from Pete - Monday, February 03, 2003
accessed 1613 times
James Marvel is a young man with a destiny: to fight Pifferel and his evil plan to control people by plantin dreams in their heads.
"I've always wondered", said Ishael Ernest,"how do these gardens manage to stay aloft? They weigh thousands of tons, yet here we are, five thousand feet above Bab-Ili!" She fixed her blue eyes pensively at the translucent dome which covered the garden, sealing it from the atmosphere. Below, the city of Bab-ili stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, its gleaming skyscrapers probing the sky. Flying vehicles filled the air.
"It's quite simple really", said James Marvel. "The sun's rays are refracted by the dome.They heat the air inside, which gets hotter than the air outside the garden. So the whole structure floats into the sky like a giant hot air balloon!" He grinned playfully.
"I love coming here", said Ishael. "It's so relaxing to stroll by the bougainvillea hedge or to sit and watch the koi in the pond. You do a great job taking care of this place.You're so lucky to have this job … James! Where are you?"
"Right behind you honey! No, here! To your right! Hee hee hee!"
"Didn't I tell you not to do that to me? Go practice your tricks on someone else!"
"You're getting better at seeing me," said James. "It's getting harder for me to fool you."
"How do you pull that disappearing act anyway? It's kind of creepy.
"Well, a lot of it's watching the other person and waiting 'till their attention's focused on something else. But I also listen to their dreams and guide their thoughts away from me. People tend not to notice things they're not looking for."
"You become practically invisible at will and you read dreams! You should use these abilities for some purpose", said Ishael.
"Yes, but I don't know what", he said, his brow furrowing. "Kyle believes I'm the Sent One." He ran his fingers through his rebellious hair.
"Dad's right," said Ishael. "You're destiny's an important one. You should listen to him."
"I don't feel like a prophesied hero who frees the captives, unchains the bound, heals the wounded and brings light to those in darkness. I just want to study at the University and spend time with the girl of my dreams!" He gave Ishael a squeeze.
"You have a higher calling than that", she said.
"Welcome to Bab-ili's Dream Emporium!" The smiling saleslady was dressed in a neat blue suit, not one hair was out of place, and she had her pitch down by rote. James and Ishael craned their necks to see her above the crowd. The cavernous emporium was dimly lit except for the area where the saleslady made her presentation. "We use the latest in virtual reality technology to give you the experience of your dreams! The virtual reality system is totally painless and safe, and you can subscribe for just 19.95 a month! And now, may I present the genius who designed this new system - a scientist, artist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist - Pifferel!"
Pifferel strode onto the stage. Over seven feet tall, his presence commanded not only respect, but awe. His skin was white, his head hairless, and he wore a black cape lined with red velvet and a black bow tie.
"Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!" he boomed. "For generations, our city of Bab-ili has been known throughout the galaxy as a center for culture and entertainment. Now, we take the next step with my new virtual reality system! With this system, you can be a king, an emperor, even a god in your own private universe! Don't let reality create you; create your own reality! A volunteer, please!"
A young man, urged forward by his buddies, staggered onto the stage. An attractive female assistant had him lie in a reclining chair, strapping his wrists and ankles ("for your safety", as she put it). A gentleman in a white lab coat placed electrodes on his scalp. Wires ran from the electrodes to a mainframe computer. A picture, projected on an overhead screen, displayed the virtual world that the man entered.
"Wow, man!" he said. "This is great, man! I'm sitting on a throne on the banks of the Nile. There are these gorgeous hot babes at my feet and slaves all around me! The wine tastes just like the real thing! I can feel it going down! You gotta try this, man!"
James looked into a corner of the room. "No admittance - staff only", the sign said. "Wait here", James said to Ishael.
Nobody saw James as he wove silently through the crowd, glided across the room and entered the door marked "No admittance". He entered a brightly lit corridor with a well-polished floor. A gentleman in a white coat and cap walked down the hall. "Don't see me", whispered James. "Concentrate on what you have to do." The gentleman stopped in front of a door. He looked into a tube which scanned his retina. "Access granted", said a computerized voice. James entered after him.
