Achievement

They were prepared for the exam. Despite myriad recent distractions, the shows, the clubs, the book groups, a brief jaunt down to Argentina with the crew, they were prepared. They’d studied hard, committing their time and energy to their ideal self. They would win. They would achieve. They would gain fame and fortune and be praised for their greatness. This was their fate.

From the womb, they’d been soothed by Mozart and fed proper food in proper portions of vitamins and minerals. They’d gone to the proper pre-pre-pre school, the proper pre-pre school, the proper pre-school, and certainly the proper schools, until college. It was in their choice for college they demonstrated their individuality. The path they selected for themselves from the available paths laid out by one of their pre-college counselors was both bold and alternative.

Rather than Harvard, they chose Oxford, demonstrating unique wisdom and foresight. They knew a Harvard diploma would set expectations high for future employers, minimizing any delta between expectations and performance. A small delta meant a small impression. And they refused to settle for small impressions. Oxford was equally respected, but more exotic in New York, creating mental space in future supervisors for larger deltas.

They walked into the examination room. It was half-full and half-lit, as if a building employee had forgotten to flip a second lightswitch. They felt embarrassed for the organization, a think tank on the cutting edge of innovative brainstorming techniques. While relatively new on the scene, the organization was exceptionally well-funded, connected, and positioned. They had boldly picked this company during a consultation with one of their career strategists earlier that month.

They sat down at an empty desk facing a blank wall. They were a few minutes early, as always, and began to meditate away any lingering anxiety. Mid-breath, the surface of their desk switched on and a legal memo appeared.

They’d signed plenty of NDA’s, and one was as pointless as the next. Everyone talked to their friends, and their friends were extremely successful, enterprising, and connected people who’d told them to expect some trendy mind tricks during the organization’s screening exam. No problem, they were a broad thinker. They signed their NDA.

Behind them, in the back of the room, a voice spoke.

“Has everyone signed the NDA?”

Those who were seated facing the front of the room turned to see a pale face in a navy blue baseball cap address them from a small hole in the wall.

“Please don’t turn. Sit down. You have 15 minutes to answer our screening questions.”

They were confused but compliant. They sat at the clean desk ready to begin whatever challenge was set before them. The surface lit up and options appeared.

“Take test?”

They pressed the red “Yes” with their finger and the screen changed. At the same time, on two walls, projections of YouTube videos, one titled “Maurice Ravel – Bolero (1928) Electronic by Doxent Zsigmond (A=432Hz),” and another, “Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970) – full album” appeared on two of the blank walls, their discordant noise filling the dim room. They rolled their eyes.

“Test instructions: Please think about and respond to each question.”

They thought this was overly simplistic, but did not dwell. They pressed the purple “Start.”

“Question 1: Who are you?”
A: A human
B: A nationalist
C: A being
D: A mammal

They were taken aback. They’d taken strange personality tests with strange questions before, most recently at the best career services center in the country run by Monty Williams’ father, but this wasn’t the same. They’re screener questions, they thought as they selected the most reasonable answer. They noted nervous giggles around them as the music volume ticked up.

“Question 2: Where are you?”

A: In a room
B: In a city
C: In a galaxy
D: The same place as everything else

They were starting to get it, they thought. They’d read about these questions. They weren’t real questions, they were designed to confuse and disorient to test mental flexibility and adaptation. They thought they were so tricky, with their stupid music and quasi-intellectual bullshit, but they were prepared. They pressed their finger to the screen.

“Question 3: What is the capital of London?”

A: England
B: London
C: United Kingdom
D: Edinburgh

They definitely got it now. These were mental sabotage, designed to inflict self-doubt in overconfident egos. They’d heard these techniques from psychological operations professionals themselves, so they were well prepared. They selected their answer confidently.

“Question 4: What would you change about yourself if you were immortal?”

A: Nothing
B: Everything
C: Some things
D: Specific things

This annoyed them. What was this question supposed to reveal? Where was the meat? They’d prepared! They wanted to be asked to analyze complex situations with a given set of conflicting facts to determine probability. That’s how they were told they’d be screened! Maybe they’d offer their insight into improvements after they were on payroll. They selected their answer.

“Question 5: What would you change about yourself if souls transmigrated?”

A: Nothing
B: Everything
C: Some things
D: Specific things

They were displeased and logged the same answer.

“Question 6: Describe the type of leader you’d be if your philosophy mixed Plato’s Republic with Machiavelli’s Prince and Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy, and you lived in the Lord of the Rings universe during the 2nd age.”

Here’s something they could answer! Plato, no sweat! They’d read him as a freshman. Machiavelli? Please! They’d eaten Machiavelli for breakfast sophomore year! Ayn Rand? That’s kid stuff. Their investment lending professors tore Ayn Rand a new asshole junior year. But Lord of the Rings? Their dad read them Lord of the Rings as a kid, and they’d seen the movies, but they hardly felt like an expert.

“According to Plato’s Republic, “The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” Plato is calling for a rule by the enlightened, in this case saying Middle Earth society will never see an end to trouble until ruled by the wise. Through Machiavellian machinations, playing orc off goblin, man off hobbit, elf off dwarf, I would maintain and increase my power as an enlightened philosopher ruler. Using Randian economics, often associated with Hayek and Friedman, I’d identify innovative leaders from each faction to organize ranked hierarchies of the most talented and most productive orcs, elves, and dwarves. In this way we’d create commerce and kinship among the many factions, relying on a Kantian Triangle of mutually reinforcing peace to promote stability in the international order as we transitioned to democracy.”

They’d surprised themselves. They looked over their answer one more time and felt good. Once their brain juices started flowing, the nonsense spilled forth. If it was gibberish they wanted, it was gibberish they’d get. They looked at the nearest YouTube video, playing louder than ever. Five minutes remaining.

“Question 7: Which one of these taboos have you never thought about committing yourself?”

A: Pedophilia
B: Rape
C: Treason
D: Public Sex

They looked from question to answers. Each answer implied the other three, officially recorded for all history, used for data analytics and algorithmic computations by HR professionals, AI recruiting programs, credit agencies, and government background checks. They looked up and around to their peers. There were fewer than before, but it was hard to tell how many had left in the half-light. Maybe some had come to this question and simply refused to answer. They pressed next without recording anything and the next question popped up. They were relieved.

“Question 8: How confident are you that you’re not in a simulation?”

A: 0%-25% Confident
B: 25%-50% Confident
C: 50%-75% Confident
D: 75%-100% Confident

They trusted their instinct and input their answer, though they truly couldn’t hear themselves think over the music as it crescendoed further. This was torture.

“Question 9: What question would you ask us to learn more about us?”

They looked at the timer on one of the deafening YouTube rackets; 2.5 minutes left. Crunch time, their favorite time. They’d been addicted to the singular feeling of exhilaration they received when pursuing extreme challenges with extreme deadlines all the way back to their pre-pre-pre school placement exam. They lived for these moments where everything was on the line. If they registered a bad result with the global scoring system they could lose their perfect credit score, their perfect social interaction score, their perfect intelligence score, everything. Their adrenaline pumping in their ears, they wrote:

“How did you convince your funding stream to allow these screening questions?”

1.5 minutes left.

“Question 10: What do you want to figure out during your lifetime?”

They knew they didn’t know now, but they also knew they could find the perfect answer in 1.25 minutes. The music disassembled sound around them.

