Chapter 2: Dawn of the Aquarians

The Eternal Return

A fragmentary Historie of the depredations wrought upon the planet and those who live thereon by the forces of Concupiscence and Covetousnesse in the 21st and 22nd centuries. As seen through the eyes of the distant Redemption, one of the redeemed looks back upon the epoch of her birth into that drear world. She doth likewise cast her gaze upon events both froward and rearward in time.

The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: the Redemption Inquiry and the second chapter of…

Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. Each successive part of the novel shall draw the Reader closer to the uppermost rung of the Great Chain of Being. We begin at ground level, the World of Making and Doing. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Here on the ground, much darkness, little light.

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I am reincarnated as the middle daughter of my youngest grandchild, Eliza. Mother recognizes a strangely familiar sense of humor in her toddler’s mischief. I can see it in her eyes, the way she sometimes squints at me sideways. I do love my mischief. She can’t quite place it. My second wife of the last incarnation is now the overprotective older brother. But that’s not the half of it. My first wife of that very same incarnation has just been reborn as the squawling baby brother. Can you believe it? Pretty damn weird. The two women barely knew each other and now they are siblings. I remember having a fleeting awareness of their identities the morning Ben, the baby, was born. But really it wasn’t until The Redemption that I grasped the interpenetration of everything, saw totality in the flesh. Ben Oni, the son of my pain. Of my mother’s pain. Mother, sweet Eliza, you died in childbirth. Ah the wickedness. The insanity of a culture in devolution. It still takes my breath away, even though I have her back now. I am a window onto apocalyptic landscapes. Loss wrecked my Father, Eliza’s sweet little WASP boychik. It annihilated my three-year-old self. The world after The First Ecological Disaster was not a place to bring up any child, let alone a motherless one. I can hardly speak of it, even though now, since The Redemption, my Eliza’s no more than the blink of an eye away from me at any time. Quantum Universal Incarnated Experiential Temporality. Q. U. I. E. T. The technology of The Redemption. Turn the dial and every form of being that ever was or could be is right there in the flesh. As are you. Balm for all the many forms of loss. Those feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts. As keen to me now as they were then. So many worlds at one time. It takes the sting out of any one particular horror story. The bliss at reunion with everyone I ever loved, and even those I couldn’t, is all the more fierce. Here comes everybody. The Redemption, still a century and change away.

I’m a towhead, blue eyes, apple cheeks and all. An evil time. Each of the major cartels has cordoned off its regional water supply through “exclusive use” contracts negotiated by the politicals that they bought and paid for. The unsuspecting populace is in the dark as usual, until it’s too late. Politics, a deadly distraction. All but a small cadre of cognoscenti are in the dark about the real business at hand. The business conducted in back rooms over encrypted networks by a cabal of oligarchs. The hospital where Ben is born only has water on the first three floors. It’s all they can squeeze out of the local Aquarian authority. Obstetrics is on the seventh floor. I can still see the women in their threadbare starched white uniforms padding up and down several flights of stairs, most in their bare feet, carrying huge pots of boiling water and towels for the comfort and safety of the women in labor. Each bears a  scarlet ‘A’ monogrammed on their blouses, signifying the generosity of the local Aquarian who donated the cast-off clothing of their private medical staff. Buckets of harvested placentas line the hallways, awaiting disposal or use in local aboriginal ritual. Medical waste lies strewn helter-skelter on the floor and in the rooms themselves, no time to clean up in the midst of a tsunami of parturition. 

The mystery is why anybody bothers to have children at all. But the impoverished peasantry, such as my family, are nothing if not fertile. Room after grimy room flashes before my awestruck face as I toddle down the hallway alone, waiting for the doula to show up at my mother’s bedside. A chorus of moans and weeping washes over my uncomprehending ears. Father tells me not to worry. The doula is a good woman. But there are an awful lot of other mothers in labor. It’s a rare sight to catch a doctor striding down those squalid halls. The oligarchs and plutocrats have their own boutique health services, as well as ‘research institutes’, founded for the purpose of syphoning off healthcare dollars from the federal budget for their own personal use. The deconstruction of The National Institutes of Health is thorough and heartbreaking. Its final vestige is a fig-leaf conglomeration of public-private ‘partnerships’ plucked from the ashes by their corporate overlords. Oversight had its eyes gouged out by a series of deft ‘emergency’ political surgeries. Every government watchdog program had the rug yanked from under it. The hell of it is that most Americans are happy to leave it to the Big Boys. Best not to watch the sausage-making. Liberty parceled into technological quanta sold to the highest bidder. Bitter servitude for the unwashed masses, unwashed through no fault of their own. I stand, fists balled, at the foot of my dying mother’s hospital bed, witness to the surge of puerperal fever engulfing the maternity ward.

