| Humanaissance |
By Steven Lance
TIME WAS, ONCE, when sun rays shone golden through sheer azure blue, not long ago on planet Earth. Now, at the threshold of the Twenty-third Century, daylight is diffuse fluorescence; the sky, a hemispheric cloud-glow in one of two shades. Hazy day or starless night.
Clean air is a fairy tale of how it used to be. The same for pure water. So, too, food. Fourteen billion scavenging, ravaging inhabitants have helped make it so just by being and needing. But the weather has also been a huge factor. Brutal storms have become the norm perpetually in progress around the world. Extremes of hot and cold have severely hampered global agriculture. Of course, the weather results from hand of man, fossil fuel fouling of the atmosphere.
Unfortunately for the residents of Earth, as their demands have expanded geometrically, supply has been steadily diminishing. Tempers, so long held below point of ignition, are lit and ready to flare.
Unfortunately for the residents of Earth, having coalesced into but eight regional mega entities for purposes of cost cutting efficiency, Earth governments are more removed than ever from the daily plight humanity endures. As the solid majority, The Masses, have become more and more disillusioned, disaffected. As the well of governmental assistance has dried up. So, too has the placid pool of obedience become a roiling sea swell of black marketeering, a pending sea-change towards utter lawlessness.
To quell such chaos, governments have moved steadily rightward. Well beyond merely fascistic to New Age mongrelization: Free Will Totalitarianism.
Earth humans get to choose their own cages, negotiate the length of their leash, enjoy infinite choice among any/all conceivable Hells. Yet, as brainwashing is complete, nearly every one of them, if and/or when asked, reply, they are living well.
Unfortunately for the bulk of residents on Earth, only the educated and skilled can afford to live. The rest, the roaches, scurry to survive. Adaptation on the fly.
Boiled down to its primal essence, Earth reality 2198 A.C.E. (After the Common Era) is totally constituted by two great bullies, the monied elite and governmental elite, squeezing the last bit of lifeblood out of Humans and planet. As more and more resources are poured into crowd control and unleashed planetary extractions, less are the funds available for everything else.
Space exploration is done. Once again relegated to the exclusive realm of science fiction. There are no probes. Manned or otherwise. No telescopes either: Earth-based, rendered useless by incessant cloud cover; space-based, long gone and never replaced deigned too costly. The colonies on the Moon and Mars are the full extent of Humanity's outer reach.
Suffice it to say conditions are dire even as ever thinning veneer of an ultra modernized, efficient system has yet to crack all the way through thereby exposing ugly realities.
Not quite yet anyway.
For, all across the face of this planet, there exist pockets of resistance. Humans grouping here and there refusing to accede their souls to one elite interest or the other and deciding to fight back. Here and there. Thrust, slice, and run. Drawing blood. Their hope, death to Elite tyranny by a thousand small cuts. Then, should good fortune prevail, the victim will grow faint, stagger and reel. And, once unbalanced by inertial wobble, toppling to the ground is pre-ordained. In the muck and mire it will have to compete; an environment called home by the Masses.
One such proactive thrust, slice and run operation is headed by Jyro Beerse, renowned one-time private sector communication hardware expert currently a tenured Applied Science professor teaching about same at AmeriNation's foremost Technical University.
Along with seven of TU's best and brightest post grads and doctoral candidates, Jyro Beerse is striking out on behalf of all humankind. Having taken many business trips to Mars and the Moon, he had been exposed to some rather startling realities, of which all but a few have no idea. As instructed, he had never discussed Mars at all unless directly related to his field of expertise. Never once mentioned his highest security rating to anyone for to have done so would have been to beg the question, Why are classified secrets pertaining to the Martian and Moon colonies necessary? Also, there is little doubt that for him to have let on about the sinister implications of what he has witnessed he would have long ago been liquidated posthaste.
All of which is precisely why he has become a zealot on a mission to protect off-world colonists. For Jyro had finally grown unable to escape the inevitable. He seemed to be the only one to see what wickedness was to come. And even though he knows he knows only one small section of some grander, more obscene vision, Jyro Beerse knows that for him not to do whatever he can to stop this assault on humanity makes it a done deal. For who else, he has asked himself countless times, will do what needs to be done? Or, even knows what needs to be done? His answer has always been the same. No one.
Thus was Jyro Beerse ushered into the fray. A decade ago he began to cultivate desirable philosophies among the brightest of his undergraduates while herding them along a scholastic path to future professorship so that they could ultimately collaborate on fantastic new communication hardware advances. Over the years he had lost many more students than he won over. But, those on his side, are fanatically on his side. First and foremost because of his genius. Secondly because wrongs need to be set right; their credo, as Professor Beerse is wont to say, "A revolution cannot be born without plenty of mothers and fathers."
Sworn to secrecy among themselves they have so far remained safe, undetected. It is with cool reserve of clear intent that they embark on this mission as have they on missions past, in the hope that their acts of defiance will inspire a world full of people to follow suit. They seek to retail the revolution to plenty of potential mommies and daddies.
At a remote location in AmeriNation's Rocky Mountains, Jyro Beerse and his trusted band of "terrorists" operate in flashlight making ready stacks of equipment they have assembled inside this commandeered AirForce facility. Once a high security installation, still surrounded by razor wire topped chain link fencing and sensor beam detection netting, this wood framed outpost has been completely abandoned for years, mothballed to save money. But, that is not the reason Professor Beerse has chosen this particular installation. Nor was it because its defenses were so easily surmountable. No, the reason this facility was chosen is because it has on premises a fully functional satellite uplink dish.
A thrumming, bone deep hum accompanies flickering illumination that dims to dark a couple or few times before the fully choked generators sputter, ready to even out and deliver electric current in steady flow without computer frying spikes and surges.
Two members of the team return from having established a full access wireless media transmission feed via small dish capture.
One member remains outside on sentry duty inside a van watching six monitor screens showing empty terrain.
The two man generator team joins the two already setting up and connecting transmission hardware to computers.
Jyro Beerse cannot help himself. He smiles ear to ear pinkening his skin to deeper contrast against full mane of wispy white hair. From a canvas bag he pulls out gaily colored one piece latex full head coverings with two small openings at the nose for breathing and two eyeholes apiece. Next he pulls out white coveralls trimmed at the sleeve and neck with the same gay colors as the headpieces. Jyro sets about matching each with the other until he has seven pairings plus his own which is all white except for the rainbow lettering on his coveralls.
He contacts his lonesome sentry and issues instructions to join them for a moment. To the remaining assemblage he says, "Okay, people...Here we go. Kaibo...Nessa...Vonz...Dimitre..." Jyro tosses a headgear/coverall pair to each of his disciples. They each pull on their garb with chest-bearing message and ID protecting full head hoods. With inclusion of the sentry, Beerse's Brigade, as they sometimes refer to themselves, resemble smooth-headed super heroes in a rainbow of colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Across the chest of each coverall, in hood matching color is emblazoned their single proclamation: Colonists Are Humans Too.
As Jyro Beerse looks upon his chosen few, pride shines as bright as a beacon. He timesets a camera and hurries to join his team. A flash captures them determined but smiling. He shouts.
"Let's make history, ladies an' gents."
His sentry is dispensed back into duty with a wave of one hand even as his other hand urges the team to prepare itself.
Outside, the long dormant uplink dish pivots with a metal groan of disuse, smoothes out, flawlessly takes aim on pre-chosen satellite. Their signal will include a classified by-pass transmission code to allow data transfer directly on to Mars.
Inside, on monitor screen, a full access wireless media transmission stream intercept is confirmed; containing every media offering available on Earth.
A disciple looks up from her gauges, shouts "Full power up completed!"
Jyro Beerse hesitates not at all. "Transmit!" is his historic order. Switches are flipped, shifters glide guiding enhancement of transmission towards perfect transfer.
This moment freezes in time; millionsfold thoughts from tick to tock. Uplink now operative, sends full unaltered feed speed-of-light fast to sky obscured satellite which transfers data onto Mars rather than back to an Earth based research lab as originally programmed.
Outside, blood pours from between the eyeholes of the sentry's full cover hood. Sniper's work done, there is no alert announcing the quickly closing ring of AmeriNation Security Force Rangers and trailing corps of media personnel videoing this operation for posterity.
Inside, it is not until all six security monitors swarm with activity that Jyro notices. And for a full infinite count he denies reality: Absolutely impossible.
Unless. Yes! Betrayal! Jyro Beerse hones in on the face of every disciple. One after the other. Each fully intent on their performance of duty. Except one. Their eyes meet.
"You!?" Jyro beholds a smiling Russian.
Walls splinter into sawdust as heavy weapon fire is a nonstop popping rhythm midst sheer pinging cascades of spent cartridges. Beerse's Brigade operates according to training, keeping focused on performance of duty, attempting to remove all trace of what was sent where. One by one they die.
The onslaught is so massive that in less than two minutes little of the structure remains standing. The order to stand down is issued. Blood-stained rubble heaps are checked. Bodies are bagged. Videographers capture it all.
The commander of this operation, blond, rugged Jerrod Lancer, barks orders to his troops. "I want every square centimeter searched. He's in here somewhere, God damn it!" He calls out, his voice echoing off into the wilderness. "Dimitre!"
For a long moment there is only the sound of wind. Then, blood stained sawdust stirs. A dry, hacking cough precedes deep voiced response. "Da...Iss Dimitre."
It is the final thing Jyro Beerse hears before letting go; in one split second, the act and actor revealed; and he, reeling off should-have-dones unto his last Earthly thought.
* * *
Early morning Martian sky, pre-dawn and dark, gives pristine character to galactic hemisphere of stars that enhances the pale passage of ovoid Phobos moon on first of three daily west-to-east transits. Only a few degrees of arc separates it from its much slower other, Deimos; two waning crescents like unblinking eyes staring deep into space. So thin, as to verge on non-existent, the atmosphere pressing upon Colony vivaria does not offend the purity of infalling starshine with distracting distortion. Typical mornings are as lucid.
Briskly walking through one of many plastiglass surface arteries that connect major components of this Mars Colony Central Complex located at twenty-five degrees latitude, two-hundred-forty degrees longitude, between Aetheria and Aethiopis, just west of Elysium's geologic wonder zone, Hyblaeus Chaos-- the planet's first and largest; the hub of Martian society --Akeem Shalom O'Sullivan marvels at the cold beauty overhead; arousal of innate yearning; a ritual without tenets that he has engaged in all his twenty-four years of life. For, even as a baby Akeem had had a crib with sky view. His cycles of sleep and wakefulness did gently woo him whilst the watching eyes of a hundred billion suns sang quiet lullaby of permanence, security, affirmation of his presence in universe. Beyond his grasp, infant Akeem had nevertheless felt their soothing touch, so real, and he knew they were within reach.
