other. Kris Hideaki might decry the physical world, but both Reina and I were practical enough to realize that we had to live in it.

“What is good for the country is what is good for Hideaki Conglomerate,” Reina added.“Where else can you get the latest weapon technology? Or the technology necessary to supplement the Earth’s dwindling oxygen and food supply?”

“And where else,” I felt compelled to reply, “Will you find unqualified support for you and your family’s work? No holds barred? No questions asked?”

“We need a stable situation in which to flourish, as you can well understand.”

A buzz, and my computer popped up with a message on the screen. A request from Jeremiah Petrov: he wanted to see me. I okayed his request .Best not to let Reina get too comfortable.

The door to my office opened. I went over to greet him with a bear hug. As usual, I felt Petrov stiffen. For someone who toted the value ofthe physical, Petrov was inhibited when it came to actual physical contact.

He saw Reina sitting in her chair. He was taken aback. “I can come another time.”

“Not at all,” I replied graciously, indicating a second chair in front of my desk. “I believe you two have met.”

Petrov hesitated—unsure of whether he wanted to sit down. But he obviously thought the better of it, and walked over to the chair, seating himself in it

“Now,” I said, as I rode the walkway back to behind my desk, “what can I do for you?”

I fell back comfortably into my chair.

“I was riding back from Miss Hideaki’s estate,” he began. Reina smiled at the quaint expression.

“My husband’s name is Alexei Wentworth,” she said with a touch of distain.“Although I’ve never changed  my name. And yes, we are married…”

“From—er—”

“The Hideaki estate, you mean,” I put in, secretly irritated. I had to put up with this! Hopefully for not much longer…

“And the violence,” Petrov was beginning to whine.“A man was crushed as he was fleeing from a building! And there were bodies—”

“I know,” I said sympathetically, “I find violence so disheartening…”

Petrov’s startled expression told me that I had said the wrong thing. So I added, “It  devastates me to see violence and destruction.”

Of course, I was lying: I liked wielding power and if anything, the violence stimulated me. It got my blood flowing: I felt alive.

I considered myself the ideal primordial man. The hunter, the warrior—the fittest that the natural world could produce.Within the sophisticated modern context, of course.

I struggled with a smile.  Petrov, for all his desire to return to simpler more physical times, was a mere wimp.

I could always use a reinforcement,  though. I tapped on the desk. The computer came up. Lowell appeared immediately on the screen.

“Lowell,” I said affably. “Your pastor is here. I think he could use reinforcements.”

Lowell responded with, “Be there. Right away.” The computer slipped back into my desk.

“I’m afraid you may be outnumbered,” I said to Reina, who simply inclined her head, barely restraining a look of distain.

Petrov visibly relaxed, as he pushed  his chair out and stood up, ready to greet Lowell as he entered. “How are you, son?”

“Always ready to serve the Lord,” Lowell replied, almost—though not quite—clicking the backs of his shoes together.

I, too, stood up, and felt a stir of satisfaction as Lowell joined our group. “You know Reina.”

Lowell’s smile and manners were cordial .He inclined his head toward her respectfully.

Petrov looked confused. Of course, he didn’t realize how as my aide, Lowell had to learned to do what I wanted—without question. And being on good terms with Reina was an absolute necessity.

Lowell sat down.

I began, “Your pastor here is understandably upset about the violence on the streets. Concerned, I believe, that the militia might be adding to it.”

Reina got out of her chair, and with a click, accessed the large picture window that opened onto the lawn. She looked out on the lush green manicured grass, the perfect trees and tasteful gardens that filled the landscape. I knew Reina appreciated this scene, considering its beauty and order essential to her life. I was glad that I had ordered it to be created.

For a moment, Petrov, too was distracted by the view from the picture window—I saw within his eyes a longing for this beauty, too. I felt confident that I could win him totally over.

Lowell turned to Petrov. “Jeremiah, surely you remember John the Baptist’s words: ‘The Lord…has a winnowing fork in his hand…and he will gather his wheat to the granary but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”

“I have no doubt that there is judgment for those who deserve it,” Petrov began. “But the destruction I saw—”

“Was deserved by those who felt its wrath,” Lowell replied simply. “Have you any reason to think otherwise?”

“Mr. Fischer is not a professed believer. I know that in the past, God used Cyrus, but that did not mean that the people followed Cyrus without question.”

“Ah! Ah!” I said with a hearty laugh, “A deep thinker! I admire that! But come!” I stood up. “I see from your occasional look out the window that you like the outdoors.”

Petrov stood up as well and followed me over to the picture window. Like the lapdog he was, Lowell followed us as well.

Reina said seemingly artlessly, “I noticed that Mr. Petrov has an eye for natural beauty.”

“I revel in God’s creation, and regret that so many of my followers are not able to see such a sight,” Petrov said stiffly.

“I’m not sure that God deserves all the credit. Without the technology of my brother and his colleagues, such a natural preserve wouldn’t be possible.”

“But in the beginning before we strayed!”Petrov  raised his hand to encompass the scene before him.“God gave us such a world to live in.”

“A rather unpredictable world at best.” Reina couldn’t let this one past. “Governed by nature—an impersonal driving force, impervious to human life. What life it gives”—Reina snapped her finger—“it just as quickly takes away.”

Petrov looked genuinely shocked. “It is the Lord who governs the world. If we remain steadfast to him, he will provide.”A few moments later he added, “The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

“Exactly,” I said.“You will not lack anything. The Lord will provide. I will see to that.”

Petrov seemed unsure what I meant.

I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice.“Enhanced oxygen is one thing that we have expanded. There are areas that are opening up where people can live in a more natural setting.”

Petrov was obviously interested.

“In time, we will be able to offer your followers a new land to live in as they choose,”I said decisively.

Lowell added, “A land of milk and honey.”

Petrov still looked uncertain.

A bleep .Petrov looked down at his old-fashioned watch.

“It’s time for Bible Study,” he said. “Are you coming, Lowell?”

I gave Lowell a nod.

“Of course,”he said smoothly. As they left, he added, “It is truly joyful that our hope as a people is in sight. God does provide!”

They left.

“Oxygen enhancement is prohibitively expensive,”Reina said, still gazing out at the idyllic scene. “It will take years for it to be available on a large scale—if ever.”

“I simply promised them what they wanted. That’s all that matters. By the time they realize they may not get it—they won’t matter.”

With a slight smile, Reina turned to me.

“With that group, maybe—they pride themselves on their scientific ignorance. But we can’t fool Pax and his people that way. Even Karen Park and her assistant, Asheah,” Reina nodded, and the window closed. “They know too much to blindly accept our promises.”

Suddenly I felt anger, and in a low but distinct voice muttered, “Squish them like the vermin they are!”

“No!” Reina turned towards me. “Whatever happens, we need to maintain a stable order. We have to be in control. I want you to summon Adam Mallick.”

I was usually the one who did the summoning! But I let it pass. Her immense wealth gave her a power I couldn’t ignore. Nor did I want to—at this point.

I dutifully summoned Mallick on the desk computer.

As long as she her family interests were the same as mine, she would use all her considerable expertise to further our cause. She chose to exercise her power from the shadows, and that worked well for me.

Mallick entered promptly.

He was dressed in a rather baggy militia uniform. Even in his military dress, he looked slightly disheveled, middle aged, and overweight. His boots were new, though, and well-polished, and he clicked them together as he stood to attention.

“Adam Mallick. European, Indian Aryan. Rank:Squadron Commander.”

There was a certain restless satisfaction and eagerness about him. Of course, he had finally been in the field, had actually been responsible for some tangible deaths .It agreed with him.

Reina was, however, not so positive. She looked at him quizzically.

“The  way that we introduce ourselves in the militia.”Mallick’s voice barely disguisedhis anger. “Do you have problems with it?”

“Not in principle,”Reina replied. “But there is a problem. It disturbs the wrong people, people whose support we need to maintain.”

Mallick glared at her. Reina didn’t seem to notice.

“You need to restrain yourself,” Reina said coolly. “No more provocative salutes. Only specifically targeted raids.”

Mallick could barely contain himself. “We must do our job!”

“And you will,” Reina replied.“Tighten your grip. But we need the support of the moderates like Karen Park, and her little mouthpiece Asheah Catori. The more they support us, the easier it is to fulfill our agenda. Don’t you agree?”

Mallick was furious, but I knew that he wouldn’t dare oppose her.

“Of course!” he muttered.

Adam went over to the wall and the bar tray came out. He fixed himself a drink and gulped it down. He poured another one.

“I may even have a way into Pax’s lair,” Reina declared.

Mallick was too pissed off to care. But I wasn’t—far from it. Eager as I was to gain real power, I had also learned patience—the patience of a stalking cougar, I liked to imagine.

“Asheah Catori has direct links to Pax Inti,” Reina explained.“We have never been able to get real intelligence on him. He’s always been one step ahead .Asheah could give us that edge—even if she doesn’t mean to do so.”

Reina pointed her finger: the time appeared before her in thin air. Another Kris Hideaki gimmick –soon to be touted and sold with abandon .A sign of his genius, though Reina had more mundane thoughts on her mind.

She began to head towards the door. “Now, I must go. It’s time for my children’s lessons and you know I am a hands-on Mom.”

She left.

Mallick was already on his third drink.

Furious, he slurred his words. “T’at Bitch! We air poised ta start th’ war! An’ she-e’ wants—to f…king stop it!”

He held up his drink and made a toast. “To the day we sent conniving women back to the brothels…where they await our pleasure!”

I walked over to Mallick, indicating that I wanted a drink. He poured one.

“It’s gone too far,” I said coldly, as I took the drink from him. “The war has begun. The Hideakis will soon see that. And they have no other place to go.”

ASHEAH CATORI

As soon as I arrived back at my family cluster, I ran to the bathroom to settle my nerves in private. I was shaking.

It took me awhile to relax. But I needed to. I had to check my family cluster to make sure that everyone was safe…though when I expressed my concern to Daphne, she was surprised.

“But you’re a member of the government. Surely that guarantees our safety?”She went on, “Karen’s already talked about the situation.”

Daphne pulled up our computer screen, and sure enough, Karen was being interviewed.

Karen looked pleased. “Cayman Fischer summoned me and my colleagues earlier today. He listened to our concerns about the escalating violence, and worries that people may be hunted down before actual guilt was established. He admitted that he sometimes acts impulsively and has immediately scaled down the operation. Only those verified to be a real danger to children and their families will be targeted.”

The interviewer asked, “And you trust the verification process—even with Adam Mallick at  the head of it?”

“I trust Cayman Fischer. I may not always agree with him. But I believe he listens to people’s concerns and acts on them. He heard our concerns and will act accordingly.”