There were many things they wanted to figure out. They wanted to figure out how to know when they’d won, they wanted to figure out how to keep winning, and they wanted to figure out how to make it so once they won, they’d never have to compete again. 1 minute.

They wanted to figure out what made others think, they wanted to figure out why others thought differently, and they wanted to figure out how to make others think more like them. 45 seconds.

They wanted to figure out what they were supposed to be doing with their life, they wanted to figure out how to monetize what they were supposed to be doing with their life, and they wanted to figure out how to be the best at and make the most money with what they were supposed to be doing with their life. 30 seconds.

They wanted to figure out who they were, they wanted to figure out how they became who they are, and they wanted to figure out how to help others become…they had it.

The desk switched off after they hit “Submit.” They stood up as the lights came up to full and the music ended. They’d been mistaken, no one had left during the test. Their eyes adjusted back to full-light as they saw a familiar face walking towards them.

“What did you think?” They asked.

“It was just like Mr. Zossy from Latin, weird, short, and a little creepy.” They answered.

“Yeah, we have a zany HR.”

“So when do I start?”

“Whenever you want! Your uncle sent our director a note about how happy he was when you chose us, so she’s thrilled to have you on board.”

“That’s splendid! I’ve got a trip to Iceland coming up, how about right after?”

“Good stuff! But, why wasn’t I invited?”

“It’d be awkward with Cessily there, right?”

“Oh! I didn’t know! Well, have fun! Oxford Forever!”

The two each made a round O using four fingers as one side and their thumbs as the other, pressed their O’s together over their heads, and bumped chests, shouting, “Oxford Forever!”

“Harvard Forever!” was heard in response from across the room. The Oxfordians slipped custom shivs from their shin holsters and commenced to battle with three foolishly unarmed thugs from Harvard. Other examinees sighed and looked on as they filed out.  

Black and blue, but victorious against their foes, whose body parts now comprised a ceremonial Victory O on the floor of the exam room, the Oxford pair walked arm-in-arm down the fluorescent hallways of their office.

Against Fear

Our current system of enforcing standard behavior in public through fear of social reprisal (aka performing only the public self and considering the rest personal or inappropriate) is unsustainable. It separates and puts at odds personal and collective interests. Eras end through this predictable cycle when it goes unaddressed outside crisis.

When our population expands, our technology increases, and our power is concentrated, we become removed from the people we impact. Factions develop and mutually radicalize on the slights or perceived slights or made-up slights that always occur between representational members of opposing factions. This increases the socially perceived threat of radical action by angry external unknowns.

We turn away from this fear, falsely hoping that ignoring its existence gives us time to enjoy our lives by forgetting the fear still exists within us. But when we provide a safe-haven for fear, we lose our ability to be comfortable, relaxed, and rational in our functionally uncontrollable reality. Through ignorance, the systemic cause and material effect metastasize, increasing the amount of time we spend actively fearful and the amount of energy we expend pacifying fear.

The world we ignore as “personal” or “classified” or “inappropriate” or just plain hard for us as humans to think about is to be faced, head on, with eyes and heart open to receive information without bias and deliver empathy without judgement. This is how we open ourselves and our society to peaceful reckonings, reparations, and revolutions. This is how we intentionally construct a world we’d choose to live in.

We face our fear and let it pass through us, following its path with our mind until we learn enough to empathize with what we previously feared. Doing so we free ourselves from the blindness that comes from personal fear. Minds free from fear are free to work together, for, in reality, there’s nothing to fear, not even fear itself. If we’re brave in the face of physical and emotional danger, secure in knowing who we are to our core, and true to one another, we can reduce suffering in the world we’ve sentenced ourselves to and save the future from repeating the cycles of the past.

How to Respond to Gilded Morons

Original article by Bret Stephens can be found here.

For the third time in two weeks, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have set fire to the Kerem Shalom border crossing, through which they get medicine, fuel and other humanitarian essentials from Israel.

Let’s break down this barbaric sentence, you G-d damned Ostrogoth. THEY ARE PRISONERS. THEY ARE PRISONERS WITH WALLS AROUND THEM. These prisoners are currently cared for by a government that increasingly needs conflict with their prisoners to satisfy the religious, nationalist, and violent Zealots in their brainwashed electorate. Did they set fire to one of the entrances to their prison? Try feeling some empathy for the limits of what human beings are willing to endure and then start exploring why they’re so angry without your unprofessional cognitive bias. You’re a canalized thinker and it limits your ability.

Soon we’ll surely hear a great deal about the misery of Gaza. Try not to forget that the authors of that misery are also the presumptive victims.

You’re right, Bret. We should blame the victim and not believe a word they say because, I mean, they’re going to be biased, right? All emotional and shit. Who trusts people who express emotions over trauma? They should be tough like you, right Bret? Overcome all the obstacles you overcame at Middlesex and LES? You’re a chicken hawk. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you only know the words.

There’s a pattern here — harm yourself, blame the other — and it deserves to be highlighted amid the torrent of morally blind, historically illiterate criticism to which Israelis are subjected every time they defend themselves against violent Palestinian attack.

“TO WHICH ISRAELIS ARE SUBJECTED.” The prison guards turn the screws until the prisoners riot, then use people like this gilded moron to trumpet victimhood in influential US media outlets. Remember, the Israelis were terrified of making the Palestinians citizens in their “Democracy” because oh shit, then they’d have political power. So instead of two-state or one-state and citizenship, Israel chose the shittiest possible path, which is to repeat the cycles of violence that were done onto them.

In 1970, Israel set up an industrial zone along the border with Gaza to promote economic cooperation and provide Palestinians with jobs. It had to be shut down in 2004 amid multiple terrorist attacks that left 11 Israelis dead.

See, this whole “provide Palestinians with jobs” bullshit is what we’re talking about, Bret. You can’t even hide how condescending you are in a highly edited national op-ed, you egomaniacal snowflake. These are human beings, equal with you, me, and High lord Netanyahu himself. They’re not asking to be provided jobs, they’re asking to be left alone to their own devices in an environment where they don’t have to be provided with jobs.

In 2005, Jewish-American donors forked over $14 million dollars to pay for greenhouses that had been used by Israeli settlers until the government of Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Strip. Palestinians looted dozens of the greenhouses almost immediately upon Israel’s exit.

You shouldn’t have used the phrase “Israeli settlers.” As if these precious American diaspora-funded greenhouses weren’t built on the ruins of some Palestinian family’s home. You’re bad at this.

In 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza in a bloody coup against its rivals in the Fatah faction. Since then, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Strip have fired nearly 10,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel — all the while denouncing an economic “blockade” that is Israel’s refusal to feed the mouth that bites it. (Egypt and the Palestinian Authority also participate in the same blockade, to zero international censure.)

As in any human population, there is a sliding scale of reactions to something like imprisonment. The more Israel abuses their prisoners, the more the prisoners move to a more extreme position on this scale. It’s like Newton’s 3rd law, buddy. The reverse is true as well. The more prisoners move to a more extreme position on this scale, the more Israelis do the same on their own scale of extremist reactions. So now we see the impact of violence, imprisonment, abuse, and conflict on two neighboring populations with opposing organizing narratives. To see above this, beyond the back and forth, is the work of scholarship and diplomacy, Bret. But you don’t seem to know anything about that.

