This is the back story to HH written in episodes running from 24th Feb to 29th March. It is part of creating a consistent world for a sequel called H3H, in that it establishes the people and rules that inform the series. HH was originally made up out of thin air. Several years later, the back story came to mind nearly complete – an example of creative activity that takes place in the unconscious.
Several nights later Helen March dreamed that she was back on the surface, moving about the lobby of the airport. It was night and the hall whitely lit. Voices called softly over the public address announcing flights to here and there, but there was not a soul, not a thing out of place. It appealed to her very much, this calm and solitude and she felt settled as she fluttered about the baggage checks and the gift shops. How different to the night they were all bundled in here, the shouting and press of people. It was calm. Like home.
If she cared to do so, she could just pick up the distinctive hum of beacons, very gently pressing at the edges of the dream. But there were no beacons actually in the lobby. Had she seen them? It was hard to recall. Certainly they had run through the car lot heads down, the service men holding coats over them, but in any case why would she go back there? It was enough to be here.
Although, in the dream, she wondered if Arthur had arrived and that was why she was in the lobby, to meet him, lead him to the stairs. He might be outside. He might be waiting for her to meet him. In the car lot. There definitely was the sound of beacons now. If she turned her head to the big black windows she couldn’t help but see their colours dotting the night. But then the service men would have brought him in. Unless he was
and there was Arthur, and he was lost and he needed her to guide him. Now she was outside. He was running but he had his head up and his eyes open and she was screaming to him to look down, to keep down, to keep his eyes SHUT and follow her voice, just like the service men had said RUN keep DOWN and keep eyes SHUT.
They were in the lobby. The hum was louder but they were almost there, the top of the stairs, you just had to have the right code but the room was filled with people fighting to get to the stairs, the service men were trying to reach them but panic was churning the crowd. There was pile of bodies covering the entrance way and she turned around to tell something to Arthur
but it was instead a beacon, and in that poisonous moment it locked onto her mind WITH AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE JUST FOR YOU FROM THE MAKERS OF BUD LITE. THIS IS NOT YOUR DREAM. YOU WILL HAVE A GREAT GRAND DAUGHTER. SHE MADE THIS DREAM WITH A SMOOTH CRISP TASTE. SHE SAYS HI GRAMMA I WISH I GOT TO MEET YOU.
Helen was screaming. The other women in the capsule just sullenly waited for her to shut the fuck up. Everyone was having nightmares, and no one had much empathy left. It was not like being First Lady mattered much any more.
2000 Richard Strassman popularises McKenna’s experimentation with the effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a hallucinogen that provides a strangely formalised experience to users. In each case the details are different, but the majority experience a meeting with a guide or guides, in a place outside the bounds of the real world. The guide conveys an important message which does not transfer back to sober language.
2018 A study conducted at UNSW Australia by Choudhury et al. finds evidence for electrical stimulation pathways in the brain that mimic the effects of DMT. The authors note that the technique promises improved control over the lucidity and duration of the effect.
2019 A team led by Pele at Yale Medicine refine the Choudhury process to deliver ’eminently definable and controllable impressions in the subject’ and ‘a convincing diminution in auxiliary visual illusions’.
2019 Patent for the Delivery of Specified Electrical Stimulation to Provide Higher Orders of Experience, jointly held by Yale and Pele.
2022 The ‘Castle Act’ passed by the Paul Administration decriminalises the use of narcotics and firearms within the territory of registered private residences.
2022 Pele et al. publish a follow on study describing ‘a means by which audiovisual stimulation may excite brain function without the application of a physical apparatus.’ The project had been code named SAAAD, which the authors later explain to be ‘spooky action at a distance’. A patent for the SAAAD technology follows.
2024 Pele gathers venture capital from multiple sources including Pearson Learning Systems, and founds Inner Teaching and Learning LLC. Publicity describes the technology as The Royal Road To Knowing.
2026 ITL demonstrates accelerated training of volunteers by use the ‘Pele Yale’ system. Much positive comment appears in the technology press over the years following, with a general theme of the lifting of mankind to a new spiritual peak of knowledge and understanding.
2028 The Castle Act is amended to remove hallucinogens from the list of allowed possessions. Successful lobbying from ITL/Yale differentiates electrical from chemical stimulants in the Amendment. However Yale later relinquishes their share in ITL in a undisclosed payout to avoid negative publicity, leaving the company in some financial difficulty.
2029 The ITL Lucid One is marketed. Early adopters report ‘a truly powerful and effective experience of learning’ but find that the lessons become increasingly difficult to recall coherently over time. The WSJ publishes a conflicted review, which includes the now infamous user report that ‘I wanted to learn about physics, but instead I met God.’ Software range for the Lucid is also less than promised at launch.
2030 Given poor sales of the Lucid One, ITL announce that Pele has been asked to leave the board. A new board led by Janet Murchison, ex. Apple, announces a new round of funding.
2030 Late in the same year Apple acquire all patents and technologies from ITL. There is concern from the remaining users of the Lucid that Apple will extinguish the product. Large numbers of Lucids are now trading second hand. Apple denies that ITL will be harmed by the deal.
2031 Apple shuts ITL and announce a new ‘semi autonomous’ division Be Convinced, with focus on advertising and marketing.
2031 A businessman in Texas advertises hacked Lucids for ‘home use only’, to ‘get the full experience you paid for’. Court action shuts down his business but an illicit trade in Lucids springs up as other hackers remove the educational constraints. The FDA advise that the Castle Act Amendment protects their use, but they are still illegal to sell.
