A science fiction story about the end of the world, love, charity, leadership, duty, service and everything else.
Episode One: The heart of a hero
Episode Two: Love hurts
Episode Three: God speed your love
Episode Four: Two hands ain’t good enough
Episode Five: Part One: Rape of the Sabine Women
Episode Five: Part Two: Rape of the Sabine Women
Episode Six: Everything counts in large amounts
Episode Seven: Love Never Fails
Episode Eight: Princes of the Universe
Episode Nine: Technobohemian Dreams
Episode Ten: It’s getting kinda hectic!
Episode Eleven: Part One: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Episode Eleven: Part Two: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Episode Twelve: Part One: We have no bread – Mark 8:16
Episodes and/or related writing are published on this blog – some Mondays or Wednesdays. Please subscribe to this blog to get a reminder when the next episode is published.
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Ingrid Michaelson, The Way I am
The Book of Carrot
Book One: Principal Virtues
Chapter One: Love is a battlefield
Episode Twelve: Part Two: We have no bread – Mark 8:16
“We have a problem,” John’s lawyer explained to him the next morning.
“Do you remember that hand written contract of purchase you made for the Hospital groceries?
“Paragraph 6b reads: Payment will be made within 3 days of restoration of power.
Paragraph 6c reads: Payment shall be guaranteed by the entire value of my property at Stirbei Voda, Apartment 4…
Unfortunately, there was no Force Majeur clause to protect you from unusual circumstances.
There was, very unfortunately, an expedience clause.
Paragraph 10a reads: Both parties agree to expedient adjudication in the event of dispute.
Your bank re-opened 5 days after the restoration of power and National Foods refused the payment. They filed their claim for your apartment and I have to tell you that the judges on that expedited circuit are shady swashbucklers.
The judge has ordered your immediate eviction in order to secure the property against potential damages until an authoritative decision is reached. Apparently, NF’s request also included their urgent concern regarding your moral character in light of your pending prosecution for the death of Tomas Roberts Cioabă. That judicial order will be executed tomorrow and the property will be sealed until the decision.”
“Um… Can you stop that judicial order?”
“I’m really sorry, John. I was out of town and I missed yesterday’s court date. It’s too late…”
WTF! John thought to himself. Who’s this guy working for – me or my enemy?
“I need you to FedEx a letter to NF Romania SRL, NF International Gmbh in Hamburg, NF Romania’s lawyer, and the presiding judge. Apologize for the misunderstanding and explain what happened. Offer a late fee payment of 25%. Reassure them of my moral character by virtue of my recent receipt of the Medallion of Michael the Archangel by the hand of the President of Romania. Explain to them that it is the highest civilian honor presented to a civilian by the Romanian government.”
“Can you do that today?” John asked his lawyer.
“I don’t see how that will help, John.”
“It’s an act of goodwill,” John explained.
“If you say so, John…”
John got up, shook hands with the man and left his lawyer’s office.
“K-9 – get all phone numbers registered to National Foods. Then, get the history of phone calls made and received by Mr. Lucian Ovidiu. Tell me if there are calls between Lucian Ovidiu and National Foods in the last five days.”
“Working on it, Master” K-9 replied.
“Really!? Do you think your lawyer could be collaborating with National Foods?” asked Lumi.
“You never know. Until you know…” John replied.
“Mr. Lucian Ovidiu received three calls from National Foods and made three calls to National Foods in the last three days.”
“I can see if those conversations are logged and if they are, they can be pulled, John. If that helps,” Lumi offered.
“It’ll take an hour…”
“That would be great, Lumi. Thanks.”
“K-9 – call the National Foods’ number used by Mr. Lucian Ovidiu.”
“You’ve reached Cleopatra Morgens. I’m out of the office right now, please leave your name and a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If the matter is extremely urgent, press the pound sign and the number 6…”
“What a name!” exclaimed Lumi.
“Can I ask you something, John?”
“Why doesn’t it bother you that I am monitoring everything you see, say and do?”
