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
Episodes and/or related writing are published on this blog – most Mondays and Wednesdays. Please subscribe to this blog to get a reminder when the next episode is published.
Subscriptions are free.
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Wiyathul
The Book of Carrot
Book One: Principal Virtues
Chapter One: Love is a battlefield
Episode Twelve: Part One: We have no bread – Mark 8:16
John opened his eyes and noticed that the church was empty. He remembered taking communion, returning to the pews and, then, kneeling in prayerful contemplation of the gift he had received. That’s all John remembered, but this was the best sleep he’d had in days.
He knew peace; it pulsates; it rings like the sound of silence; its infinite depth, height and width suggested itself as nothing less than divine presence. He closed his eyes again, but John could now hear Hachi’s nagging pleas from outside: whimpers, puppy barks, and impatient grumbles.
Hachi had been waiting outside the church for three hours. Though the guard had brought Hachi a bowl of cold water, the evening heat was unbearable for the white chow chow. Hachi needed air conditioning – two hours ago.
As he reached the side exit, he saw a young woman lighting candles for the dead. Her black hair and blue eyes reminded John of Cristina. He thought of Cristina’s perfect smile – how her smile was as bright and good as sunshine.
Cristina’s smile lifted him up like that winning lottery ticket in the tired and cracked hands of a grandmother. A grandmother who had always wanted to give her granddaughter something that unlocked a joy as big as her love for her daughter’s child.
John had bought that lucky lottery ticket and he gave it to his neighbor as she lay there dying of cancer; he remembered seeing sunshine in her tears of joy; she had won money enough to put her blue-eyed, golden haired granddaughter through four or more years of college – any college her granddaughter wanted, anywhere in the world.
Outside St. Joseph’s, John checked his inbox.
Emma: Come and see…
Dad: You ok? Call me.
Mihaela: Miss you!
Zach: Hang in there.
Marian: She’s so stupid!
George: Did they get you, bro? Did you quit the game?! I saw the ambush on the Youtubes. You kicked her ass back to Kansas! One of her neighbors spray painted (deleted comma) ‘Traitor’, big and bold on her garage door; she gave up the game. Rumors are that she just applied for welfare; the stupid bitch is going to lose her house. You are EPIC!
“We have no bread,” shouted the shopkeeper to the crowd.
“The government factories have reduced their deliveries from daily to three times per week. I have lodged a formal complaint. I have told them that we have no bread.
Raise your hand against the politicians and the bureaucrats. Leave me and my shop in peace!.”
John heard the shopkeeper’s speech as he and Hachi neared the shop – they had to pass it on their way home.
“The shopkeeper said he has no bread! But there is another shop around the corner on Stirbei Voda. They have bread…” John shouted out.
The crowd followed John and the shop keeper turned around to inspect the damage. The glass storefront window of his shop lay in a pile of safety glass spread halfway across the shop’s floor. He’d have to board up the window before he went home – or everything on the shelves would be stolen by midnight.
Luckily for John, the shop on Stirbei Voda did have bread. A half loaf of day-old bread was 2 Euro; a loaf of fresh bread, 8 Euro – wages for a day of unskilled or physical labor. Expensive bread was better than no bread. As long as some people could and did get bread, the crowd was now divided by the selfish satisfaction of the random few. Divided, they could not summon the collective fury by which that same crowd had smashed the front window of the previous shop.
Meanwhile, John and Hachi got home. Hachi plopped down by the air conditioner; John logged into the game.
John was shocked. He saw the planet Earth through a large window. The image was similar to what he had seen from NASA video, but her shining beauty took his breath away. He looked upon Earth with wonder as she turned. This was not the normal start for a new PC…
Then the power went off; the back-up systems beeped and Hachi barked angrily at the dead air conditioner.
The K-9s were self-powered and he could play the game just fine – if Hachi would just shut up.
Hachi, however, continued to bark at the dead air conditioner.
John went to the utility command box in the entrance hall, disconnected his systems from the grid and then he remotely started one of three diesel generators located in the basement. The air conditioners started up and Hachi stopped barking at the unit. Again, Hachi plopped down; he was snoring immediately.