Such is the subtle yet major difference among nearly two-hundred thousand Martian colonists from their Earthly counterparts. Even those of the Moonbase Colony have not been as deeply impressed by the song of universal expanse. The fact that Moonlings have three generations more history than the Martians, the fact that Moon's gravity being but one-sixth that of Earth and only forty-four percent that of Mars has accelerated Moon-born genome-tweaked humans' physiology towards tall, willowy, large-headed specimens resembling the fabled aliens of a bygone science fiction era at a much faster pace than evolution alone could account for, these facts notwithstanding, only the Martian psyche can truly be called celestial.
Earthers have always thought of their world as the center of Creation. Thus have they always suffered false pride; all but for an infinitesimal handful across a span of eons who envisioned an off-world remedy to Earthly misperception. But, with Moonbase completion and the successive spawning of seven generations of Moonlings, Planet Earth still is the point of major Human focus. Largest object in the sky, it demands much more than its share of attention. Earth has remained, if even only psychically, home to the Moonlings. A longing, genetically transferred and visually reinforced every moment of every day since inception of Moon Colony, exerts sufficient force to warp perceptions keeping Earth the center about which Universe spins.
On Mars, however, stars and outer planets take precedence. Here, Jupiter and Saturn garner gazes, act as bread crumbs to lead Martians out from the Forest into star-laden clearing where each child reacts with joy embracing an awesome universe as they would their mothers.
As does Akeem Shalom O'Sullivan, no longer walking but standing still, head back, eyes wide with wonder. He stares past plastiglass at the stars above, absorbing this psychotropic scene until he becomes intoxicated.
Akeem smiles. He laughs softly out loud. Fortified by his morning dosage he resumes his way to work at a jog. His mind is flooded with ambrosial emotion, ecstatic that he is Martian; in love with his life. And, especially in love with his work.
As a columnist for the planet's most widely subscribed to daily vidloid (video tabloid), The Martian Chronicler, Akeem has achieved his heart's desire using his writing as a weapon for peace and justice. On the planet named for ancient Rome's God of War, circled by its two moons Fear and Panic, Akeem hopes to spread peace and harmony throughout his world by virtue of the power of the written word.
His parents, of course, had hoped he would have chosen one of the more pragmatic professions, becoming a technician, scientist, or administrator. They, like all Martians-- descendants from a multi-national mix of Moon-settlers with English as a common language --had read the Earthly classics and had enjoyed them immensely.
His parents, like all Martians, have remained avid readers (voracious, even) throughout their lives. Yet, unlike Akeem, they had never been struck with the magical quality of writer/reader symbiosis, with the actual process, of symbols applied to paper, centuries before, on another world, being transferred via eye-scan to Martian minds, giving rise to visions, wringing out emotions, vibrating with the ring of Truth, in the Earth-measured year 2198 A.C.E.
Such fascination with the written word very soon had transformed into a passion for writing which Akeem pursued. There was no hesitation when declaring his intention for post-graduate studies even though no writing positions were then available. At twenty-one years of age, according to custom, when the majority of his peers chose one of the pragmatic professions and the rest acquiesced to careers in maintenance, Akeem had gambled his future against his love, against his compulsion to write, and had won.
Akeem continues his jogging pace along the deserted artery, breathing deeply the Complex's recycled trace-sweet air, feeling great and recalling his first day on the job one year ago; how he had suggested to Editor Adams that a new column stressing the historical (specifically, the Earth Human) aspects of current Martian society would not only be interesting to most colonists but also beneficial as such a column would serve to strengthen human unity. Natasha Hearst Adams had thought it a "marvelous" idea and told Akeem to compose a representative sample. He had immediately pulled from his briefcase ten such articles, which he had written during his free time the previous year, and handed them to Editor Adams. She had been very impressed, much more so after having read them. They became his first ten columns and aroused very favorable reader response which established Akeem Shalom O'Sullivan as an indispensable member of The Martian Chronicler staff.
Approaching the end of the plastiglass artery, Akeem slows his advancing pace from jog to trot, to walk, to standing still. He hunches over, inhaling and exhaling deeply. When his breathing has returned to normal he straightens up, turns around, and takes a final look at the universal expanse over head. As ever, the view brings a smile to his face.
Akeem exults, "Love it...Love it...Love it..." He pivots half-circle and enters AuxPlex 23, a huge cylindrical structure rising thirty floors, one-hundred-fifteen meters above the Martian surface yet, comparative to the hundreds of other buildings that comprise Mars Colony Central Complex (or, Tri-C to the natives), this auxiliary building is considered below average in terms of size. For Akeem, however having spent all but the last two years in an Outpost setting-- consisting of well less than a hundred structures, none higher than 30 meters --AuxPlex 23 seems to scrape the stars. Every morning he rides the tubular, open-view lift to the top floor in order to watch the sprawling city of gloss white, gloss black, flat white, flat black, metallic silver, and plastiglass domes and cylinders, shrink in upon itself as the surrounding rust-red planetscape grows more expansive until, at the top floor, a panoramic view of the Martian horizon silhouetted by the first weak rays of dawn, stands out in all its desolate glory. And still, after a year's worth of daily exposure, this scene takes Akeem's breath away. And always, as now, he unconsciously fingers the button for Level 12 and descends, spiritually refreshed.
As the lift-tube door opens, the view is shuttered. Akeem glides into the Chronicler lobby.
"Morning, Akeem." calls out the receptionist, a white haired, pink-eyed beauty, in her usual treacle voiced greeting.
He turns his radiant smile upon her and waves.
She visibly brightens.
Akeem has only recently noticed this response, and only after a friend of a friend of a friend of the receptionist had engaged him in conversation a few days ago during which mention was made that Taro Paganini Kajaani thought he was terrific (and very good looking, too).
He feels himself blushing as he continues through the lobby, no doubt under the appreciative gaze of Taro Kajaani. Akeem cannot bear to look to confirm his suspicion, afraid that if he does and she is, he will freeze up. Or, melt down. Or, respond in some other equally ridiculous way that will diminish him in her eyes. And Akeem wants very, very much to have Taro like him. A lot. For, he has, since his first glimpse of her, been rather enamored. Learning three days ago that his sentiments are not unrequited, his symptoms of First Love Syndrome have worsened. He has countered by steadily pumping up his courage in hopes that soon, maybe tomorrow, he will be able to approach her and ask for a date. As he enters the partitioned cubicle that serves as his office, he solemnly promises himself that Friday of next week, whether he has the nerve or not, he will introduce himself to Taro Paganini Kajaani.
Bolstered by the force and verity of this edict, Akeem finds the power to dispel his oddly pleasant emotional mix of conflict, embarrassment, and desire, and busies himself with his work rituals. He sits at his desk console and turns on his main monitor which is interfaced with the Earth Transmission Influx mainframe located in Tri-C's Central Authority building. ETI is a never-ending, multi-channeled stream dose of video with an 'almost-like-being-there' quality. Its content is Earth produced programming with emphasis on current political events and natural science shows which delve into specific areas (in the context of present knowledge applied to the past) in various fields of study that include Geology, Anthropology, Ethology, History, Sociology, et cetera, and all as pertains to the Earth. Of course, so profuse is the influx that only Central Complex's Central Authority, the two competing vidloids, and a few Outpost research facilities are privy to the unedited ETI feed. The general population gets to see only a fraction of what is transmitted from Earth. Still, ETI is the main link colonists have to their 'homeworld'.
Because of physiological differences caused by lessened gravity, (Moonlings more so effected than Martians) colonists are unable to visit Earth. Skeletal elongation and the thinning of bone have produced Martian males that average eight feet tall. Martian females average seven feet; Moonlings, even taller. Therefore, colonists are not suited for Earth gravity and even less so the enormous stress applied by the attainment of escape velocity required for a return voyage. In fact, the last colonist to visit Earth, nearly one century ago, a healthy, fourth generation Moonling, was literally crushed to death, having had all his bones shattered by the g-force of acceleration to 25,000 miles per hour.
Akeem keeps his eyes on the ETI monitor while feel-finding the power button for two flanking monitors. The first, on his right, is Mars' intraplanetary informational network. The second, on his left, displays the recorded portion of ETI that he misses every evening when he goes home to sup and sleep.
So surrounded, Akeem O'Sullivan manages to keep informed.
The current ETI offering is a report on the unprecedented summit meeting being held at the only neutral site remaining on Earth, Antarctica. Never before have all national leaders met in one place at one time to discuss their mutually relevant policies; not even during the signing of the Great Consolidation Treaty of 2051, when hundreds of nations were incorporated into but eight mega-entities in an effort to not only balance power, via initiating momentum towards global unification, but also balance budgets via cost cutting elimination of redundancy and cost saving efficiency measures.
Well-versed in such reportage, Akeem can tell by the summit correspondent's intonation that nothing of import has yet transpired. He turns his attention towards the monitor on the right just in time to catch an update synopsis of what has been happening around Mars: The usual array of scientific breakthroughs in research and development, of lectures and special events that had been or will be held; other sundry reports. Nothing, however to form a basis for Akeem's column.
He swivels his chair bringing his full attention back to the ETI monitor loaded with a sleep period recorded disc from two days before which he has yet to review. He debates whether or not to view it, decides to put it off until later and replaces it with last evening's recording. For the next twenty minutes, his interest is held by a perfunctory historical review of terrorism.
Upon conclusion, Akeem's emotions are churning, which is always his first clue that a column idea is about to erupt. He concentrates on manifesting a word to serve as fulcrum upon which he can balance his feelings so that the clarity of attained equilibrium will allow unencumbered outpouring of thought.
"Abhorrent?" thinks Akeem. "No...Abominable? Disgusting? Horrendous?" He concentrates harder, as if focusing a camera, striving for balance.
"No, it's...It's tragic."
And the floodgates open. His reservoir of wondering flows freely. Akeem wonders what on Earth could possibly be so problematic as to motivate murder of innocents? And, to what end? Or, could it be that terrorists have no ends, merely an addiction to the means? A way of life of violence force-fed to them in doses of death and dismemberment, both physically and psychically, by friends and relatives that become the manna of their maniacism.
By unconscious rote his fingers press the necessary keys to connect him with Central Authority's library mainframe. They respond to synthe-voiced request for access code. Verification of Akeem's authority automatically projects upon his com-screen a macro-menu of micro-menus, any one of which, when chosen, becomes its own macro-menu of micro-menus. Deeper and deeper his fingers bring Akeem to the threshold of his topic. Wondering provides his questions that can only be answered by his wandering through the multi-megabyte maze of available information. He will not emerge from this pursuit of a balanced historical analysis of terrorism for several hours.
* * *
"There!" exclaims Akeem as he applies the last period to his piece beating deadline by an hour. He sits back and breathes freely. It is always at this moment of column completeness that the full realization of his preceding scribe-trance strikes him. As it does now. And, he tingles with energized contentedness prompting him to pay silent homage to the magical realm of writing and his place in it. Once this tingling subsides, he keys up the proof-read program and waits for the computer scan results. A flashing green L.E.D. light signals that the column is errorless.