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CONDENSATES: The Flagellants, comically misguided followers of the obscure 22nd century holy woman, Sita B’rachaman-Katz, wander the streets of Mumbai slapping each other on the back of the head while chanting her rendering of The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy: “Lord! Lord! Most High, The Womb and Its Grace, Slow to turn and Overflowing with both Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, of twists after our own fashion, and of ill-spent arrows, Who purifies but does not purify completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generations.”

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Childbed fever, a nineteenth century moniker, had been all but eradicated in the civilized world of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Expectant mothers were at long last off the hook, the death sentence for the crime of pregnancy had been commuted. The bearer of the future Messiah would live. Simple hand washing and other sanitary measures had done the trick. But by the time Ben is born there are no longer antibiotics effective enough to treat the virulent strains of bacteria bred in public hospitals. The death rate for uncomplicated childbirth now far surpasses the pre-antisepsis level of twenty five percent. The hanging judge is back. Monstrous nosocomial infections. Nosocomial, ‘our house’. A morbid joke. Only the oligarchs have access to the sanitary birthing suites in their Big Houses. Moonlighting government doctors are at their beck and call. My family is somewhat luckier than our neighbors. We own an ancient vehicle powered by the elixir decanted from decaying vegetative matter generated on our farm. On the road to the hospital we see a carload of fancy doctors, identifiable by the big red ‘A’ emblazoned on their hovercraft as they zoom past us to the Aquarian overlord’s manor. They had all fared well in the battle for potable water. All it takes is a sweet assignment behind the battlements of one of the Aquarians. Our family is not so well connected. My sweet Eliza—my granddaughter, my mother—just another casualty of the Water Wars.

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Let me tell you how it goes down. Few shots are fired, though armed surveillance posses hem in all the available reservoirs, springs and remaining active riverbeds. Within months of the passage of HR 909, the Water Conservation Act of 2059, all known sources of potable water world wide are siphoned up by a handful of corporate bloodsuckers, most in the guise of quasi-governmental entities, innocuously dubbed the Aquarian Institutes. As cosmic irony would have it, the bill is signed into law on, of all days, the eve of Tisha B’Av, the spiritual nadir of the Hebrew calendar. The destruction of both holy temples and a whole boatload of evil since then. My Uncle Harrison, the unofficial poet laureate of Western Pennsylvania, captures the mood of that dismal day in a piece that still lances me straight through the heart. Even though I know what I know now from the view of The Redemption:

I’ll take my words straight, unadorned, naked letters standing in the stark white wilderness, stripped bare of connection, the majestic ruin of ancient impulse. I felt the heat of the Yellow Court burning in my chest, the messages of a thousand pagan nations rising in slow-moving billows of sulfurous smoke. We stood in the basement, lights half lit, a dozen cushions strewn over the linoleum floor. A dozen unwashed souls in mourning for the losses of the past twenty seven centuries. Some leaned against walls, some crumpled upon cushions, heads held in knobby hands. Some paced the floor, expressionless. No words of greeting were exchanged, only wordless acknowledgment of each other. Some still persisted in their mundane habits, absently injecting their particular brand of annoyance into the heavy air. Today was not the day for baseless hatred. We had all paid the price for that in our own lives. The inescapable ruins.

The boiled egg is eaten, coated in ash, with a crust of bread and a gulp of tasteless water from the spigot. The sweat of the previous evening dried on our skin, hair matted in its own oils. You couldn’t pay for a more complete purgation. The cries of gulls scavenging the shore. We are mollusks in their beaks. Let me crash against the jetty, splay open the hard shell. Let the tender, quivering flesh lie exposed so that scavengers may eat. Rip out the heart, still beating, and raise it to the sky in a blood-soaked fist. The bereaved bride keens, as does the the woman in her birth pangs. I would not inhabit the post-apocalyptic landscape with anyone else. These people are enough. Each a testament to a particular way of being destroyed. And at our lowest, the searing flash of the Infinite Light reaches the bottoms of our souls and snaps our minds to attention. We are laid waste, without impulse. The Yellow Court is empty, though the smoke of its conflagration still hovers in the air. The cars proceed through the silent village, headlamps on in broad daylight. The time for leaving is now.

