Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rood Der: 07: In or Out, or On the Fence

Data is Data - Through the Red Door - The Sunday SciFi-Fantasy Serial Novel by Douglas Christian Larsen
Rood Der, the Sunday SciFi-Fantasy Serial Novel, by Douglas Christian Larsen
© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Seven: In or Out, or On the Fence

01 02 03 04 05 06 07
15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Rodney was late to their late dinner at this restaurant he had never been to before, and that’s the real reason he was late—actually, he was always late, wherever he went—but today the GPS kept leading him right past this place, and he had ended up circling the block three times. It was John Galt, he was the guy who chose this place that apparently wasn’t even on a map, and what about the name of the place—why in the world would a place be called New Jerusalem, I mean, was it some kind of joke? Some New Age Christian place, most likely, where the ice cubes would be in the shape of the lopped-off head of John the Baptist, and they would serve things like Armageddon Chocolate Cake, and the wine of the day would be strawberry-banana Kool Aid. If there was absolutely anything like that, Rodney was going to leave in protest, that would show Kool and the Gang.
Rodney checked his yarmulke, a black velvet piece tonight, the kind of material you wore with a tuxedo. He figured his over-sized black hoodie, faded baggy jeans, and Crocs didn’t qualify as a tuxedo, but he felt like dressing up tonight, because things were getting truly loco in Rand town, and that was putting it lightly.
Rodney had not accepted any facts concerning simulations, as had most of the others, apparently. Barney was a holdout, too, except things with Barney weren’t looking all that good. Rodney didn’t think that Barney was actually reduced to a brain swimming like a jellyfish in a fish aquarium, but he felt that ole Barn was most likely dead, and that message sent to them over the television, it had all been meant to freak them out, drive them toward something.
What they were being driven to, oh, but that was not clear, not clear at all.
No, Rodney didn’t believe they were living in a computer simulation, but that the Red Door, their Rood—what a stupid name, Rood, and Cross House, too, Rodney felt that was a little religiously biased, because come on, none of the guys were actually even Christian, except for possibly Frederic—Rodney believed that the Red Door was a portal, to somewhere, and maybe to a whole different somewhere else. He could buy into the Multiverse, that there were countless other realities and existences and worlds and universes, and that they could all be layered one on top of the other, and perhaps every now and then they could all jostle, a few bumping edges here and there, like a stack of papers with various media, typed pages from a typewriter, smeary print from an old newspaper, cartoons and comics, and just due to the friction of all that combined weight, things could sometimes transfer from one page to the next, even if one thing didn’t have anything to do with the other thing. Things just got pressed together, that’s all. Some mixing went on, there was nothing magical or directed about it.
There was no reason to believe that there was some kind of program—the Abyss—calling the shots, choosing them, singling them out, no, Rodney felt the guys were way over the top, they were tiptoeing around La La Land. The System, now that was all Hank, he had started that. Sometimes the System was the shadowy Illuminati, sometimes it was bigger than that, an overriding program, a universal Abyss. But it was all paranoia and borderline schizophrenia. Of course, the movie trilogy The Matrix had screwed them up, and royally. Because in many ways it had struck gold with all the things they had been discussing for years.
They didn’t believe, any of them, that evil machines or aliens were holding them in prison, nothing dramatic like that, but all of them felt that what they saw and lived as reality, oh but that was not real, it was all some kind of fabricated puppet show. Rodney could accept that.
Wow, that was kind of another sign of Rodney’s many failings, because he had been involved with Hank and the Viking Simulation Society for years and years, what was it? Since he was just a little kid, thirteen years of age? They had known each other seventeen years now, Hank and at least a few of the guys, babbling and gibbering this rubbish? What did that do to your noodle?
Not that Rodney had much to lose in this world. Because come on, he was the failure in the family. He had dropped out of college more than five years ago, and he kept telling his parents he would go back, and soon, and finish things off. But look at him, he was the guy still living in his childhood home, in the same bedroom with his chess club trophies on a little shelf his Pop had built especially for the little statues—Pop called them the shiny golden calves. He still lived in a little boy’s room; his folks wouldn’t even let him have the basement, like most failures received their consignment in their own private hell.