Humming to himself Akeem digitally requests editorial approval. A "Hold Please" flashing red border instantly tells him he has time to get himself a much needed cup of stimu-brew.
Exiting his office he saunters down the aisle flanked by walls of adjacent cubicles. He repeatedly swings his gaze left and right seeing most Chronicler staffers absorbed in their assignments. A few, those also waiting for editorial approval, upon glimpsing Akeem's passage, smile and wave; courtesies that he happily returns.
The refreshment area is deserted. Akeem quickly prepares himself a large cup of stimu-brew, adding and mixing his favorite flavor enhancements, and retraces his route fully occupied in blowing steam from the surface of his brew. Entering his cubicle he is surprised and somewhat annoyed to see his monitor still flashing red. He had been hoping for column approval so that he could send it off to Broadcast Division and call it a day.
Akeem sits back down at his desk-console, sipping his brew, reads through his piece one more time. He glides on perceptionary thermals and rises slowly to new insight. His reference work still fresh in his mind is suddenly no longer a single body of data. Demarcation is obvious. Without the constraints of preconceived judgment, the data sorts itself into what came before and what came after the year 2088 AD. For, prior to that date, governmental proclamations-- while historically disinforming the public as to the objectives of and/or grievances by terrorist groups --at least acknowledged the fact that terrorists did indeed have objectives and grievances which motivated their acts of violence. Likewise, much media debate centered around root causation of terrorism though never progressing anywhere near the point of validation of the legitimacy of those objectives and grievances.
However, since 2088 AD, governmental proclamations and media have been singularly condemning. All terrorists have been painted with a single brush; caricatures of mutant beasts that kill indiscriminately, without conscience or cause.
Akeem's psychic flight soars to new height even as shiver of instability threatens to send him plunging: The year of demarcation precisely coincides with the establishment of Martian Colony Central Command, when Earthlings first immigrated to Mars to set up a new home for Humankind. Why? Coincidence? Or, by design? If so, whose design?
"You, too, huh?" sounds a voice from behind Akeem.
Terence Woodward-Bernstein B'tswana, the Chronicler's most controversial political pundit, leans up against the doorjamb, arms folded across his chest.
"Hmmm? What's that?"
"I said, you're waiting for E.A. too, huh? A bunch of us are. Wonder if there's a malfunction or something?"
"Uhm, yeah. Editorial approval's never taken this long. I...I don't know what it is."
"You all right, Akeem? You seem, I don't know, distracted?"
"Oh, I'm...I'm fine. I was just thinking about, well..." Akeem wonders if he should reiterate his thoughts to the elder B'tswana. He thinks, why not?
"Tell me, Terence. With you expertise of the Earth-based governments' political mechanizations, how prevalent are sudden changes in policy rhetoric coming, not just from one government, but from all of them? An obvious, unanimous, simultaneous, identical change?"
"I don't quite understand what you're getting at. Give me a 'for instance'."
"Okay...In researching my column on terrorism for tomorrow's edition, I found that there is a distinct difference in the rhetoric used by governments and media before the year Twenty Eighty-eight, and their rhetoric advanced after that date. Before, even though governments were disinforming the public with exaggerated bias against terrorists' aims and means, at least the public was aware that there were aims and means. After Twenty Eighty-eight, there is only condemnation. No discussion whatsoever about the objectives of any terrorist organization."
Terence B'tswana's eyes are narrowed, one furry brow is highly arched. He strokes his chin in pensive manner. Shaking his head side-to-side, he responds.
"I-uh...Well..." He cranes his neck backwards, glances up and down the aisle before continuing in a softer voice. "I noticed that disparity quite a few years ago when I was Bureau Chief at the main Moon Colony for an Earth-based daily. I checked into it. Found that there wasn't any formal agreement. No resolution. Nothing. But..." Again B'tswana leans back through the entranceway and scans the aisle. He leans forward into the cubicle, closer to Akeem. "...the most curious thing I found was that my highly placed sources, those that I'd been doing business with for many years, suddenly refused to talk to me. So, I wrote a piece about the 'Silent Oath' as I put it. Well, I didn't get editorial approval and soon after I was told that my services were no longer required. That's what brought me here."
Akeem tries his best to hide his skepticism. For the paranoiac tendencies of Terence B'tswana are well known among Chronicler staffers. Of course, in his defense, the fact that he is controversial, that his columns are always finding fault with either Earth government policies or the administerial policies of Mars' own Central Authority, B'tswana can, perhaps be excused his hypersensitivity. But, should he be believed? After all, it is easy to assume that someone taking the freenom-- Freenom, the self-naming ritual held at twenty-one years of age celebrating one's highest aspirations upon passage into adulthood --'Woodward-Bernstein' is a person who expects to be involved in his fair share of political intrigue. And, might not such expectations warp perceptions to the point of bonafide paranoia?
"My advice to you, son is forget about it. Re-do your piece. Leave this alone. I did. Until you brought it up I hadn't thought about that since I came to Mars over two decades ago."
Akeem tries to voice his incredulity, "But/..."
"Look," says Terence with a face full of impatience. "It's a non-story, Akeem. I mean, obviously some sort of covert agreement was struck. So what? Terrorism was, still is, universally considered reprehensible behavior. It's probably the only issue all governments do agree on. Again...So what?"
"Because of the date, Terence. Twenty Eighty-eight. The year of Martian colonization."
B'tswana laughs out loud, "Whew-hoo-hoo..."
Akeem winces from the completely unexpected response.
"Boy, oh boy, an' I thought my conspiratorial linkages were far out! Jesus H., son. What possible connection could there be?!"
Akeem is thoroughly embarrassed. He now realizes that, besides the date, there is absolutely no connection between the establishment of Tri-C and the secret agreement among Earth governments to utilize rhetoric of unified condemnation of terrorist acts. They are disparate events separated by fifty million miles. Even Akeem sees the airy quality of his suspicion. He laughs along with Terence.
"You...You keep thinking like that, Akeem and they'll lock your Martian ass up!"
"Yeah, well, like I said, it was just a thought. I didn't write about it or anything. My piece is about the reasons why I think we don't have terrorism here on Mars. And why we aren't likely to ever have it."
Terence moves to the doorway, turns and says, "There ya go! That sounds more like your style. See ya. Oh, and uh...Thanks for the pick-me-up!" He exists the cubicle laughing.
A sheepish Akeem chuckles to himself. He sighs, swivels back around to face his desk console. The flashing red hold signal instantly disintegrates. He sends his column off to Broadcast. Akeem considers what to do about that unviewed ETI disc.
His four fingered, pinkie-less hands, tap a nervous rhythm on the armrest of his chair. Copying the data to view at home violates Chronicler policy which specifically stipulates that duplication of memory bank stored information for private use is prohibited. Even though the recorded sleep period ETI does not technically qualify-- as its information is not entered into memory but, rather, is erased each afternoon to make room for that evening's influx --the entire sum of ETI is stored in the Chronicler's memory bank library and therefore includes the sleep period information.
Like sunrise, there is a hint of a smile that gradually brightens until full, shining manifestation arises.
He quickly goes about removing a new recording disc from his desk console's bottom drawer and switches it with the unviewed sleep period recording.
"Yeah..." he says happily in half-whisper. "I'll just come in a little early tomorrow and view this first thing."
His conundrum solved, Akeem stores the recording in his bottom desk drawer, exits the cubicle, heads for home. As he steps from the tubelift, he looks across the expansive lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of Taro the receptionist. She spots him, smiles wide, waves. He responds the same. She now appears to be motioning for him to come to come to her. Akeem slows to a stop, points to himself in true, "Who, me?" fashion. She suppresses a giggle and nods her head in the affirmative. His approach is shy and awkward which she enjoys. But, upon meeting face to face, she is perceptive enough to sense his utter discomfort which prompts her to give him relief.
"Look...I-uh...I'm having a little get together tonight with some friends of mine at the Red Orb Cafe. My band is going to play some music, party, and...well, I...I-uhm...I was just wondering if maybe...you know..." Tension silences her. Taro now understands much better the difficulties of asking someone out for a date. She has never done it before. She utterly sympathizes with Akeem's acute, month-long bashfulness. For, the longer she waits, the more inhibiting is the pressure.
Taro's expanding pause has allowed Akeem time to recover. At least somewhat. His mind thaws. Thoughts begin to flow. Now he senses her nervousness, notices the blush giving color to her translucent skin. An equality of sorts has been struck. His words pour out.
"A band, huh? You play in a band. Wow. Sure...I'd love to come. In fact, to tell you the truth, I've wanted to ask you out for a long time, Taro. But...Well, whenever I see you I...I go to pieces. I don't know what to say or how to act. I...I've never felt this way before. You really affect me. Even now. I don't know what I'm saying, or...or...I'd love to go out with you, Taro. I...You were going to/I mean...Oh, I hope I didn't...Ask. You were. Going to, right?"
"He's absolutely precious," thinks Taro Kajaani. Her smile, the brightness of her eyes, the energy coursing through her giving lift to her full mane of white hair, conspire in ethereal alchemy producing an aura-like, whole body halo that quite literally takes Akeem's breath away.
He stands transfixed.
"I guess we feel sorta the same about each other, Akeem. Yes...I was asking you out."
"Then, I accept!" he says without hesitation.
She hands him a card. "That's the club address and my home number. Why don't you come on by tonight. Maybe we can get to know each other a little better."
"I will, Taro. Definitely. Positively."
They gaze into each other's love-glazed eyes for a timeless moment that further enrichens their good feelings.
Not a single Chronicler employee passing through the lobby during this interlude fails to notice Taro's and Akeem's budding romance, so obvious are the signals. One such employee, Terence B'tswana, with obvious humor, calls out to Akeem.
Akeem's eyes dilate. He dully looks in the direction of the voice to see a grinning B'tswana disappear among the cubicles.
Taro smiles, her teeth visible, softly putting pressure on her pouting lower lip.
It is a highly seductive gesture that sends shockwaves of warmth radiating outward from the base of Akeem's spine.
"Better go," says Taro softly.
"Uhm, yeah...I-uh...Thank you. Thank you, so much..." Akeem backs away from her. He feels like he could explode or melt down from the happiness unleashed inside him. He holds up the card she had given him. "Thank you so very, very much!"
Taro Kajaani giggles.
Akeem turns and runs towards the exit, feeling lighter than air; intoxicated. By the time he reaches the artery home, Akeem is positively soaring.
* * *
"Ahh..." purrs Akeem, freshly showered, meal-mellowed, having just taken his first sip of liqueur spiced stimu-brew. He yawns, smacks his lips contentedly. "I'll have to remember that recipe. Best soybean stew I've ever tasted."
