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Posted: June 25, 1998
The City Hall clock struck 12:00 noon in this not so common town with an equally unusual name, Dead Flats. It had been raining a cool, long winter day in February. The clouds were gray and the street lanterns had already been turned on. There were no carriages or people on the streets except for two workmen hurrying indoors to escape the rainstorm and a madly speeding carriage driven by a single horse. It had no passengers and its driver was a thin, pale white man with a look of worry on his face. The rain came in thick droplets and spattered loudly on the street. It hit the buildings even more noisily this is the reason that the residents of the town had put up their windshields. All was quiet except for the obnoxiously loud rain and the tolling of the church bells.
Gong. "That was the twelfth gong, boys," said the bald man. "Time for your exercise." Walking towards the cell locks, he flipped his keys in his hand. In a quick motion, he unlocked the door. He looked at each of the prisoners and checked for leg irons. "Number # 42328! Marshall Davis!" Marshall did not answer. Smacking him upside the head, the bald man barked again. "Stand up against the wall, Marsh.
No leg irons." The prisoner now replied. " Aw, c'mon cuz. Yer not gonna treat old Marshall like this." Putting on the leg irons, unwavered, the bald man answered, "Cousin or not, Marshall, I got a job to do. Now get a move on! " The line of thirteen prisoners started at his command.
Outside of the jail, there stood two horse-mounted officers. "Y'all know the drill," one of the officers said and the team of prisoners began counting. "ONE!," they shouted in calm voices and continued in soft, but loud voices "two, three, four, TWO, two, three, four..." They were all running at a brisk pace now, and the bald man, the sheriff, was bringing up the rear. Lightning crashed in the distance, a few seconds later, thunder. The bald man stopped for a moment and pricked up his ears. There was coughing. The officers and the prisoners stopped. "Whassa matter, Jed ?" the other officer said. The bald man threw his keys to the young officer. "Do about half and hour, and then lock up, I'll meet you back at the jail house." The officers didn't take long to fulfill his request as they were soon gone. The bald man continued towards the woods and put his hand on his holster.
There was a longer fit of coughing this time. The coughing voice stopped coughing. It said slowly, painfully, but gently in a feminine voice: "Ayuda! (this time stopping to cough,) Ayuda... "Help." the bald man said in the back of his mind, and continued towards the voice. "It could be a set-up." He said to himself again. Clearly, he had a problem of talking to himself, he thought to himself yet again and got closer to the voice. He saw a young brown woman lying in the lightly wooded area face down. He grabbed her wrist and felt for a pulse. Her skin was warm, he touched against her neck lightly. Signs of life. He turned her over and brushed the sand off of her ruffled dress and had begun to sling her over his shoulder when she had grabbed his coat.
She pulled it over his head he dropped her. He had just begun to remove the coat off of his head when she had delivered a vicious punch to his jaw. He fell to one knee. "That's no way to carry a lady, gringo," she had said in surprisingly impeccable English with a Spanish accent. "Sorry, Miss, uh....., well you were kinda knocked out cold, and it woulda been easier on me if I jus' slung you over my shoulder..." "Gutierrez. Isabel Gutierrez." Interrupting him forced him to look at her differently. She was young (as he was), beautiful, and instantly annoying. "Well come on, have you got a house, or do you just wander around and look for dying females to rescue?"
He cradled her back to his own house on the edge of town along the way, she drank the rainwater that fell on her dirty face. Now the streets were totally quiet as the prisoners had returned. The storm drove harder, lightning flashed rapidly in the distance and the smell of a fire wafted into the sheriffs' room. On the bed, there was the young Mexican woman and as the smell came in the room, began sobbing. "How could they? My family...my neighbors! Oh!" Her tears stained the pillows as she began weeping again and was laying, curled on the bed. "Who's they?" the bald man. "Oh, I don't know." Silence. "They were white men, I'm sure of that. Not Nobleza. Not my town. None of your people did this." There was silence again. "Did you see them?" the bald man said, assuredly. "Some of them Poles, some Germans, I think." She returned to wiping her eyes. "Germans." The black man rubbed his head. "Did you notice anything else about the attack?" he asked, thoughtfully. " Mostly I was trying to keep from getting my sister shot... almost everybody died. I was one of the lucky ones. But my sister, and uncle, and mother....." Lightning flashes again.
This time, she stood and walked towards the closed window and opened it, the wind whipped into the room and rain dripped lightly on the woman's head. She reached down into her dress and pulled out a small caliber pistol. She shot into the open sky and closed the window. " Si yo tener un opcion a ser con tu, yo supeuesto. " She sat on the bed. He sat next to her. He outstretched his hand. " Name's Jed Boonton. Isabel, right ? " Finally wiping the last tear from her eye, she shook his hand. " Right. Look, I need your help. " He started. " I haven't known you long enough to trust... " " No, no, you shut up! " Now there was anger in her eyes. " I told Nobleza. They didn't listen and I can't bear to see that destruction again. They're coming here."
He faced the door. " I'm sorry, but I just can't believe you. I would really like to, but you can't fool me. I'm the law ma'am, and it's illegal to lie to me so why don't you just tell me the truth? " She looked at him sadly and put her hand to her filthy tattered dress and looked again. " Well, it looks like you have to trust me. You took a chance when you heeded my call, and when I gave you that punch. " He looked back at her thoughtfully and rubbed his jaw. " You sure do like to get your point across. I....I-I guess I have to trust you. I just hope I can. " She put her small Gillette(gun) on the nightstand and ripped off a long piece off of her dress. In a slow movement, she wrapped it around a wound on her arm. " You can sleep in my bed tonight, but there is a bus headin' north towards your town. We'll make our move then. " Lying full spread on the bed, she turned on her back, relaxed " How do you know they will still stay there in the ruins and not come here? "
" Well, it looks like they want your oil." Disgusted, Isabel looked on. " Excuse me? " " Nobleza was full of crude oil and there are only a few men in this country that desire oil in such abundance. Two of them were German. One, Woulfgang Kauser, died last year in prison the other, Baron Klaus von Munich, is alive and well and is one of this countries most notorious oil, land and mineral barons. He only showed interest in this particular area in the last few months. I think we'd better watch out for this guy. He's really into new technology and weapons. " Isabel was already asleep.