Back in the game, John changed the camera viewpoint of his field of vision to above and behind his PC. The room was a cube – he estimated it to be 10 cubed meters. The one meter thick crystal in which the Earth turned was one complete wall of the cube. Facing each other in the center of the room were three cube-ish, bright yellow, leather armchairs – Emma slept in one.
“FUCK YEAH! I’m on the mothership, baby!” John shouted.
“Mother what?” Asked George on his BF (Best Friend) radio channel.
“Oh no, you didn’t – you did not just say MOTHERSHIP, motherfucker!”
“Welcome, John,” said a female voice.
“My back-ups are dying, bro. You know; it’s a black out. So I’ll catch you on the other side. But whatever you do, don’t get off that ship. I want to see it with my own eyes…”
“This is the beginning of your new storyline,” the voice continued.
The light in the room dimmed and the image of the earth blurred. Then, it cleared to become an image of the turning Earth from what appeared to be a night perspective. John saw specks of white light – cities, perhaps – fading out.
With each complete turn, there were less white lights and more dull red lights. Perhaps, fire.
“Do you have a name, maybe?” John asked.
“Call me, Danae,” the voice replied to John.
“Your world is dying, John. What you are seeing now happened in the first six months of the epidemic. Each 15 second turn of the planet represents one month.”
“Are those fading white lights… city lights?”
“No, John… those lights represent human life…”
John was glad this was a game – not real life.
“And those dull red lights? They’re zombies?”
“We call them Skinwalkers, John.”
“In the Navajo stories, skinwalkers are sorcerers or witches who used the hide of an animal to assume the shape of that animal, so they can do evil in the world without raising suspicions,” John thought out loud.
“The basic concept is the same,” said Danae.
Most of the white lights had faded out, John saw dull red lights everywhere and flash points every now and then.
“What are those flashes?”
“Nuclear power plants in meltdown,” explained Danae.
“This is your now. But this is how we will contain the problem three Earth years from now…”
John watched the image of the dark Earth blur and then he saw the earth burning with a blue fire.
“Or, maybe, you can save this world, John. Or lead your people to a new world.
Whatever you do, the clock is ticking. When we leave this sector three Earth years from now – we can’t leave a problem of this magnitude unresolved.”
“Why didn’t you stop this from the beginning?!” John shouted.
“You’ve seen our remedy, John – we gave humanity a fighting chance,” Danae said and sighed.
John exhaled sharply.
“Don’t forget – your race unleashed this horror upon yourselves – a horror that is the first of its kind in all the histories of the multiverse”
John logged out and headed for bed. He grabbed a pillow on the chair and inhaled the mango scent of Cristina’s shampoo. He fell asleep with his K-9s on his face – a video repeated of Cristina playing with Hachi on his bed. Cristina and Hachi jumped around on the bed, Cristina barked at Hachi, and Hachi barked at Cristina.
John dreamed of the lights going out in Bucharest. Lights or lives – he didn’t know what the fading lights represented in his dream. Then he thought of Cristina. Killing the barefoot man was only the first of John‘s trials – how would he keep the lights of Bucharest on!
Cristina was not going to last long in a dead city – not to mention the zombie problem or the alien deadline.
“I’m working it out, Cristina – give me a minute, k?”
“Yes, my love…” John murmured – mostly asleep.
“No, John – it’s Lumi…”
“What do you want, Lumi – and how did you get in my dream?”
“I need a place to stay. There’s been no water, air conditioning, electric, or food service at the hotel for the last 24 hours. Can I stay with you?
Is that okay?”
“Sure. Whatever. Costin will give you the keys to the guest apartment.”
“Costin, Lumi’s coming. Help her out, man. She’ll be staying in the guest apartment. Thanks.”
John closed the connection. He had to get back into the dream and solve the new problem.
He had to…
Hachi licked John’s bare feet. George was banging hard on the front door.
The hotel hadn’t had power for 24 hours – did I sleep that long?