Martians are essentially vegetarians. Meat, or its deboned and processed equivalent, is only eaten on very rare occasion. Shipped exclusively from Earth, real meat products are very expensive and always in short supply. On Mars, various bean and plankton substitutes are the staple. They are cultivated in huge vivarium using nutrient enriched Martian soil and water from small lakes of melted polar cap ice. With Botanists for parents, Akeem had spent much of his time as a child in the lush green surroundings of Outpost Nine's vivarium. He had enjoyed that period of his life immensely and had learned much of interest from his two loving parents.
Akeem sips more of his after dinner stimu-brew while gazing at the hologram of his parents across the room.
"Maybe I'll go for a visit this weekend. Haven't seen them in months."
He drifts into warm contentedness. Akeem feels at home here. His apartment, sparsely furnished though quietized snug, suits him well. He cannot hear a thing beyond the perimetral walls of his thickly carpeted domain.
"Mom would be really pleased to hear I loved her latest dish. Maybe I'll give her a call."
Before he slips deeper into lethargy, Akeem fingers the buttons of a small remote control unit built into the circular table at which he sits. High-pitched micro-gear whir is immediately audible from the kitchen area, behind him and to his left. A small wall panel slides aside to allow passage of a light-blinking compubot that rolls on rubber wheels. Its electro magnetic guidance system keeps the compubot exactly centered on an inlaid strip of metal that runs along the top shelf of a bookcase until it reaches the point of table adjacency. At this spot the compubot halts, pivots right, and proceeds counterclockwise around the rim of the table stopping in front of Akeem.
"How we doin' tonight, Bottie?"
"Meep-meep," beeps the compubot.
Akeem stacks the disposable dishes on the flat tray-like body, pats the hemispheric head, and digitates the necessary control buttons to send the compubot on its way around the table edge, back to point of adjacency where it switches to the bookcase guidance strip that urges the mobile unit to return to the kitchen.
Moving to the living room area, Akeem carries his thermotainer of alcohol enhanced stimu-brew in one hand and his half-filled mug in the other. He sits at his command center: A comfortably padded chair ringed by a three-quarter circle of equipment; panelboards and monitors, one each per unit; communication, entertainment and word processor.
He energizes two of the components. On the com-unit he calls up this day's edition of The Chronicler. On the entertainment unit he accesses memory for a random sampling of new genre music that begins to lend an atmosphere its own.
Akeem turns his attention to The Chronicler. He scans the menu-index for "Reader Response" section (only available to employees of the vidloid) and enters the pertinent code. That menu is replaced by another menu which lists all reporters and columnists by name as well as the number of reader responses they received regarding previous articles. He scans down the list, finds his name, runs a finger across the screen to number of responses column, and sighs.
"Nominal. As usual..."
His fingers dance across the keyboard to bring on-screen his readers' responses. He gives the three an obligatory reading. They are, also as usual, very positive, full of praise.
Akeem chastises himself for his one word reaction, "Boring." And he truly feels badly for having had this thought. Sincere praise from a reader to the writer should always be cherished. He has always understood the sanctity of such sharing. It is precisely why he had wanted to become a writer in the first place. Yet, even as he now wonders why he had had that unprecedented reaction, he calls up the section menu again and gazes with envy at the double digit responses received by The Chronicler's more controversial authors; among them, Terence Woodward-Bernstein B'tswana.
Fantasy longing (to have tens of readers daily interjecting their opinions) and reality quickly separate as Akeem keys up B'tswana's responses. To be controversial is to be noticed. But the notice received by and large consists of the most offensive, nasty, incensed commentary anywhere to be found on the planet. He reads through a few of the critiques of B'tswana's work and winces profusely.
"Ouch! These people are out for blood!"
Akeem feels much, much better about his own heritage bonding column, about the positive responses from his readers.
"No wonder ol' B'tswana is paranoid."
His soft laughter is a reaction-blend of humor and disbelief. It is also very short lived. For Akeem is subtly, subliminally bothered by the tone of B'tswana's criticizers. For the first time, Akeem senses the underlying hostility contained in those responses to B'tswana's articles.
Quite unconscious of his digitations commanding his computer to initiate 'Reader Response Reply' program which retrieves and then forwards one of twelve precomposed thank you letters, Akeem broods over his newly acquired insight.
How can it be possible, he wonders, for any Martian to be so upset with the truth? B'tswana's reputation for impeccable research has never been sullied by the falsification of a single fact contained in any of his columns. Not by those responding. More importantly, not by Central Authority. Yet, the venomous reactions to Terence's columns are a daily occurrence suggesting to Akeem that perhaps fear of truth is a trait shared by all Humans.
Unbeknownst to Akeem, even he is somewhat susceptible because he now convinces himself that those criticizing B'tswana are an extreme, unrepresentative minority. He refuses to believe that Martians share such Earthling qualities as fear and hatred.
Minutes pass. A pensive Akeem does not notice. He is proto-satoric, aswirl with fragmented thoughts and perceptual reminiscences of this day's new insights.
An hour later his eyes open to outside reality and he is staring at the monitor that displays his self-created screen saver.
Suddenly a word does come to mind. It is a mild Martian cuss word. "Canals!" Akeem cries out loud. "Taro!"
Twenty minutes later, attired a notch above casual, Akeem jogs along, turning left off X Artery, heading down a dimmer lit Twenty-third Subterial. He keeps his eyes sliding side to side looking for the Red Orb Cafe. When he sees the crimson mist up ahead, he thinks, "Must be the place." He slows to a walk, allowing time for his breathing to return to normal. Upon closer approach, the Cafe's glowing red sign beckons. Several milling Martians in bizarre garb, sporting strangely shaped hair styles and colorful body art, snicker as he passes.
Totally unaccustomed to such establishments Akeem has no idea what to expect. As he pays for entry he hears the muffled presence of a boisterous crowd and pounding music. But, never having experienced a nightclub scene, Akeem is sucker-punched by atmospheric heft as soon as he opens the door.
He is numbed still, assaulted by the smell, blinded by the dimness, deafened by the pulsating music. Pushed from behind, he plows ahead. Every collision prompts an apology, "So sorry," or "Excuse me," from Akeem in a shout that even he cannot hear. Suddenly the hands pushing him along are gone. He looks around trying to orient himself. His eyes have adjusted to the low light so he picks his way through the crowd moving generally towards the small darkened stage. Every few steps he stops and scans the crowd looking for Taro.
He begins to feel a bit giddy as he inhales the exotic offworld perfumes worn by passing females pressing past him. No longer numb-stunned he begins to feel their lithe, sensual bodies as they slide by. His next bodily adjustment turns him face-to-face as three females in quick succession pass with full frontal rub. Every exchanged glance, close up and fleeting, carries charged sexual energy that serves to further fuel Akeem's giddiness.
There are Martian females everywhere. Martian guys, too but Akeem takes no notice of them.
A buxom BuzzGirl tries to squeeze past, presses her large fake hard breasts against his chest. He looks down on her upturned smiling face.
"Want one?" she inquires with a shout.
Akeem's perplexed expression prompts her to hold up her pistol-grip injector with attached clear tubing.
He finally gets it. "What do you have?"
The BuzzGirl rattles off twelve distilled varieties of choice highs, everything from Alcohol to Sativa THC to Z (of Zull-and-CrossZones infamy; a strong hallucinogenic).
"How much for two Alco?"
"Five credit total."
Akeem nods, hands her his purchase account card. She pen scans it, enters the deduction, hands him back his card and shoots him right through his shirt sleeve. He feels the impact almost immediately. His head lolls back. By the time he rolls it forward, the BuzzGirl is gone. He is infused with a warm glow. His spirits rise on wings of sheer euphoria.
The pounding music abruptly stops. Crowd noise is a wall of sound. The dim lighting darkens. A brilliant spotlight sear-slices through black to land as an oval at stage center. Into the illumination steps an elderly Martian man to immediate and genuinely appreciative foot stomping applause from the young crowd.
Akeem laughs at the seeming incongruity.
Amplified via wireless microphone, the elderly gentleman says, "Welcome everyone...I'm Chiz Ahzo, owner of the Red Orb Cafe..."
The crowd again erupts in stamping of feet and cheering. Even Akeem joins in.
The old Martian waves off the crowd ado and continues his introduction. "We have a special treat for you tonight, folks..."
Low beefy electronic drone pulsates the dark, goes higher pitched vibrato as plucked string harmonics cast sprays of twinkle dust across an ambiance suddenly throbbing with sequenced bass beat percolating with new-tech sampled drum rhythms.
"My friends, won't you please..." Chiz Ahzo's voice now louder, begins to build. "...please get your feet to stompin' for a real Red Orb Cafe welcome..."
The dazzling white spotlight dwindles as a diffuse sphere of green-blue hued fizz effervesces brighter. Silhouetted shapes of four musicians emerge from teal mist. The crowd noise builds.
"Ladies and Gentlemen...The band you've been waiting for...Mars' very own..." The teal mist brightens to highlight the four piece band, the crowd erupts. "Playing their new genre Cosmical sounds...Masterworks!"
The spotlight disappears as does Chiz Ahzo. The crowd is going nuts though the only sound is a romping, stomping avant garde-rendered classical piece.
Akeem is instantly smitten, smote by Taro's beautiful transcendence. Her eyes are closed in concentration. Her second skin body suit is an iridescent swirl of changing color. she moves with a performer's persona. He is unaware of the other members of the band even though the music they play is so strongly affecting him.
The electronicist works multi-bank panelboards integrating file patches and live keyboard samples into a melodic mesh of sequenced polyrhythms. The percussionist pedals a fluid periodic, wave-like swell and fall that serves as the thumping under beat over top of which is applied crisp stick administered syncopation with a hi-hat's hissing accent. The electronic guitarist uses collapsing wave chaos induced feedback to intro a heavy bounce groove that paints a smile on every face in the Red Orb Cafe crowd as they pulsate and undulate in dance-trance sync.
Only now does Taro step to the fore. Akeem sees her plucking and strumming her electric violin, but hears nothing from the instrument. He thinks something is wrong. Unbeknownst to him, Taro is building her inventory of material to use as bolstering complement to her bow and fingered solo efforts.
It is another four measures before she opens her eyes, turns to look at her bandmates and, with a nod of her head, on cue, taps a foot switch.
The crowd is enthralled by the emanating sound. It is definitive of the new Cosmical genre that Masterworks has created. A complete modernization of pieces by classical Earth composers as well as original pieces penned by members of the band.
Akeem is captivated by Taro's virtuosity as she plays the band's version of Niccolò Paganini's Quartet #4 in D: Presto. He now hears the full effect of Taro's prior input as its rich textural tapestry of chords and harmonics gives perfect backdrop for her audacious use of fingering and sweet use of bow.
The crowd is wowed. The song ends with only enough break to introduce the next one, Paganini's Quartet #3 Opus 4 Minuetto Alla Spagnola-Andantino during which Taro shines with the kind of innovative string plucking that made her freenom-sake famous four hundred years ago on Earth.
