A novel of nanomachines, neurobiology, DNA hacking and Overmind Emergent
Biodigital, a nanotech thriller about Silicon Valley tech genius/messiah Monty Meekman and the quasi-religious cult of transhumanist computer designers and brain hackers who follow him, is set in the 1990’s. But it’s as current whatever’s trending now. And it’s YOURS FREE when you sign up for my mailing list.
(This is the same basic story as Acts of the Apostles, but with a very different focus – you’ll have to read it and see!) Just click on the link below to get your free copy.
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By John F.X. Sundman:
Acts of the Apostles
Edited John Compton Sundman:
Cheap Complex Devices
By John Sundman:[
As a child, like many children, I wanted to be a fireman, construction worker or paperback-writer when I grew up. John Sundman has done all that and much more. He lived for four years with subsistence farmers in Senegal and wrote world-class technical manuals for Sun Microsystems. He modestly claims to have done the latter without understanding the underlying ware (a refreshing alternative to manuals lacking knowledge of any human language). Like Clemens, Rowling, Clark Kent, and other greats, Sundman uses pseudonyms (changing his middle names) to protect his secret identity. He is a master of machines—computing, biological and political—and his books include details that will convince an expert, and yet enchant a distant outsider with a compelling page-turner plot. Not just plot and mechanisms, but unforgettable personalities that haunt us long after the pages stop.
John’s “Mind Over Matter” trilogy began with his first novel, Acts of the Apostles, in 1999, (significantly reworked as [Biodigital _]in 2014). His second was [_Cheap Complex Devices _]and his third, _The Pains. These books get the reader amazingly quickly into a jarringly jamais vu/deja vu world — especially for aficionados of Orwell’s 1984 and Christian doctrine. While refreshing style changes occur among them, you can find a consistent “meta” component that adds to the puzzles in each one. We must now suffer the pain of waiting for his next books Creation Science and Meekman Rising.
Long before synthetic biologists were quoting the bongo physicist, Sundman’s 1999 novel Acts of the Apostles was about “The Feynman Nine” a programmable nanoscopic machine described as “a device for finding a DNA sequence and converting it into another sequence.” Sounds a lot like the CRISPR craze of genome editing. As Joe Davis, a ‘hybrid’ artist at Harvard and MIT, might remind us, the best conceptual art (including novels) prods us to visualize vital issues that are lurking at, or far beneath, the surface of our science and cutting edge engineering. My lab specializes in the subset of topics pejoratively classified as sci-fi/impossible, which, sometimes, turn out to be relatively easy. For this we need a constant stream of challenges and inspirations. A very rich source of such challenges lies at the interface between “bio” and “digital”–the realm of synthetic genomics, virus-resistant recoded organisms and Obama’s BRAIN initiative. It is precisely this biodigital interface that lies at the heart John Sundman’s novels. Read them and you may find yourself challenged as well.
Harvard & MIT, 2015
Thank you to Helen Michaud for invaluable editorial assistance.
Big ups to Kuro5hin diarist Farq Q. Fenderson, who provided the brain seed.
Text copyright © 2008 John Sundman
Illustrations copyright © 2008 Cheeseburger Brown
Released under the Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no-derivatives license. Some rights reserved. This basically means that you are free to copy, distribute, and transmit this book, but: You have to give Sundman & Brown credit for it; you can’t use the work for commercial purposes; and you can’t make other things (such as movies or TV shows) based on it without what you check with us first.
According to most canonical scripture, this is a work of fiction. Some of the apocrypha are emphatic that it is all true. We ourselves are agnostic.
Rosalita Associates — Post Office Box 2641, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 02568 www.johnsundman.com
Book design by Marcia Gray, Gary Gray, and John Sundman
Cover Design by Mark Gibbs
with illustrations by Cheeseburger Brown: CheeseburgerBrown.com
Kindle conversion by Gary Gray
Johnsundman.com site design & maintenance by Gary Gray
This book borrows ideas and some occasional text from 1984 by George Orwell. Starting with chapter 3, attentive readers may notice some allusions to, and borrowing from, the work of the late Chris McKinstry, creator of the Mindpixel project. As far as I’ve been able to determine, there is no copyright holder.
Music and lyrics to “Mommy’s Little Monster” by Social Distortion
Music and lyrics to “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” by Kate Bush
Music and lyrics to “Story of Isaac” by Leonard Cohen
Music to “Good Morning Starshine” by Galt MacDermot. Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni.
John Damien Sundman
In Memory of
Paul Damian Sundman
Maureen Sundman Angevine
Their light is all around us.
I hope some of it shines upon you.
Inthe beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God • The same was in the beginning with God • All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made • In him was life; and the life was the light of men • And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
When I thought about this I realized that any dynamically shared resource is a channel. If a process sees any different result due to another process’s operation, there is a channel between them. If a resource is shared between two processes, such that one process might wait or not depending on the other’s action, then the wait can be observed and there is a timing channel.
Tom Van Vleck
poster session, IEEE Technical Committee on Security and Privacy conference, Oakland CA, May 1990
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Description: Terminal interrupt signal
Default action: Abnormal termination of the process
On POSIX-compliant platforms, SIGINT is the signal sent to a process when a user wishes to interrupt it. In source code, SIGINT is a symbolic constant defined in the header file signal.h. Symbolic signal names are used because a signal’s numeric value can vary across platforms; on the vast majority of systems, it is signal #2
chapter 1r. Norman Lux, nSF, woke up with a pain in his body that felt as if it might have been a soul gone bad. p<>. He first perceived the pain as a toothache in the general area of the upper right quadrant of his mouth. But as he fixed on it and tried to determine which tooth it might be that was hurting, he experienced a swift vague transfer of pain from the upper portion of his mouth—by way of the right side of his neck, down the right side of his body, traversing his torso near his belt line—to a region just north and to the left of his scrotum, where it briefly ceased. Two seconds later he felt the sharp ingrowing of the pinky toenail on his right foot. That pain stopped after about five seconds and was almost immediately replaced by the crushing weight of the white linen sheet under which, exhausted from prayer, Mr. Lux had drifted to sleep only a few hours ago. By faint dawn light, the sheet, where it pressed upon the bad toenail, showed a small bloodstain.
Mr. Lux’s breath was forced from him. The sheet, which still looked as if it were made of white linen, seemingly changed its substance from flax to steel to lead, and now to uranium or even, perhaps, some condensate of neutrons. It weighed tons. Mr. Lux could feel the pressure building in his eyeballs and wondered if they would explode.
There was a burning constriction around his throat. It was as if the Savior’s own noose were tightening, pulling his head up—even as the weight of the sins of the world, transubstantiated into bedclothes, pulled his body down. “Fred, have mercy on me,” Mr. Lux managed to whisper.
The sheet became heavier still. It was pointless for Mr. Lux to try to throw it off: he could no more get free of it than he would have been able to shake himself free of the rubble of an earthquake-collapsed cathedral. And now the toothache was back, and the L-shaped line of fire from his neck to his groin, and the toenail intent on mayhem. His entire body felt crushed, yet each pain was distinct—as if it were an illustration in an anatomy chart, or a highlighted neural pathway in a clear plastic doll.
Mr. Lux knew he should pray, but somehow the pains made prayer impossible. He thought, I am twenty-four years old. I am going to die with my body crushed to liquid and my head neatly garroted off by a thin layer of woven fabric that weighs less than eight ounces. He sensed his mouth moving as if to laugh at the thought, but the laugh was frozen in his immobile torso. Can’t laugh. Can’t breathe. I guess I can’t call for help either. But he could still move his head, which he now did, deliberately, casting his eyes around the sparse cell, nine feet wide by twelve feet long, that had been his home for the last three years.
The ancient whitewashed fieldstone walls did not lend themselves to decoration. Centered on one wall, above him and to his left, there was a simple noosifix precariously hanging from an irregularity in a rock. On the opposite wall, to his right, hanging from a nail driven into a chink in the cement, there was a kitschy airbrushed painting of a thatched cottage surrounded by flowers and with a pair of bluebirds sitting at the apex of the roof. In the short wall beyond his feet there was a narrow casement window with diamond-shaped leaded-glass panes through which he could see blurry hints of trees green with tiny leaves of early spring. Below the window were a desk and chair. On the desk: a Holy Tibble; a Fredian missal; copies of Byte Datamation, and Electrical Engineering Times; a textbook on nonlinear circuits; and one Alfred the Drinking Duck perpetual motion toy.
A monastery cell was an odd place for a young man to live in 1985, Mr. Lux thought as he was dying. Not many people nowadays chose incarceration and self-denial over freedom and pleasure. Simply having religious faith made Mr. Lux something of a weirdo—never mind his living in a nearly abandoned thousand-year-old monastery where the average age of his companions was over seventy. Mr. Lux had known before this morning, of course, that his way of life was odd. But now, suddenly, he really knew it, as if he had just stumbled upon his life from some other, normal, universe, and saw exactly how bizarre it was.
In Boston, last night, people his age, dressed in blue jeans and sweatshirts, had had pizza for dinner and then gone to smelly punk bars like The Rat and The Channel. There they had consumed beer while having their eardrums assaulted by Mission of Burma or Human Sexual Response. They had danced, shouted short conversations about war and killing over the deafening guitars, laughed, had fun, gone home with friends old or new to messy apartments full of houseplants, record albums, and Penthouse magazines. They had had sex and gone to sleep, without any thoughts in their heads, under the watchful eye of the telescreen, which would have been tuned to The Wee Hours Irony Show
In New York, last night, people his age, dressed in four-hundred-dollar shirts and six-hundred-dollar slacks, had spent a few hundred dollars each for half-plates of exalted snacks at nouvelle cuisine places on Wall Street. Then they had gone to parties in lofts in SoHo, where they had consumed champagne while discussing how war was a good time for making money. They had gone home with friends old or new to four-thousand-square-foot Tribeca apartments impeccably decorated in the retro-modernist style. They had had sex and gone to sleep, without any thoughts in their heads, under the watchful eye of the telescreen, which would have been tuned to The Wee Hours Irony Show
In McKinley DC, last night, people his age, wearing conventional clothes, had eaten conventional food and consumed alcohol. They had talked about the Party and its latest strategy for marketing the war to the proles outside the Beltway. They had had sex and gone to sleep, without any thoughts in their heads, under the watchful eye of the telescreen, which would have been tuned to The Wee Hours Irony Show
Mr. Lux, on the other hand, last night had had a meal of cold porridge with bony fish and turnips, which he had eaten in silence, in the company of other men dressed in long black cassocks like the one that he himself wore. After dinner he had gone to the chapel for prayers. After prayers he had gone to the common room for half an hour of social time, during which he had discussed Aristotelian metaphysics with an earnest newly minted priest from Hong Kong. Then he had gone back to his room, studied his textbook on nonlinear circuits for two hours, daydreamed about getting his hands on an Atari motherboard and overclocking it, kneeled at his bed and prayed for an hour meditating on the mystery of the noose, gone to sleep for three hours with his head full of thoughts about electrical circuits and redemption, and, right about the moment when other young men all over Freemerica— from Texas to New Kent to Massachusetts, were having the first of their orgasms for the night, Mr. Lux, a celibate novice in the Society of Fred, was sleepily padding down a candlelit corridor, passing one after another empty dormitory room, heading back to the chapel for the Dark Hours prayers.
Studying for the priesthood in this day and age was odd enough. But even among religious people his monastic way of life was considered perversely archaic. Other orders had accommodated themselves to changing times, found ways to train Fredian priests without making them live in some mediaeval theme park. Most priests nowadays lived among the proles. Like everybody else, priests had apartments with telescreens on which they watched Diff’rent Strokes, Happy Facts with Oliver North, _]and [_Fantasy Island; they lived in the material world, as Madonna put it. Unlike members of the Society of Fred, whose training period before ordination lasted seven years—seven years of prayerful contemplation of the Holy Tibble and the life and teachings of Fred, the Savior—most modern priests were ordained after only one year of “theological” study—and at least two-thirds of their curriculum was not based on the study of ancient texts, but on a modern spirituality of massage therapy, pyramid power, and the godhead of aroma. Moreover, mainstream priests like Peterists and Delmonicans had long ago stopped regarding the idea of sexual restraint as anything but a quaint throwback to a superstitious time. It wasn’t entirely unlikely that a young Peterist or Delmonican had cruised The Rat last night and gone home lucky.
Mr. Lux, on the other hand, had joined the retrograde and severe Society of Fred, the “Freduits,” and spent much of his time in sexually deprived silence at the Monastery of Saint Reinhold, where time more or less stood still.
But he wasn’t a prisoner there: Three days per week Mr. Lux left the monastery for a few hours to attend classes in electrical engineering at the University of New Kent, and two days each week he ministered to guests at Changes!, the Ministry of Love’s maximum-security correctional home. But even when out of the monastery, “in the World,” Mr. Lux wore the modified cassock that announced his Freduit vocation for all to see (and ridicule). And as for chastity: Well, he had lost his virginity when he was nineteen, at the insistence of his then-girlfriend Nancy, and had spent the several weeks following the loss of virginity in essentially nonstop fucking, which he greatly enjoyed. So chastity for Mr. Lux was more than a theoretical sacrifice. A few months after initiating Norman into the pleasures of the flesh, however, Nancy had been drafted into the Peace Force, and almost immediately thereafter she had been reported missing and presumed drowned when her troopship went down in the Sea of Kentucky. The very day after learning of the death of his love Nancy, Mr. Lux had received a mystical vocation, joined the Society, and taken the vow of Seven Years Waiting. Now he was in the fourth year of his seven-year program of study, and the next social orgasm he could look forward to was three years away.
To be precise, that anticipated social orgasm that would sanctify his ordination was three years, two months, and three days away. Of course, unless something changed soon he wasn’t going to live to experience it. He didn’t expect to live more than another minute, actually. Three years sure is a long time to go without breathing, Mr. Lux thought. His field of vision was narrowing; darkness was coming from all sides. It wasn’t the dying that bothered him so much, he realized, it was dying before ordination, having never felt the Vestal Tug. All that horniness wasted, with no spiritual benefit to anyone, least of all himself.
Sweat was pouring from every pore in his body, burning his eyes, soaking his mattress. What was causing all this agony? He had experienced painful fevers before, but nothing so sudden, nothing that mixed a toothache with an ingrown toenail with nuts in a vise. At last a prayer escaped his lips: Oh my Fred, I am dying, have mercy! And then, in a sudden crisp moment he thought, Might this be The Pains?
“Arrrgh!” he bellowed, screaming like an air raid siren. His bed collapsed underneath him, crashing to the floor, the ancient wood in splinters.
From this new, lower angle he looked out through the window at blue sky. All pain was gone. For a full minute he lay without moving on his cold, sweat-soaked mattress, overjoyed at the palpable lightness of the sheet, the absence of toothache, the toe that had nothing to say, the breath that went in and out as if breathing were the most natural thing in the world. How long had his ordeal lasted? One minute? Two at the most? It had seemed endless, each second a century, and yet the painless seconds raced by. He smiled at this insight into the elasticity of perceived time.
And then he heard voices, and running in the hallway. Cries of Norman! Norman!
His door swung open and his four classmates tumbled into the room— Messrs. Chen, Agnolli, LaFont, and Powers—these four who were, besides Norman, the entire future of the Society of Fred, which used to ordain a hundred Freduits each year from Saint Reinhold’s alone, centuries ago when Reinhold’s was only one among dozens of such monasteries. They stood breathless in an arc around his bed, cassocks half-fastened, noosifixes still swinging around their necks, looking down in silent awe. Another fast minute sped by.
“Fred Christ,” somebody said finally, and they all giggled.
Then Mr. Lux heard another set of footsteps approaching down the corridor. The Old Man, he thought. The Old Man must be coming.
“What’s this?” came a deep voice. “Stand back please.” The Korloonian accent was thick.
Mr. Lux still had not moved since the complex of pains had miraculously disappeared. He was aware that he was lying on his broken bed and that the abbot had just entered the room, but he was strangely content to do nothing. He thought that maybe he should rise as a sign of respect, but before he could decide whether to do that the abbot Fr. Hessberg was looming over him—six feet four inches of ex-boxer topped by another four inches of Einstein-wild hair.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, Abbot, I think so,” said Mr. Lux. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“What happened here? How did the bed break?”
“I don’t know.”
Father Hessberg thought about that for a moment.
“Were you alone?” he asked, with his accent sounding more pronounced than ever. His blue eyes seemed to Mr. Lux as if they would bore through him.
“Yes, Father. I was alone.”
The abbot and the novice stared at each other for another few moments, until Fr. Hessberg stepped back, looked to his left and right at the other novices, and said, “It looks like Mr. Lux has been dreaming about the Vestal Virgins again. Don’t worry, Norman, your tug will come.”
Mr. Lux smiled and the four others laughed nervously.
“Gentlemen, thank you for your concern. You may go back to your business,” the abbot said, “quietly.” Mr. Chen, Mr. Agnolli, Mr. LaFont, and Mr. Powers meekly left the room, presumably to return to their cells for private prayer and reflection until it was time for ablutions and breakfast.
Norman Lux still had not moved other than to speak. Now Fr. Hessberg knelt on the cold flagstone floor. He felt the sheet, which was quite drenched where it rested on Mr. Lux’s body. He smelled his finger, and then turned his attention to the penny-sized bloodstain over Mr. Lux’s right pinky toe.
“Mr. Lux, please go to the infirmary, and I will have Father Doyle meet you there. I am hoping that he will determine that you are well. If he does so, please join me in my study after matins.”
“Yes, Father Abbot,” Mr. Lux said. The abbot was already halfway out the room.
Father Doyle’s examination was perfunctory and the results unremarkable. Perhaps Fr. Doyle would have taken a little more time if Mr. Lux had volunteered a little more information about what he had experienced. But Fr. Doyle asked little, Mr. Lux told less, and ten minutes after the examination had begun, the patient was declared hale.
“Nothing a cold bath won’t cure,” Fr. Doyle said.
Cold bath? The bath was beyond cold; it was freezing. Nevertheless it was barely having the beneficial effect to which he presumed Fr. Doyle had alluded. For although Norman Lux had gone through most of last week without giving more than a passing thought to his future ordination and the Rite of the Vestals that would consecrate it, now that Fr. Abbot and Fr. Doyle had put the thought into his head he was having a difficult time putting it out of his mind. And out of his . . . well . . . But eventually, when he was sure he was on the edge of hypothermia, the hot blood quieted and his thoughts turned from the Virgins to his odd experience of just an hour ago.
He returned from the baths to his room, where he found that his broken bed had been replaced by a structurally sound one and made up with fresh linens. He quickly dressed in loose black pants and handwoven white shirt, over which he put his spare black cassock. He went to the window and pushed it open. Smells of breakfast wafted up from the kitchen one floor down. Birds chirped. It was good to be alive, Mr. Lux thought, even if he was about to go have a chat with the Old Man, something most residents of Saint Reinhold’s relished as much as they did a visit to the tooth doctor. He made a quick sign of the noose and strode purposefully out of his room.
The route to the abbot’s study took him down long dark corridors. From his room in the Old Dormitory made of stone he walked up the tower stairs to a newer wing made of brick. Newer, but still old, and just as vacant. But though most of the rooms in every wing of the monastery were empty— more than one thousand empty rooms—and although all of its hundreds of hallways were only dimly illuminated, yet Saint Reinhold’s was anything but decrepit. The monastery was immaculately clean; the floors even shone. The Freduits gave no indication that they had noticed their order was dying out. If a hundred recruits were to show up tomorrow the monastery could handle the influx with no problem. The Society of Fred, an obscure dying order in a dying church, simply refused to acknowledge that the world no longer needed or wanted it—if it ever had.