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Water Conservation, my ass. The public is anaesthetized to the political doublespeak that labels the stealing of precious resources as ‘conservation’. Some joker actually proposes importing moon water, first discovered that same fateful year that set the whole calamity in motion, 2009, the year of the Corporate Singularity. Chandra, a space mission from India! Imagine the entrepreneurial possibilities! Some of the original oligarchs would undoubtedly be willing to cadge a supply simply for the novelty, cost being no object to the latter day avatars of Croesus. But the virgin moon goddess isn’t about to part with her booty for the likes of earthlings in 2009. And the desalination train, once the great green hope, had been derailed. More on 2009 in a bit. In this lifetime, billionaires stare down from their citadel dinner parties, exploiting desalination for drinks in their heavily guarded cocktail lounges. They dump the toxic effluents on the so-called ‘Commons’, the despoiled terrain inhabited by the neighboring peasantry. Once HR 909 passes the House and Senate in 2059, the ink from President Norquist’s pen not yet dried, sorties of heavily armed attorneys sweep the last bit of Eden off the globe. Little remains in the hands of foreign governments either. The multinational boards are heavy with moneymen and had the power to ‘privatize’ every last drop. Companies like Nestle and Coca Cola jump. They snap up source claims in the third world and government-administered lands for a song. A few squabbles over disputed sites, the so-called ‘Water Wars’, are settled without bloodshed. The private paramilitaries stand down and peace does guide the planet.

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So the setup in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Stimulus Package. Rewind the clock to the fifty-year unfolding of the Aquarian takeover. If only. Obama’s fix for the crash of the world economy in two thousand eight, the whole mess triggered by the bursting of the US housing bubble. The act is signed into law on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. Just three days after a mystical Valentine’s Day. The New Age pundits declare the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Jupiter aligned with Mars, and all that blah blah blah. Every astrologer worth their salt is calling it. New Age headlines announce the “birth of the Divine child!” The “perfect alignment to support our collective manifestation of love and peace and the dawning of the age of Aquarius.” And another starstruck guru, “truly living in the Age of Miracles … the Miracle on the Hudson, a week later, the Obama miracle in Washington and now on Valentine’s Day, the planets line up exactly as the song.” The bittersweet taste of hope. And from the Princeton noosphere, the instruction to celebrate the day by producing “the heart sound ‘ah’ as a Sonic Valentine for mother Earth at noon for 5 minutes or more.” They modestly add the caveat, “It is important to keep in mind that we have only a tiny statistical effect, so that it is always hard to distinguish signal from noise.” Right. Noise. How could so many well-meaning souls be sooo wrong, like 180 degrees?! Well, they were part right. It is the beginning of the end of free water. Buried deep within the stimulus bill is a bonanza that is eventually diverted into the hot little hands of the proto-Aquarian masters: $4.6 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers for environmental restoration, flood protection, hydropower, and navigation infrastructure projects; and $1.38 billion for rural drinking water and waste disposal projects. 

It’s all there in black and white. Peanuts, in a way. But seed money enough, throw in the free labor of the Corps of Engineers who work ‘overtime’ to ‘secure and protect’ every drop of water that burbles out of Mother Earth’s lips. Flash forward a few decades to me standing in the street next to my pregnant mother. She crouches like prey in the face of an inexorable predator. I hold her hand as her entire body convulses with sobs. We are laden with ancient milk tins that we use to supply the farm with water. We have a whole wagonload that we plan to fill. Sunday mornings are my favorite mama ritual. We are both secretly happy to get away from the grind at the farm for a few hours. I look up perplexed at her face as she covers her mouth in horror, and I follow her gaping eyes. The jack-booted Aquarian paramilitary have come to seize our village’s only well. A carefully kept secret that had survived the Water Wars undetected. Some well-paid snitch has turned in the whole village. The reprisal is swift and merciless—no more fresh water for Clarion PA. A lingering death for those families with no kompromat to trade on, no protexia swag. I didn’t realize at the time what this might mean to a pregnant mother, unable to have access to fresh water. That’s how I lost her. I only understand it now, from the perspective of The Redemption. My parents sheltered me from the dire peril under which we are living. The fact that I can tell you this now is a testament to the power of Quantum Universal Incarnated Experiential Temporality, Q. U. I. E. T. As I said, it takes the sting out of any one particular horror story. This one was Clarion’s apocalypse. The same thing happened in many another small town and hamlet. Like down in Ligonier.

