Onward, Eternal Soldiers

Into the maw, young fighting stock.
 
You will die for nothing and destroy for nothing.
 
Your side has beguiled the anger in you with propaganda.
Your side supplements your sacrificial bravery with adderall, modafinil, captagon, meldonium.
 
I’m sorry I can’t do this for you.
If you want this to stop you have to stop it yourself.
I think you can do it.
I’ll help

The Pile – Chapter Seventeen

Before his shower or shave, Raymond turned on the news. Images of burning buildings and destructive rioters flashed across the screen. Were these pre-GCD images? No, the caption said, ‘More HFFE Demonstrations.’ And the building…it was John Lenin! They were burning down John Lenin! Raymond reoriented himself and listened to the SMN anchor.

“HFFE demonstrators backing the Crowley administration’s new lifestyle reform law showed their support today by burning one of the bill’s targeted institutions, John Lenin University. The new initiative rolls back the failed educational reforms of the defunct Clock administration and directs funds towards entertainment and athletics.”

A clip of a triumphant Bertram Crowley graced the screen.

“I’m not sure what former-President Clock had in mind when he tried to force us all into his brain-washing ‘education camps,’ but I do know the UHC was founded on personal freedom and liberty. This new law will ensure humanity has access to all the resources it needs to truly fulfill the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Raymond was out the door before the program cut to commercial. He commandeered the first vehicle he saw and raced towards the Copenhagen airport.

* * *

As Nico listened to Asher’s message, elation and fear parried their way across her brain. She left the private hangar she’d built adjacent to the airport and stepped into an idling vehicle waiting for her at the curb.

“The Copenhagen W Hotel, Fred. And please speed.”

Darting and weaving through the light early-morning traffic, Nico’s vehicle sped through the ruins of a city she’d decimated herself. As she travelled, she gazed at what her love had wrought and felt no regret. The city could be and would be rebuilt, perhaps modernized with more energy-efficient buildings and state-of-the-art air-conditioning and plumbing. Whether she could salvage Raymond was still in question.

Nico knew what Raymond’s neurosis was capable of creating, and it filled her with desperation born of dread. When Asher’s attrition strategy began to agonize her, she insisted on her own operation. She sacrificed a great deal of her fortune and knew it’d take months to reopen her grandfather’s war-machine factories and launch a fleet of left-handed warplanes, but the effort would keep her moving. She was digging her way closer to Raymond through monumental productivity.

When the first of her artisanal, carefully-curated bombs began to drop, the effects were real and dramatic; the changes in landscape palpable. Though the target was missed entirely and Danish villagers wielding pitchforks and torches calling for her figurative head[1] showed up at her hangar, Nico felt every sacrifice was in service of her goal.

After the initial heady month of bombings came to a close, Nico’s heart began to sink once more. The dramatic results the early explosions had elicited were less effective than she required. She needed Raymond to be out. Now. Instantly. So she stepped up the pace and scale of the bombings. In her haste, her crews forewent training to adjust to the left-handed equipment of her left-handed planes, resulting in inaccurate targeting and further destruction to the city.

A car weaving erratically in and out of traffic in a similar fashion to her own, but traveling the opposite direction, entered her awareness. Peering through the tinted windows, Nico saw the grime-caked mane of the driver. Could it…Yes! Her mind registered the unmistakable reality and she ordered the vehicle to turn around. Fred, the automated driver, made a U-turn.

The terrifying sight of Raymond driving wildly, together with his indecent and psychotic appearance, inflamed Nico’s misgivings.

Pulling back into the airport, Fred parked behind Raymond’s vehicle on the sidewalk and Nico darted out. Raymond’s trail was not difficult to pick-up, so she followed the chaos and the filth. There was pandemonium at the security checkpoint[2] where a horrified crowd had clustered. Pressing and fighting her way through the maddening crowd, Nico managed to reach the entrance and came before a pair of surly-looking security guards. The men appeared displeased, with the blood running from their broken noses mixing with the muddy fist-print bedecking their faces.

When Nico attempted to break their blockade, shouting that the men must let her pass, the guards responded in heavily accented English, “Miss, not with here! A dirty man on a loose!”

“I know! He’s my dirty man! I have to find to him!”

The two men looked at one another in confusion before the stockier of the pair shook his head horizontally and reemphasized, “We no you pass.”

“Well…sorry” Nico shouted as she zipped under their arms and tore through the security area with the harried guards in instinctual though realistically ineffectual pursuit. Following the trail of mud to the Washington DC gate, Nico found herself embroiled in another unruly scene. The door was closed and the gate was filled with disgruntled passengers wailing, gnashing their teeth, and ripping their clothing in grief about needing to get home for a sister’s wedding, a grandmother’s funeral, or a daughter’s birthday. As Nico stopped to get her bearings and reassess, the security guards caught up with her, puffing. Shaking them off in annoyance, she walked up to a nearby airline agent and inquired as to what’d happened.

The agent looked up from her work and responded curtly, “A man ran in and stole the plane. If you need to be rebooked please get to the back of the line and wait your turn. We are doing our best.”

As the woman spoke, Nico looked out the oversized airport window to observe the plane in question backing away from the gate. She ran back through and out of the public terminal, then hastened over to her own hanger where her planes were being fueled for their next fiery jaunt over the city.

“Charlie!” Nico called to her crew chief, “I need to get to DC immediately!”

“Well…Miss Leftiè, these planes weren’t built for that sort of distance…we would need an in-flight refuel which…”

“Just organize it and get the crew on the plane!” Nico responded, walking up the nearest lowered ramp.

Twenty minutes later she was in the air flying back to DC with a refuel waiting halfway across the Atlantic.

Less than halfway across the Atlantic, Nico’s aircraft came under attack and was shot down by lofo pilots from the HFFE. Angrily floating through choppy Atlantic swells, Nico had no choice but to accept the assistance of an HFFE battleship clearly pre-positioned to retrieve Nico Leftiè from the wreckage. This left her bedraggled and perturbed employees to find their own ways home. Berating and cursing the captain for his ignorance while attempting to bribe, intimidate, cajole, and genuinely reason with his crew to change course, Nico was made to feel entirely ineffective.

The ship pulled into Funchal a few hours later and Nico, hoping to find a pilot she could bribe to fly her off the island, allowed herself to be marched up to a newly built, gaudily splendid palace in the center of the city. There she was, after passing through the most horrendously tacky interior decor she’d ever seen, summarily presented to Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Crowley, the UHC Pretender.

When President Raymond Clock disappeared, the HFFE, based out of Funchal on the island of Madeira, quickly declared their own administrative authority and began aggressively exporting a philosophy calling for the use of humanity’s newly blessed state of immortality to pursue the heights of pleasure. The movement found millions of followers who preferred the Crowley message to the mandated self-improvement espoused by the now-leaderless Clock regime. HFFE doctrine spread across the globe and the HFFE leader, Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Crowley, became the de facto head of state.

The smell in the new president’s council chamber was one of sterile lust and gluttony. Nico gagged as she approached the long table populated by dozens of bloated, wrinkled white men and young, lithe women of all races, everyone naked and smiling as if in on a secret joke no one found funny.

Lieutenant Colonel Crowley sat at the head of the table gorging himself on three different types of custard-cream pie. Looking up from his work at the announcement, the man’s smile widened as he spoke to Nico in a disturbingly high-pitched voice, “We welcome the great Nico Leftiè to our humble palace. I know it’s not your famously refined taste, but it suits us just fine.”

Nico grimaced, “What do you want?”

“Oh now where are your famously well-bred manners, my dear? Wouldn’t you at least like to join us at our table? I’m sure your voyage has been an arduous one after that unfortunate accident with your plane that…”

“What do you want?”

“You’re not going to hold our little misunderstanding with your plane against us, are you? Not with your famously generous liberal broad-mindedness,” Crowley smiled at her and motioned towards the table’s disrobed inhabitants, “Now sit down and join us. Over here by me. And feel free to change into the traditional cultural-garb of our people.”

Nico remained motionless and repeated, with increased disdain, “What do you want?”

Crowley’s smile flickered for a moment, “Oh come now, you wouldn’t deny us a chance to dine with you, would you? After that we can talk about getting you home as soon as possible.”

Nico said once more, “What do you want?”

“Just come here!” Crowley shouted furiously, “Come and sit and we’ll talk about taking you home.”

With an eye-roll that would have made a mountain tremble, Nico reiterated her question, “What do you want?”

Crowley stood up and stalked towards her in a rage, dragging a portion of the tablecloth with him and knocking all three of his half-eaten custard-cream pies onto the floor. He shouted for a telephone as he approached.

“We know Clock is out and we know he’s flown back to DC with you following. Why weren’t you in the same plane?”

“What do you want?”

Crowley seized the phone he’d called for and dialed a number off the accompanying slip of paper.

“Yes, hello? This is President Bertram Crowley calling for Raymond Clock. I know he…oh…where…what?! No, he can’t! Wait, tell him that…wait…hello?”

The blood had drained from Crowley’s face by the time his short conversation ended. He dropped the phone and looked around the room, the stench of panic oozing from his gelatinous form.

Nico finally asked, “What is it?”

* * *

Raymond landed in DC, abandoned his hijacked plane, thanked his compliant pilots, gave them the name of a good nose surgeon, tore through the airport lobby, commandeered the first car he came across in the passenger pick-up area, and sped to the White House.

When he arrived home, Raymond confronted the startled guards who failed to recognize the dramatically altered and soiled countenance of their president. After demonstrating irrefutable proof of his identity, he made his way to his private quarters while fending off a herd of curious staffers as word began to circulate of his sudden return.

When he reached his private chambers, Raymond issued a standing order that he was not to be disturbed with any calls, visitors, or staff inquiries until he emerged. Before he closed the door, however, he paused in contemplation and requested the presence of his personal secretary and Chief of Staff.

Once cloistered, he addressed his secretary first, “Jon, I want you to please bring Nico, Chandra, and Asher here at once. Find them, wherever they are, and bring them here. Nico and Asher are either still in Copenhagen or, because they know me, on their way here already. Nico is here in DC, I think. Thank you so much.”

Raymond turned to his Chief of Staff, “Jackqualenya, I want you to know what I’m going to do…” To an increasingly startled audience Raymond unveiled his vision for the future of the UHC.

Ignoring reasonable objections, pleas for a delay, and horrified protests, Raymond ordered his staff out of the room. When he was alone, he walked over to a hidden panel next to his bed to key in a series of numbers[3]. The correct sequence[4] opened a secret side room holding his weapon control system. Stepping up to the machine, Raymond scanned his retina and fingertips, inserted a blood sample, typed in the target’s coordinates that he’d looked up while stopped at a red light during his drive to the White House, selected his weapon of choice, flipped open the safety glass, turned the first switch, the second, the third, pulled the final switch, pressed the now brightly lit “Launch” button, and finished.

* * *

Thirty years later, an aged President Raymond Clock, the only human still keeping track of time, sat alone in his office. Saddled with his violent raison d’être and excommunicated from happiness, he slogged on, year after year, implementing policies and following his grand scheme to fix his species. He did this without experiencing a single moment that bore any resemblance to joy. This effort hollowed out his soul and left him empty, a policy-enforcing automaton obeying an externally programmed mandate. He performed his duty by continuing to exist.

