ORIGINAL FICTION: "Cult of the Undead" (Part 1)

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There is no way in hell you people aren’t going to throw the book at me. There’s no way you’re not going to send me up the river, so what’s the point of a trial? Just to pretend that you’re honorable people? You’re not. A sham show of justice? If there were any Justice left here, you’d give me a medal, not try me. It’s all just a kangaroo court, and I don’t care to explain myself to you, so you can just try me in absentia, ok? And then you can just got to hell, ok?

No, you know that? We’re all in a hurry here, so I’ll save us some time: I did it. I totally did it. I was in my right mind, and I feel no remorse, so just send me on to the executioner, or jail, or whatever it is you people do these days, and then you can get along going straight to hell. I wouldn’t want to slow you down any.

I’m not even going to….

***

I’d say it was a simple matter to hack my way through the Trust’s security measures, but in fact there really were no security measures to hack through. Not only had nobody ever done this before, but evidently nobody had ever even thought of it before me. If you’re going to sin, you might as well be original.

Once in, I hooked up all my senses to the security gear. Wow! Huge complex. Bigger than I could see all at once, but that wasn’t an issue. I just hunted around until I found some Waldos.

***

Whoa. That was weird. I didn’t mean to say that. I was in mid-rant there, and suddenly that pours out of me. Well, anyway, I’m not going to even bother to ex…

***

Waldos are basically robots that would keep doing some random task until they came across a variable they couldn’t handle, and then they ask for assistance. You help ‘em through that problem, and they go back to their job mindlessly until they met *another* variable they couldn’t handle, and so on.

I’d been told that the Trust complex had the largest network of Waldos in the world, though now that I was actually in the system the truth of that was a little disappointing: just a bunch of floor-polishers and various maintenance machines. There was nothing cool like a chrome-plated Cylon or a Terminator. I selected a trash collector, which seemed the strongest of the bunch, and which had something like arms.

I plugged myself into the R/C feeds for the thing, and felt its limited senses wash over me - sight, sound, touch in the claws. No taste, (And why should there be? It’s not like this thing had a mouth.). No smell (Probably a detriment to its job as a trash can cleaner). After a quick check to make sure all the functions were working properly, I rolled out the Bot Storage Hangar door.

***

…plain myself to you because dammit, it happened again, didn’t it? Are you doing this to me? What in the hell is going on? Call a doctor. I’m not speaking anymore until you call a doctor.

***

A quick glimpse at the map and the manifest in the Trust’s main computer told me where my quarry was.

It was late at night, and there was nobody around, just a few other bots here and there, wiping up messes that were already invisible to me. There were undoubtedly a few actual real live humans helping the waldos out when they got into a jam.

Wait a minute - Late at night? Where the heck was I? I rolled over to a window and raised my camera eyes to have a look around. I seemed to be in the middle of a desert, but I couldn’t make out any details. Oddly, it hadn’t even occurred to me to figure out where the Trust complex was located before I broke in. Physical location was of such little importance to us Undead virtual people that it hadn’t even occurred to me, I just found the Virtu-net node for the place, and logged through.

Wherever I was, I definitely wasn’t in Nebraska. That was a little surprising. I’d just assumed…well, it doesn’t matter.

Suddenly, there was a security guard - a tall Asian guy in a uniform standing in front of me. I sucked in my breath, then remembered - duh - that he could see the ‘bot, but he couldn’t see *me.* Old reflexes tend to crop up when you’re skulking about surreptitiously, I guess. I drove past the guard as nonchalantly as I could, but bumped into his leg.

Crap! I was blown!

No, I wasn’t. He cursed a bit in a language I didn‘t understand. More than a bit, really. He kicked me twice really hard in the side (Thankfully I had no touch receptors there), then stomped off muttering to himself.

I called the elevator, and rolled in.

***

Fine. If I can’t stop myself from talking, then, fine, I’ll talk: The whole thing started out on Halloween eve. I was throwing a costume party at my place. This is a lot of fun for us undead folks, since we can alter ourselves to look any way we want, and the various avatars the meat people in the outside world send in here to hang out with us are usually pretty elaborate as well.

I came as Matt Frewer. Nobody got it.