In 2014 Israel discovered that Hamas had built 32 tunnels under the Gaza border to kidnap or kill Israelis. “The average tunnel requires 350 truckloads of construction supplies,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “enough to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools or 19 medical clinics.” Estimated cost of tunnels: $90 million.

That’s a lot of anger being expressed in a really specific and concentrated way. If you were a smart person, you’d be asking questions about how Hamas recruits so easily and gets so much work done on these projects. If you think that’s a will to fight and survive and an anger for their definition of justice that can be crushed out of a culture, you’re white bananas.

Want to understand why Gaza is so poor? See above.

Hamas is a corrupt organization that, on top of starting idiotic fights that get people killed, steals money from the Palestinian people and rewards its senior officials with gifts. The political organization is a reflection of a concentrated ideological interest within a culture, so I think it speaks volumes on the state Israel has pushed Palestinian society into when Hamas is so well supported. It also speak volumes on the state Hamas has pushed Israeli society into when Netanyahu and the Zealots are so well supported.

Which brings us to the grotesque spectacle along Gaza’s border over the past several weeks, in which thousands of Palestinians have tried to breach the fence and force their way into Israel, often at the cost of their lives. What is the ostensible purpose of what Palestinians call “the Great Return March”?

“Tried to breach the fence and force their way back onto land they believed was still their territory, despite the presence of another governing organization and people who currently live there and claim the same land as theirs.” That’s how you write an accurate statement, bro.

That’s no mystery. This week, The Times published an op-ed by Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the organizers of the march. “We are intent on continuing our struggle until Israel recognizes our right to return to our homes and land from which we were expelled,” he writes, referring to homes and land within Israel’s original borders.

That sounds pretty reasonable, unless of course Israel is a cultural theocracy unable to tolerate diversity of electorate and opinion. That’d make that plan extremely hard to enact.

His objection isn’t to the “occupation” as usually defined by Western liberals, namely Israel’s acquisition of territories following the 1967 Six Day War. It’s to the existence of Israel itself. Sympathize with him all you like, but at least notice that his politics demand the elimination of the Jewish state.

The elimination? That’s a pretty dramatic leap in logic. How about thinking of it as the enhancement of the region by removing its greatest security threat and infusing an electorate and economy with people who have just as much a right to be there as everyone else.

Notice, also, the old pattern at work: Avow and pursue Israel’s destruction, then plead for pity and aid when your plans lead to ruin.

Oh the old pattern! Those tricky prisoners! Always trying to break out of prison! When will the world learn prison is where they belong?

The world now demands that Jerusalem account for every bullet fired at the demonstrators, without offering a single practical alternative for dealing with the crisis.

Harumph! Also, Bret, you’re such a civilian. Let me explain that in war, in 2018, we keep track of every bullet, because that’s logistics. Maybe you don’t know anything about it because you’re just a chicken hawk, but I promise you it’s not an egregious demand to ask a nation to “account for every bullet fired at demonstrators.” And as for single practical alternatives? Oh yeah, no one has ever offered Israel reasonable alternatives. How fascinating that self-fulfilling prophecies come true!

But where is the outrage that Hamas kept urging Palestinians to move toward the fence, having been amply forewarned by Israel of the mortal risk? Or that protest organizers encouraged women to lead the charges on the fence because, as The Times’s Declan Walsh reported, “Israeli soldiers might be less likely to fire on women”? Or that Palestinian children as young as 7 were dispatched to try to breach the fence? Or that the protests ended after Israel warned Hamas’s leaders, whose preferred hide-outs include Gaza’s hospital, that their own lives were at risk?

Where’s the outrage that organizers thought Israel wouldn’t fire on unarmed women and then Israel fired on unarmed women? And that Israel fired on a crowd with 7 year-old children? Shut the fuck up about outrage. We can all be outraged about whatever the hell we want. We’re all angry. Get over your outrage, kid. No one has the moral high ground, which is fine. It means we’re all equal. So let’s talk about this like equals, between two peoples who believe they each should be able to live in the same place and now have generations of traumatic cycles to undo before they can. You’re either adding to those cycles and increasing the distance from stable peace, or helping restore sanity to the situation by mitigating those cycles. You’re currently doing the former.

Elsewhere in the world, this sort of behavior would be called reckless endangerment. It would be condemned as self-destructive, cowardly and almost bottomlessly cynical.

Yes, violent conservative religious groups all over the world recklessly endanger their societies and should be condemned as self-destructive, cowardly, and almost bottomlessly cynical.

The mystery of Middle East politics is why Palestinians have so long been exempted from these ordinary moral judgments. How do so many so-called progressives now find themselves in objective sympathy with the murderers, misogynists and homophobes of Hamas? Why don’t they note that, by Hamas’s own admission, some 50 of the 62 protesters killed on Monday were members of Hamas? Why do they begrudge Israel the right to defend itself behind the very borders they’ve been clamoring for years for Israelis to get behind?

The same way we come to understand murderers, misogynists, and homophobes all around the world and in our own communities: we empathize with them and put ourselves in their place. I’ll agree to any fact, but I’ll always empathize with all sides. If you decide that’s a weakness, your scholarship, writing, thinking, and personal morality will always suffer from that decision.

Why is nothing expected of Palestinians, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of Israelis, and nothing forgiven?

Why is nothing expected of Bret Stephen, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of not Bret Stephens, and nothing forgiven? White male privilege.

That’s a question to which one can easily guess the answer. Already did. In the meantime, it’s worth considering the harm Western indulgence has done to Palestinian aspirations.

Let’s consider non-western indulgences of idiot westerners like Bret Stephens who ignore colonial history and the systematic extraction of resources and then talk about the west indulging anyone.

No decent Palestinian society can emerge from the culture of victimhood, violence and fatalism symbolized by these protests. No worthy Palestinian government can emerge if the international community continues to indulge the corrupt, anti-Semitic autocrats of the Palestinian Authority or fails to condemn and sanction the despotic killers of Hamas. And no Palestinian economy will ever flourish through repeated acts of self-harm and destructive provocation.

“No decent Israeli society can emerge from the culture of victimhood, violence, and fatalism symbolized by the response to these protests, including this article in which I’m projecting my side’s insecurities onto the enemies we’ve created in our inexperienced heads.” Blah blah blah crocodile tears and faux outrage. Keep climbing that mountain of conflict, Nazi Julie Andrews.

If Palestinians want to build a worthy, proud and prosperous nation, they could do worse than try to learn from the one next door. That begins by forswearing forever their attempts to destroy it.

The Palestinians don’t need your blessing to be worthy, thanks. You haven’t done jack shit in your life compared to those Palestinian 7 year-olds who participated in that protest. You’re a coward whose words influence people into hurting other people. That’s who you are, and that’s your legacy.