“There are people who are not so trusting,” the interviewer continued.“They point out for all the patient listening he does, in the end, he pretty well does what he wants. Aren’t you worried he won’t be true to his word?”

“These people have never worked with him,” she said calmly.“I’ve worked with many politicians over the years—some of whom I have disagreed with on key issues.But we could reach compromises, and trust that each party would abide by the decisions made. This is how our system works.”

“And you believe that Cayman Fischer abides by the same rules, even though he prides himself on being a maverick.”

“In this situation,” she said,“yes.”

I felt relieved. I had a lot of respect for Karen. She was thorough, responsible and fair. If she trusted Cayman Fischer—at least at this moment—then I could, too. Maybe the violence had really stopped. At least on that scale.  And the destruction—an aberration—that could be corrected.

I decided to calm down. I needed to get some rest.

I had barely gotten to my room when I was summoned by my hologram program. I was surprised to see that it was Reina.

Hitherto I had only been summoned in the past to formal face-to-face meetings. This casual use of hologram communication suggested a level of intimacy that surprised me.

I answered the hologram summons and on entering, I found myself fin an ornate room, with stately red walls and golden trim.

Reina, dressed in soft white pantsuit, sat on a delicately decorated couch. She stood up when I arrived and indicated that I was to sit opposite her. I sat down. My chair, though stiff and formal-looking, fitted me perfectly.

Reina began, “I know that you had a rough trip home. I came to assure you that the violence has been significantly curtailed. I saw to that myself. I regret that it cannot be totally stopped… but it is an imperfect world—as both you and I know.”

“I appreciate all that you’ve done,” I replied.

“As I appreciate all that you have done. As a result,” Reina continued, “I am going to offer you and you family cluster an oxygen infusion similar to the one my family and I enjoy. It won’t be quite as extensive, of course. But it will allow your cluster members to be more active physically, and maybe even allow you to create an indoor space where you could grow food naturally.”

I was elated. Tammy and Jesse could run and play as they pleased. And a natural garden could enhance the food quality in the cluster immeasurably.

“Thank you, Reina. I’m so pleased. I can’t thank you enough.”

Reina stood up. I did, too. She then gave me a hug. It was cool, but reassuring.

I stepped back. “I trust that you will also consider rebuilding houses and streets destroyed in the recent attack.”

It might seem an outrageous thing to say after Reina’s gift to me. But I couldn’t help myself.

“Just like you, Asheah.” Reina smiled slightly. “To ask for something more.”

For a moment I was afraid that I had blown it. It must have shown on my face because Reina assured me, “That’s what I like about you. That, and the fact that you’re always concerned for others.”

I relaxed.

“Your friend Pax Inti isn’t involved in the request, I take it?” Reina asked.

“No,” I was surprised by the question. “I haven’t seen Pax in ages.” Our families knew each other even before that. I often wish that I could talk to him. Take a page from your book—”

I was overwhelmingly flattered.

“We may not see eye to eye, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk or even come up with the occasional agreement. For the good of all,” she added.

“You are most kind,” I said.

She extended her hand. I took it. Her hand shake was cool, somewhat detached.

I was pleased.

To be on such terms with Reina Hideaki. It hardly seemed possible.

* * *

It was a few hours later that I decided to contact Pax .But  I couldn’t get through .All I got was a constant bleeping, and then a flash—and the hologram program closed.

What was going on? It wasn’t like Pax to shut down: he was always“out there,” completely open to others. I decided to try another way.

Pax and I used to play a game that involved accessing our computers in the old style of typing. I retrieved a typing page from my computer archives and typed out his hologram information manually, and I sent it. It worked.

Suddenly I found myself in a hologram, sitting across from Pax in a bunker-like room. The furniture was plain: a light blue couch, some matching chairs ,a computer table in front of us, and dark, heavy off-brown overhead beams and walls. I knew that Pax shunned luxury but this…

He looked tense.“This it, Ash. They’re finally coming after us.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “But they’ve stopped the whole scale violence.”

“Have they?” Paxlooked into my face coolly. “There are fewer raids now,but they are more targeted. Going after their enemies now—including me.”

My first reaction was, “My God! They may trace you though this call—”

“Possibly,” Pax said simply.

Then I collected myself. “I can understand why you may feel that way,” I began. “I saw the destruction, too. It was shocking.  But they’ve heard our concerns and may be willing to hear yours, too, Pax.”

Pax’s hologram said, “Show the outside world as it is now.”

Suddenly we were in the middle of utter destruction. I winced, unable to breathe.

Just as suddenly, we were back in Pax’s bunker.

“But surely if this kind of destruction is happening….” I began.

“You’d hear about it.”Pax sighed. He got up and started pacing. “The only people who can afford the security to go out are in league with Fischer. The others need to see what’s happening through outside sources. Fischer has a way of shutting those down. The latest being”—Pax’s face was grim—“the militia blasting down your front door.”

I was unnerved, struggling to catch my cool. But catch my cool, I must. Pax was a good friend, but prone to exaggeration. He didn’t exactly lie, just spun the worst possible outcome into a certainty.

“I can’t think that’s actually happening,” I began . I couldn’t. I wouldn’t believe it.

“Did anyone tell you that the militia are introducing themselves using so-called ‘heritage designations’? The next thing they’ll be reintroducing the concept of race to dehumanize whoever they want out of the way.”

“But we’re past all that. We’re a sophisticated society. Reina and her brother would never let that sort of thing happen—”

“They will allow whatever serves their interest to happen.”Pax’s words were hard, unforgiving.

“But Reina just spoke to me about you,” I said as calmly as I could. “She wants to talk to you. She reminded me that your family and her go back a long way.”

“That’s exactly why I don’t trust them,” Pax responded coolly.

He sat down opposite me and looked into my eyes. “Have you betrayed me, Asheah? Maybe this call was just a way to track me down for them.”

Horrified, I declared, “I would never betray you!”

“Not consciously,”Pax replied.“But you still trust them and that’s just as bad.” He stood up again and looked around the room.“Don’t call me,” he said curtly. “I’ll call you.”

The hologram scenario was gone, and I was back in my room in the family cluster.

* * *

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night. I couldn’t dismiss Pax—for all our differences of opinion he never consciously lied to me, certainly not about something that was physically verifiable—and yet if I accepted what he was saying, then…I couldn’t get my mind around what it meant.

It didn’t help that my family cluster received our oxygen infusion the next day. Daphne and her kids were especially elated. The kids could now hope to run and play, and the idea of a garden where we could raise some natural food meant much-needed nutrition. Tammy’s and Jesse’s lethargic faces forced me to think .How could I begrudge them something that they so obviously needed?

And then there was the brief note from Reina, “A simple thanks for all you’ve done.”

Did that include finding Pax for them?

In the middle of my work for Karen—there was always something to do—I decided that I need to talk with her, face to face. Maybe she could organize a trip outside for some of the members of the Legislature. They could see firsthand what the situation was .Maybe I could go along, too.

I contacted Karen. She was surprised by my request—but she trusted me enough to go along with it. Though, she explained, a face to face meeting was out of the question. Revising security procedures. It happened every once in awhile.I tried not to make too much of it.

I arrived via hologram at her office. She looked up from her computer. “I’m sure there’s a good reason for you calling this meeting. I have several pages to get through before article 394 can be adopted, thus ensuring our ability to follow the legislative format necessary for proper classification.”

Despite everything, I found myself smiling slightly. The truth was that I understood the procedure she was talking about, and in another time and another place I would have shared her concern. Proper procedure was something I understood and valued.

But now…

I simply said, “Something has come up that’s more important. I have reason to believe that the militia is still causing destruction on an unprecedented scale. And that they’re targeting political opponents under the guise of them being Annihilator terrorists.”

“Is your ‘reason to believe’ your friend, PaxInti?”

“He has raised some concerns,” I replied.

“Which we, the elected people of this country, have to answer.” Karen’s response carried a touch of sarcasm, which was unlike her.

My reply came bursting out, “But you didn’t see the destruction! You don’t know what it was like!”

“I thought your friend, Reina, would have explained it to you.”

For the first time I realized that Karen was jealous of my relationship with Reina. She quickly collected herself,  though.

“Look,” Karen said after a few moments, “we asked Cayman Fischer to stop the Annihilator terrorists. He came up with his own plan—admittedly not ours—and it got out of hand .He has corrected it. The militia is now under control, only targeting verified terrorists. I have no reason to believe anything else.”

“But what harm would it do to see for yourself ?”

“It would be a waste of valuable time and energy.” For the first time I could remember, Karen averted her eyes from my face.

“You’ve never lied to me before.” my voice was as steady as it could be.

“Asheah.” Karen sounded exasperated. “Do you realize what you’re suggesting? If Pax is right, then we can’t trust our basic system of government We can’t take people at their word anymore, or negotiate with those we disagree with. The country will plunge into civil war.” Karen’s voice was unsteady. Then focusing, she looked into my eyes.“Are you willing to go that far?”

“Because”—she turned back to her work—“That’s what he’s advocating. No more snide comments, grand gestures in the press, shameless mud-slinging. Out and out civil war. Think about it.”

Her words sent a chill up my spine. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms.

I was dumbfounded.

I must have signed off. I found myself back in my room at my family cluster. I laid down on my bed. It was all a haze. I don’t remember much about what happened next…except that slowly but surely the idea emerged: I have to go outside and see for myself. It was foolhardy, dangerous, but just a few minutes and I could determine for myself what the situation really was.

A beep and I was being summoned. I got up mechanically and answered the door.

It was Daphne.She was all excited, “Reina Hideaki is coming here! Well at least her hologram is…”

“So she’s not even venturing out,”I muttered to myself.

“She’s going to use our family cluster to show how enhanced oxygen can improve lives. She’s set up a charitable foundation to make it accessible to more people. We’re her first recipients! I’m sure it’s because of you!”

I smiled modestly, and dutifully answered Daphne’s questions about what Reina was like. Emphasizing of course, her graciousness and how she was a mother, too.

It was like having a rock star visit—that’s how I presented it to Daphne. Finally, she left.

I had one full day before Reina was to make her appearance. I had to see for myself and decide what to do before then.

The next morning, I would take whatever precautions necessary and venture out into the outside world.

* * *

I don’t really remember rhow I actually got outside .But I did.

I was stunned.

I stood by the rubble, barely able to breathe. An explosion and running footsteps as several militia fighters raced passed me. One turned back to look at me. I saw his steely eyes as he tapped his nose, breathing in an infusion of oxygen.He turned with a shout, and then followed his fellow soldiers .I stepped back—on something . An arm, protruding from beneath the rubble.

I heaved, then  vomited.I was barely aware of my surroundings. I looked up in time to see a militia fighter pointing his gun at me.

