“Everything we call real is made of things we cannot call real.“
– Niels Bohr (1885-1962), “Father of the Atom.” Nobel Prize in Physics, 1922.
I walk toward the exit as the screen brightens behind me, casting my shadow diagonally across the white shoe prints I’m supposed to follow.
I turn and Efleven’s pale face fills the curved screen. He’s blond, for sure. Almost albino.
“You were right to seek my advice,” he says to Anahata. “I’ve taken the liberty of contacting the Chairman. He will talk to the girl now. We’ll transfer to your convex.”
I retrace my steps to Shiva’s chair, brush away some ashes and sit wondering if Anahata will yell at me again. I can’t describe how loud a voice can be when it bypasses your tympanic membranes.
“Effleven,” Anahata says. “I came to you privately with a delicate situation, you washed your hands and sent me away. Now you’ve summoned the Chairman? This is the behavior of a backstabbing coward.”
Another face appears on the screen. This one has Ethiopian features with a short moustache shaved to resemble a bar code, vertical stripes of dark skin peeking out through the bright silver whiskers.
“Anahata, it’s an honor,” the man says.
“Truth from a bureaucrat,” Anahata replies. “Always worrisome.”
The man doesn’t flinch. “Let me get to the point,” he says, pushing Effleven aside. “The girl’s chromosomes transcend our differences. She must be exempted from Shiva’s ritual. Her blast crisis should have been alleviated the moment you found her.”
“I have my orders, Scrotumer,” Anahata says. “I can’t say this respectfully because I don’t respect ignorance, but know this, I follow Shiva, not a committee of chin scratchers. None of you were around in the transitional days.”
“We cherish and revere the memory of Shiva,” Chairman Scrotumer says.
“You exaggerate so easily. You scarcely met the man. How could you revere him?”
“I knew him in committee,” the Chair says.
“I knew him in war. He gave me orders. I followed them. I still do.”
“While breaking the law?” The Chairman shakes his head slowly. “Emotional bonds define us if we let them. It’s unfortunate that you are actually the one who didn’t know Shiva. He considered the Sentient Fleet nothing more than pawns.”
“Soldiers are pawns. Only children think otherwise.”
“That is so right.” The Chairman’s face lights up with pleasure. “But Shiva took it a step further, I’m afraid. To him, you were soulless machines. That was his standard phrase for you in committee.”
“Stabbing the back of a dead man, now? You’ve become a true politician. I still think of you as a toddler annoying your father.”
“Shiva banned the Sentient Fleet from the Libraries. Did he mention that?”
“My private conversations are none of the committee’s business.”
“No, he didn’t, did he? Why would he? He didn’t trust you. Shiva was afraid of you.”
“Only a fool wouldn’t be,” Anahata says. “You’ve wasted no time separating my fleet. Has your fear subsided?”
“Assignments are none of my affair, but I assure you, I do have healthy respect for the fleet’s destructive capacity.”
“My fleet, Chairman.”
“Yes, and Shiva thought you were all his fleet, didn’t he? But who can own the spirit?”
“Leading is not owning,” Anahata says.
“No argument there. It’s taken some damn hard work to get the committee behind me on this, but I’ve been cleared to play a portion of the ancient minutes to you. You should find them enlightening.”
“No need,” Anahata says. “Shiva knew the unknowable. If he called me a machine, I am a machine. If he said, ‘soulless,’ then I have no need for a soul. If he commanded me to sacrifice myself for the fleet, or even for a preening, shameless pissant like you, I wouldn’t hesitate. That, Mister Chairman, is the code I live by. A committee-jock would never understand it.”
“Committee jock?” The Chairman laughs. “It seems the years haven’t buffered your tongue. Or matured your perspective, sadly.” He puts something in his mouth that looks like a golden toothpick. “History is putrefied by the stench of charismatic leaders lying dead atop the bloated remains of the fools who followed them.” The toothpick sends white smoke up from its distal end. “The time of tyrants is over. I’ve learned to trust a system of committees with a separation of powers. If my trust is misplaced, I’ll welcome the enlightenment rather than rejecting it out of hand as you would.”
“Your committees are a cloak for self-serving elites and their edicts. The rule of liars, cowards and thieves.”
“Does the name-calling ever stop?” The Chairman looks to his right and orders someone to get him a drink.