It was one of the non-negotiable terms of Intelligent’s agreement – I agreed and it’s as simple as that.
“Yeah, but why doesn’t it bother you? Why don’t you ever dial in a little privacy?
“Two heads are better than one,” John replied smugly.
“I’m serious, John.”
“You’ve got my back, Lumi. Should I complain about that?
Maybe, it’s also because you haven’t judged me. Or betrayed my trust.
I don’t think that’s easy for you. That takes serious intelligence, self control and, something else, you know… total commitment.
All of which would make you perfect as a field commander in FOH. I’d love to have you on my leadership team”…
Really… Have you played? Or – cough – are you too old to play?” John asked on a teasing note.
“Silly – I’m a gamer too!
Level 25 medic. It’s kinda rough without a guild and, you know, not even a second rate guild will consider you until you have 30 levels.”
“Awesome! You’re my new Proxy. Congrats! I’ll assign you a leveling team. When you ding 50, I’ll appoint you as the new Field Commander for the 13th Division.”
Really… You know, my PC started out as a medic. It wasn’t until I hit 60 that I decided to refocus as an infiltrator.
“Why the change?”
As a medic, I piled up a mountain of trust, made cross-Guild relationships and I came to serve as a connector and intermediary between high level players and Guilds. But when I was given the office of the Prince by the retiring founder of FOH, I knew that I had to bring a lot more value to the table.
True leadership has to be a lot more than broken promises, politics and privilege.”
“Does anybody know what true leadership is or how to do it?” Lumi asked John, rhetorically.
“Leaders serve by answering a people’s need,” John said with kindness.
“Unless need is served, the people will not follow with their heart; they will not apply themselves passionately; nor will they give of themselves and serve each other.”
“Are you sure you’re 18! That’s the only thing stopping you from being President in my mind.”
“False leadership, lies and broken promises – this is the stuff of Presidencies and Parliaments. Why would you want me in that mess?!”
“Maybe, we need young blood…”
“Right now, nobody can see beyond themselves, their moment and their place. Because there’s just not enough love and service leading us all to somewhere better. We’re all trapped in a vicious and self-defeating cycle of self-interest, heartless hands (deleted comma) and unbounded envy.
“What’s love got to do with it?”
“Love – it allows us to feel, to know, and to give as far as the reach of the human heart…”
“… across all of time and space.”
“All of time and space!” Lumi repeated and giggled at John.
Can you bring this home, darling boy – what does it all have to do with the game and guild?”
That’s why I started The Hero School Review – a consumer-style report for gear in the game. The gear drives the play, obviously, so helping people figure out what they need, how to get it and how to price it – this was useful to the members of FOH as much as it was to all players.”
Are you telling me that you are the anonymous legend, White Buffalo – editor-in-chief of The Hero School Review?!”
“So, um, infiltrator skills were the best choice for that line of work, because an infiltrator can use any class gear without disadvantage.”
“Answer the question, please…”
“It also allowed me to get into tight places and farm some of that rare and envied gear.”
“Are you… or are you not… the great White Buffalo?”
“FYI – White Buffalo is more than one person, Lumi.”
“Guess what…” Lumi said nervously a few hours after their last encrypted radio chat.
“What?” John asked.
“Guess who Cleopatra Morgens is? It’s, errr, a shocker…”
“I don’t know. Just tell me…”
“Are you White Buffalo?”
“I’m one of 12 that sign off on White Buffalo’s editorials and review The Hero School Review articles. Happy now?”
“Cleopatra Morgens is the corporate and legal administrator of record for Black Water Romania, SRL and five other companies here in Romania. She also sits on the Romanian board of advisors for National Foods, Renault, and four others. She’s a German-Nigerian who grew up in Paris; (deleted ‘she’) double majored in Politics and History at Oxford, Law at Harvard Law School and got her MBA from MIT Sloan.”
John got it. Cleopatra Morgens worked for James Arthur Ray.