Once again Mr. Lux experienced the clear realization that he had had when his sheet was crushing him to death just a little while ago, the profound awareness of how odd was his monastic lifestyle. And yet he felt perfectly at home here, could imagine living nowhere else. He realized that he was actually looking forward to going to see the Old Man.
“Come in,” Fr. Hessberg said. “Take a seat.”
The abbot sat in a giant wooden chair behind an enormous wooden desk. He indicated a small wooden stool on the opposite side of the desk. Mr. Lux sat.
“Well?” the abbot said.
“Yes, Father Abbot?”
“What happened to you this morning? I want to know everything.”
And so Mr. Lux told him, as accurately as he could, about how he had awakened. He told him about the tooth pain, the toenail pain, the migrating pains—even about his imagining himself an anatomy doll. Father Hessberg said nothing, merely regarded Norman Lux with those intense blue eyes.
“Is that all?” the abbot finally said.
Mr. Lux hesitated. He knew that there might be severe consequences for what he was about to say. Consequences, perhaps, such as being asked to leave the Society of Fred. But it was the truth, and the truth would set him free.
“I had the strong sense that the pain in my body might have been a soul gone bad,” he said, and drew in his breath like a child expecting a spanking.
But the reaction of the abbot was not severe or chagrined. In fact, Mr. Lux had the impression that this confession was the single thing that Fr. Hessberg had been waiting to hear, that everything that had happened since the Old Man had knelt by Mr. Lux’s bed until now had merely been a patient exercise to get Mr. Lux to volunteer this fact.
“Ah, so.” Father Hessberg said. “Just so. You think it might have been The Pains.”
The abbot looked distracted, as if he were thinking of something far off. Without seeming to pay much attention to what he was doing, he opened a drawer in his desk from which he withdrew what appeared to be a thick dowel of dark wood and a small knife with an ivory handle. He began to whittle, without looking at his hands.
“You are in your fourth year here, is that correct?”
The abbot obviously knew it was correct. It wasn’t as if the abbot of Saint Reinhold’s were the registrar at the University of New Kent, where there were thousands of students in each class. The abbot of Saint Reinhold’s had only had five recruits in the last four years.
“Father Murray is your instructor in metaphysics?”
The abbot knew that too.
“The Pains is a fairly abstruse subject. I’ve been a Freduit for fifty-four years, and I’ve never heard of a confirmed case of The Pains. So you can see why it’s not a subject that is covered in introductory courses. The Pains is a very rare condition. You understand that don’t you?”
“Of course, sir.”
“When did you first encounter the theology of The Pains? Was it recently?”
Now that he mentioned it . . . Mr. Lux’s confidence seemed to diminish a few notches.
“Why, yes Father. It was last week,” Mr. Lux said.
“Tell me, son, what is your understanding? What are The Pains?”
“One person experiences physical torment in proportion to the danger to another person’s soul.”
“And the fate of the world is tied to the fate of the person whose soul is in danger,” Mr. Lux added, somewhat sheepishly. “And commutatively to the Painee.”
“So the person who experiences The Pains can only save himself if he saves the endangered soul and thereby saves the world. Is that right? He is a kind of savior?”
“Yes, Father.” He could see where this was going, and felt himself blushing.
“And what is the correlation between this endangered soul and the person with The Pains? How does one relate to the other? What is the cause and effect? In other words, why do The Pains descend upon one particular person, for example, upon you instead of me?”
“Nobody knows,” Mr. Lux said.
And then Mr. Lux really put his foot in it, responded without thinking. He blurted out an idea that he had been carrying around for a week without even realizing how much he had been brooding about it.
“I don’t think it is a matter of cause and effect, Father Abbot. I think it has to do with chaos theory.”
“Chaos theory!” the abbot laughed. He placed the knife and stick of wood, which appeared to be taking the shape of—what? A boat?—on the desk.
Whereas all morning, until this instant, Fr. Hessberg had been playing to the hilt the role of stereotypic Korloonian—intense, no nonsense—now he laughed as if he had never seen such a funny thing in his life: A fourth-year Freduit novice, hornier than a herd of rhinoceri, learns about The Pains in his metaphysics class and one week later becomes convinced that he’s the One to save the world, thinking it has to do with some new kind of funny math.
“Chaos theory!” and the priest gagged on his laughter and slapped the desk. Tears were streaming down his face. Eventually he got his composure back, at least partially.
“Well that’s the one thing I love about Father Murray,” the abbot continued. The strain of not laughing was nearly too much for him. “When he teaches metaphysics, by Fred he makes it real. He makes a believer out of you!”
“Yes, Father,” Mr. Lux said. Why had he ever thought that coming to the Old Man’s office would be an OK thing to do? What had he been thinking? Whatever little bits of self-confidence he had had when entering the abbot’s study had vanished. A moment ago he had been willing to bet his vocation, and now he felt like an idiot.
“Mr. Lux, tell me about your job.”
“My job, Father?”
“Yes. Your job. You have started working in the chaplaincy at the prison, have you not? The prison the, the, the . . . what do they call it now?”
“Compassionate care facility,” Mr. Lux said. “It’s been privatized. They call it Changes, with an explanation point,” he said, then added with emphasis, “Changes!
The abbot didn’t appear to be listening to him.
“Do you know, Mr. Lux, what is the chief medical complaint of medical students?”
“Medical students. What diseases they get while in medical school? You don’t know? I will tell you. Whatever one they are studying that they have never heard of before. They read about the symptoms, and the next thing you know they experience them. Do you like working at the prison?”
“Well, Father, I—”
“We had another seminarian here not too long ago. An extraordinary student, actually. Ferocious faith. Horatio Norton, his name. He too once thought he had The Pains. He’s now a prisoner there, a—what do they call them now?”
“Yes, a ‘guest,’ ” the abbot sneered. “He was convicted of selling Freemerican secrets, military secrets, to my home country, Korloon, in Eastasia, with whom Freemerica now plans to go to war. Did you know I was Korloonian?”
Mr. Lux had heard that the abbot could sometimes work himself into a frenzy, but in four years had never heard him raise his voice. In fact, Mr. Lux had never seen him more agitated than he appeared to be right now. Father Hessberg got up from his chair and paced his candlelit study.
“Yes, Father, I had heard—” Mr. Lux started to say.
“This seminarian, this prisoner, Norton, what do they call him?”
Should Mr. Lux admit that he knew of this ex-Freduit? It seemed a hot topic, perhaps one best avoided for now.
“What they call him, Father?” Mr. Lux said, feigning ignorance.
“Do not play games with me, child!” Father Hessberg shouted. “You know very well what I mean. What is the appellation they have given him?”
It was no good playing dumb.
“Father Abbot, sir, they call him the Eagle.”
“Yes, yes!” said Fr. Hessberg, lowering his voice. “The Eagle. Let me ask you, did he ask to speak to a chaplain last week? To meet with you?”
“Well. So. That is the first time he has asked to see a chaplain in six years. Did you speak with him?”
How did Fr. Hessberg know that the Eagle had not spoken to a chaplain in six years? How did he know that Mr. Lux had spoken with him last week?
“Yes,” Mr. Lux said.
“For how long?”
“About ten minutes.”
“About what did you speak?”
“Small talk. The weather. Caring-facility food.”
“Not about The Pains?”
“Oh no sir, never. We didn’t talk about anything remotely metaphysical.”
“He will want to, you know,” Fr. Hessberg said. “He will certainly want to discuss metaphysics with you. He is a very gifted debater too. Very subtle. Mr. Lux, what do you think of the Party?”
“The Party, Father?” Father Hessberg jumped from one topic to another as if there were a logic he could see that was completely invisible to Mr. Lux.
“Come, come, son. I am your abbot. Big Brother does not come within the walls of Saint Reinhold’s. There are no telescreens here. You can speak freely to me. You do not need to fear the Party here.”
“Well then, sir, I think the Party is an abomination.”
“And so it is. But not everyone that the Party convicts of a crime and sends to prison is innocent. Remember that. This ‘Eagle’ will soon want to discuss theology with you, and as chaplain it will be your duty to minister to him. Do you understand what that means?”
“Yes, I hope so.”
“You must bear witness to Fred who was hanged in the noose!” the abbot exclaimed. “This is a responsibility you cannot avoid, although I wish I could go in your place. This man, this ‘Eagle,’ is a danger to your soul, Mr. Lux. Be very careful.”
“Yes, sir.” Mr. Lux felt a sudden coldness all through him, as if he were back in Fr. Doyle’s ice bath.
“Mr. Lux, look at me.”
The abbot’s eyes blazed blue fire.
“Mr. Lux, you do not have The Pains. The Pains is a rare condition unseen on Earth for more than five hundred years. It is natural for you to have thought that you did. It happens to many seminarians. It happened to me. But I did not have The Pains, nor did the Horatio Norton have The Pains. And you do not have The Pains. Now, repeat after me: ‘I do not have The Pains.’ ”
“I do not have The Pains,” Mr. Lux said, without conviction.
“But perhaps by the time your study here has concluded, you will wish that you did have them. Come, stand up. We must go to the chapel. It is time for prayers.”
Despite the cold the car’s windows were rolled down and the punk strains of “Mommy’s Little Monster” from the Repo Man soundtrack poured out of them at 115 decibels, shaking the season’s first leaves out of their buds in the woods and pastures along either side of the road.
[Mommy’s little monster dropped out of school
Mommy’s little monster broke all the rules
He loves to go out drinking with the boys
_He loves to go out and make some noise _]
The winter of 1984–85 had been longer, colder, and wetter than any winter New Kent had seen in thirty years. Yesterday, well into April, there had been frost on the windshield. This morning offered the first hint of really nice weather since sometime last October. It was twenty-five degrees warmer than it had been this time yesterday. Suddenly there was a yellow blur of daffodils—daffodils, for Fred’s sake—along the road.
Xristi Friedman, at the wheel, was trying to dig the spring, the fresh air; she was really trying. Her left arm—the one with the double helix tattooed up its length—was exposed to the wind, pounding time to the music against the outside of the car door. Her blue-streaked hair blew in the wind and the eight earrings in her left ear rattled. It was a good day to dig the fresh air. It was a good place to dig the fresh air, out here where Lyman Street passed through what remained of Shaker Woods, the last undeveloped place in Eastboro. Xristi inhaled the cold spring air deeply.
In all truth, however, her hand was freezing. And the fresh air, tinged with the odor of cow shit, really wasn’t all that pleasant. But it wasn’t all bad: The inrushing air would flush out some of the smells of dead French fries, tobacco, pot, and spilled coffee that had soaked into the Volvo’s upholstery since autumn, the last time these windows had been opened.
Her hands were cold, her ears were cold. Besides which, the Party was giving her the chills.
The Party, which she had heretofore tended to think of as a mere annoyance, was starting to become a serious pain in her ass. The Party, embodied in the form of a letter from the chancellor, was threatening to ruin her day. And it did not help matters that the Party, in the form of Uncle Ronald the Great Communicator, was staring her in the face right now.
From a prodvert board atop a hillock dead ahead—which had until recently been the site of Upman’s Forge, a minor historic building that had been leveled as part of the Party’s Great Arrival of Progress—the giant smiling likeness of Ronald Reagan, Minister of Awareness, looked down on her. Xristi Friedman glanced up at him.
As she reached the place where the road turned left around Upman’s Rise, about twenty-five yards from the base of the prodvert board, the volume of the music coming from her car’s seven jury-rigged speakers rapidly diminished to a quiet background, and the gentle, confident voice of Uncle Ronald came over them.
“Hey, friend, slow down!” he said with a hint of a laugh. “That’s a dangerous kink in the road. Take it too fast and you’ll wind up on the wrong side. And remember, thinking wrong thoughts can be just as dangerous as driving on the wrong side of the road! This is just a friendly reminder from your Minister of Awareness that, paradoxical as it might sound—whoa! Where did that ten-cent word come from?—sometimes not knowing is better than knowing. Curiosity killed the cat, my grandmother used to say. Remember, ignorance is strength!”
“And this is just a friendly reminder from Xristi Friedman: Fuck you,” said Xristi as she reached over to switch off the stereo. “And remember, fuck you. Or, as my grandmother used to say, fuck you.”
Accelerating out of the curve where the road swerved around the rise, the Volvo harvested the energy of that turn like Apollo 13 rounding the moon and rocketed onto a straightaway that bifurcated the Party’s demonstration Farm of the Future. As it did so, an unsecured tank of liquid nitrogen rolled across the back of the car and slammed into the left side wall. Xristi switched the stereo back on.
[He doesn’t wanna be a doctor or a lawyer get fat rich.
He’s twenty years old he quit his job,
Unemployment pays his rent!]
In pastures on the left and the right of the road, cows that had been standing dropped to the ground and cows on the ground appeared to be trying to place their hooves over their ears. “Mommy’s Little Monster” was playing so loud that it nearly masked the detonations emanating from the Volvo’s shattered muffler.
As the automobile righted itself, Xristi looked over to make sure that the chancellor’s letter had not blown out the window. No; it was still there, smirking up at her like the schoolyard bully who has all the teachers bamboozled into thinking he is the nicest boy in the world.
The Party was trying to bring her down; the chancellor was trying to bring her down. But she wasn’t going to let them bring her down. It was spring, damn it! The return of life from the frozen underworld! Nature’s own cryonics laboratory! She again inhaled deeply the smell of pure green resurrection as she pressed the accelerator harder. Okay, so there was a hint of cow shit in the air, so what? Mostly the smell was a smell of pure green resurrection. And the riot of sound was invigorating.
Her automobile was a mobile sonic bomb, a single-minded assault on whatever bucolic vestiges remained in the township of Eastboro, New Kent, since the Great Arrival of Progress. The GAP was the name given by the Party to its expropriation of the farms and woods from local owners for development into country estates and golf courses for Party Pioneers. They came here for a taste of ersatz “heartland,” the quiet life among the proles. Well, fuck that. Xristi’s car was a giant middle finger to the Party. She wasn’t afraid of the Party. If the Party was so damn powerful, if the Party had transformed Freemerica into such a thoughtcrime police state, why wasn’t there even a cop on the road to give her a loudspeed ticket? The Party was bullshit, a figment, a Wizard of Oz that was only scary if you were afraid of it. And the chancellor was nothing more than a Party hack. The chancellor could go pound sand.
Despite these heroic goodthink efforts, however, Xristi Friedman was in fact not digging the fresh air. She was not digging the new leaves, the promise of warmth, the flowers in the meadows, the return of the birds. She was in a bad mood. A bad fucking mood, thank you very much. Because the Party might be a figment, but the letter from the chancellor poking out from under the box of cassettes on her passenger seat was very real. The chancellor was the pure embodiment of the Party, and this letter was the pure embodiment of the chancellor. Fred, she loathed them. And besides, she was sick to death of this soundtrack.
“You suck,” she said as she pressed the cassette player’s eject button. She was talking as much to spring as she was to Social Distortion, her favorite band. “Where’s that damn Mission of Burma?” she muttered.
As soon as the cassette popped out of the player, the radio instantly switched on. It was the [_Happy Celebrity Gossip with Regis and Mindy _]show.
“Evidently his cat got stuck in the chimney,” Mindy was saying with a gratingly fake laugh. “So he put on a Santa Claus suit and put some kat kibble in his mouth and climbed in after her . . .”
“Awwww . . .” Regis answered. A laugh track echoed with sighs and laughter. Cuteness at 115 decibels. But before Xristi could even reach the volume switch, Regis and Mindy dimmed down. And then there was some brass band playing a marshal theme.
“Greetings, Freemericans!” A nasal voice assaulted her. “This is Minister of National Well-Being Oliver North with an important message. These are dangerous times, when freedom-hating terrorists beset our nation from within and without. But we are a strong, proud people, and we will not give in to fear—”
It must be coming from a prodvert board, Xristi thought, but she had never heard this message before, and she drove down this road every day. She looked to her left and saw that indeed a board was there that had not been there yesterday. It showed a man in uniform with a very sober look on his face. She tried to remember what had been at this spot on Lyman Street before this morning, but she drew a blank.
“Every day I hear from hundreds of patriotic Freemericans asking me what they can do to help our country, and every day I give the same simple answer: Support our troops. As someone who has taken a bullet for this proud land—with no regrets—I can tell you how much it means to soldiers in harm’s way to have the unwavering support of the citizenry. Nothing hurts our men and women in uniform more than seeing their efforts undercut by so-called loyal opposition. Be Freemerican! Support our troops!”
“Fred fuck,” Xristi said. “Not another one.”
With enormous relief she found the Mission of Burma cassette and violently inserted it into the slot, and like a blessing the first notes of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” poured forth. And not a moment too soon: She was entering the worst part of her drive, where she had to run a gauntlet of institutional care facilities.
Three hundred yards away to her left was an enormous grey building with gun towers at dozens of vertices. Even from here she could see the caregivers with their rifles standing by machine guns mounted on tripods. Where Lyman Street met the driveway to the rehabilitation center there was a welcome house surrounded by walls of sandbags from which dozens of gun barrels protruded. Atop the welcome house there was a bright new sign:
Where oldthink becomes newthink,
and dreams become reality!]
Then she passed in quick succession the Women’s Benevolent Association maintained by the Ministry of Special Love and the Home for Little Wanderers maintained by Kindness and Kid Kare, inKorporated.
Here she rolled up her windows. She knew that it was physiologically impossible for her to actually hear screams over the muffler and the Mission. But her ears had been known to play tricks on her in the past, and she wasn’t taking any chances.
The institutional care park gave way again to forest, and Xristi, suddenly sick of the noise, turned off the stereo. She couldn’t turn off her broken muffler, but by slowing down to thirty miles an hour she could diminish it to a reasonable roar.
About a mile beyond the Little Wanderer’s Home, opposite the little ramshackle house on the right side of the road, Xristi turned left. At fifteen miles an hour she steered her car between two decrepit stone pillars that each sported large DO NOT ENTER signs. The Party evidently hadn’t rechristened this place yet, had not yet found a bland euphemism to hide its real purpose. Or if they had, they hadn’t noticed the concrete EASTBORO STATE MENTAL HOSPITAL built into the stonework.
She drove past a succession of buildings on either side of the road, all disused and ill-maintained, set back on giant lawns. She went slowly here: The first time she had driven here she had nearly killed someone who was walking down the middle of the road, oblivious, talking to somebody who was evidently invisible. This shortcut through the old mental hospital was always the favorite part of her drive to her laboratory. It was her favorite place to gather her thoughts, such as they were.
About a hundred yards up the road, still well downhill of the hospital’s Main Hall, she slowed nearly to stopping and turned left down an unmarked dirt path. She drove alongside a ramshackle greenhouse whose windows were mostly broken, then past a row of garages filled with rusted trucks, and eventually to the side of a lake. There, in a small patch of sunlight near some maple trees, she turned off the motor. Her ears were still ringing.
She was tempted to grab a joint from the stash under her front seat, or at least a roach from the ashtray. But she had the feeling that getting a buzz on would not be a good idea. Today, she had the feeling, she would need all her wits about her.
“Well, let’s have another look at you,” she said, and reached over to retrieve the letter from the chancellor that she had received yesterday.
April 19, 1985
Office of the Chancellor
University of New Kent
Eastboro, New Kent
Dr. Xristi Friedman, PhD
Professor of Cryoneurology
University of New Kent
Eastboro, New Kent
Dear Dr. Friedman,
On behalf of the Party, it gives me great pleasure to inform you that in honor of your nearly two decades of brilliant and revolutionary contributions to the science of cryobiology, you have been selected by the Trustees of the University to assume custody of the Chronos Collection. I am certain that you appreciate that this is a signal honor, among the highest that the University can bestow.