Following the Funchal Incident[5], Raymond experienced a falling out with his best friend and compatriot, Asher Sen-Rose, due to Raymond’s increased proclivity for expressing his violence in the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles and drones, which soon became the UHC’s standard response to any trouble or challenge. Feeling increasingly separated from his fellow man, the President rarely left the confines of the White House, preferring either solitude or the company of a dedicated group of toadies he called his staff. He spent the preponderance of his hours in the giant media room he’d built adjacent to his bedroom containing over two-hundred screens, each programmed to display current news reports from around the globe, high-definition satellite imagery monitoring potential hotbeds of anti-UHC activity, or various situational comedies chattering away vapidly in every language. Raymond whiled away his days issuing presidential decrees based on the information he gleaned from these screens.

It had been thirty years since Raymond’s mistake, and not a moment had passed in which the memory did not threaten to break through his carefully entrenched mental barricades. He was a shell, existing because he knew he must, existing because he knew he was the only one who could accomplish anything that needed to be accomplished, the only one who could put humanity on the right course before his inevitable demise. No scientist, not even the great Chandra Sen-Rose, had discovered what made Raymond different, why he alone possessed the ability to inflict violence. So he’d continued living and ruling because this was his task and his burden, bequeathed to him by forces he didn’t believe in but felt obligated to heed.

Raymond’s empire had its faults, but it was a better place than the world prior to his extended tenure as humanity’s last traditional sovereign. His education initiatives had produced a highly educated and, more importantly, a highly-equitably educated population, helping to balance the historical inequalities humanity had once felt comfortable hosting.

Even with a nominally educated population, however, Raymond continued to feel frustrated with the collective choices his brothers and sisters made when left to their own devices. Despite Asher’s original hypothesis, selflessness was not derived from the acquisition of knowledge, but rather the result of a much more complicated and holistic process. Though Raymond had shifted his policies accordingly, teaching altruism and saturating his society with an incessant mantra stressing the essentiality of intelligent collective action, his newly educated population was more skeptical towards this type of subliminal propaganda than previously undereducated generations and seemed to resist his ideas merely out of principle. Anti-altruism riots became more common as Raymond stepped up his culture shaping campaigns. He met this dissent progressively by slowly increasing the number of people his rocket-propelled cure-alls touched each time a riot erupted.

With an exponentially expanding population and indestructible human body, space exploration, expansion, and colonization had become a crucial central focus for the human species. Even without overpopulation, humanity’s ravenous appetite for natural resources was quickly draining its home planet of valuable materials.

One of Raymond’s campaigns to promote intelligent collective decision-making was focused on raising public awareness about the looming resource crises. When this proved entirely ineffective, he was forced to impose international rationing. Consolidating and centrally stockpiling the Earth’s remaining raw-materials, Raymond carefully monitored and limited their use. These resources would be required to build space-crafts capable of ferrying humanity in large numbers to new, potentially-habitable planets.

Raymond knew he must complete the task of expanding humanity’s reach into the universe before his eventual death. Once he, the sole safeguard of human responsibility, was gone, all would be lost and the fate of his species would be too terrible to imagine.

Even with this threat rapping at the door, an incredibly sophisticated black-market sprang up to cleverly smuggle desired goods to an intelligent population demanding the right to self-defined comfort. For each ring Raymond destroyed, three more took its place, like an infuriating hydra mocking his impotence. And so the globe’s reserves dwindled at an ever-more alarming rate.

Over the last five years, with resources at critical lows and humanity’s incredible growth outpacing global infrastructure, power-outages and regressions in technological capabilities became increasingly common. The problems were first seen on the fringes of society, with power-grids shutting down for a few hours. But as the situation worsened the shutdowns lasted longer, covered a larger area, and impacted more centrally located power-grids. It was now not uncommon for entire cities to go dark for days at a time.

Raymond was observing humanity on two-hundred flickering illuminations and absent-mindedly slicing pieces off of an apple using a beautiful, hand-crafted paring knife with a blackened handle. He was sitting comfortably in his custom-made, maneuverable chair constructed from 200-year old Russian reindeer hide, the only piece of furniture in the dark room, twisting his head this way then that, watching. On one display a man was receiving a prize for displaying previously unheard of feats of athletic prowess in the 20th annual no-chute international skydiving competition. Another was playing an advertisement to sign-up as a settler for a proposed expeditionary colony on the moon Europa[6], one of Dr. Sen-Rose’s many projects. On another some UHC propaganda promoting the value of thinking of your neighbor’s needs before your own. Around and around Raymond looked, scanning each display with the same glazed expression bordering on indifference he’d worn for years.

The screens all guttered in unison, causing Raymond’s mind to briefly stir from its malaise. His eyes shifted to the screen directly in front of him and landed on an English-language news station reporting on the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Shrine of Madeira. The reporter, in full Hazmat, was describing the history of the holy island and the pilgrims who journeyed from all over the world to participate in strange rituals and pay tribute to Death as the spirits of the mystical shrine sapped their strength and they passed out of life with joy in their hearts. A science correspondent took over to explain the half-life of Americium-241. Suddenly, the display went dark. Raymond found himself sitting in a lightless room. Seconds later, when the red-hued emergency power lamps switched on, Raymond was staring at a reflection.

It seemed as if years had passed since Raymond had last seen his own likeness. Regarding himself now in the harsh, ruby light, he saw he looked haggard and worn, a man done-in by his ever-defeating reality.

His noble vision of humanity ascendant was a species-wide delusion dreamt up by an animal enchanted with its own unique ability to perceive and create. Raymond smiled at the idea, a smile bred from the painful absurdity of long-suppression. After decades of abstaining from reflection to fend off the doubts besieging the ramparts of his self-awareness, this moment of stillness and clarity hit his consciousness like a great wave, sweeping away the lattice of his grotesque bulwark. The absurdity and futility of his supposed obligation was revealed to him. A curtain lifted and he found the theater empty. The seats were unoccupied and Raymond saw himself standing alone, performing for no one but himself.

Here was reality staring back at him, the lines crossing his face etching a reminder of the energy he’d exerted. But what change had he wrought in the nature of his species? What permanent good had he done for the future of humanity? The answer his mind returned was Nico sitting before him in his own sheets, bathed in sunlight on their first morning together, an image he’d strained to censor for decades. Yet now here she was again, as real as she’d ever been, smiling back at him through time and space.

Why did his mind answer his questions with his prohibitions? Loving Nico was never his goal, only a compartmentalized section of his life reserved for moments he wasn’t busy with his real work. But when he’d killed her, he’d lost his passion. Perhaps even his capacity[7].

Understanding of his full failure came crashing down upon him as if Poseidon himself, after winning his bet with Athena, had summoned his full strength to wipe away Raymond’s grand delusions and drag his tower of lies beneath the waves. Having only ever paid lip-service to love while undermining its existence and worth at every turn, Raymond had failed to grasp the fundamental purpose and value of human life. His only chance to fully comprehend had been destroyed by his own hand thirty years ago, and now his vision was clouded by nihilism, misunderstanding his species and himself out of empirical ignorance. As he viewed humanity absent the light of love and empathy, he saw a replicating virus inflicting trauma on everything it touches. And thus Raymond Clock finally came to know the full extent of his hatred for his species.

The power surged back through the room as the red-lights blinked off and his television screens blinked back on. Back to life jumped the whole of his civilization spread out in front of him in all its glory, failure, happiness, and despair. The summation of this inanity coursed through him like an electric charge, filling him with physical disgust and rage. In a world where each organism had the ability and obligation to make its own choice, how dare these sentient creatures make the wrong one. His rage-filled mind was tired of their excuses and weaknesses. He determined they must face the consequences of their collective wrongdoing.

Perhaps this was his purpose, his final revelation at the apex of his ego’s self-realization. By destroying love when he destroyed Nico, he’d freed himself to see his most rational action. Why else anoint a human being devoid of love and happiness and gorged on hatred the sole arbiter of violence? He was the savior humanity deserved.

Filled with religious zeal, his breast burning and heaving, Raymond rose and walked through the door leading to his adjacent bedroom. Once inside, he strode over to the key panel controlling the well-worn global weapons system and punched in the now-memorized code. Through an increasingly muddled fog obscuring his mind, Raymond worked in a trance-like state to maneuver the levers and select the entire UHC arsenal as his weapon of choice. He had to be sure not a single member of his species survived his apocalypse. The final dial was turned and the “Launch” button was lit, glowing bright-red as it had so many times before, ready to execute Raymond’s last order.

As his hand raised, trembling, poised to end humanity’s existence, a memory of Nico was summoned from the depths of his now unguarded mind. She was sitting across from him in a familiar café full of the intense determination and vigor that’d enchanted him so completely in their first moments together. She was saying something to him he couldn’t quite make out, a whisper; a faint thought that slipped away even as it was spoken. He leaned closer and begged her to speak up. Her condescending smile stopped his heart as she looked him in the eyes and stated:

“The reality humanity created is the reality it deserves to live in, Raymond.”

The vision faded and Raymond was once again staring at a button and a possibility. Imagining Nico as an observer, Raymond stabbed inward with the paring knife he still held and twisted to make sure it was successful in its work. When he was certain, he extracted the blade and dropped it to his side. He began to laugh as he sank to the floor.

His laughter stopped abruptly when he noticed that no blood was pouring forth from where his knife had not penetrated his chest. Once again he took the knife and stabbed himself, then again, then once more. Each time his instrument had the same effect. Processing this new information took his mind a moment, but the conclusion it eventually reached was undeniable. The horror of his fate swept through him and his body wilted, splayed next to the panel with the still-glowing button as his Nico-shade continued to observe him, now stifling her laughter at his ineptitude and misfortune.

He heard her laughter and his anger flared. His hand slammed onto the glowing button. Nothing happened immediately other than regret.

Soon, the shockwave from the nuclear explosion nearest the White House threw him to the ground as it disintegrated the structure around him. He saw multiple blasts on the now-visible horizon, their deadly gaseous structures rising to the heavens together in exultation of their own opulent atomic violence. His body felt nothing as he was thrown for dozens yards each time he was hit. Eventually the apocalypse ended and Raymond lay motionless in a pile of filthy mud and debris where he’d been deposited by the last wave.

Hours passed before Raymond began to feel ridiculous and worried someone might come along and recognize him. He stood up in the mire, hesitantly, understanding that wallowing in his defeat would get him nowhere. He worried for the future of his species, but brushed these thoughts aside as he realized it was no longer his concern. This, and the memory of Dr. DeMasters, lightened his burden considerably as he took the hand of the smiling phantom standing before him and left the filth behind.

With the knowledge that he no longer had to be Raymond Clock, Raymond felt better than he had in ages. As he strolled down the levelled streets of DC hand-in-hand with his imagination’s grotesque projection of Nico Leftiè, Raymond observed many of the same qualities in the air and light he’d so enjoyed while walking to meet her at Busboys. So much was similar, in fact, that it truly felt as if nothing in the universe had changed at all.

[1] Lots and lots of money.

[2] Now kept and maintained by private airline companies for insurance reasons.