I remember Ligonier, when it was still green. Grove Run Spring in Linn Run State Park, where my grandparents of the previous incarnation used to take me to fetch water. The view from The Redemption is bracing. The delightful shock of the aquifer tapped from deep underground, a spring in the heart of the mountain. My little boy eyes sparkle as it glugs ice cold into the bottles we bring. In my next lifetime as a towheaded little girl, the spring is swallowed up in the reconsolidation of the Mellon holdings under the aegis of the Western Pennsylvania Aquarian Master. A secretive Pharma billionaire, his major civic contribution is to revive the savagery of the hunt at Rolling Rock Farms. A rich tableau of social Darwinism for anyone not too weary to pay attention. More than just rolling out the blueprint for stealing all potable water from the thirsting masses, 2009 also lays the groundwork for total unmitigated environmental catastrophe. The Waxman-Markey bill is smothered in its cradle by a coven of US senators, never to see the light of cap and trade. The Feds eventually withdraw from all international environmental protection treaties. The EPA’s twisted mission is to fund research to prove that Global Warming is a hoax. The bureaucracy of the putative ‘Deep State’ is completely in the thrall of money, as the corporate boogeymen always planned it. Only in the void that follows could the average Jane or Joe see what had been the genuine service of the so-called ‘enemies of the people’. Too late. Protecting Mother Earth from grand scale rape just isn’t in the cards. Fifty years after the 2009 Recovery Act is signed into law, total ecological meltdown. The intended benefactors of the Water Conservation Act of 2059 are sitting pretty with their hands in the till. The kingdom of the water-bearers is a done deal. Anarchy and oligarchy: the black and white keys on which the Neo con artists play the Republic.

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CONDENSATES. It is the bureaucrats who are the magician’s assistants. The nefesh, the nafs, the po. No matter the spiritual system or its labels, the mischief of the body, the little spirits that run the machine. Ill winds. They can cut your sick leave in half, or double your comp time. They are under the dominion of the Palace of Time. Without time there is no wealth. There is nothing doing, nothing to be made. There is no discrimination. It’s everything all at once, a kind of wisdom you can’t fit into your head, the kind of wisdom that exploded into the universe at Sinai. The Creator of the universe wanted to make Itself known. That’s where the bureaucrats came in. The Creator tried the everything-all-at-once approach. Everybody fell asleep. It was way over their heads. So then came the one-thing-at-a-time approach, the one-thing-after-another. Leadership, the leading edge, the plane of vision turned on its side. This is where Yitro, Jethro, Other-man, came in. The Added Man, the Profit, the father-in-law, the Midianite priest. He suggested the interposition of layers—bureaucracy, consciousness, a Viennese Dobos Torte. So when the big download came, the major 411, there was already a form, a form which preceded in-form-ation. His name the same linguistic root as the additional soul, the neshama yetera, required to receive the Sabbath peace. Capacitance. [B’rachaman-Katz, Sita, The Book of Jethro]