Of course, things were looking up for Rodney, at least they had been for the last several months, just in the money department, and Rodney was being very careful, not to make anyone suspicious. Of course, Uncle Chaim was highly suspicious, but he was hungry for more of the New Gold. With all the money rolling in through the Red Door. Who wouldn’t go a little crazy?
Rodney had channeled most of the gold coins through his Uncle Chaim, his mother’s brother. Uncle Chaim knew people, the shady people on the other side of the tracks, and his chain of jewelry stores were the perfect way to move the gold quietly, across the country, out of the country, where it could be moved into private collections, quietly, except that some of those shady folks had begun to ask questions, such as, why is this gold so pure? Authentic sure, but who in the world were the faces on the coins? And why did the stuff shine so much? It was better than gold, they had begun calling it New Gold, and they wanted more, some of the shadier people were demanding more of the stuff, lots more, and Uncle Chaim, a clever, careful man, wasn’t sure what to do. He was growing more than a little nervous, as was Rodney.
Hank still had stacks of the New Gold, in coins and little bricks, piled inside a safe right next to the Red Door. They also had big nuggets, the size of your fist, that they had found just lying around in that other world—apparently gold was no big deal over there.
Rodney sighed. He supposed he should go into the New Jerusalem, the guys were probably getting angry with him. But they were always angry with him, because he was the guy who was always late. He was hungry. So he would go in, and listen to their circus of madness. Apparently it was Joss that had called this dinner meeting, and he had something to show them, and John Galt had set things up—John always went through some elaborate charade of randomly picking a restaurant, finding out if there was an available private room, and then collecting about four of these restaurants and assigning them a number, and then he would call each of the guys on their cell phones, ask them for a number between one and seven, and then John picked the restaurant through mathematics—he would never fully explain how he picked the restaurant, but it all seemed highly arcane and almost occultic. Today, John had texted them, going for extra stealth, oh boy, big whoop. Still, Rodney was hungry.
He got out of his mother’s stationwagon—believe it or not, it was an ancient woody from the 1970s, Rodney remembers vacations to Jackson Hole in this monster—and adjusted his yarmulke. Glancing across the parking lot, he caught a glimpse of Jethro Mouch, trailing a stream of pipe smoke, heading toward the New Jerusalem.
“Yo, Jethro!” Rodney called out, waving extravagantly above his head with both arms. Jethro glanced at him and gave him the thumbs up and they headed toward each other, angling so that they would meet before they got to the doors of the restaurant.
“You are so late, brother,” Jethro said, giving Rodney a hug. Rodney always went stiff in such exchanges. He enjoyed them, sure, because most of the guys were demonstrative in their good-natured affection, hugging and punching and firm handshakes, always making Rodney feel like he belonged in the group. He liked all of them, except for maybe Barney, and he wasn’t sure yet about Chen. How could you trust a guy named Joss?
“I got here the same time as you, apparently,” Rodney said, always a little angered by the ribbing they gave him on his tardiness.
“I got here half an hour ago, you know, early?” Jethro said. “John and Joss wanted me to walk around the block, smoke my pipe, check out the cars.”
“They sent you out to see if anyone is spying?” Rodney giggled. With all the elaborate measures to keep their meeting place random, how in the world could anyone spy on them?
“Yeah, wanted me to see if there were any telephone vans, groups of dark figures sitting in long dark cars, that kind of thing. Strange silhouettes leaning against telephone poles, smoking unfiltered cigarettes.”
“Nope. But I’m lucky I didn’t get mugged. Ever notice all the hoodlums out and about these days?”
Rodney snorted. “Hoodlums? Like gang members harmonizing doo-wop, or the Jets and the Sharks?”
“Yeah, exactly that, very weird, I almost wanted to stay and watch,” Jethro said around his pipe. His tobacco smelled especially good. But you could never tell when Jethro was joking. He might tell you that he had passed a velociraptor riding a Harley, and you might take him seriously, his face changed so little, even when telling the most outrageous lie. But you always knew the lies were meant to be funny, never deceptive or misleading, so you had to trust Jethro, as strange as he was.