Suddenly he fell, and I was grabbed by someone who led me away, limp and disoriented.

I looked up to see…Jeremiah Petrov?

“Wha—re you doin’ here?”I slurred.

Noticeably shaking, he said in as calm a voice as possible, “The Lord told me to come and see for myself. He will protect me—as he did you.”

“Come on.” Suddenly ,Pax appeared beside me. “There’s an entrance to the bunker over there.”

I scrambled towards it. Jerimiah Petrov hesitated.

“I shot the soldier,” Pax said. “Just think of me as an instrument of the Lord.”

Creative Catastrohizing…Political Phase Part 2…or knowing what you’re really capable of doing…

The title of my blog comes from the fact that I was sick this morning; but not sick enough to want to “waste the day”…and so I had to ask myself : what is realistic for me to be doing in terms of writing ? And it came to me: Edit Part 2 of Napoleon Syndrome and put it out on my blog. Now that was not part of my “Master Plan” (which was to put out the serial on a weekly basis–next installment on Thursday) ; but as that plan was only something in my head, I decided to forego it. It’s important for me to be aware of my physical needs and not push myself when I’m not up to scratch.

And I did enjoy re-reading of this section of Napoleon’s Syndrome. For me, it represents my creative response to all that’s happening in the world politically. And given what’s happening, I feel it makes a good point, with characters that are interesting and believable. I realize that it’s not for everyone. And I hope there are some out there who may enjoy reading it–that’s why I’m putting it “out there” on this blog.

And so with no further ado…

NAPOLEON SYNDROME PART 2

ASHEAH CATORI

Reina could easily provide the security I needed to meet her face-to-face. I felt odd with the physical presence of security guards as I got into the Stellar Rolls Royce that Reina had sent for me. Though I had seen them before on in the videos that jumped out of my computer screen demanding my attention, I had never actually seen any in real life before. And I’d certainly never had them guard me!

The  pampered  luxury of the Stellar Rolls Royce overwhelmed my senses. I could think of little else. It was true that having to get out of the car and walk to the sonic elevators in her apartment building startled me: I coughed as I had to readjust to the smog that hung in the air. Still, the actual entrance to the apartment building greeted me with fresh, invigorating air .And when I came to Reina’s door, she actually opened it herself. It was surreal.

I entered, encouraged by Reina’s greeting. “Asheah, I’m glad you’ve come.”

The apartment was large and airy, with windows all around. Reina lead me to a living area with a soft black couch, in front of a low marble table. A little girl about six was intensely watching a hologram of squares that appeared to be on the table. She put up her hand and directed the squares. She pulled one apart and moved another around. Different equations appeared at the edge of the hologram. The girl’s curly dark hair and smooth brown complexion gave her the appearance of a cherub. She was obviously one of Reina’s two children.

Reina addressed her, “Lucretia.” .

The girl, absorbed in the hologram, didn’t look up. Reina sat down on couch beside her.

“Lucy,” she said gently to the girl. “You can take your hologram into the games room.”

Lucy wasn’t so sure. Reina took her by the hand, and they both stood up.

“I’ll just be a minute,” Reina told me as she gently led Lucy out of the room.

This is a side of Reina that more people should see more often, I thought as I walked over to look out the vast windows.

The few people and the cars below looked like ants. The buildings were more impressive: though toy-like and crammed together, they were laid out on an orderly grid, some towering impressively over others .I must admit I wondered about the clear sky, though .I remembered smog in the air, but looking down from here I didn’t see a trace of it .Had it somehow been digitally erased?

I turned around to see a large screen .On it was Kris Whitehead Hideaki, giving one of his many interviews .As I directed my gaze towards it ,the sound automatically came on.

It was eerie: Kris was talking about air quality.

Slender, and boyish, Kris appeared totally at ease. He began, “We simply take the toxic air and use the nanobots to transfer molecule.”

Along list of chemical formulas flashed across the screen. As I had no point of reference, I blanked out.

“And we turn the toxic air molecules into fresh breathable air.”

“You can dispose of all the toxic air that way?” the interviewer asked.

“We are confident that we will be able to,” Kris replied. “We’re still in the initial research stage .And right now, the process is very expensive. But you know technology,” he added brightly. “The more we have the resources to develop it, the cheaper it becomes.”

I was aware that Reina had come back. I turned away from the screen. Immediately  the sound muted.

“Some coffee?” she asked.

I replied, “That would be nice.”

Reina put her hand up and the hologram of a computer screen appeared in the air.

I was impressed. Holograms were one thing; but to able to use one to actually program something—that wasn’t something I hadn’t ever seen.

Reina acknowledged the innovation. “My brother Kris wants to get away from all things physical.”

She moved her finger around the hologram. “This is the latest pure information without cumbersome  physical matter.”She sighed, feigning exasperation. “I never know what he’s going to come with next, but then I understand—he’s a genius.”

She sat down and indicated me to do the same. Immediately I felt the couch come up around me and I relaxed into it—a perfect fit.

A  robotic arm extended from the wall, placing a tray on the table in front of us.

The casual but elegant mugs were filled with a steaming black liquid, from which a deep rich aroma filled the air.

I took a sip and the coffee was velvety and smooth. On the plate were also some small biscuits, which melted in my mouth.

“I don’t always use the robotic food prep butler,” Reina said. “Only with company. For family, I like to go through the physical work. Unlike my brother, I definitely see the value in keeping up the physical. But then,” she added, “I’m a woman and a mother and we woman have to be practical.”

I felt myself warm towards Reina: she was so genuine, so straightforward .Not at all the haughty elite she had been accused of being.

“Which is why we’re here…together today?” I hesitated. I didn’t want to presume. But Reina was not at all offended.

She picked up the conversation, “Of course.  A very practical concern for physical safety.”

I was nothing if not straightforward. “So you concede the need to limit the availability of the Annihilator…”

Reina straightened up just enough for me to realize my mistake.  Conceding was not something that the Hideakis ever did.

She smiled with a look of disdain. “I don’t concede the need to limit anything with artificial measures.”

“You mean with laws?”I was genuinely taken aback.

Reina tapped the air. A hologram screen appeared with the outline of Kris Hideaki’s profile on it.

The sound came on.

Kris smiled smugly as he sat back in his chair and addressed the interviewer. “We don’t believe in artificial laws. We believe we should let the natural laws operate—let the cream rise to the top. Only then are we able to develop the kind of technology that we need to go into the future.”

“But,” I heard the interviewer’s muffled voice. “If aren’t there any restrictions, doesn’t that give you full reign to do whatever you want?”

“Precisely,” Kris said. “And so, I have developed nanobots that kill cancer, nanobots that promise to turn air pollutants into breathable air ,weapons like the Annihilator that give us the ultimate advantage over our enemies. I hope eventually to devise ways to merge our cumbersome physical intelligence with the pure intelligence of cyberspace.”

“You’ve been criticized for refusing to make the nanobot cure available to those who cannot pay the rather extravagant price tag,” the interviewer continued.

“It was expensive research. I can’t afford to give it away.”

“The Annihilator has been used in many high-profile mass shootings. Many have argued it should be restricted in its sales.”

“The Annihilator was created to protect people by giving them the strategic advantage. The few crazies who get hold of it will be brought down by the others who will more skillfully use it to their advantage.”

“After how many deaths…?”

Kris acknowledged, “I realize there have been some unfortunate deaths. But I’m not responsible for what other people do with my innovations—”

“There are some people who say every Annihilator sold puts more money into your pocket.”

Kris’ face became visibly strained. He was angry.

“The money I earn goes back into my research! Without it, I wouldn’t be able to go forward! Do you want to let go of any technological progress? Fine! Cut off my right to the money that I can earn—and no more progress will be made!”

The hologram flashed off—a seeming reflection of his anger.

Reina took a sip of her coffee.

“You must concede that my brother has point,” she said coolly.

I didn’t exactly know what to say .All I could come up with was, “But I thought you were concerned about the innocent people killed in the mass shootings.The children, their families.”

“Oh, but I am,” Reina put her hand upon mine. “As a woman and a mother, I know what it’s like to give birth. I can’t be as dismissive as my brother.”

I looked into her eyes: she seemed sincere.

“What I’m proposing is that I create a fund that will give security grants to worthy individuals. With these grants, they will be able to provide the security they need for their families, whatever the cost.”

It was on tip of my tongue to point out that without the Annihilator and its ilk the average person wouldn’t have to worry about escalating security cost… but for some reason, I didn’t.

The clincher came when Reina added, “I’m sure that your boss, Karen Park, will be pleased with the offer.”

Of course, Karen would be pleased. And I should be, too.

I always liked the idea that there was an order to these things: that if simply followed, the needed progress would follow. Wasn’t that what free enterprise all about? Of course, there needed to be some consideration given to those who fell between the cracks, especially in times of change. And wasn’t Reina’s suggestion an excellent example of such help? A sure sign of social conscience?

I took in a deep breath and sighed. Ironically, it was Pax who thought me this technique—as a way of pausing to get a perspective when things got tense.It wasn’t lost on Reina. She stood up.

“What my brother’s main focus now is a project that transforms polluted air into breathable air,” she said, taking a full but measured deep breath herself. “So far we’re the only beneficiaries. It’s his hope and dream that all soon all will have fresh, breathable air. That can only happen if he has the resources for his research to go on.”

I stood up, too. It all made sense.

“Of course, we’ll accept your generous offer,” I extended my hand, which Reina shook graciously. I swear I even saw a soft look in her eye.

“I want you to spearhead the fund with me,” she said. Then she added in a lower tone, “We might even be able to get some special compensation for your friends.”

How could I be anything other than impressed?

* * *

Karen was impressed as well. She agreed with me 100% ,though there was something in her manner that showed less enthusiasm than she’d had before.

We were “in” Karen’s office. Unless there was a specific reason to do meet in person, we used Pax’s hologram program to meet.

I was also aware that, though I usually participated in Pax’s hologram scenario with minimal awareness of my physical presence being elsewhere, that was not the case today.I was sitting in my room in my family cluster. Daphne and her young children were running down the hall to the large gymnasium room where the kids, Tammy and Jesse ,could get some exercise—that is, if they could catch their breath. I heard several coughs and what I took to be a retreat back into the main living area. The air—pumped in from outside—was of such poor quality today that they had abandoned the one opportunity for physical activity.

I remembered Kris Hideaki’s research and wondered if maybe I could pull a few strings and get the benefits for my family cluster rather than waiting for it to be available to the general public.

Karen began, “The Fund will go a long way to helping the people who are being hurt the most, and give time and resources for the much-needed research. I’m only concerned because your friend is already saying that not regulating the Annihilator simply lines the Hideaki pockets.A fund that simply helps with security for those can’t afford it won’t help the situation. It could even make it worse. That’ll be their line.”