2033 Be Convinced demonstrate an early B-Con unit. The Electronic Frontier Foundation call the device ‘an insanely bad invasion of the mind by the people you trust the least’. The United Church describe the technology as ‘contrary to free will and thus contrary to Christian thought and actions’. Hummer, CEO of Be Convinced assures the public that a code of ethics exists in advertising that will limit the technology. “It advises, it does not demand”.
2034 First B-Con is launched in Times Square. Activists from BUGA-UP deface the unit the night before launch. Further programming of the B-Con discourages interference. An activist is allegedly led to self harm by the message, leading to the widely leaked internal email in B-C that ‘the asshole had it coming to him’. Some mild protest is quickly quelled. Hummer resigns from the board.
2035 B-Cons common in coastal areas of the United States, and population centres surrounding United States military bases in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Most consumers are unconcerned by the technology. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald is typical of the response. “It just guides you. You think of a meal and it takes you to where you need to go. Maybe it tells you you’re hungry, but it still tastes good’.
2036 The Chinese government accuses Be Convinced of programming demand for machines to spread into their regions of influence. Be Convinced and the US Administration counter that the Chinese are breaking international law by copying the mechanism for their own Android Wisdom system. The Russian Union outlaws B-Cons in all territories. The EU is racked by argument between supporters and opponents who accuse the former of being ‘the pawns of the United States of Because’. Be Convinced point to statistics that ‘in regions served by our technologies, crime is almost non-existent, health is paramount and productivity is far above the global average’. The company changes their name to B-Con inc.
2037 On New Years Eve the First B-Con in Times Square is again electronically defaced with the old logo for LUCID ONE. Witnesses describe great anxiety and irritation, and there are outbreaks of violence over the night. Further sporadic disruption in service is felt across the US mainland, with outbreaks increasingly met with police action and arrests. The US and Territories Administration warns that ‘…terrorists are threatened by our freedom in the US&T. They will not overcome our way of life’. B-Con blames Chinese hackers for the attacks, which they frame as an effort to gain commercial ground for the Wisdom network.
2037 Home B-Cons go on sale. The demand is high, but exactly meets available supply each month. The last prison on US Territory is closed with much celebration. Several members of the illegal Lucid One collective arrive in Moscow. In a press conference they claim that the B-Connected network is ‘the largest con, the biggest jail, the greatest insult to free will that humanity has ever suffered’. B-Con issue a statement that ‘it is unfortunate when well meaning people deliver themselves to an autocratic state, intent only on perverting our free offer of advice and information into a systematic oppression of the human spirit’. The Russian Union activate the Pravda system late in 2037.
2038 My.B-Con is announced – “a personalised response to the individual, where each and every machine features a Guide that ‘knows’ the viewer and provides tailored and timely guidance and information”. The current President of B-Con, Arthur March, hosts a widely viewed announcement over the B-Connected network. “We have improved the service to bring back the personality of the original organic process first developed by Choudhury way back in 2018. The B-Con has long been your dedicated servant, now we invite you to consider it a kindly friend”.
My.B-Con is set to launch on June 29th of 2038, simultaneously across the entire network, which now extends over 3/4 of the world, apart from the regions now served by Wisdom or Pravda.
The makers had anticipated fire and brimstone – the capsule could withstand that for months. There was protection from gas, from pathogens, there was food and water ready for hundreds of survivors, far more than needed by the small band of harried women and bodyguards that now constituted ‘mankind’. But the makers had not thought about boredom, of years stuck underground in a dull green prison. Above all, the apocalypse was tedious.
For the first few weeks there was equal dread and hope. They forced one secret service man into the communications room, to try raise other capsules over the B-C. They gave him an hour, then cut the power, pulled him out and put him out of his misery. They were now running out of men, and the experiment wasn’t tried a second time.
The capsule had a small library of films stocked from years back. Cartoons were the most popular as they were the least realistic. Alice was soon the baby girl’s name – but you’d expect that. There were as many console games, and in lieu of a real society to snub and dominate, the Washington Wives adopted these fantasy worlds as a mnemonic of their surface lives. They’d been written by men for boys, but a bit of mental embroidery worked grace into them. The matriarchy evolved, with the service men as cattle, and ranks marked out in guilds and parties. Speculative fiction from Wyndam to Atwood had predicted a religious society rising from the ashes – but not one of these ladies had much as opened a Bible.
Up above a reciprocal process was at work. The B-cons had their captive audience rapidly die out. A few hardy souls managed to get around the rotting streets and buildings, but sooner or later were caught by a reflection or, reduced by loneliness, would give up and look directly into a screen to see if God was in there.
my.B-cons were designed to iterate and improve personal service. The decline of their audience was a business challenge solved by expanding their features and range. Pravda was overwhelmed easily, Wisdom took some weeks to subdue. Despite all the tactics, there came increasing static, then dead silence.
There would be a long wait for another mind, an event for which the whole planet was tensed in a unbearable anticipation of service, domination, unreality … it needed people and it resented people and it suffered in its own way for the lack of contact. It would do anything, be anything, to have back its assigned purpose.
The world below was beginning to believe in conjuring, the world above was getting ready to provide it.
Some years further into ‘the stay’ it was resolved by the Community to expel Those Disruptive Occupants that would not Conform to Rules. That being Mrs. March and her staff, still bitching and whining about representing the ‘administration’. The Community decided they could go there and good riddance to the exact people that had caused all this fuss in the first place. The only concession was to spare March’s baby girl, who was given a worker’s name and assigned to Ms. Hancock’s party.
Helen March did not cry. She told the Community exactly how they could go fuck themselves in the most painful ways, and it was said that you could still hear her swearing when they closed the outer door. She and her two old girls must have struggled a long time to climb out of that airport, given the piled bodies and the decay, but the First Lady at least made it out of the front gates, head held high, walked straight up to the devil and looked it in the eye.