[3] 1837482923740189237656852183172645823726871623000315

[4] Delayed by several frustrating and incorrect attempts, Raymond remembered he’d forgotten the code and crawled around his room looking for the scrap of paper on which he’d written the number series he’d known he was going to forget. This fault in his memory was something he was pleased with himself for admitting and taking proper precautions for. The projected scenario was currently playing out in the exact manner he’d predicted over a year ago and the satisfactory validation of his foresight was marred only slightly by the fact that he’d forgotten exactly in which part of the rug he’d cut a small, removable triangle to hide the code.

[5] Also known as the Funchal Miracle. The word choice spoke volumes about the speaker’s faith in Death.

[6] After years of delays, scrounging for resources, and frustrations, Chandra believed she’d put together a workable plan to send humanity to a new frontier. This belief proved false, however, when the last bit of rocket fuel needed for the expedition was stolen and used in a hydro-craft drag-race across the Pacific Ocean. The winner of the competition was Hambleton Chillersby, of the Upper East Side Chillersbys, who clocked in at a record 8:52:33. Spectators claimed they’d never seen a hydro-craft drag-race like it.

[7] Raymond had been celibate since Nico’s death. He claimed to any concerned parties who asked that he couldn’t trust anyone’s interest in him nor could get trust himself to love anyone else without unintentionally misusing his power to manipulate them.

To Restore Justice

Western retributive justice is barbaric. When a human breaks the laws of its civilization, retributive justice posits that that human should be given a punishment proportional to their crime. In reality this manifests as an arbitrary punishment created ad hoc with no universal standard for what constitutes proper retribution. The arbitrary retributive constructs of one civilization may be entirely different from the arbitrary retributive constructs of another; one person’s forty lashes is another person’s $40 fine. This is not justice, this is arbitrary retribution reflecting popular local cultural constructs. Though temporally democratically popular, like slavery and war, this is an outmoded concept.

In addition to the arbitrary nature of retributive punishment, the idea that a society benefits from further traumatizing individual members who’ve transgressed is based on a faulty understanding of psychology and neurology. Individual human consciousness is heavily impacted by its environment, and definitively claiming humans have sole propriety over personal physical actions is tenuous. All actions are influenced by environmental chemicals, social inputs, and whatever neurological interpretation of reality the individual perceives at any given time. To believe justice is served by punishing a human for how their brain has been impacted genetically and socially is both barbaric and self-defeating.

Society is not better served when humans are traumatized and then stigmatized for their trauma. This practice perpetuates destructive cycles that keep large numbers of human brains in biological survival mode. Fueled by exacerbating chemicals like caffeine, opioids, sugar, dopamine, adrenaline, and alcohol (among many others), human populations absorb trauma, do not adequately address the trauma’s psychological impact, and then passively watch trauma transform and manifest itself in other ways, often as depression or a neurotic expression of unaddressed rage. This process can occur both individually and collectively, and the two are inextricably linked, creating cycles and new constructs based in trauma.

The most obvious example is our conception of safety and national security after 9/11. Our collective trauma manifested itself in bombings, invasions, and rage all over the world, and even caused us to declare a war on being afraid. This trauma is so banal that most citizens have no conception of the impact their civilization’s rage has had on the rest of the world. But personal ignorance of the full extent of inflicted trauma doesn’t mean the effect of that trauma is lessened. Trauma, defined as an expansive sliding scale of negative outcomes, is concentrated emotional energy and cannot be destroyed, only transformed.

The environment created through external actions is directly related to how an individual brain perceives its external environment. Create a trauma-saturated environment and the brain will perceive and absorb trauma, create a happiness-saturated environment and the brain will perceive and absorb happiness. The creators of trauma expose themselves to a trauma-saturated environment of their own making (as far as anything they do is independent and not simply repeating the cycles they learned), then bring absorbed trauma home to their families and friends where, unaddressed, it usually expresses itself through depression or rage. Retribution is not justice, it’s rage hijacking human rationality to construct a complex and opaque system that codifies its own goals. Don’t underestimate unpruned human anger, especially your own.

In the specific barbarism of this event, a child was traumatized through the horrifying American foster system, then she was impregnated. Then she birthed another child at 15, and finally she killed that child 19 months later. The psychologists (there is a segment of the psychology profession that specializes in judging sanity, according to US law, for money) deemed that despite the context, this human understood the basic functions of the legal bureaucracy, therefore, as experts, they consented to punishing her using that legal bureaucracy. After a lifetime of trauma, did this person’s consciousness have real control over her actions, or was her self under the sway of unaddressed neurosis? Does it particularly matter? Another traumatized person is most likely going into the US prison system, in this case because she stabbed her own baby five times.

Restorative justice sees this case in a different light. Rather than believe the best solution to trauma is more trauma, restorative justice, at least the version I believe in, seeks to find the most beneficial solution for both the community and the individual human. How? By identifying sources of trauma, creating systemic infrastructure specifically focused on addressing those sources, and deliberately intervening in order to interrupt cycles. A human being who creates trauma is not a monster, but rather a victim themselves who should be helped and understood.

In practice, a system of restorative justice would support thousands of panels of diverse individuals whose entire job is discussing the most beneficial solutions on an individual basis. Though arbitrary and dependent on any number of human variables, this system returns the humanity to justice. Rather than prisons, individuals a panel deems traumatized enough to justify temporary separation from society are sent to resocialization centers, where they are helped through their neurosis and given resources to develop skills and plenty of creative outlets to enhance their imagination and happiness. Amalgamations of this system already work in plenty of civilizations, but certainly not the United States.

Due to the mental state of large portions of the US population, true restorative justice would most likely not work. This is interesting to note and speaks to the high incidence of childhood trauma and lack of mental health infrastructure within the US. I define sanity as being mindful of and in balance with personal emotions, individuated from formative authority figures and constructs, confident in a personal ability to change the self in a chosen direction, and not desirous of negative outcomes for other beings. Unfortunately ideas that rely on sane humans to help other humans become saner don’t work in a society with a scarcity of sane humans.

Democrazy

Democracy!

Fun with demographics, US election contributions, and stats!

I got an email from the Democratic Socialists of America with a bold claim:
“Fewer than 16,000 donors were responsible for HALF of all federal campaign contributions in 2016. To put that in perspective, there were 3.2 million donors in 2016. Yet half of all financial support came from just 0.5% of them.”

That’s pretty shocking for a country that considers itself an example of democracy. But I’m always suspicious of how people use stats, so I put in some research time.

2016 US election contribution totals from the Center for Responsive Politics: No automatic alt text available.

.1% of the total US adult population gave over $2,700. Here’s a chart from Pew to visualize that breakdown:

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In other words, a large percentage of that .1% of donors giving over $2,700 are wealthy and have checked the education blocks our culture rewards. “Those who earn more also tend to donate more. Among those who donated, 27% of those with family incomes of $150,000 or more said they contributed more than $250, while 16% of contributors with incomes between $75,000 and $150,000 gave at least $250.”

If we view money as a component of the electorate’s overall feelings of efficacy, those with more money in the United States have more access to political efficacy. This canalizes thinking and behavioral patterns, as portions of the electorate with strong feelings of political efficacy are more likely to perpetuate a system in which they feel powerful. In part, this is why the world looks so different for those with and those without consistent feelings of personal efficacy.

From WaPo:

“Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

“In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.”

“A political organization contacted 191 congressional offices requesting meetings to discuss a pending bill. The organization’s members were randomly identified either as constituents or as campaign donors. Of the people identified as donors, 19 percent got meetings with the member of Congress or a top staffer, but only 5 percent of those identified as constituents (not as donors) got similar access.”

This creates a specific context for voters and their elected representatives. My hypothesis is that an inordinate use of money as efficacy leads to ineffective or unsustainable governing mechanisms due to the sociological factors involved in consolidating and wielding concentrated power in the context of inequality. This is particularly concerning when considering the methods individuals who’ve consolidated money into fortunes used to do so and the personal toll of that psychological impact. A change in personal wealth is a significant psychological experience and can impact behavioral patterns, the severity of unaddressed neurosis, and an individual’s ability to impact the world around them.

By catering to individuals with wealth-enhanced political efficacy, we narrow the diversity of effective interests, creating a feedback loop of efficacy and success within wealthy demographics. Additionally, as noted in Chart 1, there is a major disparity between male and female participation, further skewing priorities. When power is so grossly imbalanced within a society, a government that effectively represents those power imbalances will continue to widen the gap with its myopic policies created in conjunction with its most politically effective citizens.

The Pile – Chapter Sixteen

It was summer again and running the world was proceeding swimmingly for practically all parties involved. After seeing the United States fall to Raymond’s authority in just one hour, the remaining nations of the world capitulated in 45 minutes[1]. After an intense debate as to the name for this new global society[2], the group moved ahead with “The Unified Human Confederation[3]” (UHC).  Every idea Asher and Raymond concocted was implemented with shockingly positive results. Along with a progressive tax ranging from 10-90% and capping total income at $1 million a year, the new government abolished every standing army, redirected defense budgets into automation, healthcare[4], shelter, a universal basic income, and education for the global population. The remainder of their immense budget surplus was funneled into massive creative endowments[5] and scientific initiatives[6]. Political commentators around the world, though initially confused by their ability to say whatever they wanted about their new dictatorship, soon came out harshly against the new measures, particularly the new salary caps and tax rates that dramatically affected their own salaries and bottom lines of their parent companies. Within six months, however, the doom-and-gloom jockeys were silenced by reality and the globe entered a time of peace and prosperity unknown throughout the whole of human history. There was little the new ruling cadre felt they couldn’t accomplish.

Asher and Raymond’s long term goal was to pump humanity so full of education and knowledge that average self-awareness, a figure neither had particularly respected at any point in their lives, would rise to the point where collectively-beneficial group decision-making was possible. After graduating from their now-compulsory college experience, citizens were required to pass a minimum of 1 class every semester indefinitely[7]. Failure to do so would result in stiff penalties and a loss of citizenship privileges. Using the strategy of mandatory lifelong learning and a massive worldwide investment in educational infrastructure, Asher and Raymond believed they could accomplish their goal of crafting a responsible and well-informed civilization in less than twenty-years.

This new utopia was mirrored in their romantic relationships. While Nico and Raymond happily travelled the world together to enforce Pax-Clock, as papers were calling the new era, Chandra and Asher were happily making their final preparations for the birth, or at least test-tube removal, of their first child. The couple purchased a modest home in a relatively unscarred portion of Foggy Bottom that provided quick access to the White House. Asher, during his diminishingly attended work hours with Raymond, passed his days strolling the halls of the White House with a lightness of spirit that infected everyone he met.

Never did a man have so many reasons to celebrate his own life as Raymond Clock. Nico, his adoring Nico, was a leader and his equal, guiding global artistic initiatives and development with competence, grace, and dignity. She was unimpeachable as a romantic partner and co-shepherd of mankind.

Every initiative Raymond imposed on his citizens seemed to work better than he’d ever dreamed, and each new policy measure resulted in significant and real improvements in the condition of the world. Raymond’s dreams and goals were realized each day he continued to exist.

