City of the Dead – Part VII – In the Beginning

By Francis Marion – First Published February 10th, 2017

Dakota Free State July 17th, 2074

In the beginning, there was war and the nations of the world and their armies descended upon the people of the Dakotas. But they were God’s people and he loved them so he smote their enemies, burned them to ash, and scattered them in the wind to the four corners of the world.1

Paul the Chronicler, The Scrolls of Rebirth in the 7th Saeculum of The Great Year

Joseph stood in front of the casket with his hands clasped together in front of him. He thought Artie’s corpse looked peaceful. Like he had died satisfied that he had accomplished something important.

“He respected you. You know that don’t you?”

Annabelle’s voice was soft, dignified and sweet. As she put her hand on Joseph’s shoulder and moved in closer he realized he could smell her hair. It carried the perfumed scent of lilacs. Artie had married above himself thought Joseph.

And Joesph took a wife and her name was Angela. And she bore two sons and a daughter, Morgan, Nathaniel and Ashley.2

“Artie was a good husband and father, Annabelle. I didn’t always understand him but he loved you and Michael. He was right about Michael and Sarah too. He knew they would leave. He knew that they would be angry with me and turn their backs on all of us. I’m sorry for that. I wish I’d listened to him. I could have done something about it if I’d just listened.”

And Morgan took a wife, her name was Roxanne. And she bore two sons, Scott and Paul. Ashley married Timothy and they had one son. His name was Thomas.3

“Joesph. Don’t do that to yourself. Michael was a restless spirit and Sarah was in love with him. They did what they did because they chose to, not because they had to or because we drove them to it. They could come back now if they wished, so stop it,” Annabelle rested her head on his shoulder and held his hand. It was rough and dark, its creases stained with the soil and toil of a lifetime spent in the fields, pastures, and hills of the great plains.

Nathaniel took a wife and her name was Melissa. She gave him three children Jason, David, and Sarah.4

Joseph shook his head, “Arthur told me all of this would happen. Why did I ignore him?”

“Artie had good intuition, Joseph. He knew things would happen before they did. It’s just that we couldn’t see what he saw. Did you know that a year ago, I think almost to this day, about the time Michael and Sarah were married, he told me he was going to die? I told him to quit being silly but he went about setting all of his affairs in order in the most ‘matter of fact’ way. The strange thing is he never seemed ill. Can you imagine? If I had known this was actually going to happen,” Annabelle paused to catch her breath and Joseph put his arm around her, “if I’d known, well, I guess I would have spent my time differently.”

And Sarah married Michael and they had a son. His name was Marcus and they lived in exile.5

“Ok, we both have to stop this. We’re punishing ourselves. Arthur would not be impressed,” replied Joseph with a smile as he attempted to redirect both his and Annabelle’s energy.

And in the coming days and years the sons of Joseph multiplied and spread out over the land and took it as their own. They made war with the Californians and Cascadians and drove them from their citadels and into the sea.6

“You’re right, of course. Artie would NOT be impressed,” replied Annabelle as she wiped her eyes with a white tissue and forced a smile.

“Joseph, I don’t know what I’m going to do. With the children and Arthur gone, there is so much to do here. Maybe you could stay for a little while and help me sort it out?”

Joseph turned his back to Arthur’s casket and looked out over the chapel hall. A small handful of locals who had known Arthur filled the pews. Annabelle was alone.

“I’ll see what I can do. For now, don’t worry. Just focus on what needs to be done over the next day or two and we’ll go from there. You’re not alone.”

Annabelle hugged Joseph and wiped her eyes again, “Wait here a moment,” she said and disappeared into the back room. She returned a minute later with a small pine box and handed it to Joseph.

And Angela died in Joseph’s sixty eighth year and so to did his youngest son, Nathaniel and he took in Nathaniel’s children and raised them as his own.7

“Shortly before Arthur died he brought me this box and made me promise that I would give it to you after he was gone. He made me promise not to open it, and I haven’t, I’ve kept my promise. He said you would know what to do once you looked inside. I’m going to go speak with the pastor and prepare for services and leave you with it.”

Joseph nodded his head as Annabelle once more disappeared into the back room.

He looked at Arthur’s corpse and said aloud, “What are you up to Artie,” and opened the box? Inside was a bed of red silk with a tiny vial of black liquid. A letter was attached to the inside of the lid. Joseph took the letter from its clasp and opened it. It read:

“Don’t throw this one away. It is all that is left. And kindly take care of Annabelle for me.

Your Friend,
Arthur”

Joseph smiled and shook his head, closed the box and tucked it under his arm.