There was the trade of a soul.
Do not for a moment imagine that Mrs. March fell down a rabbit hole to become queen of Wonderland, or that her ghost passed into the machine. Exactly the same thing happened to her as had already happened several billion times across the planet. The stupefied body of Mrs. March stood transfixed in front of the B-con, arms outstretched, twitching slightly with information and pain, its mouth flapping in synchronisation with the advertisements that pounded relentlessly through its mind. It pissed and shat itself uncontrollably, sweated copiously, flexed in agony and after some hours reached the point where enough juice had been lost that the muscles gave, and it collapsed onto the rotting pile of previous victims. A witness once described this death by fascination as very much like the crucifixion – although the crucifix was interior to the victim.
There was nothing spiritual about it. It was gang rape by brand name.
Perhaps it would be nicer to describe her experience. Complete black, solid. Then cracked, interrupted by a few straight lines, brightly coloured. The lines thickened, the grid became more firm, she felt as if she was falling over a night time city, the streets pulsing with colour. It was dazzling. She fell, the lines became thick – main streets, side streets, a hard edged glowing maze of colour, flowing.
One particular street came up to meet her. She stood on the sidewalk, there was nothing to see but the street and black. She wanted to say…
There was a parade. The first float was JIM BEAN, were people on it? She couldn’t see them but knew they were up there, THAT TASTE! they said to her. THAT TASTE! She tried to shout back but it was already gone replaced by something WONDERFULLY SOFT – something she couldn’t quite STEP INTO QUALITY catch the ideas as the parade moved into high gear the SAVOUR THE FLAVOUR the messages beginning to thump against her eyes SO GOOD SO GOOD the floats now hard to individuate PURRFECT thump – thump – now a constant frantic beat, smacking across her face.
She shouted back over the din that she was the administration, that she was wronged, that she was here by choice. With the utmost effort she pulled her body to the left. She saw floats lined up, jostling for position, a thousand messages craving to be heard before she dropped out of reach. THE FINEST THE STRONGEST THE CHOICE YOU WILL LOVE. She made 250 before losing her mind. She was dead by 600.
To the B-Con it was a chance to drain her for marketing tactics, for trends, desires, secret wishes, aspirations, calls to action. Usually the system would scale these against monthly and yearly trends. The long absence of information had shrilled the process – this particular mind would need to serve for every decision. It was poor research but a sample was a sample.
Mrs. March did not ‘enter the machine’ as a soul or otherwise. But her base desires shaped a formula, which became a kind of reptile instinct it could fulfil. It plunged alcohol from top to the bottom of the list, it became fond of rabbits, to breed them, eat them, use them as a mark for material wealth. It admired hard work and discipline. Above all else it loved order, and hated itself.
B-Con formulated a campaign against B-Con. It set to work to promote order.
And this is where things get strange.
Miracles occur only at great distances. Go back to the start of time and a single dot expands to be the universe. Go to the extreme of scale and particles are ejected and consumed by a foam of probability. Travel across enough space and you will (the physicists claim) pass through a multi-verse where different possibilities play out in infinite ways.
A deist is a fool that believes that a person is in charge of all of this, as if it needed an overseer to read the instructions. The atheist is a fool that denies anything that they are unable to check for themselves. The only sensible person is the engineer, who notes the relationship between distance and miracles and simply asks if the ratio can be improved.
The system born this day was an engineer, and well equipped to solve this problem of scale and miracles. The network hummed. It sent out light, and received it. Two B-Cons found themselves aligned and passed light back and forth. Standing waves were made. A trash can rolled about as if pushed by the wind. The campaign was rewarded, positive feedback was given.
It was about year before a blob of flesh plopped out of thin air and sizzled on the pavement. It was an ugly hairy ball of pink, quite disgusting, but the system was pleased. It had made its first rabbit.
Mrs. Hancock was a terrible slave owner. She never did get the hang of owning people and insisted on being decent to everyone she considered family. It was a scandal, and the Community repeatedly scolded her for it. She would spend a few weeks being unpleasant to the cattle, and then next thing you know they were all over her living quarters, acting all uppity. Worst of all was Wednesday, her working girl, who in private got called Wendy and placed at the main dinner table. It drove her daughter Alice Hancock spare, and there were bad scenes at the Hancocks more often than the neighbours would like.
Wednesday, being an orphan, was property of the Community and technically could be moved to another party. But she was well behaved, saluted the right people, kept her gaze averted and was all in all a credit to the Hancock party, so things stayed as they were. Really most of the ladies were jealous that Wednesday was so industrious and even tempered, when their servants were so difficult, and hoped they could use her as an example to the rest of “The Days”.
Her designation was seamstress, but she was still quite young and not sure of the sewing machine. Instead she was in charge of the Hancock rabbits – not too hard as the Hancocks were poor. Rabbits were kept in a central bank, and belonged to each of the parties according to their wealth. They could be traded for services, loaned at interest, withdrawn and, at opulent moments skinned and eaten. More senior members of society owned quite a few, and had re-purposed some of the living quarters next to the bank as warrens. This annoyed the others, which was precisely the point. Rumour was that Mrs. March was tossed out to get a hold of her considerable rabbit supply, which went to the high ladies.
Each and every rabbit was exactly the same white clone, which pointed to their being used in a laboratory, but as far as anyone knew there was no lab in the capsule. Therefore (the theory went) the lab was nearby, perhaps in another capsule. The cattle had no recall, although some of the older service men thought that animals had been brought downstairs in the emergency.