Sergeant Paraquat came with her new fella. I don’t know if you’ve glanced over my previous exploits or not, but it occurs to me that I never mentioned she was a chick. I didn’t know that myself when I was working for her, turns out cybertransvesticism was part of her black ops cover. Since she’d been booted, there was no need to keep up the ruse. She came as a hot Valkyrie. Her date was a ninja. Yawn.

Saint Peter came as Dr. Festus Ohegbulam from the popular three-vee show “Festus Ohegbulam Travels the World,” a science fiction series that I’d never made it through an episode of. He introduced me to Sonya Lott, his date.

Out the picture window, an old 1930s-styled plane flew by, buzzing an angel. The angel turned and elaborately flicked off the plane. Sonya laughed that the unexpected profanity.

“Nice,” she said, “Terrytoons?”

“Oooh! Smart girl,” I said, impressed. I quickly assessed her: She was impossibly hot, which probably meant she was overcompensating for looking like a south carolina mush mellon in real life. Eh. Who am I to judge? I’m a brain in a jar. Not my date anyway. “You’re either three hundred and six to recognize that or…”

“I took a class on 20th century motion art at Nebraska State,” she said, “We did a unit on animation.” She waved expansively out the front window, “This isn’t what I pictured heaven looking like.”

“Eh, I’ve been here long enough for it to get boring. My neighbors drew up a petition, and got permission to re-write this section of heaven any way we wanted it to look. We chose cartoons. None of us wanted to look at downtown anymore anyway. Heartbreaking.”

“Really? Why?” Wow, she really was new. “Get Saint Peter to show you later on.”

“Who’s Saint Peter?” She asked.

“Oh, sorry, Aloysius,” I said.

“Please don’t call me ‘Saint Peter‘,” he groaned.

“Why does he call you Saint Peter?” Sonya asked.

Suzie, my granddaughter came in. She was dressed as a ten foot tall cthulhu, all claws and tendrils and horrific things like that, but the person next to her wasn’t scarier by far. I crin --

***

The elevator doors opened on the hundred and ninth floor, and I was still nowhere near the top. Big building. This was the main life support level. Everything was centralized here. I had to go through a couple airlocks to get into the main section. I’d figured it’d be a bunch of HKL machines lined up in rows, and I could just pick the right one, break it, and that would be the end of it.

Nope, nope, nope, this was a mass of equipment, pumps, bellows, gurgling bits, strange thereminy noises, and unidentifiable glowing things. It was like being in a World War II submarine engine room, as told by the set designer from Forbidden Planet. I was instantly overwhelmed.

I sat there for a long time - two and a half hours, my time; about twenty minutes in meat time - and tried to figure it out. Assuming I had everything right - which was doubtful - then if I took out *that* area there, and the back ups, then it should shut down that whole section, which would accomplish my goal, albeit with a lot of collateral damage. There was simply no other way to do it from here with the time I had left to me.

I rolled off to find the backups. I smashed the first one with my manipulator claw. So a few hundred people would die, what did I care? I had to go down to a sub-level to get the second backup. I smashed that one as well. I mean, it’s not like I never killed anyone before, right? All those people in South America or Laos or where ever it was - I’d offed them when I was with the Army killbot program a few years back. I didn’t lose any sleep over that. It was for the greater good, and this, this, this, this, this was definitely for the greater good.

Or was it? I had a moment’s doubt, just a moment.

Yes, it really was for the greater good. Lawyers wouldn’t see that, of course, but if lawyers were human beings, they wouldn’t have gone into law to begin with. Yeah, I said it. I don’t care what you so-called people think. Like I said, there’s no way you’re not going to send me up the river for this, and I don’t care. I don’t care at all.

Anyway: I extended my manipulator claw, geared up my wheels, prepared to ram the final hung of machines to shut down that whole section….

And I just couldn’t do it. Damn. Time for Plan B, once I figured out what that was.

***

--ged at the site of him.

Damn, but that’s freaky, is my voice changing when I suddenly switch tracks like that? It’s like I’m possessed, it’s unnerving.