By the time she gorgeously renders Quartet #4 in D: Cantabile Quasi Larghetto, Akeem is utterly transfixed. He stands, mouth agape, enamored of this beautiful, extraordinarily talented girl. One thing for sure, he will never again see her as a receptionist. So obvious to him now is the fact that she merely exists in her Chronicler job only coming alive when she plays. And, when she plays songs composed by the band, she finds Utopia in a rush of pure joy.
It is not until Masterworks finishes its fifth song that the group pauses to catch its collective breath. The electronicist addresses the crowd while the other members towel dry perspiration and replenish lost fluids. As they do so they check out the crowd. Taro scans the packed club with a slow sweep of her big pink eyes.
Akeem watches her as she slowly moves her gaze right to left. As her line of sight comes closer to his location, Akeem becomes less and less certain that he is the object of her search. So risen in stature has she become in his mind after witnessing her genius that Akeem cannot believe she would be interested in a mere vidloid writer like him.
"She's just looking the crowd over," he tells himself again and again. Until, that is, each gazes upon the other. Taro's white-pearl pupils devour pink. Her smile ignites a sparkle in eyes now fixed on Akeem alone.
The crowd melts away as he feels himself sucked right up next to the stage, face-to-face and soul-to-soul with Taro Paganini Kajaani. The vibrational hum of the moment numbs Akeem's mind into wordlessness as he experiences ineffable love. Eternal enigma defying articulation. Even later will it be questioned: Not, did it happen. Rather, was it love? That occasion, so many spend a lifetime doubting, only to admit too late, at very end, what they had known all along.
Maybe most, but not Akeem. His every pretense has been melted away, the core of his being exposed.
Song six is counted off and the crosscosmic bond snaps from disconnect as Taro closes her eyes in total focus silently playing and storing her accompanying parts. The next two numbers follow without break. A very brief intro for the ninth song gives Taro the chance to catch Akeem's attention. Just a glimpse confirms he has not taken his eyes off of her. So it goes for the remainder of the set with every so often a BuzzGirl coming along and zapping him with a different zing compliments of Taro.
Finally, against a gentle mist of chimes, Masterworks bids the club crowd adieu while they take a break. Their next and last set beginning in one half hour. As each band member dismounts the stage, they attract an arc of admirers of both sexes, two, three, or more layers thick.
Drawn like iron filing to magnet, a zooming Akeem heads straight towards Taro.
As she steps down from the stage she is swallowed up in a full circle of adoring fans, six or more deep. While she smiles and shares palm tickles her eyes continually search beyond the horizon of fans' beaming faces for Akeem.
Once again, as their eyes meet, Akeem is rendered all a'twit, beset with palpitations and lightheadedness. An electric tingle sends shiver-waves of pleasure throughout his body.
Thanking her admirers, she reaches through the crowd with her hand. Akeem does the same. Their touch of fingers takes Akeem's breath away. Envy is thick. But etiquette demands fans leave her to her choice.
Her beauty, eyes bright, smile beaming, great iridescent bodysuit now pressed against him as they hug, so strikes Akeem that he falls deeper under the influence of her narcotic effect on him.
"Akeem! I'm so-o-o happy you came. What do you think?"
She giggles enjoying his gape mouthed, starry-eyed, gah-gah state.
After what seems like forever, he responds. "You're fan-tastic! I mean it! Taro..." His head starts shaking. "You...You...The band...But...You...Oh, you are..."
Her eyes show a brief, but certain degree of deepening as his sincerity pierces her soul. So open is she that she closes immediately. Taro's smile shows a tic.
Akeem, viewing per Love's fuzz focus, through psychotropic haze of his multiple injections, knows only paralyzing enthrallment.
The club pounds once again with recorded music.
She takes his arm in both her hands, leans in close. "Let's get a table," she yells. Taro moves through the crush that parts for its royalty. She opts for the first empty two-seat table she finds. Once seated she flags down a barbot, runs her card through its account slot and the gunmetal-silver tanker on wheels dispenses a cup of her chosen beverage. Akeem selects water. They sip their drinks, take a few deep breaths and relax.
Taro leans across the table. Akeem follows her lead. She takes hold of his hands, shouts to be heard, "Thanks for coming...I mean it. I'm really glad you're here."
He looks at her, so serious, with reverent expression. "Taro...You are so-o-o good. You're great! I mean that. How? How can you play Earth classicals so well? They had five fingers!?"
She throws her head back in laughter. "Why, yes...You're right, Akeem. You're the first regular person, I mean, not a musician, to realize that. A lot of practice, that's how! It's possible because Martian thumbs are quite a bit longer and more dexterous than Earthers' thumbs. I can hit notes with my thumb that Earthers hit with their extra pinkies."
She sees Akeem unconsciously attempting to finger notes on an imaginary fretboard.
"It's not so difficult. Once you get your mind right, that is. You practice so your brain can think in a different way."
Having no luck whatsoever, Akeem looks at Taro with an even grander sense of awe. "You really are amazing."
She looks quickly away. Even Akeem senses the need for him to move beyond this sophomoric idolatry stage. He remembers some questions that had floated through his mind when listening to Masterworks play.
"You obviously love playing music. Why work as a receptionist?"
She gives him a ka-boing look. "Like, to cover my debits? Hello, Mars to Akeem."
"No. No...Really?! Why not just play for your credits? Do what you love."
"Only this club and two others on Mars will have us play. And we're just one of a dozen or so other bands. There's not enough work to make ends meet."
"What about the Moon? Canals! There must be plenty of places to/..."
"Akeem?! The Moon?!" Taro laughs out loud. "How could we ever afford the transportation?" She gives him a sharp-eyed come-on-and-think look.
He turns sheepish. "Oh, yeah...Right...Uhm, well, what about recording your stuff?"
"Oh, we're going to do that. We've already had a couple of promising sessions."
"And, I wanted to ask you, what about your name? You know, the band's? It's certainly an appropriate one. But, why not something more Martian sounding? To help you guys stand out from the rest of the bands back on the Moon and Earth?"
Taro's smile derives from much deeper emotion than humor. "Because..." She looks at him with a gauging scrutiny, sizing him up. "Okay...Because...Well, there aren't any purely Martian words. I mean, name one..." She waits for a moment. "See?"
"Wait! I'm...I'm thinking..."
"Save your effort, Akeem. There are none. Everything on our planet carries the label supplied by Earthers. All geographic features. Our city. You name it. No matter what it is, it's been named by Earth humans. I mean, Akeem...Even we are named by them. Martians. After one of their ancient gods. The God of War. Our moons carry names from their myths and legends, Phobos and Deimos.
"Don't get me wrong. We owe everything we have to Earthers. But...It's time we become who we are. Define ourselves in our own terms."
He is struck deeply with pre-profundity. She is the most fascinating, captivating, intellectually stimulating person he has ever come across. And the fact that she is a real stunner, as far as her physical attributes are concerned, simply makes her completely irresistible. Akeem considers how he has taken such pride in his Martian heritage articles yet has never once in his life considered that very real and radical paradox pointed out by Taro. So true. So obvious. So invisible until revealed.
"Hey!" she shouts. "Didn't mean to go revo on you."
He shakes his head. "No problem! Bring it on. I love it. Whole new ways of thinking."
Taro's eyebrows arch from enjoyed surprise. Her smile matches his in intensity. They gaze into each other's eyes. They hold hands across the table. She asks him about work. He declines. She insists. At least twice, though perhaps more often, Taro buys him a round. Along with a BuzzGirl visit or two, Akeem is all floaty on feel-good and fallen in love. Time stands still even as it blinks past. He is talking but knows not what he says when Taro tells him she has to get back to the band. Break is over. She stands, smiling, squeezes his hand before parting. He watches her zipper through the crowd; opening before her, closing up behind.
The rest of the evening is a blurred rush of sound, scents, thrills and chills, crowd bumps and rubbings, thoughts of love, fits of passion, Taro telling him the show is over, the club will be closing, she must help the band pack up and move all their equipment so for him to go on home. His disappointment is so pure she kisses him on the cheek and promises she will see him tomorrow at The Chronicler. He hears her far away tell him he is in good hands and not to worry just go along. Some big guy is helping him navigate the rolling Subterial. The next lucid moment Akeem sits in the back of a taxi-checkered electriksha, is being asked for his home address and now being rousted from slumber as the trip is already over.
All a'twit and ajee, he is pulled from the taxi yellow cab and assisted in standing upright until Akeem's head clears and he regains his legs. By the time he thinks to pay the fare, reach for his account card and turn around, the near soundless electriksha is turning out of Sixth Subterial onto G Artery.
Akeem feels a wave of embarrassment sweep over him. He is slow-witted from the drinks ingested and drugs injected and wavering about out where anyone could see him. A jolt of sobriety focuses him enough to collect his faculties, head straight to his apartment. Every couple of steps he is shaken from his stupor by his recurring wonder. Did he make a complete fool of himself in front of Taro? He was too far gone to know.
He holds himself together until he reaches his apartment. Once inside he staggers to his bedroom, rips off and flings his clothes, climbs under the covers.
Sleep is fast and curiously not furious as Akeem is too bone weary to think so his mind is put on hold, in peaceful repose. He will wake no worse for the wear.
* * *
A sweet, crystal chime melody seeps into sleeping mind as sparkle-mist of waking effervescence. Akeem yawns. His eyes open, flutter, squeeze shut, re-open. He reaches over to deactivate the alarm, lays back down, takes a large breath of air, holds it, releases it in sighing exhalation. He feels pretty good. Very good as compared to last night towards the end of the evening. He remembers nothing of much of what happened. But he is clear on the fact that Taro is a very special girl. Akeem eagerly greets this new day.
An hour of rituals later finds him clean, fed, clothed, and on his way to work. He walks at a gingerly pace along an open-view artery with upcast eyes taking in the starry, pre-dawn sky. The clarity of his vision conjures a very familiar feeling. A column idea begins its murky formulative stage.
Akeem's steps become automatic as he commits total attention to the funnel-whirl of wordless impressions that whispers to him in fragmentary phrases. This same process has been the genesis of nearly every one of his columns. He does not demand an explanation from his feelings. He seeks but one word. Indeterminate time passes when, in a flash, the basis for his next column is made obvious to him. Akeem smiles.
"So clear..." he says in reference to the solidification of thoughts that have replaced the funnel-whirl. Today Akeem will write about the clarity of Martian skies as compared to the garbaged atmosphere of home planet Earth. He will expound upon tangible benefits, both psychic and scientific, of the former while illustrating how the latter condition mirrors the degeneration of the Earth Human species which adds to, rather than alleviates, their extreme myopia.
By the time Akeem is staring at the sun-touched horizon arc from his customary tubelift vantage point thirty floors above the planet surface, he has his column mentally written. Feeling absolutely wonderful, he rides the lift tube down to Level Twelve and debarks.
