by Michael C. Thompson
|Chapter 3 : Pilgrimage|
In a post-apocalypse North America, a small band of young nihilists fight a continent-wide theocracy by systematically exterminating religious colonies. At first they use nuclear weapons. Then their leader decides to try drugs...
Our sojourn begins thus: we encounter no resistance leaving the territory once officially known as Nevada. There are no Mujahideen marauders out for vengeance, sniping through the desert sands for the destroyers of their homeland. No brutal assassins, nor irradiated beasts, aside from the usual fare of large insects.
A vicious wind is all that confronts us as we leave behind the desert, and once we make our way through it, we continue east along the cracked highway, past the skeletal remains of automobiles and other, more organic creatures.
Pixel is mute as always, and there is an awkward silence between Morgan and Argus. Morgan is so loyal and useful that she is the favored of the two. Argus, however, is more intelligent than she, and less expendable. I must maintain a balance between them, and I can see I am failing to keep it properly adjusted.
Morgan knows that I find Argus to be more strategically valuable, and for this reason works against him. I’m sure that she doesn’t realize all of her behaviors are heavily scrutinized, analyzed and reflected upon by me. She is an open book, and if what I know of her is correct, she doesn’t even realize it.
Argus, on the other hand, likes to appear aloof, and tends to keep his true thoughts to himself — a sure sign of his distrust in my greater goals. His voicing of opposition to the LSD operation I now plan on commencing in New Mecca was the first time that he had ever taken his argumentative stature to such a level, and I’m guessing, by the token of nature, that his defiance will only elevate.
The two of them bicker, and I do not bother to intercede but merely listen and observe their pettiness, taking in every detail of their frequent debate scenarios. Argus thinks he hides more from me than he really does, but that’s alright. It makes him less guarded, his walls easier to climb and peer over... regardless of what he thinks, he is right in the palm of my hand.
Two weeks after leaving the Vegas outpost, we convene with our brothers and sisters in Colorado. Unbeknownst to the Islamic-American Empire, the Negatives have infiltrated a settlement of Islamo-Christians in the “City of Maximums” — traditionally “Boulder.”
I created the Negatives fourteen years ago — I was only fifteen myself. Severe circumstances led to severe beliefs and behaviors. But we’ll discuss my ingredients at another time. I’ve formed many factions and alliances over the years with those who hate the reality-fascists just as much as I do. And some who hate them slightly less. From Argentina to Newfoundland, there are Negatives working independently to wreak havoc on the existential ecosystem of this poisoned world.
Heading the faction that has infiltrated the City of Maximums is a young woman named Shiloh. She grew up in New Mecca herself, a Neo-Muslim born and raised, until her rebellious instincts finally collapsed the walls of her dogmatic programming at the age of twenty-two — and her anger was helped along by the vial of acid thrown in her face on a public street, in full view of the Mujahideen enforcers. I met her two years later, and I’ve known her for five now.
We meet a mile outside the city, in the dead of night. A caravan approaches, and Pixel and Morgan stare at it, holding hands. Argus stands behind me, sneering over a recent ridiculous, redundant debate.
A torch appears at first, heading toward us from the direction that I know the City of Maximums to lie in. We can’t see a thing in the darkness — quite fortunately; the Islamo-Christians don’t believe in electricity. To me, they seem like a combination of the Traditionalist Muslims and the Amish — which makes them seem twice as absurd to me as either of the two.
The torch comes at us at the speed of a horse, and as it nears, I can hear the wheels of a small caravan approaching with the beating of hoofs on the broken Colorado highway. Two wagons, led by two horses — one black and one white — pull up in front of us. In charge of the dark horse is a woman in a long, thick black burqa, who stares out with beautiful sky-blue eyes, almost silver. Her skin is dark, Arabian. This, I know immediately, is Shiloh.
There is a male in charge of the white horse, and he holds a gun, pointed directly at me. He wears black robes, but his face is not covered, and a battle-hardened old man’s visage peers out over the top of the robe he has drawn around him. His hair is silver, reflecting the moonlight like the surface of a mirror, and his eyes a deep brown like mine, almost black.