John answered the door in his cotton, black boxer briefs. George had a shit eating grin on; Lumi and Mihaela blushed; Hachi was happy to see them. John’s hair was punked out and he was still wearing the K-9s.
“Get in…” John told them.
“We were worried about you and Hachi. You’ve slept for three days…” said Mihaela as they sat down in the conference room armchairs. John stared up at the ceiling: the angry Christ of Judgement looked back down at him.
“I’m guessing that Costin’s been taking Hachi for his walks,” John said and Lumi nodded in agreement.
“Me? I’m awesome. Thanks,” John said enthusiastically and smiled. “What’s up with you guys?”
“The power has been out for four days, John. Over 20,000 people died in Bucharest from heat stroke! It’s a national emergency. We desperately need diesel for the generators at the Hospital, but they doubled the price at the gas pumps and it’s now selling for 20 Euros per liter,” explained Mihaela.
“Cristina and Marian, they’re ok?” John asked.
“They’re fine,” said George.
“How do you know?” asked John with suspicion.
“Because they’re staying at the Hospital,” Mihaela answered reluctantly.
John selected Cristi – National Fuels Romania SRL from his phone address book and made the call.
“What else do you need at the Hospital?” John asked Mihaela.
“Cristi, I need 3785 liters each of Diesel and Propane at the Hospital – General Berthelot No. 98. There’s a 1000 Euro bonus for you if you get it to the Hospital at midnight. Have some boys make sure the neighbors stay indoors until you finish with the fill ups. Thank you, Cristi…”
“Medicine. Food. Propane, errr, scratch the propane…” replied Mihaela.
“Tell Cristina to give Lumi access to the master inventory from all Bucharest locations of her pharmacy. Make a list of what you want from each store, sign and stamp each list, and I’ll send Bogdan around.
“Meanwhile, George and I will go on a wild shopping spree. Tell Lumi what you need and she’ll email me the grocery list.
“Let’s do this, people. Let’s get her done,” John said – like he always did in game – and he stood up.
Lumi and Mihaela burst out in laughter. John was still in his black boxer briefs.
“Looks like someone else is ready to get her done,” said Lumi.
John looked down, saw his erection bulging in his underwear, and his face turned beet red.
While John waited for the grocery list, John and George sat inside two shopping carts as they were pushed down the aisles of the commercial supermarket by two truck drivers.
Four medium-sized trucks waited outside with Zach.
280 kgs each of the following:
White Rice, Wild Rice, White Beans, Kidney Beans, Green Beans, Peas, White Potatoes, Red Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Cauliflower and Broccoli.
Cake Flour, Bread Flour, Fine Cornmeal, Oatmeal, Muesli, Captain Crunch, White Sugar, Brown Sugar, Coffee, Bulk Black Tea, Bulk Green Tea, and Gatorade Powder.
Apples, Pears, Oranges, Lemons, Figs, Dates, Raisins, Canned Peaches, Tomato Paste, Beef, Chicken and Pork.
John, George and John’s Father split the lists; the trucks were loaded and they rolled out in under two hours. Working out the payment took longer than the shopping – as the electronic banking system was down. The hand-written contracts of sale were guaranteed by John’s apartment.
Lumi: Did you break the bank yet?
John: Not yet. But I’m sure the medicine will put me deep into the red.
Lumi: I’ve never known any person who intentionally went bankrupt helping others. U = EPIC!
The power came back on day six.
The following Red Cross statistics for the Bucharest population were released via Wikileaks:
60,012 deaths from heat stroke and other heat-related illness.
216,000 cases of severe dysentery were estimated.
3 Million were estimated to be suffering from dehydration, heat rash, and heat exhaustion.
Various water-borne diseases were also being reported at all Bucharest Hospitals including: Botulism, Echinococcosis, E. Coli, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, Microsporidiosis and Salmonellosis.
The Romanian government denounced both Wikileaks and the Red Cross for gross and wild exaggerations and called for official, independent investigations by the United Nations and European Union Commission.
Madam President publicly commented on Romanian TV about Wikileaks and the Red Cross:
“These fear mongers must be exposed for what they are: psychological terrorists seeking to destabilize the modern state for a diabolical purpose. We will monitor the activities of the Red Cross in Romania very carefully.
