Chapter 21: Retribution
Eventually it was just Jeremy, Josh, Max and myself. Jessie and everyone else had gone to try to sleep. We had all agreed to talk in the morning to try to figure out where to go from here. Max’s shoulders were slumped, his head hung, with chin on chest. The pain and guilt radiated off him like waves. Jeremy wrapped his arms around him, offering what little comfort there was to be had under the circumstances.
“Max, no one would ever have expected what happened. You can’t hold yourself responsible for Eric’s actions.” Seemed a little like the pot giving the kettle advice, but I knew if I didn’t say it, someone would, so I wanted to make sure he knew I didn’t blame him. There were nods and noises of agreement. “I think it’s time for us to take some decisive action. At least the people we went after are, for the most part, still alive, and we went after specific individuals, not entire races! It’s clear to me that we are never going to be truly accepted and we need to find a place for ourselves that we can’t be found, or we will be wiped out entirely.”
Again, nods and noises of agreement. The night had fallen more completely, and I noticed, oddly, that it didn’t seem truly dark. It took me a few moments to realize that a number of the plants were glowing. They emitted a cool, blue-green light reminiscent of bioluminescent fish that I’d seen pictures of on the nature channel. It created an almost ethereal look, a glow unlike anything I’d ever really seen before. In the back of my mind I thanked Hope. I knew it had to be her doing.
C’mon, we should all take a break – let’s hit a bar on the mainland and forget everything for a while. It was funny how we all automatically linked hands. This little family of 4, only missing Jessie. Poor exhausted Jessie. We starting arguing about which bar was best when we felt the ground begin to move beneath us. I looked at Max. “Get Jessie out here now!” and he popped out and back in 2 seconds carrying a groggy, half-asleep Jessie. I sent out a push to the whole island to get out as quickly as they could, and we’d meet back in Oz, it seemed the safest idea for now. I knew not everyone here could pop, and a few grabbed onto our hands and came with us, but in total there were only 8 of us who arrived at our destination. We could only hope that the others got away and went somewhere else, but we wouldn’t know unless the contacted us.
We actually decided to stay at the abandoned ranch we had seen previously. It was a safe bet to be empty, and still have reasonable accommodations. The best we could do on short notice. As soon as everyone was safely inside the ranch house I grabbed my pack and popped out, but not to the Island itself as I had no way of knowing what kind of shape it was in, or even if it was still there. One of the things I’d included in my initial pack for my Island getaway was an inflatable raft, just in case. I popped to the nearby beach, inflated the raft, and popped myself and the raft to a few hundred yards from the Island. As I suspected, it was mostly rubble. I don’t know what they did, but there was black, and char and smoke, and chunks of plant life as far as the eye could see. I didn’t think it could be done, but I swear, they managed it.
I sat there for a few minutes, not feeling terribly secure since I didn’t know if their doomsday devices were still around somewhere, but I just couldn’t leave. They had no right. I had to stop this now. Maybe I needed to resort to slightly stronger tactics.
I popped into an office building I remembered from being in town. I knew it would be empty, and I knew it would have a computer. My time with Eric had been valuable in the sense that, while nowhere near as good as he had been, I could hack with the best of them now. I found a computer with internet access and sat down to write. Not a manifesto, just a query.
You damned us all for circumstances beyond our control. You used our existence for personal gain, while ignoring the fact that we are people. You acted as judge, jury, and executioner based on the actions of a single individual. Why? If Eric had wanted to hurt you, he could have done it while standing in your offices. Ask yourself why he didn’t? Ask yourself why you were so threatened by one man. You weren’t afraid of physical harm, you were afraid he was after your power. You are such small people that you can’t abide even the smallest peril to your control. That is not true power, you should know that. You called us less than human, but I can tell you, there is tremendous humanity in you, and the human race has become callous, power-mad, soul-less and tortured. I am happy to say I no longer consider myself one of you. I am not out for revenge, which is defined, at least in part as the punishment of somebody in retaliation for harm done. I am hoping more for a ’re-format”. It’s time to go Old-School Noah and wipe the hard-drive and start over. I promised someone who had a great affection for this planet that I wouldn’t hurt anyone, and I can tell you that it is not my intent to cause pain, but I believe it is time to take out the trash.