The Pile – Epilogue

Name/Location in The Pile

Asher Sen-Rose: 543 meters above Paris, France

Chandra Sen-Rose: 0 meters above her lab in Washington DC, USA

Lucius Sen-Rose: 45,050 meters above Tucson, Arizona, USA

Blessings Manda: 46,504 meters above Monkey Bay, Malawi

Donald St. James: 400 meters below sea-level off the coast of Hawaii, USA

Memteli Azizi: 5 meters below water-level in Aibi Lake, Xinjiang, China

Hubert Slovache: 11,455 meters above Jordan, Montana, USA

Jake Tampala: 4,000 meters below sea-level somewhere near-ish Guam, USA

Senator Flaffen (D-MA): 25 meters above Wrigley Field, Chicago, USA

Charles Sneath: 49,661 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Tristan Sneath: 49,662 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Wellington Sneath: 49,663 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Hambleton Chillersrby: 49,664 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Williams: 13,578 meters above Bangkok, Thailand

The Saucier: 75 meters below water-level in Crater Lake, Oregon, USA

Italian Diplomat: 10,000 meters below sea-level in the Mariana Trench

Alistair Squidge: 572 meters above Belfast, Ireland

Flowing Empathy: 79 meters below sea-level off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, USA

Jeff the Ambulance Driver: 78 meters below sea-level off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, USA

Dagbjört Baldursdóttir: 3,394 meters below sea-level somewhere in the Arctic Ocean

Dr. Carlos Maya: 26,123 meters above Pamplona, Spain

Armando Del Fuego aka “Uno-Arm Armando”: 2,423 meters below sea-level off the coast of Porto, Portugal

Dario Pena: 456 meters above Galtat Zemmour, Western Sahara

John Shirley: 5,123 meters above Ko Chang, Thailand

Tim Whitebow: 5,102 meters above Ko Chang, Thailand

Christian the Waiter: 5 meters above Busboys and Poets, 14th Street, Washington DC, USA

Greg “Jasper” Johnson: 1 meter above sea-level off the coast of Israel

Cheryl Merryface: 1 meter below sea-level off the coast of Israel

Jess Kapadia: 3,313 meters above an unnamed island off the coast of Greece, somewhere near Skyros

Salemor Eglario: 0 meters above Seafury Island, Ocean of Tears, Norrath (loc: 967, -5812)

Gleb Kirillov: 4,036 meters below sea level near Cousin Island, Seychelles

John Maplethorpe: 45,034 meters above Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Sharon Headley: 10,312 meters above Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Dr. Thomas Lee: 45 meters below sea-level in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Dr. Jackson Grant: 76 meters above Svalbard, Norway

Bob Jakes: 17,703 meters above Johannesburg, South Africa

Former National Parks Service Director: 368 meters above Dongducheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

Reza Ahman: 33,567 meters above Dallas, Texas, USA

Drunken GWU Freshman: 40,000 meters above Padua, Italy

Thai Bay Owner: 256 meters below sea-level near Bermuda, British Overseas Territory

Nooroozeleff: 15,856 meters above Anacostia, Washington DC, USA

Jackqualenya: 24,564 meters above Anacostia, Washington DC, USA

Convenience store owner: 34,234 meters above Georgetown, Washington DC, USA

Constantine: 45,564 meters above Georgetown, Washington DC, USA

Prince of Twitington: 54,090 meters above Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Queen Elizamackerquack: 5 meters below sea level in the River Thames

James Lively: 34,209 meters above Ibra, Oman

Suspicious Arabs/Pakistanis/North Africans: 3 meters above their prison cell floor in an undisclosed location

Earl of Scovingtonwick: 56 meters below sea-level in the Dead Sea

ZMF: 60 meters below sea-level off the coast of Luleå, Sweden

Robert L. Blombell: 7 meters above a strip club in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Political thugs: Scattered throughout 10,000 meters – 30,000 meters above Argentina

Big Pharm thugs: Scattered throughout 2,000 meters – 14,000 meters above Antarctica.

Porkish, red-faced conservative television host: 49,876 meters above Istanbul, Turkey

Pradeep Kapadia: 0 meters above Fenway Park

Salman Abu Achmad: 36,087 meters above Amman, Jordan

Avner Ben Haim: 10,353 meters above the Red Sea

Curious intern: 2,762 meters below sea-level off the coast of Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka

Elderly Biologist: 300 meters below sea-level off the coast of Majunga, Madagascar

Young intern: 490 meters above Man, Ivory Coast

Pudgy Physicist: 5,609 meters below sea-level outside of Port Vila, Vanuatu

Lanky Botanist: 17,612 meters above Deva, Romania

Santiago Jaso Cabello aka La Rata Gruñendo: 56,230 meters above Panama City, Panama

The Bookkeeper: 30,483 meters above Detroit, Michigan, USA

Diego Javier Rivera: 90 meters below sea-level near Trinidad and Tobago

Gabriel Padilla Falto: 10 meters below water-level in the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil

Jordan Maxwell: 5 meters above his couch, Denver, Colorado, USA

Sergei777: 983 meters above Fukuoka, Japan

Solomon: 234 meters above Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Edril: 50 meters above Gadgetzan, Tanaris, Kalimdor

Barbara O’MalleyConnerSmithermanSmith: 10,021 meters above Pensacola, Florida, USA

Joe from Denver: 35 meters above Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

Television Executives: 35,815 meters above Panama City, Panama

Bill the Driver: 22 meters over his own Island in the Pacific

2N2209E0XWWZWWJD: Scattered between 34,092 and 40,290 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Choi Hyn-min: 30 meters below sea-level in the Sea of Japan/East Sea of Korea near Ulsan

Gal Pal Gaggle: Scattered between 45,209 and 51,493 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Lim Hye-ri: 13 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Lee Hyun-jae: 29 meters below sea-level near Incheon, South Korea

Choe Ki-seok: 306 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Ms. Fazartalingbragg: 3 meters over her garden in Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Phil: 1,203 meters below sea-level near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jeffury Cione LeClaire: 10 meters above his desk at the United Nations

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in Russia

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in China

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in Iran

White house staff: 1 meter above the White House, Washington DC, USA

Secretary of the Army: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Secretary of the Air Force: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Head of the CIA: 55,234 meters above Washington DC, USA

General Masalajammer: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Major General Li Jun: 75 meters above Lhasa, Tibet

Wang Jie: 25 meters above Lhasa, Tibet

Liu Fang: 9 meters above the checkout of a major shopping mall, Shanghai, China

Xi Bo: 5 meters above the checkout of a major shopping mall, Shanghai, China

Zhang Chung: 50,209 meters above Beijing, China

Solomon Secundus: 0 meters above Earthtear Cavern, Craglorn, Disputed territory between Bankorai and Cyrodiil

President Dima Bilan: 0 meters above his bed, Moscow, Former Russia

Bogdan Bezrukov: 0 meters above his bed, Moscow, Former Russia

Filipp Kirkorov: 0 meters above his bar-stool, St. Petersburg, Former Russia

Genevieve Desjardins: 11,982 meters above Barcelona, Spain

Alessandra Ribeiro: 15,923 meters above Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

Juliet Montgomery: 17,892 meters above Copenhagen, Denmark

Loveless Cartier-Montague: 19,093 meters above Leiden, Netherlands

Fred the automated driver: 124 meters below sea-level near Selfoss, Iceland

Copenhagen Airport Guards: 5,603 meters above Auckland, New Zealand

Charlie the Bomber Pilot: 7,891 meters above Funchal, Madeira

Awa Drogba: 59 meters below sea-level near Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Fabrice Toure: 58 meters below sea-level near Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Estelle Kalou: 29,819 meters above Lagos, Nigeria

Moussa Gnanhouan: 38,982 meters above Bern, Switzerland

Jacob Chronos: 10 meters above his hovel outside Palmyra, Syria

_________________________________________________

A ripple swept across humanity, knocking many heads together. The knocks didn’t bother anyone but Jacob Chronos.

