Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eternal Return


It had been 50 years since Nick used to see Dominique. At the time he was living on a small ranch just up the street. Dominique’s family used to stable their horses at his parent’s place.

Dominique’s family had a sprawling estate on gently slopping grounds, with orchards, gardens, and a stream–leading down to the shore. The property was bounded on either side by wild ravines, with a lake forming the other boundary. A triangular plot, like a gated garden, but with natural barriers walling or fencing them in.

The property was long-since abandoned. The orchards and gardens a thicket. The ruins of the white stone house overgrown with vines from the neglected grape arbor. The woods tenaciously reclaiming the boathouse, bathhouse, greenhouse, gazebo. The swimming pool caked with dead leaves. The weedy tennis court. Squirrels nesting in the chimenea.

Nick had returned for the funeral. Her funeral. Afterwards he went back to the old estate for a final good-bye.

This was the second funeral he’d attended for her family. The first was for her brother Albert, who died of TB in his teens. Dominique never got over his death. When she inherited the estate, she couldn’t bring herself to either live there or sell it. The physical association was both unbreakable and unbearable. So it fell into a state of decay. A cemetery for a lost brother. For a lost childhood. For a lost future.


Nick met Debbie in junior high, just up the hill–on the summit. Dominique attended private school. Debbie was more down-to-earth than Dominique. A middle-class girl who lived in a rambler over on the next hill. Nick would often walk her home after school–then double back to his own house. Sometimes he’d pick up her kid brother at the neighboring grade school, a few blocks away, and walk him home–if she was busy with her figure skating.

Debbie was everything Nick was not. So sweet, gentle, feminine. Features like fine china. And just the right size. When he held her close, her contours fit snuggly into his contours. A perfect matching pair.

So Nick was torn between two girls. Dominique was unobtainable. Indeed, that was part of her charm. It wasn’t social class that kept them apart. In a way, Dominique loved Nick more fiercely than he loved her. He loved her, but he also loved Debbie–whereas she only had a heart for Nick.

He could have been happy with either girl, though happier with Debbie. Debbie was steady.

Yet she remained aloof. By turns affectionate and distant, passionate and diffident. He couldn’t figure her out. Was she just a tease?

She hurt him deeply when he found out that she was having an affair with Jeff, his best friend from high school. They were football teammates in junior high and high school. Nick trusted Jeff implicitly, which turned out to be a mistake. Yet he couldn’t quite blame Jeff for responding to Dominique’s advances. What guy in his right mind wouldn’t jump at the opportunity?

No, he blamed Dominique. Not so much out of anger, but puzzlement. If she loved him wholeheartedly, why didn’t she give herself to him? He was available for the asking.

Mind you, that would force him to choose between Debbie and Dominique. And in hindsight, who’s to say how that would have turned out? Each fork in the road might be equally fulfilling in its own way. The road not taken might be just as good, in a different way. But he could only make a life with one woman.

Dominique knew about Debbie, and Debbie knew about Dominique. When he was with one, he’d sometimes mention the other. He hadn’t made up his mind. Still testing the waters.

Dominique confided to Jeff, who confided to Nick. Dominique loved Nick too much to marry him.

The funeral for Albert had been a grim affair. Not just because it was a funeral. Not just because it was for her only brother. But because it was so hopeless. Dominique’s mother and dad were irreligious. This life was it. When you died, that was the end.

She could never again invest her heart in a man. For she couldn’t bear to bring herself to give herself to what she’d someday give away in death. To lose herself in what she couldn’t keep.

Beginning with Jeff, she carried on affairs with other men. When she felt she was becoming attached to a man, she broke it off and started anew with a stranger. The less she gave, the less she had to lose.

She and Nick continued to correspond all their lives, until she become too ill to write. She traveled the world, never putting down roots–for fear of being uprooted.

She willed the estate to Nick and Debbie, with the proviso that she be buried there, beside her brother Albert.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


In 2141, the global climate control system was beginning to fail, due to computer malfunction. The GCCS had been installed in 2103 to forestall natural disasters, filter airborne pathogens, screen out cosmic radiation, and make many hitherto inhospitable regions habitable. A planetary botanical garden with many ecozones and microclimates, as well as urban centers.

While this enhanced the quality of life, one downside is that humans were now so adapted to the GCCS that their immune systems were compromised. Their melanogenetic function was also impaired. Simply put, the human race couldn’t survive without the GCCS.