Uhm…where was I? Oh, yeah, so his name was Cavin FitzHume Longford. I knew about him - everybody did - but I’d managed to avoid meeting him until now. Heaven was a big place, after all, and crowded to the gills with about nine million people, at least a tithe of them were specifically his fault.

I knew the typical character assassination stuff about him: a lengthy police history of him running cons, domestic violence, drug running, prostitution. He had a particular fascination with religious scams. As a teen he’d allegedly discovered an ’original’ copy of the Koran buried in his back yard, which contained sixteen extra pages, most of which said things like “Allah chooses Cavan Longford to be His next prophet.” That went over about as well as you could imagine. A few years later, he set himself up as the “Tagore” fellow Philip K. Dick had prophesied as the new messiah back in the 1980s. He also wrote lesbian porn under the name “Creamy Orgasm.”

Thing is: Character assassination doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and in Longford’s case it definitely was.

His latest scam, which started a couple years ago, was that the Virtual World was the afterlife, and not merely a computer generated consensual hallucination. It’s not an uncommon mistake to make: Our virtual world looks like the biblical concept of heaven, we call the place “heaven,” we talk about being dead (When in fact, none of us are, we’re just unrecoverable crippled, and our sensory information is plugged into a computer so we can interact with others.) Confusion is understandable.

Longford wasn’t confused, though. He told people that our heaven (Trademark, patent pending) was the real heaven, that our virtual bodies were resurrected bodies, that once we came here we would never want nor hurt nor die again. Ok, a lot of that is true - as I said, confusion is understandable - but the fact is that I’m not dead, I’m hooked up to life support somewhere. If my brain - wherever it is - dies, then *I* die. Then I go on to the *real* afterlife, whatever that is. I’m assuming they don’t have Terrytoons there.

Discernment is a virtue precisely because it is so rare. Most people aren’t well educated, and don’t think very clearly. In the first world, there wasn’t so much interest in what he was selling, but in the third world? Imagine you’re a starving goat herder somewhere with a dozen kids you can‘t keep fed, or a sex slave in southeast Asia, or a refugee from some raggedy-assed war-torn African shithole? Suddenly this kind of nonsense seems a lot more inviting.

Longford spent a year predicting his death and resurrection. On his birthday two years ago amidst much public spectacle, he’d called EMS, put his head in a guillotine, pulled the lanyard himself. The paramedics fished his head out of the basket, and plugged him in to heaven.

Of course doctors had been doing that for their patients for years by that point. I was one of the first. I ended up here as the result of a really bad car accident. There was nothing miraculous about it, but, again, we grew up in a privileged world of miracles, not some South American shantytown.

All across the world, his followers committed ritual suicide. Sometimes they’d call an ambulance first, sometimes they’d do it in a hospital lobby. Sometimes they’d just jump off a building in front of a restaurant they knew doctors hung out at. They were poor, they couldn’t afford to pay for these kinds of services. Hell, I probably couldn’t afford to pay for ’em either initially. Before I figured out how to make my own keep, Obamacare kept me alive. Just the same, the expense of keeping people like me going had bankrupted more than a few private insurance companies in the past four years.

Cthulhu beckoned me over, “Grandpa Will! I’ve got someone I want you to meet!”

***

The alarms went off. Someone - probably the cleaning staff - had noticed someone was futzing around with their systems. I was going to have to break the connection and try again another night. But would I be able to get back in? Would my quarry even still be here? If anyone figured out what I was trying to do, they’d unquestionably relocate. No, I had to try this now, I might not get another shot at it.

I rolled down the hall to another bank of elevators, but even as I did, I felt my connection slipping. They were shutting down virtual net access. My senses receded, my grip on the waldo slipped looser and looser, and I could feel my ghost exiting the machine, slipping off into the distance. I strained to hold on, harder than anything I’d ever done before, I willed the connection to stay open. I sense the same kind of high that I’d had when I had super attenuated myself, relying heavily on subroutines in my Stock Broker days, but of course it didn’t work.

There is simply no way the hallucinatory word of code can overcome physical reality. They physically shut down the connection - maybe gone so far as to pull the cable out of the socket - and I was gone.

I opened my virtual eyes, and found myself still in the hallway, still rolling up to the elevators.

What the hell…?