I took a sip of the coffee. I watched as my hologram did the same.That was odd. Normally I felt “at one” with my hologram. Something was a bit off.

A beep and we both realized that someone was asking to join us. It was Jeremiah Petrov. I sighed. The frown on the face of Karen’s hologram reminded me to be professional. He may be on what we considered to be the fringe of the party, but he was still a supporter, and a person that we needed to hear out. Though what brought him to us—not his usual party base—was a bit of a mystery…

Dressed immaculately as usual ,Jeremiah—that is, his hologram—it was annoying how I couldn’t quite get into the program—politely asked, “Can I join you ladies?” before he sat down.

It sounded so patronizing—like he was joining us for a Tea rather than as equals in a political context. I had to bite my tongue.

My hologram remained stone faced. That was the best I could do.

Petrov sat down. In front of him was a cup of Jubilation tea—a strong spicy sweet tea and a favourite of the Evangelical set. He took a sip, and then turned to Karen. “Cayman sent me here. He’s asked me to sit on the Fund’s Board on his behalf.”

That was too much.

“You want to work with Reina Hideaki? On her fund?!” I was astounded. “Haven’t you preached against the Hideakis, described their work—as that of the Devil?”

“We believe that Satan tempts men to play God. The Hideakis and their research play into Satan’s hands.”

“But you’re willing to co-operate with them,” I retorted.

“Haven’t you heard of Cyrus?”

I hadn’t, but Karen had. “He was the King of Persia who ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. In the Bible, he was seen as being used by God—despite his heathen ways.”

I smiled.

What the Hideakis were doing was seen as demonic, according to him. But somehow, it served the  him and his group, and therefore served their God… in some plan later to be revealed .Convenient, wasn’t it?

To give him credit, Petrov was obviously not comfortable with the way the conversation was going. He had stared into his teacup during Karen’s explanation.

After she finished, he continued, “You liberals paint the picture of us being these well-off, comfortable, stable families, but the truth is that many of our followers struggle. The cost of decent security is prohibitive for our people, too.”

I wanted to say, “Why don’t you just trust in the Lord?”But even I realized that would be a bit much, given that he was obviously sincere in his concern for “his” people.

“We’re all concerned for the welfare of people and their families,” Karen said. “This fund could go along way in alleviating security concerns.”

That sounded good, but in a practical way, I wondered how it could function. I didn’t have much time to think about it, though. An announcement from Cayman Fischer was about to change everything.

* * *

We were aware that the announcement was coming, though the exact nature of it eluded us. Not so Pax Inti. He had people on the inside, concerned enough to give him an idea of what it was about.

Pax contacted me via his hologram program.

I realized how serious it was when I arrived via hologram in the coffee shop and Pax—usually calm and upbeat—was pacing back and forth, obviously under duress.

Immediately, he confronted me. “Is it true, Ash? That Fischer’s going to set up a special militia?”

“I haven’t heard anything to that effect,” I began, trying to get my mind around what he just said.

“Then, Ash,” Pax leaned over glaring into my face like a wild man, “what’s the announcement about this morning?”

I stepped back .All I could say was, “I can’t think he’d go that far.The Legislature wouldn’t let him—”

“Don’t kid yourself. He’ll put on his stern but loving Papa face—pat them on the hand and say, ‘what I’m doing is for your good,’ and they’ll let him do it.”

“I can’t see it coming to that,” I muttered.

Pax looked into my face with a pleading look. “I so hope you’re right.”He added with scorn, “People can be so stupid!”

“Hey,” I said, trying to interject a light tone. “I thought you were all for democracy.”

Pax smiled slightly. “You know what I mean. But,” he added darkly, “This is serious. If Fischer gets his own militia, he’ll go after us. We can’t let that happen. It’ll be all-out war.

CAYMAN FISCHER

I had to play my spontaneous, passionate persona—the one where I had so much concern that I needed to do something decisively, and this solution, imperfect as it might be, was the quickest one at hand. In this case, the only way to stop more young people from get killed by the Annihilator.

The computer camera was on me .When it panned, Adam Mallick was standing behind me, remarkably sober for once. Starting a new militia gave him a focus other than drinking. At least for a few days.

I began, my voice solid but full of emotion.

“My heart cries out for the children that we have lost to violence and to their families.”

The truth was that I felt nothing for the young people killed and their families.It was strange to me that so many other people professed to feel so much. But I could act deeply moved, and now it provided a clear way to my goal.

“I will not let another child die!”I paused ,a hint of tears in my eyes. “I am like a mother bear, fierce in the protection of the vulnerable ones left in my care! And so, I have asked Adam Mallick to create a special militia, made up of trained fighters who will patrol online and destroy the killers before they can strike. Only then our children will be safe.”

I saw the shock on people’s faces. I was prepared for that. I looked sad, thoughtful ,yet firm.

“I realize that this is drastic action,” I began, “But it is the one thing we can do immediately that will solve this crisis!”

I was at my best now—a stern father, ready to protect his dependents, whatever the cost .No wonder people believed that I wore my heart on my sleeve.

I also liked to give the impression of being open. I stood up, and nodded at Mallick. I shook his hand and had him step forward.

When he wanted to, Adam could be affable, appearing to be “one of the boys”—albeit an unusually educated and articulate one.

A strand of hair fell over his forehead.He brushed it back, as he began, “Time and time again, history has proven that the only way to protect what is ours is through military might.”Adam was clear eyed, personal, yet intense. “I have already assembled a group of willing recruits whose skill with the Annihilator can be put to use immediately. They will patrol the web and stop any would-be terrorist before he has the opportunity to attack .Any breeching of the so-called privacy rules will be done in the interests of public safety.”

Adam looked directly at the computer camera.

“A Traditionalist, I opposed any such surveillance in the past. Cayman Fischer has assured me that such surveillance will be undertaken only when public safety is at risk, and that this is only a temporary solution until a more proactive solution can be found—which I trust will be soon.”

He turned back to me and put out his hand for me to shake.I grabbed it and squeezed, bringing him to me in an awkward hug.

I was so grateful for his cooperation at such a trying time. That was the impression that I was giving .And I was, though I had no illusions about Mallick himself. I saw it in his eyes.

This was his chance. He could finally prove his worth. Finally—with a militia at his disposal he could strong arm the people, grabbing the power that he really craved. Survival of the fittest,and he was becoming the fittest…

I disliked his disloyalty: his first commitment was to himself, not me. Nor did I trust him. But for now, he was crucial in my going forward.

ASHEAH CATORI

I couldn’t believe it .But then, I shouldn’ thave been that surprised: Pax often seemed to get it straight before I did. He had top notch intelligence.

Still, it was a shock. The Traditionalists had campaigned on freedom, promising less surveillance, not more. They had fought against the monitoring of online activity…and now they were going to monitor it more closely than ever before and have a militia ready to pounce on any suspects.

Granted, it was to stop the deranged element from killing innocent people. Like many watching, I saw Cayman Fischer’s  heart felt concern, and I was moved by it. Though I couldn’t quite bring myself to accept it wholeheartedly. I had picked up something when I was with him. Maybe I was just suspicious by nature, or my friendship with Pax made me question everything.

The Legislature was called into session—to supposedly debate Fischer’s decision, though it was hard to imagine them actually stopping the formation of the militia.

I was busy with work in the office when I received a request from Reina Hideaki.

She wanted me to meet with her and Jeremiah Petro about the Security Fund.I was surprised. I thought that everything else had been put on hold. Possibly in my world, but not in Reina’s.

Karen’s response was that I should go, of course. She could manage without me in the Legislature, and an inside contact with Reina could prove to be invaluable. Maybe she could give us some insight about what was going on.

Still, it felt odd to be going to Reina’s estate as if nothing was amiss.

Indeed, it was odd going to Reina’s estate, or for that matter—any estate at all. Like many people, my outside experience was limited to a few safely guarded trips. It felt even odder when I climbed into the Stellar Rolls for a journey out into what, formally, was “no man’s” land.

I slid into the comfort of the form fitting seat and took a breath of the invigorating air. It was tempting to drift off to sleep. But unlike the first time—when, overwhelmed by simply riding in the Rolls, I saw little beyond it—I was determined to take in as much as I could.

Not that the initial scenery was much to look at. As few people actually ventured out, the outside of the buildings were not kept up, though on occasion there was an exception. The garbage was allowed to pile up—a most amazing amount given that most people had a cyber-run disposal system to get rid of their waste .Twice  year, the government swept the streets of garbage as a public health precaution. It was long overdue. I made a note to ask Karen about it.

I swear I saw a shadow as we passed by an alley. I sat up. Was it a street rat? These were people actually lived on the street. They weren’t  counted as existing. Most of them didn’t have an online address so they were not registered with any government agency. It was rumoured that some of them had been born that way, and their “nonexistence,” so to speak, had gone back generations.

But whatever it was—it was just a shadow. Nothing more.

Pax was the only person I knew who’d ever actually met a street rat. I once asked him about them.

Never one to mince words, Pax responded, “They live a pretty brutal life and act accordingly.”

But he did tell me about Alice, a tough old street rat who took a fancy to him and saved his life on more than one occasion.

The street rats were sometimes seen as the “problem,” although admittedly there were much more organized gangs on the outside, who definitely had online connections. These were the ones who attacked with the most modern cyber weapons—programming buildings to implode, and shots to be fired by programmed drones.They were also experts at replicating the Annihilator and using it ruthlessly on anyone who threatened their domain.

Debris scattered here and there indicated they had been active.

The street rats left a less obvious trail. After a cold spell or a spell of particularly toxic air quality, a heap of emaciated bodies would be found here and there. More intriguing were the indications that sometimes physical things were moved by simple physical force. No cyber programming. Who else but the street rats would do that?

After a while, I found that we had left the city and were driving though the countryside.

I knew that such countryside existed, but had never actually seen it myself .Now I gazed on a muted green landscape with the occasional medium-sized tree—with actual green leaves on it! This was occasionally interrupted by heavily fenced fields, enclosures that were obviously large market gardens, orchards, or even grain fields. I was taken aback. I guess I always knew natural food was around—the food I ate was a combination of natural and chemically produced nutrition. But suddenly I wondered: how did they do it? They must have an oxygen field that would allow the survival of the bees, or some sort of way of pollinating the plants on an individual basis—either way was prohibitively expensive.

I sat back and inwardly thought, “Thank goodness for Pax.”

Pax had used his nanobot skills to massively produce nutritious food. Not as good as the natural stuff, but it kept millions alive. Myself included, I suspected, as I’m not sure I could have survived on the  natural food I could afford.