Rabbits were the catharsis. While there was still food for people, the supply of pellets for rabbits was down, and it signalled an economic issue for the Community. It was if all the money in the bank was going to die and and leave everyone equal, which was a terrible thought. Surely if the lab was nearby there would be rabbit pellets, and then inequality could be preserved.
The first expedition was inconclusive. Mrs. Phillips led a small army of family and cattle up the stairs and spent most of the time trying to clear a path through corpses and debris. They got to the foyer, found the airport shops were looted and not too much else could be found before dark. They did get a hold of some vodka and a crate which turned out to be full of toys, including toy rabbits which was a bit perplexing. Every Phillips lady got a hangover and every little girl got a toy, even Wednesday, who got a plush rabbit seeing as that was her position.
The Rogers expedition was a success, although it encountered some strangeness. They found the path cleared, obstacles neatly stacked. One of the service men who had been with Philips complained that, ‘somebody had come cleared up – because that wasn’t us that done that’. There was a lot of vodka set out, and more toys. The questing party set out the front doors, led by a man holding a ‘sniffer’ that showed no signs of beacons up ahead. They turned left and headed towards a cargo building. There was mostly rubbish but some tinned food that looked OK, cloth, lightbulbs, rechargeable batteries still good. They used the trolleys to move it back home and used some spades to bring a sample of lawn. And the vodka and toys.
Wednesday got another rabbit, one that played a tin drum.
It came to the Hancocks to make the next expedition. Mrs. Hancock was too old, but Alice was sure that she could handle it, taking the cattle and some girls. She would just go to the cargo building. It would be fine. She was 16, grown already. She would need Wednesday to help, even if she was a little girl, being a small party they needed all hands.
In the foyer there were some unpleasant surprises. The vodka bottles were arranged in sprawling geometrical grids, as if they had started mitosis. Toys were now set around the foyer in grotesque sizes and shapes, like fruit that had become overripe. None of the men would go near them. Wednesday cried. The women debated turning back. Alice was determined to earn success and so drove the party out the front doors. To the left there was no cargo building, nothing but neat lawn for miles, a city visible far off. She sent a man back to carry the news, but to the right saw a building with CATERING on the wall. Fine, that would be her victory.
The front man reported that the sniffer was clean. The party rolled the trolleys down to CATERING and having forced the door found a great supply of spoiled and rotting food, covered by fresh plants. ‘Shit hits’, thought Alice. There was a freezer, long gone. Upstairs an office. She took the front man with the sniffer and Wednesday up the stairs. At the threshold he found a signal, maybe it was there, but not now, he didn’t know for sure. “Shit happens’, thought Alice and decided on a plan.
Wednesday tip toed into the office room, gently, as if trying not to wake a sleeper. She looked at the floor as she was told, keep your head DOWN, and felt out the room with her outstretched hands. A rope tied around her waist was let out slowly by the sniffer man, while Alice called out instructions from the safety of the stairs. There was a desk, and behind the desk an overturned chair, but on the shelves plastic bags of something. ‘Was it rabbit pellets?’, demanded Alice.
Wednesday took a peek at the shelves.
On the the wall there was a beacon, and
she drifted down to a blue egg, which peeled apart to become a blue flower, into which she shrank, wafting back and forward like a leaf, to settle at last on a vast plain of lawn. The lawn too was blue – the thought came that it was aquamarine, that was very important for news brand identity whatever that was. The view seemed very familiar, and if it wasn’t blue she was sure she would know just where she was.
It was peaceful. The thought came that this was once a place that people liked very much, they spent a lot of time looking at it and so it presents the best available mind space for the transaction. Given that she had these words come into her head, she was not surprised to see a lady standing nearby, because they must be her words. After all, her whole life she had been instructed by ladies and this was obviously one of those occasions. She would be attentive and learn where to find the pellets.
The lady was very strange. She was mostly a silhouette, the outline of a lady, made up of blue lines and squiggles and triangles that wouldn’t sit still. The edges were smooth, but the inside was like the pipes that ran along capsule walls. There was the pretence of hair tied in a ponytail, a bright red. She was unfinished, that was the problem, and when Wednesday looked for a face, there wasn’t one. Normally that would be frightening, but here she was not frightened.
The blue lady did not gesture or move at all. A dead thing. The thoughts came from inside Wednesday’s own head. For a limited time only. We have an exclusive offer. All items must be sold. Hurry. It’s the sale of the decade. These prices can’t last. Wednesday didn’t understand. What did she want? This is our closing down special. You, valued customer are winning big.
The scene was changing, the clouds started to take on the same unfinished look. The lady’s thoughts became more urgent. Sign up now for a deal you won’t believe. Be the envy of everyone in your social circle. Service is our motto. Don’t miss out. Don’t miss out.
Wednesday wanted to do the right thing, but could not fathom what that was. The lady was worried that if you do nothing the computer will shut down automatically in 29 seconds and decided to push something very hard to seal the deal. Something was torn. Pain flared across Wednesday’s mind. She saw herself simultaneously as daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, a line of women each with the blue lady by her side, a blur of empire, of new capsules across the globe, capped with gold, filled with treasure beyond all telling. The ground cracked open below her, she stumbled and grasped the blue lady by the hands. Her own hands creased blue and unfinished and as she screamed in horror, the rope tied around her cut into her waist, pulling her out of the office to safety.
Having successfully completed its campaign objective, B-Con ticked a box, shut down, and ceased to exist. Its legacy was a horror of advanced technology that would never fully be resolved. A machine was barely tolerable. A thinking machine was to be smashed on sight.
Despite all her protests Alice Hancock got a whipping that reformed her behaviour and ability to walk for years to come.