“Weird stuff, today?” Rodney asked, because he certainly had some weird stuff to share at dinner.
“You know, the weird stuff is getting so regular, it’s hardly weird. What would be really weird is if I suddenly had a boring, normal day, with absolutely nothing bizarre to report, that would certainly be weird,” Rodney said, upending his pipe and giving it a spanking, showering ash and sparks to the pavement.
“Let’s go in, I don’t want anyone to suffer an embolism,” Rodney said, “everyone here?”
“Yeah, except Barney, Hank, and Frederic. Joss brought the Dell projector, apparently he has a little movie to share with the boys.”
“I don’t know why we always have to have Joss along,” Rodney said, “it’s not like he is one of us, he’s just a guy that Hank hired.”
“Oh, he’s one of us, all right,” Jethro said, biting his empty pipe stem between his teeth. “He’s been through.”
“What kind of food do they serve here, anyway?” Rodney asked.
“Exactly what you would expect,” Jethro replied.
“What’s that supposed to mean, I have no idea what kind of crazy stuff a place called New Jerusalem offers, and if they feature Kool Aid, I’m leaving,” Rodney snapped.
“John picked it. Should be good. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this place before, can’t be many like it in these parts. I glanced at the menu, Middle-Eastern stuff, you know, hummus, pita bread, sautéed squash, lots of kabobs, falafels, grape leaves, stuff like that, good stuff,” Jethro said, pulling open the right side of the glass doors, and motioning to the right. There seemed to be a bustling crowd inside. It sounded like sitar music, but that couldn’t be right. “We’re back this way in a little meeting room.”
It was noisy in the place and there seemed to be belly dancers moving between crowded tables, people dressed in costumes and turbans, but Jethro skirted about all this and ducked into a dim hallway, led them past the restrooms where a line was formed for the women’s side. There was something off about the women in the line, but Rodney couldn’t figure out what was bothering him. What was it? They were too diverse, a little blonde all dressed in sexy red, a very thin woman covered by a chador—this must be the other side of Jerusalem—but then there were two Goth lesbians all over each other, and a little brunette that looked like a Baptist’s wife, checking her face in a little gold mirror. At the end of the hall Jethro opened the door and stepped aside for Rodney to enter before him, and then he closed the door behind them.
“Okay, I think we are all here,” John Galt said from the head of the table on the far side of the smallish room. There was enough room for servers to move around the table, but not much more room than that.
Ronald Rand half rose and motioned to the center of the table where an assortment of dishes butted against one another, and said: “we’ve got some appetizer’s here, this one is meat kabobs, I think lamb, and this is the vegetarian version of the same thing on this plate, and this is spicy hummus, this is regular hummus, you dip these little pieces of bread into the hummus. And then use your imagination, Rodney.”
“I know how food works,” Rodney said, unzipping his hoodie. He had an I Want to Believe, X-files t-shirt on underneath, complete with little flying saucer.
“Good to have you, Rodney, thanks for showing up. Anything, Jethro?” John said.
“Just some very weird dancing gangbangers, and a doo-wop group at the corner, they were very good, but nothing, you know...suspicious,” Jethro said, straight-faced, moving his pipe from the right side of his mouth to the left.
“Good, good,” John said.
“You don’t think what he just said is...weird?” Rodney queried, seizing a bit of pita bread and swiping it through the spicy hummus.
“I’ve gotta tell you,” John Galt said, “I think we might be in a very unusual place, and so nothing tonight is going to sound even a bit weird. Try the lamb kabob, it is amazing.”
“I’ve got this set up, anytime you want me to turn it on,” Joss Chen said, kneeling before the Dell projector, fiddling with his super-boosted Microsoft Surface Pro 5.
“We can do some eating first, touch base on what we are all experiencing,” John said. “Anything anyone can tell me about this place, anything that stands out?”
“I had to go around the block three times before I knew where it was,” Ronald Rand said, “the GPS kept moving the final flag around on me. I had to get out of the car to even find the place.”
