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.

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