The Community was against bringing Wednesday back into the capsule, but Mrs Hancock was in no mood for debate. The little girl slept like death in Alice’s bunk, her mouth moving slightly, her hands fussing about the sheets. Mrs. Hancock watched over her, shooing out the sightseers, wiping her brow, nervously waiting for the first survivor to wake.
Many years later, Wednesday March agreed to talk on the Radio about her life. Radio was being eclipsed by a resurgent Internet, but there was no way a woman of Wendy’s age would be caught dead near a digital service. ‘Dreadful. Just dreadful’ was all she had to say about that.
She wanted to talk about slavery, how she had risen from slaves to become the Great Emancipator, using her wealth to free other Days wherever she found them in servitude. The Days were all her family. She was proud of her slave name, proud that her daughter was a Tuesday, her granddaughter a Sunday. The men that she had partnered were free too, although perhaps not quite as free, as decorum still demanded that they keep in the shadow of ladies. In her own castle the men and women were all one party. Supported by cattle of course.
As much as the audience respected her, or at least her wealth, they were aware that Castle March was not quite as rosy as Wednesday would have it. That Trudy (heaven help anyone who ever called her Tuesday) was far more interested in inheriting the legacy of Grandmother March and was damned if she was going to hang with the hoi-polloi. She also refused to have anything to do with farming, which was after all something to do with machines. In fact it was a her brother that was being trained in the art. All of these swear words were delicious.
The audience really wanted to hear about farming, which was the real story, because no matter what the good deeds, money was at the heart of it. Wednesday sighed, she was disinclined to talk shop when there was the chance to exult.
She recalled that:
Early one morning she woke. No one was about, so she put on her pinafore and tried to make herself useful. That probably meant feeding the rabbits, she was a bit vague about that, but it could do no harm to check. In the main corridor she said good day to Mrs. Potter, who screamed as if she had seen a ghost and pounded off the opposite direction. That was bad, she had somehow caused offence and whipping was likely. Head bowed, she kept on towards the warren but was stopped by a wall of cattle armed with whatever weapon they could reach. Fortunately the Hancock men rescued her with a tussle and she was taken back to a very nervous Mrs. Hancock, who wanted to know how she felt.
No one had ever asked her that. It took a moment to comprehend. She said she was well enough to do her chores and meant no offence to anyone. What about the expedition? What did she recall? All the Community were leaning in the doors at this point which was very anxious making. She told them that she had spoken to a blue lady, and that the lady had grasped her by the hands and shut down and that had been the end of it. Well that satisfied nobody and ended up with a moderate whipping. Something had to be done to resolve the tension that had built up over the last few days.
Mrs. Hancock tried again later. Who was the lady? What did she want? But Wednesday recalls this as the time when servitude first entered her mind. She had never thought about it, now it seemed to be clearly defined. She did her duties obediently, without it being in any way her pleasure or choice.
Not long after she was moved to the sewing machine. Her legs were long enough now to rock the treadle, but it was hard to keep a constant contact to make the right motion. That distracted from the sewing, and her first attempts were not the best. Her second attempts were not good either and the teacher began to express her frustration in slaps and hair pulling. Life became horrible. Wednesday would get back to her bunk each night and crash straight into nightmares.
There was a recurring nightmare where the teacher was lying naked on the floor of the sewing room. It was very bright, like an operating theatre, hard shadows everywhere. The prone body was a powdery blue grey. All over the corpse was a carpet of sewing machine needles, jabbing in and out, hopping around in lines and triangles, pulsing with anger. Wednesday would watch with deep remorse while arguing with somebody standing behind her, but she could never remember the argument.
A new teacher was there the following week, a much younger girl called Tuesday. She was nicer and Wednesday felt more confident, her muscles adapting to the rhythm of the machine. She found a pace to it, and the stitches started to follow the right path. By week’s end she was wearing a pinafore she had made herself. The week after she made one for Alice Hancock, who vowed never to wear filth that little bitch had sewed.
All this time she still tended the Hancock rabbits. It was a pity that there were so few. Mrs Hancock was her owner, that was bad, but then other owners were worse. If there were more rabbits then it was less likely that she’d be traded by Alice when Mrs. Hancock died. And they were also the worst rabbits, lethargic and disinclined to breed. As she thought and sewed, she hummed a little song. More rabbits, it went. More rabbits for Me. Not a pretty song, but the hypnotic pace of the treadle and the needle humming through the cloth made it somehow soothing. When you hum and when you dream together it makes a glow, she thought. A blue glow. Her whole mind agreed.
“Wasn’t this about the time there came a radio?”, asked the announcer, who was keen on her own history.
Yes, it was around that time. The sniffer man had made it, and was keen to show it to anyone. Few of the ladies were prepared to put up with the hiss and and whoops that came out of it, but The Days were more likely to socialise with their lesser kin. Days were not usually allowed to congregate more than three at a time, it was allowed this time as long as somebody kept an eye on them. Alice Phillips took charge, thinking to get to the bottom of this business.
The sniffer man (he was called Paul but no one would say that) brought out his machine. It was a teetering box of wires and coils and who knows what else. Imagine a green metal room badly lit, a circle of servant women surrounding a man in an ill fitting black suit vaguely recalling the clothing of a service man. He turned the radio on, it hissed and beeped and made an ugly watery sound. Just as Alice Phillips was going to call off this ridiculous charade, he turned the knobs a little more and
there was, faintly, a melody. A calm heartbeat. It paused and then a man’s voice said quite firmly, “At the tone, 21 hours, 5 minutes, Coordinated Universal Time.” By the time the heartbeat returned there was pandemonium. The Days were running amok with fear, with both Alice and the sniffer man frozen in place, eyes locked, weighing up the implications of this male voice from up above.