The room was filled with cocoons. Peering through the glass lids, James saw that each cocoon held a human body. Some were emaciated. All had wires protruding from their brains, and tubes protruding from other parts of their bodies. Two orderlies went from one cocoon to another, inspecting them.
"This guy's brain dead", said one. "In a sound virtual reality coma.Well, he left happy!"
"The heart, kidneys and liver should still be intact. Let's get him onto the gurney!"
Another orderly led a young woman into the room. She was dressed in a white gown. Her eyes were half shut, and her belly announced that she was pregnant. "Doctor …hook me back up…to the machine", she said.
"In a moment, young lady", said the gentleman whom James had been following. "Sit down on the table and make yourself comfortable." His manner was gentle, friendly and soothing. He put a stethoscope to her belly. "How many fetuses have you got in there? Seven? We'll take them out in a moment. Murdak! Tell Pifferel his spare parts are ready."
James wanted to shout and wake the young woman out of her stupor. But he dared not break cover.
"Ishael!" said Pifferel. He looked directly into her eyes. She felt as if he were looking right through her.
"How do you know my name?" she asked.
"I know everyone's name", he responded. "Virtual reality has made me a god, and it can do the same for you!" His voice was soothing, seductive, yet cold, reptilian.
"But it isn't real. It's an illusion."
"Who is to say what is real and what is not? All reality is but thought. Every universe exists in the mind of its creator, of which you are a part!" Waves of relaxation swept over Ishael. Her conscious identity began to slip away. She melted into the rich mellowness of his voice, the persuasiveness of his words.
"Honey, we've gotta get out of here!" James appeared, panting. "They turn you …into …a zombie…and cut out…your organs! Just come! It's the laboratory of horrors in there!"
"I would never do that to you", said Pifferel.
"James, relax!" said Ishael. "Take a deep breath. You're seeing things."
"No, honey, we gotta leave! They wipe your mind blank, then they do these horrible experiments on you!" He grabbed her by the arm.
"Are you going to let this fellow do your thinking for you?" said Pifferel.
"Let go of me!" said Ishael. "You've been studying too much and it's driven you bonkers. It's just a little harmless fun, that's all."
The attractive assistant strapped Ishael to the reclining chair while the gentleman in the lab coat attached electrodes to her brain. Ishael closed her eyes…bliss…she was flying.
"What is the meaning of life?"
Her mind was expanding…expanding… she walked among the stars. She was an atom made of bits of electrical energy swirling on their path since time immemorial. She was a crystal with its own unique vibrational pattern. She was a flower, and she felt the sun's rays penetrate her leaves, the gases mingling with the atmosphere, the photosynthesis. She was an eagle, soaring on the air currents, its eyes attuned to search for prey. Her vibrations became faster and faster. Whole worlds were a part of her, whole galaxies inside her. She was one with the universe. She was both creation and creator. The vibrations of every rock, every plant, every animal coursed through her being; and all vibrations became part of the same sound…
"Kyle, we gotta help Ishael! Pifferel's got her hooked up to his machine and she doesn't want to come out and she's lost touch with reality!"
"James! Come in and sit down!" Kyle Ernest was a big man, with long white hair tied back, a twirled moustache, and a beard.
"Kyle, didn't you hear me? Ishael's in trouble!"
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" said Kyle. He looked James in the eye and twirled his moustache.
"I don't know what to do. That's why I came to you for help!"
"I think you know what to do. This is what I've trained you for."
"Kyle, I can't just walk in there and take on Pifferel and his machines! He's got half the city either working for him or hooked up to his system ..."
"And what about the Person inside you? Isn't He strong enough? "
"Kyle, I don't feel like your Sent One! I'm just a young gardener . . ."
"I didn't ask you how you felt. Pifferel deals in feelings; we don't. Faith is based not on your feelings, but on an underlying reality. I've seen men who claimed to have all the faith in the world fail, because their 'faith' was artificial; and I've seen men who thought themselves cowardly triumph because their faith was founded on a rock. And don't forget - heaven helps the man who fights his fear!"