So the computer needed to be repaired–at all cost. But there was a problem. The man who designed the firewall was dead. He was a polymath, with a side interest in comparative mythology. He designed the firewall as a videogame, combining plants, animals, characters, buildings, landscapes, plot motifs, type scenes, and riddles from the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, John, and Revelation.

The firewall was part wargame, stealth game, and 4X. Before you could fix the computer, you had to hack the firewall. To hack the firewall, you had to win the videogame.

But this was complicated by the fact that the Commissariat outlawed Christianity in 2117. The Bible was banned.

Classified copies were stored in the archives of the Commissariat, to which only high-ranking commissars had access.

The Commissariat regulated all aspects of social life, beginning with population control. Reprogenetics. Mandatory sterilization. The state awarded one child per couple, from Eugenix.

There was, however, an underground church. Knowledge of Scripture was preserved by word-of-mouth as well as encrypted copies of Scripture. The underground church included Christian hackers who attempted to disable the police-state apparatus.

“Theoterrorists,” as the Commissariat labeled them, were normally executed, but some of them had invaluable computer skills. These few were incarcerated at a supermax facility, where their troubleshooting skills were sometimes tapped.

It was a tight wire act. The hackers were both dangerous, yet indispensable to the state.

When the GCCS began to fail, the Commissariat turned to Peter Neureich for help. Peter was their most brilliant prisoner.

The Commissariat tried to limit his computer access to the GCCS firewall. But once inside, Peter hacked his way into other systems. He deleted the database for the Ministry of State Security. He fried the Eugenix mainframe. And he reprogrammed the GCCS to phase out over three generations, allowing the human race time to readjust.

All this led to a popular uprising. Civilization reverted to indigenous social and religious institutions.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Frederick Ducasse was a grasping old man. Before he became a grasping old man, Frederick was a grasping young man. This world was all there is, so he squeezed every last drop from the tangerine. He made his fortune through cunning and treachery. Making friends to betray friends. He was widely hated, but that didn’t bother him as long as he was rich. He had everything money could buy.

Yet there was one thing he couldn’t buy–immortality. He saw his body age. Felt his body age. Despite diet, exercise, and the best medical care, he was helpless to halt the advance of time.

And now he lay on his deathbed, gasping for every breath. On a ventilator. With a heart monitor. And a live-in physician. Once a man of the world, with a private jet, a gigayacht, and mansions in Newport, Bel Air, and the Côte d'Azur, his cosmopolitan existence had contracted to an antique royal bed in his cavernous, curtained bedroom. Big, empty, and dark–except for flashing, beeping monitors.

He clung to life with every effortful breath. Clung to the fading light. Clung to fading memories.

He felt a great weight pressing down on his chest. He tried to reach for the call button, but he was too weak.

He felt his soul slipping away. Exiting the shell. Hovering above his lifeless body. Then passing through the ceiling.

For a moment he saw this world for what it was–a shadowgram. A shadow cast by the shadower. A shadow foreshadowing the shadower.

His fond old world suddenly looked so flat and colorless. Now he longed for the shadower. For the world above. The world to come. He caught a glimpse of heaven. New Eden. New Jerusalem. Joy unspeakable.

Yet he felt his soul falling rather than rising. Heaven grew distant. The music faded. A receding speck of light as he continued his descent. The air grew darker and colder. Then silence.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Into Eden

Derek Apted was dying. Alone, in a hospital bed. In the final stages of a long degenerative illness. He was only 54.

During lucid moments he reviewed his life. So many regrets. So many lost opportunities. If only he knew then what he knew now. If only he could repeat his life with the benefit of hindsight.

Then an angel appeared to him in his hospital room. Or maybe it was just a hallucination. Hard to say in his often delirious state of mind.

The angel asked him if he wanted anything. Derek asked the angel for a chance to repeat his life, but with his memories intact.

In a flash, Derek found himself back in kindergarten. On the outside, a little boy. On the inside, a middle-aged man with a college degree and decades of experience.

He quickly established himself as a wunderkind. His teachers and parents were amazed at this precocious little boy. So mature for his years!

One of the first things Derek did was to talk his dad into making some prescient investments in some fledgling companies which would one day become Fortune 500 companies.

Derek wanted to be independently wealthy, not because he craved a rich man’s lifestyle, but because it would give him more control over his circumstances.