“Same here,” said Jethro.
“Yeah, wow,” Rodney said, “I seriously had to go around the block three times, and every time it looked different, all the stores and shops, very disorienting.”
“Can I get a show of hands?” John asked. “How many of us had to drive around the block three times?”
It was unanimous, as all five of them raised their hands.
“Was anyone not using their GPS to get here?” John asked.
Joss Chen raised his hand. “I thought I knew this neighborhood, so I just drove down, and I kept going around the block. I agree with Rodney, it was very disorienting, as if I woke up in a city that I do not know.”
“So whatever is affecting this area, or affecting us in this area, it’s more than just technology,” John said. “And I won’t supply the details, but this restaurant was chosen randomly, and per vote, which each of us participated in, by choosing a number. I used the new disposable phone and each of you responded via text message. Independently, all of us chose this restaurant. And what I’ve had of it thus far, the food is good, and some of it is very good, and I don’t particularly like finger foods. Has anyone been to this place before?”
“Blah blah blah,” muttered Rodney.
Everyone voted no, but since the food in the dishes was rapidly vanishing, apparently everyone agreed with John’s opinion as to the quality of the food.
The waitress entered quietly from behind a curtain across the room from the only door. She was a tall woman, with dyed-black hair and big, luminescent green eyes. The skin of her cheeks was quite pocked, which was probably the first thing you noticed about her, except for the eyes—the size, large, and the disturbing greenness of her irises—and the cheekbones, incredibly sharp and high, too sharp to be considered attractive. She came around the table, stopping first at Joss Chen. She stared at him.
“Oh,” he said after a moment, as he had provided her a small space to speak, because he didn’t know if she was here for drink orders, or for the dinner order. “I guess I’ll have the vegetable platter, with stuffed grape leaves.”
She continued to stare at him.
“And hot tea,” Joss concluded, looking at her as if he might have flunked her test. “Oolong tea? If you don’t have it, any hot tea is fine.”
She nodded to him and moved on to Rodney, who ordered lamb kabobs and a glass of red wine. The waitress never spoke, but she stared at each of them in turn with those strange, green eyes. She really did stare into their eyes, with command. She had the eyes of a cat, fascinating and strangely colored, although each man could not hold her odd stare for long. She held a pad and a pen but never seemed to use them.
“What’s with the waitress, she got a problem, or what?” Rodney blurted, as soon as the curtain stopped moving with her departure.
“Something, but it’s the first I’ve seen of her,” John said. “I did notice that her name is Phoebe.”
“It’s a bird, and a beetle,” Jethro said. “Phoebe, plus the only character on Friends that I liked.”
“I was thinking of the Titan, Phoebe,” Joss Chen said.
“I was thinking of the moon,” said John Galt.
“The moon is not named Phoebe,” said Rodney.
“The moon is named Phoebe, if it journeying around the Planet Saturn,” John Galt returned.
“Thought that was Titan,” said Rodney.
“That is another moon of Saturn,” Ronald Rand said, “along with Enseladus, and Janus, and, and, well, that’s about all the moons of Saturn I can think of, never big on astronomy, unfortunately.”
Jethro fidgeted with his pipe, but he glanced at the red no-smoking sign, and continued to chew on the nib, his hands fretting with the silverware on the deep red tablecloth.
“She was nice about letting me hang the white tablecloth on the wall,” Joss Chen said, indicating the wall where he had draped the large cloth, which would provide a screen for the movie projector.
“Well of course she’d be nice to you,” Rodney sneered, rolling his eyes in exaggeration, with just a little too much emphasis on the last word. Joss merely glanced at him, but John Galt stared.
“Something bugging you?” John Galt asked, “I sense a little negativity rolling off you, Rodney, and I mean more than your usual negative self.”
“I’m not negative,” Rodney said, but even he thought he said it in a whine.
“That was pretty negative, right there,” Ron said, grinning, but it didn’t piss off Rodney, because at twenty-five years of age Ron was the baby of the group, and whenever he said anything like that, it was generally good-natured, he was a teaser, and a genius—for an engineer, that is, something like Steve Wozniak, only in bifocals.