"Okay, so I walk in and confront Pifferel. Then what?"
"Every man has to face the machines for himself. Pifferel and the machines are connected; destroy one and you destroy the other. Don't worry, it's all been done before."
"What if I fail?"
"Are you trusting in yourself or in the Person inside you? You've trained for this day. All you have to do is refuse Pifferel and his machines. The battle has already been won!"
James entered the Dream Emporium. "I want to see Pifferel!" he said.
"Who are you?" said a gentleman in a white coat.
"I am the Sent One. I am here to free the captives, unchain the bound, heal the wounded, and restore light to those in darkness!"
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave this property. This way, please."
"I'm not leaving. I know what's going on in here. I know about the medical experiments you do on people. And I'm here to tell you, in the name of the Creator, that it has to stop!"
"Sir, if you don't leave, I'll be forced to call security."
"Is there a problem?" a booming voice said. Pifferel appeared out of the shadows.
"This nut is making wild threats and he won't leave ..."
"James Marvel." Pifferel smiled. "I've been expecting you."
"Pifferel, I demand that you turn off your machines and release everyone whom you're holding in this building!"
"They have given their minds to me of their free will. It is only right that I do to them as I please."
He gave James a tour of his lab. One gentleman looked into an electron microscope; another handled a pair of test tubes; another controlled a robot arm and looked into a cumputer monitor. A picture of a needle probing the nuleus of a cell was on the monitor.
"What is the meaning of all this?" asked James.
"Billions of years ago", said Pifferel, "life began on a far-flung planet. Since then it has evolved upward, fiercely competing for survival, mercilessly overcoming obstacles, becoming stronger, more complex, more intelligent, until man, the crowning glory of the universe, proceeded.
Man has become ever technologically superior as he progresses toward godhood! But now, as then, competition is the order of the day. Just as in the natural world the beasts of prey are set above the herd, so among humans those with the ability to rule become supermen; the masses become their slaves! So you see, I am only doing what I can to further the course of human evolution."
"But where is love in all of this?" asked James.
"Ah yes, love. A means of procreation by which the process of evolution is accelerated."
"No, I meant sacrificial love - love that chooses the greatest good for someone else regardless of personal cost."
"A fiction created by the weak-minded!" growled Pifferel. "A fallacy chosen by those unfit to rule! A fool's symbol of love - the anointed one, hanging limp on the cross, phallic thorns and nails piercing his skin, meekly submitting to the will of the Father - Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?"
"Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends", said James.
"The strong shall devour the weak", said Pifferel.
"Who are you really?" said James.
"I am the first of my kind, the crowning achievement in human evolution", said Pifferel. "Created through perfection in genetic engineering, I am without the flaws of compassion, of emotion associated with the weak. I am the god-man, the uebermensch, unfettered by conscience, knowing no higher authority than my own, possessing the cunning of the wolf and the intelligence of a man - Hail the beast!
And you, James Marvel, were born to a higher destiny than the masses. You have the makings of a god-man within you. Throw off the trappings of guilt, of conscience, of self-sacrifice. Bow to none but your own ego! Be super-human!"
"Pifferel, your superman is a vain, rambling tyrant! Don't you see that our capacity to love others is the most god-like quality we have? Genetically engineered to be without a soul, you're not superhuman, you're less than human! There is a part of you that's lacking!"
"Your mind has been clouded by the fallacies of the weak. Come, I have a special treat for you."
He took James to a room with a window that opened into another room where there was a table and a giant wheel on the wall. Looking through the glass, James saw some young men in boots and olive uniforms leading a young woman into the room. She was nude and struggling. She was Ishael.
"Ishael! No!" yelled James. Two orderlies came. They secured James with electonic manacles and fetters, positioning him so he could see what was going on in the next room. The men in uniform strapped Ishael to the table. They passed a razor over her head and body, removing all hair. Then they loosed her. Ishael crumpled to the floor as the men slapped and kicked her. Then they tied Ishael's wrists and ankles to the wheel.