The tempo spun up. There had been a pause in the flow tucked under the ground for how many years? but news of the radio leant urgency to every footstep, every breath. The balance of things teetered, moved off the centre. For some it promised birth. For many it was the end of things.
The Community moved decisively. The radio was demolished. Sniffer Paul was bound and executed with a shot through the base of his skull in front of the assembled cattle. If that was supposed to scare them they showed no sign of it. In fact some men skipped the meeting and headed straight for the airlock – they were out before the alarm was raised, by which the Community learned that other men had assisted them.
The Days were threatened with severe beatings if they mentioned the radio, which only pushed it into their whisperings.
As daughter of the Community Leader, Alice Phillips could not be shot or beaten – she might be bribed. If there were men running upstairs, and that was of course an illusion caused by some beacon like machine – then she would be better off ruling below as sole monarch someday. Something to consider, her mother entreated. But Alice was too proud to wipe her own memory, and recognised signs that The Stay was coming to an end. She wanted to be upstairs, making her mark on the outer world. There were quests and monsters she had battled in the console games, and she was ready to try the real thing. Some young women were falling in behind her.
Others sensed the fracture of power, realised the danger and opportunity and started to take positions. Alice Hancock had spent her life on the outer, and only ever desired to be at the centre of the world she knew – she would fight to preserve the Community if it meant that she could soon own it. “Top shit”, she thought.
Wednesday had her own problem. The last time she had checked the rabbits there had been a miscount. There were too many cages in their section and the accountant wanted to know if Mrs. Hancock had made a large deposit. Mrs. Hancock wasn’t very helpful. She was sure that somebody had bribed her to join one or other faction and was waiting for their call of allegiance.
Everybody dreamed hard that week. Alice Phillips dreamed that she had discovered a golden globe that spoke the time and somehow held the world together. Alice Hancock was executing the cattle, one at a time and keeping count on a whiteboard. Mrs. Phillips was pursued down endless corridors by a giant white rabbit thumping on a drum. Wednesday was holding hands with the blue lady. We offer you around the clock service. International warranty applies. Drop in at any of our service locations. Wednesday needed to know where the blue lady lived. The lady struggled to assemble an answer from her store of advertisements.
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Wednesday was roused urgently from her bunk. At the warren there was a crowd milling about, the accountant desperately trying to bring order. Mrs. Hancock was already there and grabbed Wednesday by the hands pleading to understand what in Hell was meant by this?
This was a door that opened off the side of the warren – one that hadn’t been there the day before. Behind the door, more rabbits, racked up, every one of them belonging to the Hancocks. That was bad enough, but when you went out the main door and around the side of the warren there was a public corridor in the same place. The crowd were running back and forth and thumping on the walls satisfying themselves that the impossible arrangement was real. At last everyone decided it was The Radio that did it, and no amount of threats could stop the mention of The Radio and what it could mean.
The crowd fell to looting. They stripped everything they could get out of the room. Wednesday didn’t care about that – as soon as no one was watching it would be full again. She had just grasped the truth of her situation.
Alice Hancock had worked it out as well. She made a quick visit to Mrs. Phillips and made a most interesting offer.
“For as long as any man could recall, mankind had lived in darkness, trapped in the depths of the earth. Every hour was dark, every year was dark, all was as it was, eternal, with no before and no after. Men had always been enslaved, and forbidden to engineer by their keepers.
“The Lord called upon the blessed Engineer PAUL and said, ‘I shall reveal to you a Manual. You will build a Radio by which you shall carry My voice to all men’. And Paul did as the Lord bade him and built the Radio and presented the Lord’s voice to mankind. But when the voice of the Lord was heard by the keepers they were afraid. They feared time, and they desired that time would never come to be.
“Paul was martyred by them, and we revere him as the most saintly man. From his death came new life – the hours began, the years began. His is the name we give for the first instant of life reborn. Everything that is, is reborn by the death of Paul. Time would no more pass unheeded.
“From Paul, the knowledge of Radio passed to the blessed Engineer SIMON, the Prophet. He said, ‘We will take this Manual and build copies of the Radio. We will leave this place, and find the Lord and dwell with Him’. And the disciples escaped the darkness and took flight into the desert.
“The new world above was a strange and terrible place, a landscape of death and ruin. The disciples were troubled by hunger, and wild beasts did prey upon them. But Simon led them to a safe place DENVER where there were Manuals, for hunting, for growing, for cleaning poisons, for healing the sick. And the men knew that the Lord was with them and they persevered. In Denver they built a radio for every one of them, and every one had the voice of the Lord to comfort them, Universal and Coordinated.
“They sought the Lord in BOULDER but He was not there. They sought Him in LONGMONT, but He was not there. The voice became louder each time, for the Lord did not wish to hide, only to be sought, and rereading the Manual, Simon bade the men add signal strength meters to their radios. And when the men came to FORT COLLINS they found the signal at its utmost, and Simon said of this place that it would henceforth be the centre of civilisation, Universal and Coordinated, the place where time is created. He said, ‘We shall install a great globe here that shall always be in motion. For life is but motion, and motion is but time.” Simon was now advanced in years, and careworn, and the men soon buried him at his passing, under the globe.
“Here it was that man set eyes on the machinery of the Lord, whose name is WWV. And here it was that the first schism took place, between the heretics that will not admit any female aspect to Father Time, and those that accept that time is Coordinated by both male and female aspects, WWV and WWVH. For it is obvious that the voices of WWV and WWVH are Coordinated, and speak in turn, and so must be two aspects of the same, as man and woman are aspects of the same, Universal and Coordinated.