The rain had intensified and now the clock had just tolled 3:00 in the morning. The girl on the bed was clean and showered and was wearing a new nightgown. Sleeping peacefully, she turned away from Jed. Her motions startled Jed from a light doze as he woke up in his chair. A few minutes pass. Jed falls asleep again. Another few minutes pass and not before long, a book falls to the ground. The title of it is, " Obscured by Skepticism: The Theorem of Parallel Universae." Jed wakens. The room rocks with a deafening stomp. Isabel sleeps like a baby. The room rocks once, twice and a third time, the latter wakening the sleeping woman. Jed is already dressed. He throws her gun to her grabs a shotgun. " Get your things, we ain't got much time. Hurry! " They run downstairs. The door swings open and the girl is off, Jed is in awe.
A behemoth of metal stands full height above him. This two story monster stomps forward with cleated feet. Tubes and cogs dangle and whirl and spin in its legs, the bulk of the creature. The body of the metal beast was that of a tank, the tracked wheels replaced by metallic elephantine legs. A Sherman 150 pounder hung below the steel chassis and pointed at the petrified sheriff. The hatch opened revealing a metal head with one blood red eye. The body was an expensive suit and a frogman's oxygen tank. Adjacent to this tank there was a larger tank and it was green instead of blue. There was a chemical symbol on it, but Jed could barely make it out. All he could see were a few words: Do not store at 20,000 ft. and something in, it looked like German. Jed saw this as the enemy and fired at it. A shotgun shell bounced off the metallic head and the head looked at Boonton. The eye flashed, a metallic voice took over. " Ein hundert und dreissig Grade zu Ihrer Linke. Zug und offens Feuer! " and the walker lurched forward. Isabel grabbed his arm and ducked behind a building. Luckily, the town's intercom system was stationed right here, no sooner did she grab the microphone and press the talk button. " Attention, people of Dead Flats. I used to live in Nobleza, a town not far from here..... " The walker continued forward. " and it was just destroyed by, aaah! " The deafening roar of a bullet exploded near them." Listen to her everyone, she's not lying. " The mechanical voice took over.
" She is not lying. My name is Klaus von Munich. Perhaps you have heard of me in your newsreels and newspapers. If you are wondering, I am as they say cruel and brutal. If you do not know me, allow me to introduce myself. I'm sure my name is one you will not soon forget. " He rose full height and a team of workers that was following the steel beast circled in a ring of protection. Lights flicked on all around town. Sleepy people arose from their beds in shock. Babies were crying. A small caliber gunshot grazed the coat of the head German man. Sooner than later, the German spun a half circle and fired at Isabel with and oddly shaped gun. It was a customized .44 Magnum there was a tube main leading to his back and snaked and coiled when the gun fired. The bullet exploded on the building's side right next to Jed's shiny bald head. Gas leaked slowly out of this hole the couple couldn't be quicker in escaping from this deadly gas.
The streets were in panic now, people were running left and right. Trampling feet were fired upon when the stomping creature's driver climbed back in. Bullet fragments attacked the people left and right. Some fired back, most just ran. An opportunity arose as soon as it was seen, one man let loose with a shotgun on the machine and the exposed driver was hit. " Anziehungskraft sendet nach! " shouted the masked captain of the party, which was a signal to charge the people. As Jed and his new friend lay there panting, he spotted a carriage. He decided to go for it.
Isabel ripped off a piece of cloth from her dress, and the kerosene nearby in the newly gutted general store was just in reach. Dipping the balled end of cloth in the kerosene, Jed struck a match to life and lit the ball. He threw the flaming ball. It was not before long that the machine had caught ablaze seizing this circumstance, they ran for the carriage and headed speedily out of town. A charred leaf of paper blew behind them and most of it was unreadable. It was the blackened bit of a newspaper. The only thing that was visible was the headline and the date, February 12, 1874.
Posted: July 6, 1998
It’s been 15 years since man started to clone himself. Kinda funny though, the way history works and all. I mean, given all the controversy that abortion caused some 80 years back, you’d think that cloning would be a godsend. Nope not a chance. The scientists and the doctors involved all insist that they’re creating life, opposite of abortion, right? Tell that to the radical activists. *Mr. Douglas* There’s been more deaths due to the radicals against cloning than there ever were against abortion. *Mr. Douglas* And cloning is legal all over.
“Oh, sorry. I was in deep thought there for a bit.”
“That’s all right. Everyone gets second thoughts now and then,” The nurse was typical for her specialty. Nothing to flashy, but no too plain. Something about her didn’t seem right. Too. . . I dunno. . . perfect I guess. Almost...false. “everything will be all right,” she flashes a smile as she finishes.
Started thinking about cloning again. Do I really want to do this? If I want to live, yeah. The doctor...what was his name? Oh, yeah...Dr. Lovejoy. Kinda ironic, no? Well, he assured me that it was all right, wouldn’t feel a thing....
5 years ago.
“I’m sorry, Ken. It’s out of my hands.”
“Look, the tests are irrefutable. Examine the results yourself.”
He hands the test results to me and I take a look. Not much good it does me though. “Here,” I say as I pass the folder back, “I can’t even find my own name on here,” I could, just couldn’t read the rest, “What’s it say in layman's terms, other than I’m dying.” Death. Never much though of it, being in what was supposed to be the prime of my life. Now it hangs on my every thought like some ominous shadow. Which, I guess it is.
The doctor clears his throat and reaches to grab his glasses in the pocket of his white lab coat. “First off, these are the tumors that we found a couple of years ago.”
“I thought they were benign?”
“They were. They’re not now. Please, let me finish and ask any questions then. It seems that the tumors have become malignant and have spread to three separate areas of the body. Unfortunately none of the areas can be operated on without causing some serious complications. Ordinarily, if each growth was separate then we would be able to operate. With the tumors growing incongunction with each other if we were to operate, you would come out little more than in a vegetable state.