I owe it to him, I told myself, to be wary and astute. Not an easy task, I realized. It occurred to me that the food I had at the Winter Palace and at Reina’s was all-natural. No wonder it had tasted so otherworldly. It was all so seductive.

I was even more aware of that when the Rolls drove up the driveway to Reina’s actual house .The house was a sprawling mansion, overlookingthe ocean. I stepped out of the car the air was as full of oxygen as he had been in the car. Some sort of oxygen field must be here that extended outside .No wonder I felt invigorated.

Reina greeted me, and I must admit that for the first time, my eyes were not totally on her.

To the side of the house was a tall oak tree, with a wooden swing hanging from one of its branches. I’d rarely seen real green leaves hanging on a tree before—except in a picture—let alone a tree the size of this towering oak. I was drawn to it.

It was almost as an after thought that I noticed that there was a boy on the swing being pushed by a man…JeremiahPetrov? I inwardly groaned, and quickly noticed that Reina’s reaction was not that positive either. Her face froze in icy smile.

We walked over to the tree.

“Mr. Petrov,”Reina began.“My son was doing his geometry lesson. I only let him out here because he assured me that he would concentrate on his work.”

Petrov stopped the swing immediately. His people believed in children’s obedience to their parents.

The young boy, looking distressed, was Lucy’s twin brother ,though his colouring was lighter and his eyes a murky brown.

“Cesare—show me your hologram work.” Reina demanded.

He pointed into the air twice, and the hologram appeared. Nervously, he started to move the geometric figures around.

“You know that’s not right,”Reina said tartly. “You must go to your room until you get it right.”

Cesare lowered his head, muttering, “But I can’t get it right.”

“You can, and you will,” Reina said decisively.“Do you want to become a street rat? Slavishly moving things in physical ways only.”

“I like doing physical things,” Cesare dared to mutter.

Reina, seething under the surface, went over to pick up a soccer ball that was left by the swing.

She turned to Jeremiah Petrov.

“It may be okay for some of your followers to be backward .But that doesn’t include my son!”

With that, Reina started back to the house. We all followed her.

And in fairness, Reina did settle down.

Petrov and I were ushered into a large open chamber, overlooking the ocean, while Reinat took Cesare to his room.

Petrov moved over the picture window and stared out at the ocean.

As I settled into a form-fitting couch, I said, “I’m sure Reina didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”

He turned toward me. “Any more than you mean to be disrespectful.”

I was taken aback. But then I had to admit: he was right. I didn’t respect him and his group.

Reina came into the room, in a much better mood.

“Mr. Petrov.” She strode over to him. “I apologize most sincerely for my comment. All I can say is that, as a mother, I get carried away and say things I regret afterwards. I’m sure you understand.”

That placated Petrov: anything that spoke of strong family ties resonated with him.

He came and sat down on the couch beside me. Reina sat down opposite  us.

She tapped the air twice and a hologram with a list on it appeared.

She began, “Now that Cayman has set up the militia, I think that some of our family support should go towards supporting it.”

That was too much.

“You don’t have any problems with Cayman Fischer’s militia proposal?” I asked.

“Do you?” asked Reina quizzically.

I found myself fumbling for words. “It’s just that creating a militia—adding more weapons—into the mix—wouldn’t that create more violence?”

Reina looked at me coolly.“Is that what your friend Pax thinks?”

Jeremiah Petrov stared at me. “You’re a friend of Pax Inti?”

“I have friends with all different viewpoints. Unlike some,” I added pointedly.

For Petrov and his followers,Paxwas seen as the anti-Christ.

Turning to Reina, I added, “Yes he is. And others are raising the concern as well. I just think a good debate is necessary on such a crucial issue.”

“What do you think, Mr. Petrov?” Reina turned to him.

“I abhor violence, of course. But there are times when it is necessary, as we see in the Bible.”

“And you trust Cayman Fischer that this is one of them?” Reina asked.

“Cayman Fischer is a Traditionalist. He may not be a man of faith. But he will protect us in the best way possible.”

“How convenient!” I muttered.

I went on to explain, “I respect Mr. Fischer and the heartfelt respect that he expressed”—though I heard in my ear Pax gently taunting,do you really?—“and I always think a good debate of the possible consequences is important. Isn’t that what democracy all about?”

“And meanwhile, other children may die,” he retorted.

“Many more may die if there’s a significance increase in violence.” There: I said it.

Petrov looked uncomfortable. Reina just raised her eyebrow and said, “You’re withdrawing your support of Cayman Fischer, our democratically elected leader.”

“No” I said.“I’m just saying that we need to look at all our options before acting on the situation.”

“And you don’t think Cayman Fischer has done that?” Reina pressed me.

“I’m not sure anyone can entertain the full range of options without consulting and listening to others. Cayman Fischer may wear his heart on his sleeve. But surely you’ve had your differences with him in the past?”

Reina smiled. “He’s a man determined to be strong for his people. Of course, he can lose sight of the—let’s say—the softer side. The side that is open to other less decisive actions. Less like a bull in the China shop. What do you say, Mr. Petrov?”

Jeremiah Petrov cleared his throat and said, “I don’t like violence.But it is sometimes necessary in the Lord’s work to have a strong arm.”

I couldn’t resist: “Which is why Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies. Do  good to those who persecute you?’”

Reina smiled.“We aren’t here to discuss niceties of theology. I’m afraid that one area that you would have an upper hand, especially you, Mr. Petrov. But rather…. can we agree on a practical way to help out in the situation?”

A  Robotic Butler arrived, accompanied by the aroma of naturally grown coffee and fresh baked bread.

I tried to lose myself in the luxurious taste of the food, but couldn’t quite manage it .Nor could, I noticed, Jeremiah Petrov.

* * *

It’s not that the meeting wasn’t a success. Reina had a way of smoothing over differences. She didn’t bring up the topic of supporting the militia again. But there were other ways that we could support the families caught up in the violence .And I must admit that Petrov’s concern for children and families seemed sincere. It was too bad that it extended only to the family in an outdated Norman Rockwell painting.

As we were leaving, Reina said to us rather curtly, “I know that you came in two separate cars, but my brother Kris just summoned me to meet with him. So  I trust you won’t mind going back to the city together. Security will get you both back to where you need to go.”

Reina looked a bit tense. Something was happening. But I restrained myself from asking. Petrov didn’t seem to pick up anything, though. He looked at the oak tree as we waited for the car to pull up.

“At one time,” he began, “that tree and swing symbolized all that is good about this country.”

“You can’t turn the clock back,” I said as we climbed into the Rolls.

“What’s so good about the future?” Petrov shot back.

We settled into the seats.

“Solid families and hard work. We built this country,” he continued. “My grandfather farmed and fed the country. My father worked in a factory and manufactured the nation’s trucks and bulldozers. Now—we are told we are no longer needed. Machines can do it all—even better.”

I started to say, “But machines need someone to program them…” But I caught myself, and conceded, “Not that I’m not going to do that either.”

“But you accept the diabolical order where man plays God .”Petrov’ svoice was bitter.“Satan is a serpent that cajoles and draws in—only to lash out with destructive force.”

“Right now,” I said cryptically, “you seem to seem to be co-operating with Satan as much as I am.”

Petrov looked uncomfortable.

“Cayman Fischer has promised to go back to the time of Christian values,” he insisted.

I raised my eyebrows—as if to say, “Really?”

Suddenly, a Thud, and the car swirled to avoid being hit by  something.It felt as if we were running over someone. A body?

I looked out of the window. A blast in nearby building had leveled it, crushing a person who was desperately trying to escape into the debris laden street.There were several other buildings on fire.

A computer screen came up between the seats. Reina appeared on it, “Don’t worry,”she said. “Simply members of the new militia rounding up suspected Annihilator terrorists. Cayman is nothing if not true to his word. You will be safe.”

The screen disappeared as quickly as it came up. Soothing music filled the Rolls.

I couldn’t resist asking, “This is Christian values?”

Petrov looked genuinely shocked .As was I.

Creative Catastrophizing…when it’s all too much, write a story….political phase

I must admit that Donald Trump’s election set me catastrophizing big time! So I wrote two speculative fiction stories in an attempt to be creative about it! The second is a 90 page novella called “Napoleon’s Syndrome” which I put on another “more political ” blog site in a 5 part series…and I don’t think any one ever accessed it…

Fast forward to today…I’ve decided to leave the political behind… at least leave the American political scene behind. As a Canadian, I have no say in what happens–rightfully so. And though the possible consequences can scare me (and with my ability to catastrophize, there’s no limit to where I can go with this one!) the truth is that I need to leave it in the capable hands those who are doing their best to hold Trump accountable.

I need to let go…and am doing so, as my latest short stories are “modern” fairy tales that are based on more personal experiences/challenges…

And yet, I still do have “Napoleon Syndrome” …So I thought as my final phase in this area of my creative catastrophizing , I could put “Napoleon Syndrome” on my blog here in 5 parts…

Maybe there will be some people who like it and want to follow along. So here is the first installement.

NAPOLEON SYNDROME PART 1

ASHEAH CATORI

The casual opulence of Cayman Fisher’s estate was overwhelming.

I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised by it: he was a rich man in his own right .Now that he was an elected leader, he lived in an official residence—luxurious as a matter of national pride, in the dignified of way of an affluent government.

The gilded, moving walkway carried us effortlessly to his office for a rare—and treasured—face-to-face meeting.

I thought back to the last time I’d attended a meeting in person. It had been with Karen, of course—the politician I worked for. Physical meetings were generally out of reach for the average person. It was just too dangerous: the cost of security needed to make them even remotely safe was prohibitive. Still, the people at this meeting risked all they had to attend. They were desperate to plead their case—having lost their loved ones to the increasing violence that could now erupt anywhere, even in their physical homes.

I closed my eyes, but the image of the Suzukis still haunted me. They’d lost their daughter, Caroline.

A disgruntled young man from the cyber-school she had attended had released full scale war on as many of the students he could. He bought a replicator and programmed it to construct the newest explosive device available—nicknamed the “Annihilator.”

 The Annihilator, when activated, and linked with the computer, could target any number of people online the operator chose. In a rapid firing order, it configured the devices being used into effective lethal bombs. Caroline was doing her school work online…then there was a short sharp blast, and she lay on the floor in a pool of blood—dead.

You could defend your family from strangers or criminals who might want to break into your physical home, or even from specific people that you didn’t want in your lives online. But your children—just by logging into class—could now be the targets of any deranged madman who could hack their location. And so, Caroline—the young vibrant woman who had been so alive, whose everyday presence had filled her parents’ lives with indescribable beauty and love—was gone. The shock on the Suzukis faces was still evident.

“Get those Annihilators out of the hands of sick people! Restrict their use or get rid of them altogether!”Mitch Suzuki had yelled before breaking down.