The overabundance of positive news served to blind the young world rulers from the unpleasant blowback simmering below the surface of their new society. With the public campaign touting knowledge and education as the new coin of the realm, those who actively chose non-participation in the mandatory acquisition of information became social pariahs. These low-information humans, or lofos in the new slang, obstinately refused the changes levied on them, which consequently cost them citizenship privileges and social status. Bureaucratically driven from their homes and lives, lofo shanty-towns sprang up in poorly chosen sites[8] around the world. These communities soon became plagued with snake-oil salesmen as the residents were suspicious of any official program, but susceptible to gut-based charm and the well-advertised crazes[9]. While generally a hapless and harmless people, lack of proper sex education[10] meant the concentrated lofo population bred at an alarming, if accidental, rate.

This minor negative was easy to ignore during the heady days of the early UHC. The positive statistics in every measure of peace, happiness, and economic equitability were more than enough to keep Raymond and his compatriots satisfied. And with the upcoming extraction of Lucius Sen-Rose, Chandra and Asher’s child, there were significant personal distractions preventing the micro-governing[11] humanity required.

Lucius’s planned removal occurred on a humid early-July afternoon. Compared to traditional birthing events, Lucius Sen-Rose’s entrance into the world was a decidedly tidy affair. They snipped off some tubes and patted the new human dry. The whole ordeal was over in five minutes. Nico and Raymond, who were in attendance in the now-famous[12] Alexandrian safe house’s basement, congratulated the euphoric new parents.

“He’s a perfect little baby!” Nico enthused.

“He should be. We were very careful to maximize the expression of every positive allele Asher and I had to contribute,” Chandra replied, glowing with pride over her creation.

“It shows!” Raymond laughed. “So now that Lucius has made his debut, I suppose you’re both going to be a bit too busy as full-time parents to help run things?”

“Please, let’s not talk about running the world for once.” Nico attempted.

“Oh, no that’s fine. That’s reasonable,” Asher responded, “We can’t be selfish, however Chandra and I do need some time to tinker with parenting methods. We created a genetically superior kid so we better not mess up the nurture side of the house or else he’s liable to become like a master criminal or something. Besides, our 30-year governing plan is pretty well mapped out already; projected tax revenue and budgeting is calculated and allocated, population expansion is accounted for with the space exploration program, and our education initiatives are moving along nicely. Any major flare ups I’m sure you can handle on your own.”

“You sure about that?” laughed Nico.

“I’m sure as long as you’re there with him”

“Thanks guys. The President of The Unified Human Confederation appreciates your confidence. Now if you’ll excuse me, some of us have a planet to run.”

Chandra corrected him distractedly while coddling and doting on Lucius, “The more accurate statement would be species. As soon as the space settlement initiative launches you’re going to have more than one planet to worry about.”

“Come on, just stay for a bit Raymond, we’re having Indian!” Asher offered.

“I’ve never once turned down a dosa and I won’t start now.”

One of Raymond’s ten phones rang.

“Hello? Oh? Bermuda? But we just, alright. Yes, alright. I’ll be right there” Raymond dropped the device and made his apologies, “I’m sorry all, apparently there’s some sort of tax evasion uprising in Bermuda. Congratulations again! No, no, Nico. Stay here! I don’t want taxholes[13] to spoil the day for all of us.”

Nico, who’d begun to move towards the stairway to leave with Raymond, stopped and returned to hover over the new child with Chandra and Asher, “Thanks, Mr. President. I love you! Have a nice flight and good luck with the taxes!”

Raymond’s early exits from events involving the now expanded Sen-Rose family became a recurring theme over the next few months, with the harried UHC President excusing himself to deal with pressing global issues such as resettling thousands of displaced and irascible lofos due to massive space-heater-sparked wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Forest, brokering an agreement between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to end mass settler sit-ins[14], or investigating reports of a vague new terrorist threat from a group calling itself HFTKETEWHKALFOEL,WGRAAFOEFWKWTWDASBQ[15], or HFFE, Humans Fighting For Earth. Because he needed to fix each situation personally, refusing to use inexact drone-based extensions of his will, Raymond often found himself alone on long trips to whatever hotspot required his immediate attention while Nico was occupied with her art council and the Sen-Rose family learned about itself. The strain of his obligations and constant traveling began to take their toll.

In order to put the world to rights, unbeknownst to a distracted Asher and hidden from Nico, Raymond had recently moved beyond punching people in the nose. Never cruel and always apologetic, he’d come to accept his role as the arbiter of a necessary and precise violence. As this was his singular capability, Raymond considered it his singular obligation to perform his appropriately violent duties to keep his species in line. He typically expressed his limited violence on prominent community leaders who stood opposed to the changes the UHC administration implemented. As this method began to trickle through resistance channels and the idea gained traction that President Clock would never actually kill another human being, movements were emboldened and the young administration found itself in need of a new strategy.

Before considering any new methods to enforce policy, Raymond ensured the controls for the entirety of the world’s nuclear and missile arsenal was consolidated within a private room to which only he knew the key code. Though these weapons were ineffective in the hands of anyone else, Raymond had to be sure his ability to threaten and execute violence remained an absolute and unquestionable monopoly. While mass casualties were exclusively his domain, he reasoned the threat of mass material destruction was still intimidating enough to make these powerful weapons a liability if used inappropriately. Therefore unilateral consolidation and control seemed Raymond’s only option. Only he could be trusted to understand the definition of an appropriate use of force.

He began formulating a technique to permanently enforce UHC policies a few months after the birth of Lucius while in Copenhagen responding to a group of radical anti-UHC lofos who’d burned down a college library.

As was his custom, upon landing at his destination Raymond ignored the pleas of his entourage and immediately made his way to the site of the destroyed building. The scene was infuriating; the institute of learning had been reduced to smoldering ruins. And for what? So these lofo fools could make a point about opposing his education reforms? Standing amidst the charred rubble, Raymond, contemplating the actions he must take to put a stop to this anti-knowledge movement before it gained any traction, noticed how alone he felt among the carcass of the former archive. Not a soul was moving within the square block on which the prestigious building had once stood. Curious as to the whereabouts of his staff and security, though not particularly concerned, Raymond pulled out one of his phones to call an assistant. The moment he put the device to his ear, the President heard a shout emanate from one of the buildings overlooking the rubble.

“He’s there! Now!”

A deafening boom met the order, quickly followed by what felt like a monumental earthquake and the disappearance of the ground beneath Raymond’s feet. Down nearly three-hundred meters he fell as the Earth swallowed him whole and sealed him in. Seconds later Raymond was entombed beneath thousands of tons of soil, barely able to move even his limbs within his dirt prison.

He was highly perturbed by his new situation; perhaps even slightly more than highly perturbed. In fact, Raymond was seething, angrier than he’d been in his entire life. Here he was, trying to fix the world, and now he was stuck underground having been blown up and buried by what he could only assume was a group of anti-UHC terrorists. Didn’t anyone understand what he was trying to do? Raymond’s brain furiously hurled these thoughts against the silent darkness of his restricted space.

Time crept by and nothing changed. As much as Raymond wriggled and writhed, he couldn’t manage to dislodge even the smallest bit of the compacted soil enclosing his body, which might have allowed at least one of his appendages to make a go of digging to freedom. Repeated attempts and repetitions of the repeated attempts proved fruitless. The more his struggles solidified his knowledge he was trapped, the more a cold, sick feeling of fear and hopelessness began to seep into his mind. Where was his staff? How long could he possibly survive like this? Hadn’t Chandra said he was just a normal human? Did the human origin of his earthen prison insulate him from the violence of suffocation and starvation?  Raymond had no answers to the questions his brain desperately scrambled to solve in the oppressive blackness of his subterranean confinement.

Time continued and nothing changed except Raymond’s anxiety. His mind slowly lost all higher functions as it was overwhelmed with a chemical cocktail usually reserved for animals running away from large predators. He couldn’t move and sleep came and went without notice. He ached from lack of nutrition, but his body didn’t wither. The alarms in his brain continued to ring, demanding immediate and decisive action. However as no action was possible, the only effect was an increasing paralysis of his rational thoughts. His panic mounted until it reached a peak where it remained both sustained and useless. Raymond’s mind was on fire with fear, but his body couldn’t react, so he remained still and stuck and blazing with distress. Finally, after what might easily have been days’ worth of hyperactive terror, his mind’s supply of his chemically driven horror seemed to be exhausted. He’d reached the heights of mortal fear and nothing had changed. He felt the absurdity of his extreme emotions shame him into a calm and embarrassed self-awareness.

Time swept by and Raymond was pacified. He now had the time and cognitive power to focus his thoughts. He’d been abandoned by everyone, his staff, his friends, even Nico. Everyone. No…not Nico, not Asher. They couldn’t! Or wouldn’t…and yet here he was, alone and trapped and helpless. He’d spared no ounce of his own energy to help every possible person. But where was his backup? Where was his rescue? How long had it been? Minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? How had no one come for him? They’d abandoned him, all of them. Why had he ever believed he could rely on anyone else? He was the only one who understood an individual’s absolute obligation to humanity; a commitment he could never abandon. It was what he was born to do, and he was alone up on his mountaintop. Or in this case down in his dirt pile. But his bitterness only reached as far as his skin where it was promptly suffocated and kept concealed. He felt petty and small and alone as the depth of his isolation pressed in on him on all sides.

Time passed Raymond with no change in his mind or his surroundings. He’d abandoned thought and hope. All that was left to him was continued existence.

Sometime later, a far off rumble slightly shifted Raymond’s familiar dirt. Suddenly everything felt different. The lumps were in different spots and the familiar intimacy of his soil now felt intensely alien. He momentarily longed for his former position before a startling thought crashed through the morass that’d filled the chambers of his mind: could he move an appendage in the shifted loam? Could he possibly? Nothing seemed atrophied or withered, he supposed the human violence associated with this burying had seen to the preservation of his body, so…perhaps he could move!?

Hope flared within his chest once more, a wild hope, a mad hope! He could save himself! He could do it! Things were different now! He could feel the foreign lumps as proof! So he tried his right arm. No, not the right arm, that didn’t work at all. However there were still three more limbs! Now the left. Well, maybe not the left either, but his legs were still untried, surely his legs! At least one! So the right leg was attempted with haste and desperation. No, that didn’t work either. Now the left leg was the only one remaining. Nothing would be so cruel, oh gods! This had to work! This had to! He couldn’t possibly bear the suffering of his dashed hope. There must be some benevolent force in the universe and this, his last hope, it must work! He tried. And nothing. Everything was exactly as it had been before, only the soil had shifted slightly. More time passed as Raymond’s brief hope died in the dark and his mind sank back within.

Time kept up its indefatigable march for the trapped man.

Later, another rumble and another shift in soil. Raymond barely noticed his hope approach as it demanded entrance outside the impregnable fortress of his shuttered brain. But animal instinct forced itself to the fore and his body tried its limbs. And…and look! Look at this now! His right arm, his left arm! And even his left leg! Three out of four! They could all move! And yes! Yes they could scratch at the dirt as well! And now he had made a slightly larger hole for his left hand! He could even pull it back a bit for the first time in…how long? How impossibly long?