There’s no security log of phone conversations for either Cleopatra’s number or your lawyer’s number. None. Her National Foods phone number, however, redirects calls to a private number in Paris.”
John wrote a letter of apology and proposal and sent copies of the letter by overnight courier to the CEOs of NF Romania, NF International Gmbh in Hamburg, NF Romania’s lawyer, and the presiding Romanian Judge.
K-9 also provided him with the corporate email address of Mr. Rolf Goldberg, CEO of NF International Gmbh.
Mr. Goldberg -
There presently exists a confusion between NF Romania and me regarding a late payment for a large retail purchase – a consequence of the disruption of banking services during the recent blackout and national emergency in Romania. I would like to settle this debt at NF’s earliest convenience without drama and scandal. I have sent by courier a copy of my written offer which includes a late payment proposal. It is also attached to this email.
I am very concerned, however, by the actions of a member of NF Romania’s board of advisors, Cleopatra Morgens. Morgens has attempted to sabotage a quick and amicable resolution of this dispute by conspiring with my legal representative in an unethical manner. This dispute does not deserve such lavish intrigue, as I am interested in resolving the debt to NF Romania’s satisfaction.
Unfortunately, NF Romania has refused payment and prefers a public and legal contest with a national hero of some international celebrity – namely, me. You will also find attached to this email the registered refusals recorded by our banks, links to news stories about my recent receipt of the civilian honor, and other relevant documents.
I consider the present legal action to be a decisively bad brand move for NF Romania and potentially, NF International Gmbh. I kindly request that you halt any such action until you have had time to review the situation.
My phone number and email is…
The next afternoon, there was a loud banging at John’s door. The executor, accompanied by three police officers, informed John that his apartment was to be sealed by order of Judicial Decision, No. -(should there be a number in here? – K). John was given 72 hours to evacuate the apartment and remove his personal belongings.
24 hours later, John received an email reply from Rolf Goldberg:
I congratulate you on your honor. You must be very pleased to be recognized for your good works. Inspired by your generosity and service, National Foods will immediately make a full, matching contribution to the same community Cancer Ward which you support: the total sum represented by the fuel, food and medicines which you contributed during the blackout.
If you can provide me with contact information for this organization, this will expedite our contribution.
Regarding your concerns, I am waiting for a full report from NF Romania and our legal counsel there. Your accusations against Cleopatra Morgens are serious and I have launched a query of discovery. Indeed, if any intrigue – as you have described – has been perpetrated – this was not the corporate action of NF, but represents the mentally and morally unfit action of the individual in question. Nor does any advisory board member have authority to take make such action on behalf of NF.
I’m coming to Bucharest in five days; I hope to meet with you and resolve this unfortunate matter at that time. I do not believe there is need for a public contest of wills. Your proposal is acceptable (deleted comma) and I am confident that we can resolve all concerns in an amicable and confidential manner.
National Foods International, Gmbh
P.S. Long live the Prince! – Maximuss, FOH Field Commander of the 82nd Division.
John leveled Lumi up five levels in the game in 12 hours – a thing few knew how to do. It helped that she had his old, pre-nerf, Level 60 Medic uniform and some of his old (but premium) medic class gear. But the power leveling would hit a wall after she dinged 50 – thereafter, the climb was steep and the grind (deleted comma) exhausting.
John didn’t mind power leveling Lumi. Actually, he was glad to throw himself into something that required his full attention, made sense, and would contribute to the FOH community. Lumi was going to be an epic field commander; she’d lead the 13th Division out of the dishonor that June had brought it by her betrayal.
Lumi was having the time of her life. It was another world – a world where she was helping others – not just helping herself. Every wound she cleaned and bandaged, moved her closer to the next level. And every PC she helped, became a new friend.
Her new friends included people from every class – from starving artists and single moms to celebrities and CEOs of major corporations. The best thing about these connections was that they belonged to her; people were friending her for her being who she was and playing a strong game – not because of who she worked for or what she could do for them in the real world.