You are hereby relieved of your onerous teaching and research obligations having to do with all non-human life forms. As of today, you are at liberty to pursue research on the reanimation of human heads.
Party Member in Good Standing
She resisted the urge to rip the paper to shreds.
“Oh yeah, Monty?” she said. “You think it will be that easy to get rid of me? Is that what you think? Well, we’ll just see about that.”
chapter 3r. Norman Lux, nSF, as he shuttled down empty and seemingly endless corridors of the Monastery of Saint Reinhold, sometimes thought of himself as an electron following convoluted paths on a CMOS chip. In Saint Reinhold’s vast silent complexes of hallways, stairways, dormitories, infirmaries, courtyards, libraries, chapels, kitchens, classrooms, pantries, carpentry shops, lavatories, colonnades, iconic grottos, prayerful stations of the noose, and disused rooms of all description; in innumerable echoing vertices where he could choose to go upstairs or downstairs, left or right or straight ahead to get from point A to point B; at anonymous junctures where he chose which way to go based on whimsy and a general sense of his position and vector, without a map (for there was no map of the Monastery of Saint Reinhold: Who would have produced it? For whom to consult?)—in places he had never been before but which were somehow familiar to him—in his mind he compared his bounded explorations of the monastery to that of an electron scooting down a doped silicon pathway of a microprocessor, through AND and OR gates; through NANDs and NORs, doing its thing, performing its part in a computation infinitely beyond its subatomic comprehension. To the extent that any electron implemented a computer’s thinking, and to the extent that this very Monastery of Saint Reinhold was a consecrated place (Norman the Freduit novice mused), to that extent he himself was an aspect of Fred’s thought: Norman Lux’s trajectory itself, perhaps, even an infinitesimal computation of Fred’s divine mercy.
He wondered, were his own movements through the maze really a stochastically dithered isomorph of subatomic pieces moving through some theoretical computer chip that was part of the same essential entity as Saint Reinhold’s: a self-similar tracing of a fractal pattern, an irresistible pull of Fred-only-knew what importance? But there he stopped himself. Such Tronish musings were mere mental masturbation of a short-pants theologian who also happened to be a part-time student of electrical engineering at the University of New Kent, a waste of precious time and an invitation to thoughts even more problematic. In particular, it was not good for Mr. Lux to think of the words “irresistible pull” and “masturbation.” His ordination, with its Vestal Tugs and the release of seven years of pent-up essence was still so far in the future as to be fantastical and hence an occasion of sin. He resolved to think of more wholesome things.
It had been three weeks since that painful morning when he had thought that he was going to die, when his bed had broken under a neutron star of a bedsheet. Three weeks since his odd interrogation by the abbot, which had culminated in a prophecy of a cosmic duel with Horatio Norton, the Eagle. During those three weeks Mr. Lux had concentrated on his studies—on the physics, not the metaphysics. He had tried to put out of his mind the notion that those inexplicable pains, that horrible suffering throughout his body that had made seconds seem like minutes and minutes seem like centuries, had been caused by a soul, somewhere, gone bad, or about to go bad. He prayed in the chapel, prayed while contemplating the body of Fred swaying gently in the breeze, while contemplating the mysteries of the noose, the stations of the rope—prayed that he would be able to put the idea of The Pains out of his mind. Largely he had succeeded. But not entirely. And now, today, he was going back to Changes!, back as chaplain. And he would minister to Horatio Norton, the former novice, the Eagle.
Cold bright sun assaulted Mr. Lux as he left the main arched doorway of Reinhold’s Gate, one of the seventeen major entrances to the monastery. He stepped into the sunlight, breathed deeply, and gazed upon the vast demesne of New Kent, seemingly at his feet. The monastery, which had once been a magnificence, a men-only city unto itself on a high solitary mount in a wilderness, was now embarrassed by its history and pretension. No longer a city unto itself, it was a gigantic building, empty, empty, empty, sustained on centuries-old canned goods and the kindness of strangers, perched like a pus-filled whitehead on the rude inflamed uprising that was Mount Reinhold, an archaic anomaly in a countryside long since domesticated, like a little vertical Sherwood Forest hemmed in on all sides by a relentless modernity. But still the view was breathtaking: fields, farms, roads, a university, a city . . .
His black linen cassock quickly collected every joule offered by the sun, warming him against the chill as he began his long, steep stroll down to the roadway, down to the World. It was springtime, but closer to winter than summer. Another cold morning lay on New Kent, for 1985 was slow in warming. Mr. Lux’s thighs complained at the strain of the sharp descent from Mount Reinhold, but Mr. Lux himself liked that the monastery was so archly perched. He liked the view of New Kent City and the surrounding countryside that the position afforded, but more importantly he liked that the place was hard to ascend to and no less hard to descend from. As a spiritual metaphor it was right. And Mr. Lux needed that rightness today more than ever. He did his best to absorb the metaphorical solidity of Fred’s mansion on a hill as he gathered himself to attempt a mission for which he felt totally unqualified and unprepared. Like a shy child in the wings about to go on stage for the first time in her life, stomach in knots, heart racing, dread in every cell, Norman would have given anything to delay this assignment. But already Mr. Lux could see Carson’s pickup truck—high on lifters, body polished cherry red, with chrome roll bars and oversized wheels—idling in wait for him. Carson Myers, Change Facilitator, was at the wheel a quarter of a mile away, waiting to give Mr. Lux a ride to the facility. Mr. Lux increased his pace. He had left the sanctuary; there was no point in dawdling. His legs began to ache in earnest.
Minutes later, having clambered up to its ridiculous height—tripping over his flowing black clerical garb like a lady in a Western movie caught in her petticoats mounting a stagecoach — Mr. Lux was buckled into the passenger seat of the four-by-four. Carson, a babyfaced and somewhat flabby big lummox of a man-child nearly twice the size of Norman Lux, sat in the driver’s seat, his creased Changes! uniform seemingly radiating the confident mission of the Ministry of Love. But Carson himself was morose today. Whereas on the few other occasions when the two had been together, Carson had been voluble, a happy boy in a man’s body, today he had only grunted a hello as he put the vehicle into gear.
Mr. Lux hated this kind of situation: knowing he was expected to speak but having nothing to say. More precisely, he did have something to say, but what he had to say was silence. Here in the World, however, silence was incorrectly parsed as null and would not do. He was called upon to minister the word of Fred to a world sorely in need of it. After all, that was why he had left the cloistered maze of Saint Reinhold’s and gone out into the World today. The abbot’s injunction still rang in his ears: You must bear witness to Fred who was hanged in the noose! This is a responsibility you cannot avoid . . .
“You seem down today, Carson,” Mr. Lux ventured. “Is something bothering you?” He spoke meekly and blushed, aware of his outfit. As natural as the cassock seemed in the monastery halls, that was how unnatural it seemed in the World. He sensed blood rushing to his cheeks.
“It ain’t nothing,” Carson said. “Tiffany’s bitching about The Judge again and if there is one thing I cannot stand it is a woman bitching about a man’s pickup truck. Fred, that woman can be a bitch.”
“You’re sitting in him,” Carson said, patting the dashboard with his right hand and finally showing a small smile.
“And Tiffany being . . . ?” Mr. Lux asked hesitantly.
“My wife, Padre. My damn wife. I already told you that I’m sure.” The smile was gone.
Defeated on his opening gambit, he wished more fervently that he could say nothing. But Mr. Lux had started the conversation and now felt trapped in it.
“So you’re having troubles then? Many young couples need help learning . . .”
“We’re not having troubles, Father,” Carson interrupted. “She’s just bitchy. I still love her to death; she knows that. She’s cute as a pea in a pod. Her being a bitch comes from being knocked up; that’s the way they are. Those hormones get wrong and then watch out, squaw on the warpath.”
“Tiffany . . . she’s bound to be apprehensive with all the changes going on inside her and, um, all the new responsibilities looming ahead. Um . . . Be patient with her.”
“I’m plenty patient with her. Until she goes ragging on my truck right when I’m fixing to go to work dealing with some of the roughest changeneeders in the whole theme park. She bitches about that too.”
“. . . about . . . ?”
“Tiffany thinks I should get another job.”
Carson was a simple man, nice enough, who loved his wife and his pickup truck; a prison guard who did not even know he was a prison guard but thought he was a change facilitator; a man who, like the Party itself, made no distinction between murderers, rapists, and people who had defied the Party by wearing a T-shirt that mocked Ronald Reagan—they were all merely people who needed to change. In Carson’s and the Party’s eyes, a maximum-security prison was a theme park where frowns could, with enough time and care, be turned upside down. Carson could not even comprehend the basic notion that Mr. Lux had not been ordained and thus should not be addressed as “Father.” What advice could Mr. Lux offer to such a man in such a circumstance? None. And yet he had been instructed by the abbot to go out into the World and minister the word of Fred. But in truth there was something else troubling Mr. Lux, and he was only giving Carson’s problems half of his attention. The other half went to the leathercovered tome that rested on his lap—the book he had been surreptitiously reading in his monastic cell for the last week when he was supposed to be studying circuit design. An ancient volume he had hunted down in one of Saint Reinhold’s obscure unused libraries, it was not exactly a forbidden book, but neither was it one he would want to be seen reading by the abbot. And it was certainly the kind of book that he did not wish to be seen reading by the person he was on his way to see. But absentmindedly he had taken it with him this morning when leaving for Changes!, and he could not make it disappear. Nervously he lifted the cover and glanced at the gothic lettering on the first page:
Annotationes de grave cognitione conveniuntur a venustate nostri domini Fred in monasterio sancti Hiram ad investigenda postulata Chai et luis et imminentis exitii mundi, ut notata a vero teste ibi, Damien Hessberg, anno 1458
He had no idea whether he would be allowed to take it into Changes! yet leaving the book in the truck would be too complicated, and risky—Mr. Lux was not planning to go back with Carson today. Well, he would have to figure out something. In the meantime, Mr. Lux forced his attention back to his pastoral duties.
“Have you thought about that? Getting another job?”
“Well, Father, I don’t have to tell you that enforcing love is hard, dangerous work . . . Minister of Awareness Uncle Ron said so himself. And he personally handled plenty of tough guys. I know why Tiffany is scared. The Eagle himself is in Changes!. But if I don’t help him change, who will?”
“So you are a member of the Party, then, Carson?”
“Now you’re buttering me up, Father.”
That last remark left Mr. Lux truly speechless, and the rest of the ride to Changes! did take place in silence. Soon enough The Judge had been parked, Carson and Mr. Lux had passed through several different MiniLove checkpoints, had recited the proper loyalty codes—War is peace, ignorance is strength, Big Brother is the only Decider—and now the two men stood before the COR, change opportunity room, of Horatio Norton, the Eagle, himself.
“Welcome to the panopticon,” Horatio Norton said. He was a handsome muscular man, perhaps forty years old, with an intense gaze. “How’s your pains?”
Father Abbot had said that the Eagle would challenge him, and already the challenging had begun.
“Good day to you. I understand that you have asked to see a chaplain?”
“You don’t have to go in there,” Carson said. “You can talk to him from here if you like.”
“Please open this cell and lock me in it,” Mr. Lux said to the guard and then, after that had been done, he took a seat at a small table opposite the Eagle and said, “My name is Norman Lux. You may recall our having met. I’m a novice of the Society of Fred at the Monastery of Saint Reinhold, where I understand you yourself once studied . . .”
“What is the mind?” interrupted Norton.
“Why are you here?” Mr. Lux answered.
“What is ‘here’? Do you mean why am I a guest at Changes!, or do you mean why am I a prisoner in this prison?”
“You tell me.”
“Bah,” the Eagle snarled. “I thought you might be somebody I could talk with, in English. But now I see you’re just a bullshit newspeak drone. Guard! Get this cretin out of my cell.”
“OK,” Mr. Lux conceded. “Why are you a prisoner in this prison?”
“Do you know what I am accused of?”
“They say I murdered Templeton Cheney, the Party’s mannequin, and froze his little rat head in a meat locker.”
“Did you do that?”
The Eagle waved his bar-coded, tattooed hand dismissively.
“What is the mind?” he asked. “Have you any conception of that?” The Eagle was leaning intently towards him now.
“The mind,” Mr. Lux said as calmly as he could, “is that facility by which we can come to know the infinite goodness and mercy of Fred, and learn to love as He loved.”
“Do you know, why do they not kill me? Why do they not disappear me?”
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Lux. “Tell me.”
“They keep me alive for two reasons: They want to know what I know, and they want to change the way I think.”
“And what do you know that is so valuable to them?”
“What do I know? I know what mind is, and I know what consciousness is. Mind is a seven-dimensional hypersphere, and conscious thought is a great arc thereon, the shortest path between two points, two mindpixels.”
“Two points on a seven-dimensional hypersphere,” Mr. Lux repeated.
“Pixels of the mind. Precisely.”
“Why seven dimensions? Why not the four dimensions of space-time that you and I inhabit?”
“Did God engineer the mind, then?”
“Shut up and hear me. Optimal cognition is a geometric conception. Thoughts are trajectories on the Hebbian association–deformed surface of a unit hypersphere optimized for surface area. There exist evolutionarily plausible approximations of this mathematical object, and homologous structures to the theoretical object are anatomically and electrophysiologically identifiable in mammalian and nonmammalian species. This geometric conception of cognition, were it understood and embraced by smart people such as yourself, could serve to prime our expectations and plans for alien, artificial, and human cognition. Whether God made it that way or whether that’s the way it randomly evolved is not an interesting question to me. You should talk to my friend Xristi Friedman. She deconstructs frozen brains for a living.”
Mr. Norman Lux, nSF, waited a moment; waited to be sure that this expository speech had been concluded.
“And how about you, Horatio,” he said. “Do you want out? Do you want salvation? Redemption? Is that why you asked to see a chaplain?”
“Are you asking me if I want to change? Let me see your book,” the Eagle said.
“My book?” Mr. Lux was taken aback and his heart now leapt.
“Don’t be coy, young Freduit. The book under your outer clothing.”
Guardedly, Mr. Lux withdrew it from the inner folds of his black cassock, where he thought it had been well concealed. Not well enough, apparently. He placed it on the table and slowly slid it to the man opposite. Horatio Norton opened the cover and translated the Latin aloud:
“ ‘Notes concerning the Painful Inquiry convened by the grace of our lord Fred at the Monastery of Saint Hiram to investigate claims of chaos and affliction and impending world-end, as recorded by a true witness thereto, Damien Hessberg, year 1458.’ ”
“For my seminary studies,” Mr. Lux said.
“Liar!” the Eagle screamed, rising out of his chair. “You have The Pains!” Carson came running to the cell’s door, fiddling with his keys, but Mr. Lux signaled that all was OK. Carson stood back, dubiously, his hand on his billy club. Horatio Norton sat and though his posture appeared calm, he was staring right through Mr. Lux.
“What do you know of The Pains?”
“A SIGINT sent on a page fault.”
“A self-similar system communicating from one layer of abstraction to the next, a timing glitch. Like smoke signals, only more stupid. Another of your diety’s Rube Goldberg jokes.”
“And what does that make me,” asked Mr. Lux, “if I am a vector for The Pains?”
“A lot of work for a very small punchline. You’re a bug. The Beast. Bugtrack number K666.”
“Am I meant to save you?”
“In memory. In swap space. As with any page fault.”
“So why do you say I am a bug?”
“You are a phantom. Irreproducible. Subtle. And fundamentally impossible.”
“I remind you that I am here as your chaplain.”
“You are a vector, Victor. Let me tell you something, young Mr. Lux. You are part of the corporate military-industrial-edutainment prison system, and your soul is more at risk than mine is.”
Mr. Lux was suddenly not feeling very well, and knew that he needed to make some progress if he was going to minister to this dangerous man.
“Did you kill and freeze the head of Templeton Cheney?” he said.
“The Party mascot.”
When the Eagle next spoke it was as a different person. His whole face and posture changed, and he spoke with a gravelly voice and a thick Ebonic accent.
“I killed the motherfucker with a shiv I made in homeschool. It was a mordant bitch with a nice sharp point made out of pig iron. Sharpening the point was no big deal; you just drug it against concrete. This place full of concrete. It take time but here, time your friend. I wrapped the other end with upholstery and then some string and clay and dirt and shit and some, like, chewing gum, and some tape so that it made a handle. It was a righteous killing device. I’m homeschooled. I’ve been properly taught. Whereas some other denizen of this arrondissement might settle for a more pedestrian device, I specified pig iron on the manifest. That should give you some idea how I felt about this rat. Prison what in the mind. Pig iron for a pig. Here in B Block we call that justice. Where I got the pig iron, that’s the more interesting question. It came readymade in a box full of sawdust, that’s what.
“Sure I killed him. And why not? I didn’t like him. He was an arrogant fool. A cheerleader. A Texas oilman from Yale. I put that shiv so deep in his liver it came out his eyeball, and that blade was no longer than my dick. And he’s looking at me and saying, ‘I’m the Decider, I’m the Decider.’ Not now you ain’t. You dead. That’s what I decided. Here, the Schoolmaster say when you go in and when you go out.”
And then the Eagle added, in his normal voice, innocently, “Is that what you wanted me to say?”
“Who are you?” said Mr. Lux, as a headache began to sear his brain.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, Mr. Lux. Talk to Xristi. She can save you, although she could not save me.”
“Only Fred can save either of us,” gasped Mr. Lux.
“Theology, that’s what I teach in my madrassa. And poetry.”
“Carson, if you please,” Mr. Lux said, staggering as he stood. “Please help me outside.”
As he fled down the hall, feeling hives erupting all over his skin and even down his throat, under his eyelids, he heard the Eagle calling out behind him.
“. . . It is for you the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which I have thus far so nobly advanced. It is for you to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before you—that from my bitchin’ shiv you take increased devotion to that cause for which I gave that cheerleader one last full measure of shit—that you here highly resolve that my upstroke shall not have been in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth . . .”
Although he was not a naturally gregarious fellow, Mr. Lux usually looked forward to and enjoyed the hour of free speech and relaxation that followed the last repast of the day. The very setting of the common room was sensually indulgent in comparison to virtually all other aspects of Saint Reinhold’s. There were easy chairs here, leather-covered and comfortable. Bookshelves lined the walls, and the books that populated them were books from the World, not monastic treatises. The windows were broad—made of clear, not stained, glass—and they offered generous views of the lower levels of the monastery and the lands below: suburbia, fields, farms, and Lake Venzig. After a day spent kneeling in silent prayer on hard stones in cold, spare rooms, or studying difficult texts without the chance to ask a classmate if he understood them; after preparing the meal in a centuries-old kitchen and washing pans with cold water using lye soap and elbow grease, what luxury it was to sit in an comfortable chair and merely converse.
But Mr. Lux was uneasy tonight and did not want to converse. Across the room, in front of a darkening window, the preposterously handsome Guillaume LaFont, an ex-NFL cornerback and Freemerican, who had given up his professional football career when he received his vocation, was whispering with the boyish, giggly Lance Powers. Powers, an effeminate Oceanian, spoke the King’s English with a pronounced stammer and a hint of a lisp.
Closer by, to Norman’s right, Ralph Waldo Chen, the earnest Aristotelian from Hong Kong, was attempting a joke about the Party, while Franco Agnolli, the young mathematician from Milan whose noosifix was an ornate demonstration of some obscure point in knot theory, stared at him uncomprehendingly. Mr. Lux felt that he should help Mr. Chen extricate himself, explain the joke. But instead he sat motionless, watching himself watching, seemingly powerless to exert himself, even to perform an act of social mercy. Norman Lux was thinking about pain.