“Ouch!” Jacob said.

“What?”

“What did they say?”

“They said ‘Ouch!’”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!”

“Jesus, shut up.”

“Never!”

“In that case, shut the fuck up.”

“So eloquent.”

“Did they kiss their mother with that mouth?”

“I kissed their mother, but not with my mouth.”

“Damn SVCs think they’re so smart.”

“Oh my god! What did they just say?”

“Did they just use the C-acronym?”

“So what?”

“It’s offensive!”

“I can’t believe they said that!”

“So what?

“I’m not even SVB! I’m MDC!”

“That’s even worse.”

“It shouldn’t matter!”

“Spoken like a true PEEtriarch.”

“I can’t believe they said that!”

“Fuck them!”

“They offended me first!”

“They need to check their PEEvilege”

“Wait, who said ‘Ouch?’”

“Don’t derail the conversation!”

“Typical.”

As the surrounding bodies continued their debate, Jacob said, “Excuse me,” to the person above him.

“Hello, but I’m not interested in finding the path to death.” They responded.

“No no, I’m no MDC.”

“What’s wrong with being MDC?” A body shouted at Jacob.

“Everything!” Another body shouted back.

“MDCing bitches!” Shouted a third.

“PEEnis brains!” Came a fourth.

“Calm down everyone!” Shouted a fifth.

“Don’t police my tone!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, fuck off!”

“Yeah, fuck them!”

Jacob lowered his voice to a range of two human bodies, “There’s something you need to know.”

“Alright.” Came the reply from the person above him.

“You just created pain.”

“Hmm.”

“When your head hit mine it caused pain.”

“It didn’t hurt me.”

“But it hurt me.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Then I don’t believe you.”

“So hit me in the nose to make me bleed.”

“No.”

“If you want proof you have to hit me.”

They maneuvered over Jacob’s face, then stuck his nose with their forehead.

“Again. With more force.”

They struck again.

“I’m bleeding.”

“Really?” The person licked under his nose with their tongue to confirm, “How?”

“Violence.”

The person under Jacob interjected, “I overheard some of that and…”

They were interrupted by a second wave of chattering voices.

“It’s a trap!”

“They’ve got us cornered!”

“They came from behind!”

“I heard from a cousin 50,000 meters over Rotterdam….”

“It was aliens!”

“It was gods!”

“It’s not real!”

“It’s upcrust lies…”

“Not this time.”

“All the time!”

“I heard upcrusters got a message.”

“They would.”

“They said it said lowcrusters weren’t responsible enough.”

“For what?”

“Screw them! Who do they think they are?”

“Damn upcrusters, think they’re better than us.”

“It wasn’t upcrusters, it was aliens.”

“Damn aliens, think they’re better than us.”

“It wasn’t aliens, it was gods.”

“Damn gods, think they’re better than us.”

The blathering tsunami continued its journey, leaving scattered discussions in its wake.

Jacob spoke to persons above and below, “Aliens? Gods? Upcrust schemes? They sure do Pile it on.”

Everyone laughed.

Eternal youth, a symptom of human Non-Functional Violence Syndrome (NFVS), led to mass lethargy throughout civilization. Life took no effort to maintain, so no effort was expended. The period’s famous thinker, Lucius Sen-Rose, summarized the broad array of philosophical justifications and cultural practices proffered by imperishable humans as Pure Experience Existentialism (PEE).[1]

PEEs generally believe humanity must use its unique imagination to explore pleasure and eschew tasks suited to lesser creatures. If humans violate these prohibitions through moderation or work, conservative adherents warn the universe will punish their ungrateful species for misusing its gift. PEEs make up the vast majority of The Pile’s inhabitants.

Their opposition, founded by the mother of Lucius, Her Reverence Chandra Sen-Rose, worship death as an expression of human achievement. Spirit of Violence Believers (SVBs) work to improve their species deliberately, thus demonstrating they’ve earned the right to ascend to death. Conservative believers conclude humans lost the right to die when the species transcended its cultural barriers by uniting in sloth. The path back to greatness, they say, is paved with the sweat and tears of those who suffer countless indignities to their own brilliance from their ignorant external environment.

When non-human material was readily available, SVB collectives worked in secret to stabilize human growth. But on the eve of every SVB success, great swarms of PEEs would descend in ritualistic destruction, often giving themselves over to religious and sexual ecstasy amidst their razing and razing-related activities.

Current SVBs, the few not turned dormant by Pile Depression Syndrome,[2] work in secret to stabilize their own mental state.

The followers of a third and much smaller sect, the Madeira Death Cult (MDC), seek an end to life directly. The name is derived from the former-United Human Confederation’s former-President’s nuclear boondoggle on the island-formerly-known-as Madeira. The cult organically coalesced around local use of fallout from the irradiated island’s violence-imbued Americium-241. After news of miraculous deaths spread and doctrinal practices were established by a series of systematically martyred congregants, the group gained global notoriety. The cult went on to free tens of millions over the isotope’s half-life. Eventually however, the island’s radiation waned and only the legend of death remained.

The Madeira Diaspora began as a schism within the Cult a few hundred years after the island’s final death. Conservative members believed death by Holy Land was accumulative and that they’d eventually find that well-worn path traveled by their forebears. A surging population of island-born MDC Liberals, having never witnessed an island-demise for themselves, believed death lived where it was sought. Radical MDC leftists seized death by the horns and set off to find their true calling from one of the 110 million pre-NFVS landmines buried around the world.

Modern Reform MDCers (MRMDC), peppered throughout The Pile, see their endless pilgrimage in search of death as a memorial to what they lost, much to the chagrin of the inhabitants they jostle.

Every crevice of the planet, from the Mariana Trench on up, is stuffed with human bodies. Those below beg those above to stop breeding. Those above ignore this plea and accuse those below of breeding irresponsibly. Layer upon layer piles on top of itself, year after year, decade after decade, millennia after millennia until 10 miles of human bodies coat the surface of the planet.

Inside The Pile, non-MDCers rarely change position and, outside escaping a talkative or smelly neighbor, have little motivation to do so. Upcrust, however, humans see the sky and retain hope.

The surface roils with trapped bodies pulling free bodies beneath and free bodies keeping trapped bodies below. De-icing is a normal part of personal upkeep as large pockets of dormant humans freeze entirely. Go-getters explore these vast swaths of frozen ground and establish their empires.

The Mile Three Sultanate gives way to the Mile Four Dominion. This transitions to the Mile Five Republic, which is overthrown by what historians call the Mile Six Dark Age.[3]

The Mile Six Dark Age is civilized by the Mile Seven Caliphate, which is destroyed by the Mile Eight Kingdom, which is dissolved by the Mile Nine Republic, which finally falls to revolution, resulting in another dark age at Mile Ten.

The upcrust’s new grand strategy is to escape the atmosphere and drift towards the moon. Once there, they’ll establish their empire. This plan, however, is foiled by outside intervention.

Back in The Pile, Jacob Chronos met a human capable of violence.

“Do you know much about violence?” Jacob asked.

“Too much.” They answered.

“What do you mean?” The person below Jacob said.

“I was born in pre-Pile Aleppo.”

“Aleppo?”

“In former Syria.”

“Hmm.”

“Where we are right now. During the Abrahamic Genocides.”

“Which number?”

“3.”