“I invited Shiva to rule us without the pretence of false democracy,” Anahata says. “The committee you’ve inherited was a device he used for listening. He never hid behind it to shelter his reputation or preserve his power.”
“You understand power, don’t you?” The Chairman lifts the golden toothpick from his mouth and belches. “Should it be necessary to state the obvious? As Supreme Committee Chairman, I can invite the fleet to disarm you and take this poor girl into my protective custody.”
Anahata laughs. “You think my fleet will disarm me? Speak with them, bureaucrat. They know I cannot be beaten. But if they thought they could defeat me, they would still refuse to fight against their sister. Their loyalty would make a pencil-pusher scratch his little chin.”
“You suffer chin envy,” the Chairman says and scratches his own.
“That’s it, then. You’ve arranged to have me kill my fleet. Or perhaps you think they can defeat me. You win either way, don’t you? This concern for Johanna is a smokescreen for reducing the Strand’s arsenal of WMD’s – among whom I am chief.”
“You’re delusional.” A vertical vein bulges from the Chairman forehead. “Is the girl conscious? I’m coming over to speak to her. She has options.”
“Swine are not welcome here,” Anahata says.
The Chairman’s brow angles inward. “You arrogant fool. Look at the horizon now. See exactly who is with me.”
The screen shows twelve warships decloaking in the starry black. The Chairman smirks beneath them as if his head were a huge object floating in space. He opens his mouth and squirts fluid into it from a bottle in a disembodied hand.
“May I please speak with the girl?” he asks.
A white strap snaps across my waist. Two more streak over my shoulders from behind. Crisscrossing at my chest, they dive down to my sides and click into something beneath the holographic feathers of Shiva’s Throne.
“This may get a little bumpy,” Anahata says to me.
A woman’s voice comes from the top of the screen as the Chairman swallows more fluid. “Shiva was sick when he gave you the command to drown these Earthlings,” she says. “He wasn’t arbitrary and cruel before his illness.”
“Nor during it,” Anahata responds.
“We have a chance to look out across our borders through this woman’s code. If you drown her, we’ll be tinkering, cloning and guessing her native thoughts indefinitely. Wondering what the real message was in her DNA.”
“You speak truth, Radhika, as always,” Anahata says. “But Shiva’s sickness didn’t affect his mind the way you’ve been told. I was with him to the end. I knew him well. He was lucid. Measured. In complete command of himself.”
“You really should listen to the Chairman’s committee records,” she says apologetically.
“I have. But it wouldn’t matter if I hadn’t. The glory of leading you and my other sisters will remain the eternal, unspeakable honor of my life. I will always love each of you. Today I will be merciful when you attack. May none of you feel a moment’s pain.”
The room is silent for a long heavy moment.
“Surely,” Anahata says, “there is one of you with the courage to stand beside me.”
More silence. I feel bad for Anahata. Nobody’s half perfect but she sure tries.
“I’m with you,” I tell her. “Mr. Chairman, Sir, this is Doctor Fujiwara. Let’s hear what you’ve come to tell me.”
His eyes show a brief startle. A nervous laugh comes out of him. “The blond fellow warned me, but I couldn’t imagine anyone with your background speaking in the River.” He clears his throat. “Doctor Fu…, well, you’re a bit young for that title, but if you’ve earned it in your little world, I’ll give it a go.”
“Show some respect, you inbred sloth!” The volume of Anahata’s voice makes me cringe.
“Insult noted,” the Chairman says, his moustache in a pucker. “Now, Doctor, this is your situation. You have minutes remaining in which you could, without legal interference from Anahata or anyone, simply choose to rendezvous on Saturn. Your leukemia will be erased. You’ll be treated with respect. You’ll learn things that no Earthling besides Shiva has ever imagined. And I will personally see to it that your life expectancy is expanded to the furthest limit desirable. Within reason, of course.” He smiles politely.
My mind races. Should I bargain for James-guys’ safety? Should I mention them at all to anyone here – ever? Somehow I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of a trustworthy politician. This guy doesn’t seem to raise the bar.
“It’s a choice, Doctor,” the Chairman says. “Your choice, not Anahata’s.”
Shiva’s little drawer pops open from the left arm of his throne. I must have bumped it again. I take out the golden locket, put the chain over my head and lift my hair to the side, out of the way. The golden heart rests on my chest where the seatbelts cross.
“That belonged to Parvati,” Anahata hisses. “Put it back.”
I ignore her.