Shiloh motions at him, then removes the hood of her burqa. Her face is scarred from the flash of acid, the final madness that drove her out of the order of New Mecca and into the chaos of the disclaimed wasteland — into the Negatives. At her motion, the man puts down the gun.
“Brother,” she says to me. “Erik Silas. I’ve missed you, dear.”
“And I, you,” I reply. I motion to her friend. “Who is this?”
“Call him Oliver,” she replies. I nod to him, but make no other motion of social pleasantries. “I heard you were coming,” she adds after a moment. “Tonight.”
“Then your lookouts are doing their jobs well,” I tell her. “I’ve only come for the evening. We must rest, and I need you to do something for me.”
“For you?” she says, a smirk on her face. “Anything.”
“Can we go already?” Argus asks behind my back, rude and impatient. I grit my teeth, wishing in vain that I was not frustrated by the young fool. I turn to face him, an evil glint in my eye. I can see he receives it, and tries to hold up against it — failing to do so, in the end, and quivering slightly before shamefacedly realizing he cannot conceal the break.
“We’re going now,” I tell him, trying to sound as patient as possible — and in the process, I’m sure, sounding very impatient indeed. Argus and I climb alongside Shiloh, and Morgan and Pixel ride along with Oliver.
We head back to the City of Maximums in silence, and upon reaching it, we are let in with no quarrel whatsoever. Outside of the major cities in the Islamic-American Empire’s territories, the small settlements that are spread throughout the wasteland are largely unattended — lest they fail to pay the proper taxes to their Muslim “benefactors.”
The city sleeps in silence, without electricity and without any interest in night-life whatsoever from most of its residents. It is this darkness that has made the city a perfect place for the Negatives to keep a static base.
Shiloh, I am happy to say, is the perfect proxy programmer of my American Middle-East operations. In my absence, she creates such spectacular artwork for hundreds of miles in either direction. I am always pleased when the random probabilities coalesce, bringing us together in brief harmony.
Our base of operations in this city is a large sub-basement beneath a boarded-up building which typically houses squatters, although never for very long, as Shiloh has little tolerance for charity cases.
The City of Maximums, although in some places wired for electricity, never actually uses it. You wouldn’t know it stepping into this Negatives outpost, as computers line the walls, and there are various electronic devices propped up on tables throughout the room. It buzzes with conversation, and I suspect that it is likely never completely silent amidst this space.
“Do you have somewhere we can go in private?” I ask Shiloh, raising my voice over the chaos in order to be heard. “And somewhere that my friends could sleep for the evening?”
She nods, not vocally replying, and then motions to Oliver. He says something to Argus, Morgan and Pixel, and they begin to follow him. As they walk away, Argus shoots a distrustful final glance at me and then turns a corner into a corridor obstructed from my view.
My hostess then begins to walk toward a closed door across the room, nodding at me to follow her. I do so, and we enter the room. She clicks the door shut behind me, completely muting the commotion outside of the chamber.
“I am glad to see that you’re still alive,” she says to me. “I always wonder if they got you... Do you ever wonder about me?”
“No,” I tell her honestly. “I don’t ever wonder about things like that.”
“I’m not surprised,” she responds, sounding disappointed. “You’ve got a lot on your mind... No room for nonsense.”
“You know me too well,” I tell her.
“You’re a great man,” she says, stepping away from the door. She snaps her fingers and suddenly materializing directly in front of us is a large desk — opaque, like glass, and appearing almost exactly as such. I run my hands across it, feeling its smooth surface. It vibrates with energy, and a faint heat emanates from its surface.
“Impressive,” I tell her.
“That’s nothing. A parlor trick. You should see what they’ve been getting up to in New Mecca... This is a convenient invention. An afterthought, really. The weapons they’ve been building are far more fascinating than a kinetic desk.”
“How did you acquire it?” I ask her.
“I stole it from an IAE outpost we wrecked a few months ago,” she says simply. “How do you think?”
She walks around this scientific sorcery, snapping her fingers again. A chair materializes — a kinetic chair, I’m guessing. She sits down, then suggests I snap my own fingers.
I do, and another chair materializes for me to sit down in. I do so, noting immediately that the slight vibration and warmth are very relaxing. Almost disorienting.