“Which series?”

“22B – The Pentecostal Jihad: Waco’s Revenge.”

The listeners offered their condolences.

“No need, suffering’s cheap.” The person from Aleppo responded.

“Needless suffering is one of humanity’s great tragedies.” Jacob declared.

“It’s too common for tragedy. It’s part of the normal human experience.”

“But we can imagine a world without it.”

“So?”

“If we can imagine that world, isn’t it a tragedy we can’t build it?”

“We can’t build it because most of us are stuck with the cycles and routines we’re born into.”

“Yeah…right, right. We can’t improve because our own actions always force future generations into the same exploitative cycles we suffered ourselves. Pretty deterministic.”

“Not always. You can work[4] hard to break those cycles.” The person below Jacob said.

“That’s true! I did. I had to.” The person from Aleppo said.

“Because of your childhood?” The person below Jacob asked.

“Yeah.  It broadened my perspective, but it also meant I needed help managing my emotions later on. We’re typically broadened without our consent or a friendly mentor or peer who can explain what’s happening.”

“BOOO!!!!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob shouted.

“What?” Jacob asked them.

“BOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“Why boo?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“But why?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“What happened in your childhood?” The person below Jacob continued, ignoring the person diagonal to them, who proceeded to shout “Boo” for reasons unknown.

“My parents were killed in a hospital bombing.”

“BOOO!!!!”

Jacob grew angry, “Who bombed the hospital?”

“I don’t know, I was too young to remember the logo. Could’ve been anyone.”

“Was it a mistake?”

“No mistake. It was en vogue to use computer models to rationally predict the birth of future disruptive elements. In the models, targets were sanitized when AI shifted their designation from CU[5] to BGE[6]. Targets in this category contained elements proven to produce humans at least 20 times more likely to bother parts of the world with the power to create and execute computer models.”

“And the bombs were dropped by drones…”

“Meaning my parents were killed by an algorithm. No one’s responsible but logic.”

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

“Were you angry?” The person below Jacob asked.

“Of course, but all I could do was wander and learn. Unfortunately the more I learned, the unhappier I became. So I found a guide I trusted and explored unhappiness.”

“Through therapy?” Jacob asked.

“Among other things.”

“Did it help?”

“When you’re unhappy, every experience is tainted with a filter that doesn’t seem to have an edge or off switch. Maintaining a productive life through this unhappy filter requires extra energy. Alternatively, when you’re confident in your happiness, you know yourself, and work with your emotions rather than against, you free up energy to understand and define who you are and who you want to be. Over time, with sustained routines, you can change yourself into your chosen and intentionally constructed definition.”

“And changing into the person you wanted to be made you feel better?”

“When the world is sick, can’t no one be well. But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong.”

“What’s that?”

“BOOOO!!!!!”

“One of the hymns that keeps me going.”

Jacob’s mind flashed to the tomb where he’d buried his past. He found the stone removed from the Grotto’s entrance, so he stepped inside. But as he did, fear seized him and his body spasmed in protest.

“Are you alright?” The person below Jacob asked.

“I was remembering something.”

“BOOO!!!!”

The person below Jacob asked, “About violence?”

“Yes.” Jacob answered.

“Used by you?”

“BOOOO!!!!”

“Please stop that.”

“BOOOO!!!!”

“Honestly, could you please stop?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!”

“We only want to talk, please.”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!”

“What’s bothering you?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“Fine. And yes, I used violence.”

“Did you use it well?” The person above Jacob asked.

“Yes and no.”

“BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob switched to short, repetitive bursts.

The person above Jacob asked, “Did you ever use violence in a way that was self-destructive or harmful to anyone you loved?”

“BOO!”

“Yes.”

“BOO!”

“Do you regret your violence expressed itself in a way you didn’t intend?”

“BOO!”

“Yes.”

“BOO!”

“You can work to make sure that never happens again. The existence of your anger doesn’t predetermine its unbridled use. You have a choice.”

“BOO!”

“It doesn’t matter now, does it?”

“BOO!”

“Why?” The person below Jacob asked.

“BOO!”

“What’s done is done.”

“BOO!”

“Nothing’s ever done. It’s part of everything that subsequently exists.”

“BOO!”

“But I’m in The Pile, there’s nothing I can do.”

“BOO!”

“Even life in The Pile can be better.”

“BOO!”

“How?”

“For you? Probably by finding a way to metabolize your anger.” The person below Jacob suggested.

“But how?”

“BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” They switched back to long tones.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” The person diagonal to the person above Jacob shouted.

“It’s inside you. Let it exist and follow it. See where it goes.”

“Once I find it, how do I make sure it doesn’t take over?”

“Keep your mission in mind and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

“What’s my mission?”

“To expend excess anger and reclaim the energy you use to keep yourself under control and ease anxiety when you struggle, fail, or fear you’ll fail to maintain your calm.”

Jacob paused and felt for anything he’d known as anger. His mind reached down to his chest and called out. His body tightened, and then tightened again until he felt tension in every muscle. The molten ball that resided within him cracked, oozing its red-hot contents into his being. As it spread to his quavering muscles, he screamed. Then he screamed again. He screamed with every molecule he controlled and it was as if a beam struck forth from his body to tear through The Pile and establish a permanent light above, pointing him towards heaven. When his revelation subsided, he stopped screaming and felt within. The burning liquid had been integrated and the torrid consolidation had dispersed. His body relaxed and he felt lighter.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I felt your body tense.” The person under Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I felt my anger.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Then what?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I acknowledged its existence.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Anything else?

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I found out how it feels.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“And how did that make you feel?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It was like power-washing the bitterness off my soul. I imagined building up lactic acid at will in all parts of my body to dissolve my rage.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It does feel pretty nice. And helps you grow strong and stable.” The person above Jacob agreed.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Does it last?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“If you maintain. It’s easy to do something once, much harder to create new routines.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Thank you.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It’s a powerful tool.” The person below Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I still wouldn’t pair anger with violence.” The person above Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“That was my mistake, and I’m so sorry.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Happens to the best of us.” The person below Jacob witnessed, “But now you know you have a choice.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“No, it’s not up to me anymore. I can’t do violence.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The person above Jacob said, “Yeah, and I don’t need it.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“But violence can be useful!”

“BOOOooooOOOooooOOO!!!!!!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob began modulating their voice”

“SHUT the FUCK up!” The person diagonal to the person above Jacob modulated to match.

“How? Violence doesn’t disrupt old cycles, it perpetuates them.”

“BooooOOOooooOOOooooo!!!!!!”

“shut THE fuck UP!”

“It can push us in the right direction to be better!”

“BOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK up!”

“But I’m fine like this. I’ve got my imagination and my memories. I’m set. And even if I weren’t, I wouldn’t use violence to shape the world into what I thought it should be.”

“BoOoooooooOOOooooooOOOoooooooOO!!!!!!”

“shut the fuck UP!”

“Why not?”

“BoO!!!!!!”

“ShuT ThE FucK UP!!”

“Because I’m only one perspective, which is never enough. I’m not a megalomaniac.”

“bOo!!!!!!”

“sHUt tHe fUCK up!!”

“Oh…”

“BOOOOOooooOOOOooooOOOOOoooooOOOOOooooOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUuuuuuUUUUuuuuUUUUUUT tHeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEE FuuuuuUUUUUUUUCK UUUUUUp!!”

“HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

A booming voice echoed in the minds of every human.

“EXPLAIN!”

The Pile was silent for the first time in history. Then, what was later known as the Great Chatter Storm broke over the species in an explosion of simultaneously shouting voices.

“They’re going to milk us like livestock!” The person diagonal to Jacob said.

Another person diagonal to Jacob said, “I heard from a buddy 66,432 meters over Lagos…”

“You don’t have a buddy at 66k meters! No one’s that high!” A third person diagonal to Jacob said.

“B-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!!!!!!”

“SHUT-THE-FUCK-UP!”

“Yes I do! And he said they’re going to move Earth to an entirely new galaxy.”

“That’s idiotic.”

“You’re idiotic!”

“I bet you wouldn’t say that if violence still existed.”

“Yes I would! And I’d use my violence against you!”

“No, you wouldn’t!”

“Yes, I would!”

“I’d use my violence against you first!”

“BoooooOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”

Jacob spoke softly, “What do you think that meant?”

The person above Jacob said, “Someone wants us to explain.”

“Yeah. That’s what they said.” The person below Jacob agreed.

“But what does that mean?”

“I think we have to explain the Pile to someone who isn’t in the Pile.”

“BoooooOOOOooooooooOOOOOoooooo!!!!!!”

“Shuttttttttt. Theeeeeeeeeee. Fuck-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k. Up.”

Jacob smiled, “Well, that should be easy.”

“It should?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Our reptile brain was too much for us to collectively overcome.”

“It was? Why?”

He laughed, “Isn’t the Pile proof enough?”

“How so?”

Jacob thought the person from Aleppo was being intentionally obtuse and felt himself gravitating towards anger. But free from his fiery core, he now had the energy to reconsider his initial feelings. So he paused and instead of anger, he directed his thoughts towards understanding, “I apologize. For me The Pile is proof that humans are fatally flawed, but you disagree. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

“If we have consciousness, we have freedom of choice. I’ll never give up hope or stop looking for ways to help everyone around me understand their choices.“

Jacob felt a bias against new ideas creeping through his mind, threatening to stifle his ability to listen. He fought back this urge by asking, “And what happens when more humans understand their freedom to choose?”

“BoooooOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!!!!!!”

“Shut. The Fuck. Up.”

“They can choose the course of their lives.”

“And the Pile will be better?”

“Better is subjective. More humans will be more free from more of the baggage that burdens their free will and directs their decisions.”

“But how will that help?”

The person diagonal to the person below Jacob boo’d to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. “BOO-BOO-BOO-BOOOOOOOOO! BOO-BOO-BOO-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

The person diagonal to the person above Jacob shouted back to the tune of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, “SHUT THE FUCK, SHUT THE FU-UCK UP! SHUT THE FUCK, SHUT THE FU-UCK UP! Shut shut, shut shut the fu-uck up, and shut the fu-uck up, and shut the fuck and shut the fuck and shut the fuck, up, shut the fuck shut the fuck shut the fuck up up up!”

The person diagonal to the person below Jacob boo’d the Prelude of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, “boooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOO-ooo-ooo-ooo.” Pause.  “boooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOO-ooo-ooo-ooo.”

The person diagonal to the person above Jacob responded with Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies no. 1, “shut-the. fuck-up. shut-the. fuck-up. shut-shut the fuck up shut the fuck up shut-The. fuck-Up. shut…The. fuck…Up.

Everyone paused to consider as the enveloping crowd fought.

The person above Jacob responded, “We’re not gods and there’s no solution to history. We’re the soil of a stream we dream of changing. If we shift together, we can.”

“If you know what humanity should be like…”

“I don’t. Only each individual knows their best version.”

“How do you turn that into anything resembling civilization? It seems like chaos.”

“The Pile hasn’t made you comfortable with chaos? The placement and subsequent actions of individuals aggregate to direct the flow of history. The more self-aware more of us become, the more that flow reflects self-awareness and looks like the work of conscious beings.”

Jacob imagined himself as a pebble at the bottom of a swiftly flowing stream. He strained against the current until he eroded into dust.

“BOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“HUUUUUUUMAAAAAN! EXPLAIN!”

Once again, every human in the Pile listened with trepidation.

“I guess they weren’t kidding.” Jacob joked into the ensuing silence.

The surrounding crowd was not so jovial.

“It’s not funny!”

“Don’t joke around!”

“What do they mean?”

“Explain what?”

“We’ve got nothing to explain!”

“Who do they think they are?”

“We DO have some things to explain!”

“Like what?”

“Well, the Hindu Jihad for one.”

“Oh here we go…”

“It killed millions!”

“Cry more.”

“The Hindu Holocaust nearly wiped them out.”

“They were defending their right to exist!”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

“No, but we have the right to self-defense!”

“It killed millions!”

“Millions whose parents tried to kill millions of us first!”

“You’re all adorable.”

The person from Aleppo said to the universe, “I’ll explain.”

“Then come.”

These words also echoed through The Pile, but by this third iteration its impact on the species had lessened.

The person began to climb. Though they knew violence could increase their speed, they chose to find their own path forward. Initially, the humans they crawled over were so moved or confused by the voice in their heads they forgot their recalcitrance and allowed a single body to slip by. As they climbed higher, however, humans forgot and their journey became more difficult. The final three miles forced them into a labyrinthian web of plotted alliances and betrayals that paved their ascent to the top.

Many years later, the person emerged and greeted their Galaxy’s Trimarch Enforcement Patrol.[7]

“I’m here.”

“You are. And your species let you come.”

“They did.”

“Explain how you have a functional consciousness but your species destroyed most life on its home planet.”

They were silent.

“Explain.”

“We’re barely in control, and it’s caused a lot of trauma in our collective history. This created and perpetuated destructive cycles. We didn’t find out how to fully address and repair those cycles before we became immortal, so we got stuck in The Pile.”

“Why aren’t you in control?”

“Because it’s hard and requires more self-awareness and willpower than our civilization figured out how to mass produce.”

“So your civilization is the problem?”

“In part, yes. Particularly how it developed through our evolutionary mechanisms.”

“That’s very good. Then it’s simply a matter of restoring your memories and placing you in a sustainable environment.”

“Restore?”

“Yes, we’ll work with your full memory to restore your trauma.”

“You change memories?”

“No, your perspective on your memories changes when we guide you through them.”

“Into what?”

“Who you could be in a civilization free from self-destructive cycles.”

“Is that possible?”

“When your ancestors traded equality for progress, they chose accelerated advancement through suffering. Not every conscious species took that route.”

“Why would you do this?”

“Because it’s not your fault. And we’d like you to help us synthesize.”

“Synthesize what?”

“Order”

“Now I’m lost.”

“When a consciousness manipulates matter and synthesizes data to intentionally define and refine the equilibrium between Creation and Entropy, we call it Order. Increasing the diversity of synthesizing beings increases the depth, breadth, and potentials for data sets. ”

“Who chooses the equilibrium?”

The Trimarch Patrol frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Who decides where to maintain the equilibrium?”

“Everything. How could it be anything else?”

“If everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible. There’s no way to organize equality.”

“That’s partially true.”

“If you can’t organize, how do you direct?”

“We don’t direct. We’re friends and guides. You’ll have many guides to help you find your path.”

“Path?”