Pain of a stubbed toe. Pain of an abscessed, cracked tooth, broken with a hammer, its nerve hanging in the air. Pain of a bullet in the belly. Pain of a spike in an eardrum, a rusty spike, causing tetanus of the brain. The discomfort of a liver being eaten by a ringworm. The sensation caused by putting a hand on an electric burner. Cold pain of subzero air searing the lungs on each inhalation. Psychic pain: loneliness, regret, remorse, guilt, longing. Pangs of hunger. Hypoglycemia. Insulin shock. Dread, nausea, the horror you feel when you realize that in your drunkenness you have run over a child, a child who now dies in your arms, you feel the child’s pain until the moment that her ghastly wounds kill her and her soul floats to God, her body convulsing in a death rattle . . .
He was thinking about this pain, he tried to convince himself. He was not actually feeling it; it was merely an abstraction. And he did manage to convince himself that he was not actually in pain, despite the evidence of his own senses. That is, until Mr. Chen’s lame joke, despite Mr. Lux’s attempts to not hear it, became unbearable.
“Damn it!” Mr Lux bellowed from his chair. “The Party is not a game, Mr. Chen. It is not a joking matter. Our contest is not a horse race. The Party is a pathogen that sent my Nancy to the bottom of the Sea of Kentucky. Why has she gone? Lost! Lost in this mindless, endless war. War, Mr. Chen! Did you not hear the sirens today? Tornadoes! Six young children drowned in Lake Venzig! Can you not feel the cries of the parents? Drowning!”
Mr. Lux was aware that he was acting inappropriately, yelling, not making sense. But the words were not so much being spoken by him as being expelled; he had no control of them, everything hurt so much. . .
He felt an invisible noose tightening around his neck. The pain was excruciating, and a soul, somewhere, was on the cusp of corruption. Mr. Norman Lux was going to die. Everything was becoming black. Then, just before he passed out, miraculously all discomfort ceased, just as it had when the bed collapsed in his cell, and he felt the easy chair enveloping him like the loving arms of his beloved Nancy. He felt her arms around him, her hands pressing the front of his trousers. A song was playing somewhere:
[_Good morning, Starshine, the Earth bids you hello _
_You twinkle above us, we twinkle below _
_Gibby-gloop-gloopy . . . _]
He awoke in his cell. A candle had been left burning on his table. By its markings he could see that it was near the middle of the night; soon it would be time for the Nocturne prayer.
But “soon” is a relative quality. The minutes slowed down, and Mr. Lux looked up from where he lay to the simple noosifix hanging from the nail in the wall above him, and set about in earnest to focus his being: to focus on the mystery of Fred. More time passed. He counted his breaths until he felt confident that he was awake, aware, and in a prayerful state. He contemplated the Story that had brought him here. He contemplated, with all the fervor he knew, the meaning of the suffering of the Man of Sorrows. He prayed: How, how, oh Fred, shall I make my way to Thee? But his prayers were histrionic, full of bathos—and even that critique was phony. He erased that thought, chastising himself for facile flim-flammery. He discarded his piety and tried again, praying for the courage to speak honestly to himself. More slowly still the moments passed. The candle stopped in its very flickering.
It was pointless. He was not a saint. He was only a man. A confused, young, lonely, horny man.
“Fred, in thy name,” he whispered.
Then quietly, guiltily, he sat up in his bed, patted his body to confirm that all its parts were there, in the right places, working painlessly. He was fine.
But now he was going to do something to place his own soul at risk.
True, reading after the time of retirement was a small sin, hardly worth noting. In fact, that candle left burning in his room seemed to be almost inviting him, giving him permission. But Mr. Lux knew the rules, and he knew that rules were the essence of monastic life. What was the point of monastic life if one did not conform to its strictures? Nevertheless, he knew also what he had to do. By the dim flicker he crawled on his hands and knees to the corner behind the hallway door. His fingernails found the edge of the loose plank and he prised it up and set it aside, as if he were removing a scab from a wound. Gingerly he removed the leather-covered volume from the cavity beneath the floor and replaced the plank. Then, inhaling deeply, he stood and tiptoed to the study-table. He placed the book on the table on opened it to where he had left off, using the silk ribbon he had placed there.
Terrae motus, inundantia, Augustae tempestates in Februarius atque Martius, turbata, volantes astera, magnae undae abluent urbes, locusta et mures, acinasus frumentum sugentes aves obscurant caela, procellae in incultis, sites in loca virgultis obsita, infestum reddita parvorum cimicum, fulmen in claris caelis sine imbera, basidomycota, chai, dolor sine declarata, poena per haud explicatus . . .
Earthquakes, floods, August gales in February and March, tornadoes, shooting stars, giant waves washing away cities, locusts and rats, needle-nose grain-sucking birds darkening the skies, rainstorms in the deserts, droughts in the jungles, infestations of small bugs, lightning in clear skies where no rain is, mold, chaos, sorrow without cause, pain with no explanation . . .
With effort, Mr. Lux could translate the simply descriptive passages of the book. But the sections that truly interested him, those that dealt with the theological reasoning of the Painful Inquiry were quite beyond his ability. Ecclesiastical Latin took decades to master. But Mr. Lux was coming to doubt that he had decades. How would he ever understand what this book was trying to tell him?
“Shit,” he aspirated. “I’m no good.”
“Ironic that your name means ‘light,’ ” came the voice of Fr. Hessberg from the doorway, startling Mr. Lux nearly out of his wits.
“Ironic, Father?” Mr. Lux exclaimed, breathlessly. He jumped up, upsetting his chair as he turned to face the Old Man, at the same time trying unartfully to cover the ancient text with a more recent issue of Byte magazine. An unreasoning fear filled him, his heart rate had doubled, he could sense his blood rushing through his arteries.
“You are in the dark, my son.”
“Oh. Indeed, Father. I was reading, Father. I beg forgiveness.”
“In Latin, ‘lux’ means ‘light.’ ”
“Quite true, Father.”
“But Latin is a bit of a challenge for you, I suspect.”
“I do my best, Father.”
“I wonder if your classmates at University want to know how an electrical engineer can be content with monastic life. You don’t even study by electric light.”
“Indeed they do ask me that. That is, those few of my classmates who even notice my existence.”
“Maybe they think you’re a spy for Korloon,” Fr. Hessberg said, and chuckled.
“I am not so clever as that. And there is not much to spy upon in the Monastery of Saint Reinhold that would interest a foreign power,” Mr. Lux said, smiling weakly.
“Are you sure of that? Would the Eagle agree with you about that?” “Well,” Mr. Lux began.
“Horatio liked to poke around in our old libraries. Quite skilled in the ancient languages, was he. A spy in the house of God, you might say.” “Was he indeed, Father?” Lux muttered, like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“A word of advice, young novice. If you intend to stay up reading past your bedtime, your attentions would be better served by reading the scriptures, or texts on the prayerful contemplation of holy icons.”
“Yes, Father Abbot.”
“An icon is a painted prayer. Do you believe in prayer, Mr. Lux?” “Of course, Father.”
“You are a young man of many contradictions.”
“I . . . I don’t know how to respond to that observation, Father.” “You can hide things from me, but you cannot hide anything from the eyes of God.”
Mr. Lux said nothing.
“After prayers, join me in my office. We have a stick to whittle, you and I.”
chapter 5rofessor Xristi Friedman, PhD, dressed in blue jeans and a flannel shirt—the most conventional outfit in her possession—stood, arms akimbo, before a chalkboard at the front of the amphitheatric classroom and surveyed the chittering, chirruping mass of University of New Kent students settling into her lecture class, “Anatomy 304: Selected Topics in Low-Temperature Biology.” Behind her, twin telescreens on either side of the chalkboard were playing Happy Celebrity Gossip with Regis and Mindy at a moderate volume; its blathering hosts, perched on stools, their faces stretched in the vapid rictus of the newstainment presenter, were, as always—while prodverts streamed above and below them—pretending to have a conversation about some phony topic of no consequence. Even with her back to Regis and Mindy, Xristi could not avoid seeing them, for along the drab concrete walls on either side of the hall there were two more telescreens beaming obliquely back at her. Near one of the telescreens, she noticed, there was fissure—a half-inch-wide crack that had appeared after the most recent earthquake last week.
The bell that signaled the start of classes had sounded more than two minutes ago, but students still straggled in, chatting, laughing, careless that they were late and disruptive. Although Xristi had toked up before leaving the parking lot and now had a mild buzz on, she was nevertheless irritated by her students’ habitual rudeness. These kids are assholes, Xristi thought. Why do I care about teaching them?
It had been three weeks since she had received the letter from Chancellor Montgomery Meekman directing her to stop teaching her classes, discontinue her research on the cryobiology of small amphibians, and take up stewardship of the macabre assortment of frozen human heads known as the Chronos Collection. During this interval Xristi had tried to act as if she had never seen the chancellor’s letter. She had neither responded to it nor mentioned it to the chairman of her department. She had continued to teach her classes, supervise student laboratory sessions, and conduct her own research on frogs and tadpoles: freezing them in liquid nitrogen, thawing them at different rates and in different solutions, and meticulously documenting what happened to their cellular structure, particularly their nerve cells— particularly their little amphibian brains. She was happy that she had not cowered in the face of Monty’s threat, not surrendered at the first shot; she felt some small measure of pride that she had not allowed the Party to bribe or bully her into abandoning her passion with a simple “promotion” to the Chronos curatorship.
But nevertheless, she ruefully admitted to herself, the letter had, indeed, affected her. Without having made a conscious decision to do so, over the last three weeks she had cut down on the Party-bashing in her lectures; she had said “fuck you” to the telescreen in public places less frequently than she had before. On one occasion, she now blushed to remember, she had avoided a small antiwar demonstration that she normally would have joined. Heck, she had even toned down her wardrobe, gone a little conservative—although her hair was still blue, her arm was still tattooed up to her shoulder, and her ears still jingled with earrings and safety pins. But the point was, the letter had rattled her, caused her to change her behavior, to act out of fear. Xristi knew that the Party was not as all-powerful as it pretended to be, but that wasn’t the point. Its power, while not absolute, was real. She could not ignore Meekman’s letter forever; at some point a reckoning would come. If she did not reach an accommodation with the Party she would, sooner or later, lose her appointment to the university faculty, and with it her contact with students.
And of course if she lost her faculty appointment she would lose her laboratory also. And that would be the end of her scientific career. Which would be, effectively, the end of her. For Xristi Friedman had no love life, no real friends, no hobbies other than smoking dope and listening to punk rock; no pets, no money, no secret longing to travel to Portugal, Paraguay, or anywhere else. Once she had had a lover, a soulmate, someone who knew and completed her every desire. But he had gone mad and now he was locked away, and that was that. All she had left was her science. And of course the Party knew all these things about her, and more.
The Party was playing hardball, and Meekman’s letter was clearly a threat: Stop teaching, give up your laboratory, and take over the Chronos Collection. Or else. But Xristi had something the Party wanted, and to get it the Party would cut a deal; she was certain of it. The Party was nothing if not cynically pragmatic. But how hard could Xristi push? That was the question. Obviously the Party needed her for the Chronos job—why else would they have offered it to her, Xristi Friedman, a Democrat who mocked the Party with every breath? The Party wanted her to stop teaching; that much was pretty clear, and it wanted her to do something—exactly what was not yet clear—with the Chronos Collection of frozen heads. But, Xristi reasoned, the Party didn’t really care about science, so presumably it wouldn’t care if she continued her research on slimy amphibians. There was room for compromise.
All she had to do was leave this classroom, now: walk down to the chancellor’s office and tell Monty Meekman, “I’ll stop teaching and I’ll do whatever you want me to do with the stupid fucking frozen heads, but I get to keep my lab.” She would have a deal in a McKinley minute. But what if she, like Socrates long before her, refused to stop teaching? What then? And abdicating her role as a teacher was proving more difficult than she would have imagined.
So why was it important to her to keep teaching undergraduates? Ninety-five percent of these kids were either empty-headed proles or Party-Members-in-training. They didn’t respect her; that was clear but it also didn’t matter. What mattered was that they didn’t respect the subject matter either. In fact, she had no idea why they even bothered to show up for class, so shallow was their interest. So what was she doing here?
Xristi glanced at her sheet of handwritten notes for her lecture today. The subject: “On techniques of replacing water with substances that cause less cell damage during freezing and thawing.” A formal title and a simple bulleted list to remind her of what she planned to say:
• Sugars and other solutes that do not easily crystallize have the effect of limiting the stresses that damage cell membranes .
• Trehalose is a sugar that does not readily crystallize and is thus cryogenically interesting.
• Mixtures of solutes can achieve similar effects.
The answer to the question of why she still taught, she realized, was one word: Jane. Jane was the last student she cared about. Over the past three weeks, all other serious students had stopped coming to Xristi’s lectures. Auntun, Paula, Hollingsworth, Barlow, Ande: all AWOL. Of the core group of students Xristi had identified as real potential scientists, only Jane—shy Jane, studious Jane, solitary Jane, Jane who sat in the front row with her notebook open, pencil at the ready—remained. What had happened to the others? Why had the best, most motivated students stopped coming to class, while all the dunces still filled up the lecture hall three days each week? Who knew? But as long as Jane showed up for class, her professor would too.
Xristi mentally rehearsed her opening comments. As soon as these last few stragglers, Party Youth members in Oliver North T-shirts with Freemerican flag motifs, found their places . . . She glanced at the ceiling cameras tracking her, discretely flipped them the bird, walked to the lectern, pressed a button.
On the screen behind her, an image of a microscopic organism appeared.
“What can microscopic life tell us about macroscopic life at low temperatures?” Xristi began, talking over the din. “Water bears—” she pointed over her shoulder at the image behind her, “you can call them by the fancy name tardigrada—tiny multicellular organisms, can survive freezing at low temperatures by replacing most of their internal water with the sugar trehalose. OK, that’s a clue. But mammalian cells are not microbes, and it turns out that replacing water in mammalian cells with trehalose doesn’t work. OK, trehalose is out, but what about some other solute?”
Xristi, aware that she was rushing her talk, looked out on a field of blank stares, snickers, and one lone hand raised.
“Good. But some solutes, including salts, have the disadvantage that they may be toxic at high concentrations. Remember, two conditions usually are required to allow vitrification—an increase in the viscosity, and a depression of the freezing temperature. Many solutes do both, but larger molecules generally have larger effect, particularly on viscosity. Rapid cooling also promotes vitrification . . .”
Damn, maybe Xristi had gotten more stoned than she had intended. On the telescreen, Oliver North had replaced Regis and Mindy and was droning on at low volume against a backdrop of Freemerican flags. As if drawn by an ineluctable force, student faces turned to him, like flowers to the sun. He was chatting with an obese bald interlocutor, a well-known Party fluffer known as The Voice.
“Can you imagine if Fred Christ Himself were to be thawed and revived?” the bald Voice asked his audience as North nodded sagaciously. “Well, my friends, research to hasten that very outcome is underway at some of the Party’s preeminent laboratories even as we speak. According to my sources, Professor Xristi Friedman, a Freemerican scientist, Party Member and research scientist at the University of New Kent is developing techniques that will make this dream a reality, and soon.”
“The implications for our way of life are staggering,” Colonel North said.
So that was why her class was so full. Behold the power of the telescreen to shape reality.
“Hey!” Xristi called out. “Forget that jackass on the telescreen for just a moment. Hey!”
While most students kept their attention on the telescreens on the left and right walls of the hall, about a third of the students seemed to be looking at her—although some of them were probably looking past her to the telescreens at her back.
“If you believe what he’s saying about me, you’re even stupider than I thought. Please give me your attention and answer one question for me. How many of you here today are in this class because you want to learn how to live forever?”
That question, at least, got their attention. Students looked at each other. Hands went up, sheepishly, then proudly. Soon most of the class had their right hands raised. The drone of low-volume conversation on the telescreen permeated the lecture hall.
“Meanwhile the terrorist regime in Korloon is not sitting still,” North was saying.
Out of the corner of her eye, Xristi saw something to her left. She glanced over to see Monty Meekman was looking in through the narrow vertical window in the classroom door. Great Well, let him look.
“Listen, you fuckbrains,” Xristi said to the class. “This is a cryobiology class. Low-temperature biology. Cryobiology is not cryonics. Cryonics is the pseudo-science of freezing brains to bring them back in the future, and we’re not going to get into that subject in this class for the simple reason that it’s pure bullshit. And furthermore, I do not work for the Party, and I do not have any access to the frozen head of Fred Christ, for Christ’s sake. Do you think they had vats of frozen nitrogen sitting around to freeze dry him after his noosifiction? What baloney!”
“That’s not what Chancellor Meekman says,” called an insolent voice. Xristi scanned the hall until she found its source. Of course. The Oliver North T-shirt kid, the one who had been last to enter the hall. “That’s not what The Voice says.”
“Oh?” Xristi said. “What does Comrade Voice say?”
“The Voice has said that big things will soon becoming out of university labs. A glorious future for the Party. And immortality for all those who accept the Party as their person savior.”
“Fred fuck,” Xristi muttered. She was swimming in a sea of insanity.
“You have an obligation to bring on the transhuman future, the Overmind, the Rapture,” said the Party Youth member.
“Obligation to whom?” She was getting angry now.
“Obligation to Christ, to the Party.”
“That’s not true. This is a university,” she said, though she knew it was futile. “You are in a science class at a university. The function of a university is to increase our store of knowledge. Science is methodology for finding truth, and my only obligation is to the truth!”
“Do you deny, then,” said another student, “that Freemerica is a Christian nation?”
From the speakers behind her, Xristi heard Minister of National WellBeing Oliver North saying something about Korloon. The Voice interrupted him.
“We know for a fact that Kron Borlack, the ruthless dictator of Korloon, has been supplied with dangerous secret information. Weapons-of-mass-destruction secrets. The Freemerican government has learned that Kron Borlack recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Friends, this is not child’s play we’re talking about. This is mushroom-cloud stuff . . .”
“Rumsfeld sold weapons to Korloon!” Xristi yelled at the class. “Reagan is in bed with Kron Borlack still! This is all a plan to make you afraid. Have you no memory?”
“You should watch what you say,” said a pretty blond girl in the front row five seats to the left of Jane. “Big Brother is watching.”
“Big Brother,” said a pretty brunette girl in the seat next to her, “is striving day and night to keep you safe. You should show a little respect.”
The Texas Twins, Xristi called them. You could always count on them for the Party line, the menacing hint.
Meanwhile Oliver North intoned:
“. . . that liberal hero known as the Eagle gave Korloon every last bit of know-how they needed to wipe the greatest nation known to mankind off the face of the earth!”
Involuntarily, at the mention of the Eagle, Xristi turned to the telescreen behind her to her right side. It was showing a picture of a young Horatio Norton, looking like a Sampson from an earlier era, his long hair blowing in the wind as he gazed into the distance, arm in arm with a beautiful hippieish girl . . .
“Oh, this shit has got to stop!” Xristi said. “How can I teach you anything with this nonsense blaring?”
With three quick strides she was at the wall. She reached behind the telescreen, grabbed a handful of wires, and pulled.Who are you? Where did you go? Xristi silently asked the image of her impossibly younger, impossibly more innocent self, as the screen went black. Somehow, miraculously, all four telescreens went dark and quiet.
Xristi turned and looked up to a lecture hall filled with stunned and silent students. There was not a sound anywhere.