***

How do you make small talk with the antichrist? I made the normal stuff - try the canapés, bathrooms are down the hall to the left, be sure to tell the DJ if there’s anything you want him to play - and tried to excuse myself.

“You’re not a believer?” he asked.

“Not a believer in you,” I said.

“You’re one of those people who needs a sign, aren’t you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and my gospel is being preached to the poor,” he said theatrically in a booming Irish baritone. Son of a bitch, the guy was trying to turn my party into a revival meeting! I had to shut this down fast. Several people I didn’t know - Longford’s culties, I guessed - were filing in.

“Even by my very lenient standards, I find that highly offensive,” I said, “Knock that off, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” I flashed some quick hand signals behind my back. I didn’t need to look, I just knew Paraquat and Pete were watching.

“You never really believed in God, did you grandpa?” Suzie asked.

“On, no, that’s not true at all. I totally believe in God, which is why I’ve habitually gone to such great lengths to avoid meeting Him. There’s a lot of things I don’t want to have to answer for,” I said. That was probably the only time she and I had ever discussed religious matters.

“Of course,” Lonford interrupted. “You have received me into your home, and you have already been received into the kingdom of heaven, there is no need to preach to you, nor any of your guests, but our souls are heavy for the burden of our brothers and sisters who even now…”

“Yeah, all right,” I said, “You’re done. Time to go.” I started motioning him to the door. My friends backed me up. His followers backed him up. Nobody moved. Suzie looked mortified, wide-eyed, her hands in front of her mouth.

“Shall I tell you a great secret? A secret only for you, reserved for you, a true and great thing that will forever change your soul?”

“No,” I said. He ignored me, and leaned in close, so close I could feel his simulated breath on my ear, feel his whiskers on my neck. Then, in a voice that was barely audible even to me, he said, unmistakably, “I’m fucking your granddaughter.”

I snapped, of course. I decked him, lunged at the guy. He just laughed. I couldn’t hurt him, it was impossible to hurt anyone in the virtual world, just like it’s impossible to use Email to shoot somebody. My hands were around his simulated throat, just the same. He laughed at me, and then he and his followers disappeared, teleported away.

“Suzie, I -”

“Don’t even talk to me!” She said, “Cavan warned me you’d be like this.”

“Did he warn you that he was going to provoke me, too? Because that wa…” She cut me off again by simply teleporting away. I stared blankly at the spot she’d been in a moment before.

“I think you played right into his hands, Will,” Pete said.

“No, really? You think?” I snapped.

***

Level forty-five, ward six, room ten. I rolled out of the elevator. There were flashing lights all over the place, but no guards. They must have figured that since the V-net connection had been cut, they were safe and the intruder was no longer here.

So why was I still here, anyway? I mean, how is it that I was still in the facility when they shut off the link?

No, no, don’t concern yourself with it. I noticed there were a lot of Gerties sliding around. They were simple AI machines, that hung from tracks in the ceiling. They rolled around from room to room, giving individualized attention to the patients, checking vitals, and so forth. They were somewhat modular, and could slide in manipulator arms or other equipment if it was needed, on the very same tracks. They were fascinating to watch. I’d thought so when I’d first seen them in a movie when I was about twenty. Their sensory heads were about the size and shape of a toaster, with cameras and a whole bunch of other receptors on the front end.

I found what I was looking for: Tank sixteen. Heh, might as well have been tank six sixty six. I reached up and…

Damn. It was higher than I could reach. It was only head-level for a person, but my janitor-bot was only about garbage-can height.

Ok, ok, everything is a puzzle. I can solve this. What have we got around here? Desk, chair? Not bad. I pushed the desk over to the bank of liquid-filled tanks mounted in the wall. Then I rolled the chair around, and tried to climb up on it, no easy feat given that I didn’t have any. Feet, that is, I was on four rubbery wheels.

That didn’t work, but the arms were pretty strong. Maybe I could haul myself up onto the desk with them? No, I tried that, but evidently my bot-body was pretty heavy. The table up-ended. I let go in fright, and the raised end fell to the floor with a very loud boom.

To Be Continued...
Part two is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-cult-undead-part-2

Copyright 2011, Republibot 3.0

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