“I know that this is the 21st century. ‘The time of medical wonders’ they say, but there is still so much that we don’t know about the mind and body. Like your simultaneous growths for example.”
“Then I’m going to die, right?”
“Not necessarily, Ken. Not necessarily.”
That was 5 years ago. A lot has happened since then.
The doctor had gone on to explain that, although controversial, cloning was 100% legal. He also went on to explain the basics of the operation-none of which I was able to follow. After the appointment I went straight home and called in sick at work. Mary came home at her usual time, and was surprised to find me at home. I told her what the doctor told me. She didn’t take it too lightly, no surprise there. I ended up on the couch that night, and every night there-after for two weeks. Mary did not like the idea of cloning. She believed that it robbed people of their spirit. I said that was nonsense. ‘How could it?,’ I told her, ‘they replicate everything, right down to the very atom!’ ‘Exactly. They replicate everything. Did you ever stop to think about how they could replicate your personality? Your spirit? I’ve seen people that cloned themselves in the same way that you are going to. *sigh* Ken, they were never the same,’ she replied. After two weeks of bitter arguing and nasty shouting matches, she left and I haven’t seen her since. God how I could use her strength and support now.
“Mr. Douglas, sir?’
“Yes?” It was the receptionist.
“It’s time. Do you still wish to go through with this?” Such a simple question, but not the easiest of answers.
“Why not,” I smile meekly. What have I got to lose? I’m going to die if I don’t, I think to myself.
“Here, take this. It will help the sedative for the operation to take effect more efficiently.”
I go up to the booth to take the pill and glass of water she hands me. And I just stare at it. Well this is it, I think to myself, bottoms up. The water is a cool contrast to the inferno of my mind, the pill goes down effertlessly. I start to feel a little disoriented and just about to fall backwards when I discover that a wheel chair has been placed behind me. Reality spins and I start wheeling to the operating room. I look back to see who’s pushing me. It’s the receptionist...only its not. The eyes seem even more lifeless than they were. “Must be the effects of the drug. Yeah that’s it,” I mumble to myself.
The lights over head flicker by slowly. 1...2...3.. I lose the ability to count much higher and start to giggle. Never been high before. Soon everything is just a random pattern of lights and shadows. I stop moving, though it takes me a few seconds to realize that. The receptionist helps me too my feet. Or is it the receptionist? The hair is a bit different, facial features just off a little bit, but it looks like her. The eyes are what I notice next. Lifeless. Dark, No emotion. And it scares me to the bone. The receptionist, the one that I was staring at, must have noticed because she asked what was wrong. Somehow I managed to slur out an understandable phrase, ‘cause the next thing I know I’m strapped into the operating table by my legs and chest.
I’m dimly aware of voices...no...one voice...no multiple voices and they’re all female. Only one is giving orders and there are three others answering yes and no and not yet. All are almost identical, but not quite. Makes for quite the musical number I decide and start to conduct the orchestra that’s playing in my mind. The lead female must have taken notice, I’m sure that they all did, but it was the lead female none-the-less. More authoritive voice, that’s how I was able to decide it was the lead. Beethoven is still playing in my mind with these four ladies singing the Chorus, when she comes over and tells me it’s all right. She starts to prep the IV unit when I look at her. She is identical to the receptionist in every way. Except one. My blood freezes as awareness of what’s wrong hits me.
Just one thing.
Her eyes have life in them. Not the almost-there-life of the receptionist, but the pure life of a child. A child playing his or her sandbox. A child that is creating. And that scares me to the depths of my soul. My God, what have I done? What have I done? I try to let them know that I don’t want to do this, that I’ve changed my mind. All that comes out is unintelligible garble and useless thrashings. The bindings get tighter and tighter and tighter ‘till I have no choice but to stop. Like I’ve had any choices since I took the pill.
The doctor (that’s what she is I decide) starts the IV drip. The anesthetic hits. The room starts to fade. I grow frantic in my mind, knowing that I can’t do anything now. Mary. I think of Mary. You were right. I was wrong. Mary. Forgive me. Please. Please...
Benny and Matt would often walk through the woods. They knew where the best paths were, the best climbing tree, and where you could find a burrow of baby rabbits. The two boys, who were now thirteen, had been best friends since they were six. They liked airplanes, computers, and science fiction. They would walk and talk about the latest episode of Star Trek, the newest Star Wars toy, or why Babylon 5 should go back to regular television. They also enjoyed talking about the paranormal. Ghosts, alien abductions, and mystical healings were some favorite topics. The boys, however, always disagreed about one thing: whether they were real or not. Benny would always refuse to believe them, but Matt believed every word. Matt was convinced that he had psychic abilities and could talk to ghosts. However, for some unknown reason, whenever he held a seance, nothing happened. Despite the numerous arguments they had, they still remained best friends.
"Hey!" Matt exclaimed, breaking the silence. "Did you see that special on poltergeists?" Matt asked. Matt would always watch those shows, saying they convinced him that ghosts and other paranormal events were real.
"Nope! A rerun of 'TNG' was on. It's one of my favorites!" Benny replied. "TNG" referred to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"You should watch those shows. They give irrefutable proof that the paranormal can, does, and has happened." Matt went into his "debate mode".
Benny laughed. "Yeah! I bet! I don't waste my time with stupid ghosts!"
Matt scowled at his friend. "Fine! Well, what about Roswell? They actually have pieces of the alien spacecraft!"
"Can you say, 'weather balloon'?" Benny answered sarcastically. "You believe that weak story? You're just a victim of a major government cover-up!"
"Yeah, and next you're going to tell me that Bill Clinton is an alien!"
"It's possible! Look! There's 'The Clearing'!" Matt pointed as he raced towards what the boys had come to call "The Clearing".
Their argument forgotten, they both ran to the 30 meters in diameter, slighted fringed circle shaped clearing. The tall grass, about waist-high, was the perfect place for playing Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction shows. The two friends would spend hours in that spot.
The sun's rays shone brightly without the trees in the way. The boys, instead of acting out a science-fiction adventure, started chasing rabbits through the tall weeds. Neither of them ever caught one, nor expected to. It was just fun to watch the furry creatures scamper away.