He could barely get his words out.“All we want… is for it to never to happen again to anyone else again.”

His words echoed in my mind, as Cayman Fischer’s doors opened and we rode in on the walkway. We stepped off and the path disappeared into the plush carpet.

It felt like we were standing on air. Between that and the delicate gold edging on the muted white walls, the whole office felt otherworldly.

And for a moment, a thought intruded: how did they do it? How did Cayman Fischer and his people not lose the use of their muscles when they never walked or even stepped on a solid surface? Others who had done the same sometimes went into frantic rehabilitation—trying desperately to build their weakening muscles. Of course, they could exercise—but somehow, I didn’t think so.

His Traditionalist sentiments were expressed less in an interest in the physical world, and more in the portraits of the former rulers that lined the far wall .Each was outlined in dark wood, reminiscent of a former age, the silent faces staring out in rugged grandeur. Even Cayman Fischer’s desk—graced with the most modern technology available—had a rugged yet refined look.He was a man of the modern era, but one who appreciated the simple, rough, unsophisticated past.(Provided that it didn’t demand any physical exertion.)

But enough of that.

The Suzukis—and the plight of other families like them—were the reason that Karen and I were here.

Karen had recently supported Cayman Fischer’s bill on military research: it gave billions to develop the latest 3D nanotechnology for defense purposes. That research had led to the Annihilator and other such technology. Both Karen and I believed this be the only way to protect the people from violent terrorist attacks from without. But surely there needed to be some restrictions on its use—to deal with the terrorism within.

There was no safe place anymore. Even the Family Clusters.

We all lived and grew up in Family Clusters. These small groups fulfilled the need for physical contact by having a few families—and some hangers-on—all live under one roof as an extended family. I never knew anything else, though Dad did remember a time, vaguely, when it was still safe enough to be outside that people could live individually and come together in the outside community. When family clusters began to evolve, it was considered shocking that it had come to this . After a time, it was simply the way people lived and coped.

But now even family clusters were not safe. The level of violence was spinning out of control.

 I must admit that, despite those grave circumstances—so removed from this regal place—I did feel a tinge of excitement .I was there, in that plush, dignified office, where so much history had taken place. Where I was about to meet “The Man” face-to-face.

The door opened, and he entered—swept in by the walkway—as the atmosphere in the room filled up with his presence.

He was shorter than I imagined, but broad-shouldered .He dressed in a casual but elegant way—with tailored suit jacket, pants and open shirt. His skin was light brown in colour, matched with arresting, grayish brown eyes. His hair was close-cropped and black with a hint of curl—a well coiffured accessory.

I had to stifle a groan when I saw who came in after Fischer: Jeremiah Petrov, his Evangelistic supporter and official   “chaplain.”

Petrov stepped back, discretely out of the way.

Fischer turned to Karen, as if she were an old friend, though she had been known to take positions different from his.

“Karen Park!” he exclaimed, grabbing her hand warmly. “Delighted to see you!”

Karen seemed to relax—as everybody did in his presence .But then he added, “Now I can’t quite remember your background—”

“Korean, European, East Indian.”Karen was visibly uncomfortable.

When I was younger, no-one asked that question. It was tied to reviving the concept of race, long since discredited as a cancerous ideology that allowed people to dehumanize one another.

But Cayman Fischer was a Traditionalist, who maintained that he was just expressing an interest in the past, with no judgment. Yet there was some concern that his adviser, and comrade, Adam Mallick, attracted people who wanted to take it a step further.

Fischer turned to me .I swear I saw a look of desire—only for a split second—and then it mellowed into a fatherly handshake.

It was enough to throw me off, and I faltered a bit. Finally, I introduced myself. “Asheah Catori.”

He still held my hand, seemingly in reassurance, but I was becoming uncomfortable, so I added, “My background is English , Middle Eastern and Plains Cree—as far I know.”I discreetly withdrew my hand.

The truth was that most people were a mixture of all groups.

Cayman Fischer tilted his head with a warm smile, “Do come and sit down. Of course, you know my chaplain , Jeremiah Petrov .He helps me deal with family matters.”

Fischer indicated the couch and the carpet gently transported us to it .We both acknowledged Jeremiah Petrov. He had the height of a Zulu warrior, and the arresting gray eyes of Eastern Europe. Neatly dressed, his hair was in a vaguely military crew cut.

For a brief moment I thought, Fischer going to get into his convoluted private life here.(As a Traditionalist, he was allowed a past, now repented of, of course .But sometimes it could come back to haunt him.) But then I realized that he saw the Suzukis and their heart-breaking plea as “family matters”.

I was about to open my mouth and say something about it, but Fischer seemed preoccupied by another topic.

“I realize—my reference to background—some people see as divisive,” Fischer began, as he was gently transported behind his desk . The plush, form  fitting chair slid out from behind the desk and he sat down.

He’s taking us seriously, I thought. He was known to prize his relaxed casualness .He avoided working behind his desk as much as possible.

“I assure you—it’s simply an historical interest. How can it be otherwise?”

Of course,part of Fischer’sbackground included African freedom fighters, as well asmuch-touted German and Americanentrepreneurs.His background was as mixed as anyone.

“And”—he settled at his desk—“my interest in history has served me well.I remember when your sex demanded change,and voted en mass to get it.” He paused, as if drawing a line from a speech. “Gone isour unbridled instinct! The sexual predator vanquished! You bring us back to our better selves.”

Karen shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Am I not to say that?”Cayman Fischer seemed to be genuinely surprised.

Karen explained, “Surely, it’s people of goodwill who bring us back to better selves…”

“Or the Lord,”interjected Jeremiah Petrov. “The Lord Jesus Christ brings out the best in people.”

“Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ can come in many forms.” Karen considered herself to be a mainline Christian.“After all, ‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’”

Petrov conceded the quote form the Bible, though I had a feeling that his idea of the Lord was somehow more specific, more rigidly defined.

Fischer, meanwhile, seemed slightly put out. He didn’t seem to care for the Lord. I wondered momentarilywhat Petrov and his followers liked about Fischer, who didn’t seem that respectful oftheir deeply held views.

Fischer was more engaged with Karen on the issue.

He turned to her, and I swear I saw a monetary gleam of disdain in his eyes before he reassured Karen, “Of course, all people of goodwill. We are best when we put aside our instincts and act with the good of the people in mind.”

So Cayman Fischer could be reasonable after all.Karen relaxed.

She began, “Surely all people of goodwill are saddened and outragedby the latest online violence—”

Fischer became visibly shaken, his face stricken with pain. Placing his hand over his heart, he said, “My heart goes out to the family. I feel their deep suffering—they are never far from my thoughts and prayers…”

His warmth betrayed so much feeling it was hard to get back to the topic at hand.

But Karen was not one to back down.

“The families appreciate your heartfelt condolences. But they would also like you to act. Only you and the Legislature can outlaw the use of the Annihilator by civilians.”

I’m sure I detected a flicker of fury in Cayman Fischer’s eyes. It was soon gone, though.

“Of course, I understand your concern.” Fischer got up from his desk. He moved his leg ever so slightly to tap the side of his desk. “The shooter was a very troubled young man—mentally unstable. It’s a shame he didn’t get the help he needed. So tragic!”

Fischer put his hands behind his back and took a step onto the elevated flow of the carpet, a sign that he was deep on thought.

“What do you say, Jeremiah?”Fischer appealed to Petrov. The other man still stood, his feet on the bare, solid floor .I momentarily remembered that, unlike Fischer, Petrov’s Traditionalism did  include a physical regime.

Petrov was obviously pleased by Fischer’s question.

“It would help if the young people weren’t always online,” he said piously. “We need to return to physical work and  wholesome family values.”

I couldn’t let that go. “But not everybody has the opportunity for physical work, even exercise. If I remember correctly, your group strenuously campaigned against legislation that would have provided the physical space for every family to have access to physical activity—”

That had been the case with the Suzukis:  all they could offer their beloved daughter was cramped space, with little room to move around in.

It suddenly occurred to me to wonder at how healthy they had looked—something about their appearance didn’t make sense. I brushed it off.

Jeremiah Petrov’s obvious discomfort pulled me back to the meeting at hand.“We believe in as little government interference as possible. ‘Personal responsibility,’ that’s our motto.”

“But what if someone isn’t capable of being responsible?” I blurted out. “Do we let the madman wreak havoc, without protecting even our children?”

I was furious. Karen glared at me. I needed to calm down. I withdrew, and Karen picked up the conversation.

She began, “Nobody needs personal access to the Annihilator. It’s the fringe element bent on violence that ends up accessing it—”

Fischer twirled around. “Making it illegal wouldn’t stop them from getting the weapon if they wanted to—”

“I know,”Karen said calmly.“But right now, you can access any replicator store and buy a blueprint for it—”

“Which the majority of people do responsibly!” he interjected. “I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to defend him or”—he made a point of adding—“herself. We live in turbulent times.”He looked genuinely perplexed.

I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, especially as I remembered Pax’s taunt: “He’ll never do anything against his own self-interest.”

“But we’re talking about the lives of children here!”I had interjected.

“He hasn’t it in him to give a shit.” Pax had just shaken his head.“Honestly, Ash, for someone so bright you can be so stupid!”

I’d hated Pax then, and was more determined than ever to prove him wrong. I had stepped up my work with Karen, and now I found myself here, determined to make a difference.

“If I may say something,” I began.

At that moment, Jeremiah Petrov muttered something about being overdue at a prayer meeting and quietly took his leave.

Cayman Fischer acknowledged Petrov’s departure, and then looked at me to continue.

The pause gave me the courage to say what I needed.

“It might be better to do limit access than to be seen as caving into special interests.”

“How so?” Did I detect a flicker of anger in his otherwise attentive voice?

I hesitated, so Karen picked up the train of thought for me.

“The talk is that you and your supporters are heavily funded by Reina Hideaki and her family, the leaders in the field of 3D replicators and military equipment. That you are more prepared to protect their interests than to protect—”

At that point the door swung open and Adam Mallick, of all people, stepped in. A heavy-set man, he was dressed in a good quality suit that still somehow looked ill-fitting. His full gray hair was straight and stylishly cut: it  seemed unruly with some of it flopping over his forehead in an attractive boyish way. His skin was oddly light—there were rumours that he had taken pains to lighten it. His eyes—deep black in colour—observed, rather looked directly at you.

“Our children!”Allan Mallick completed the sentence gruffly. His gaze showed slight disdain. “That bleeding heart crap! We want to protect our children—in the only way possible—by having the bigg’r better guns.” I swear I heard a bit of a slur.  I’d heard that Mallic knever went anywhere without a few drinks under his belt

. “Some of you bleeding hearts would even have Kris Hideaki abandon his weapon research—leave us at the mercy of our enemies!”