And in his seventy fifth year Joseph married Annabelle. And although she was past the age of fruitfullness she gave Joseph two sons, Seth and Alexander. And they honored their father and conquered the lands east of the Red and took for themselves Appalachia and drove its inhabitants from its cities, hills and valleys and into the lands along the sea.8

_____

UN Permanent Executive Authority, California Territory August 17th, 2074

General Chen sat at his desk staring at a tiny glass vial, now three-quarters full of a strange black liquid. It had the consistency of maple syrup but left no residue on the walls of the vial as he turned it over and over and over again between his thumb and index finger.

He paused for a moment then did as he had done dozens of times in the past week and held the vial up to the light. To his eye, it seemed as though the light would not penetrate it so he set the vial back into the small pine box that it had arrived in and picked up the letter that had accompanied it and read it again.

“For General Chen, head of Intelligence, West Coast UNNA.

With warm regards,

Professor Arthur Roman, Gentleman Farmer”

It had been many years since Chen had heard or thought of that name, so many that he had long forgotten about the professor and his mysterious disappearance. His department had investigated Roman’s time in Peru and found nothing out of the usual. He and Professor Little had visited Machu Picchu and spent time with some of the native tribes. He believed one of them had taken part in a spiritual ceremony involving a concoction cooked up by the locals but there was nothing more. No record of what it was they were looking for or if they found it. Chen wondered if perhaps the arrival of the vial and its contents were related to their visit and their subsequent disappearance. Was it a sign or a trap?

He picked the vial up again and shook it. The liquid inside sloshed around but left nothing on the wall of the vial in the portion that was not filled.

“Fascinating,” thought Chen and he set the vial back in its box again.

The general leaned back in his chair twidded his thumbs and waited anxiously. He looked at the small black star shaped tattoo and implant on the back of his hand and waved it over the surface of his desk. His holo-screen appeared and he pointed at the media icon and opened the ‘News Overview’ option.

Russia withdraws from UN Security Council,  Troops Amass along Georgian Border in Contrevention of the Caucasus Accord.

No summer for Siberia or Alasksa. Scientists Agree CO2 Emmisions to Blame. Call for an Increase In Global Carbon Tax.

Anarchy! Dakotan’s Publicly Execute Two High Councilmen and Senate Speaker for Political Corruption – World Stunned, Sanctions Continue.

UN fights Organized Crime in Appalacian and Midwest District. Are Dakotan’s Arming Terrorists and Gangs?

UN and Texas continue talks over Florida Expansion. UN to Hand Over Governance of remaining Territory by 2080.

In Public Address White Supremacist, Islamaphobic Swiss General Vows European Caliphate will Fall.

Is Europe Losing the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Her Young People? Radicalized European Youth Flock to Switzerland to Join in Swiss ‘Counter Jihad’.

Far Right Wing Radical Swiss Militia Invade Italy. Take Turin & Milan. UN & Islamic Defense Forces Dig in and Prepare to Defend the Italian Penninsilua. World Peace and Order Threatened.

General Chen laughed and cleared the screen. In his mind, the only thing that was threatened was order. World peace had never truly been a concern of anyone’s beyond naive housewives and idealistic, brainwashed university students. The two things were separate and unrelated if not opposing forces. Nonetheless, the general population saw them as symbiotic and as such, their marriage was necessary for the continuation of the narrative.

The narrative. It was always the job of intelligence and their media and bureaucratic wings to steer and control ‘the narrative’. Chen wondered, did anyone believe it anymore? Certainly, the North American collapse of fifty some years ago was evidence that the Americans had rejected it, at least for a time. But what of the rest of the world? What of Europe? Those pesky Swiss and their sympathetic European brethren that kept flooding in and replenishing their ranks seemed to indicate that it was losing traction there too. And now the Finns were acting up and threatening to invade Sweden to expel the Mohammedans from their borders. In secret, the Russians had even offered them troops and equipment for the purpose. My, what a change a hundred years or more of time can bring, thought the general.

It seemed the UN would plug one hole in the dike and another would appear. Shaming the offenders with a steady barrage of name calling in the media and legal trickery in the courts seemed to make things worse. In spite of what Chen was being told by UN diplomats things abroad seemed to be spiraling out of control. The Russian absence from the security council was a solid sign that things were falling apart. Chen wondered, with the build up of their troops on the Georgian border, were they the next cog in the machine to break?

Perhaps. General Liu had once told him, never underestimate a North American or trust a Russian. It seemed he was right on both fronts.

“General Chen, your tea is ready,” said the voice from his desktop.