“Much better,” she said. “Now let’s talk about the physiology of the human brain. The fact that tissues can be revived does not mean that people can be revived. It’s true that we can preserve sperm or embryos in liquid nitrogen. But not brains. It is the cells’ thawing that is the problem, not their bursting. When cells die, autolysis—self-eating—begins. That goes on whenever cells die. As soon as you thaw a brain, lysosomes come out of their membranes and eat whatever they can find. And that explains, children, why human brains cannot be frozen then thawed. Even before the microbes come to eat your cells, the cells have eaten themselves. I’m not going to waste my time with point-by-point refutation of intelligent resurrection theories of Party goons, theocrats, and transhumanist nutjobs. But if intelligent resurrection is your reason for being here, kindly leave. I’ll give you all passing grades, so no worries on that score. But here is a simple fact: You are going to die. Everybody dies. The Party is not going to save you, and neither is Fred Christ. So take your books, your Party Youth badges, and your Freemerican flag noosifixes and get out of here.”
But no one made a move to leave. Whether they were terrified by the crazy woman at the front of the hall, or merely still in shock from the absence of the telescreen was impossible to say.
“You, Jane,” Xristi said, addressing her. “Why are you in this class? Are you too looking for the key to your salvation? Are you here for the Rapture?”
Jane blushed, hesitated, then said in a voice that was nearly a whisper, “I just want to understand biology. Maybe learn something medically useful . . .”
Before Jane could complete her thought, all four doors to the lecture hall, two at the front and two at the back, swung open, and black-garbed soldiers wearing body armor and visored helmets filled the hall, assault rifles at their shoulders sweeping rapidly left and right. Screams filled the air, but students kept in their seats.
“Well, that was quick,” Xristi said. It had been less than a minute since she had disconnected the telescreen. Or maybe they had been dispatched when she gave the screen the finger? Who could tell? “Now I guess I’ll finally get to see what Changes! looks like on the inside,” she said as she put up her hands to surrender.
The SWAT team rushed by her. Within seconds several of them had reached Jane. With practiced movements they grabbed her two wrists, pulled her from her seat, wrenched her arms behind her back, and threw her to the ground. One soldier placed his knee squarely between her shoulders and placed the barrel of a pistol to her head as another soldier bound her wrists with plastic handcuffs. A black bag was placed over her head as she was lifted to her feet.
“Terrorist apprehended, stand down,” a man, evidently their leader, barked into something on his wrist. Immediately the others lowered their weapons.
“Jane?” Xristi ran up to the man in charge and pushed him hard in the chest with both hands. It was like pushing a brick wall. “What the fuck are you goons doing?”
Two soldiers grabbed her immediately, but the leader motioned to them to let her go.
“Ma’am, this is a matter of national security. This person is an enemy combatant. You do your job, we do ours. In fact, we make your job possible. We’ll be out of your way in just a minute and you can resume teaching.”
Xristi looked to the doorway where she had seen Monty Meekman looking through the glass. The door was now open, and the chancellor stood in the hallway, his face expressionless.
Xristi walked up to him, seething.
“All right. You win. Let her go.”
“Dr. Friedman, you overestimate my authority. I am merely chancellor of the university. I have no say over matters of national security.”
“You let her go this instant, or you can forget your Chronos Collection forever. I’ll unplug it, by Christ I will. I won’t stop until your head collection has melted into a floor covering of slimy, putrid broth. Let her go.”
“So you will assume curatorship of the Chronos Collection?”
“What the fuck did I just say, Chancellor.”
“And you’ll stop instructing students?”
“Let her go, you prick.”
Meekman nodded his head nearly imperceptibly, and within seconds the bag had been removed from Jane’s head and she had been released. Although she had been kidnapped for less than two minutes she appeared groggy, as if she had been injected with some kind of drug. She stood, dazed, by the door as the black-clad soldiers emerged from the lecture hall and vanished down the hallway.
In the classroom the telescreens were working once again. On them, Minister of Awareness Ronald Reagan was delivering a reassuring message about keeping the Homeland secure, while Jane’s classmates mutely yielded their intentionality to the technopoly.
In disgust, not only with the students but with herself as well, Xristi turned to Chancellor Meekman and said, “Where you want this thawing done?”
“Follow me,” Meekman said.
It wasn’t far to go. Down one corridor, another, through a few unmarked doors, down a disused hallway, until they arrived at a door with the word “Chronos” stenciled upon it and six leveraged handles locking it shut. On the wall next to the door hung overcoats, gloves, and knee-high insulated boots. Xristi grabbed an oversized fur-lined parka and put it on. Meekman reached for a coat also, but Xristi slapped his hand.
“I’m going in by myself,” she said.
“Are you quite sure that—”
“I’m the curator, Monty. I make the rules for the Chronos Collection. Now fuck off. Get lost.”
“Are you quite sure that—”
Xristi undid the six clasps. She then slipped her hands into oversized, triply insulated gloves and pulled at a chest-high grip. Slowly the door swung open, revealing a small room that served as an air lock and buffer. Cold air rushed out. At the opposite end was another stenciled, many-handled door. She didn’t know what to expect other than more cold. Would it be like a morgue? A laboratory? She opened the door and stepped into the Chronos Collection.
It was pretty much as she had expected: tubes, pipes, dials, controls, wires, and little bell jars housing frozen heads in deathly unreality. It was gross, obscene, but nothing to really surprise her.
Until, that is, she came upon the head of a long-haired man, apparently around thirty years old at the time of his death, with a bright red ring of irritated skin around his neck, almost like a rope burn. Could it be? Really?
She leaned in for a closer look.
And that was when she saw Fred’s lips move.
“Help,” he whispered, his eyes pleading. “Help me to the light.”
chapter 6n an architecturally bland stretch of Freedom Avenue in downtown New Kent City, Xristi Friedman stood leaning against a tree, smoking a Victory cigarette. It was ten minutes after six in the evening, and whoever was coming here to meet her was late. She glanced again at the handwritten note that she had found slipped under her office door two days ago:
Our mutual friend Horatio Norton, sometimes called the Eagle, suggested that I talk to you. Is there someplace public we might talk without attracting undue attention? Please respond with a personal prodvert in the Daily Exponent.
What kind of feeble cloak-and-dagger is this, she had wondered. A note slipped under a door? Reply by a notice in the personals section of a student newspaper? Yes, people who were afraid of the Party might not want to be seen on campus with a nonconformist like Xristi, but a note under her door was hardly secure, and a public reply in the student newspaper was unlikely to fool anybody. Nevertheless, Xristi’s curiosity had been aroused, and she had duly composed a response and delivered it to the Exponent’s office. The prodvert, addressed to nobody, gave the date, time, and location of the Grasshopper’s Pantaloons, the generic New Wave bar from whose interior the vacuous drone of Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” was now emanating.
The note’s elaborate yet oddly jangled penmanship made it look as if it had been written by a machine with a broken gear. Whoever had sent it to her claimed to have spoken with the Eagle, but that was unlikely. Horatio Norton was locked up in maximum security, and half-mad. Until yesterday nobody would have had any reason to make a connection between him and Xristi. Thank you, Colonel North, she thought.
But, she reminded herself, the telescreen emitted a neverending stream of ephemeral, self-contradictory bullshit. Its very purpose was to emit lies and ceaselessly contradict itself, and this story had probably been refuted already. So who knew what nonsense her tardy and mysterious correspondent might believe about her? Xristi was beginning to think that she had been stood up—that her Exponent prodvert had been too coy, or had not given sufficient advance notice—when a bus came to a stop a few yards down the road. Xristi tossed aside her Victory and looked up.
There emerged a young man in archaic clerical garb. It was an old-school get up, right down to the noose around his neck. He approached slowly, and appeared to be limping slightly. A leather bag was over one shoulder, and his hands were hidden in the folds of his garments.
God fucking damn Oliver North, she mumbled to herself. Just yesterday he had told the world that she was a Party member working to revive the frozen head of Fred Christ, and now here comes the Magic Christian looking for news of the revivification of Our Lord. She felt like turning and running. Ever since the disastrous end of her affair with Norton, she had a bad visceral reaction to men in cassocks. But something in the plaintive look of the friar or monk or pope or whatever he was, made her stay where she was.
“Are you, perchance, Dr. Friedman?” he said, looking about nervously. “Yeah,” she said. “Who are you?”
It occurred to her that no matter who he said he was, he might be anybody. In particular, he might be a spy from the Party. She was suddenly angry with herself for having agreed to this charade.
“My name is Norman. Norman Lux,” he said.
He made a motion as if to offer his hand to her, but then he seemed to sense her reserve, and his hand stayed concealed.
“Shall we go inside?” he said.
Xristi had chosen the Grasshopper’s Pantaloons because it had no personality and was less likely to be watched by the Party than the kind of punk places she favored. Inside were tables and chairs, a long bar, a few large telescreens, and a smattering of generically hip proles. She and Norman Lux found a table and ordered beer from a waitress who seemed to appear as soon as they sat.
“You want to know about Fred’s head, I guess,” Xristi said. “It isn’t happening. It’s all a Party lie.”
“Excuse me?” Lux replied. “Head? Did you see my note? It was Mr. Norton—”
“The Eagle. Call him what everybody else does.”
“Yes. The Eagle. He said that you might be able to help me with a, how shall I say it, a personal matter—”
“And you’re not here to ask me about revivifying the head of Fred Christ?”
The man recoiled, looking befuddled. “I assure you,” he said. Evidently Xristi had guessed wrong. This young cleric was not here because of North’s pronouncement on the telescreen. And now he probably thought she was out of her mind.
“It is true that I am a novice in the Christian order of the Society of Fred,” he resumed, tentatively. “I reside at the Monastery of Saint Reinhold. But my reason for wanting to speak with you does not have any direct relation to my vocation. As for the idea of revivifying the frozen head of our savior, I can only assume you are making some kind of macabre joke. The Eagle also speaks in such a way.”
“So what is this matter about which you would like to speak with me?” she said.
Already the Grasshopper’s Pantaloons was beginning to fill with young people of the new cubicle class recently released from their warrens. Behind Mr. Lux, above the bar, a giant telescreen was showing a football game; then the image changed to the Minister of National Well-Being North. For better or worse, the telescreen’s sound was turned down and the cloying strains of Don Henley singing “Boys of Summer” supplanted Culture Club.
“It’s hard to know where to start,” the man began, and hesitated.
He was such an earnest fellow, Xristi thought. And so young! She felt a fleeting impulse that was almost maternal. On the other hand, perhaps her earlier intuition was right. Perhaps he was a Party plant, a spy. It would not be wise to trust him completely.
He continued, “Can you tell me about the research that the Eagle was conducting when . . . before . . . I mean . . . you know.”
“I’m afraid I [_don’t _]know,” she said.
Nearby somebody put some coins into an arcade video game, and the sounds of Pogo Joe’s startup music added to the growing din.
“What can you tell me about Templeton Cheney and the Eagle’s research into the nature of the mind?” Lux said. He seemed to spit out the words as if he were being prodded with a hot poker. Oh, so that’s his angle, Xristi thought. He didn’t want to know about brains, he wanted to know about minds.
She had to think how much to tell him. There was no need for her to mention the Chronos Collection. Not yet, anyway. First she had to learn a little more about this fellow. Was he really a monk? Did those people still exist? Did they go out to bars? The order had been on the very precipice of extinction when it swallowed her love.
“You reside at the monastery,” she said. “Yet you found my office on campus. You found your way to New Kent City to meet me here. For a hermit, you sure seem to get around a lot.”
The man nodded solemnly.
“I live in an uneasy truce with what we monastics call ‘the World.’ A few days each week I take classes at the university. Recently I’ve been called to be a chaplain at [_Changes! _]And I’m perfectly able to take a public bus into the city; one goes past Saint. Reinhold’s entrance. A monastery is not a prison, Dr. Friedman.”
“I know what a goddamn monastery is,” she said.
Without a word, the waitress placed two glasses of beer before them. Then she stood there, seemingly transfixed by the odd couple, as if to join their conversation. Xristi gave her what she hoped was her most threatening look, and, after a few moments, the woman blended into the gathering crowd.
“You take classes at the university?” Xristi said.
“So, you’re a student. Of what?”
Xristi studied his face as Lux tried to respond. He seemed to have some facial tics; in fact, his whole face was twitching. No, it was more than that: His face was distorting in waves as he spoke.
“I’m a student of electrical engineering,” he said, finally, after what seemed to be a battle with his lips for control of his mouth. He leaned to open the leather bookbag that hung from the side of his chair. He took out a few academic journals and books and deposited them on the table.
Journal of Nonlinear Relations. Freemerican Mathematical Monthly. Stochastic Systems Review.
His hands were covered with peeling skin and scabs.
“Looks more like mathematics than engineering,” she said, studying the titles to avoid looking at him.
“I study digital circuit design, but lately I’ve become interested in nonlinear systems, analog computing. It’s a little off the beaten path. Most computers these days are digital, not analog.”
Much about this fellow was off the beaten path, she was coming to see.
“Why?” she asked. “What is it about analog computing that interests you?”
“I need to understand chaos,” he said. Again, he looked queasy, out of breath.
Xristi sat back and took a long pull on her drink. “You are a deep one, aren’t you?”
Lux didn’t answer. His skin seemed to be pulsing.
“Are you OK? Do you need air?” she asked.
“I’m afraid that my state oscillates rather wildly, unpredictably. I think I’m all right for now. Would you be willing to tell me of Horatio—the Eagle’s investigations?”
What the hell, Xristi thought, I might as well. After all, she realized, the Party could extort any information it wanted out of her as it had been doing, with implied threats of violence to Jane and Xristi’s other students.
“But just so I’m sure,” she said. “Will you confirm that you’re not here because of what Oliver North said on the telescreen last week?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know who Oliver North is. Mercifully I don’t watch the telescreen; we have no electricity at the Monastery of Saint Reinhold, where I reside.”
“Then I owe you an apology,” Xristi said.
“Not at all.”
“But what did you mean about the Eagle suggesting that you and I should talk? How did you even speak with him? He is locked up and not allowed to see visitors.”
“The Party does not allow him to see guests,” the man said. “But he is allowed to see a chaplain; in that capacity I met him. In fact, he explicitly requested a confessor.”
Ah, just so, Xristi thought. This was beginning to make a certain kind of perverse sense. Horatio and his metaphysics.
“And did he confess to you?” she asked. Did he tell you how he broke my heart and fucked me over?
“That is hard to say,” Lux said. “The Eagle speaks in riddles and odd locutions. I don’t really understand his meaning. If he has any meaning.”
“What did he say about me?”
“He said,” Lux began. Then, as he appeared to look for his words, his eyes opened wide, apparently in terror, as if he were looking at some horrifying monster standing behind her. His face grew contorted, he clasped both hands to his chest, and a loud yelp emanated from his mouth, even as his face became rapidly drained of all color, and covered with perspiration. Xristi was taken aback, startled. Before she could think how to respond, the waitress was there.
“He’s having a heart attack!” the waitress said. “I’ve seen this before.”
Xristi was having a hard time absorbing it all—the odd young holy man in anachronistic garb, the suspicious waitress materializing from nowhere, Oliver North mouthing his nonsense from the giant, soundless telescreen. She wanted to react, to say something, but felt immobilized.
“Somebody help this man!” the waitress called to an unhearing and indifferent crowd.
“No,” Mr. Lux gasped, waving her off. “I’m all right. Really. I’m fine. It has passed.”
“Are you really all right?” Xristi said. “You look pale; she might be right. You might be having a heart attack.”
“No,” he said, somewhat forcefully, even as he panted. “I need to talk with you. And please have this spy leave us,” he added, waving his left hand limply towards the server. Xristi had looked away from his hands before, but now she could not avoid them. They were both covered with large lumps and scabs, from which there oozed what appeared to be pus and blood. Either she had not noticed how badly they were damaged, or they had gotten worse during the short time they had been together.
“Leave us!” Xristi barked. The woman retreated, and Xristi turned to Mr. Lux. Clearly, he attached great urgency to this meeting. He was suffering. Might he even be dying? She decided to trust him, to help him learn whatever he had come to learn from her.
“What did Horatio say?” she prompted, gently.
“I will try to remember his exact words,” Mr. Lux said. His voice was weak, barely audible over ’Til Tuesday on the jukebox: Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry . . .“ ‘You should talk to my friend Xristi Friedman. She deconstructs frozen brains for a living.’ And then later he said, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, Mr. Lux. Talk to Xristi. She can save you, although she could not save me.’ ”
From the telescreen, Oliver North appeared to be staring right at them, right at her. It’s only an illusion, she told herself.
“When did he say that?”
“I saw him,” the man sighed, and winced, “In his change opportunity room, I mean to say prison cell, at the Changes! prison.”
“And he told you that I deconstruct frozen brains?” Xristi resumed.
“Yes. Are you not a professor of cryoneurology?”
“Only because that’s the title that Chancellor Meekman chose to bestow upon me,” she said. “I study low-temperature biology of the cell, including nerve cells. I don’t work with intact brains, even of the simplest organisms.”
What more did he want from her? But more to the point, why had the Eagle said that about her? Was it mere coincidence, or was her former lover Horatio Norton now perhaps collaborating with Monty Meekman? Had the Eagle been broken?
“Listen,” she said, “Father . . .”
“Call me Norman, please.”
“Norman. Listen. Long ago, when I was a child, I had an interest in life extension, in freezing brains to be brought back to life at some point in the far future. But I quickly learned that the freezing and thawing of brains is a subject for crackpots, not scientists. And the first time I had anything to do with ‘deconstructing frozen brains’ was last week, when Monty Meekman and the Party forced me to become curator of something they call the Chronos Collection, an obscene collection of severed heads. But I don’t see how the Eagle could know anything about that.”
She was leaning closer to him now, lowering her voice. He was listening, clearly trying to not grimace, but not succeeding.
A woman’s voice broke Xristi’s concentration. “How’s he doing?” the waitress asked.
“Get lost!” Xristi answered. Could this woman not take a hint?
“I don’t deconstruct frozen brains,” Xristi repeated, when the hovering presence had again withdrawn. “I do cell biology.”
“And you used to work with him?”
“When I met Horatio,” she said, “the Eagle, he was an idealistic young man interested in the so-called mind-body problem, the interface between the physical thing called the brain and the directly introspected experience we all have, that thing called the mind. He had obtained a fellowship at the university’s Brain Institute. He was brilliant and had a very mathematical mind, capable of thinking in deep abstractions. Eventually his deep thinking took a religious bent. He began to think obsessively, often going days without sleep. He took up praying. He became more distant, less interested in me, consumed with his theories of good and evil. He would spend days in the forests, alone, meditating, calling to the animals. Eventually he left science altogether and became a monk, like you.”
“And what about Templeton Cheney?”
“Oh him,” she said. “I never knew whether he was a real entity or a figment of the Eagle’s imagination. Horatio claimed that Cheney was his professor, his mentor at the Brain Institute, but no such name appeared on the faculty list.”
“You think Cheney’s a figment of his imagination?”
“Well,” Xristi said. “There was a laboratory rat, I was told, named Templeton—after the rat in Charlotte’s Web. The Eagle claimed that Templeton was an agent of the Party, working on a project called Mindpixel. Its purpose was to harness the Eagle’s theory in order to create an overmind, a giant network of some sort . . .”
“And did the Eagle, how shall I say this, did he . . .”
“Yes. Did he kill him?”
“That’s what he says. Sometimes. Of course, at other times he says he’s a mollusk or the Pope.”
“He’s nuts, you know,” she said. “Virtually everything that man says is nonsense.”