"Friss scheiss, dumme schlappe!" (Eat shit, you dumb bitch!) said one of the men. They picked up excrement and flung it at her.
Ishael felt nothing, knew nothing. Someone else was suffering the blows and abuse. She watched the scene of degradation as if she were not a part of it. She lacked personhood. She was a thing.
"For God's sake, Pifferel, if you must hurt someone, hurt me, but let Ishael go!" said James.
The orderlies attached electrodes to James' scalp. They did the same to Pifferel. James felt himself sucked into a vacuum, the lights and sounds of the real world fleeing, fleeing…
James found himself standing on a surface high above the city. The skyline of Bab-ili receded for miles into the distance. The sun was setting, bathing everything in a reddish-gold light. James was armed with a sword.
"Welcome to my world!" Pifferel stood thirty feet away from James, his countenance menacing and his sword gleaming ruby.
This was the moment James had trained for. He drew his sword, which glowed sapphire. "Have at you!" he yelled.
James charged, dealing blow after blow which Pifferel deftly parried, seeking to find a weak spot in Pifferel's defenses. Pifferel let James attack, turning his blows aside, waiting his opportunity. Seizing a chance, he cut a gash in James' left shoulder. James winced. Blood trickled from the wound.
He would have to use strategy to defeat this opponent."Do not see me, I'm invisible…" He danced around Pifferel, trying to turn Pifferel's mind in another direction . . .but it was no use. Pifferel followed James, his movements like a well-oiled machine. James' tricks would not work on Pifferel.
Pifferel looked into James' eyes. He loomed larger than life. James' mind became confused; his thoughts slipped away…
"I am the god-man. It is useless to resist me. Surrender, and become my loyal subject…"
"Heaven helps the man who fights his fear!"
"You can have no power over me!" said James. "You're just a spoiled tyrant throwing a temper tantrum because the universe won't bow to you! Doomed to crawl on your belly and eat dust, your time is running out, hee hee, your time is running out!"
"Why, you pathetic imbecile, just who do you think you are! Born next to the dungheap, covered in slime, you stinking creature of mud, you dare to insult me, a being of fire! I'll teach you to respect your superior!" He swung at James.
"Ha, ha, missed me! What's the matter, can't get one little mortal to bow the knee?"
James, still taunting, dodged Pifferel, who lunged at James. Deftly stepping aside, James tripped Pifferel, sending him sprawling on his back. Jamed put his foot on Pifferel's neck.
"You can't kill me", said Pifferel. "I have clones waiting. I'll come back for you…"
"If I have to take you one head at a time, I will", said James.
In the Dream Emporium, electrical equipment short circuited, alarms sounded, and sparks flew. "Sir, we've gotta get out of here!" said an orderly. "There are fires on levels 1004, 1012 and 1013!"
"Abandon…the building", said the gentleman in the white lab coat.
The electrodes popped off James' head and his manacles and fetters burst open. He looked at Pifferel, who was slumped over, blood trickling from his mouth. Blood trickled from James' wounds, too. Thankfully they were superficial.
Ishael's head hung, her wrists and ankles still tied to the wheel. Her tormentors had left. James quickly untied her, placed her over his right shoulder, and made for the exit. Firefighters had set up an escape shaft; James entered it and fled the building.
James washed the filth off of Ishael's body, pouring ointment on her bruises. "Go away", said Ishael. "I can't bear for you to see me like this. Go find a girl who deserves you. I'm a disgusting, dirty wretch!"
"Don't say that", said James. "That's Pifferel talking. It's normal to feel down on yourself after what you've been through. Don't you see? When I look at you I don't see the filth. I see the radiant woman I saw that day in the garden, when we first met. Don't you know I'd never leave you after what I've been through for you? See these wounds? Every drop of my blood was for you. I paid dearly to love you. I could never leave you. Never."
James held Ishael as she sobbed. She cried every tear that she couldn't cry while Pifferel's men were abusing her. She let everything go. She was at peace.