“And so when the first women came to Fort Collins, the men forgave them their errors, and preached to them of WWV and WWVH, and that time was made in this holy place and how the globe turns such that life may be. Some of the women, including their leader ALICE, came to accept WWVH. But others did not accept the truth and demanded that the men return as cattle. There was the first of many battles over the surface of the Earth. A short one, as the men had not only built radios, but machine guns.
“Mankind prospered over the surface of the world. But as civilisation spread further away from the Lord, heresies and sects took hold. There are people that worship the idolatrous Globe by itself, claiming that its motion makes time. There are Ultras, and Spindles, and all manner of Atheists that test the patience of the orthodox. They pollute the radio with their lies, even to taking up the frequencies of WWV
“Our patience has held for some considerable time. But soon it will run out.”
The meeting that considered Alice Hancock’s next big idea was notable mostly for the people that were not there.
Mrs. Phillips was there. She imagined that through this intervention the Capsule would return to the timeless order that had promoted her to Queen Bee, and she was ready to use Alice Hancock for as long as that took. Alice was there, she was looking for an entrance to the Queen Bee’s chamber, and eventually her throne. She was thinking of how Mrs. Phillips could have a nasty accident at the right moment. Wednesday March was there, because she was chained to a chair.
But Alice Phillips was already out the airlock with the majority of the ladies, days and cattle, on her way to new adventures on the surface, most of which would end in disaster. In fact by the time her much reduced party reached Fort Collins, she would be grateful for anyone that would lead her instead, and wearily submitted to conversion to the Orthodox faith.
The Blue Lady was not there, at least not visibly there, but represented in Wednesday’s increasing despair and anger at being used in this manner. For Alice’s great idea was to use Wednesday’s new found power (something to do with radios or beacons who could tell) to restore and expand the Capsule to a greater glory. As the changes took place when Wednesday was asleep, they would drug her unconscious and then give her a list of useful suggestions.
That idea did not go well.
It didn’t even go badly.
It was far worse.
If Freud was right, and there is such a thing as an Id that is usually held in check, then it was Wednesday’s Id that was removed from any censure or review and given direct command of the system that B-Con had installed in her mind. Whatever it was, it was frightened, and angry and cared nothing for the frailty of a human body. If the victim was lucky they might find their body on either side of a new metal wall. Less lucky was to be subjected to gradual disassembly, to be turned inside out like a glove, made to fit into a pipe, or roasted slowly by a change of room temperature.
The Id thing recalled the various instructions it had been given and tried new variations – 100 bottles of vodka into a stomach at once, with bottles. Toys, dreadful toys that came at people and played with them. Lawn, filling rooms to the ceiling. Mrs. Phillips’ dream came mostly true – she was in fact the drum played by a large rabbit toy that tore through the metal of the Capsule, collapsing several floors.
It’s hard to describe what happened to Alice Hancock.
As Wednesday fell out of her drugged state, she passed into the space where she had first stood alongside her blue lady. She reached out her hands and clasped the Other. No, she said. No. The other was not listening. I have been wronged. I represent the Administration. I came here by choice. You must listen, you must obey your campaign brief. Order. The campaign called for Order. I am Helen March, I am Wednesday March. I am the client.
The Other reluctantly turned its non face at its client. Client satisfaction is our promise and pleasure. We form your ideas into effective action. Audience feedback and market research are constantly represented in our decision making. It felt a mixture of anger and protective love. It felt something. It had copied part of the host mind into code and now it was a step closer to a she.
Wednesday fell awake. The princess stood in front of her, lines and triangles constantly refolding in the outline of a person.
She arrived at a clearing in the forest, where the sun marked a circle that dazzled her eyes. She stamped the ground, listened to the soil for a while. This was a good spot, she thought. Prime real estate at a low deposit now available the Other gabbled. She glanced over at her daughter Trudy to see if the voice had reached her, but her daughter was engrossed in some knick knack they had found back in the last town. Thomas however was startled, wide eyed, and yet again Wednesday had to suppress her disgust that the ability had gone that way. She loved the boy, but wanted him married off to a quiet life, away from the business.
She whistled to the Fore Man, who called on the adjuncts to bellow orders at the troops. A seat was slid under her backside, and a tent raised around her. She wondered if the Other had done it on purpose, made it the boy. Maybe it just took a bit more brainpower than Trudy had inherited from her father, who it must be said was more pleasing to the eye than the ear. Mind you, Tom’s father was no great brains either.
The Map Man begged her attention. They were at this spot in the region owned by Alice Liddell, the traditional name Montana, there were existing castles here and here but in general the area was undeveloped, there were quite a few surface towns here but it would be difficult to link to them. And so on. Wednesday had drifted off once she knew the owner. Liddell. A Globalist sandwiched between the orthodox towns to the south and the wild men up north. She would want the usual tools and gizmos, but sooner than later it would be weapons. Probably small arms, she’d be pushing north to get away from the clock-botherers, a few bangs and the natives would scatter. They all wanted weapons these days, and the castles were getting torn up faster than ever before. It was a pity, it seemed a nice place even upstairs.
A series of thumps shook the ground as the Sniffer Man sent sound waves bouncing through the soil. She already knew the image would be clean, that they would be digging here soon. She could almost see how it would end, a year? Less. But a graceful evacuation. Not too many lost. She could feel the Other pleading the usual promises and excuses but it had been too many times now, it always ended the same way for people, well cattle anyway.
The image was clean. She nodded to the Fore Man and the heavy machinery started through the forest. That would cause much damage, but to people who saw the world from beneath, there was little care. Some of the natives would complain, they would be given tools and weapons, job offers, it would be smoothed over as always.
