Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. — Matthew 24:28, The Holy Bible
THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016
I was thinking that my story would sound more convincing if I’d lost my father, nephew, and fiancee to this social-psychosomatic war, but that would simply be untrue. No, I had lost them to misfortune and accident or, perhaps, to Fate; there was no one directly to blame and that, I believe, was the insult that led me to mistrust every authoritarian figure, starting with God and ending with those egoistic, possessive demons men called humanists…
Everything with everyone seemed to boil down to reputation and, more specifically, appearances; well, so long as those vanities stayed in proper tow behind feelings. Men who prefer feelings always tell others that things will be okay, work out, be better some day. Social soothsayers, vague palm readers, and credentialed charlatans were these opportunistic optimists! They say nice things because they don’t want to be ostracized for saying honest things. They say nice things because it feels better, even when they know it is untrue. They say nice things because they are ignorant and too egoistic to know what to say — thinking, rather, What if this bad thing should happen to me? What then? How terrible!
I wasn’t afraid of authoritarians with guns, but I watchfully loathed those authoritarians with nice tongues; and of those men, Pentrick Toom was one of the nicest. And how nice he was to greet all of his trainees, and re-trainees, today. But I didn’t know these things when I joined Toom’s Electronically Enhanced Militia (TEEM) five years ago. Back then, I was just an insecure ignoramus — as are all twenty-one year olds — enhanced or not.
“Sons of the Divine!” Pentrick Toom gesticulated an opening welcome towards all underwear-clad trainees in the unfurnished and spacious conference room, “New and wayward sons! We spare no energy or hardship in setting things right with our enemies! — And enemies, we do have! — But they don’t know we have you! — That is all the difference, team — all the difference in the very atmosphere!”
Applause erupted, of course, because it had to. But not from me. It turned out that the QPUB grey pants Burly had thrown at me were just an initiation lark; I was still sore about it.
“As many of you know, Toom-Core-Albright has enjoyed a monumental year thus far,” he paused looking for something. “Hey, it’s only August, kith ’n kin!”
He began clapping for himself and nodding his stylized, black, slicked head. Most everyone followed along in a hollow clap. Not me.
“I think that deserves a clap!” he added, still clapping and grinning like a soothsaying sale-ebrity. His tailored suit had a remarkable sheen that glistened like cold steel when the light struck it and darkened from grey to black starting at the bottom third of the jacket. His tie was an embroidered snapshot of the TCA flag, the world’s most powerful logo of yellow, red, blue, and green.
When he finally stopped clapping for himself, he gripped both sides of the black, plastic podium. “There’s much left to do,” he began again, deepening his tone. “We’re still fighting the senseless war on terror that has contaminated our own soil — remnants of hate seeding and sprouting up beneath every label, color, and creed.
“Tonight mothers will go to bed wondering if their sons have been radicalized against their brave, New World; partners and spouses will question one another and friends and neighbors will be separated by suspicion. This is not the world we want to live in, kith’n; fear is not the legacy we want to leave our children.”
The room erupted in cheers and whistles, as if Pentrick wasn’t part responsible for all that was dire and dreadful. I felt nauseous.
I wiped my hands down my slick, black, tux pants —
“Damnation,” I whispered.
I leaned over to show the blonde my broken nail.
She pulled a file out of her small, gold clutch and handed it to me.
I smiled. She was lovely. It was too bad the world was going to hell just as soon as Pentrick could find his brim-stick. What time was there for love in a world like this?
I took the file and tried to work discreetly as Pentrick continued to rob the acoustical Royal Theater of any tenderness with his grinding cigarette voice.
“Our children,” he lingered on the phrase. “As you know, The Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets, recently removed the age of consent for children in sexual partnerships with adults, paving new roads for the decriminalization of men and women who long endured discrimination in the shadows of society due to their sexual preferences. Wow.”
The applause signs flashed on and off at both sides of the theater.
“Right?” He grinned. “These truly are our children — Your children. My children! Wow.”
The blonde looked at me.
I looked away. What was Pentrick waiting for? He was supposed to be introducing our New World Leader.
“Ah, but you aren’t here to listen to me babble on tonight! So, here she is, kith and kin — our New World Leader, Gaia Sopatra!”
A woman. I wasn’t surprised. Hadn’t we been groomed for years to fawn over female deity in leadership? Indeed.