48 hours after the evacuation notice, Lumi shared news of Cleopatra Morgen’s suicide with John.
Successful European business woman Cleopatra Morgens was found dead in her Paris apartment: shot in the head with her own Cobra Long Bore 9mm Derringer. Officials believe that the suicide victim was emotionally distraught over the discovery that her French-Moroccan husband of 10 years had maintained a second family (including three children under the age of 9) that was unknown to her.
Cleopatra Morgens has no children of her own and she has left her estate to an orphanage in Stuttgart, Germany where she grew up. Included in her estate is an autographed sketch by Pablo Picasso – resembles his well-known painting, The Rape of the Sabine Women. She has no surviving family other than her husband.
“Wow…” replied John.
Hey John, you didn’t have to move into the basement. I can go back to the hotel…”
“No no,” John replied to Lumi.
You’re family now and I gotta keep an eye on you – I got your back. Like you got mine.”
“I think you like me…”
“Just a little bit,” John answered.
Meanwhile the executor had the apartment photographed to demonstrate its condition at the time of the sealing and then (deleted ‘he made’) sealed the entrance with red tape and a sticky notice with the Romanian and European Union Flags. The text of the notice was written in Romanian, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian.
This property has been sealed for protection by the authority of Civil Jurisprudence Order 612-CAS-CC19/3-22.05.2023.
Unauthorized entry is forbidden and will be punished by severe fine and/or imprisonment.
The executor applied a self-attaching remote monitor to the door (it screwed and anchored itself to the door on contact) and then he followed his team and his police accompaniment down the stairs and back up the other stairway, to do the same with the apartment’s rear door.
John went down to the room in the basement where chalk figures of the barefoot man were drawn on the wall. He had taken down the photos of James Arthur Ray. His bed and armchairs from the conference room were in the center of the room. Costin had hung one large framed reproduction on each wall: Salvador Dali’s Discovery of America, Gustav Klimt’s Adam and Eve, Raphael’s Engagement and Gabriel Prundeanu’s Apocalypse. John’s desk was in the corner diagonally opposite the door. Near the door stood two tall and massive armoires of the same Linden wood used to make religious icons – each with a pair of carved cherubs with raised swords and the four great creatures surrounding the lamb with seven horns.
Costin – in his poetic intuition – had also placed the collection of clocks and automata (belonging to John’s Father) on the wall with the painting of the Apocalypse. Some were hung. Some sat on newly placed shelves. Carved Black Forest Swingers, Gilt Clocks by Japy Freres, orreries and other mechanical wonders.
Furniture and decorations aside, there were big problems with John’s new accommodations.
There was no toilet, shower, or kitchen. And the company he kept down there was questionable: cockroaches the size of cigarette packs, rats (almost two hands long) and three boisterous cicadas (illegal immigrants – no doubt).
John activated the privacy mode of his K-9s for the first time – Lumi did need to see him like this. It wasn’t going to help her figure out how to help him, nor assist future K-9 owners in getting more out of the K-9.
On the other hand, Hachi seemed to like their new living quarters – it was cool and damp and there were new odors to contemplate, categorize and classify. Hachi was also making new friends. Sarah Jane, for example, was a curmudgeonly old rat, but friendly enough. At least that’s what Hachi thought the rat’s name was – Hachi had heard John say the name and Hachi didn’t know that, in fact, Sarah Jane, was a he.
“I’m worried about John…
He’s locked himself up in the basement and he won’t talk to me outside of the game,” said Lumi as she sipped at her steaming mug of hot chocolate.
“Do you think he’ll be ok?” asked Cristina with concern.
“What’s up with you and that game?!” asked Mihaela and laughed.
It’s a killer opportunity for Intelligent, ”replied Lumi.
“Huh?!” exclaimed Cristina.
“100 Million Players. 5 percent of their user base is an income match for our premium product strategy. 12 percent are active brand advocates. 39 percent are active on one form or other of social media…
“Is that why Intelligent is sponsoring Hachi’s blog?” asked Cristina.