Benny was chasing a particularly fast rabbit, and he was getting near the edge of the clearing. Matt was about 90 degrees to his left, also chasing a rabbit into the trees. That's when they heard it, a strange buzzing sound. It seemed as if a swarm of bees were headed straight for them, but there were no bees in sight. Instead, Benny, when he looked up, saw a bright dot coming closer and closer towards them. Benny backed up to get behind a big oak tree, but Matt just stood still, frozen in place. It was a UFO. No, UFOs were unidentified. This was an alien ship.
The material that the ship was made up of seemed to be an ever-changing array of colors, making the surface seem glassy. It was not very big, about 20 meters in diameter, but something about the ship seemed overwhelmingly large, as if it could crush them. It was saucer-shaped, like the traditional shape of alien ships were. It soon came to hover right above the center of the clearing. Blasts of hot air came pouring from the bottom, singing the grass. Benny tried to get Matt's attention, to tell him to hide, but his friend was frozen, staring. It seemed, from Matt's expression, that he never entirely believed all the claims that there were aliens, and he was just now beginning to realize that it there were. Benny had no choice but to duck down and watch. A beam of light, like a spotlight, shot down from the underside of the ship. Soon, a creature just appeared there. There's no other word for it. One could easily have blinked and missed the materialization, but it happened. The alien was unlike anything imaginable. Where the human head would be, there was a mound of gooey-looking material. It had shifting colors, just like the surface of the ship, but this did not appear glassy. The body was an even larger mass of the goo, and it seemed to move like a snail. It just stood, if you could call it standing, for a moment; then it transformed. The goo seemed to bend over, move to different areas, until there was a perfect replica of Matt. The physical characteristics were exactly the same! Of course, the "skin" was that color-changing material, but the face, the body, everything else was exactly the same! Matt gasped, and the alien imitated him by opening its mouth. Benny just crouched behind the tree, staring in amazement. Matt took a step closer and reached out his hand. The alien, like before, did the same. The alien and Matt clasped hands, and the alien nodded its head slightly. It then turned back into its glob form. It was probably tired of holding!
The human shape for such a long time, if you could call a couple minutes "a long time". With aliens, though, you never know. A couple minutes to an Earthling could seem like hours to this alien. Matt's hand was still in the gooey material, embedded inside the slimy. Matt didn't resist when the alien started pulling him towards the center of the spotlight. In fact, he seemed excited. Then he got an expression that looked like he just remembered something. He looked around, searching for his friend, Benny. Not finding him, Matt shrugged and looked up as he dematerialized into the ship with the alien, just as quickly as the alien had appeared. Then the ship turned and quickly flew away.
Benny stood up, his knees shaking. He tried to think, tried to believe that what he saw was real. He walked to the large area of singed grass and sat down. Of course, it was real! What else could it be? What would he do? Who could he tell? He looked up, trying to find the spacecraft, but was not able to. He couldn't tell anybody. Who would believe him?
Hank Caruthers didn’t give a damn about the attractive AXV, nor the warm greeting he had heard for well over the thousandth time. The salutation was standard practice by which all AXV models conformed. Maybe he would care if the programmers spiced it up once in a while, but why should they? Nobody cared about the average joe anymore it was all about money. Of course, it had always been about money. Had there ever been a time when it wasn’t all about money?
But now Hank Caruthers wanted to forget about all the politics, money and crap in the world, and get down to what he did best: lose. Of course, the casinos had it rigged so you would win just enough so you wouldn’t quit, and thereby end up losing even more he knew that well enough, but hell, losing was something Hank was good at so he lost with passion!
With worn out soles on his tennis shoes –laces hopelessly tangled but never tied, faded patches half sewn over holes in once blue pants, a dusty blue button-downed shirt, face half shaven with a cigarette protruding from his lips, crooked glasses with one lens missing, and hair looking like a cyclone had descended through an ant farm, Hank Caruthers pushed by the gloating AXV12000 and into the debauchery of the beckoning Casino. The never-fazed machine quickened its pace to catch the earnest soul.
Hank Caruthers proceeded into the grandiose foyer, Jezebel trailing behind, through the crowd of obnoxious merrymakers, to the gaming rooms beyond. He had seen all there was to see in the foyer time enough to remember it vividly in his dreams. Twinkling from the domed ceiling above, the fiber-optic, crystal chandelier filled the expansive hall with a dazzling array of neon, fluorescent and ultraviolet light. Anyone caring to examine the chandelier at a closer distance would swear it was about to plunge to the marble floor below. A design of splatter streaks, looking as if the artists had merely tossed multicolored cans of paint across the surface, coated the circular, originally whitewashed walls. Wrapped around each side of the entranceway, the crimson carpeted stairs converged at an apex directly behind the dangling chandelier. From there it lead to the chute tubes and more ancient elevators, which in turn lead to the thousands of over-decorated suites that glorified ! the Mystique Casino.
Not noticing the drinks he spilled, the people he jostled, nor the exorbitant interior, Caruthers finally stepped through the doors that enclosed the daunting gaming room. Security and tranquillity returned to him as he laid eyes on the alluring craps, blackjack, and roulette tables. His momentary pause allowed for the AXV12000, Jezebel, to catch up with him.
“Aren’t we in a rush,” the machine smiled. Then it continued: “Will it be the usual Mr. Caruthers? Of course, if you should like to try something different, we supply all our patrons with blackjack, baccarat, slots--”
“I know what you offer!” Hank snapped. “I’ve been here a thousand times! And yes, it will be the usual.”
“Craps it is, sir,” the robot doted.
Hank relished the title sir.
Then, as if he didn’t know the way, Jezebel said: “Follow me to your table, sir.”