Raymond scratched and scraped and now both arms were together. And then both his legs were moving freely. He clawed at the dirt, unaware of the pain he was inflicting on himself, only cognizant he was moving up. He ascended; always towards his head and away from where the dirt was pulled by gravity. Centimeter by centimeter he worked, terrified any rest would find him trapped once more. Eventually he collapsed, waking an indeterminate time later in an unnecessary panic. But it was not his nightmare and his digging could continue. He dug and he slept and dug some more, then slept, and then dug.

The ground reverberated once more, this time accompanied by a loud booming noise that seemed to come from everywhere. Raymond’s heart leapt! Perhaps he was not abandoned after-all! How foolish he’d been to doubt his companions. He didn’t deserve their friendship. His effort was redoubled as he scrabbled towards the noise, a feeling of fevered joy gathering strength within him. Only stopping now when absolute exhaustion prevented his limbs from moving, Raymond knew he was close. So incredibly close.

And then, voices. Shouts and screams and yells emanating from everywhere above him. Many minor booming noises, explosions it sounded like, and then he could hear running.  Soon there wasn’t only dirt surrounding his hand, but also air and broken rocks. Raymond audibly gasped and in doing so breathed in a great deal more mud than usual. He coughed and spluttered for five minutes. When he regained control he scraped away the final layer of dirt and broken gravel and whatever else might be keeping him from breaking through to the surface. His head emerged and he was hit in the face by a small, round rock that then bounced onto the soil in front of him. More than three but less than five seconds later, the small, round rock that had ricocheted off his face exploded, immediately displacing the remaining soil entrapping his body and sending his newly-freed corpse flying.

Raymond’s body landed a meter from the site of the explosion. Dazed and bewildered, he remained still and stared up at stars. A moment of peace seemed too much for the environment to bear as Raymond soon found himself being scooped-up by a giant earth-moving machine he’d failed to notice creeping up on his oblivious form. Lifted into the air along with a dislodged pile of the dirt he was resting on, Raymond tumbled over and over while attempting to extricate himself from the unwieldy bucket.  As the metal casing tilted upright, Raymond was jostled within by the accompanying dirt, which outweighed him several times over. He was in a giant cocktail mixer powered by the jerky motion of the machine. Just as his head was submerged under the heterogeneous mixture, his vision was illuminated by another explosion beneath him. Unlike the first, which had sent him flying, this explosion put him at ease by disabling the giant machine. Suspended four meters in the air, Raymond used the moment of abrupt stillness to drag his body over the side of the iron claw and, with the assistance of gravity, plunge back to the Earth.

On the ground even more disoriented than before, Raymond rolled onto his back to see another machine, similar in style to the first but dissimilar in purpose, dump a great load of soil directly onto his body. Encased in dirt once more but too tired and bewildered to bother with digging any further, Raymond fell asleep for the first time in ages.

Hours later, or some undisclosed and unknowable amount of time later, Raymond awoke feeling mildly less confused. The volume of noise surrounding him betrayed the closeness of his external environment and he was filled once more with clarity and purpose. Raymond broke through the relatively small mountain of dirt and resurfaced back into the night.

All around him he saw movement and commotion. There were hundreds of burned-out husks of giant digging machines, great craters in the earth, and everywhere fire and humans. Here a man was operating a machine tearing up deep chunks of earth. Then an explosion and the man abandoned the now burning machine to hop in another and continue his work. Elsewhere men who were hauling in new piles of dirt in an attempt to replace what the diggers had shifted had their own machines blown up in turn. The overall effect seemed to result in an embittered stalemate, with no side significantly adding to or subtracting from the overall quantity of soil in the hopelessly scarred and ruined square.

Raymond walked up to one of the diggers and introduced himself.

“Excuse me. I believe you might be finished. I’m Raymond Clock and I’m not trapped anymore.”

The man barely heard what Raymond said over the noise and explosions, so he ignored him and continued digging furiously.

Raymond, touched by the man’s commitment but exasperated with being ignored, grabbed him by the arm to get his attention and shouted in his ear, “I’m President Clock! I’m free!”

Startled by both the shout and the fact that Raymond’s iron grasp, strengthened through his lengthy self-extraction, kind of hurt, the man took a step backwards and finally took Raymond under consideration.

“You…wait you’re the President? But how? We’ve been at this for months and…”

“Months? Months???” Raymond questioned, taking a step back as if he’d been were struck by the man.

“Why, yes sir. This operation’s been underway since Mr. Rose and Ms. Leftiè found out where you were.”

“I…where are they now, Ms. Leftiè and Mr. Rose?”

“At the command center, right over there,” the man pointed to a burning tent that was being torn down and replaced with a new, non-burning tent.

“Thank you for all your help! I really appreciate it!” Raymond called back to the awestruck man who followed him in a daze as he strode across the battle of wills and over to a cluster of people struggling to wrangle flaming canvass.

“Break it down! Quickly! We need to get this structure up!” A familiar voice called from amidst the crowd.

Raymond’s eyes sought the face behind the voice. A moment later he was in front of Asher.

“Hi, Asher. I got out.”

“Move the! What? Raymond? Raymond! How in the hell? Raymond?” Asher stood agog at the grime-encrusted figure wearing more than a year’s worth of beard growth, “Where are your clothes?”

For the first time Raymond noted he was naked. His suit had deteriorated and been ripped to shreds in his climb to the surface. Fortunately the dirt was caked so thickly around his body that the casual observer could barely notice the President’s lack of clothes.

“Oh…I…well just one moment.” Raymond said abashedly as he beat out the fires consuming a bit of the tent canvass and wrapped the fragment around his least politically correct body parts.

“Now you look like a proper prophet,” Asher joked, collecting himself from his shock, “Poorly groomed and covered in shit.”

“Well you know how much I always enjoy looking the part,” Raymond smiled for the first time since his burial, “Where’s Nico?”

“Oh…umm well let’s see. What time is it?”

“It’s…I have no idea. Why would I know? I don’t even know what month it is. And why does the time matter?”

Asher grimaced, “Nico and I had a difference of opinion on how to get you out. I opted for this digging approach. It’s slow and those HFFE lofos are a pain, but I think we are, or were, turning the corner on them.”

“It doesn’t look like you’re turning any corners to me. How long have you been digging like this?”

“Something like…well, around eight or nine months I guess it’s been now. We organized and brought the equipment over as soon as we found out where you were. I admit I underestimated their organization and resolve, but they also underestimated how many people would volunteer to help get you out.”

“All these people are volunteers?” Raymond goggled, peering around at the hundreds of individuals battling valiantly to dig him out of his hole.

“They are! Doesn’t it renew your faith in humanity to watch them go at it?”

“Well…I suppose. I mean I did just spend a year buried underground…”

“Don’t be so ungrateful!” Asher scolded.

“Oh I’m not, I promise. It’s just…”

Raymond was interrupted by an increasingly loud whistling noise.

“What in the world?”

“There’s Nico, right on time.”

The bomb impacted within the ruined square, destroying every piece of digging equipment on both sides and sending the competing volunteers and lofos flying in all directions. When the smoke cleared a large crater of smoldering dirt was all that was left.

“Hey! It looks like Nico’s method works way better than yours!” Raymond prodded Asher.

“Looks that way, doesn’t it? We got three months into the dig and she was furiously agitated the whole time, demanding more volunteers and equipment and speed. She was ferocious, Raymond! Anyways, against my advice she decided to go another route. And so she restarted her grandfather’s business of left-handed war equipment.”

“She what? But she despises that crap!” Raymond gasped.

“She does, but she despises it less than she loves you, my friend. So she dusted out the old mothballed factories and built a few bombers for herself along with increasingly powerful explosives to drop from above. The problem is…”

Asher was interrupted by a second whistling and second explosion, this time detonating in the middle of the road just outside the rubble, sending dirt and debris flying into the original crater, filling the space it had just cleared.

“The problem is there aren’t that many left-handed bombardiers, and these ‘smart-bombs’ aren’t as accurate as all that anyways. So while it most definitely makes some holes, mostly it just…”

Another whistling and another explosion, this one causing the old church nearly fifty meters down a side street to collapse in on itself.

“Mostly it just destroys everything around us. The mayor of Copenhagen is irate. We’ve had to pay for damages all over the city.”

“I see. Well…at least I know she loves me?”

“Raymond, Nico’s destroyed half of Copenhagen because she loves you. You better appreciate that and not screw it up this time.”

“Never! Our relationship is perfect!”

Asher was skeptical, “Yeah, well I’ve heard that before. I hope I’m wrong, but you remember Genevieve Desjardins? She was crazy about you too and you were using pretty similar language at the time.”

“Yes, of course I remember, but that didn’t work out because she went back to Paris.”

“Alessandra Ribeiro?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Juliet Montgomery?”

“Yes, I know Asher.”

“Loveless Cartier-Montague?”

“Asher! I get it. Alright, but they all left me, just in case you forgot.”

“Bullshit, Raymond. They did leave you, but only after you made it absolutely impossible for anyone to stay with you. You overthought every detail of everything and…”

“Look, it’s different. I’m a different person. I’m older and I’ve got myself together mentally. I’ve got a handle on my life now.” Raymond insisted as he stood bedraggled and wild with his unkempt beard, covered from head to foot in muck from the depths of Copenhagen and draped in a seared corner of Asher’s tent.

Asher couldn’t help but smile, “Alright, anyways we’ll see. Enough of my nagging for now, we should probably do something about stopping this whole mess,” he said motioning to the still-clashing diggers and fillers, “Shouldn’t we?”

“I suppose so. And can you get Nico down here? But don’t tell her why! I want to surprise her. In the meantime, do you have a razor, a shower, and some clothes?”

Raymond was whisked away to Asher’s hotel, one of the few structures that’d not been impacted by the battle to unbury the President, where he could rid himself of the vestigial remains of his unpleasant year. As Raymond was preparing to reengage with his life, Asher passed word among the volunteer digging corps that the operation was shutting down and the area was to be left to the still-filling lofos. When questioned, Asher could only smile and promise the confused workers they would understand soon.

As the crowd disbursed, Asher’s phone rang with a call from Chandra, who’d stayed behind in DC to take care of Lucius and continue running her lab. She was overjoyed to hear the news of Raymond’s self-extraction, primarily as it allowed Asher to come home. Asking how Nico was taking the news, she reproached Asher for not immediately informing Raymond’s frantic significant other.

“She has suffered so much these months. Their relationship so recently stabilized and he was suddenly torn away from her for a year. Who knows what his brain convinced him of alone down there?”

“He seemed fine to me. The same old Raymond as always.” Asher brushed off her concerns, “Whatever issues he might have, Nico and I are perfectly capable of handling them.”

“Does he know yet? Did you tell him what’s been going on?”

“…No. I didn’t want to rush things. We’re going to have to do it in the right way so he doesn’t do anything rash. Let him at least clean himself off and have a few days of normalcy with Nico before we break it to him.”

“Do you honestly expect Raymond Clock to not check the news the first chance he gets? Did you send him to your hotel alone?”

“Well I thought…oh god! You’re right! I’ll call you back! I love you and Lucius!”

Asher called his driver to pick him up immediately and was soon racing to the hotel room where he could only pray Raymond had not yet turned on the television or picked up a newspaper. He attempted to dial Nico while in transit, but it went straight to voicemail. He left a frantic message explaining the situation and willed his vehicle to go faster, berating himself for his incompetence.