That was too much for me. But what could I say?

Karen turned to Mallick. “I agree there needs to be ongoing military weapon research. But do these weapons need to be available to any disturbed person who has a perceived grudge?”

Mallick’s stony yet mocking gaze seemed to derail her. Small wonder.

As calmly as I could, I turned to Cayman Fischer. Glancing at my portable computer module,I repeated a line that I rehearsed many times—as part of my prep work for this meeting.

“A ban on civilian use of the Annihilator would convince the people that you are here to protect their children, rather than the interests of the billionaires and their associates.”

“How dare you tell us what we are here for lady!” Adam Mallick growled in a low but distinct voice.

I stared at him.

Cayman Fischer jumped in quickly. “What we are here for is to protect the freedom of the individual to live their lives as they chose.”He glanced quickly over to Mallick, who had calmed himself a bit. “That is what Traditionalists are all about. Is that not true…”

As if on cue,the office door opened and none other than Reina Hideaki entered.

“…Reina?”

I was immediately glad that my darker colouring hid my flushed face, though not my awkwardness. Of course, the billionaires I had been talking about were Reina’s own family.

But if she realized that, it didn’t affect her legendary style.

Reina was slight, dressed chicly but casually—in an off-white jacket and tailored shirt, with a tan belt and immaculately pressed blue jeans. Her longhair was black, coiffure with just enough body for it to set off her face in a casual but sporty way.

With a warm smile, Reina responded, “Exactly, Cayman. We want the maximum freedom for all. Only then way can we progress in the way that we need as a society, both materially and otherwise.”

Her casual, warm manner calmed me enough that I dared to speak. “You mean freedom for certain people—such as the wealthy—to do what they want.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw Mallick smirk .Reina looked over at him, not unfavorably. I was surprised for a moment. They seemed to be opposites: he, a churlish slob, and she a refined woman of principle. But then I remembered: her family had supported Mallick’s media empire, giving him untold millions to get his message across.

Cayman Fischer went ahead to make introductions. “Reina, this is Karen Park, a member of my party in the legislature.”

Reina inclined her head slightly and said, “I see—someone from my historical background.”

Karen hesitated, “I’m a mix that includes Korean, not Japanese”

It was well-known that Reina boasted about being mostly Japanese and European—thus her family’s prominence in the area of mathematics and technology. She later disclaimed it, pointing out that at least   some of her family’s ancestry was Polynesian, and she was just as proud of that heritage. After all, she was the hands-on mother of two children and was known to be a generous friend.

But Karen, like many, was wary of pinning characteristics to a definable group. It opened up the door to ethnic categories and division, the beginning of the slippery slide into the long-discarded ideology of race.

“And,” Cayman Fischer continued with the introductions, “you’ve already met Asheah Catori.”

“Catori?” Reina thought for a moment. “Surely your ancestors appreciated their freedom as they   travelled across the North American wilderness. They would be among the first to stand up for freedom—”

I couldn’t help but say, “They saw themselves as part of the world around them. Freedom for them never meant destroying what they saw as sacred.”

“A primitive idea of a primitive people,” I heard Adam Mallick mutter.

Furious, I glared at him.

“Please forgive Adam.” Fischer came to the rescue. “He doesn’t always mean what he says—”

I didn’t buy that for a moment. But what could I say?

Karen steered the conversation back to why we had come. “We’re all in favour of technology and appreciate your family’s major contribution to our universal wellbeing. And of course, you deserve the freedom to innovate without restrictions. But we are concerned about that technology getting into the wrong hands. Children are dying online because some mentally unstable person targets them with an Annihilator.”

“There are ways to protect children online,” Reina responded.

“But,” I interjected, “real security online is beyond the financial reach of most people. They have no choice but to take their chances.”

Reina looked as if she hadn’t thought of that before.

“As a mother, you can understand what it would mean to lose a child,” Karen began.

“Of course,” Reina said. “That’s why I supported my brother Kris’ research. There are millions of people alive today because of his lab’s groundbreaking research into cancer-destroying nanobots.”

“His,” I said tartly, “and Pax Inti’s.”

Reina inclined her head to acknowledge Pax’s involvement in the research.                                                       

“Of course. Is Pax a friend of yours?”

“I have friends from across the political spectrum,” I replied.

“Laudable,” Reina said.

I wasn’t quite sure I believed her, but I felt gratified.

Reina turned the conversation back to her brother. “Kris’ intentions are always good.  The Annihilator was designed to protect us from our enemies. But of course, it can have unintended consequences.”

She seemed to have not thought of this before. I wondered if that was possible. But then, with all her money, her children were safe.

“I’m sure that Cayman and I can discuss this further, and maybe we’ll be more malleable than you think.”

“Of course,” Cayman Fischer readily agreed.

Of course he would agree with her. After all, didn’t Reina’s family’s money bankroll Cayman Fischer’s political ambitions, too? I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

But before I could say anything, Reina said to Fischer, “Maybe you shouldn’t tell Jeremiah Petrov about our intimate tête-à-tête, though.”

I couldn’t help smiling. Petrov and Religious Traditionalists obviously supported Cayman Fischer because they saw him as allowing them the freedom to enforce their conservative social agenda. They didn’t like Kris Hideaki and his nanotechnology research .Any reminder of their support for Fischer was best avoided.

“I will talk with who I chose!” Fischer said with determination, adding, “I have hope for the Modern Religious Traditionalists.”

Aside from Mallick, who seemed to be watching all of his with disdain, the rest of us became visibly uncomfortable. The Modern Religious Traditionalists spun theories that Jesus and other miracle workers were simply people who already had, within their brains, the elements of Artificial Intelligence that allowed them to manipulate the physical world .The rest of us mere mortals would need that intelligence streamed into our heads—which the nanobot enthusiasts fully intended to do. It was a hair brain belief, and no creditable person endorsed it.

Cayman Fischer saw his misstep.“But I have no head for such twaddle! I want to govern, to serve their interests—whatever their belief.”

“And to have them serve you—whatever their belief,” I found myself muttering.

I glanced up at Reina. I could tell that she had heard me.

But rather than disapproving, she smiled a knowing smile at me.

She went over to Karen, extending her hand. “We’ve got to talk some more on this one, Karen. As one mother to another.”

To my surprise, she invited Karen and me to have lunch with her—in the Winter Palace, an eatery that evoked the aristocratic luxury of old St. Petersburg.

Maybe she really was serious.

CAYMAN FISHER

I was glad they were gone. To have to deal with such little people—especially those who claim they are acting out of concern for others—angers me.

And I was furious.

The younger one of the two who’d just come in—Ash?—already the name had faded from my consciousness My  groin was still aware that I had wanted her, but the sensation had drained away as she grinded out her monstrous words! How dare she! I could have slapped her across the face!

But of course, I didn’t. And of course I could not force myself upon her—to show her who, in the end, was ultimately in charge.

Instead I had to keep up the pretense that she—and all the countless nonentities and their petty lives—really mattered. I had to keep up my carefully crafted image. As long as they believed in that, I could do as I liked. They would see only the image and not what I was actually doing.

I wasn’t going to let her—and the faceless politician that she’d trailed in after—take the public stage from me.

I pressed the communiqué button on my desk. A screen came up, and immediately myaide Lowell appeared on it. Clean cut, and eager, he was always at my beck and call.

“Lowell, an urgent communique.”

Stepping into character, I began in a gruff but feeling tone, “Our children need to be protected. I will not turn my back on them! I will act! I’ll meet with the families who are grieving this terrible loss.” I paused as though it was really affecting me, though I felt totally blank, as I always did in these situations.“And I will present a solution that will ensure everybody’s safety!”

“Thank you, sir!”Lowell said. “I marvel at your brilliance, at how you cut through the bull and just act.”

I pretended deference. “Not everyone would agree.”

“They don’t know you like I do,” Lowell replied.

“Ah,” I said with a slight smile on my face. “Maybe they do, and that’s the problem.”

Lowell smiled and, with a nod, ended the call.

At least he understood greatness when he saw it.

I pressed another button .A tray of liquor bottles on an ornate table slid out of the wall, the table’s white and gilded legs resting on the carpet as if it always had been there.

Adam went over to help himself, as I knew he would. When he looked over to inquire if I wanted anything, I shook my head. No need for booze.

Instead, I found myself rubbing my hands together, with a sense of excitement gripping me. I signaled Adam to come and sit across from me. He sauntered across the room. Another time, his insolence would have bothered me. But now the idea percolating in my brain was overtaking me. I felt alive.

I leaned over the desk to look him straight in the eye. “How would you like to start a real goddamn militia?”

I loved the shock that I saw in his face .But then I saw his eyes glass over. He took a gulp of his drink and then got up to get another one.

“My idea is to train a group of young men to use the Annihilator for defense purposes. They would patrol the net and stop the crooks and crazies from attacking children and other vulnerable people.”

Mallick poured himself another drink before responding.“You have to have access to who’sever’s online. And who’sever has an Annihilator. They’ll ne’er let you conduct that kind of surveill-ance. Not after the anti-surveillance me’sures were ‘nacted… Which—need I remind you?—we s’pport.”

I was furious .I simply used whatever policy I needed to get ahead. Didn’t everybody?

Still I took care to muddy the waters so that no-one close to me saw—let alone commented—on any blatant inconsistencies. Except Mallick, of course.  It was his way of getting at me.

I decided to let it go—this time at least.

I sat back. “It is risky,” I admitted. But then that’s what gave me the thrill. The ultimate grab for the power that I deserved, finally in reach.

“Pax Inti and his like will see this as an escalation—the more Annihilators, the more violence. Get rid of them all…Of course, they could very well be right.”

I let Adam savor the thought. He was well aware that more violence, more instability would work in our favour.

“But we’ll say: that’s too complicated!” I added. “Our plan’ll work and it can be put into place so easily! All I care about is protecting our children ,I’ll declare—as soon as possible! No Nonsense Fischer—that’s me!”

I saw a gleam in Mallick’s eyes. Suddenly I was angry.  It was as if this militia idea was all about him fulfilling his own ambitions. Not the way that he could support me—in order to obtain the power I deserved. I decided to take him down a peg or two.

“Of course, you don’t have much actual military experience, more of an armchair fighter.”I knew that would get to him. “Plus, the technology needed to form such a unit…”

Mallick stared at me, his eyes glassy and full of fury. Spinning around, he suddenly smashed his glass against the wall…

“I long to be in th’ fight!” He spat out his fury.“Give me the oppor’tunitee and I’ll putt together the most ferocious mil’tia unitof all time!”

“And,” I observe calmly, “A Traditionalist you may be, but you’ve never been averse to using the latest technology to serve your cause.”