I’m saying this directly to Hope, with the faith that she will see it. Thank you for trying. You made me believe that things could be better, and for a while, it looked like you were right. I hope you can see, now, based on the actions of the rulers on nearly every continent on your once-amazing protectorate, that they are not worth saving; cannot be rehabilitated. You need to let the powers that be move forward with their plans. Humanity 2.0 might make it work. It’s a chance worth taking. We never talked about fate, predestination vs. free will, but I believe that some of both are at work here. The paths have always had pre-destined ends, but you allowed them to choose which path they would follow. I think you have to realize they chose poorly. Not all of them, no, but the corruption is deep and wide enough that it cannot be eradicated small bits at a time. Don’t consider it a failure, just a lesson, and with a few upgrades, who know, it might be good next time! It was fun while it lasted, right?
Iola Bellman, Enchanted
I sent it to every news agency I remembered from my e-mail blitz program. I knew damn good and well that my words would freak people the fuck out, and that was its intent. And I was going to help it along. At this point I had no idea what happened to any of the other Enchanted. I knew many hundreds had been murdered, and that the likelihood was that only a few remained. I had no desire to make them targets any more than they already were, but if Hope took my advice, it wouldn’t much matter anyway. I didn’t know if she would, but I thought there was a small chance she would see what I was saying as truth.
I did a little quick research – got some GPS coordinates for some important places, and started my own personal journey. Starting with the most powerful nation on the planet, I gathered all my strength and sent out a push. I didn’t know how far it would go when I did it. I was just hoping at the time for really fuckin far. I guess I succeeded at that because within minutes I was seeing stories from as far as Seattle, Miami and New Jersey that people were overwhelming government offices, demanding resignations, running on banks, completely emptying their accounts, it was chaos on a nationwide scale, and while it had not been my intent to hurt anyone, I was quite certain it would happen.
I popped over to Europe, and figured that since I had managed to infect the entire US, this should be easy, and it was. In under 2 hours the world was on fire. I popped into the whitehouse, used a little inappropriate influence to find out the Commander in Chief was in the “situation room”. He had a situation all-right. And interestingly, I got an escort right to him. Funny how vulnerable minds are when things are stressful. I looked this man in the face and reached out my hand. I was looking at, arguably, the leader of the free world, knowing I could end him if I chose. That wasn’t my plan.
“Mr. President. My name is Iola Bellman.” It felt like one of those old-time gangster movies with the bristle of firearms that immediately raised to be aimed at my head, and the sounds of those weapons arming. I set the fade to a level I knew a projectile could pass through. “Ladies, and gentlemen, all you would succeed in doing is shooting yourselves. You are missing the element of surprise this time, and frankly, dealing with a different level of Enchanted.” I popped to about 5 feet from where I was standing before and smiled. Then I popped to within about 6 inches of the President. “If I wanted to hurt any of you, I would have by now. You truly are colossally stupid. But more to the point. Mr. President, as I was going to say before I was so rudely interrupted, I am giving you an opportunity to prove your leadership skills. Convince your citizens that it’s time to clean up the corruption. That it’s time to elect a truly representative government, that ‘By the People, For the People, and Of the People’ really means something. Politician should never be a full-time job anyone would aspire to. Find a way to fix it. Find a happy half-way point between charitable and sucker. Find a way to stop the sale of votes and souls. You do that – you convince your country to seek to improve itself through hard-work instead of hand-outs, through charity instead of redistribution, and maybe you stand a chance. Don’t do it, and I’ll see to it that you crumble into oblivion. I’ll be watching.” I sent a push of calm as far as I could.
I popped out and gave pretty much the same speech as best I could to other world leaders. For the most part, in a few hours most of the conflagrations and conflicts had come to an end, but I had made it clear I would re-visit them should I not see the progress I thought was appropriate. Those I couldn’t reach or who I felt were hopeless cases I let fester. They could wipe each other out for all I cared. I felt a little like Nero, watching while Rome burned. And if Hope did what I asked of her none of it would matter anyway, but I did it to give them a fighting chance. Not really sure why.
I never returned to Oz, or to the others, and over the next couple of years I revisited my wrath on those that didn’t seem to be trying. Most of the “stans” on the Russian continent were non-existent within 6 months, and I hadn’t expected anything else, really. I was surprised to see that the US had split into 3 different countries, and each were fighting within themselves and with each other for resources. I wasn’t holding out much hope, though there were pockets of resistance who were working toward peace and reconciliation.