Finally arriving at the hotel, he rushed up to his suite only to find a pile of dirt and the charred tent canvass sitting in a heap on the bed. The television was on and showing dramatic scenes of the most recent school burned to the ground by HFFE forces.

Asher surveyed the scene and walked over to sit on the filthy bed.

“Well…shit.”

[1] Talking heads hailing from the former United States chalked-up the extra 15 minutes to American exceptionalism. Talking heads hailing from outside the former United States chalked-up the extra 15 minutes to American pigheadedness. Raymond chalked-up the extra 15 minutes to taking a wrong turn in the White House during his hostile takeover and ending up momentarily confused and delayed after a dramatic entrance into a West Wing broom closet.

[2] Raymond’s ten best ideas according to Raymond: 10. Humanistan 9. Sisyphium 8. The Raymondian Empire (though entirely a joke, it still deserves #8) 7. The Sapien Empire 6. Earth 2.0 5. The Democratic Republic of Humanistan (DRH) 4. Leftiè’s Luxury Civilization (LLC) (Nico was not amused) 3. A Pit-Stop In-Between Nothingness (APSIBN) (No one was amused, though Simon, a 19 year-old White House Intern who had just finished reading L’Étranger for his Philosophy 150 class, tacitly approved) 2. The Grotesque Global (By now no one was listening) 1. Humanistan (Raymond thought this idea was exceptionally clever (though he secretly liked the sound of Pax-Sapiana))

[3] Raymond initially rejected the inclusion of the word “Confederation” as it brought to his mind the horrors of the American Civil War and slavery. The rest of the group listened to his objection, considered his opinion, and, after an adequate period of respectful deliberation, told him he was stupid.

[4] Entirely a PR move as healthcare was frankly unnecessary, though many expectant parents continued to visit now-deserted hospitals during the appointed time of birth. Even without the accompanying pain, a living room floor decorated with placenta made for an untoward scene and an unpleasant post-delivery scrub for overworked housewives.

[5] The only requirement to qualify for an endowment was to present or mail a proposal to a panel of experts chaired by Nico. This panel swiftly earned the popular nickname “The Rubber-Stamp Council” for their penchant to approve over 99% of the projects crossing their desk. The figure would have been higher if Nico never left the room for bathroom breaks. During these opportunities the panel, knowing their broad-minded chairwoman would force a packet through were she present, would hurriedly deny a few of the worst ideas they’d surreptitiously slipped under their chairs.

[6] Chandra, given the budget of a large nation, swiftly assembled a crack team of top scientists and researchers in an unprecedented and extraordinarily well-financed probe into the depths of every scientific field known to mankind. Major new discoveries were a daily occurrence and by the end of the first quarter the team was ready to launch newly genetically engineered and specifically tailored humans into space aboard a moderately sub-light speed spacecraft to settle formerly inhospitable planets of the Milky Way Galaxy.

[7] This indefinite clause led to a dramatic surge in “black-market education” systems in which shady teachers of questionable qualifications hosted knock-off American Political Economy in the 21st Century lectures and classes on The Art of Zhooshing in dingy basement classrooms, handing out completion certificates for any unscrupulous scholar in need of a credit.

[8] Many of these shanty towns had the ill-luck of being built on fault lines, near volcanic activity, in tornado-alleys, on sandy cliffs, eroding beach heads, or any number of newly cheap parcels of land. With the emphasis on information, the real-estate market had seen a dramatic shift, with home-buyers taking things like sustainability, weather, climate, and frequency of natural disasters into account. Previously heavily occupied land now lay abandoned as increasingly informed citizens moved their homes and families to locations without a history of frequent wildfires or landslides. The lofo community took advantage of these incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, rock-bottom deals and moved in.

[9] One of the most influential of these super-diets was based on the work of Dr. Hubert Slovache, who’d become something of a prominent citizen within the prime Sierra Nevada Forest lofo reservation. The Dr. Slovache Diet held that the government had been lying about nutrition for years and phrases like, “An apple a day will keep the doctor away” had originated as propaganda to control the citizenry’s eating habits. Rather than eat the food promoted by “the authorities,” Dr. Slovache advocated a more holistic lifestyle based on whole-body wellness. His research pointed out the correlation between humanity’s ancestors leading happier and healthier lives and eschewing “modern” foods such as cooked meats, baked grains, or ripe vegetables. The diet advised eating food in its immediate form the moment you find it, with no unnatural human tampering. Hundreds of smarmily superior lofos lost pound after pound due to this revolutionary regimen and the parasites it frequently lodged in their dietary tract. That they only kept their lives due to NFVS was of minor consequence during bikini season.

[10] AKA “the Devil’s Tutelage”

[11] AKA babysitting

[12] As an officially certified CTSMSoV® holy® site, The House of the Revelation® had become a major stop on the Official CTSMSoV®  Capital City Pilgrimage Tour®.  The tour Included the ruins of Raymond’s former residence in Georgetown (now a frozen yogurt shop), the Thai restaurant where Raymond witnessed the first news reports on NFVS and miraculously fixed the establishment’s window (with Nico’s money), and the rebuilt New Anacostia Red Roof Inn located in the now charming and trendy district repopulated by trust-fund fueled ageing-hipsters-with-children looking for a nice, authentic place to move before it’s spoiled by trust-fund fueled ageing-hipsters-with-children. Money magazine ranked New Anacostia as, “One of the best places to live in The Country Formerly Known As The United States,” calling the former slum, “A miraculously transformed treasure.” Total Package Cost: $156.00 (price does not include meals).

[13] The new slur for a sect of radical anarchists who believed personal wellbeing was paramount and humanity should “eschew the false narrative construct of collective wellbeing.” The sect, popular on college campuses that specialized in educating students who struggled to manage the demands of their parents’ wealth, held that every being held the inalienable right to be viewed and treated by others in the way the being itself defined. Personal choices and expressions were sovereign decisions made by sovereign entities and held more value than law, which, according to practitioners, was an immoral construct imposing the will of the collective on the sovereign individual. Some members chose to express their sovereignty by creating vertically and horizontally integrated child labor-fueled supply chains. Others expressed themselves through lawsuits against telemarketing agents who deadworded their 20th pronoun incarnation, “snu-21” (e.g. I saw Becky the other day, and boy did snu-21 get faaaaaaaaaat.”). The group believed the primacy of the personal over the collective was absolute and considered themselves word warriors, manipulating language to bend reality to their indisputably correct will.

[14] In which Israeli settlers would break into the homes of Palestinian families, construct a make-shift home in their living room, and claim the land as theirs.

[15] According to some intelligence reports, the organization was merely a regrouped AFTKATAWHKALFOEL,WGRAAFOEFWKWTWDASBQ. These analysts held that the group had prudently replaced “Americans” and “America” with “Humans” and “Earth” in order to increase the pool from which to draw potential recruits. Another school of thought within the intelligence gathering community disagreed with this assessment and posited that HFFE was an entirely new organization, pointing to significant changes in the group’s structure, such as replacing the words “Americans” and “America” with “Humans and “Earth”. These analysts, knowing of Senator Stovall’s (R – OK) dislike for the ethnics, felt this was solid evidence that AFFA would never embrace the liberal, multicultural membership policies of HFFE.

The History of Warfare

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting one another with whatever they could find.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting one another with objects they made out of whatever they could find.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting and shooting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals they found or farmed.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running and riding around hitting and shooting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals the found or farmed .

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running and riding and flying around shooting and bombing and hitting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals they found or farmed.

Now.

War is a bunch of dudes of all genders working in a vast industry built to support small groups of dudes running and riding and flying around killing and capturing whoever their government orders anywhere in the world and other dudes of all genders sitting in rooms around the world using technology to fly bombing drones or spy drones somewhere else in the world to bomb or spy on whatever their government orders.

And.

Human progress marches on.

The Pile – Chapter Fifteen

Chandra, Nico, and Asher were escorted into the Oval Office by a put-out White House minder. Once inside, they found Raymond, torn and stained in the last outfit they’d seen him in a few hours earlier, lounging on one of the office couches as casually as they’d ever witnessed Raymond lounge.

Nico, filled with both relief and anger, broke from the group and strode towards him shouting, “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you tell us it was you ‘requesting our immediate presence at the White House’ at four in the morning? We were terrified when we heard what happened at Martha’s Vineyard. The reports are so confused and the press is frothing. They’re saying somehow it…it sank? We thought, or I thought…”

“I’m sorry,” Raymond opened his eyes, apologized, and stood to embrace her, “I didn’t think you’d worry too much about my safety and…well frankly I’ve been insanely busy since I got back into DC an hour ago.”

“So…you’re safe. And…in the Oval Office. And…where’s the President?” Asher inquired.

“I’m not entirely sure yet but I think I might be the President. Or, well I don’t know what to call it because clearly I wasn’t elected. But I thought calling it anything else might make my leadership feel unfamiliar, which would make everything harder. Even if I wasn’t elected, calling me President might be more comfortable for everyone. The powers of the office and appointment process are a bit different, but I figure if it’s the same word people might feel better about the whole thing. “

“Raymond, what are you talking about?” Nico asked, taking a seat on his couch.

“You can leave, if it’s alright by you,” Raymond dismissed the group’s escorts, who happily backed out of the room and closed the handsome wooden doors behind them. He turned back to his companions and spoke with no-little amount of embarrassment, “So I sort of took over the country I guess.”

“You just decided this? When?” Asher asked.

“Well…I was pretty sick of the whole thing, you know? Like, I went to Martha’s Vineyard and had this confrontation with a group of awful people who, I mean I understand they are scared of change and their psychology and all but, god, they were just so awful! But I was going to make peace. I was going to stand there and let them try to kill me as much as they wanted, but I was going to make peace no matter how hard it was. But then, before I could really even try, another group of equally awful people decided to blow everything up. So we all sunk, but none of us died and all of it was stupid and awful. I floated for a while on a plank from a broken table waiting to be rescued and all I could think about was how hard both sides were trying to get around not being able to use violence to do the same stupid and awful things they’ve always done. Those people are everyone else in the whole world, or at least it feels like they’re everyone else. Or, maybe just everyone else is complacent or tolerant and content to just let those groups of other people carry on in whatever way they want, with all their stupidity and awfulness. And so, basically what’s the point of trying to convince anyone of any better way?  No one knows any better way because there’s never been a better way and as long as those people are there and, even when they literally can’t even use violence, they still do everything in their power to blow up and sink and destroy everything.”

He was feverish; his words confused and repetitive with significantly less contrived elegance.