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The Aquarians are only errand boys for the impending Dark Age. The coffin of civic consciousness is nailed shut by the hammer of electronic disinformation. That is the handiwork of corporate boogeymen, government agents and lone sociopaths. The Rise of the Trolls. Truth drowns in a deluge of ‘alternate facts’. The God of the Spirits of all Flesh eclipsed by algorithms. Algorithms that reach directly into the minds of every woman Jill and her Jack, tickling the psyche with sub threshold conversation, the great Adversary itself whispering in every ear, indistinguishable from the voice of humans from whom its logic is stolen. Bit players are wiped out in the Dox Wars, unable to afford the private security details needed to fend off the zombies raised up by their fellow trolls. Brainless idiots who show up at pizza parlors armed with shotguns looking for child porn rings in nonexistent basements, whatever canard the evil trolls use to chum the waters of the politically insane. The underground troll network generate obscene wealth for their rarified crew, largely through the resale of metadata ‘belonging’ to their witless subscribers. Chief among them is the Queen of Trolls, who dubs herself Dr. Illuminatus, and her minions the Illuminati. Dr. Illuminatus knows just what her patients need. She pulls the strings on a vast empire of ‘fake news’ outlets and ‘astroturf’ interest groups. Cyber-guns for hire. Illuminati and kin spread bot-borne pox. Be afraid, they whisper, your neighbors are plotting against you, hate them. And those who don’t rise to the clickbait are offered tastier and tastier earworms until they bite. Fra Lullo’s fourteenth century ‘app’, Ars Magnus, repurposed for the 21st century. A sinister logic tree, the medieval tool converts heathens to Christians, the latterday machinery, every citizen a cannibal. Plus ca change. The Post-Industrial Dark Age shrouds humanity in dense intellectual silence as the world descends into oligarchic feudalism.

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My Uncle Harrison, a self-taught man of letters, Eliza’s brother, and therefore my grandson in my previous incarnation, if you follow me, lives in a farmhouse he built with his own hands up the mountain on Lover’s Leap Road in Leechburg, PA. An early adopter of solar energy, he is off the grid in every way possible. Before Ben is born we visit Uncle Harry pretty often. I sit at his knee and listen to him preach his gentle gospel of self-sufficiency. Beautiful ancient printed books commune with one another on every wall of Uncle Harrison’s modest bungalow. Leather-bound, cloth-bound, the occasional worthy ‘paperback’ as they once were called, as well as a few pristine examples of the 3-D leatherette beauties, remnants of the short-lived Neo-Literate Revival, complete with electrostatic ‘dust jackets’. The neighbors view him with cranky suspicion. He has no use for the weekly Aquarian pep rallies. His absence there is noted. And what does he want with all those books anyway? Rocks are hurled through Uncle Harry’s windows in the middle of the night. But he never thinks it will amount to more than that. He doesn’t own anything of value other than his books. After all, over three quarters of the county’s population are illiterate. They have no more use for the written word than they do for each other. No matter, every year on Earth Day, Uncle Harry stands on his back porch and orates. His chosen tract, The Prayer of the Creatrix from The Aquarian Bible, an ancient anonymous work of ecospirituality. Some say Harry wrote it himself. Some claim it goes all the way back to Adam. He reads slowly, with many a dramatic pause and flourish. He ceases to read altogether at times, waiting for the spirit of oration to return to his larynx as he scans the scrawny wood, the tattered surviving cattails, the dull eyes and stopped ears. It takes several long and luxurious hours. But no one in the crowd of dozens of unlettered souls ever complains. They sit on picnic blankets spread out in the meadow behind Harry’s house, where the wild turkey once strutted before its extinction, taking in the annual Uncle Harrison Show. Neither does anyone stir, but all sit in rapt attention, whether or not they understand a word he says, as he reads from the antique tome that sparks and crackles in his meaty paws, the liquid syllables tumbling from Uncle Harry’s lips:

Drop into the sea like a stone. A merciful death, no lingering suffocation among the waves. Those chariots are not going to arrive at their destination, nor their horses, nor their riders. A new vista opens up, wordless into the unknown. The air is fresh, and cold enough to freeze your thoughts before they spring from your head. The locals are friendly but only up to a point. Pay your workers well, the laborers in your field. It is they who bring the harvest, who carry home to you what is good, what is edible, what is sweet. The rest goes up in smoke. The Dark Lord of the North would have his due, the Palace of the Sun long since left behind. Tzitzit—the sound of burning that unglues the eyes. Burn away the factory packaging, the cellophane of wax tears, the Styrofoam balls that cram the throat, the moleskin covering your real skin, the dehumectant stuffed up your nose, the machine oil that fills your auditory meatus. Then you’ll hear, then your sensory apparatus will be transformed into a high powered energy-sniffing hound. Every threshold you cross wildly illuminated, whole universes sputtering out of corners, a trace of quantum footprints. Its substance—dyno-attractant; its target—your Beloved.