“Disagreeing is not being negative,” Rodney snipped at him.
“Oops, negative again,” Ron said, now smiling hugely, his big-ass bifocal glasses reflecting the lights of the room like mirrors.
Rodney pushed up his own big glasses with his middle finger.
“Today,” he said, “I’ve been noticing a whole lot of repetition going on. My Mom came into my room and asked me if I had any laundry, and I told her I do my own laundry. I was playing Xbox, The Walking Dead, and about two minutes later she came in and asked me the exact same question, in exactly the same way.”
“It’s not just senility?” Ron asked.
Rodney gave him the dagger eyes.
“Oh,” Ron said, realizing how it might have sounded, “no, Rodney, I just meant, you know, mothers can do that, ask you the same thing over and over again, especially when they’re getting up there in age.”
“My mother is only in her fifties,” Rodney said, “and she’s not getting bad with her memory. Or maybe she’s only sixty, I can’t remember. No, this was weird, because I’ve been doing my own laundry since I was fifteen years old, and I can’t remember the last time she offered to do my laundry. Plus, in The Walking Dead game, I’m pretty sure Barney showed up as a zombie, trying to communicate or something.”
“Well, that would certainly go along with the brain in a vat movie yesterday,” John Galt said. “We all witnessed that, so this could be more of the same thing.”
“I was going through this neighborhood and there was, like, nothing, the big zilch, and then I saw this red Trans Am, or maybe it was a Dodge Duster, I can’t keep them straight, but it was a big bright muscle car, red, just the kind of stupid car you-know-who likes, and there he was Barney, behind the wheel, looking very ripe, struggling and moaning and still recognizable, and remember those girls in the beauty pageant swimsuits and sashes? One was seat-belted in the passenger seat, and there were two more in the backseat, so come on, that was the same thing. I doubt I’ll ever play that game again, well, maybe that game, just not in that area.”
“And that’s it?” John asked.
“That’s it? What do you mean, that’s it? There was a whole bunch of that stuff going on, all day today,” Rodney said. “It’s getting ridiculous. Tomorrow I might not even be able to get out of bed!”
They compared notes, going around the table, and all of them had some odd episodes where it felt like they were living things over again, or having flashbacks to their childhood, all the usual coincidences and moments of eerie déjà vu they had been experiencing for years, but were now experiencing at an alarming rate and frequency and volume—it was getting ridiculous, as Rodney said—and they had just gotten around the table to Joss Chen and his movie.
“How long is it, the video you compiled?” John Galt asked.
“Not very long. What I have to show, what I recorded earlier today, is only about three minutes long. I edited to show the pertinent parts, and even then, I do not have any answers for you, but this will certainly open up more questions.”
Joss Chen turned on the projector, juggled it a bit to center the image on the white tablecloth hanging suspended between two light fixtures. Then he tapped his expensive laptop and an image of a bright window appeared, with strange shapes cracking into the glass, with splinters of shattering glass appearing, and then the camera zoomed in to show, close-up, strange reflective creatures. Little bees, distinctively bees, but smaller than common houseflies, they were the size of ladybugs, but looked just like miniature bumblebees, with yellow and black markings on furry bodies. These were not creatures of nature, but little machines, constructed to look like bees, but they were just a little too shiny, and they moved far too quickly, trekking all over the glass, making little circles and shapes, performing.
Standing in the restaurant, now, Joss Chen was suffused with horror, because the other guys were watching, they saw what he had seen, and almost terribly, this was no hallucination, it was all real. And the words it had spelled out to him, those words.
Suddenly the nanobot bumblebees moved into a flowing shape, streaking along the glass, all of the miniature machines forming into an infinity symbol, flowing. The mecha-insects flowed into a Moebius strip, crossing over itself, but still making the sign of infinity. Then the nanobees seemed to double on the screen and while the Moebius strip continued to flow, it shrunk in on itself as a rectangle formed around the sign of infinity, and then it looked like a door formed on the window, with the infinity symbol inside, and then the Moebius strip changed with a circle forming about it, and then weirdly, it took on the shape of the Planet Saturn with its big ring—except that the ring was still the infinity symbol, a door that leads to infinity, and the Planet Saturn, and then upon the glass the door turned red—it was a red door with that symbol, and it was all moving, shimmering, and then the door began to open—
—Joss switched off the projector, and closed his laptop.