Even as recall rekindles love interest in Taro Paganini Kajaani to smoldering, he feels flustered, uncomfortably warm. For he is unsure of how he acted last night. Suppose he had made a complete ass of himself? His pulse quickens. He attempts to swallow without success. His march across the lobby slows, the course altered bringing him on a direct heading for the receptionist's desk. His hope-laden gaze rises from the floor. She is nowhere to be seen. He is inundated with powerful emotion. He is sure she is avoiding him.
Her honeyed voice, combined with the light touch of her hand tapping his shoulder, sends a shriek of flash-white throughout his being. He is frozen, immobilized, yet he is spin-turning around. His eyes dilate explosively when he beholds her dazzling visage. Snowy white and pink-eyed, Taro Paganini Kajaani is Akeem's notion of perfection.
He tries to return her greeting but only manages a gulp of a swallow that is embarrassingly loud.
Taro giggles behind her small, politely placed hand. Controlling herself, she says, "You look flushed, Akeem. Is everything all right?"
He grins dumbly. Nods his head.
She is stimulated by his shyness.
He finally finds his tongue, turns serious. "I...I apologize for last night/..."
"Ah-ah-ah...I have no idea of how I conducted myself last evening. I don't do any of that stuff. And the combination really did me in. I mean, truly, I have no memory of any of it."
Her eyebrows arch. He hastens to add. "Except you, Taro. I'll never forget it. You were/uhm, you are phenomenal."
"Aww..." she says cutely. "Thanks. You're so sweet."
He can see she does not abhor him. His heart sings. He is emboldened.
"I...I hope I didn't embarrass myself, and you, by behaving badly. As I said/..."
"Akeem!" she laughs. "Stop! You were fine. If you hadn't told me, I'd never have known."
"Really. So, stop, okay?" She looks at him with a naughty girl expression. "Besides...I think you not remembering anything about our time together says more about me than you."
"Shh..." she hisses. "Maybe on our next date I'd better do something you'll remember."
Akeem pinkens to rose blush. He shakes his head. "No...Taro, watching you and hearing you play your violin is something I'll never, ever forget."
He is taken aback by the expression that plays across her face. Almost sad with eyes glistening tear-wet. She rushes her words, "Gotta go. See you later." turns and is lost amid the lobby crowd.
All the way to his office Akeem tries to figure out what exactly just happened. He drops into his chair and considers it good news that Taro said he was okay last night. But that emotional expression he had just witnessed, even though seeing it for himself, leaves him with wordless wonder at what it meant.
As Akeem for the first time this morning take notice of his surroundings, checking the wall clock, he turns pale. Even for a Martian. For he is quite late. He decides he had better check in with Editor Adams.
As Akeem reaches Editor Adams' office door, he hears voices raised in discussion. His hand is stayed from prodding the wall button that would signal his presence. He looks all around, tentatively at first and then with increasing vigor to see if he is being observed. No one to be seen. He leans an ear closer to the door and listens to Natasha Hearst Adams strongly disagreeing with (if Akeem's guess is correct) President of Tri-C's Board of Directors, Lao Iacocca Vyenchenko.
"...rarely interfered. Maybe a couple of dozen times in twenty years. But you are now. And at the behest of outsiders! I mean, since when have we taken orders from their ambassadors?"
"As I've said, they merely suggested that the virus thing not be mentioned. I wholly concurred. So, this is by my request. No one else's. And, for the last time, this is not an order, Natasha."
"But what I want to know is, how did they find out about it in the first place? I mean, the Centennial issue is still being put together. The inclusion of the viral update story wasn't even definite yet. In fact, it was just one of a hundred or so filler items, only half of which will make it into the edition. And everyone here at the Chronicler knew that. So, I doubt very much that it leaked from one of our people."
"That is pure conjecture on your part, Natasha. Because they suggested no mention be made does not mean they knew anything at all about the Chronicler's inner workings, about specific items under consideration."
The pause is so pregnant that Akeem concentrates on hearing.
"Okay. I'll grant you that. Maybe no one did go sticking his nose where it didn't belong and saw something he didn't like and then went running to the earthling ambassadors and got them all heated up over a stinking ten line filler item. But they did come crying to you about how it would be bad press for the Colony to include a story about the virus. And you in turn come here and put the squeeze on me. I know! I know! You're not ordering me to do anything. But your implication is that if I don't follow your suggestion, if I go ahead with the piece, I'll probably get canned. Right?"
Lao Iacocca Vyenchenko lets out a long sigh of annoyance. He speaks with stiff intonation. "I did not imply anything. That is your inference." Another sigh and his hautiness is replaced with his more usual diplomatic demeanor. "Natasha, be reasonable. Less than two hundred deaths have been attributed to the virus over a span of one hundred years. There is nothing new to add. Our finest medical researchers are still at a loss to explain it. How does one update this mystery? Why upset people for nothing?"
"Nothing?! A mysterious disease that only kills colonists, that's been around since the days of the first Moon settlements, is nothing?!" Natasha Hearst Adams raises her voice. "Okay! Okay! Don't get mad. You made a good point." Her voice lowers to calm. "As much as I hate to admit it, you make a good point. How does one update a mystery without any new discoveries or theories? Again, what good would it do? But, let me tell you this, the thought of being censored, especially by Earthlings, especially if it's the result of covert infiltration, turns my stomach. That's how things got so screwed up down there in the first place!"
The Tri-C Board of Directors President laughs. "You're right. But you don't have to worry, Natasha. I would never allow it. Believe me, I share your disdain for censorship. Really, I do...But, this situation is quite different. No one infiltrated your offices. It just makes sense not to print such a story."
"Okay, so be it. The virus story goes."
"Thank you, Nat...Thanks for giving me the time. I know you're always so busy."
Akeem decides it is a good time to leave if he does not want to get caught eaves-dropping. He hurries away from the scene of his transgression thinking about all that he had overheard. He finds it hard to accept the fact that Natasha Hearst Adams, by far the most influential editor on Mars, occasionally must defer to the wishes of the Tri-C Board of Directors. Akeem had always assumed that the Chronicler was completely unencumbered by Central Authority restrictions. After all, the founding colonists had adopted-- verbatim, with clarifying additions --the United States Constitution as their judicial foundation.
"What about the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of the press?" he wonders silently. "Central Authority has no right to suggest anything!"
This sudden surge of righteous indignation surprises Akeem. He never gets angry about anything. Thusly self-aware, his passionate reaction subsides enough for him to analyze his emotions. He perceptively surmises some of his upset is caused by a spill-over affect of Editor Adams' emotions and the rest by his having been reminded of the virus as it holds special significance for him: He got his position on the Chronicler staff because his predecessor succumbed to the disease, a fact which had caused him early on to feel a bit eerie as Akeem had had to occupy the decedent's office and use the victim's equipment. At the time, Editor Adams' assurances that there was no risk to health, that the viral infection transmission mechanism, although unknown, does not include open air or tactile transfer, did little to ease Akeem's apprehension. His fear slowly, over months, diminished as he constantly forced himself not to think about it.
No sooner does he set foot inside his cubical when he notices the intra-office memo cube on top frantically flashing.
Akeem activates his console and taps the cube. The memo appears on his monitor screen: SEE ME AT ONCE - Ed.Nat.
Akeem is up and running. He curses his luck. He applies himself to running even faster. He dodges and weaves to avoid colliding with aisle sharing co-workers. He arrives at her office panting for breath but decides against wasting any more time in efforts to compose himself. He presses the entrance request button and gets immediate green light permission. He enters still huffing and puffing.
Natasha Adams looks up from her work with expression-blend of surprise and amusement.
"My stars, Akeem! Did you actually run all the way here?!"
He manages to nod while gulping for air.
She laughs out loud. "Did you think it was life or death or something?"
Akeem speaks as well as he is able between breaths. "I...I thought...it was...urgent..."
"Believe me, son...Nothing around here is that urgent that you should half kill yourself with such exertion! All I wanted to know is if you viewed your sleep-period ETI four nights ago?"
Instant blast of primal genetic, bone-buzzing flee response mists into Akeem's brain. He feels heat surge through him and makes conscious effort to keep his face calm, keep his eyes from dilating. Should he lie and say yes? To say no would make him guilty of neglecting his job responsibilities. Akeem senses his hesitation is too long, in of itself incriminating. Sheer strength of will allows him to concentrate his thoughts and control his voice.
Natasha Adams has no hint of Akeem's inner turmoil. Her sole impression is that the young Martian is simply trying to catch his breath.
"Yes, of course," says Akeem with some force hoping his purely self-serving release of pent-up conflict will sound confidently even as it dissuades his sweat glands from exuding their accusatorial fluid.
"And?" prods Editor Adams.
Akeem offers her a shrug of his shoulders.
"Nothing, uhm...unusual?" she asks.
"No," he replies. "Why do you ask?"
"Well...it seems there was a, uhm...a technical malfunction of some sort. It wasn't elucidated upon. Anyway, I was instructed to query all employees who regularly record and view sleep period ETI. You, Rolsh, and Debbins, are the only ones to do so. Those two are on Outpost assignments. No access. And, if you didn't see anything...Oh, well. I guess they wanted feedback on how the problem manifested itself. I don't see how that could help. But, then again, I'm not very up on technical stuff. And, I suppose you erased according to/..."
"S-O-P!" Akeem lies through his teeth without hesitation and roundly chastises himself for this deeper transgression.
Natasha Adams chuckles. "Good ol' Standard Operating Procedure. Oh, well. No big deal. They'll just have to figure out what went wrong on their own.
"Okay, Akeem...That's all. Oh, and for goodness sake, don't get so panicky next time. If I ever have an urgent need to see you, rest assured, I'll personally let you know in no uncertain terms."
Her bright smile eases Akeem.
"Okay," he says through his own smile. He turns to leave.
He looks back over his shoulder as he opens the door.
"Keep up the good work. Today's piece is fabulous," she says with a wink.
"Thank you...Thank you very much." He mentally sets a precondition that must be met before he will allow himself to internalize her praise: He must view that recording and then erase it.
Akeem quick-paces his way back to his office, gets the disc from his desk drawer and views the recording. He fast forwards the disc. Suddenly there is a Z of distortion. He changes modes to normal speed and watches. Paranoia, that he will get caught viewing this recording, prompts him to close his door. He returns quickly to the recording.
Two commercials, for products he has never heard of, are followed by a newsbrief which provides a clip of video and a few words of summarizing commentary for each of three headline stories. He has trouble concentrating.
Impatience has Akeem's thumb tapping bass, his three fingers playing marching rhythms up against the side of the recorder.
A short feature called, "Little Laughter Theater" presents a golden haired comedienne doing a few minutes worth of her material.