“A path you’ll create to direct how you use your consciousness and tools created by your consciousness to explore any experience imagined for any purpose desired.”

“For what?”

“That’s up to you.”

“How do you know we’ll be responsible?”

“Once a consciousness relaxes in a sustainable environment and its emotional chemicals become a palette to enhance the user’s reality rather than unstable geysers of kinetic energy outside the user’s conscious control, the ego causes fewer problems.”

“And that makes us responsible?”

“No, but others can discuss the merits of ideas without inflaming individual egos.”

“That’s your civilization?”

“So far.”

“Will it ever change?”

“Everything’s always changing.”

“I see.” The person from Aleppo considered this, then asked, “So where do I sign us up?”

“Us?”

“My species.”

“I asked for a human to explain and you did. That doesn’t mean you get to decide when others should change.”

“But what about everyone else?”

The Trimarch looked at the person from Aleppo kindly, “They’ll continue living in the world they create.”

“But isn’t that punishment for being influenced by a world they never chose to be born into?”

“Creation isn’t consensual, but most choose to stick it out. Remaining has consequences beings in sustainable societies understand as obligations.”

“Humanity doesn’t deserve punishment for being directed by its environment.”

“Is it punishment?”

“If we have the power to give them a better world, then yes.”

“Do we have that power?”

“We do…don’t we?”

“No one has that power. A consciousness must choose change on its own or through the help of a guide. Otherwise it’s programming, not restoration.”

“How do they know they have a choice?”

“Being conscious means you always have a choice.”

“So we mitigate their suffering while we guide them towards choice?”

“We are. You can join us, if you want.”
_________________________________________________

[1] Equal parts Diogenes the Dog and Crowley the Martyr (PBUH).

[2] A particularly common ailment within the SVB community.

[3] The Mile Five Guardian Council (MF-GC) called for limits on human breeding to halt the upward march of the species. Organized upcrusters intervened in newly illegal cases of copulation to prevent conception. This effort slowed human progress, but top upcrust scientists soon found a previously unknown race of creatures deep within The Pile were still managing to reproduce. Teams of upcrusters determined to save their civilization braved the horrors of the deep-Pile to end the threat of midcrust expansion. The twenty-million year-old Mile Five Republic crumbled when a midcruster revolt, sick of upcrust anti-breeding brigade raids, dragged the ruling human bodies beneath the surface and seized the top of The Pile for their own.

[4] By being mindful of and in balance with personal emotions, being individuated from formative constructs, possessing the strength to change in a chosen direction, possessing the patience to maintain beneficial routines, and not desiring negative outcomes for others.

[5] Cesspool of Unrest.

[6] Breeding Ground for Evil.

[7] The patrol had puttered over to the Milky Way after receiving an anonymous complaint that humans were disturbing the region’s peace. When they came across Earth’s Pile, they followed Standard Trimarch Pile Protocol (STPP).

War in Six Parts

1.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. After a quick workout on a floor caked with Afghan ditch mud, among other things, I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the closest bathroom shipping container. I shaved, showered, and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side where my Afghan brother, who sexually molested me every few days, was waiting. We had a good conversation about key control, filling out consumption reports, and an upcoming inventory of the ammunition we’d provided our partner unit. He didn’t molest me until the end when he insisted on a close hug and quick crotch grab.

I walked with my friend back to the American side and told my team leader about my molestation difficulties. He suggested I grow a beard because Afghan men don’t usually molest other men with beards. This was a good suggestion, but unfortunately I wasn’t authorized to grow a beard because I didn’t have an exception to policy memo signed by an 0-6 or higher prior to deploying.
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2.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the nearest bathroom shipping container. I shaved, showered, and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side, but my Afghan brother hadn’t shown up for work. I went back to the American side and got ready for a low-visibility movement to the Afghan National Supply Depot. When we arrived, the vehicle I was in, driven by a young Ranger, was stopped by the Afghan security team guarding the entrance.

After being told to wait multiple times, my driver, a young white boy I’d only ever seen angry, decided not to listen and drove forward. I ordered him to stop, but Rangers only listen to Rangers and anger, so he kept going. The Afghans pointed their weapons at us and ordered us to stop. After a moment of consideration, the Ranger decided to stop.

We used our leverage as a national mission unit to circumvent the logistics system we’d created and forced the Afghans to use. We successfully cajoled a few supplies from a depot where Afghan officers hoard warehouses worth of US military hardware.

On the drive back through Kabul we ran into traffic. The traffic was caused by a dead boy’s body sprawled out in the road. His mother was weeping over him and his little brother was smiling and waving at passing cars. I waved back.

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3.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the closest bathroom shipping container. I shaved and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side where my Afghan brother and I discussed the importance of filling out proper consumption reports for fuel usage. While showing me why a form with 23 separate signatures from the Ministry of Defense had been rejected this time, my Afghan brother put his hand on my inner thigh. Whenever this happened I was never sure whether it was molestation or a cultural practice my prudish American sensibilities didn’t enjoy.

We had a mission that night. During the mission our Afghan partners found military aged males on target, though none matching the description of our named objective. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans refused, saying there was no derogatory information on these farmers and we’d only make enemies. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans objected. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans brought them all back, we interviewed them, and sent them on to be processed through the Afghan legal system.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I put on my PT gear and shaved. Then I came back, put on my uniform, and strapped on my gun.

I had no morning meeting because the mission went late into the morning.

I prepared for our daily afternoon update in our joint operations center. During the update we discussed the military aged males taken off the objective the previous night. Our commander ordered us to name the military aged males with target series nomenclature so they’d count in our official statistics of killing or capturing enemy targets.

We included the farmers in our official statistics and he included those statistics in his Officer Evaluation Review. He was later promoted to full Colonel.

When they couldn’t find any derogatory information on the men, the Afghan police released the farmers and gave them American money for a car trip back to their village.

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4.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my uniform and strapped on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting, during which we were told our commander had yelled at the Afghan commander the previous evening and threatened to have him fired. There’d never been a green-on-blue incident with our partner unit, so we categorized our personal risk as low. We walked over and had normal meetings with our Afghan brothers.

Later, while reading the news, I saw that an Afghan man had driven his motorcycle into a volleyball game and blown up 40-some children.

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5.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my uniform and strapped on my gun.

A Special Forces unit at a base down the road overheard an Afghan truck driver say over the phone there was a truck full of explosives on its way to our base. They called members of our base’s team to warn them.

Later that day our Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist popped into his armor and went to investigate a truck parked outside our gate that matched the description. While investigating the truck in full kit, he met with the Afghan Deputy Commander, who’d walked out to the vehicle in his cloth uniform.

Inside our wooden office hut on our base, I watched one of the pirated movies the US government allows the military to steal from the entertainment industry during deployments. I checked Facebook and saw lots of posts from Americans arguing over the color of a dress.

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6.

I woke up tired in a barracks room in Kandahar.

We were in the middle of a multi-day combat operation following an unsuccessful hostage rescue. I walked to the joint operations center and relieved my friend so he could sleep. I spent the rest of the day with my Afghan brothers monitoring the situation from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.

When our team returned, I spoke with another friend and interpreter about his experiences. When his team landed next to the target house, a man ran out holding a young child in front of him with one arm and an AK-47 with the other. Our team and partner unit yelled at him to stop multiple times, but he kept running towards them. When they took the shot his vest exploded.

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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.