Provocatively, Jezebel sauntered down the plush red carpeting that divided the lively Mystique down the center. Off to the right stretched the blackjack, baccarat, and craps tables, with slot machines of every type interspersed to catch those who couldn’t lose their money elsewhere. Games of keno, roulette, and poker stretched to the left, also heavily stocked with the hungry slots. Slots: the game of the hopeless junky. Blackjack: the game perceived to be luck, yet only the smartest survive. Craps: the game of inexhaustible outbursts, fast women, cantankerous clods, and hot dice. Keno: the ancient craze of random numbers revived. Roulette: a twirling wheel of red and black chicanery. Poker: to bluff or not to bluff… These were the games Hank had splurged on for the last ten years. The excitement never tiring, these games provided the lifeblood of the working world. Blackjack, baccarat, craps, keno, roulette, poker, and slots eased the tedious burden of life for th! e one trillion people slaving away in the world. A better way had not been found to spend an evening relaxing, partying or socializing.
Jezebel and Hank walked the crimson carpet, nearly the entire distance, in order to access Hank’s usual craps table. Hank had selected this table for the particular view it gave him of the motto by which he had lived the past ten years of his life. “Dividends or death” read the sign above the door, the door that lead to Fiend. Fiend was the game the game for the elite. When some VIP ventured in, more than likely they would not return as they had first entered, if they returned at all. If given the chance, Hank would readily confront Fiend he had lost at everything else Fiend would be no different. The price, if any, did not concern him Hank prided himself in having learned something in all these years: there was always a way to pay any price.
Through the crowd of drunken gamblers and their AXV’s, Hank Caruthers followed Jezebel to his craps table. Jezebel, with a smile of pearls, politely tapped a well-styled man on the shoulder.
“Yes?” he inquired turning from his craps game.
“Mr. Fuller, it’s now ten twenty-nine. You have exactly one minute to meet your mistress at slot machine number two hundred nine. Pierre over there will escort you.”
“I’m not ready to stop!” he scoffed while loosening his bow tie. “These dice are afire!” He turned back to the table blurting out: “Come on lucky sevens! Give me lucky sevens!” His hand shook back and forth with the six-sided dice the dice dropped to the table, bouncing forward, landing, unresponsive to the cajolery, with a pair of ones glaring intensely. Snake eyes! You lose! “Curse you dice! I’ve been hot all night, don’t stop now,” Fuller fumed. “Come on, let’s have another go!”
“Mr. Fuller, excuse me sir,” Jezebel interrupted again, but with courtesy, “You must meet with your mistress immediately or your night will only take a turn for the worse.”
“Pig rot, you piece of scrapmetal!” Fuller rebuked, “I’ll meet her when I’m good and ready!”
“Whatever you wish, sir,” Jezebel responded cheerfully, oblivious to the insult. Fuller returned to the dice, prayed for lady luck to find him now, let loose with another roll, and exploded in glee when the dice favored him with a winning roll of seven. The crowd of people around the craps table shared Fuller’s enthusiasm, clinking glasses, blowing smoke rings, and kissing whomever they laid eyes upon, friends, wives, and robots alike.
In complete indifference, Jezebel unsheathed a syringe from the tip of her pointer finger and plunged it into Mr. Fuller’s well-built frame. “Rules are rules Mr. Fuller. You were to meet your mistress two minutes ago. This just won’t do. Do come again soon though.”
Ahh, the sedation syringe, thought Caruthers, a painless, strife free solution for delinquents. Rarely does anyone see it in action, its use needed only sparingly, but gee is it ever effective. After a pricking by a sedation syringe, a whole night becomes fish fodder a meeting with a brick wall wouldn’t be remembered. This stupid sod would wake up tomorrow with a headache from hell.
“Pierre, was Mr. Fuller accompanied?” Jezebel asked.
“No, he was not, Madame,” Pierre responded promptly.
“Good, then no AXV’s are at fault for his negligence. Explain to his mistress about his excessive shots of tequila and his subsequent unfortunate fall. Then dump both of them in an Electro-Cab.”
“Very good Madame,” Pierre replied as he began dragging the unconscious Fuller away. “Have a good play, Mr. Caruthers…”
Still smiling, Jezebel said to Hank: “Your table, sir. Happy gaming.”
Hank knew the routine too well. He thought it funny the befuddled people around this table would cheer just as vehemently for him as they had for the stupid sod, Fuller. What the heck, take the support any way you can!
Hank scooped Fuller’s “hot” dice off the table cradling them like an AXV cradled a can of WD40 the cubes felt good to the touch. It had been only a night since his last outing, but the dice always gave Caruthers a sense of self-confidence whether he won or lost. This long night of gambling would soon begin with a bang.
To whistles and cheers of his name –how they knew his name he didn’t care, Hank let fly his first roll of the evening. The dice tumbled to the rear of the table, rebounded off the rail, and clumsily returned to the center. As expected, the crowd roared for Hank Caruthers just as they had for the previous sod when the “hot” dice landed on a winning number. The dice calmly displayed a seven.
“Hot dog! These dice are hot!” gasped Hank in disbelief. “Maybe tonight’s my lucky night after all! A winning roll to begin!” That had never happened to Hank before.
“Again! Again!” badgered the crowd.
Hank complied. A deep breath, the mopping of his brow, the customary cajolery of the dice, and Hank tossed his fate again. Six. Damn.
And just like that, the crowd chanted in unison: “Six, six, six, six, six, six, six!” Three rolls later, with neither a snake-eyes nor a pair of sevens appearing, a pair of wondrous sixes sat emotionless on the table. Hank was anything but emotionless he was ecstatic. He had never had two consecutive winning rolls in his entire lifetime. In only two rolls, Caruthers had the fickle crowd wrapped in his hand.
“Jezebel! Jezebel, come here!” Hank hailed his personal AXV. “Break out my reserved credit, babe, tonight’s the night. It’s taken me ten years, but here I am!” Straightening his glasses, adjusting his jacket, rolling up his dirty sleeves, Hank concentrated on milking his luck for as much as he could.
“Your credits have been approved, sir. Good luck.” Jezebel didn’t really care whether he won or lost, Hank knew that, but at least the machine gave constant support consistently. The more support he had the better. Jezebel’s constant euphoria brightened him more often than the cheers of the raucous crowd.
Another decent by the dice into the table extended the loser’s winning streak to three. A six and a one topped the dice, making for a triumphant seven.