Nico began, “But, Raymond all we can do is try to convince…it may be an uphill battle, like Sisyphus, but…”

“I don’t want to be Sisyphus anymore! What no one is saying is while we’re feeling very righteous and noble and philosophical in our views while we try to educate and convince all these complacent, tolerant, and content people that there’s another way to live in this world other than having to put up with these stupid and awful people and letting them continue doing all the shit they’ve been doing for all of human history to make this planet full of horrors, what no one is saying is the horrors are happening right now. And those aren’t theories or philosophical debates or academic ideas, those are real people experiencing real suffering and being blown up and sunk and destroyed by awful people every single second, perpetuating our infinite cycles of violence. Balancing out there on the water trying to twist myself into a shape to keep as much of my body out of the cold as I could manage, I thought how silly it all was, and how silly and selfish and idiotic I’ve been. The second I found out I could put a stop to all this, why didn’t I? Because I hate violence? I’m a pacifist? Human existence is violence. Our essence, the core of our being, is constructed for and calibrated towards violence. We don’t know how to function without it. And by pretending my personal philosophy protects me from the sins of my fellow man, that somehow I, as a pacifist and human being who has not directly committed any violence, am not equally culpable in my species’ crimes; that’s the greatest lie I can tell myself. So I’m going to start using my violence, because humanity always uses violence in the end. But I’m going to use my violence exclusively to force humanity to see there’s a better way; a way to live peacefully. Even if that peace isn’t a choice, I will be the one who break our cycles.”

Raymond’s eyes were shining with the fervor of his convictions. The remainder of the group became increasingly tense as the flood of his ramblings washed over them.

Asher spoke first, “But, Raymond, how are we showing the way to peace through violence? This isn’t the way we’d discussed. There’s a path…a method to doing all this. And you know I was the first one to call for waking up and recognizing what needed to be done in reality as opposed to sitting around debating philosophy…but this…”

“Yes, I know you were. And I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you sooner. I was so caught up in my own self-righteous ideas. But now I see and so I act. And from here we can go any direction we choose.”

“No, we can’t Raymond,” Nico cut in, “Don’t you see that decisive action doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing the right thing? Taking action simply because you have the power at that moment doesn’t mean you’re making things better. We have no idea how your actions will shift the world. Humanity is too complicated and unpredictable for these sudden, unplanned jolts. I understand it’s frustrating and horrifying to see all that suffering and know you have the power to act and have an effect, and I’m sure it feels like the right thing to do. Once you act and see the immediate and instantly gratifying results of your actions, it’s so easy to feel satisfied, and maybe for the first time feel accomplished because you can observe these immediate macro level changes rather than the imperceptible micro-shifts we’d been working on before. But, this isn’t the way to do it. Taking these actions…we have to plan and consider and research and then decide. If not, we have no idea what road we’re taking humanity down. This instant gratification; is it any better than the actions of those ‘stupid and awful’ men? Why do you think they do what they do? And…why do you think I made those mistakes in Anacostia?”

The light in Raymond’s eyes diminished slightly as he looked around at his friends, “But…I feel like we’ve all been living in a fantasy world. Like some naïve paradise where we can fix humanity with soft solutions like education and technology and political reforms. I…I don’t know if I believe we can anymore. Maybe sometimes you have to kill people.”

Chandra entered the conversation, “You do not have to do anything. We can say killing is an expedient solution to an immediate problem, and we might even say in some scenarios killing is essential for self-preservation. There are humans with mental diseases or twisted philosophies or chemically-manipulated brains who will kill without a moment of hesitation. But to say we ever must kill is a falsehood. If we kill to accomplish a goal, let us say we killed to accomplish that specific goal, even if that goal is simple survival. Let us never delude ourselves into believing we do not have a choice.”

“That’s the same naïve logic!” Raymond cried, “Semantic discussions are well and good for academia, but when we’re dealing with real life it means nothing. Do we tell an invaded nation they should comfort themselves with the reality of their choices? As their cities are pillaged and women raped, as always happens during an invasion, should they remind themselves they kill to ‘accomplish a specific goal’ of stopping the pillaging and raping? It’s such a useless thought!”

Chandra responded calmly, “Raymond, you are saying it is useless to think. You are condemning our species to a descriptive state, one where we are never anything more than petty, selfish, rampaging beasts reacting to external stimuli with minimal internal control. Perhaps we have been such. Perhaps some of us still are. And perhaps some of us still are some of the time. But I believe you have lost sight of our nuances and potential. Action simulates clarity by removing nuance; decisiveness requires sharp contrasts. However when you speak of naïveté, I think perhaps it is the action-oriented who are naïve, even though their worldview makes them believe otherwise. The righteousness of certainty, particularly when it justifies the death of another human being, does wonders for the regard one holds for one’s own sophistication.”

Agreeing, Nico added, “And is it in you to think we’re nothing more than the beasts Chandra described? If we’re not capable of anything better, why try to improve the world for humanity at all? Don’t we deserve the world we create for ourselves? I know that you believe, despite what you’re saying, we have hope and there’s the potential within us to be better. Not just one person, one family, one tribe, or city, or state, or nation. Rather all of humanity is capable. That is the least naïve perspective I can imagine because it’s the hardest road to walk. We know how futile every action appears when compared against the grand sum of human suffering, but recognizing that and taking action anyway is the most important decision you can make. Perhaps you’re tired of being Sisyphus, and you think it’s naïve to hope for anything better as you push your boulder, but it’s just as naïve to believe there’s no hope. Eternity’s a long time. Why condemn yourself and humanity to hopelessness when neither you nor anyone else knows what will happen?”

Raymond sank back onto the couch and closed his eyes in deep contemplation. Minutes passed and the others began looking to one another in concern. Nico warily crept to Raymond’s side and placed her hand on his shoulder. Immediately his eyes snapped back open and he stood up, flustered and bewildered.

“What? What is…oh I’m sorry. I think I fell asleep. I’m so tired, I haven’t slept at all.”

“Raymond, did you hear what we said?”

“Yes of course, about eternity and all that. And, right. I get it. I suppose you’re all right and I was being a bit…imprudent with all this decisiveness and condemnation and hopelessness. But it sure feels like I’m doing the right thing, you know? It’s naïve to hope, less naïve to give up hope and assume all humans are base animals, and the least naïve to recognize you should probably give up hope but still try to make the world better anyways?”

“I don’t know whether we should keep talking about what is and isn’t naïve. It’s more a question of what type of world you want to live in and how we get there. If we gave it all up and became nihilists, I don’t know what we’d work on. We could always be wrong and blowing up the world is the best option after all,” Nico attempted levity, “Now why don’t you get some actual sleep and tomorrow you can tell us how you took over the United States in an hour.”

“I like that idea. Want to sleep with me in the President’s bed?”

“That sounds marvelous, though I hope they changed the sheets with the administration. Chandra, Asher, I’m sure there have to be other beds somewhere…”

Asher smiled, “We’ll manage. We should probably get back to the safe-house to make sure our test-tubed bundle-of-joy is alright. Call us tomorrow when Raymond’s had a decent rest and is feeling slightly less megalomaniacal…or send the Secret Service to pick us up, whichever is more convenient.”

The next afternoon found Nico walking into the President’s bedroom with a pair of lunch plates, waking Raymond from his refreshing slumber.

“I’m shocked at all the people still working like nothing’s happened!” Nico expressed as she made her way to the bed to sit beside Raymond and hand him lamb curry.

“Yeah, hardly anyone seemed too upset after I put out that I was doubling their salaries if they stayed on for a seamless transition.  Mmm, curry!” Raymond quickly consumed the plate’s contents, realizing only after finishing how he’d forgotten his manners, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m so rude…I just remembered all of a sudden that I hadn’t eaten since I left the safe-house…”

Nico smiled happily, pleased to see Raymond was comfortable enough around her to mistakenly drop his formal mannerisms every now and then, “Please, don’t be sorry! I’m happy to see you eat with such vigor.”

Raymond blushed, “I’m trying to be more relaxed, really! But I feel like trying to relax just turns into awkwardly fake relaxing, which makes me much less actually relaxed.”

“I know, I know. You can do whatever you want, fake relaxing or real relaxing, whichever makes you more comfortable.” She hesitated before adding, “Raymond, I’m really happy with us, with our relationship. I think we’re doing great.”

Raymond propped himself up in the large, luxurious bed and looked at Nico inquisitively.  “You mean our relationship is structured correctly? You enjoy its power dynamics, or…”

“I think we’ve achieved a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop of connections and relationship infrastructure, and I’m really in love with you.”

A cessation of all previous brain activity greeted this specific wave pattern of vibrations as they filtered through Raymond’s mind. According to his best guess as to his own state of affairs, he loved Nico as well. But he didn’t trust his best guess or any self-assessment of his own state of affairs, so offering forth an honest affirmation of love was tricky. He attempted to relate this in what he hoped was a timely manner after a new type of vulnerability was revealed by the woman sitting across from him on the President’s bed.

“I love you too, Nico,” he said.

“I know. And I know what it means for you to say that. And I know that your brain is analyzing what you just said, wondering if it’s completely accurate or whether you’re fooling yourself or lying to me or fooling yourself about fooling yourself or lying to me about lying to me. And that’s okay, because those thoughts are part of why I’m in love with you. You shine beyond your neurosis, however thick they are, and can make the choice to leave your confinement anytime. Keep talking to me when you feel overwhelmed and slowly build a reality for yourself where you learn how to lead your neurosis rather than the other way around.”

Raymond’s brain looked for a flaw or an escape or a trap. Why was she saying this to him?

“I understand how lost and battered by the world you feel. You rescued me from my cynicism and half-experienced life and I think I can, I really think I can, help reintroduce you to loving yourself without reservation. It’s terrifying, but let’s be terrified together!”

Before Raymond could react in the only way he knew how, a hurried knock rapped at their door.

“Yes, please come in!” Nico called.

A frightened looking White House staffer entered and skittered over to the side of their bed, “Umm, good afternoon sir, Mr. President? Mrs…President?”

“I’m not sure I’m going with “President” and we aren’t married. And even if we were I’d never be so chauvinistic as to suggest she abandon her identity and last name in favor of mine,” Raymond smiled kindly at the staffer and then at Nico, who rolled her eyes.

“Oh, well then…Sir? There’s an issue that requires your immediate attention. If it’s your prerogative to get dressed after you do so I will escort you to the Situation Room.”

“My pleasure. Could you also have someone call Asher Rose and Chandra Sen at our house in Alexandria and…or rather just send a car for him. Or call him and send a car, actually. Oh and I don’t have any clothes other than the tatters I came here in, do you have any spare shirts, pants, belts, ties, jackets, socks, and shoes?”

“The Preside…former President should have some clothes here…though he was quite a bit larger.”

“I’ll just have to make due I suppose. If you’ll excuse me, I’m naked under these blankets.”

Forty-five minutes later Raymond emerged wearing a dark blue suit three sizes too large and cinched up to his waste by a belt containing a roughly punctured hole miles away from its machine-made brethren.

The gathered aides stifled their laughter.

“I suppose this is the best I can do for now,” Raymond grinned, “Now let’s go check out the situation!”

As Nico fell in beside the group, one of the aides objected, “I’m sorry but ma’am, you do not have the security clearance to…”

“Oh rubbish!” Raymond said, laughing, “Nico Leftiè, by the authority granted by…whatever I am, I hereby dub thee Ms. Nico Leftiè, Really High Security Clearance Holder. There,” he continued, turning to the objecting aide, “Does that work?”

“Well…Mr. Presiden…Sir, We have protocols and…”

“You were part of a pretty bad government.” Raymond responded. He moved forward alone before remembering he didn’t know which way to go, “Now please show me where the Situation Room is so I can get to work.”

The cavalcade arrived at the highly secured briefing room to join a cluster of bewildered military generals and admirals as well as the heads of various important lettered departments and agencies.