No need to walk upon the stage. The new leader appeared out of thin air, it seemed, behind the glass podium, looking as delicious as a nude painting and as commanding as any girl with an outlandish, if not mannish, hair-style. She wore a bright red, leather, strapless top under a cropped power-jacket and matching pencil skirt, slit from calf to thigh on the right side. The most fragile of red heels accentuated her power with a firm, triangular point at the front; the ability to wear fragility in calculated steps was, after all, like commanding the wings of a six-hundred foot butterfly. Her thick, black hair was twisted in one heap, from front to back, where it gathered in a single dreadlocked mass down her back; the sides of her head were shaved. Her eyes were as heavily lined as her lips were lightly touched.
“Do you hear me?”
I looked at the blonde beside me who was looking elsewhere.
“I know you hear me.”
A small but mean laugh echoed around my head, and then I realized everyone else was looking around the room too.
She had not opened her mouth but she was in all of our heads.
“Ah, good. There, there; you’ve guessed it. I am Gaia.”
The weight of her honey-oozed words stilled all movement across the theater. All eyes, rapt, were upon her.
“Good evening,” she said, out loud, with a slight lift at the right corner of her lips. “Now, I know some of you require an apology for my delayed revealing, my covert leadership: I do apologize. As with all fruitful transitions, timing is essential.
“We received the last concession from Canada yesterday; this fulfilled the one-hundred and fifty signatures necessary to create this role. Those who did not sign will be dealt with or excluded from the benefits of our New World, at the discretion of the Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets. In all of these matters, we pursue the highest orders of peace, equality, and social justice.
“As the new head — or tiebreaker, if you will — of JUST, I will offer supreme oversight on behalf of all nations and peoples regarding the dealings of TORC Universal and iMAGE Tech and Media, as well as help to organize key changes, clarifications, or enhancements to our universal social tenets.
“Some of you watching tonight may have been fighting starvation, facing civil wars, or left in the uninformed backwaters of a different age; you are about to encounter renewed lives in the New World, and I applaud those countries brave enough to risk the unknown in this worldly venture and dream of a stable, synergetic community of souls on planet Earth. Thank you for your partnership and agreement.
“Toom’s Militia will be setting up bases in those countries where they did not previously exist. Those who were unprotected, within and without, are about to receive the TEEM’s strong right arm of help. We also acknowledge the TEEMs of our other world quadrants, Regal, Ooni, and Cruz, who will also participate in this building up of our order.
“Core’s water and food supply chain is now opened to all cooperating nations — Core, of course, known by the names Synsys, Wambat, and Bensen in our other quadrants. Thanks to their innovations in GMO, hydroponics, and cultured meats, there is no need to scrap over a piece of dirt; all the food you need can be grown from Core’s own facilities.
“Do you need a cure for cancer or those wintertime blues? Albright — also known as Izarry, Lamina, and Earp — is your on-call, virtual drug store.
“And if you don’t know about iMAGE, well,” she guffawed, “you must be one of the lost Sapanawa!”
Her eyes twinkled. The soulless room applauded.
“In short,” she began, waiting for the clapping to die, “today, we embark upon a new adventure, a new creation, a new race of being — the long-awaited New World Order.”
As the standing ovation rang out, I stood and quickly exited the back of the theater. Thankfully, something like that couldn’t get you killed — yet. I could hear the light tapping of the blonde’s heels catching up on the sidewalk behind me, but I didn’t linger; she was in fine shape.
“Hey!” she half-shouted. “Wait up!”
But she had already caught up before I could answer.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Does it matter?”
“I guess not…”
We walked on. I wanted to get as far away as I could from that demon in red heels — that stench of fermenting Totalitaria — that googlyslop of all things catchy and universal —
“Are you okay?” She huffed a little.
“No, I’m not okay. Do you even know how we got here?”
She looked confused. “But won’t you tell me where you’re going?”
I sighed. Dames. “I have a room there.”
Her eyes followed my finger to the adjacent apartment complex a block up. It was called by its sign: =.
She followed me home like a stray kitten. It remained to be seen whether she was feral, but I let her in all the same.
What the hell did I have to lose? What the hell did any of us have to lose? Everything belonged to Pentrick Toom, Gaia Sopatra, and Sir Maggie Popesy now — the leading Trinitarian Order.
This is the part of the story where I start smiling like a giddy author…
Sir Maggie Popesy? –– I mean can you even? I laugh out loud just typing zer name….
JUST (Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets)?… I die just a little upon that misnomer too.
Half the fun in life for me is naming things. Whether it’s a book, a new person (!), a suspicious character, a pet, or a fictional place, if I’ve given it a name, I’ve given it a great deal of thought… usually. There are rare exceptions to this where whimsy rules or I just make stuff up, but they’re rare. (Hint to understanding your author: Look up what the main character names mean in a story… Just like in the Bible, this matters.)
But where are we?! Do you even know what the heck happened in this chapter?!!
Until next time…