Immerse sacred tributary, ambrosia and moly, till every pore and every aperture are sensed, so full, so vibrant that you would swear you must dwell deep within your Beloved herself, and every path a channel in Her body, your compass your pulse as you await the next stroke of Her hand, breath of Her lip. Know the Creatrix, signal to noise, every landmark in the history of the march of consciousness across the face of the planet, every constriction Her signature, every vehicle Her construct, the map of Her movement your sacred text, your face an invention to prepare for Her presence, Her sovereignty. Bittersweet remembering, yet something separate and apart, what remains to enter consciousness–the spark, the womb and the crown descendant. By what act of will may you return to your first turning? By what grace may you forgive yourself everything? What rising tide, what portent, what whirling global mass?

Blessed is the tyer of loose ends, no matter the angle of the sun, phase of the moon, arrangement of the stars. You are called by all the judges, all the leaders, all the sages, by all those who love order and harmony. You may ask, but what of sour notes, bad smells in the room, off colors? All crushed in the same crucible that began a long day of work at the end of an era of debate and study. Do we really know, from the hand of the sublime, the one soul in whose voice is heard the raging of rivers, the rustling of forests and the tumbling of human edifices? One lapse in attention, one prayer for forgiveness. The unintended consequence, broken parts as clear as if there were whole fresh jewels in every one, a streak of color in the vision of peace, holy city, beauty of cherry blossoms, blade across the dark and gnarled branch. But in the end whose voice will be heard, what sovereign will you seat upon the throne in your heart? The One that speaks is one and the same as the One who hears.

And who are you? You are a child, gaping over the mountain. You are one in a line of vehicles, thousands of years old, a renewable form. You are the bowman, the javelin thrower, the catapult artist, the swinger of the mace and the broadsword. You have learned your arts telepathically. Your job is to remove all the impediments to union, all that which dulls the senses and besots the mind. So, while you jockey for position, while you find your place in line, while you put your pedal to the metal, remember this: it is She whom you seek in all Her hot glory, Her mystery, Her cloud. She will cloak you in delicacy and vapor, balm to your rawness, all that you have laid bare, all that you’ve borne, the works of the road, the works of getting from one place to another, from bliss to bliss, from cerulean sky to emerald forest.

Then they take Harry down. Trash and burn his farmhouse with every book in it and lynch him on the spot, no questions asked. It’s on the anniversary of the signing of HR 909. Hatred, pure and simple. There is no talk of justice. The constabulary’s sole job wis the protection of the local oligarch’s property. My family isn’t in the business of revenge. It isn’t even clear exactly who had done the heinous deed. We can see the local Aquarian’s hand in it. We mourn Harry quietly, in the privacy of our heavily shuttered home. Harry’s death is a microcosm of what is happening at all levels of society. Knives are out, the unthinkable happens. Massive system-wide apoptosis, the programmed self-annihilation of everything. The government is finally shrunk small enough so that the ‘Invisible Hand’ can strangle it and drown it in the bathtub. The skeletal remains of civic governance are buried with little ceremony.

The plutocrats have no reason to share their technobooty with the hoi polloi as they withdraw into their castles keep. Some of the billionaire social phobes unselfconsciously declare their preference for cats and indifference to humans. A real life James Bond villain sitting on a yacht with a damn tree growing out the middle. A clot of rich thugs send out flotillas of FOIA requests to small, unsuspecting middle American towns. Their purpose? Simply to crash the overwhelmed local government structures of the towns and hamlets that can’t handle the flood of paperwork generated by these gratuitous inquiries. Ha ha hee hee, boys will be boys. Billionaire anarchists clearing the decks for their eventual hostile takeover. The ‘unimproved’ territory between Aquarian fiefdoms deteriorates into barren wilderness barely fit for human habitation. The internet goes dark. It will be another generation before my soul once again sees the clear light of day. I get lucky, I guess. Get a job as a singer in the ‘house band’ for the local Aquarian. Years after Uncle Harry was killed I begin to have a recurring dream, pretty much every night for the remainder of my days on the surface of the planet:

I am in a crowded ballroom. The night is young and there are many curious guests to meet. The champagne is decent and the hors d’oeuvres plentiful. I am feeling a modest flush of pleasure as I finish my second flute of champagne. A faint whiff of lavender reaches my nose. Somewhere a string quartet plays the usual chestnuts from the chamber repertoire, competent but not compelling. Every hour an army of messengers is dispatched by the host to inform half of the remaining players—for we are all part of a large party game—that they are no longer in the running. As it happens, most elect to resume eating and drinking and mingling with the other guests. The assortment of characters runs the full gamut of humanity—ambassadors to busboys, industrialists to file clerks, university professors to charwomen—all decked out in crisp formal attire. The host has provided the evening wear for the guests. All that distinguishes one from another are the details of coiffure, a decorative cummerbund, a sash, a shawl, a piece of jewelry, a manicure, a top hat. As the evening wears on I become increasingly aware that the herd is thinning. I realize that I have no idea what the point of the game is. At last a hush falls over the room.