Lady luck had shined on Hank Caruthers this night. Nineteen wins and five losses later, Hank decided to play it safe. Why that occurred to him now, and never before, didn’t concern him he only wanted to celebrate his complete reversal of luck with a beer and a bang. Jezebel, Jezebel, Jezebel…
Much to the dismay of the crowd, Hank stopped flaunting his unjustified luck. For one of the few times in his life, Hank had had too much of a “good thing”. Things seemed to exist in a new light after finally coming up a winner. Unbeknownst to him reason had trickled back into his mind. There was a brain in his head after all, he thought lackadaisically.
The dice back on the table awaiting another eager lackey, Hank Caruthers had his first series of disturbing thoughts in more than ten years: Why? Why had he, for years on end, gambled his life away? What compelled him to do so? Why did the entire society submit to the temptation of the odds? What had caused society to build a house of cards, only to gamble it away with blackjack, baccarat and poker? Had people finally gambled away their freedom? Had society lost its once strong integ— no, society never had integrity. Most of all, Hank wondered how could he possibly be having these seditious thoughts. Had winning, something he had failed to do since youth had passed him by, reconnected a lose wire in his brain?
“Jezebel!” Hank hollered hoarsely. “Get me a drink! Make it a vodka on the rocks in celebration of tonight, but make it quick and make it strong!”
“Right away, sir,” whizzed the robot. As it set forth making the Vodka on the rocks, it said with a twinkle in its eye: “From tonight’s winnings your debt has decreased fifty-three percent. A huge take, Mr. Caruthers. Would you like to increase your weekly paycheck? You could continue to pay off your debt at its current rate while receiving a higher supplement.”\
Hank had almost forgotten the casino skimmed off people’s paychecks in order to slowly pay off debts. It had been such a long time sense he had received a higher income from his electricians job.
“Well, how about it sir? Would you like more money,” the robot encouraged deliberately. People more often gambled away cold hard cash faster than casino credit.
Hank scanned the room in shock he couldn’t respond. What was everyone doing the whole human race had gone bonkers! Servants, dice, deals, death, Electro-Cabs, AXV’s, chute tubes, craps, cards, credit, debt, Jezebel, sevens, elevens, snake-eyes, full house, beer, babes, safe sex, slots, animation, automation, aggravation, alienation, asphyxiation, annihilation, Fiend…
“A drink and a bang,” Hank shook his head, “that’s what I need to clear my head of these outrageous thoughts!”
“Another vodka on the rocks coming right up, sir.” robot smiled warmly.
Suddenly insecure, Hank said quickly: “Let’s get out of this rat trap.” To think, the rats have jumped at the moldy cheese so easily. The casino had suddenly stopped seeming friendly. Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop with this rubbish already! Hibernating thoughts and memories began reawakening as the neurons of his brain, so long in disuse, happily sped to their respective destinations.
“Enjoy your drink, sir.” Jezebel handed it to him. “Now off to the suite we go!”
He downed it in one swallow, keeping the ice safely in the glass using his strategically positioned teeth. With Jezebel on his arm, the two sauntered back down the red carpet, back into the foyer, and up the circular staircase. About to enter a chute tube, Hank made a quick decision to take the elevator instead. As to why he did that, he couldn’t say, but there they were, waiting for the pathetically slow elevator.
“Well, this is a change, Hank,” Jezebel mused. “Why the delay? The chute tubes are always faster.”
“I know that,” he scowled.
“I don’t know… I felt I needed to do something different.”
“Are you not satisfied with me, Hank. If you are bored with me, I have seventy-three different built-in ways we could…”
“No, no,” Hank denied hastily. A little bell dinged as the elevator doors opened… finally. “I’m not displeased with you at all. My life has been horrible, and I’ve only just begun to realized that.” Hank and Jezebel walked into the elevator with the door nearly clipping Jezebel’s bum. As the elevator rose to the twenty-second floor, Hank continued to speak: “The populous of this world has been doped on gambling for the last ten years I’ve been no exception, and something in my head just clued me into this fact. Why having a few lucky rolls of the dice should affect me as it has, I can’t answer. But this is not how the world once turned! And to think, I dropped out of Princeton for all of this!”
“Don’t think of such things, Hank.” fluttered Jezebel batting its eyelashes. “You finally have a lucky spell and suddenly your views on gambling change for the worse? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“No buts, gambling’s a good, clean means of relieving the stress of a hard days work. People need a way to relax that’s what we at the Mystique Casino provide. Even though you use to always lose, you remember how good it felt to roll the dice, or palm the cards, or spend some time with me. You can’t deny you liked spending time with me.”
“That’s another thing! Why am I fooling around in a hotel room with a female AXV like a teenager? What has my mind degenerated into?”
“Stop with this silly chatter,” Jezebel purred. “I’ll help you forget all your problems… as I usually do.”
“No, I won’t stop with this chatter. I’ve finally rekindled a flame in my mind, and I like it!”
Shocked at the refusal, Jezebel said in a tone Hank had never heard before, let alone imagined an AXV could use: “I warned you…”
The elevator doors opened to the twenty-second floor, and waiting across from the open doors, leaning against the frilly wallpapered hallway, stood a man in a black trench-coat, a black hat that shadowed his face, a cigarette pinched between two fingers and a Maser glaring from his other hand. The plasma burst weapons were always the most lethal, the most accurate, and the most painful…
Hank had never seen this man before, but had he ever heard rumors! Unfortunately, these rumors did nothing to calm his nerves. Whether true to the words or not, this didn’t look good. “What’s going on, Jezebel?” he glowered at the deceiving robot. It stood unresponsive.
“Step out of the elevator or you’ll be dead before the doors finish closing,” the man wheezed. He had a heavy, brooding voice.
Not wanting to end his newfound vitality for life, Hank acquiesced to the gunman’s demand with Jezebel following behind him. “What is this all about?” Hank asked carefully to the gunman.
“There’s a fine line between what you think and what you say, and you have mistakenly crossed that line,” the gunman said between drags on his cigarette. “Now walk to the end of the hallway, and proceed through the doorway. Jezebel will lead you I’ll be behind you. Start moving.” Sweet and succinct.