Canada was amazing. They had split into two, Canada and French Canada, and were happily co-existing. Their only challenge was the lack of natural resources and the fact that the US was in too much turmoil to provide goods for purchase or trade. In fact, that was a problem that seemed to plague virtually every country except Australia. In truth they were the least impacted by all of it. They brought their people together, put a plan in place to revamp their political system to enforce term limits, eliminate special interest contributions, allowing only up to $50 per individual, and put a law in place that made lying during a campaign illegal, and capped salaries and benefits at the same rate of pay as an Emergency Room nurse. Not sure why they picked that, but it seemed like a plan to me. There were a few other things in the mix, but all-in-all they were the most open minded to the idea that politics should never be a career!
Sadly, not too many other governments followed suit. Japan did pretty well, they created a relatively egalitarian system. I already mentioned Canada, they pretty much kept most of their existing systems, adding in some term limits and salary caps, etc. Their greatest accomplishment seems to have been finding a great middle place between corporate profits and economic reinvestment. I don’t really understand it all, business was never my thing, but they managed to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to increase research, put more money back into their companies to reduce costs to the consumers, and from what I could see, created an effective system.
Unfortunately, that is the end of the good news. The middle east continued their millennia old conflicts, and ramped them up dramatically. Russia and all the bits that used to be the Soviet Union degenerated into constant attempts at nation-building, taking each over one week, then declaring independence the next. Their population had been decimated by the constant battles. The European Union could no longer be called any such thing. Every country wanted to be the top of the food chain, and with the US in a shambles, their backing was more a hindrance than help. Some radical faction originally located in France had released a biological weapon, killing 2/3 of the population on the European continent and causing the rest of the world to attempt to quarantine them.
South America started producing a form of synthetic heroin, which they promptly started using. One of the primary side-effect, unfortunately, was extreme paranoia. Somehow Ecuador got their hands on a suitcase nuke and obliterated Buenos Aires. By the time that war was finished the entire continent was a black wasteland, where you didn’t go without a full radiation suit, and even then it wasn’t advisable to stay long.
I watched sadly as the US disintegrated. The corruption was simply too pervasive. No one could agree on anything that didn’t benefit them personally or at least their home state. The country had divided into 3 separate sections, Everything from the Rockies west was calling itself West America. Everything South of what was once called the Mason Dixon Line was referring to itself as Old South and everything North was calling itself New America. They found each other unwilling to share resources, they had become so self-involved, so pathetically selfish that they had lost the ability to understand the joy of self-sacrifice and doing for others. They failed to recognize that by refusing to sacrifice anything for their fellow man that they had eliminated the possibility that someone else might sacrifice for them. They were doing without needed resources because they wouldn’t share theirs. Their greed had blinded them. There was no charity, even among their own people. It saddened me tremendously to see.
Over the next few years I ran into Max and Jeremy a few times, and Jessie and Josh every now and then. We had all taken our own paths. It no longer made sense to try to be a community, there were only a few of us left, and only about 10 with reasonably strong abilities. I missed Shane. It had been years now since that day and I didn’t miss him one iota less. I guess that’s a little unbalanced considering we were only together for a few weeks in an intimate relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts. I got less and less angry as time passed, but there was still a gaping, bleeding wound where my heart should have been. Maybe if I’d taken time to grieve back when it happened, or even understood how, I could have healed at least a little, but that didn’t happen. Everything happened too fast after that day – we had 40 years of complacency only to be hit with a whirlwind of violence, on both sides, and chaos, and birth and loss…life overload.
It had all been just too much too fast. I made a lot of rash decisions under the influence of anger and adrenaline that created consequences I couldn’t undo. By the time those things tapered off, I think I just gave up. I didn’t bother inflicting any more difficulty on those that had defied me. They were doing a fine job of that themselves.
I came to the realization that I had probably gone way too far in my efforts to wipe out what I saw as parasites on the planet – myself included to some degree. By the time I had stopped being angry, it was too late to fix any of it, and frankly, I didn’t fucking want to. By this time it was fairly clear that Hope had decided not to let the consortium play their hand. I’m sure she had her reasons, and I’m equally sure I’ll never know what they were.