“But… what I just don’t get is how you’ll recover those tens of millions per month spent on carrier fees and taxes!”
“Actually, we pay about 10 percent of the normal carrier costs because we either own the carrier infrastructure or software – or we exchange our services for the services of other carriers. We also get a bulk discount on carrier taxes. John knows all this.
“John also knows that our advertising on Hachi’s blog costs us pennies on the dollar compared to our online advertising on other premium hotspots – not to mention Hachi’s blog provides us a higher rate of conversion than most of those more expensive hotspots.
“Then there’s the game.
“John’s K-factor is off the charts; his viral potential is estimated at 500 Billion to Intelligent. Actually, that was our estimate six weeks ago. It’s prolly more by some 100s of Billions and it keeps growing…”
Mihaela’s jaw dropped and she accidentally knocked over her coffee cup. Coffee ran across the table as the women tried to sop it up with napkins before it spilled over the sides.
“So what John is doing is really worth that much money?” asked Cristina – she was confused but she knew that Lumi wasn’t joking around.
“That’s like an epic understatement!” Lumi said. “How, err, can I explain it in graphic terms?”
“John’s gross potential is worth more than the last three years of the Romanian economy.”
“I feel stupid,” Cristina whispered, tears started to slip down her cheeks.
“Why?” asked Lumi, slightly distracted – she was in the middle of overriding the privacy feature on John’s K-9s to check on him.
“One of the reasons I broke up with John was because I was sure that all that money being thrown at him was dirty – that he had gotten in with mafia or something like that…”
“What’s the other reason?” Mihaela asked.
“John’s losing it. He’s going psycho. He’s thinks that he has to kill the barefoot man or I’m going to die…”
“It’s crazy,” Cristina said as she sobbed.
Lumi looked at Mihaela.
“Don’t you think it’s time you told Cristina about the blood match?”
“What blood match?” Cristina asked.
“The match of your donor blood and the blood from John’s clothes after one of his nightmares about your dying in his arms. Mihaela sent the samples to be tested. It happened the day that John came home in clothes he had borrowed from the Hospital – that morning you knocked the unicorn off the console,” Lumi explained.
“It’s crazy and it’s all crazy, scary true,” Mihaela finally said.
John was watching the video of Cristina playing with Hachi as he waited to cross the street. He was listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am. The video was transposed over the landscape of Stirbei Voda and a small bus speeding toward them. Hachi’s golden-hair fan (a young girl from the park) was crossing the street from the other side with her grandmother – the girl that Emma Snow had reminded him of.
The little girl pointed to Hachi and shouted out, “Mister Hachi!” But John didn’t see or hear her.
If I just take some steps, the world stops… John thought to himself.
John took a step forward – Hachi barked at him and just missed grabbing John’s pant leg in his mouth.
A passenger yelled at the bus driver to change the music, tired of the hours of cheap Gypsy beats that had kept the driver awake from Constanta to Bucharest.
John watched the video of Cristina and Hachi overlaid on top of the approaching bus. He didn’t hear Hachi barking – John could only hear the music.
“JOHN…” Lumi shouted as she jumped up and ran out of the Coffee Shop toward him.
The little girl shook her hand free from her grandmother’s hand and ran with open arms to Hachi – in front of the fast approaching bus.
John saw her in the last seconds and grabbed the little girl in mid leap. The bus hit his feet; it’s left headlight exploded (deleted comma) and John was spun around so he smacked his skull hard against the asphalt. The little girl was uninjured. John didn’t get up.
ZOMBIE KILLER IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER SAVING GIRL FROM DRUNK BUS DRIVER.
That was the headline in local and foreign news, social media and everywhere else.
Live footage from Lumi’s K-9s showed John leaping and grabbing the little girl: how the bus kept going; Hachi licking John’s face; John unconscious on the asphalt; and, a pool of blood expanding where John’s head lay, while the grandmother cried and hugged her granddaughter.