“What’s up?” Raymond asked.

“Who are…where’s the President?” one of the men called out.

“Oh, you don’t know? Who knows?” Raymond asked, turning to the closest aide.

“We decided it would be best if you told people directly. But there are always leaks.”

“Oh yeah! That’s a really good idea! Alright then,” Raymond announced, “My name is Raymond Clock and if it’s alright with everyone, though probably also even if it’s not, though I really hope you will all hear me out and we can get through this turbulent period together, but I understand if some of you have moral qualms with the situation, which I would be more than happy to discuss anytime!. But…anyways, I’m the new leader or whatever of the United States of America.”

The highest ranking members of America’s defensive and offensive capabilities stood in stunned silence.

Another voice called from somewhere in the room, “Is this a joke? Where’s the President?”

“Well, I was hoping Asher Rose and Chandra Sen would join us so I didn’t have to repeat…ahh Hey Asher! Hi Chandra! Perfect timing! I hope you had a pleasant ride!” Raymond called to his friends as the slid into the back of the room in front of the highly-distressed minders from much earlier that morning.

“Raymond, why are we in the Situation Room? What’s going on? We had to force our way in.” Asher responded with an edge of annoyance.

“Damn it all, by the power vested in me I now name you both Cleared or whatever it is you need to be in here. Anyways, I was just starting to explain to all these lovely people how we got here. So,” he shifted his focus back to the whole group, “As you might have noticed, I’m not the previous President. In fact, I’m probably not even a President at all, though I’m still unsure on that point…”

“Just be the President, Raymond! Deal with semantics later!” Nico yelled at him.

“Fine, fine. Okay, I’m the new President, but obviously I wasn’t elected…”

“How did you get in here?! Where’s the Secret Service?” voices from the crowd interrupted him.

“Right!” Raymond shouted over them, “I’m getting there, hold your horses! So the thing is I’m the only human in the world not infected with NFVS.”

“That’s impossible! It’s not a disease, it’s a state of being!” came a response.

“Oh hey Chandra, look at that! I see we have another Believer in the crowd! Well, okay, state of being, or disease, or whatever it is, it doesn’t affect me at all. Which means I can still use violence.”

“Lies! Prove it! You’re lying!”

“I’ve been punching a lot of noses recently and don’t really want to punch any more, but if I have to punch another nose to prove my point, I will. So who wants their nose punched?”

The crowd was silent until a red-faced admiral volunteered, “I’ll do it!”

“Great! Please step over here, sir!”

“What? I didn’t say anything!” The admiral spluttered.

“Didn’t you just?” Raymond asked, “Didn’t everyone just hear him volunteer?”

“It’s the Secretary of the Army, he’s a ventriloquist on the side and does this stupid thing all the time,” the Secretary of the Air Force responded, “Dammit Bob, can’t you be serious for once?”

“Screw you, Ronald. You always were a god damned Blue Falcon.” the head of the CIA seemed to say in a deeper voice than anyone would’ve expected to emanate from her diminutive form.

“Alright, alright,” Raymond calmed the bestirred bureaucrats and officials, “If the Secretary of the Army wants to joke around, it looks like he’s the one who volunteers. Come on up here, Mr. Secretary.”

The crowd parted and a short, balding man wearing his heavily-medaled dress-blues was pushed forward.

“Aww come on guys! Fine, fine. Get it over with, I’ve done combatives.”

Raymond wound up and delivered a well-struck blow to the middle of the Secretary of the Army’s bulbous nose, causing the man to fall backward and yowl with pain.

“YEOWWCH!! Oh my god! That hurt!” he cried, “Does someone have a tissue?”

The room dropped into silence once more as someone handed a tissue to the stricken Secretary and Raymond continued, “Well that’s done. I had to do the same thing to the President when I got here and asked him to get out of town to prevent any confusion. I believe by now he should be back at his ranch in Texas starting his relaxing new retirement. His staff has been kind enough to stay on to make this transition as painless as possible. I’m happy to accept resignations, however I’m equally happy to keep things as they are and move forward. To help persuade you to say, I’d ask you to consider that we are now the only country in the world capable of violence. We will make an announcement to the citizens of America soon.”

At these words the eyes of every general, admiral, agency head, undersecretary, and aide gleamed with the light of true believers. Nico, Chandra, Asher, and Raymond smiled at one another knowing they’d won.

“Now what’s this urgent business we’re all here for?”

The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a reedy old woman with an unauthorized purple patch over her left eye, an affectation no-one in the fifteen years since she’d lost her eye at the Battle of Iguazu Falls[1] had ever had the internal fortitude to tell her violated military regulations, stepped out of the crowd and handed Raymond a folder marked TOP SECRET.

Raymond saw the words and chuckled, “You really do that? Wow, that’s so stupid! I feel like I’m in a stupid movie.”

“Sir, Mr. President, this is the full report from Operation Atlantis, the operation to take down the AFFA cell operating out of Martha’s Vineyard. During the operation I regret to inform you…”

“I know what happened! I was there!” Raymond shouted with a sudden passion, “I saw the idiocy of the decision-making process of the previous administration. No more! We’re done!”

“But sir…the terrorists escaped. We must…”

“We must do nothing! Let them escape! What can they do other than bomb us every once and a while and annoy a lot of people?”

“That…that’s too much and unacceptable…with our new arsenal and firepower…”

“You mean MY firepower, right? General Masalajammer, I’m not going to go out and kill these men. We’ve got better things to do, like getting the rest of the world on board.”

This pronouncement led to mass confusion in the small room.

“We don’t need the rest of the world!”

“The Chinese will betray us first chance they get! You can never trust a Chinese, that’s what my dad always said!”

“The Russians will never play ball! Those Russkies are cold-blooded killers, that’s what my mom always said!”

“Screw the Danes! What did they ever do for anyone!? Never pet a Great Dane in heat! That’s what my step-uncle-twice-removed on my mother’s side always said!”

“STOP! Be quiet! All of you!” Raymond shouted, silencing the commotion, “I thought it would be a good idea to keep the old-hands close for your expertise, but clearly I was mistaken. How can any of you begin to conceive of the world we’re building? Get out! Get out of this city!”

“But sir, my pappy used to say the Moroccans need to be…”

“OUT!”

He kicked some and shoved others. He even punched a few extra noses just to make a point[2]. Eventually the room was emptied of the mewling mass of officials, leaving only Chandra, Nico, Asher, President Raymond and the loyal White House staffers.

“Well that soured rather quickly.” Asher joked, trying to cheer a fuming Raymond.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. They’re the people who got us here! I need to remember my Freire.”

Nico comforted him, “Don’t worry about it. It would have been nice to have them, but I understand why you’re so upset. They’re gone, we’re here. Let’s go set up this big announcement.”

Raymond looked up from his brooding, “I…yes. That’s a good idea. Let’s do that.”

“I couldn’t sleep when I got home so I typed up your speech. Give it a read and let me know what you think,” Asher beamed as he handed a pile of papers to Raymond, who took the pages slowly.

“What’s wrong?” Nico asked him.

“It’s really just us, isn’t it? We’re it? There’s no one else?”

Nico sighed, “No, it’s not just us, Raymond. There’re plenty of great and diverse people in the world, maybe not as specifically talented in what we’re doing right now as you or Chandra in science or Asher in…well everything, or even myself in… I don’t know, being rich and empathetic with my power?” Nico laughed and continued, “But they’re better in plenty of other ways. Or not better, because that doesn’t mean anything, just different and diverse and worthwhile for the trillion nuances that make them interesting people. This isn’t some Ayn Rand ‘we’re the titans of society’ thing. So get that out of your mind now. There ARE other people in the world Raymond, they’re just not taking into consideration the way you think they should be living. But take knowing me or Chandra or Asher as proof that if you’re lucky enough to already meet us in your short life span, there must be plenty more wonderful people out there, all over the world, billions of them, that you haven’t met. And they’re worth working hard for to fix this world. Not just the ones we like though, because the ‘bad’ ones are merely a product of the constructs they were born into. So all those MBs, and racists, and war-mongers, and hate-filled idiots you despise, we can make the world better for them too. That’s also how you prove them wrong. Show them the world can be a better place and maybe they’ll realize they don’t have to think and live the way they’ve been tricked into thinking they’ve got to live. Don’t for one second believe we’re the only worthwhile people around, because not only is it untrue, it’s never something a worthwhile person would think. We just happen to be in a pretty unique position right now with a pretty unique skill-set and lots of resources between the four of us. Let’s not confuse our privilege for anything other than an increased potential for effective action. But really deeply considered and deliberated action, because that’s what the world needs and deserves.”

Raymond goggled at her, “Wow…wow, I really do love you!”

Nico smiled, “You’d better. That was a pretty good speech and you can’t do this without me.”

“Holy shit, Nico, why didn’t you give that speech earlier?” Asher chided her playfully.

“Well you’re not Raymond and you can’t single handedly destroy the world, can you?” Nico jabbed back, “I let you have your delusions as long as they didn’t go too far. Don’t worry, Chandra and I had a plan if you ever did.”

Chandra grinned broadly, “Who would we be if we did not have a plan to rein you in if you required reining?”

Asher was mockingly gobstruck, “Would you listen to this? I never! We’re just a pair of playthings for these two. Of course they didn’t know about our super-secret plan regarding them, now did they?”

“Plan? What pla…Oh! The plan!” Raymond said, catching on too late.

“Thanks, buddy.” Asher joked.

One of the long-forgotten aides cleared her throat, bringing the group back to the reality of the Situation Room.

Asher snapped back to work, “Oh yes, well we probably shouldn’t keep standing around like a bunch of idiots smiling at one another. His Majesty President Raymond the First, if I could make a suggestion to his Grace, might I recommend finding some clothes that fit before you announce to the world you’re its new violent dictator? You look a bit overwhelmed by that suit.”

“I need time to practice the speech anyways. Do you guys want to go shopping and get a bite to eat? It might be nice to do something kind of normal for the first time in…almost a year?”

“I’m just shocked people have enough discipline to do things like shop.” Nico marveled as the group moved out of the room.

“Never underestimate the power of social inertia. It’s amazing how different the world can become while human culture clings to its artifices. Familiarity’s a hell of a construct.” Asher waxed.

The happy party, with their now-permanent tail of aides, left the White House and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue in search of a fitting outfit for a ruler the world didn’t know it had.

[1] Waged during the height of the War on Drugs and Illegal Drug ParaphernaliaTM between America and the rest of the Americas. The war began after every other nation on both continents collectively decided they’d had it with America’s repressive drug policy.  Though the central grievance is now dismissed and generally viewed as “complete poppycock” by victorious historians, according to losing historians and the rest of the world, America’s indefinite War on Drugs perpetuated cycles of trauma, violence, and instability and allowed the United States to violate the sovereignty of weaker nations nearly at will. THE America, with heavy assistance from mysterious groups of well-funded, well-armed native freedom fighter armies within each combatant nation, won the war handily and turned the governments of the losing nations over to their new local allies.

[2] Raymond, cognizant he’d only punched the noses of white men thus far, decided diversity in all things was vital and made sure to punch the noses of as many minority women as he could find. Unfortunately there weren’t many. He made a note of this and decided it was one of the first things he’d change.