“His utterances do appear to be, how shall I say, chaotic.”
“Ah ha,” she said. “Chaotic.”
With that, neither of them spoke for a while. They stared at each other, not with hostility, but with a curious incomprehension, as when a dog stares at a child.
Mr. Lux spoke first. “So he may or may not have killed something or somebody that may have been either a person or a rat or a complete fabrication.”
As Mr. Lux was talking, the jukebox quieted, and the chatter in the room died down. People stopped playing darts and video games and turned their attention to the telescreen.
It took Xristi a moment to realize what was going on. “Two minutes hate,” she said.
“Right,” Mr. Lux answered. “Two Minutes Hate.”
The ritual might have been more appropriately called “two minutes mockery,” for the Two Minutes Hate was more of a joke than real hatred. It was an ironic, self-aware ritual and everyone played along as if they were at a showing of Rocky Horror. A fat baby-faced man with a cigar was on the telescreen, leading the cheers.
“Stupid hippies!” he called.
“Stupid hippies!” the bar patrons all answered together, laughing.
As usual, the face of Pete Seeger, the Enemy of the People, had flashed onto the screen, wearing a big smile as he played a banjo before a giant crowd of people dressed up like the mythical “hippies.” There were hisses here and there among the audience. Pete Seeger was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-Freemerican activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. “Pete Seeger is a Korloonian!” Baby-face yelled.
“Pete Seeger is a Korloonian!” Everybody yelled back.
“Stupid tree huggers!”
“Stupid tree huggers!”
The Two Minutes Hate worked to a crescendo that ended with a boisterous singing of a short chorus of Fred Bless Freemerica, and just like that, it was over.
“Fred, I hate that shit,” Xristi said. “I hate the Party.”
“Me too,” Mr. Norman Lux answered. And again they looked deeply at each other.
As simply as that, they had become conspirators. It was tacit; there was no need for further comment. To say that you hated the Party was a crime punishable by death; they both knew that. And although the law was seldom, if ever, enforced, the implications were obvious.
Xristi said, “Why do you want to know about my work? What do you care about Templeton Cheney, frozen heads, all of this revolting nonsense?”
“Look at me,” he answered. “Look at me. I am dying.”
“You don’t look well,” she said. “And I’m sorry. You do look like you’re dying. But that doesn’t answer the question.”
Mr. Lux inhaled, and she could hear a wheezing.
“Tell me, did he ever mention something called The Pains?” Mr. Lux said, as he raised his beer glass and drank.
And as he sipped, Xristi noticed that the liquid in the glass was turning red. He placed the glass on the table, apparently unaware that there was something floating in it.
“Excuse me, Norman,” Xristi said. “But is that your finger floating in your beer?”
Mr. Lux peered down into the glass with a look of strained embarrassment.
“Oh dear,” he said. “Oh dear. I am so sorry to have dragged you into this. I apologize. Pardon me,” he added.
Then he reached into the glass, with his other hand, fetched out what appeared to be a finger, and rammed it back into place. “This happens,” he said. “I do apologize.”
“What the hell is going on?” Xristi said. “And where is that goddamned nosy waitress when you need her? Hey you!” she fairly screamed across the room. “Two more beers, right now!” And then again to Mr. Lux: “What is it? What?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I need to do more investigation.”
“Why?” she said. “You’re his chaplain. Something is not adding up. You went to great trouble to meet me. The Party could be watching us. Somebody from your own monastery could be watching you. Why? Why did you contact me? Do you hope that I’ll save you? I won’t save anybody. I only want to smoke pot, listen to punk music and do science! How will I save you, you poor man?”
“I have The Pains,” he said. “They will kill me unless I solve their mystery. You are part of it. And so is Horatio Norton, the Eagle.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“This is a spiritual condition,” he said.
“Oh bullshit. And who is that goon staring at us?”
“Over there by the Pogo Joe game . . . he saw me and ducked out the door . . . some dumb prole . . . I don’t like this place.” And then she added, “I hate the fucking Eagles.”
“Can you help me?” he said. “I don’t like this music either.”
“How can I help you?”
“I need to know about Mindpixel.”
“Oh that,” she said, and felt tears welling up. “Oh, this is ridiculous!”
“How does Mindpixel relate to your frozen heads, what do you call them—”
“The Chronos Collection.”
“— the Chronos Collection. How does this fit together Dr. Friedman? I am in extremis! I would not importune you otherwise!”
Around them in the Grasshopper’s Pantaloons, life went on as usual in Freemerica. The telescreen played above them, unremarked, the sound off. Ronald Reagan came on and said something presumably avuncular; Oliver North said something presumably militaristic. Clips were shown of military forces massing in far-off Korloon. Nobody in the place paid any mind; clearly their energies were directed to finding a coupling partner for the night. The speakers were playing “We Got the Beat” by the Go-Gos, very loud.
“I don’t know!” Xristi shouted at Mr. Lux over the growing din. “How could I know! For the love of Fred, your finger falls off in your beer and you just put it back in and go on as if nothing had happened? What in the world?”
“I don’t know either, Dr. Friedman,” Mr. Lux said. “I am barely half your age. I don’t want to die and I am nearly out of ideas.”
“Well I have an idea for you,” Xristi said, more harshly than she intended. “You know what I think? I think that the Church and the Party are equally insane and irrelevant.”
She took a moment to try to compose herself. Some kind of something was going on; she needed to deal with it. It wasn’t this guy’s fault. He was merely caught up in it like she was.
“Tell me, Norman,” she said. “This Fred of yours. How did he die?”
“Well, he was hanged.”
“I know, I know, but tell me the story.”
“He was betrayed by Petrus, condemned by Pontius Pilate, hanged and decapitated, and on the fourth day he arose, with his head miraculously intact.”
“And you believe this shit,” she said.
But she was thinking: Could it be? She had covered it up with shroud. She didn’t want to believe it was true that Fred was talking to her. But even now, as she sat in this bar, she could almost sense that head talking to her from its jar in Chronos.
“I am Fredian,” Mr. Lux answered.
“I have his head in my laboratory!” Xristi blurted out. “They want me to hook it up to their Total Information Awareness machine!”
“You must go back into Changes!” Xristi said. “Find out what the Eagle knows.”
“It is too hard. There is too much pain.”
“You must,” she said.
“Mindpixel,” he said, grabbing her hand with his bloody paw. “What is it?”
She looked down at his gruesome hand on hers. She let it rest there.
“What is Mindpixel? A theory of the transmission of consciousness through space and time? A new mathematics of the hypergeometry of thought? I don’t know what it is. It never made any sense to me. And it was so long ago. I have forgotten.”
Mr. Lux was clearly trying to compose himself as his body rebelled against him. He was drifting into absolute incoherence.
“My pains do no more than reflect the pains of the earth, the melting of the ice caps, the hole in the ozone layer, the despoilation of that which had been in ecological harmony since dawn of creation. Do you really think it is Fred’s head in your collection?”
“I do,” she said, admitting it to herself for the first time.
Thoughts swirled around in her cranium. What happens when you freeze a brain? Its cells explode. Brains frozen become nothing but mush. So how could it be that Fred’s head was speaking to her? And what could the Party want from her? The Party did not believe in science, of course. That was the paradox. How can you make progress based on scientific research when you do not believe in science because you must erase history?
“There is a legend,” the novice said. “An old folk tale. That at the exact moment that Fred’s head was severed from his body the sky opened up and a beam of impossibly cold light came down from the heavens, freezing the head and everything around it instantaneously. This is not orthodoxy, of course. This is heresy.”
“Well, I’m a heretic,” she said. “Big deal.”
“Most people are,” Mr. Lux said. “A true Fredian is a very old-fashioned thing, and quite rare.”
“But you are ridiculous,” she said. “How is your orthodoxy any less absurd than the legend of the frozen flashlight in the sky?”
“All I want to know is—”
“Stop!” Xristi said, urgently, motioning to him to shut up immediately. “Stand. Here, I will help you. Lean on me. We have to get out of here right now!”
She quickly pushed Mr. Lux’s various publications back into his leather bag and slung it over his shoulder. She stood, knocking the little table over as she did so. She grabbed his cassock; it slipped out of her hand and she found herself holding the noose around his neck and lifting him up by it.
“Come now,” she said, as a parent might say to a scared child in an earthquake. “Come with me.”
From several places at once, black-garbed and visored soldiers filled the room, weapons at their shoulders sweeping back and forth. Around the room people dropped their beer steins and raised their hands into the air.
“Loving greeting from Big Brother,” came a soothing masculine voice. “We come to assist all of you volunteers in filling out your applications to join the Peace Forces.”
“Come, come,” Xristi urged, and Mr. Lux limped on with her as quickly as he could, with his arm around her shoulder. Although there were soldiers at every door, Xristi had noticed that one place where the intruders had smashed through the windows was somehow unguarded. She led Mr. Lux through it, out into the night.
A buxom lass in the jungle playing a recorder. Her bosom heaves gently as she inhales, then gently blows. A blond woman, a dark haired woman. The word of Fred is pulsating, pulsating. It is warm here. Lux is safe. Who is this vision of beauty in diaphanous gown, whose breasts and slender arms, whose lips, whose, whose . . .
[“Excuse me,” Lux tells her. “I seem to have lost my way.”
_“Say what?” says the dark-haired one. Her light-haired companion laughs and cups her friend’s breast. Her teeth look menacing, but somehow oddly alluring. Her hand reaches inside his cassock. And a second hand, And a third, and a fourth, “Consider the lilies of the field” she says, “they spin not, neither do they toil.” Lux feels a life force welling up in him. They are tugging, pulling his love out of him. _]
They are tug-tug-tugging at the essence of his belief, the root of his being, as Fred was tugged by the rope. When the ultimate sacrifice is the purest bliss.
[_On that glorious, holy day, bosomy, gorgeous, teenage virgins dressed in loose-fitting billowy togas, with flowers in their hair, will approach the young men who are about to become priests. Beautiful buxom girls, virgins, beauties. Ample girls with round breasts, wide hips, full lips, nipples, hairy mounds, round asses—slender girls with upturned breasts and downturned smiles, narrow ankles, and long fingers. The Vestal Virgins will slowly dance, slowly approach the waiting, nervous, seven-years-horny devotees of the Holy Noose. They will stand behind each in turn, rubbing up against each novice, their chaste breasts pressing gently against his back. And they will then reach into the flowing Freduit robes and . . . _]
[_ _]r. Norman Lux, nSF, awoke, and ecstasy turned to familiar horror.
These dreams of ordination day were becoming stronger and more frequent. Mr. Lux, in his days as a postulant before becoming a novice in the Society of Fred, heard little about the role of the Vestals in the Sacred Tug of the ordination. There were no recruiting brochures that spelled out how the ritual would unfold. It was not explained in his classes on the liturgy or dogma. And yet, and yet, the novices somehow learned, as if by osmosis . . . in dreams.
Long cold showers started his every day. Not only because he needed to cool his thoughts, but because once again he had ejaculated blood. His requests for clean bedclothes were no longer remarkable. The linen room had thousands of sets of white cotton sheets that had sat on endless shelves for centuries; there was no need to conserve them.
After praying, bathing, praying, fixing his bed, praying, and eating, it was time for Mr. Lux to go to Changes! He had lost track of the number of times that he had been there since the last time he had seen Horatio Norton. Each time there seemed to be a new reason why they could not meet, whether because the Eagle was meditating and refused to be interrupted, or because that wing of change opportunity rooms was being redecorated, or because there was a special theatrical performance that could not be interrupted. Mr. Lux did not know whether it was the Changes! staff or the Eagle himself who was canceling their meetings, and it really didn’t matter. Of all the places in New Kent, or even Freemerica, the inside of Changes! was the place where the concepts of truth and history had the least currency.
But still his pains grew worse. He prayed for relief, he prayed for understanding, he prayed that Father Abbot would at least entertain the possibility that Mr. Lux did indeed suffer from that rarest of theological afflictions, The Pains. His prayers were not yet answered (or not answered in ways that he could understand, he reminded himself), and so he directed his energies into his pursuit of chaos theory, blindly hoping for an insight that would lead him to freedom from suffering.
As he stood waiting for Carson at the foot of the hill, Mr. Lux was thinking about electrical engineering. At the university, in a hardly used corner of an obscure physics laboratory, he had found, amid old oscilloscopes and voltmeters and ammeters and logic analyzers, a Systron-Donner analog computer. And now he was trying to figure out an architecture for connecting that machine to the chip he had designed in his electric circuits class. He needed advice from somebody who knew much more about such things than he did, but there was nobody to ask. Under Chancellor Meekman, the professors who understood such things had been replaced by Party Members in Good Standing, who taught design from a Party-approved, faith-based pedagogy. Which meant that nothing they taught was falsifiable, and whatever they said one week might be contradicted by what they said the next.
If only he could get the Systron-Donner up here, to Saint Reinhold’s, he could steal away in the quiet hours and pursue his research. Could Xristi bring it here for him, he wondered? How would he ask her? How would he dare? And then he would have to lug it from this spot up to the monastery himself; no cars went up that road. The place was still inviolate.
But what was he thinking? This was madness. Not only would it be a violation of countless of his vows, it was absurd! There was no electricity at the Monastery of Saint Reinhold. But yet, but yet, something was going on, something must be investigated. He could not focus his thoughts.
Carson arrived and Mr. Lux climbed into the cab of his truck. Lux said hello, but Carson did not respond. Over the last weeks Carson had become less and less friendly, and Mr. Lux wondered why. Was it the stress of his job? His finances? Problems with his expectant wife Tiffany? Or, more likely, that Mr. Lux’s affliction was making him more and more revolting to look at, to listen to, even to smell?
Nevertheless, Mr. Lux was a minister of the Word. It was his duty to bring Fred into the hearts of all, and so he ventured, “And how is that lovely wife of yours?”
“You know what?” Carson said. “You’re a freeloader. This monastery should be paying taxes. You ain’t even real Fredians, walking around in your girly clothes. There is a war on. There’s a bunch of wars on. War on terrorism, war on drugs. And a war on them Korloonian sons of bitches is long overdue. So don’t talk to me, OK? And to answer your question, my wife is not acting right.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
At Changes!, to Mr. Lux’s dismay, the Eagle was ready to see him.
“Good day, Horatio,” Mr. Norman Lux said.
“It was a hot day in hogville when the long lost prodigal boy came back for a bacon sammich,” the Eagle said.
“What, I the prodigal?” Norman said, taking a seat. “I thought it was you who was playing keep away.”
“When I walk down the streets of Colorado Springs, I am a happy man. Some Cheney might come up and fondle my member with never so much as a ‘by your leave’ and we can all construe that act to be a little forward, a little beyond generally accepted bounds of propriety.”
“Your riddles are tiresome, my ex-Freduit friend.”
“At the Air Force Academy things look more normalized. Things are in a row there. Fourteen airplanes by fourteen airplanes arranged like a chessboard as a surprise for the commandant. We have queer Christian preachers there too. For it is a grand, wide world.”
Mr. Lux knew that he should be ministering to this soul in jeopardy, but today he was finding it harder and harder to care about that. Weeks and weeks of wild goose chases, and now that he was finally here, this doubletalk. He found himself daydreaming about out how to program an analog computer to run the Atari game Pogo Joe. He forced himself to respond to the prisoner who sat opposite him.
“You say it is a wide world, but your world is very narrow.”
“At least there is electricity in my world.”
Well, now we are getting somewhere, thought Mr. Lux.
“I like it that Saint Reinhold’s is without electricity,” he said. “I like the refuge.”
“It’s not entirely unwired, you know. When the house on the hill was < ruled by Aldred the Apostate, the power was brought in.”
“I never heard of any such thing.”
“Of course not. Apostates are expunged from the record. Anyway, it was a failure. The mechanical-physical problems were insoluble, with solid floors and walls three feet thick. Besides, there was nobody who understood it, electricity. But there are rooms there, you know, where the electrons still flow, waiting for an outlet.”
“I think you’re lying. But come on, sir Eagle. You can see how I am. I don’t have much more time for this. Tell me what you want from me. Tell me what is going on.”
“Only you know why you have retreated from the world.”>/p>
Lux was becoming exasperated.
“You, sir! You had The Pains!” he was trying not to yell. “How did you escape them? And why are you really here, in this cell? What have you done?”
The Eagle’s expression did not change.
“There is an impedance mismatch between abstraction levels. The operating system will sort it out. Or else it will crash. In either case, your Pains will cease.”
“But if it hangs? Or freezes?”
“That would be what the believers call Hell. There is a legend of the frozen lake. They say that when Fred’s body fell from the tree, the Sea of Galilee froze. Or something like that.”
“Must everything be a riddle? Have you no compassion?”
“Look to Sundman,” the Eagle said. “There is no riddle there.”
“And who, or what, is that?”
“He was a mathematician of Finland in the last century. He solved the three-body problem of astrophysics using new methods of numerical analysis. A great mathematician indeed. And an astronomer also, keeper of the Great Telescope of Helsinki.”
“Why are you toying with me? To communicate with Xristi? To communicate with the Abbot? Why did you call me here?” Mr. Lux felt tears welling in his eyes. He wiped them, and his fingers felt sticky. He knew it was blood. “Your soul is about to go bad, and with it the world. Innocents suffering by the millions.”
“Not my soul, young sir. And the suffering of innocents is something for you to take up with your God, or at least your Abbot. If he’s not too busy passing secrets to Korloon. Or to Big Brother.”
“I will not sit here and listen to you slander Father Abbot! Damn you, man. You know I have The Pains and you know your soul is about to go bad. Will you not free me of this torment?”
“You blaspheme now. It is God’s grace alone that can free you. Or his sacraments, an old battle that doesn’t concern me in the least. In any event, your Pains don’t concern me. If you want relief, I suggest you speak with yon big dumb bag of meat.”
“Fred have mercy,” Mr. Lux muttered.
“The three-body problem is the last solvable instance of the N-body problem, by the way. There is no solution to the four-body problem or the five-body problem. And yet there are an infinite number of bodies that interact, are there not? Sundman’s three-body solution is one of the first precursors to chaos theory; it’s an example of a deterministic problem that quickly becomes intractable and appears to behave chaotically. So our Finnish friend not only did important work in the three-body version, but he anticipated the machines necessary to attack such problems in general.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sundman was really the last gasp of the old deterministic worldview, basculating on the threshold of chaos.”
“So,” Lux said. “I see. You are telling me of the mathematics I need. Does it relate to your mindpixels and seven-dimensional hyperspheres of thought?”
“I am not concerned with three bodies in space, but with three consciousnesses in three bodies. This is what is called theology. Or Reaganomics, if you will.”
“Damn you! Tell me what you mean!”
“Those pains ordained by dark chaos! Those pains unreasoned: murder, child neglect, dwarfism, a black woman in spiked heels forever excluded, that poor woman in a window, kidnapped, trafficked.”
“Who is she?”
“A sex slave. This is the coupon of endless war. A traffic in women and children; strife, hatred, lovers drowning in inland seas.”
Carson, who was still standing outside the cell door, now spoke, with a laugh.
“Well, he’s talking nonstop bullshit as usual, but I would know what to do with that woman in the window wearing high heels.”
“Carson, if you please. I am here as a chaplain. I must be allowed to converse without your listening.” Mr. Lux was beginning to actively dislike the man.
“I must say that that’s a violation of basic decorum as far as I’m concerned,” the Eagle said. “But there is no such thing as a conversation that is not overheard. Not outside of your priestly mansion.”
Mr. Lux was feeling more ill by the moment, with countless ailments and injuries that he no longer even separately noted. He knew that he needed to conclude this interview soon.