By the time he graduated from high school, and took ownership of his fortune, Derek was one of the world’s richest men. Yet only his tax attorneys and portfolio managers knew the extent of his fortune.

Outwardly, Derek maintained a fairly modest, middle class lifestyle. He never wanted much more than what he had. His problem lay in losing what he used to have. Derek had a happy boyhood and adolescence. He wanted to maintain as much of his past intact as possible. That’s where the money went.

Sure, there were a few indulgences along the way. Like a nice sports car in high school.

His friends were dimly aware of the fact that even though he wore what they wore, ate what they ate, he seemed to have bottomless pockets. Although he never worked a job, he could always afford whatever he needed or wanted. Always picked up the tab at the restaurant, or movies, or whatever.

Derek knew that his intellectual reputation was a perishable commodity. A 5-year-old with an adult IQ is a genius. And adult with an adult IQ is merely average. As he got older he had to coast on his reputation. Bluff his way through conversations with fellow students who were truly gifted.

He was offered full scholarships to Harvard and MIT, but he turned them down. He didn’t need the Ivy League education. He didn’t need a college education. He already had one. And, in any case, he didn’t need a job to pay the bills. More to the point, he couldn’t sustain his intellectual reputation in that company.

Derek’s ambitions were very unambitious. Down to earth. Close to home. He wanted to preserve his past, and redeem some lost opportunities.

His home was a beach cabin on the lake. His parents bought the property for a modest sum, before the area became so gentrified. Later they were priced off the land by ever increasing property taxes.

Derek always resented that. He was hoping to inherit the property. To be cheated out of it by the taxman was galling.

And now, of course, that wasn’t a problem. In fact, he bought some other neighborhood homes. He lived in one while his parents lived in his old home.

He moved his grandmother and his elderly aunt into another home nearby. In her old age, his grandmother lived alone until a house-burglar broke into her home and attacked her. She never recovered from that incident.

But Derek, with an eye to the future, could now prevent that from happening. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons he was repeating his life. To protect his loved ones from harm.

He also knew that his aunt would come down with a degenerative illness. Indeed, it ran in the family. She spent her final years in a nursing home.

Derek regretted that. And now he could do better. When the disease began to take hold, he could keep her close by, in the house next door. Provide her with a live-in nurse. Whatever she needed.

And he took the opportunity to have all the conversations with his aunt and his grandmother that he thought about having after they died, when it was too late to ask.

As a boy, Derek had a dog. He loved his dog. Indeed, after the dog died, he never wanted another dog. He remembered the day he had to put her to sleep. And he never quite got over that. He still missed his own dog.

So this time around he was more attentive to her physical needs. Had her groomed regularly. Scheduled regular check-ups with the vet.

Derek was also sorry that he never tried out for the football team. He missed the camaraderie. The opportunity to befriend certain students. Maintain lifelong friendships.

And now he had a chance to make up for that. Even though he wasn’t very good at football, he made the team. The athletic dept. could always use more money for equipment. All it took was a private little chap with Coach O’Brien, and Derek had his jersey.

After they graduated from high school, Derek hired his friends to keep them close. Found jobs for them to keep them in the area. Rented out his houses to them for a nominal sum.

One of the best things about repeating the past was his opportunity to date a couple of girls he let slip away the last time around. At the time there were two girls in high school who caught his fancy. He wasn’t sure which one he preferred, for he never got around to dating either one. Now he could get to know them both, and decide which one to marry.

Life was better this time around. Much better. At least in some respects.

And yet he couldn’t shake a certain lingering sadness. It’s something of a curse to know the future unless you can also control the future, or change the future. A bit fatalistic, really.

He could use his wealth and foresight to extend the lives of his loved ones. Enhance their quality of life. But in the end, he couldn’t really save them. They’d still age, sicken, and die.

He could take a different route this time, but all routes had the same destination. You just got there sooner or later, that’s all.

Indeed, life was rather anticlimactic. He often knew just what to expect. Pleasures were less pleasant when you could see them coming a mile away.

And he was filled with foreboding. Instead of outliving loved ones once, he’d have to outlive them twice.

And then there was the nagging fear that his friends loved him for his money. The first time round, when all of them were hard up for money, and only had each other, wasn’t friendship more meaningful? What comes easily, goes easily.

Moreover, he could do nothing to prevent the onset of his own degenerative illness. Once again he felt the clockwork progression of the old familiar symptoms.

There was only so much this life had to offer. He needed something more. Something this autumnal world could never provide.