“Bring it in please,” she was thirty, single, latino, and tall with pouty red lips and full round hips. She looked fantastic in a skirt. The one thing that made California pleasant thought Chen, was latino women. He kept them on staff – always. He would frequently say to himself, “there has to be some advantage to being in charge.”

She set the cup and saucer on his desk, “General, Dr. Albrecht is waiting outside along with Colonel Stevens. Should I send them in?”

“Of course corporal, send them in immediately, please,” The general picked up his tea and, as he always did he let the steam hit his nostrils before taking a sip.

As he took his first drink Dr. Albrecht and Colonel Stevens entered the room. Chen set his cup back in its saucer and motioned for the two of them to sit.

“Gentlemen, good afternoon. Colonel Stevens, I thought it would be important for you to sit in on this meeting since it relates to a case that some of your men lost their heads over a number of years ago,” Stevens never cracked a smile at the General’s comment, “you’re already familiar with the details of Dr. Roman’s case and you should have been briefed by now on his current status and the interesting little surprise we received from border services a few weeks ago.”

“I am familiar with all the details General and I have introduced myself to Dr. Albrecht.”

“Good. We’ll dispense with formalities and get right to it then,” Chen pulled the vial from its pine box and set it in the middle of his desk and asked, “so what is it?”

Albrecht sighed and raised his eyebrows, “Well general, we’ve run it through every test at our disposal and the truth is we don’t really know.”

General Chen leaned forward in his chair, placed his forearms on his desk and clasped his hands, “So you’re telling me that after four weeks in the most advanced labs on the face of the planet that you are no closer to figuring this out than you were nearly a month ago?”

“I’m sorry General Chen but that is correct. We have run every type of analysis known to man and all we have are theories at this stage. We cannot, or rather the substance will not allow our equipment to determine its composition using either chemical or atomic methods of inquiry. We have tested a small amount of it on rats in the lab just to see what it does to living subjects. It does not kill them but over the period of a few days, it appears to alter their genetic structure. It does not appear to be harmful to them or even particularly beneficial although I would say that somehow they seem less stressed. In fact, I would say we have the most ‘laid back’ rats of any lab in the territory,” Albrecht smiled and let out a nervous chuckle, adjusted his glasses and sat back further in his chair.

Chen continued to look Albrecht in the eyes as Stevens observed, “What do you mean by ‘will not allow’,” he asked the Dr. without altering either his gaze or his tone?

“Well sir it’s rather complicated and to be honest with you, at this stage a physicist would be able to explain it to you better than I can. But near as I can tell it displays a sort of ‘consciousness’. I think the reason we cannot analyze it is because it does not wish to be analyzed. Are you familiar with the double-slit experiment general?”

“No. But I have a feeling you are about to enlighten me.”

“Yes sir, well in a nutshell electrons will act differently based on whether or not they are being observed by our equipment. If electrons are not observed with say a camera, they act as waves and particles simultaneously but if we observe them and their movement with our equipment they act as particles. It’s almost as if they display consciousness and alter their behavior based on our observation of them or, possibly our conscious observation of them alters their behavior. The substance in your vial is acting in a similar manner. It has properties that we can see with the naked eye. We can test it on living subjects and see how it affects them but when it comes right down to looking inside of it, well, it goes from being something to being nothing. It acts differently based on how we observe it.”

“That’s completely fucked up,” blurted Stevens, catching the Dr. and General Chen off guard, “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. Are you telling me that stuff, that goo in that vial, is alive and conscious?”

“No Colonel, what I am telling you is it is either conscious of our behavior and acting accordingly or our consciousness is affecting its behavior. In short, we have just entered the Twilight Zone.”

“Thankyou gentlemen, that will be all,” said Chen as he sat back up in his seat.

“Sir, with your permission I would like to administer the substance to a human subject,” said Albrecht.

“I agree,” chimed Stevens.

Chen leaned back in his chair, stared at the vial and tapped the tips of his fingers together. He hummed, screwed up his nose and mouth, leaned forward, grabbed the vial and dismissed the two men, “No gentlemen, we will not be using this on a human test subject. Whatever it is, whatever it does, will have to remain a mystery for the time being. Thank you, both. You are dismissed.”

The other two men stared at one another with looks of near panic and frustration in their eyes. But they said nothing except, “Yes sir,” then rose from their chairs and left the room.

Once they were gone and the door to his office was closed Chen picked up the vial and once more held it to the light. He turned it over a few times, shook it, then removed the lid and drank the remainder of Arthur Roman’s mystery mixture.

___

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