"Canals!" grumbles Akeem. "I can't take much more of this!" This, being the comedienne's monologue delivered kneeling, with shoes affixed to her knees, giving the appearance of a small, oddly proportioned woman in ankle-length dress. Everything about her is calculated to typify the average Earth woman. Her routine is a maundering portrayal of life as stay-at-home mother of ten children, five by each of her two husbands.
"...oh yeah...You ladies know how it is these days. When one of 'em makes a baby the other has to be compensated. These days it isn't tit-for-tat, it's a tit for each!"
Admidst howls of laughter, Akeem reaches for the fast forward button just as the comedienne launches into her last bit.
"These days..." Obviously her bread-and-butter phrase, her trademark so to speak, accompanied each time by an escalated gesture of despair. Now, she shakes her head, grabs handfuls of golden hair. "...it's not easy being a mother. In fact, it's harder than ever. In our great-great-great-great-great grandmother's day they didn't have the worries we do today. When one of their kids came up to 'em an' said, 'Mom, I'm off to see the world' they didn't have to ask, 'Which one?'"
The studio audience erupts in laughter, applauds.
"Back then, a mother could say, 'So, go...Have a good time.' After all, they knew the world was round. Their kids would come full circle, back home. But, these days..." The audience again applauds, laughs, cheers her on. The comedienne's face contorts. She yanks on her hair in demented manner. "Oh...these days are different, ladies. My oldest, a boy, just twenty-five years old mind you, a baby still, last year he says to me, 'Ma...I'm goin' to Mars!'" The crowd response is uproarious.
Akeem, with his finger poised on the fast-forward button, hesitates. He does not get it.
"Yes!" shrieks the comedienne. "Oh, yes ladies...When I finally got out of the hospital..." She pauses for expected response and is rewarded with clamorous guffawing. "...the first thing I did was start worrying! I mean, you know how they are up there? How they live? The second thing I did was wait. Four months before my boy's first com home! And, of course, it was collect. So I had to pay to hear all about how he knows he made the right decision, how Mars is the place for him, how only there can he be spiritually awakened. 'So,' I says to him, 'an alarm clock's no longer good enough?!'" There is howling laughter.
"Wait...It gets worse! In his next com, again collect, he went on and on about how he had met his dream-girl. 'Dream girl?!' I screamed, 'Honey, believe me, if she's Martian that's no dream girl...That's a nightmare!'" The audience goes wild. "Wait! Wait, Ladies...That's not the worst of it. Just the other day he coms. 'Ma,' he says all excited. 'Guess what? I just got married!'" There is an obvious audience-wide gasp.
"'Ma,' he says, and the next thing I know, on the screen I see..." The comedienne rips off her dress and removes her wig even as she stands to her true full height. She is very tall for an Earthling, very thin, bald, and made up to appear very white skinned and nude. But the most striking/shocking characteristics of her costume transformation are the six breasts, two penises, and ten vaginas that she wantonly displays. "'Meet your daughter-in-law!!'"
The audience squeals and shouts and wildly applaud. They stand and stomp their feet, whistle and cheer. The comedienne bows and blows kisses as the program fades into another commercial.
Akeem is astounded. In his twenty-four years of watching ETI programming, he has never witnessed such an unmitigated effrontery, such a hostile, prejudicial portrayal of the Martian colonists. In fact, Akeem cannot remember ever seeing anything, besides news stories and documentaries, regarding the peoples of Mars being shown on the ETI network. And, his confusion is unconsciously deepened as the subliminal qualities of the preceding commercials suddenly surface.
He fast reverses the recording to the point of distortion and presses the play button. He has no trouble whatsoever concentrating on the banal fare. This time he notices everything. The first commercial is for a spray on body cosmetic that the narrator claims is scientifically formulated for the ten basic human skin types and promises that "...it will hide all blemishes, even-out skin tone, is waterproof, and feels natural to the touch." As the narration continues, suggesting there could be nothing more embarrassing than to have an unsightly blemish or blotchy skin tone when unveiling oneself for the first time to a new lover, the visual component of the ad is a silhouette of a male and female face-to-face in genuflection; disrobing; baring their bodies to each other. Simultaneously they say, "Per-r-rfect." And then, they embrace. This background scene fuzzes as foreground focus clears to show a pink cylindrical container with green lettering that reads: Skin Touch Body Cosmetic.
The narration concludes, "Skin Touch will help any body look better..." as a lanky, four-fingered, pale white hand reaches in from screen right, about to grab the container only to have an unmistakably human male's hand give it a slap. "Well...almost any body."
Akeem has dropped through the net of Reason and Rhyme that was, until a moment ago (has been, since his birth) his sole ideatum of reality. He free-falls the lightless depths of an abyss without end; his sense of normalcy, shattered. He has dropped, like a stone through smoke, into thick cloud with seeming silver-light lining only to find obfuscation at its core. No longer having the security of illusion to embrace him, to wrap him in its veil of pretense, Akeem can only watch real reality erupting.
The next commercial, hawking a vitamin fortified breakfast confection (with mild hallucinogenic additives) called "Fantasy Cakes," is cheap-tech animation of an Earth boy and girl seated at a sun-drenched kitchen table. The little red-haired boy is eating his cartoon cake while the little girl whips her auburn braids back and forth with each shake of her head.
"Can not!" she says stubbornly.
"Can so, sis!"
The little boy bites into the cake and chews thoughtfully. He swallows, says "Can so!" and the kitchen scene dissolves into black and stars. The little boy is in a spacesuit with large clear-bubble helmet. His arms are spread wide as he flies along. He circles a red planet and hears his sister crying for help. He dives fast. The next scene shows him landing on the planet surface. In the background his space-suited sister is squirming to get away from six, tall, white, crude Martian caricatures. The little boy's arms rotate like a buzz saw as he attacks the half-dozen meanies. His fast moving fists propel the lot of them, one at a time, high into the sky.
"Oh, thank you, brother." coos his sister as she hugs him.
"Any time, sis." says the little boy with big smile and swelled chest.
Out from his fantasy, back at the table, the cartoon boy hears his sister petulantly repeat, "Can not!" He smiles even more widely, looks dreamy-eyed at the viewer, winks and whispers, "Don't be like her, kids. Don't you miss all the fun, too. Eat 'Fantasy Cakes' and you'll never have a boring breakfast again. Remember, kids...Ask your Mom to get the original 'Fantasy Cakes'. They're vitamin fortified for your good health."
Akeem continues his descent into the dark, mawing abyss of endless remove. His mind, a festering formation of new reality, spews mental magma in eruption of awareness without comprehension. Falling, he watches.
A three item newsbrief is on-screen. The first story reports that government troops violently broke up a Colony Embassy demonstration which had begun as a small, peaceful, pro-colonist rally intended to show support for the increased aid package now before the World Congress. Apparently, large numbers of disagreeing on-lookers became incensed and started to harass the demonstrators. This quickly escalated to sign smashing, then pushing, then brawling. Once the troops arrived, however two fire-bombs were set off and there was some exchange of gun fire between government forces and unknown snipers resulting in three dead and fifty-two wounded.
The second feature updates the Arab Nation's perpetual internal conflict. Once again Israeli Province had conducted swift, devastating air and ground incursions into the border provinces of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. The Arab Nation's President-elect, Ajami Saad Saud of Jordan, issued a stern warning to the Israeli Province Council that any further military action would be met with massive reprisal; the thirty-seventh time Saud has issued this exact same warning during his tenure (just two years into a six year term) without ever having delivered on his threat. The Israeli Province Council issued a statement that said the attacks were in "retaliation for Monday night's elimination of the IPC soccer team from the Inter-province All-Star Tournament." The report goes on the explain how the Israeli team lost their first two matches to Palestine (12-0) and Lebanon (9-0) in the double elimination tourney. Syria sponsored the event. An undefeated Egypt won the championship cup.
Akeem shakes his head to clear the fog to no avail. And with the third story already begun, he becomes ever more stunned. For the coverage of summit talks, from inside the Conference Arena, shows obviously edited segments of a debate on the question of continued sovereignty for the colonies, a question Akeem had no idea was even an issue. Every one of the three speakers, in turn, sets off a different segment of the tri-polarized audience which is countered by another segment thereby creating such dissonance that a third group demands that order be restored.
The Leftist nations' spokesperson calls for "...dramatic interactional increase between the colonies and Earth in all areas of Human endeavor if we are to close the widening gap of xenophobia that now exists. This is not to be confused with a call for more authority. We already have too much power, albeit unofficial, over their activities. In fact, the issue is, according to our own covenants we are prohibited from having any authority at all. We, therefore, demand a total surcease of our covert manipulations. We call upon this body to adhere, not just to the letter of the law, but to the doctrine's intent, to its ideals so eloquently expressed but so wantonly ignored by this body from day one."
A great hue and cry arises throughout the already rowdy arena crowd.
The next speaker, representing the Centrist-Conservative nations, states that "...the claim of a widening xenophobic gap is an irresponsible, grossly overstated remark more intended to create such a condition than to accurately describe our relationship with the Moon and Mars colonies. While we reiterate our desire to have more authority in their affairs, as we, unlike the preceding speaker, feel that it is not only our right but our responsibility, we also reaffirm our support for the Separate But Equal Doctrine that has historically governed our dealings with the colonies. Our two positions are not mutually exclusive. We are the leaders of Humankind, after all. And, are they not human?"
More tumult erupts. The arena quakes. The next speaker, representing Right-wing states, strides to the podium, waits for the crowd noise to abate. It does not. He takes off his shoe and uses it as a gavel hammering the podium. He yells for quiet. Finally the noise subsides enough for him to proceed.
"There can be only one outcome if we continue to adhere to that ill-conceived doctrine: Domination! Them over us!"
The arena crowd goes ballistic. The spokesman again hammers the podium until enough order is restored for him to continue.
"There are already signs of that trend in certain areas of commerce where they have cornered the market on some of the most precious minerals without which our strategic capabilities are severely impaired. It doesn't take a genius to see that they have us exactly where they want us. How do we know what they're doing up there? The vast majority of colonists are scientists! Scientists! What might they be scheming? While some here talk of less and others of more, the frightening reality is that the colonies are run by scientists for the benefit of scientists. This is unprecedented in history! At no time has there ever been allowed a strictly scientific community to operate outside the auspices of governmental authority. Why? Because to permit such an arrangement is tantamount to creating a monster hell bent on destroying its creator! They're Godless Colonists, plain and simple. They must be stopped. Now!"
The screen's effervescing, light particle fizz matches exactly Akeem's state of mind. He is grounded. No longer falling but still reeling. Woozy. Vertiginous from this sudden transmogrification of reality. The pink noise static mimics his psychic refractoriness. His thoughts are but spastic spasms of shivering disbelief.
The screen clears, back to black. Silence has a buzzing tone of its own. This absent tonality impresses Akeem at subliminal level. Not until white-light block lettering appears, one letter at a time, each adding a distinctly pitched hum, does Akeem consciously sense the change. Six characters scream: B-E-W-A-R-E
His eyes go wide as freezing shriek of terror chills him to the bone. For this warning is signed, C-A-H-T, in smaller block print. There is a snap. The warning and signature disappear, replaced by a Z of distortion that quickly unflutters, giving way to crystal clear reception.