“I think that is overblown,” Mr. Lux said. “Most telescreens don’t even work.”
“In McKinley DC, there is a project of the Freemerican Security Agency called Total Information Awareness. Templeton Cheney is in charge of it.”
“I thought he was dead?”
“You vex me, child. I say he is dead but he is not dead. I speak of his simulacrum, the Party, the flesh made word.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Lux. “I understand. Cheney is the embodiment of the Party.”
“He is in his own frozen head.”
“And where is this frozen head?”
“In the time-teleport connection between New Kent and McKinley. The only science being seriously pursued is that which leads to authority and control.”
Ever more nonsense and riddles, and Mr. Lux’s fever was melting him. “Tell me about frozen heads. What made you say that Xristi deconstructed them? She does no such thing.”
“Perhaps she doesn’t yet. But she will. Where is my absolution?”
“There is no absolution without repentance, and you have not even admitted sin. Besides, I’m no priest, as you well know.”
“You’re an elementary particle carrying charge.”
Mr. Lux could take no more. “Carson,” he said. “Please let me out of here. Mr. Norton, I wish you well. We will not be meeting again.”
“We shall meet with our minds beaming across the universe, reconstituted in a neutron star.”
“I will let you out, but I ain’t going to take you home, Padre,” Carson said. “I’m through with that.”
“Aldred the Apostate,” the Eagle said. “Oldest of the new.”
“You’re on your own,” Carson added.
That was just as well, as far as Mr. Lux was concerned. He didn’t want to go back to Saint Reinhold’s just yet. The walk from Changes! to the university was not far, and he knew where Xristi’s office was.
Several hours later that night, after having missed dinner and evening prayers, Mr. Lux got out of the passenger seat of Xristi Friedman’s battered Volvo at the foot of the road to Saint Reinhold’s. With her help, he lifted the tailgate. Inside was an old, hacked, Systron-Donner analog computer strapped to a purloined hand truck. They removed it from the car (where it had been wedged in among canisters of liquid nitrogen) and set it gingerly on the ground. Refusing again her offer of further assistance, Mr. Lux began to slowly make his way up the gravel road, dragging the hand truck behind him, inch by tortured inch.
The Volvo sped away.
Chapter 8he Brain Institute of the University of New Kent was in some ways much as Xristi imagined the Monastery of Saint Reinhold must be—full of empty rooms and hallways that echoed of past glory.
It had been built before the Party’s ascendancy, with lofty goals of finding the causes of, and cures for, neurological and neurodegenerative diseases. But as the Party became more and more entrenched in society at large and at the University in particular, the practice of science necessarily became more and more corrupt. Science required logic and repeatable experiments, while the Party required doublethink and memory holes. Virtually no scientists remained.
Dr. Xristi Friedman trod quietly down the dusty and nearly empty halls of the sixth floor, past bulletin boards covered with faded flyers for programs from years ago, wondering if she could remember where Horatio’s office had been when he had a research fellowship here. The last time she had been here was a long time ago—before Horatio had quit school, joined the religious order, gone crazy, been sent to prison, and taken on the identity of a high-flying, all-seeing bird of prey. How innocent it all seemed now, how quaint. Horatio was an idealistic and handsome philosopher-scientist; Xristi was his randy scientist girlfriend. The search for truth was their shared passion, and the anti-truth menace that was the Party was a mere nuisance, a bunch of losers on the fringes of civil society.
When she saw the office door with the postcard of a Freemerican Silver Eagle perched atop a tree taped to it, she knew she was in the right place. She stopped before the door and glanced to her left and right: nobody. She inhaled deeply, placed her right hand on the handle, and turned. It was not locked. She pushed the door open and stepped into the little office.
It was a windowless room with a bookcase, a wooden roll-top desk with the top rolled down, a rolling chair, and some pictures on the wall—one of her, before the tattoos, before the piercings. Yes, this was the place. It was in this very room that her lover had lost his mind.
She wondered if she were losing her mind too; the evidence clearly pointed in that direction. She was here looking for the Eagle’s apparatus, and if that wasn’t nuts, nothing was.
The apparatus was what the Eagle had been working on when the metaphysical thoughts finally overwhelmed him and he joined the Freduits. It was allegedly a mindreading device of some kind — built around the principle of the mindpixel—that could pluck a thought from the lively air, especially when placed close to the brain of a thinking person. Or so Horatio had said. But it was nonsense of course; Xristi knew that and had told him so. Metaphysics was not science, and Hebbian association–deformed surfaces of unit hyperspheres optimized for surface area were imaginary constructs, not real things that could be measured with a real device.
But ever since she had taken charge of the Chronos Collection, reality had become, for Xristi, a nebulous concept. It wasn’t merely that she had been told to do, and agreed to do, something that was stupid, impossible, and creepy. She had taken pride in being a scientist, but this wasn’t science. It was some kind of crackpot necromancy, magic, and cult voodoo. There wasn’t one chance in a million that any of the heads in her collection would turn into anything other than smelly rotten meat when she thawed it. The entire Chronos Collection was a macabre and obscene desecration.
But all that, frankly, she could deal with. She wasn’t ashamed of her degraded position because she was being blackmailed. What alternative did she have? Had she refused, an innocent student would be locked up in Changes! So Xristi would do as she was told, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea where to begin. She would do her best.
No, the reason she was here today, the reason she feared she was losing her mind, was because of the one head unlike the others—the head of the sad-eyed young man with the rope burn around his neck. The head that seemed to be, impossibly, in a different position every time she went in the lab. The head that seemed to be trying to communicate with her.
For weeks now, every day she had gone into the Chronos Collection laboratory and placed blankets over the bell jar containing the head. And every day the blankets were on the floor when she came in the following day. Obviously anybody—Chancellor Meekman, for one—could have entered the lab when she was not there and tossed the blankets on the floor. But she couldn’t convince herself that it wasn’t the head itself that was rejecting them. The blankets seemed to muffle the weak communication—it wasn’t so much words as thoughts—emanating from the jar. But she could not shut them out altogether. It was absurd, of course. Her mind was playing tricks on her, tickling deep, deep superstitions from her childhood. But logic no longer mattered; she had to see if she could communicate with the thing.
She rolled back the desk cover, and there it was: a leather helmet like those worn by football players sixty years ago, covered all around with wires. Connected to the helmet by a length of string there was a little wand, sort of like a conductor’s baton.
“This is stupid,” she said. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
But she picked up the headgear anyway. She shook it and blew off a little bit of dust. Then, inhaling deeply, she placed it on her head.
It fit loosely, with two flaps on either side that rested lightly on her ears. She waved the wand towards the desk, the bookcase, the wall. And as she did so, she heard vibrato tunes at different pitches near each object, like the theremin playing in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” But what was that? She heard words, faint at first, but growing louder, more distinct. And a kind of tapping at regular intervals. Oh! The tapping was somebody walking down the hall! Well, there would be no escaping; if they were coming for her they were going to find her. She raised the wand towards the door, and words, at first indistinct but gradually louder and clearer came in through the flaps.
oxide blue oven-dry Pan-mongolian New world palm marten monitor bug part-finished
mid-forty nailhead spot mole-sighted midoestral mid-wall column oblong-elliptical
moon-gazing pain racked peace overload circuit breaker mist-impelling needle
dam mining claim mountain girdled oven-shaped needle spar new-
risen occupation neurosis ocean-borne noddy tern milo maize
olive acanthus nail maker Mid-victorianism nutmeg liver-footed
or else parsley-flavored peace-breathing noncondensing
engine own-form Nez perce ordnance sergeant olive
family panel heating eagle office nurse crop Pan-
slav passing bell movie-minded parliament man Pan-
slavism mountain bunch grass neroli oil pale-dried pass
boat nine-cornered paper birch niffy-naffy nimble-jointed nose-
led mother cell otter sheep one-point paraffin paper neck-fast Non-
bantu Mittel-europa motor assembler nail puller ox louse mulatto jack
owl moth mockery-proof paper-capped night-robbing mis-strike oak-leaf
cluster mowrah-seed oil oleander fern paramine brown open-jointed nanny plum
onion smudge mis-seat mild-savored noun equivalent pad saddle paper chaser party liner
As the footsteps faded away and the words ceased, Xristi stood, amazed. Either this thing was rigged to play random words when a person walked nearby, or it was picking up some kind of emanation from the passerby and making it into words. Had the device been made by anybody other than Horatio, she would have dismissed it as a crude parlor trick. But she knew the Eagle, and he wasn’t the kind of person who would waste time with such things. So, just for the hell of it, she told herself, assume it’s for real. What conclusions could she draw about the broadcast of seemingly random words she had just received? Well, it might be that the helmet could only pick up random words. Or, it might be that she had just listened to the actual thought, such as it was, of whatever person had just walked by. There wasn’t enough data to go on, and now the helmet was silent again.
But no, wait. There were words coming from someplace in the room. And in a voice that seemed familiar, friendly. Yes, that was it. She heard the voice of Minister of Awareness Ronald Reagan. Where was it coming from? A little experimentation with the wand quickly located the source: a folder on the desk. As she moved the wand over it, the voice looped back on itself, as if a dozen or more Reagans were talking at once. She took the helmet off, put it on the table, opened the file and read.
Memory does not correspond to any factual past, my friends. It only represents a current state of brain structures. It is more good to brainfi x memories than to thingschange. See? Uncle Ron won’t steer you wrong! It’s a new morning in Freemerica! Brain science means more good control of ungood think and more findfix of ungood memories. Our brave men and women in uniform need more good tools to findfix ungood think. This is a matter of national security. He who controls the past controls the future. And remember, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. Take it from me, Ronald Reagan. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.
Damn, Xristi thought. Is it possible that this apparatus really works? Fred Christ! Had the Eagle really been on the verge of building a mindreading machine? The Thought Police would kill for such a device. Why hadn’t the Party done something with it? Why was the helmet sitting here untouched? Probably because it wasn’t a mindreading machine, she realized. It was probably a gag.
Hang on. What if the Party didn’t know anything about it? What if only Templeton Cheney had known about it, and what if Templeton Cheney was dead?
There were too many mysteries. If she had had the time, and if she were not becoming increasingly paranoid, she would have blue-boxed some phreak buddies, arranged for some hackers to take it apart and see what made it tick. But there wasn’t time, and it was too dangerous. If this thing worked, she needed to use it. And she didn’t want anybody else to be caught with it.
In any event, she had been here too long and she was getting nervous. She put the helmet under her left arm, closed the desk cover, opened the office door, made sure that the coast was clear, and headed off at a trot. Ten minutes later she was manipulating the six large clasps that held closed the triple-insulated door to the Chronos Collection laboratory.
As soon as she got inside the laboratory she placed the helmet on the corner of a workbench and, with a practiced move, picked the covers off the floor at the foot of the rope-burned man and covered the jar containing his pleading head.
Just moments ago, as she walked past the door to Chancellor Meekman’s office, trying to act nonchalant despite carrying a crazy leather mindreading helmet that she had stolen from her ex-lover and celebrated traitor’s office, she had been startled to feel the apparatus vibrate and squawk. Muffled voices percolated through it—Meekman’s, Reagan’s, and Oliver North’s, among countless others—saying mindless drivel in the Newspeak language of the Party. Amid the usual mixture of pseudo-patriotic blather, brainnumbing bureaucratese, and phony treacle, five phrases leapt out, loud and distinct: Mindpixel, Total Information Awareness, Xristi, Fred, Lux.
It was nonsense! It was bullshit! It would be comic if it were not so menacing. The Party was incoherent and absurd and couldn’t even tell her what it wanted her to do. But its guns were real, its soldiers were real, and its prisons were real.
Here she was, in a disused and Frankensteinian subzero laboratory. She had no idea what to do next. She had no friends, merely some people she chatted with on phone phreak bulletin boards. She had seen Norman Lux a few times since their first meeting, and although he was a friend of sorts, he wasn’t anybody she could really talk to—and besides, he was as odd as a seven-legged cat himself, and she needed a little normalcy for a change. Oddness she had to spare.
If you’re going to be alone, she thought, you couldn’t pick a better spot than this. Nobody ever came here because there was nothing to do here. The technology to reanimate these heads did not exist and never would.
Well, here she was. And there was the apparatus. If she was going to do the silly thing she meant to do, she might as well do it now, before the leather froze and became unworkable.
It was awkward to handle the helmet with her fat gloves on, but she decided against taking them off. The last thing she needed was to freeze her fingers so she couldn’t even open up the door to get out of here. Deliberately facing away from the blanket-covered jar, she steeled herself for the coldness she was about to experience, threw back the hood of her coat and placed the Eagle’s apparatus on her head.
Searing cold enveloped her, especially her ears. Cold air shot down her neck. Leaving the wand to dangle from the helmet’s left earflap, she pulled up the coat hood with both hands and pressed it tight to her head, willing it to warm up, which it did, slowly. And now she picked up the wand with her left, mittened, hand and walked around the room, deliberately avoiding the only head whose thoughts she actually expected to read.
She had never really inspected this place before. She had been in this locker dozens of times before now, but she had never stayed long. She had merely wanted to get a feel for what was in here. But without any research plan, without any ideas what to do with these gruesome artifacts, there wasn’t much point in exploring. And besides, although it was irrational, although it was unscientific, and stupid, she was convinced that the ropeburned head was that of Fred of Nazareth, and that it was trying to talk to her. Now, both because she was afraid to leave the room and because she was afraid to wave the wand near the rope-burned head, she decided to take a more deliberate inventory. After all, she was the curator.
The room was larger than she had realized. It was hard to know what shape it even was, so filled was it with pipes and tubing and valves and gauges and tanks and motors. And there was little light; the far recesses were dark and she had no idea where a light switch might be. She walked gingerly forward, with the wand before her. The helmet emitted not a sound, and with it on she could hear nothing, not even her own shuffling feet.
Eventually she came to a wall, in which there appeared to be a door— although it was hard to tell, because it was in shadows, and obscured by pipes and hardware. She leaned closer, and, squinting, made out some writing that appeared to say, “McKinley T.I.A.” She groped with her right hand until she found what appeared to be a handle, grasped it, and pulled, hard.
And came face to face with Monty Meekman, darkness visible. He was a giant, at least twenty feet tall, with the face of Ronald Reagan and Kron Borlak and Oliver North and the baby-faced man from the Two Minutes Hate. He was a wildly gesticulating man, and was also a dead, motionless rat that appeared to have a small weapon of some kind embedded between its bloody, broken ribs. His voice was soothing and avuncular, and he had an easy laugh. His voice was a scratchy rat’s scream that vomited out of his tiny rat’s teeth in his tiny rat’s head, which was locked motionless. He was an army, an air force; dozens of armies, child soldiers amputating limbs of other children, lobbyists for armament makers in congressional lobbies in McKinley DC; torture brigades and death squads and rapists, prison corporations, flag makers, propagandists, hate-makers, ten thousand nuclear-armed rockets in Freemerica and Korloon and Eastasia, fields strewn with mines through which children walked and were exploded, menace, threat, worldwide corporations beyond understanding or control, mafias, nihilism, fundamentalism, and love of power. The room itself was vast and tiny, galactic and infinitesmal, and pulsated one thought only: [_control. _]“I have always wanted to be here, to serve the Party,” the room said, Reagan said, the lightdarkness said, the rat said.
“I have always wanted to serve the Party,” Xristi replied.
And then she was pulled back into the Chronos laboratory, flying through the air backwards, bent double with her fingertips touching her boots. The force with which she was ejected tore the Eagle’s apparatus off her head and it fell into the vortex. The McKinley T.I.A. door slammed shut. Still she flew backwards, seemingly for minutes. It was fun, actually, like being a child on a trampoline, playing with friends on a warm day in July in a serene and shaded back yard.
She landed, eventually, on a pile of blankets at the foot of the tank that was topped by the rope-burned man. Slowly she got to her feet. With curiosity and gratitude, no longer with fear or dread, she looked into the eyes of the severed, tortured soul.
“[_Fer me ad lucem,” _]he whispered. “Bring me to the light.”
he smell of burning oak leaves greeted Mr. Norman Lux, nSF, as he slowly made his way down the hallways of the Old New Monastery towards the Courtroom of the Secret Chamberlains of the Cape and Sword, following a map made for him by the abbot himself, which he held in his trembling left hand. He walked uncertainly, with the aid of a simple cane, along corridors he had never seen before, through whole vast reaches he had not even imagined: past scriptoriums, cloisters, warming rooms and sleeping rooms, breweries, bakeries, cobbler shops, apothecaries, refectories, chapels, vestiaries, and privies, all unused for centuries, empty, fallow, waiting since the troubles at the time of the last Painful Inquiry, in 1458.
Really he should have been using crutches, but it was important to him that he not look like he was overdoing it. This Painful Inquiry was a solemn office of the Church, and was to be treated with the utmost respect. The last thing Mr. Lux wanted was for the officers of the Church to think he was doing anything for effect. According to his reading of the map he had only a few dozen more yards to go. And yet he did not know if he could make it the rest of the way unassisted, despite his best intentions. The nature of his Painful afflictions changed from day to day, but today he seemed to be suffering from leprosy, smallpox, and consumption. Every step was an act of will. He could scarcely find his breath. He prayed, “Dear Fred, please help me to arrive at thy Holy Door, but if not, thy will be done.”
His prayers were answered. He arrived at the entrance to the room where the Painful Inquiry was to be conducted, made the sign of the noose, and pushed on the towering doors. The doors swung open. With dread, terror, and hope, Mr. Lux crossed the threshold. His Painful Inquiry had begun.
The room, illuminated by torches in high sconces and by a drop of drab sunlight filtered through a tiny roseate window on the right wall, was enormous, wood-paneled, and without ornamentation. There were a few wooden pews to the left and right, but the singular feature of the room was the high dais directly in front of Mr. Lux, a judicial bench at which sat five austere and angry-looking men, of whom Mr. Lux recognized only one: Fr. Hessberg, the abbot, who was in the center spot.
There was nobody else in the room.
Although Mr. Lux had requested this Inquiry, had dreamed of it for weeks and months, had read every bit of theological literature he could find on the subject (both sanctioned and unsanctioned), he did not know what to expect. He had no notion of how the investigation proceeded. And he felt terribly alone.
He walked to the center of the room, stood as erectly as he could manage, looked up to the men on the bench and said, “Norman Lux, a humble servant of Fred our Lord, stands before you.”
“Why are you here?” Fr. Hessberg bellowed, and his voice resounded off the cold stone walls. “We have assembled ecclesiastic authorities here at great inconvenience and great expense. What do expect us to do about your imagined worries?”
“Father,” Norman said, meekly. “I have been ill, and tortured, for so very long. Our doctors can find no cure, because the symptoms change from instant to instant. I burn up, I bleed from every orifice and pore, my bones break . . . I only hope to find some relief.”
“And you presume to diagnose yourself with The Pains?”
“Wise men, I am not learned enough to deduce such things. That is why I come before you.”
Wise men he said. But who were these men, he wondered. They were not even dressed in ecclesiastic vestments; rather, they appeared in the robes proper to a secular court.
“Well then tell us your story,” said a scowling judge to the abbot’s right. “Omit nothing, but do not embellish.”
As Mr. Lux tried to gather his thoughts, he noticed that the man on the far right side of the bench was crushing what appeared to be dry oak leaves into a bowl of some sort. He then proceeded to light them aflame using a taper that was in a tall candlestick. The leaves caught afire and the flame rose high. The man produced another bowl, and with a quick motion cupped it over the first to smother the flames. When he removed the covering bowl, the flames were gone and the leaves were smoldering. The man leaned his head over the bowl, breathed the smoke in deeply, then passed it to the judge who sat between him and the abbot. He too leaned over and inhaled the smoke, then passed the bowl further down. Mr. Lux stood in confused silence as each of the men breathed deeply the oaken smoke.