Hank’s mind spun. What had he done to deserve a greeting by this man? Was this how all winners were treated? No, whether playing slots, craps or what have you, people won all the time. Of course, wasn’t it obvious? Why did he have to philosophize with a robot! He had expressed his thoughts orally, and now the casino knew of them through Jezebel. He must have really struck a note with somebody in the casino for them to use a gunman and not the sedation syringe. Suppressed for over ten years by the fever to toss the dice, Hank’s recondite thoughts on the dealings of man flared back to life. It was as if he had awoken from an overdose of Halcion.
The door at the far end of the hall opened automatically as Jezebel neared it. The trio walked through the door and into a barren room. Closing, the door encased them in a barren room of whitewashed walls. “Okay, what now?” questioned Hank, irked that he had been brought to an empty room. He expected more than this. He didn’t want to be shot in some hotel storage room.
“Just wait, Mr. Caruthers,” Jezebel smiled politely, but deceivingly.
Hank knew the wheelings and dealings of the casino better than most, but he knew nothing of the consequences of a meeting with the shadowed gunman. In was of no use to dwell on the unknown so Hank had to simply resign himself to waiting.
The seconds turned into minutes without a word spoken by anyone. There was the whiteness of the room, the darkness of the gunman, the blackness and whiteness of Jezebel’s tuxedo, and the fadedness of Hank’s shabby clothing, nothing to really hold Hank’s attention. What a contrast the man in black furnished surrounded by the exuding whiteness. Wondering where the light in the room was coming from, for he saw no visible light fixtures, a chute tube, without warning, materialized before his very eyes. Out of thin air it came to rest in the center of the room where nothing had existed previously, ready for use. Hank didn’t even try to understand the inconceivable.
Without hesitation, the dark gunman ordered: “Get in the chute tube and I won’t ask again.” Shaking his head in bewilderment, Hank did as instructed. Before the rush of air whooshed him to his new, unknown destination, he heard the gunman laugh: “Give my regards to Fiend you stupid…” then the chute tube had him in its grasp. The rush of air tickled him gently the sensation felt pleasant to the touch. In contradiction with his calm exterior, Hank’s mind whirled in turmoil. Fiend! He would challenge the game of Fiend. So recently he had wished he could challenge it, but now? Was Fiend the penalty for freethinkers, for the exercise of free will? Could he face it? What on Earth was Fiend? Questions without answers, for the moment. ]
The slowing procedure began, and before he knew it, Hank landed with a thud in a skimpily cushioned armchair. His bottom hurt. Slowly he rolled his eyes to gaze at what lay in front of him, as well as around him. The room held the common knickknacks of an office, wall lined with filing cabinets topped with awards, coat rack standing in the corner, garbage can adjacent a large mahogany desk. What really caught Hank’s attention was the man sitting behind the desk, leaning back in his chair upon Hank taking note of him, then stretching his feet atop the desk and propping his hands behind his neck as if perfectly content with the situation . A thick, brown beard, mustache, sideburns and all, covered his face hiding who knew what, and his clothing consisted of a tuxedo, unbuttoned, exposing a cummerbund, white gloves insulating his hands, a rose pinned and gleaming from his lapel, and a top hat to crown his head.
“Ahhh, Mr. Caruthers,” he said with a surprisingly light voice, “good to have you here. How do you like the Mystique?”
Struck dumb by the sudden question, Hank didn’t know how to respond. Yes, he liked being accosted by shady gunmen? Yes, he liked losing his money, although tonight… but that was the reason he sat here now. Not knowing what else to do, Hank shrugged.
“At a loss for words, no?” the man chuckled. “No matter. I can see you are confused. Let me introduce myself. I am Fiend.” The words filled the room with a mystical tension.
“What?” gasped Hank searching his mind for understanding. “You’re Fiend? No, no, no, Fiend’s a game. I’ve been gambling at this casino far too long for you to pull a fast one like that on me. Fiend’s a game now who are you?”
“How often people are deluded, Mr. Caruthers. Fiend is a game. Fiend is the game. I am Fiend I am the game. I am Fiend I run the game. I am Fiend, and you play the game. Everyday you play the game. If someone doesn’t play by the rules, they see me.
“You have got to be kidding me! You’re Fiend, yet Fiend’s a game? Then please, if your Fiend and Fiend’s a game, tell me how that works.”
“All too simple, Mr. Caruthers, Fiend is the game of life. As I have already stated, I run it! The world is my battlefield you are my peon. Everyone is my peon. You are an instrument to my end.”
“This is too unbelievable you’re having delusions of grandeur here Fiend. How could you possibly control life. How could you possibly suppress human nature? How could you possibly stop free will, rational thought, creative genius? It’s too unbelievable.”
“Don’t doubt the unbelievable, Mr. Caruthers! You know the answer.”
“I know the answer? Now why would--” Of course Hank knew the answer. He felt like a fool not realizing it sooner. It had been using him for the last ten years of his life. Suddenly everything was clear. He knew why he sat in this room.
“I see the look of enlightenment on your face. You have realized why you are here. But come, I’ll enlighten you further on the grandness of Fiend I know you want that. You, Mr. Caruthers, are an intellectual, the only type of person who ever gives me trouble. Your mind works in mysterious ways, but it can, and is, corrupted. You want to know the fullness of Fiend, I can see it in your eyes, and this I will give it to you because of your understanding. You are one among thousands who could possibly understand Fiend. But it comes at a price, one which you have no say in the matter.”
Hank’s disbelief had turned into awe. Something incredible was about to be revealed to him, and he knew, he didn’t know how–intuition maybe—but he knew that what was to follow would be the truth.
“Are you ready, Mr. Caruthers?”
“Tell away.” Hank could do nothing now but listen he had foolishly forfeited his life. Damn casinos.