At the hint of any kind of further misinformation, be sure that the Red Cross will be banned from Romania, all agents and collaborators expelled and all properties immediately confiscated.“
The American, French and Russian Presidents applauded the Romanian President’s tough stance against terrorism and misinformation in brief editorials in the French newspaper, Le Monde, as well as The Wall Street Journal, The Russian Times and Caokao Xiaoxi (China’s leading newspaper – also known as Reference News).
Meanwhile, the construction of the mass cremation pits were underway just south of Bucharest; anonymous engineers expressed their concerns on internet forums – saying that the design of project Peschanka accommodates the cremation of up to 3 Million bodies.
“How did it happen? How does a national power grid fail and why did it take so long to fix?” John asked Lumi as they walked Hachi in the park.
“It wasn’t just Romania. It also happened in Bulgaria and the Ukraine,” explained Lumi.
“The official story is that nuclear power plants in Bulgaria, Romania and the Ukraine were taken off the grid due to a severe solar storm warning. Meanwhile, non-nuclear power generation facilities were pushed to the limit; the antiquated facilities buckled under the pressure in a unexpected cascade of failure. They’re blaming this disaster on the black swans.”
John almost couldn’t believe what Lumi was saying.
“Meanwhile, The Economist is now arguing that that the privatization of the three national grids removed the power generation plants from the public safety inspection schedule and that industry self-regulation failed to ensure the safety and reliability of the grid. On that note, fines and compensation schedules have been publicly issued to the foreign operators, but the money demanded by European Commission (EC) is insignificant in the face of the gross loss of life.
Obviously, some view the EC’s demand for half gestures to be more smoke and mirrors…”
“Want some good news?” she asked.
“Sure…” said John.
“There’s a party at the Hospital and John Dionisius is the guest of honor!”
“Thanks Lumi, but no thanks. You know, I don’t have anything to wear. And…”
“Cristina wants you to come. She wants to see you there.”
John inhaled fast and deep – trying to hold the tears back.
“Good boy,” said Lumi and then she gave John a tight hug.
Lumi’s hair smelled of Mango – probably the same shampoo Cristina used. John closed his eyes and imagined that he was holding Cristina.
“Save it for the real thing,” Lumi whispered in John’s ear.
John and Lumi walked arm in arm back to his apartment through the stench of urine and faeces that filled plastic bags and 2 liter bottles – all laid in sprawling piles along Stirbei Voda and every other street in Bucharest. It would take weeks to clean up this mess.
For the purpose of the safety and security of the population, National Emergency Order 612 required the dead to turned over to public officials within three days of the restoration of power. A crystal-coated, stainless steel monument resembling Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column was planned. The memorial would include an enduring digital database of the dead; the names of the fallen would roll up the column in infinite reiterations as well as being displayed in a searchable, reverse Matrix style internet presentation.
John watched the caravan of honor from his window: a humvee with a mounted machine gun and loud speaker led the caravan. It was followed by three refrigerated trucks, a military personnel transport truck, a supply truck with an iron orthodox cross for a hood ornament, and a sleek black, luxury BMW sedan with Romanian flags on the front bumpers.
The big idea of the sedan was supposedly that a Parliamentary member escorted the caravan to pay their respect to the dead. John, however, didn’t believe anyone of consequence was behind those black sunglasses – waving slowly to the people with white gloves.
Many such caravans were sent out across Bucharest’s sectors six times per day.
“Let us celebrate and honor the memory of our fallen. Let their names live on forever and ever – Hai Romania!
That was the call for the dead that came out noisy, distorted and screeching from the loudspeaker.
A neighbor from across the street came out of his apartment building and stopped the caravan by waving a hand-held Romanian flag (given free at every shop to anyone who wanted or needed one). Four soldiers disembarked from their transport and followed John’s neighbor into the building – they returned a few minutes later with a black body bag that they roughly and carelessly tossed into the back of the second refrigerated truck.