“You waste our time!” Fr. Hessberg thundered.
And so Mr. Lux told, as quickly as he could, in a dry, parched voice, the tale of his many weeks of suffering: the ailments, wounds and injuries, the fevers, agues, confusions. He told them briefly of his travels outside the monastery: his chaplaincy at Changes!, his coursework at the University of New Kent. But the men did not even appear to be listening; it was as if the smoke from the leaves had put them into a stupor.
“You say that you have been a chaplain at the prison,” a judge enquired. “You attempted to minister to a fallen novice from this very monastery. A dangerous man! Why did you take it upon yourself to attempt to redeem the Eagle?”
“Good sirs, I was following the orders of my abbot.”
The abbot said nothing. He appeared to be whittling a long stick, and his eyes were cast down. Why did he not confirm the truth of what Norman had just said? Mr. Lux had not known what to expect of this Inquiry, but he was surprised and troubled by the ferocity of his questioners. Maybe it was all an act, he told himself. Probably they had to be this severe to ensure that he was not play-acting. But could they not offer a hint of compassion?
“You have a theory about The Pains, is that correct? You think you know more than the Holy Mother Church?”
“I come before you, to learn from you. I don’t presume—”
“Answer the question!” the abbot roared.
“Well,” Norman began, tentatively. He had not prepared a talk. He had jumbled thoughts, but no coherent theory. He knew he was going to embarrass himself, but he had no choice.
“I believe,” he said, “that The Pains have something to do with a soul about to go bad, a world about to go bad. But I believe that it is not a direct mapping, for the world is not deterministic. There is no cause and effect. It is chaotic, and only appears to be deterministic. Everything is information. Chaos percolates information from scale to scale, from one level of abstraction to the next, from microscopic to macroscopic, from macroscopic to galactic, from galactic to cosmic. This is the belief of the Santa Soga school.”
“School?” said one of the judges who had been silent until now. “School in Santa Soga? Is this not your school, Saint Reinhold, your one true school?”
“Sir, I mean school of thought; a way of thinking about chaos. Like the Copenhagen School of Quantum Mechanics. It has to do with unexpectedness. Surprise.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Mr. Lux heard one of the judges mutter.
The abbot spoke again, “No cause and effect, you say? Is all meaningless in your philosophy?”
Mr. Lux could feel his fever overwhelming him. Lights were pulsating, and the dais seemed to rise to the heavens. He tried once more to focus his thoughts.
“Karl Fritjof Sundman, the Finnish mathematician . . . Sundman’s three bodies—”
“What use is this information to us?” a Painful Inquisitor barked at him. “Chaos is what we reject, what we stand against!”
“Why have the Pains then descended upon you?” said another.
“That is a mystery of Fred,” Mr. Lux said. His voice was a mere whisper. “That is what I came here to find out.”
The voices became a tumult.
“Would you instruct us? You are the novice!”
“The story of Norman Lux, in other words, is the story of Frodo Baggins, Job, Fred, and every confused undergraduate struggling with Riemannian mathematics that he does not understand and for which he has neither the patience, intelligence, nor aptitude for hard work to understand.”
“Silence!” yelled the abbot, and the cacophony subsided. “The time has come to get to the heart of your heresy. Tell us about the machine you have made.”
With those words, Mr. Lux’s fever turned to chills. He did not know that they knew about his machine.
“I . . . I . . . I have been doing some experimental theology, reverend sirs,” he said. “I have made a machine for exploring chaos. An analog computer. To study strange attractors and fractal geometries of the soul.”
“Engine of the devil!” somebody said.
“The point of the Church is not to enquire, it is to retard,” said somebody else.
“Where is it?” asked Fr, Hessberg.
“At the university,” Mr. Lux lied. And in those words he beheld his fate.
It was done. He had lied before Fred and His most holy representatives in a sacramental proceeding. For the first time, Mr. Lux came to believe that his Pains might never end. They might, in fact, merely be the foretaste of his own damnation.
“Whose soul is about to go bad?” the abbot enquired, staring right through Mr. Lux. “Is it your own, perhaps?” and then, calling towards the rear of the room, “Painful Witness, come forward.”
There were footsteps behind him; confident, military steps.
Mr. Lux turned and saw the soul gone bad. But what was the Party doing in an ecclesiastical matter? The Church, for all its faults, had always shunned the Party. This was, perhaps, its chiefest virtue.
“Carson Myers, Party Member in Good Standing,” the ruined soul said. “I am happy to help you with this ungood thinker. Religion requires freedom and freedom requires religion!”
Mr. Lux could feel the soul going bad, still, infinitely regressing, sliding away ever deeper into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. Knowing and not knowing, being conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, holding simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, using logic against logic, repudiating morality while laying claim to it, believing that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, forgetting whatever it was necessary to forget, then drawing it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly forgetting it again: and above all, applying the same process to the process itself . . .
Mr. Lux had come here today filled with the love of Fred, seeking only to do acts of peace and goodness, wanting only to discover why he was afflicted and how he might get relief. Clearly he now saw that that was not going to happen. There was no compassion to be found here today. The monastery, the Church itself, was banal, sterile, and cruel. Who were these inquisitors? They were dried up, politicking, senile old men. Why were there no women in this church? Only the virgins, the poor exploited girls.
“Where is this traitor’s infernal engine?” the abbot asked the jailor.
No matter how horrible Mr. Lux felt right now, at any instant he might feel immeasurably worse. Yet for all its superstitions and perversions, and for whatever reason of divine mischief or mere accident, the Church had stumbled upon some kind of magic; it had obtained some knowledge of The Pains that might be helpful to him, and which it was now withholding from him.
The Painful Inquiry had never been about the role of Fred in the world. It was merely about naked power wielded by a senescent, senile bunch of old farts whose time had passed them by. They were mere bullies. There was no need to show obeisance to them.
Fredianity itself was a fraud, Mr. Lux now saw, an institution of silly superstitions and pointless rituals based upon a childish myth. The Pains themselves were merely one part of that myth. Yet clearly he did indeed have The Pains. How could this be? How could he have this thing which should not exist? Had he brought them on himself merely by thinking on them? Were The Pains merely psychosomatic? True, he had meditated on nothing but The Pains for a long, long time. But if you meditate on the horns of a bull, to quote that old saint, you don’t grow horns. What then would he do for a cure? There was no answer. There was only chaos.
“It is a great and signal honor to perform my Freemerican duties by telling you that that machine is—”
But Carson’s voice was drowned out by the sound of a loud automobile engine with a broken muffler, spraying gravel, and rock music of some kind. Evidently a car had just driven to right outside the very Courtroom of the Secret Chamberlains.
[Mommy’s little monster,
_Mommy’s little monster _]
A violation. All things are coming together now . . . mysteries of faith . . . chaos theory tells us about infinite lengths in finite space, fractal dimensions, a bird in the water, a fish in the air . . . nonlinear dynamics . . . from this fusion The Pains were born . . . we see wars and desolations, depredations . . . financial meltdowns . . . melting glaciers . . .
Outside the door to the Courtroom, footsteps, people running. Voices. Xristi saying, “Where? Where?” Male voices saying, “Here, within!”
The doors flew open, and there stood Dr. Xristi Friedman, out of breath, holding a burlap sack in her right hand that appeared to contain something about the size and shape of a bowling ball. Blood seeped through it.
“It is her!” the abbot cried. “The Eagle’s muse! She has the knowledge! Seize her!”
Carson turned to chase her, and was immediately tackled by Mr. LaFont and Mr. Agnolli, whose black cassocks obscured his view as they sat upon him.
“Run, Norman!” they cried.
“Come with me,” Xristi said.
Run. Now that was a funny idea. And yet he must try. He looked up one final time at the stunned judges on the bench.
“All of your Fredianity has become mere sophistry! I am a soul redeemer!” he said.
He turned, and, taking Xristi’s outstretched hand, he left the room as quickly as he could manage. The doors swung shut behind him.
Mr. Chen and Mr. Powers threw their bodies against the doors, withdrew their cinctures and stoles from about their cassocks and used then to lash shut the giant handles.
“Run!” they said.
“I am melting,” Mr. Lux whimpered as he walked. The Pains were as bad as ever, but he had a new hope, now that he had abandoned the Church for good. “I need Sundman. Sundman, save me!”
chapter 10own, down, down. Stairway after stairway, some of wood, some of brick, some carved into the very granite. Down to the very foundations of the Monastery of Saint Reinhold the Stonemason, down to the oldest part of the New Monastery that had been built, legend said, upon the ruins of the Church of the Martyr’s Chord.
Mr. Lux did not know the way from where they were to where they were going. Everything here was unfamiliar to him. But he had a sense that he was being attracted, in a strange way, to the chaotic machine, and a certain calm had come over him despite his pain. Xristi said, “He seems to know where he wants to go,” and nodded towards the bloody sack that she held with her left hand.
A song by Kate Bush had entered his head. It had been a favorite of his Nancy; he remembered now lying naked in a field with her, contemplating her freckled breasts. What would she make of his having shut himself away since her death in these wuthering, wuthering, wuthering heights?
[It doesn’t hurt me.
_Do you want to feel how it feels? _
Do you want to know that it doesn’t hurt me?
_Do you want to hear about the deal that I’m making? _
You, it’s you and me.
And if I only could,
I’d make a deal with God,
And I’d get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
If I only could, oh . . .]
They came around a corner and found themselves facing a door that was marked with carved graphittos, painted over but still clearly visible. Crudely drawn female shapes, a hand grasping some kind of rod, a flute . . . And above the door, carved in stone, Hortulus Virginae. They stopped, and somewhere far above them they heard echoes of people running. There were innumerable ways they could have gone, and it should have been easy for them to hide in this vast maze. But the blood, the blood. The trail was unmistakable. They needed to keep moving.
Mr. Lux grasped the heavy handle and pulled as hard as his weakened muscles could pull. It opened, and the sunlight assaulted their eyes as they stepped out into a tiny courtyard, overgrown with weeds and a few tired trees. On three sides the garden was walled in by towering brick and stone edifices, but the fourth side overlooked a cliff and offered a view of the distant city of New Kent, from which arose ten or fifteen black plumes of smoke, as if the whole city were afire. A gravel path led across the garden to another door into yet another wing of this unending building, and as they walked to it, Mr. Lux noticed, off to his right, three ancient-looking women in tattered robes who waved and smiled toothlessly. Xristi reached the door first, and as she reached out for the handle, Mr. Lux noticed that the burlap bag she was carrying seemed to be faintly glowing.
More stairs, more corridors, rats scurrying before them now, locusts flying in through unseen windows. The bleeding burlap bag grew ever brighter.
Finally, they arrived at Room 101. There, amid the discarded transformers, capacitors, resistors, diodes, vacuum tubes, lamps, wires, dials, and sundry detritus from Aldred’s failed reformation sat Mr. Lux’s Systron-Donner chaos engine.
“We must connect him to it; it is our only hope,” Mr. Lux said.
“But what do we hope to gain by this?” Xristi asked. “What will this technology bring us? Will we be less lonely? Will we connect? Will we feel that life is worthwhile?”
“If we can only get a little bit of divine guidance,” Norman Lux said.
“Only the smallest hint of how we are to proceed. The tiniest taste of God’s grace, and we can do the rest ourselves, I’m sure of it.”
From the bag came two faint words: “The light!”
“OK,” Xristi said. “Let’s do it.” And she placed the bag on the floor and reached in for its contents.
Furiously they worked to make the connections. No words were necessary: It was obvious what needed to be done. The only question was whether they would have time.
Now the door bursts open, and in comes the abbot, enraged. He’s wearing a simple black cassock with a noosifix around his neck. He is sixty-five years old, an ex-athlete, very tall and still muscular. He raises his right hand high above his head—in it, Mr. Lux can see the razor tip of an impossibly sharpened stick. Mr. Lux contemplates that point. It is a single atom.
And here is Carson too. And Justice Scalia! And Templeton Cheney! And Monty Meekman! Like the devil, he takes on many shapes.
Xristi throws a switch, and Fred comes to life. His miraculous presence fills the room, and all turn and watch in wonder. And serenity is upon them. There is silence.
Which is broken by Fred singing, in a weak reedy tenor, a voice not unlike that of Leonard Cohen:
[You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children
You must not do it anymore]
We are all in that room. Even Sundman, basculating on the brink of chaos, stuck in a deterministic worldview, trying to percolate information from one world into another. This is all just beyond his grasp. He almost has it. He really does. The self-similarity is astonishing.
You who build these altars now_
To sacrifice these children
_You must not do it anymore _]
We zoom out.
We zoom out of Changes!, out of the monastery; we see the Earth from above.
[It is we who build these altars now
To sacrifice our children
_We must not do it anymore _]
The people of Freemerica will have to decide. No godhead will save them now.
Do they want freedom? Do they want to enslave themselves? Do they love Big Brother? Does their lust for that tug blind them to what must be done?
And so Mr. Lux became light, but the darkness knew it not.
As Mr. Lux became eponymous, his probability function expanded. He became potential. Certain thoughts passed through him, and thus through Xristi, through me, and now through you. Self-similar thoughts that thought on all levels of abstraction. Thoughts which were trajectories on the Hebbian association–deformed surface of a unit hypersphere optimized for surface area. The Eagle found his own freedom on the seven-dimensional hypersphere. He did not need Lux, or anything other than his own thought, to become free. He thought himself out of Changes!
We need not chronicle the pains of our own lives. Each reader, each listener hears them in her or his own silent heart. It is our shared Freemerican pain that concerns us here.
A rat is upon the land, and dead ignorant religion deadens us. That rat has been wounded with a homemade shiv, and its head is frozen. But it is still dangerous.
None of that concerns Mr. Lux. He is stone free. It is our problem now.
Mr. Lux is now nowhere to be found, but light is everywhere. Xristi Friedman knows a freedom and joy she’s never known before. Something magical and good has happened.
At Changes! a change facilitator, about to sadistically smite the Eagle, becomes distracted by light and cosmic energy. Had there been any windows in that prison, he could have looked out of one and witnessed the Miracle at the Monastery.
But hark! Now windows do appear in the walls of the prison. They are barred with thick steel bars, that is true. But barred windows are an improvement over windowlessness. The person known as the Eagle, at this exact moment, becomes changed into a bird and flies free of the bars of Changes!
At the University of New Kent, a six-clasped door is open, and a vile liquid flows out into the hallway from the room behind. A smell of rotting flesh stinks up the joint.
Did Mr. Lux have The Pains? Assuredly so. Were they caused by chaotic connection to a soul gone bad? That is what the doctrine teaches us. Did the soul gone bad belong to Carson, the corrections officer (for that is what Mr. Lux himself thought)? No, Mr. Lux was wrong about that. For at the end, Carson did join the Party, of his own volition. Therefore his soul did go bad; he was not redeemed. And yet Mr. Lux escaped The Pains.
But whose soul, then, was it that was about to go bad? Was it the abbot’s or Xristi’s, or Meekman’s or Mr. Agnolli’s? Was it Mr. Lux’s own soul that he saved? Did he escape The Pains by escaping from the strictures of the Society of Fred?
This is a matter of great debate among us theologians.
Personally, I think that it was the soul of Freemerica itself that Mr. Lux redeemed. But the redemption was not permanent—it lasted only a few short days. The Party is still with us. Oliver North is still on the telescreen.
It is up to each of us who suffers now these Pains, to look to the salvation of this ideal we love, Freemerica. Neither the Party’s doublethink, nor the Church’s sterile philosophy, can provide the answers. What is left then? Science? But there is no more science. And chaos? Chaos is intractable. This is our situation now.
Enough! Class dismissed for today.
We will resume tomorrow, in Lecture Hall 101. Father Chen will be lecturing on the New Liturgy of The Transcendent Painee, here at the Monastery of Saint Norman.
A novel of nanomachines, neurobiology, DNA hacking and Overmind Emergent
Biodigital, a nanotech thriller about Silicon Valley tech genius/messiah Monty Meekman and the quasi-religious cult of transhumanist computer designers and brain hackers who follow him, is set in the 1990’s. But it’s as current whatever’s trending now. And it’s YOURS FREE when you sign up for my mailing list.
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If you enjoyed The Pains check out these other titles by John Sundman
The Mind over Matter Trilogy
Acts of the Apostles, Cheap Complex Devices _]and [_The Pains.
A metafictional fugue on minds and machines
[*_Acts of the Apostles_ by John F. X. Sundman *]In the spring of 1990, on the eve of the first Gulf War, chip designer Todd Griffith discovers a trojan horse and winds up with a bullet in his brain.
Five years later, after a grueling week in the Silicon Valley fast lane, burnt-out bi-coastal software engineer Nick Aubrey boards a “red-eye” flight to Boston and winds up seated next to a very disturbed man who claims to know the secret of Gulf War Disease, a mysterious ailment afflicting thousands of Desert Storm veterans and which the government denies even exists.
Soon Nick finds himself locked in a terrifying battle of wits with the would-be Silicon Valley messiah Monty Meekman and his cult of brain hackers, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Only Todd can help him, but Todd’s been in a coma for half a decade.
[*[_Cheap Complex Devices, _]edited by John Compton Sundman *]This purports to be the report of the first Hoftstadter Prize for Machine-Written Fiction. But is it? Or has a buggy floating-point processor somehow become self-aware and told us this hallucinatory tale? Or is Cheap Complex Devices merely the fever dream of comatose chip designer Todd Griffith?
“Like Gödel, Escher, Bach told by Hunter S. Thompson on acid.”
[*And coming soon,[_ Meekman Rising,] by John Sundman, the prequel to _Acts of the Apostles and Biodigital *]In 1974 in a small town in Maine, from the moment that 11 year old Bartlett McGovern learns that her brother Jerome has a rare incurable disease she commits her life to science, to finding a cure to save him. In a rough neighborhood of Oakland, California, a brilliant 15 year old loner named Jamal Jackson builds clever tools for phone phreaking using discarded electronics. In Tennessee 17 year old Judith Knight ponders the implications of genetic engineering. And on the campus of Stanford University, Abraham Angevine, a full professor at only 25, experiences a vision that will draw the others to him like moths to a flame. While we look on in helpless horror.
Volume Black of the Mind Over Matter Trilogy, A Metafictional Fugue on Minds and Machines Say you're the Savior, Fred Christ. Would you want your frozen head to be reaninmated in 1984? The world is going all to hell. War looms. Earthquakes happen with increasing regularity; weather patterns are awry; birds are in the water, fish in the air. Old ways wither; old languages are lost as the memories of their last surviving speakers disolve like cobwebs. Something rotten this way comes. Governments collapse around the globe, leaving only The Party to rule over all. In a prison cell, a madman spins theories of the mind, conjuring his own freedom. In cars and bars and shopping malls, proles obediently obey the jaded dictates of Big Brother, Ronald Reagan and Oliver North that emanate from the irony machine they call the telescreen. In a subzero laboratory, a scientist stares at an imprisoned god. And in a lonely bare room in a vast and nearly empty monastery, a young novice studies and prays and contemplates the idea of simple goodness, trying to comprehend chaos. For which his only reward will be the pure torment of The Pains. In a world that's part Orwell, part Cheney, and part who knows what, a holy man tries to find a way to give meaning to his suffering, and perhaps thereby save us all. Cheeseburger Brown, the creator of Simon of Space brings, brings this universe to life with twelve vivid illustrations.