It is nearly dawn and the final sortie of messengers is about to be dispatched among the revelers. They are to find one of the last two players and inform him of his status in the game. I suspect that I must be one of the two as the messengers have passed me by without a word in each of the previous hours. I swirl my drink, smile at the girl standing next to me and wait to see what happens. Suddenly a shot rings out. All eyes are on a middle-aged man in a blood-spattered tuxedo who has fired a bullet into his own head. The small revolver is still in his hand. As he lies dying I rush over to see the man, apparently the other remaining contestant, just in time to hear him mutter his last words, “I couldn’t stand the suspense.” The paramedics whisk him away into a waiting ambulance. As the siren fades in the distance, conversation among the guests picks back up in a gradual crescendo from hushed tones to an occasional ripple of muffled laughter. At an unseen signal from the host the quartet resumes play. But I have no idea what to do or say. No messengers fly out of the wings. The host is nowhere in sight. It occurs to me for the first time that I know no one in the room. A thousand previously unconsidered questions come flooding to mind, but I hesitate to engage any of the other guests in my speculation. I am fairly certain that they all have been eliminated in the game, but I remain uncertain of the significance of that fact. My modest flush of pleasure has been replaced by a faint prickle of apprehension. I turn back to make a carefully considered remark to the girl who was standing next to me, but she is gone…

*      *      *      *      *

Trade continues among the new feudal lords. Human flesh is cheap. I should know. The downside of being a ‘house singer’ for a rich sociopath. The ‘radical’ #MeToo movement has long since faded in the rearview mirror. My family has managed to eke out a subsistence on account of the fact that both of my parents can read. My father forces himself to keep up the family business after my mother dies, though he hasn’t the heart for much else. Citizens from villages within a fifty mile radius come to our house to ask him to read their tax bills. Of course it’s only the poor proletarian chumps who have to pay taxes. The fear of the dire consequences of missing a tax payment inspires their grudging appreciation for the lost art of reading. In exchange, my father accepts produce, barnyard animals, clothing, furniture, tools, farm implements, building supplies. And occasional found objects of exceptional beauty. That had been my mother’s department, but he keeps the collection going in her honor. Beauty. There are no real amenities in our brittle no-tech society. The infrastructure implodes. The shared power grids have long since crashed under a series of withering cyber attacks. Nation upon nation, corporation upon corporation. Roving bands of cyber-mercenaries and internet privateers orchestrate the takedowns for the highest bidders. The inheritors of the original Aquarian masters have gone off the grid long before its final coup de grâce. Telecommunication is reduced to messages relayed among electronic devices cleaving to their lords’ and masters’ whims. The ability to travel is preserved by algorithmic communication among vehicles that fly, crawl and swim untouched by human hands.

*      *      *      *      *

But 2009, the very year the chips are set up for the Aquarians to sweep them off the table fifty years later, something else is afoot. Something much more profoundly disruptive to the social fabric than the backroom machinations that deprive John Q. Public of that most basic element, water. The lynchpin of the anti-democratic movement that eventually sweeps the oligarchs into absolute power, the bold move that more than any other single event seals the deal between the oligarchs and plutocrats. The virtual coup d’état. The sequella of the illness in the body politic that will persist until The Redemption. What is the massive fiscal sleight of hand perpetrated by the henchman of the Fortune 100 fat cats? The judicial takedown of the electoral process—Citizens United. It is the honest-to-God tipping point, cinched that same fateful year, twenty ought nine. That’s when the blinkers get pulled over the eyes of the American electorate never again to be removed. Two thousand nine, the year we see the stimulus package sucked irretrievably into the insatiable maw of the politico-fiduciary complex.

♠     ♠     ♠

 The reader is instructed to proceed directly to Chapter 3: At Black Market.

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; in New Mexico Review and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tank of hyperactive fish. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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