While the soldiers were tossing the body bag in the refrigerated truck, a Sergeant and Orthodox Priest attended to the neighbor: the Sergeant recorded and verified the name and identity of the deceased and finished the protocol with a salute to the proud but weeping neighbor; the priest presented the surviving family member with a Romanian flag folded into a neat triangle, a white wooden cross to hang on a wall, a two liter bottle of holy water, a palm-size, mass-produced icon of Mary at the foot of the cross, and a full-color, glossy brochure for the National Romanian Orthodox fund; and then, the priest presented a gleaming, jewel encrusted crucifix – for John’s neighbor to kiss.
John opened the door – Mihaela and Lumi were dazzling, gorgeous and unforgettable in their form-fitting, bare-back, strapless, shimmering, silver cocktail dresses. Men would kill for women like these. John wore jeans and his white “hero” tee shirt with Captain America substituting for Adam in a reproduction of Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel panel, The Creation of Adam.
Simple black text was written above the panel:
The heart of a hero beats here.
John complimented the two women.
“You two are gorgeous – going somewhere special tonight?”
“Silly – I told you there was a party tonight and, nooo, you are not going to blow us off,” replied Lumi.
Hachi slipped by John, out the door and down the steps. The chow chow wasn’t going to miss the party and, more than that, Hachi was coming in a full-length fur coat. Like a pimp.
John, Lumi and Mihaela walked arm in arm towards the block party sprawling out from the Hospital in both directions of General Berthelot. Lumi and Mihaela steered him onto a long red carpet that ran down the middle of the street into the crowd of people, cameras, reporters, and VIPs.
John tried to gently slip out from their arms and escape, but the two women held him tightly.
Photographers snapped pictures of John and his two gorgeous companions as Mihaela and Lumi led him to a stage though applause and cheers.
Just as the three were on the stage and in front of microphones, a reporter shouted to John:
“Is there anything you can’t do, John!?”
“I can’t walk on water…” John replied in an apprehensive voice.
Mihaela and Lumi winked at the reporter and said simultaneously, “Obviously NOT!” and both kissed him on the cheek – leaving red lip prints on his cheeks.
John blushed at Mihaela and Lumi’s playful innuendo and he smiled shyly at the cameras.
The crowd laughed and Cristina burned with jealousy – unseen by John as she stood in the audience.
John is mine, Cristina thought to herself – but she knew in her heart that her friends meant only to show their support for John.
Cristina wished she could do more to show her support for John – but Cristina was not one to shout encouragement and affections from the rooftops. She was too self-conscious. She lacked ebullience (someone once told her); she was filled with anxieties, doubts, fears, guilt, and self-loathing. It was easier for Cristina to let herself fall into the pit of her quiet and lonely despair than walk on water.
“When I was told there was a party tonight, I initially refused on account of not having anything nice to wear. You see, I’m broke…” John started to explain into the microphone.
Mihaela and Lumi each took a wireless microphone from the stands in front of them.
“John is broke because…” Mihaela started and then waited for the crowd to answer.
“He gave all his money to the Hospital,” the crowd shouted in unison.
“John is broke because… the heart of a hero beats in this chest!” said Lumi as she patted his chest.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Long live the Zombie Killer!”
Another: “The Zombie Killer for President!”
And then the crowd chanted it: “The Zombie Killer for President! The Zombie Killer for President!”
Escorted by a tall, handsome Indian man in a U.N. officer’s dress uniform, Madam President stepped up on stage amidst the chants. “I’ll vote for John…” she said.
The crowd roared their approval.
“But until that happy election day, I would like to present to John, right now, the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed by the Romanian government: The Medallion of Michael the Archangel – defender of God’s people.
“John, your sacrifice, service and love for Romania shone brightest in our darkest hours,” explained the President of Romania.
John searched the crowd for Cristina’s face, but he couldn’t spot her.
“You gave everything you had for the least among us. You have shown Romania, the world and young hearts everywhere… what it means to be a hero,” said Madam President as she placed the suspension ribbon over his bowed head.
The palladium medallion was twelve centimeters in diameter and the front bore Solomon’s seal with Romanian, English, French and Latin embossed text encircling Solomon’s seal (the literal translation of the archangel’s name in Hebrew): Who is like God?