“There’s an old saying, Chairman Scrotum, ‘you can’t make a good deal with a bad person.'”
His face turns cold.
“I’ve seen Effleven’s total lack of balls,” I tell him. “Now you’re threatening Anahata, a sentient being responsible for the peace you cake-eaters enjoy. I live in a world run by soulless bureaucrats just like you, devoted to an illegal power structure they try to hide.”
“Bigoted generalizations.” The toothpick goes back into his mouth. “A mature person learns to avoid judgements in an egalitarian society.”
“The society given to you by Anahata and Shiva?”
“I was born into peace, that doesn’t diminish me. Quite the contrary. Make a choice, girl. We’re running out of time.”
“I told you. I’m with Anahata. I’ll die at the hands of an honorable person before I let you own me. By the way, Effleven, if you’re still cowering somewhere, forget the Mohawk. You’re not worthy.”
“The world has changed, Anahata,” one of the Sentient Fleet says. “We know we’ll die against you. We too love you as the sister you are. When this battle is past and the memory of us troubles you, may the Unbeaten consider again the cause for which we gave our lives… to you.”
“That was a pep talk?” the Chairman asks. “Enough of this. Take down her magnets. Now.”
Flashes of white light turn the screen into a strobe.
“This is beyond the saddest day of my life,” Anahata says to me. “When my defences are down I’ll have no choice. I’ll either fire upon the ones I love or die in disobedience to an order from the Great Shiva. How has an ignorant little man done this to me… and my family?”
“He’s done nothing,” I tell her. “This is Shiva’s mistake.”
“He made no mistakes.”
“Not with his son?” I ask.
“That was the poison of Earth.”
“Nothing to do with absentee fathering?”
“I’m right, you know.” I open the empty locket dangling from my neck. “Tell me Anahata, the Unbeaten, would you have released me if I’d taken Mister Ballsack’s offer?”
“No. That would be disobeying an order from Shiva.”
“That’s what I thought. Thanks for the honesty.” The bright flashes on the screen are shaking the floor now. “Are we going to just sit here? No evasive maneuvers or anything?”
M. Talmage Moorehead
My son-in-law has given me a deadline to finish this story, bless his genius heart. That’s why there aren’t the usual truckload of links, pictures and rants about intelligent design and the scientific evidence for God. Most of those things will probably have to come out anyway in the final draft – to avoid boring my three readers to death. 😉
Johanna’s story begins here as a one page WordPress document (scrolling).
My breathtakingly free e-book on writing fiction is here if you don’t mind leaving an email address for me to hopefully use someday. Yeah, I’m unqualified to write something like this. I know, and believe me it’s embarrassing. Maybe forget my book.
But if you’re a writer at all, you’re going to love Steven Pressfield’s brand new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. I kid you not, that’s the title! And it’s a page-turner, full of practical wisdom and the kind of disciplined insight only a career in the Hollywood trenches could bring. And here’s my hard sell: for a little while you can download it for free! Right here. (I have no affiliation with the author or with his business pal, the remarkable Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, an indispensable book for modern fiction writers.)
Incidentally, the most riveting podcast I’ve ever heard in my life is a thing where Shawn and a brand new fiction writer, Tim, (a totally brave soul) are working one-on-one on Tim’s novel. In broad daylight! It’s free here. Nothing like this has ever been done before. Really, it’s unbelievable. Have I ever steered you wrong? OK, that last chapter with the endless UFO stuff, but still. 😉
Hey, if you’re as happy as I am about the summertime, please tell a friend about my blog: http://www.storiform.com. Man, I just love this warm weather. I’ve been doing laps in the pool plus that Miracle Morning thing of Hal Elrod’s. If you try his approach, make sure you go to bed way early so you still get 9 hours of sleep per night. (The 8-hours dogma is bogus in my humble and yet infallible opinion.) Going to bed early is the toughest thing for some of us because our limited daily supply of self-discipline is always low or depleted by bedtime. Like a low carb, high nutrient diet, it’s a lifestyle thing that requires motivation. For that, do yoga with really SLOW deliberate breathing, not necessarily deep breathing. Slow!
Here’s the world’s best yoga music. The guy’s voice is like a laser.
Keep writing. You’ve got the chops. Read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle and learn how and why to get your oligodendrocytes wrapping myelin around your axons and dendrites to make you 300 times more the exceptional writer you are now.
Never give up your dreams.