I never saw her again, at least I don’t think I did. Perhaps she looked dramatically different as an adult. I did notice a dramatic decline in her altruistic efforts though. It was rare to read about anything positive any more. Every once in a while I would find one of our flowers in a location I’d visit. I took it as a way of letting me know she was still around, still watching. I don’t even begin to understand why I am even still here at this point. If I was her I would certainly have gotten rid of me, I’ve been nothing but a giant pain in her ass from day 1. Maybe if I hadn’t wreaked havoc things could have gotten better. I doubt it, though. Personally I think I just sped up the inevitable. The struggle had no longer been about “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, and had become about Perversion, Avarice, and the pursuit of Power. It is my firm belief that the human race had already hit the tipping point, that redemption was no longer truly possible. If it had been, they had every opportunity. What better way to show what kind of person you are when the chips are down. Instead of pulling together and sharing the burden the majority of the human race turned on each other like vipers. Not exactly a glowing recommendation for continued existence.
Me, I’ll give you 3 guesses where I ended up. As it turns out that our Island wasn’t going quietly into that good night. It’s a good bit smaller than it was, but heck, it has a population of 1 instead of 1,000, so that’s not really a problem. I know that every now and then the rest of them pop by, though they rarely stop to see me. I think it bothers them too much to see what I’ve become. But I think they need to check on me once in a while for their own peace of mind. It’s funny, that after all the pain, and grief, and horror they’ve experienced primarily because of me, they still seem to feel some strange need to protect me.
As I write this I feel like I’m really running out of steam. Going back through all this stuff in my head has become a substantial burden. I started out wanting to tell a story I thought needed telling. That there might someday actually be someone interesting in knowing these facts. I have decided that I was probably wrong. I’ve been on this earth for nearly 75 years now, as the normals count time. I’m still convinced it moves a bit differently for us, but I never bothered to do anything to prove it. It’s not like it matters at this point. Now that its all down on paper I realize that I’m a whiny, bitchy, self-involved little twit who thinks so much of herself that she actually believes she could have personally brought about near-armageddon. Exactly the type of person I’ve spent this entire story railing against. How do you like them apples? Jeez I’m fucking stupid.
But the bottom line is I guess I’m done now. I discovered as this story progressed that it was nothing more than a loud siren to a deaf race. For a long time I thought they just didn’t want to hear about their flaws. Now I’m pretty sure they’re so fucked up that they can’t hear a thing. Since my desire to interact with the remainder of human kind is nil, I don’t think there is anything else to include. I guess it would make sense for you to ask how things turned out, and that’s not a question I can really answer. I guess you will know by the condition of the world and what’s left of humanity when you read this. It’s only been about 60 years since the Event. It seems like so much less and so much more at the same time. It’s hard to believe that everything that has happened since that time took less than 6 decades to occur – you would think that much drama and insanity would have taken eons at least, not a piss-ant 60 years.
I actually started to ask how that was possible, then I remembered – I happened. The Lala crazy fucking freight train pulled into the stop without slowing down and took out pretty much everything in its path. Whine, whine…bitch… bitch. So, I’m going to seal this up in something and ditch it in the ocean. I figure it would be like one of those bottles that used to wash up on shore after 50 years or so. I’m sincerely hoping it takes a shitload longer than 50 years since I may still be around and I don’t want some nutjob hunting me down, but whatever happens happens, right?
All I can say in closing is this – I hope by the time this story finds the light of day that one of two things has happened: 1) The human race has figured it’s shit out and become an organism worth this planet’s support, or 2) This is being read by the sole survivor of an otherwise complete annihilation and they don’t give a fuck anyway.
Part 2: Hope
April 19, 1991
Sorry for the delay, I was busy! If you are paying attention yeah, the date’s correct, and I’ll explain a little later..
I don’t really have a name, none of us do, so we’ll just use Hope. Seems reasonable to me. I have been on Earth since it was formed and when I decided to be born was my first real attempt at being corporeal. It’s funny, I have to admit, how your religion and science could never come to an agreement, but to some degree both were right. There was, in fact, a Garden of Eden of sorts, but it was a long time after the creation itself actually happened. Time is different for us, so the couple million Earth years it took to tweak stuff might have registered as a few days for us, but honestly we don’t really measure time like you do. By the time I figured out that dinosaurs weren’t gonna work, a few of them had evolved into other things, all fairly benign, and that was fine. No harm, no foul.