“Hey, why?” began several of the guys, but they noticed where Joss was looking. There stood the waitress, returned with a rolling tray, and all their meals and drinks. Her strange eyes continued to stare at the white tablecloth on the wall. The guys sat back, silent as the waitress began moving about them, setting their food and drinks before them, with flawless inerrancy.
“Thank you, Phoebe,” John Galt said, surprising the other guys, as he was the last of them to consider flirting with a waitress, ever.
“Thank you, John Galt, but can anyone tell me—who is John Galt?” the waitress said, making the old joke that anyone made when they learned his name. The only thing was, he doubted that he had ever told the waitress his name.
“That’s what we want to know,” said Rodney, attempting to be cheeky. The waitress turned her green cat’s eyes upon him. Rodney gulped and looked down.
“And who are you, Rodney Weinstein? Why the headgear? Are you yearning to return to something you have never known? You feel like a failure, and yet, how could you have failed anything, when you have never exerted yourself toward anything other than computer games, and monster movies? You are not a failure, and you have unlimited vistas before you, if you can only but find the courage within yourself to set out.”
It was dead silence in the room, they couldn’t even hear the music through the walls—that was strange, because only moments before, you could hear a whole crowd just outside of this room, but now, they could just as easily be on the moon, it was that quiet.
“Do you have something to say to us, Phoebe?” Joss Chen asked, both his hands on the table, his head down, watching her through the very tops of his eyes. He looked like a hunting dog, coiled to spring, very, very still, but about to pounce forward upon his prey. Or, more likely, he was about to spring backward, and flee this aggressively strange woman with the green cat’s eyes.
“That depends, Joss Chen, are you in, or are you out? You cannot remain sitting on the fence, not much longer. This is not a game. I am certain that all of you are beginning to understand this. You have not stumbled upon a little secret to aid you in increasing wealth. You have received the signs, and you are all inadvertently drawing the attention of various parties that will deal with you in very different ways, once they are truly aware of what you are doing.
“You mentioned some of the interested parties. Enseladus, if he stood where I am standing, right at this moment, there would be no talking. He and his clones would escort you from this room, and from this world. Thankfully, for you, he is rather preoccupied at the moment. He does not know of you, of that I am quite certain. of yours, it is rather transitory, and pathetic, if I might say. I do not wish to hurt any of you, or make you feel bad, and I realize that this world is all that you have ever had, or known, until very recently.
“I am certain that your friend Bernard has met with one above me, Mr. Kronoss, and perhaps one much higher than him. You will probably not see your friend again, at least not in this world.”
And she seemed to be finished speaking to them. She began withdrawing, walking backward, her strange eyes watching them, and she drew the serving cart along with her, although her hands were at her sides, nowhere near the cart.
“Excuse me, Phoebe,” Joss Chen said, “but you alluded to a hierarchy, can I inquire as to your position, in the grand scheme of things?”
She smiled then, cocking her head, pausing just before the curtain that led from the room.
“Hierarchy? Very good, Joss Chen. I would be considered one of the lesser moons of Saturn, an outlier, if you will, the patron saint of outliers, such as those in this room. I do not amount to much, not in the...grand scheme of things, as you say, and neither do my chosen.”
She was gone.
“There was another thing,” Joss Chen said, “a word the nanobots spelled out, just before attacking the window. I went back later for my binoculars, but they crumpled in my fingers, somehow made brittle, they turned to dust. But I saw a final word that they spelled, one that I did not know, but have since looked up. TEOTWAWKI.”
John Galt snorted, and then he and Rodney said, in unison: “The End of the World as We Know It.”

Douglas Christian Larsen
© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Seven: In or Out, or On the Fence

01 02 03 04 05 06 07
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15 16 17 18 19 20 21

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