Numbed, Akeem watches the next series of commercials. Not one contains any hint of prejudice towards Moonlings or Martians. Another newsbrief segment follows with the same commentator as before wearing the same suit and tie presenting three completely different stories; all of them positive in content. Next is a quarter hour feature on African Nation's new attempt at reforestation. A few more harmless commercials, an innocuous oceanic lifeform feature and the fanfare intro to the nightly sleep period movie, convinces Akeem that the programming has returned to normal.
Still groggy from his reality shattering experience Akeem has nevertheless recovered enough for his reporter's training to take over. He needs to check his assumption before accepting it as fact. He fast forwards the movie, stopping only at the commercial segments, most of which he has seen. The commercials that are new to him push products long available on Mars. And, in none does he find the slightest bit of anti-colonist sentiment.
Thus does he go through the entire recording spot checking for bias. Finding none, Akeem returns the recording to the distortion segment and watches it again from beginning to end. There is no mistaking it. He realizes there can be but one explanation.
Earth authorities are now, have always been, less than honest with the colonists. The ETI link is not as pure as it has been long claimed to be. There has always existed a double standard. Moonlings and Martians have been receiving skillfully crafted disinformation. But, why? Obvious is the fact that it has been designed to omit references common to Earthlings, odious references using foul, shocking stereotypes of colonists. But, again, to what end?
Akeem Shalom O'Sullivan is a churning swirl of turmoil as he tries to comprehend all that has happened. However, his highly volatile state of mind does not dull him. Quite the contrary, it heightens his senses. Even as he contemplates the whys and wherefores of his discovery, he considers what he must do to minimize risk. For he knows that what he now knows is dangerous. Something is very wrong. Akeem removes the disc and secures it in his bottom desk console drawer. He inserts the substituted disc he had used for last evening's sleep period recording and lets it run. Now, even to colleagual observers Akeem would seem appropriately absorbed in his work. He breathes a sigh of relief but does not relax. For he has a column to write, a deadline to meet, and a mind-boggling mystery to solve.
Try as he might, he cannot collect the scattered bits of this morning's mentally formulated column. At the moment, even with hours remaining, Akeem knows he will be unable to write anything at all today as writing is the culmination of many completed thoughts and he is still yet attempting to synthesize myriad thought fragments into whole thoughts.
Bringing his hands to the console, Akeem keys access to his personal memory file folder. He has, over the past year, written a number of generic columns in his spare time as insurance against writer's block or sickness. He now retrieves one of those columns and deactivates memory access.
He allows himself to return his thoughts to the grand unveiled illusion, to what it can possibly portend. He wonders if he should tell someone else and only two people come to mind, Terence B'tswana and Natasha Adams. Akeem remembers the way B'tswana had reacted yesterday when broached with the possibility that linkage between a unified change in Earth governments' rhetoric on terrorists and the establishment of the Martian colony, might be more than coincidental.
"But, this is different!" whispers Akeem. "I've got proof!" He wonders silently, Can B'tswana be trusted? It is a question he has no answer for.
His considerations turn to Editor Adams and he immediately recalls their earlier meeting. What displays itself so prominently now is the fact that she, one of the most influential people on Mars, had followed orders issued by unknown Earthly authority. Akeem is further reminded of his inadvertent eavesdropping which gives him yet another example of Natasha Adams' compromising fundamental ideals set forth in the Martian Constitution: Complete independence from Earth-based governmental authority.
A decision is made. He is too filled with uncertainty to make a rational decision. "Better go home. Give it some thought."
Akeem activates his proofread program and submits his generic column. He is relieved when he gets the errorless signal. Automatically his fingers begin to key up transferal to Editor Adams for her approval when he suddenly stops himself. He wonders if applying for E.A. this early, unprecedented for him, will arouse suspicion. He thinks of the recording in his drawer. His need to flee with the evidence overwhelms him. Akeem will gamble. He completes his command to send the piece on its way and slumps back into his chair to await the outcome.
His mind, of course, becomes hyperactive again, deluging him with a plethora of half-thoughts that are sinister, foreboding, that hint at the implicative enormity that he has stumbled upon.
Akeem has no idea how long the green bordered E.A. signal has been flashing when he finally notices. He quickly sends the piece to Broadcast Division and prepares himself to leave. The last thing he does is remove the recording from his desk console drawer and slip it inside his shirt.
This act brings to him a full realization of what he is jeopardizing. For removing this disc goes against Chronicler policy and is an offense punishable by dismissal. No wonder he sweats as he exits his office. His paranoia pulsates. It pounds in his temples as he reaches the lobby. He waits until Taro is turned away before making straight for the lift tube, having to concentrate to keep himself from running. Riding down to ground level he experiences claustrophobic reaction. He has a horrifying premonition that brutish Earthling agents are waiting for him. When the lift tube is fully descended and opens up on the mildly populated surface artery, Akeem exhales a long sigh of pent energy release and inhales with relief as there are no Earthers among the crowd. But his paranoia, though subsided, stays with him. All the way home Akeem glances back over his shoulder to make sure he is not being followed.
* * *
Auxiliary thruster jets hiss to fine tune the approach of Earth's newest MoonMars Shuttle (MMS). While the result of a dramatic leap in technology, able to locally crimp the timespace continuum, the MMS is still far too slow to make even an interstellar journey feasible.
A strange looking craft, almost ganderish, it has a long crooked neck with beak serving as bridge. A large graviton discharge dish is its breastbone. This dish, a wide angled funnel, disburses accelerator generated gravitons in a one hundred fifty degree isosceles pattern which serves to crimp the timespace fabric into a momentary 'pleat' which serves to propel the shuttle forward, surfing the crest of the continuum as it were, even as the forward lying continuum is drawn towards the downswept folds of the graviton 'pleat'. At one precise moment, at the very end of graviton push, not quite five thousand miles deep by just under thirty-five thousand wide, the shuttle pilot must thrust forward, at full throttle, one length of his ship. Once done, and the 'pleat' releases, pilot downspeeds to mere forward momentum and channels resources back to graviton generation for full recharge in fifteen minutes; the ship now some seventy-five thousand miles ahead of where it was just a moment ago. Thus, a trip from Moon to Mars (at closest distance), a trip that for two hundred years took six months at the very least, now takes but five days.
One last hissing nudge guides the MoonMars Shuttle home, locks it into place. Securely docked to the orbiting Martian port of entry, pressurization is stabilized, airlocks open. Passengers are a bustle of activity as they grab for their belongings in overhead and underseat storage bins. As they disembark they are met by Central Authority personnel who run them through a series of ID authentication procedures, medical tests via very modest blood taking, harmlessly attained tissue samples, and searches both bodily and baggage.
Of course, those properly credentialed avoid the inconvenience of all that and proceed straight to the Tri-C Ferry Craft. As do two Earthling men on this trip. A flap of their government issued IDs send them along unimpeded.
In just under thirty minutes, the arrivees are ferried down to the planet surface, to the landing facility at Tri-C. As with every trip, a few need some extra minutes to acclimate themselves. But most bound from their seats and are channeled along a spur tube to the arterial hub of Mars Colony Central Complex. From there, they can go anywhere on the planet as long as they have official clearance and/or enough money.
The hub is alive with throngs of Martians coming and going about their business; a hustling, bustling pace every bit the equal of any metropolis on Earth. Everywhere there are groups of passing visitors taking in the sights, the shops, the bistros. Here and there are the seated watchers, usually older, regardless of race or orb of birth. The elevated noise level of so many busy people in an enclosed space compresses the air as it crowds down the spur tube, buffets the arrivees with excitement building expectation: What they expect of the city. What the city expects of them. Pumping them up for the faster pace and flow of Tri-C.
Still and all, it is never enough. The sheer energy of Tri-C's commerce, the daily come and go, as convenient meeting place, on every off worlder's list of must sees, once arrivees spew from the spur tube they move as if slowed by some invisible force. Some dawdle. The crush breezes by. They move off to the side. Look idle-eyed this way and that. Most, though huddle half-moon around Tri-C's ubiquitous You-Are-Here maps attempting to gauge their bearings. Only two this trip are obviously familiar with the surround. Big for Earthmen, they are the shortest humans making their way through the hub, moving steadily rightward with the circulating crowd so that they will smoothly transition to desired Arterial.
But, true to form, and completely unlike Martian behavior, the burly blond Earthman leading his huge, swarthy partner, when hindered for even a moment from moving forward by the surging crowd, shoves back with mighty force, issues foreign deprecations that are understood just the same. In their wake the two Earthmen leave many a disgruntled Martian, a few, literally pushed to the ground. Yet, not a one thinks to report the abuse because that is simply the way Earthers are. Arrogant brutes lacking all manners, without courtesies. To report what the two burly Earthmen just did, would be like reporting that Mars is a rock strewn rust-red planet. The inevitable response: "Yeah. And?"
Not on the planet five minutes and already those two Earth Ministry of Media officers have made an impact. Negative, to be sure. Though nothing at all compared to mission objective.
* * *
Up all night drinking stimu-brew, watching again and again that incredible disc recorded segment, has left Akeem bleary-eyed, fatigued, in no condition to go to work. He also is no closer to a solution. He had been unable to come up with a single person that he can unequivocally trust. Besides either of his parents, that is. But, he does not wish to involve them. Nor could they help.
It is not too late to destroy the recording. Put all of it out of his mind. In fact, that is the easiest, most logical way to proceed. Except for the fact that Akeem is extremely aware that should he ever turn his back it would be an act so acutely hypocritical that he could never again write from his heart.
Digitating the communication keyboard he contacts the Chronicler's mainframe and informs it that he will miss work for the next few days. Without disconnecting he interfaces with his office desk console and accesses his memory bank file to withdraw three generic columns. He requests the proofread program to judge the pieces.
Akeem's eyes close. He feels himself slipping into sleep. He opens his eyes and reaches for more stimu-brew. He gulps a few mouthfuls, sits quietly looking at the screen. Again he feels himself ready to doze off but a red pulsing error indication sends a surge of energy coursing through him. He curses. He keys in an error ID response and gets immediate reaction. Just two errors-- one punctuation, one spelling --are shown. Akeem corrects them and the proofread program machine voice announces, "E-r-r-o-r-l-e-s-s." He now goes about programming his desk console unit to forward the columns one day at a time to Natasha Adams for Editorial Approval at an appropriate time of day and, if the piece is approved, to then forward them to Broadcast Division. If any piece is not approved he instructs his work console to immediately contact him at home. This done, he ends the communication and switches his home unit to standby mode.
By the time Akeem reaches his bed he is undressed. He slides under the covers and falls fast asleep.
Continue to the Second Portion of Humanaissance