The footage also showed the perspective of John’s K-9s as he lay unconscious: the repeating video of Cristina and Hachi playing on the bed transposed over a view of the asphalt, the song playing over and over…
Lumi posted the video footage on Hachi’s blog and the dramatic footage was run on news networks around the world.
Rolf Goldberg held a teary eyed press conference in which National Foods honored John with a donation of 5 Million Euros to the Hospital and they played four 15 minute videos of 100 different players talking about John.
Cristina watched the press conference from the hospital as she held John’s cold, still hand.
“Some of you know me as Sergeant Breadbox, Division 24 FOH, I run kitchen number 42 and I have a very big gun.”
The motion picture zooms in on Jesse’s hulk of a PC swinging a menacing chain gun and laughing.
“My real name is Jesse Winters, I’m 16 and I’m from Perry, New York. I’m autistic; my dad is a farmer; my mom, a school teacher.”
The image zooms in on Jesse Winters, an African American boy, awkwardly tossing a baseball to his father with his mother in the background.
“I pay the bills; I make sure there’s steak on the table at least once per week” – violent sobbing begins at the same time as Ingrid Michaelson’s song starts…
I’m standing proud and tall… because of John… [barely understandable speech]
LOVE… NEVER FAILS!”
“I’m Captain Warcry – Division 86 FOH. I’ve saved your bleep in one Catch 22 or more. You’re welcome…”
A black apache helicopter hovers over Bucharest and then the picture zooms in to the pilot – then it zooms to a crowd of zombies, a missile launches, and there’s an explosion. As the smoke and dust clears, there’s no zombie movement. John gives a thumbs up and the Pilot turns the Apache around and flies off.
“My name is Mrs. Rabia Ahmed, I’m 72 and I’m from Damascus, Syria. I’m a grandmother of 12; a widow, and a controversial photographer. My photography tries to show the unbounded potential of the Muslim woman (who is trapped by small minds) and the loss to the world when her potential is unrealized.”
A photograph is shown of an image of a woman wearing a burka (washing clothes by hand) transposed over a picture of female hands on a computer keyboard and a monitor with a schematic of a quantum processor, with various areas illuminated by mathematical expressions.
“John found me wandering around lost in the streets of Bucharest – I was looking in wonder at this world – a world as wonderful, beautiful and terrible as the real world. A sniper shot my PC in the stomach and John came running out of nowhere – that crazy boy carried me back to camp…
John, I’ve come a long way because of you and you helped me to put my loneliness on the shelf. I have a blog with one million subscribers; I’m inspiring women all around the world with my photography.”
The song ended. In the next scene, John dove into trash bins from different game scenes. He rose out of the trash bins with a shit-eating grin while holding up various objects: a two liter bottle of coke, a partially crushed and leaking can of beans, a half eaten carrot – all different moments from his game adventures.
John shouted in victory as he held the carrot over his head.
Ingrid Michaelson’s song started again and the next scene in the video began.
“Where’s the fire?” John asked.
20 PCs opened fire on John’s PC in his silvery uniform.
“I’m so… sorry, John,” said June Marcus as she sobbed hysterically in front of the camera.
“I was desperate when I plotted against John. We were about to get evicted from our home. I wasn’t thinking about all the times he had helped me farm gear that I had sold to pay the bills.
The image zoomed on June’s recent eBay listing of several rare gears from the game.
“John had read online that Judas (I, that is) was about to have my house repossessed by the bank. He contacted me immediately and gave me this gear to sell – at the same time his own financial problems were all the gossip. I was able to pay 6 months of back payments and keep the roof over my kids’ heads…”
Then the video had an image of Emma Snow (the child from the game) taking John’s hand as a beam of light fell upon them. Shots were fired by June’s ambush team. John and Emma dissolved…
Next Episode: Hannibal Ante Portas!
All Rights Reserved by Stan Faryna
31 October 2012