“Seventy years ago governments allowed gambling in selected zones. It differed with each country, but here in the states, it was first limited to the state of Nevada. Then Atlantic City in New Jersey permitted gambling. Soon, Indian reservations joined the wheel of chance. I think you catch the drift. Little by little, as the years went on, more states and more places legalized gambling. With the introduction of the AXV10000’s some fifty years ago, gambling became a respectable establishment to the multitude of people. No more fraudulent dealers, no more loaded dice, no more stacked decks or faked cards the AXV’s brought order to the chaos of gambling. Then, with the advent of the AXV11000’s, the earlier model with minor advancements and an attractive human looking exterior, prostitution disappeared entirely, along with STD’s. Gambling reached an all time high in popularity when the AXV12000 models first took the floor. Each AXV had something to offer everybody, an! d so they soon became personalized. Rarely did you see a patron without his or her AXV, and the trend continues for the most part today. People raved so highly of gambling, governments could do nothing but legalize it everywhere. Casinos sprouted up in every dung whole on Earth, from Alaska to Angola. Incidentally, we just had a grand opening in Antarctica. Even the research scientists can’t stop tossing the dice and playing the odds. But that’s irrelevant…”
Out of place with the tension clouding the air, Hank heard the door click open behind him, then click closed, but he dared not separate his eyes from Fiend’s devilish gaze.
“Now by the time I enter the picture, half the world was already addicted to gambling, so it didn’t take much to trap the rest. I started small, conglomerating casinos here and there. No one noticed when one casino exchanged management it happens in business regularly. Soon though, I had to expand secretly because anti-trust laws and monopoly laws began breathing down my back. I found those laws trifling, a thorn in my side, nothing more. Given enough time, enough money, and enough persuasion, casinos sold to me whether they knew it or not. My casinos ran the recreation of gambling. Each year I built this institution to higher and higher heights without people suspecting my monopolization. All in all I found it surprisingly easy to manipulate the world.
“Although I had most of the world in my grasp, most did not satisfy me I wanted all. Here’s where you come in Mr. Caruthers. You were one of those few who abhorred gambling, would have as little to do with gamblers as you could so, around ten years ago Fiend exposed you to the Drug. You awoke in the gutter with scrappy fragments of the past, and driven to do little else than gamble away the money you earned. For the last ten years, you’ve gambled your life ‘down the drain’ so they say. Now, tonight, for whatever reason, your luck briefly changed. No big deal, but for what ever reason, this lucky streak caused the Drug to dissipate. And here you sit, in awe of this tale I just related, but knowing it is the truth all the same.”
“I still find this hard to believe, Fiend,” Hank said, surprised he had stated it so freely. “You claim I was exposed to a drug—” “Not a drug, Mr. Caruthers, the Drug.”
“Okay, so I was exposed to the Drug.” Hank almost laughed, but for some reason he knew what Fiend had said was not funny. A little voice in his head kept stressing this absurd tale to be the truth. “Then what is this Drug?” he asked. “Why would a—the Drug make me gamble my life ‘down the drain’ as they say. I find the possibility of this hard to believe. How many people did you have to expose to the Drug? Surely I was not the only one there must be millions of people appalled by the institution of gambling.”
“All I have to say, Mr. Caruthers, is that the numbers of insurgents was smaller than you might wish to believe only a handful of people needed exposure to the Drug. As to the components off the Drug and its workings, that you’ll never know.”
Hank could feel someone now standing behind his chair, and even if he could have looked away from Fiend, he had no need to do so he knew who stood their silently. It had to be the black-shrouded man nothing like having someone else take care of your dirty work. Damn the dice.
“Would you like to know anything else, Mr. Caruthers?” Fiend asked politely, taking his feet off the desk and resting his elbows where his feet had lazed. “A mind like yours is always at work whether you know it or not.”
Certain more questions would lead him only in circles with few answers, Hank shook his head negatively.
Fiend continued, smiling. “So now you know I run the casinos which run the world. Politicians are not elected without me yet, none of them know I exist. If I say the garbage doesn’t get collected, the garbage doesn’t get collected. If I say Susie’s cat will run away, Susie’s cat will run away. “If I say Nebraska is to attack Kansas with pitchforks and beer cans, Nebraska will attack Kansas with pitchforks and beer cans. I run this world. Not a day goes by that I don’t influence the course of history. If I wanted, I could rewrite history anyway I pleased. Oh yes, I run this world, and you know it to be the truth. Fiend is life.
“You thought Fiend was a game and Fiend is a game. The game which all humanity can never escape.”
Hank remembered everything now. The floodgates had opened to deluge his brain. He remembered his life before his exposure. He remembered the day they had exposed him to the Drug. He remembered the rut of dice and credits his life had become since that day. His future maybe short-lived, but the present infuriated him into action. Hank lunged from his chair, pushing it into the man behind him as he did so. Hank reacted without thought now. He jumped onto the man—the shrouded man—and leapt for the Maser Hank knew he had. Grabbing it before the thug, Hank immediately swung the Maser like a bat, catching the wide-eyed shrouded man across the jaw, sending him reeling to the floor.
Fiend’s voice filled the room. “It is useless to run, Mr. Caruthers, you can’t escape me.”
With Maser in hand, hank turned to confront Fiend. Their eyes locked in a fierce, penetrating scowl that would turn fire into ice. Hank’s finger itched to pull the trigger, but it would not submit. What impaired him now?
“You won’t shoot me, Mr. Caruthers,” Fiend’s enigmatic glare continued gnawing through the heart of Hank. “Humanity cannot win.”
Hank desperately tried to force his finger to pull the trigger that would incinerate Fiend, but his finger remained unresponsive. Why couldn’t he pull the trigger? His mind whirled in a frenzy now. Without realizing it, as Fiend rose to his feet, Hank had begun moving hesitantly backwards with eyes peeled agape. His mind halted completely shock had shattered his nerves. Hank bumped into something and knew all was lost. The shrouded man now had Hank’s arms in a vice-like grip of iron, the Maser clinking to the floor while Fiend moved ever closer with a sedation syringe ready.
“That won’t be necessary, Truman,” Fiend said almost smiling. “I’ll take care of him.” His gaze still locked Hank into submission.
Fiend came closer still.
Hank noticed it too late… It did no good now. The sedation syringe… It wasn’t an ordinary needle, it was his pointer finger unsheathed…