“You wanted me to do something for you?” she asks.
“Yes,” I tell her. “It can only be you, Shiloh.”
She looks somewhat disconcerted at the tone of my voice. “What are you talking about?” she questions suspiciously.
“I believe I’m ready to die,” I tell her flatly.
“You can’t die,” she says. “We need you.”
“You’re wrong,” I answer. “If you believe that, then you still don’t understand me. This is all amusement... there is no purpose here.”
“Erik, you’re our leader.”
“I’m not a leader. I’m a figurehead. I don’t give orders, you don’t consult me. You take orders when I’m here, but that’s almost never. I put you in charge for a reason.”
“You changed me,” she responds. “You told me the truth about this world.”
“There is no truth, that’s what I told you,” I say to her. “It wasn’t a riddle, it wasn’t a paradox. You’re just like Argus. You think this is all ultimately for a good cause. Or something like that. Don’t you?”
“No. But it doesn’t matter. If I really believe what I’m saying, then I don’t care what you believe. It doesn’t bother me that we philosophically disagree. You are the only person capable of carrying on these operations that I am willing to trust at the moment.”
“What about Morgan?”
“Too obedient,” I say. “Needs to take orders. Needs approval. Craves respect. Argus doesn’t trust me. I suspect he may end up on the other side. He’s not enough of an extremist — I sense an impending ricochet of character in him. Pixel... well...”
“I can’t replace you, I don’t even know what you do, precisely,” she replies, sounding somewhat anxious at this unexpected request.
“I do whatever it takes to break as many of them as possible,” I reply. “Knock down their tower. You have all of my resources. Morgan will be as loyal to you as she was to me, and you know about the network. Do whatever it takes. I can’t tell you my strategy because I don’t have one. I let reaction take me where I want to go.”
“What are you going to do in New Mecca?” she asks, changing the subject seemingly on purpose, as her discomfort levels have visibly increased.
“I’m aware, as I’m sure you are, of the hypocrisy of my disposition. Argus has been pointing it out to me more frequently lately. I believe that the only validation for my philosophy would be my own death. To continue alive as such, while supporting the ideas that I support, would only further degrade my identity. It is time to be a martyr for that which I love most, the only thing I love. I will die ruining this world.”
“Do not try to talk me out of it,” I say to her. “One thing our religious reflections have in common with us is a passion for martyrdom. I will make the rest of our conversation short. I am going to kill no one in New Mecca once I arrive — at least no more than is necessary to achieve my goal.
“In Cleveland I am picking up a large stockade of LSD, a chemical which is reported, according to our affiliates at the outpost, to drive those who ingest massively large doses of it permanently insane.”
“Why don’t you just kill them?” Shiloh asks.
“Because that is not a goal worthy of my death,” I reply. “Whether you take my advice or not is none of my concern — I trust that either way, you will continue to tear down the towers of ego this theocratic renaissance has inspired.
“But I believe I have been going about things the wrong way. By killing our enemies, we only give them further reason to be afraid, to shore up the defenses. Perhaps we strengthen them with each blow. But to drive them mad, and let them live... who knows what kind of effects that might have on the future history. Imagine permanent chaos... one that spirals outward, infecting all those who see it.
“If the operation is successful, and I’m sure you will be waiting for news of it, then I suggest you try similar operations in other cities in the IAE. And I also suggest that you use higher and higher doses. Scar the mind of this world forever, Shiloh. Our contacts in Cleveland have assured me they can synthesize this chemical repeatedly, ad infinitum.”
She only stares at me, saying nothing, letting my words sink in. I stare back, memorizing her face, knowing it will be the last time I see it.
“I’m leaving Morgan, Pixel and Argus here,” I tell her. “Watch Argus; he is a ticking time bomb. Tell Morgan and Pixel of my plans. They will be very valuable assets to you. I do not wish for them to die with me, and to be honest, I believe it will be easier for me to pull this off without their help. The chemistry as of late has been... toxic.”
“So this is it?” she says. “This is the end of you?”
“Just the beginning of the end,” I say, and with that I turn and exit, hesitating for not even a moment.
My pilgrimage to New Mecca resumes, now solo.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael C. Thompson