In the center of Solomon’s seal, the line of an eye was represented by sparkling moldavite; the iris, brown, speckled palmwood spread out in a one centimeter diameter ringed by tiny black tourmalines and diamonds; the pupil, a polished and glazed dot of silvery gibeon meteorite.
On the reverse side was a raised sculpture of Michael standing triumphant over a subdued Satan – embossed text was written on the top and bottom: “God has sent to Romania a champion ” and “By this medal, you shall recognize our hero!”
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” shouted the crowd.
“The heart of a hero beats inside all of our chests,” John whispered and then repeated himself louder and with confidence.
“This is why the Enemy tests us in our fears, anger, pride and pain. The greatest of these is fear.
Lord, put the right words in my mouth – words that are true, good and beautiful, John prayed quietly.
Let me inspire a generation to know and love your lyrical and epic will…
“The heart of a hero beats inside all of our chests – the Divine calls upon each of us to be heroes.
“Each of us is called to serve as a hero at a moment of courageous opportunity. But we are not called upon be the hero, day after day or everyday. It is you or me… or her doing the right thing, today or tomorrow (or someday) when the right thing needs to be done and only you can do it,” said John and as he pointed to Mihaela.
Mihaela blushed and shook her head in deference to a higher power.
“We only need be ready to answer the call from above. To this readiness, each of us are blessed abundantly with glorious gifts – love, hope and faith. The greatest of these is love…”
“So tell us about love, Romeo!” shouted a bald, toothless cancer patient. John smiled warmly at the woman and continued.
“Love begins, humbly, shyly and, sometimes, awkwardly… like a clumsy first kiss. As love grows in us, it becomes passionate, its intuition of the beautiful, good and true increases like the dawn light becomes a lucid (deleted ‘ly’), bright morning.
“As love grows in us, our hearts grow larger.”
John paused – waiting for divine inspiration…
“As our hearts grow larger, the list of the names written upon our hearts grows too.
“For some, the names of all the world were quickly written thereupon. Such hearts, we all recognize how shine like a monument to our humanity and our divine destiny. The best that is in us and the best that each of us longs to become.”
“Mother Teresa,” shouted out another bald and enthusiastic cancer patient as they held up a prayer card with Mother Teresa’s picture.
John pointed out Marian in the crowd.
“Or my little friend here, Marian… who has cerebral palsy and yet knows he is bigger than his disability – big enough to save the world!
Come up here, Marian…”
The crowd lifted Marian up and passed him gently to the stage. John crouched down and Lumi helped Marian climb on John’s shoulders. Then John stood up with Marian beaming on high.
John and Cristina’s song started to play, Enrique Iglesias’ Hero.
“Love begins small, fragile, but with great expectations…”
Live up to your own greatest expectations. BE TRUE! Give yourself freely in love and service!
More than this, you must remember two more things:
One – you do not love… nor do you love anyone, truly… if you are not in love with all the world – the wonderful world in which you found love!
Two – LOVE never… fails!”
“Zombie Killer for President!” shouted Madam President as she raised both hands in the sign of victory. Marian slowly raised his arms in triumph for John and Cristina cried joyfully from behind several tall young men who were chanting.
The crowd chanted choruses of Zombie Killer for President – with fists raised in the air. Among those chanting were the journalists who had mocked John at the courthouse.
And the experts and people watching television, chanted in their thoughts – including those who had thought that John should be in prison – only two weeks ago.
It was almost a perfect moment, John thought to himself. Cristina’s arms holding me tightly would make this a perfect moment. But real life is never perfect like that. Perfect moments only happen in fairy tales…
The top three tv, internet and radio news headlines for that evening:
Love never fails! The zombie killer wins the hearts of the world.
Zombie killer gives all his money to save homeless (deleted comma) cancer patients in the Bucharest blackout.
A Zombie Killer with Presidential Powers! Yes or HELL YEAH!
Next Episode: Part Two: We have no bread
All Rights Reserved by Stan Faryna
31 October 2012