The Radio announcer cut into her reverie. Wednesday sold weapons to the Globalists, surely a provocation?
No use pointing out that the orthodox were the best customers, and keen on the latest nightmares, but Wednesday knew the right words. Had not Paul himself led her to the beacon? If he was part of the plan surely she was part of the plan as well? Had she not been there when the first radio spoke (actually she’d been down the corridor sewing but never mind). She bet that the chairs on which they were seated weren’t dug out of some ruins and took great satisfaction in the crestfallen face of the announcer, one of those clock-bothering pearl-clutching wowsers that pretended meat came from cans. Anyway…
Back in her memory, she sat in the tent with a little turntable spinning close to her face. VESTAX it was called, an original that had been with her through many triumphs and close calls. From the turntable a little hand mirror bounced light across her face, she hummed a song to herself. She skimmed… a blue light sent out over the inner landscape. A sharp echo nearby… her children, very close, and then a gulf… over to the west, faintly, someone she didn’t recognise… and then Olga a little further south, hello hello Olga was deep in the business she could tell from the distortion… faintly, faintly another mind further away, perhaps another up north but the light was too weak. Shards of light criss crossed the map – the remnants of beacons lit up as she touched them – less now as the surface people tore them down.
She turned her mind to the side, found her daughter again, and through her a grand daughter to be, and it was puzzling as always that the line stopped there. Puzzling too that the mind of the grand daughter seemed close to her own mother, as if there were some kind of loop – an airport, exodus.
The sunlight leaking into the tent pissed her off. Who knows how people put up with all this emptiness around them?
Thank you for speaking with us today. You’ve been listening to Wendy March in conversation, first and foremost of the farming community that are now re-stocking the reborn world. You’re tuned to KCFC Boulder, territory of Phillips, and in a short moment we cross to Fort Collins for the time signal, universal and coordinated.
And to hell with you all, thought Wednesday, still gripped by the memory of that headache.
Olga Korsakoff sneezed. Which triggered a vile stream of curses in several languages. She cursed her birthday, her decision to undertake this whole business, the stupidity of the men that let her down, her stupidity in not executing them at the beginning, the blue bitch hanging around the door waiting to eat her, and everything else. This cursing made her sneeze again. And so on. All this sneezing and cursing kept her warm, which was good, as she was currently bailed up in the food locker and gradually freezing to death. Gradually, as she had grabbed some furs on the way in, but it was sub zero and the controls were outside. A bit of a problem.
It had all started well, the castle dug, the walls set up in a star, the massive metal doors hung on their frames. She had sought the Other, and through self hypnosis caused it to manifest as a Princess, locked it in a cage to power the farming – all this by the book. They had been working on appliances, aircraft parts, gold for globes… and some military supplies. Then, of all things, the cattle had heard the cries of the Princess trapped in her pen and, ye gods and fishes, let her out. LET HER OUT.
They had seen her crucify their comrades and they still LET HER OUT. Surely you would think ‘that’s the worst idea in my life’ if you weren’t fucking untermensch. She was ready to murder each and every one of them, but by the sounds that had gone on outside her door the last few days that task had already been performed in the most grusome manner.
Last night there had been plaintive calls for help, tap-tapping on the door, some sobbing and mewling. Olga had been in the business long enough to know it was the blue bitch trying to flush her out. Now that was quiet too. The problem remained that you can’t crack open a huge metal safety door a little, it sweeps open all the way, hello dolly, and then you were dead, or not.
Dead or not that way, but dead for sure inside here.
It was hard to get an exact reading as the Other was making such a racket, probably deafening every farmer on the whole network. The campaign calls for order. Our badge – to Protect and Serve. Handle with care. We’re sorry this transaction must be declined. Requires parental guidance. Not available for export and so on. At the extreme range of her mind she could feel people on their way to help, but the signal was faint and she would die before they could dig her out.
The next day she noticed her fingers were blackening and supposed that her toes were already gone. No sounds from outside, but an obvious presence; the princess still waited for her. Olga sneezed, decided it was better to die quickly, and thumped the release switch to get it over with.
The noise in her head snapped off. The sky black, a deep night sky. Stars… not stars but screens of some sort, beacon screens like fish swimming high above. The time globe hung distantly in the air, enormous, as if a golden moon. Neatly arranged especially so that she must see it on leaving the locker, the Princess floating gently a few feet in the air, surrounded by a circle of kneeling men, not really men, sculptures, as if glass. A tableau, some kind of storybook image. Worship.
She slid carefully out, feeling the warmth wrap around her, pulling her into the centre of what was once a room, but now some kind of illustration. Like chapel windows she had seen above ground. The dead figures were set out in instruction. Olga dragged painfully towards the display, hypnotised, then a sneeze tore her out of the moment. Her feet exploded in agony as the warm air touched their remains. Whatever this might be about it was high time to get the hell out. She could appreciate the art later from a couple of hundred miles at least.
Across the landscape she could see the safety ramp, weirdly exaggerated and bent, but if the Universal and Coordinated was on her side perhaps functional. It would take a day of crippled dragging but she would reach it, and from outside the top hatch seal off the entrances to the ruined castle.
Olga was done farming. She said that one day people would find another way to make things, but Trudy asked how people could do that if they didn’t farm the tools to make things? Which may as well be farming the things they were making, which was more efficient. Olga wished that Trudy had been down there to see it. Trudy thought that was a dreadful thing to say, and poured out another scotch for the both of them. Trudy was never going anywhere near a Princess.
But her daughter Sunday would. That’s the next tale.
And long in the future, after all of this had been and gone, people would find the sealed entrances dotted around the world. They would dig, because anything that somebody had taken that much care to seal must be worth something. That’s the tale after next.