Mallick could barely hold in his anger. I didn’t want to go too far. I went up to him and put my hands on his shoulders.

“Adam,” I said, “I need you for this very important mission.”

I took my hands down, and stepped back.

“I want the militia’s motto to be the same as my freedom fighter ancestor: ‘To separate he wheat from the chaff.’ A quaint image, but one I’m sure you appreciate…”

Mallick relaxed, and for the first time, I swear I saw a light in his eyes. This was what he’d been waiting for.

I was pleased with myself. As long as he set the militia up, I would overlook his personal ambition—at least for now.

“Of course, we’ll have to allow women into the Militia,” I joked. “We can’t have it all our way just yet…Now, how about that drink you offered me?”

ASHEAH CATORI

I wasn’t really prepared for the Winter Palace.

Karen and I followed Reina through along golden hall, with Roman pillars and a gilded balcony overlooking the marble floor .A white circular roof with ornate golden trim towered above us.

At the end of the hall was the door to the restaurant—but really, to call it that seemed so crass. It was a place of luxuriant dining, where every mouthful was a sacred act.

A man opened the door, discretely acknowledging Reina with a nod.

“These people are with me, Raymond,” she said, with a slight smile.

We were ushered in.

The main room of the Winter Palace have the feel of a palace ballroom. Each ornate table—set at a discrete distance from one another—had a shimmering chandelier hanging over it, giving the diners the sense that they were the only ones dining, and the centre of the staff’s attention.

The carpet beneath our feet was so soft that it felt like we were walking on clouds.  And we were actually walking—rather than using the electronic walkway.

Reina turned to us just before we sat down, saying, “I believe in using my muscles. Despite what my brother Kris says.”

As well as developing the 3D Replicator, Kris Hideak was known for his claim that the physical world would someday become obsolete, that we would all find our true calling as bodiless extensions of artificial intelligence.

Reina was refreshingly more practical. And that comment about her brother—I was touched that she would share such a personal detail with us. She wasn’t the cold, aloof person I thought she would be.

I can’t honestly say I remember much about the conversation we had. I can close my eyes and taste the succulent flavors still. But no other memories survive of that day. Somehow, the everyday world of plain survival seemed so foreign here that to talk about its concerns—even its existence—just didn’t seem to fit .Everything felt strangely unreal.

I do know that Reina did mention the fact that she would like to meet with us again—to talk over our concerns about the looming crisis and what she could do about it.She looked over at me when she said that. I was confident she would call.

The next day, though, I wasn’t so certain. I felt hungover. I had drunk a bit of wine, but that wasn’t it .It was more of an emotional hangover: the whole experience of the Winter Place was such a high, so surreal that I felt the need to come down from it. It was all a bit of a blur. I needed to talk to Pax.

I had met Pax Tai Inti when he was part of my family cluster fifteen years ago.

He  had been admitted when his actual family threw him out for spending time on the streets—originally, he didn’t need to be in a family cluster for safety. His family were High Tech gurus, billionaires in their own right. He belonged to the world of The Winter Palace. But he was nothing if not a rebel.

I welcomed him enthusiastically, though. Weren’t there differences in experience and opinion in all families?

My father was a kind, open person who was instrumental in welcoming Pax, though he surprised me later by saying that Pax was just “slumming.” Dad was too indecisive as far as I was concerned, and he certainly never judged or criticized other people. So it had taken me off-guard.

Daphne, who I regarded as my sister, described him as a standoffish snob. It was true that he never did take part in anything that would interest her—but then, they were so different. I could enter both of their worlds, and maybe it wasn’t surprising that neither of them could bridge the gap.

It’s also true that he eventually left—something that I would never do. My family cluster is as much part of me as my position with Karen—maybe even more so. But then—where else would I go?

Pax had a biological family who in the end forgave him, and work that called him back.

I admired Pax for even coming to live with us in the first place. And we kept up our friendship, though we seemed to disagree about everything. Still, we had a lively respect for each other.

I took my computer module out of my pocket and unfolded it into a screen that sat upright on my desk. I accessed Pax’s hologram  program. I had already made sure my favourite coffee was on the desk beside me.

I pressed a button. I heard a beep, nothing that15 cyber dollars had been deducted from my online account .I only had to pay 10 on the basis of my income, but like everyone else who could, I paid extra to ensure that those who had no resources could access the service.

Pax’s holograms were the only way many could afford to meet together outside of their family clusters. As such, it was seen as being potentially subversive by those who didn’t want political gatherings that could get out of hand.

The fact that Caroline’s family—and the other families of the Annihilator’s victims—had chosen an in-person meeting rather than avail themselves of Pax’s technology showed the extent of their devastating loss. That realization seared through my fog as I put on my head gear and became one with the hologram that appeared in the room.

Pax’s hologram was there to greet me.

“So, Reina took you to the Winter Garden,”he began, barely hiding a smile. “Quite a heady experience.”

He sat down at a table. Pax’s holograms never interacted in a void  .A comfortable coffee house was in place around us, complete with a funky table, and my favourite coffee waiting for me on the table, though I couldn’t actually drink it .But when my hologram appeared to do so, I could drink the coffee beside me and that did help enhance the experience. I was very aware that my physical presence was still tied to the room I was sitting in.

I sat down.

“What impressed you most?”Pax asked. “Was it Reina’s hypnotic words? Or just the pure decadence of the place?”

I was surprised to see a flash of concern in his eye. His manner became playfully grave.

“I don’t know if savouring the delicate taste of certain foods is decadent,” I began irritably. “Or the appreciation of artistic beauty in design.”

Pax could be so Puritanical!

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it per se,”Pax began, earnestly. “But when you use it to cut yourself off from the  desperate lives so many others live”—he was becoming more animated—“and see them as being there only for you to maintain your extravagant privilege…”

For a moment, I allowed myself to take it all in: his flowing black hair, his passionate gray eyes, his trim athletic physique, and his simple but tasteful tunic gathered at the waist with his stark black pants that set it off perfectly… and, of course, his passionate concern for people.

“It’s from my Inti roots,” Pax would say. “In the Inca Empire, everyone was allotted enough land in order to grow the grain needed to feed themselves.  I simply believe in carrying on the tradition.”

This was the Pax that so many loved.

But I was struck by something even more pressing for me.

“I must admit,” I began rather sheepishly, “that I admire you more now that I realize what you left behind. How did you ever do it?”

Pax was obviously pleased by the comment—who wouldn’t be? But he was typically modest.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, shrugging his shoulders, “The truth is that I needed to live in a cruder world—where you could get hurt, possibly not survive .Even eating.” His hologram took a sip of coffee. “The food was cruder, but I ate to fill my stomach, to survive, not to titillate my palate. It was real. You know,” he added with a slight smile, “maybe I’m really a closet Traditionalist.”

“But if you’re one, it’s one with a heart,” I took a sip of coffee at home. My hologram did the same.

“Maybe,” Pax conceded. “But my actions were more based on the fact that I kept on going back to the streets. Kris didn’t. So he didn’t realize the consequences of his decision.”

Reina’s brother, Kris,had once been Pax’s mentor, and his collaborator in the successful nanobot cancer-killing program. They parted ways when Pax pressed to make the program available to all who needed it, not only those who could afford it. Kris, intent on building up his wealth and research base, would not hear of it.

“And that’s my point, Ash,” Pax looked concerned. “That world is seductive. It can turn your head.”

“Thanks for the warning. But I doubt that I’ll see enough of it for that to happen.”

But that might not be the case.

I was surprised—yet also delighted (I must admit) —when Reina came on my screen and invited me to meet with her in her apartment in the city.

My boss was surprised, too. But any contact with Reina was seen as good: she had a lot of influence and could further our agenda if she expressed any interest in what we were doing.

* * *

Ideas I love…but I could never write the story…

One of the things that I want to come to value–is my almost natural ability of seeing a story I could write in whatever is in front of me. Most recently, I was re-watching some videos about King Richard III, including the discovery of his remains in the car park in Leicester.

My immediate thought was: wouldn’t it be great– to write another play about Richard III… where Richard’s ghost would come back, and reflects on his experience–in light of something as mundane as being buried in a car park. Would he be surprised that the people that he perceived as merely peasants were driving these things called “cars” ? That in their everyday errands they dismissed the place that he was buried–as being simply a convenient lot where they could leave these modern contrivances?

Would he be surprised by the voice that the so called peasant now have in the world?

Or would he focus on what little has changed politically? Just as his family wanted power and wealth to further their own ends ( any other consideration being strictly secondary), so modern leaders like Putin, Kim Jong-un, or Mohammed bin Salman gain power to do the exact same thing…and it could be argued that each of them have wrought much more destruction than Richard III ever did.

Would he simply justify his actions? Or would he repent? My understanding is that as king he did enact some good legislation. And I believe that he was no worse (or better!) than those around him.

Would he lament that?

I love all the ideas I’ve come up with; and I know I’ll never write the play. For one thing, I’ve never written a play before. And I know it would take years for me to learn the craft.

Secondly, I know very little about Richard III and his era. I would have to do hours and hours of research–to even begin to speculate who he was and what his reaction might be.

So it’s a good idea (as far as I’m concerned) but really–it’s a non-starter… but doesn’t mean –that I can’t enjoy it…and realize as well that, like a lot of good creative ideas, it’s likely occurred to someone else–maybe someone who’s in the position to actually write the play.

If so, I look forward to seeing it.

Just some thoughts

M.C. Piper

A Change of Attitude

My writing consultant encouraged me– by telling me how much she enjoyed the modern fairy tale that I wrote. My reaction was that as long back as I could remember I was thinking up such stories; and I was brought up to see it more of an indulgence, even a liability because it was so impractical. It would have been better if I’d been good at math, science, or had some technical skill; then, I could get a god job. My father’s reaction to my writing was : in this family, we have to earn a living, and as you can’t make a living writing stories, it’s a useless indulgence. I believe he was terrified that if he’d encouraged me, then I wouldn’t gain the skills needed to earn my own living, and end up destitute.

Past forward…many years…I’ve had enough of a career to be able to retire. I’m privileged to have enough to live on, and there are things that I definitely have to save for–if I want to do/have them.

And yet I still carry that attitude that my story writing is really–not all that important. It’s something that I just do–something that I love, but really just an indulgence…Of course, an attitude is a CHOICE…and I can dismiss this attitude as something that my father had… (I suspect that he was afraid that if he gave into his artistic urges–that he would be unable to earn a living and end up destitute)…and cultivate a new one, one that supports the joy and wonder that I have in writing stories.

One of the ways I’m planning on doing this is by becoming much more active on this site…not only by blogging but also by reading other peoples’ writing and coming to appreciate the skill and the joy that is in their work as well…

Just some thoughts

M.C. Piper