I decided to go bi-pedal, but apparently started too dumb, and it became apparent fairly quickly that cro-magnons just weren’t smart enough to take it past caves and furs, so I decided to bump it up a little. I picked the most fertile, supportive place I could find and dropped a couple enhanced versions of the existing models – souped up cave-men I guess you could say, and placed them there to see what would happen, and it was a tad bit more successful. Overall I was happy with most of what I’d put into humans, but there were a few bits I could have done without.
For instance, I probably shouldn’t have let them come up with their own religions. Either last time or this time, frankly. Too much chaos. I loved the passion, but not the pathology. I was a little caught off guard by how rabidly you guys guard your version of God. If it helps, you were all wrong. Yes, there is an omniscient entity, but no, it’s not a guy with a long beard and staff, it’s not a fat guy who likes to sit with his legs crossed, and it is most definitely not a dude wearing a turban. It’s more of a presence than a physical manifestation. And no, it’s not me. I’m nobody’s God, or Goddess if you prefer. I am a part of that presence, but not the entirety of it. I know, weird concept, right. I guess I’ve spent too much time here if I’m really trying to explain it to you.
So, bottom line, I guess I’ll fill you in on what happened with the Beta version…ha! Well, I’m not going to start from the beginning. You don’t want to hear about all the stuff from the discovery of fire to where Lala came into the picture, so we’re just going to start there.
The Facility – the original one – was something I monitored pretty closely. When William Bellman postulated his theory, I was pretty fucking impressed - Yes, I admit I picked up a bit of slang from Lala - because he got exceedingly close to the truth, and unfortunately, I let my curiosity get the best of me. I saw things going down a path I didn’t really care for, and decided to get more intimately involved than I should have. The worst part of it was how badly I misjudged the amount of power that would be unleashed, and what would happen when it was filtered through the mind of a hormonal, but brilliant, teenaged girl.
Thousands of people were wiped out of existence, and hundreds were forever altered and forced into lives none of them could have ever imagined and certainly wouldn’t have asked for if they had known. The world itself was irrevocably altered in a way that wasn’t even in the realm of possibility as far as I was concerned at the time. I cannot even begin to express my remorse for that situation. If I had the ability to reverse time and un-do it, I would, without hesitation, but I don’t. Truth? I fucked up.
It started with the work Lala’s father was doing at the Facility. It was so amazingly close to the truth of who I was that I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I had honestly never thought humanity would advance to the level where they could understand someone…something…like me. I know it sounds incredibly idiotic, but I had spent so much time with humans in general that I became enamored of what you had. Of the connections you could make with each other.
For the last thousand years or I’ve been re-working the system. I finally took Lala’s advice and did what she would have called a “reboot”. So if you’re reading this, you are part of what Lala referred to as Humanity 2.0. So far so good. I have decided I’m going to stay out of this one! I screwed the pooch on the previous iteration, and allowed a teenaged girl to take the blame. I’m not going to make that mistake again. I got my ass handed to me by the, I guess you might see it as a sort of consortium – the gathering of the presence, and only barely got to keep my place here. I had to do the equivalent of a pinky swear that I would never do anything like that again.
Bottom line we took it back to scratch and started over. It sucked because some of the people who had survived the whole meltdown didn’t deserve to be eradicated, but we made sure no one suffered. Less than a millisecond – the most complete shake of an etch-a-sketch ever. We took some of the best DNA we could come up with to re-start the process. We were all aware that DNA is not the be-all/end-all determining factor, but we thought if we could reproduce the best we might have better luck.
I can tell you I’ve certainly been surprised by the result. On the whole, the similarities are almost alarming. As you can see, the language evolved identically, religion, technology – all nearly dead ringers for your predecessors. And yes, I brought back Lala and Shane. They are with you all now, though with different names. In fact, that’s why I’m releasing this story now. You all are in major danger of fucking it up all over again, and the consortium is not going to go for a 3rd round of trials. Y’all need to get your heads out of your asses post-haste or you’re done. The planet is done.
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