Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Much darkness, little light.
Chapter 1: Dawn of the Aquarians
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 told through the eyes of a redeemed soule looking back upon the epoch of her birth into that drear world. She doth likewise gaze upon events both froward and rearward in time.
I’ll take my words straight, unadorned, naked letters standing in the stark white wilderness, stripped bare of connections, 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 stood leaning 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 remained 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 and splay open the hard shell, an unwholesome snack for the wandering eye. 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.
* * *
I am reincarnated as the middle daughter of my youngest grandchild, Eliza. Mother recognizes in me a familiar sense of humor in her toddler’s mischief. I can see it in the way she sometimes gives me a squinting sideways look. 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 the 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 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 one hundred eighty two years away.
I’m a towhead, blue eyes, applecheeks and all. An evil time. Each of the major cartels has cordoned off the regional water supplies through “exclusive use” contracts negotiated by the politicals that they bought and paid for. The unsuspecting populace has been kept in the dark as usual, until it’s too late. Politics, a deadly distraction. All but a small cadre of cognoscenti have been fooled about the real business at hand. The business conducted in back rooms over encrypted networks by a cabal of oligarchs. The hospital where Ben was born only has water on the first three floors. It was all they could squeeze out of the local Aquarian authority. Obstetrics is on the seventh floor. The oligarchs and plutocrats have their own private health services, ‘research institutes’, founded for the purpose of syphoning off healthcare dollars from the federal budget for their own personal use. The devolution of The National Institutes of Health is thorough and heartbreaking. Its final vestige is a mere conglomeration of public-private ‘partnerships’ plucked from the ashes by their corporate overlords. Oversight was abolished through a series of deft ‘emergency’ political initiatives. Every government watchdog program had the rug pulled out from under it. The hell of it was that most Americans happily left 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 stood fists balled, at the foot of my dying mother’s hospital bed, witness to the surge of puerperal fever engulfing the maternity ward.
* * *
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.”
* * *
Childbed fever, its 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 was 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 sweet Eliza—my granddaughter, my mother—is just another casualty of the Water Wars.
* * *
Few shots were fired, though armed surveillance posses hemmed 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 the known sources of potable water world wide were syphoned up by a handful of powerful corporate bloodsuckers, most in the guise of quasi-governmental entities, the Aquarian Institutes. Water Conservation. By that time people were anaesthetized by the political doublespeak that labeled the stealing of precious resources as ‘conservation’. Some joker actually proposed importing moon water, first discovered that same fateful year, 2009, by a space mission from India. Imagine the entrepreneurial possibilities! Some of the 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 wasn’t about to part with her booty for the likes of earthlings. And the desalination train, once the great green hope, had been derailed. Billionaires stared down from their citadel dinner parties, exploiting desalination for drinks in their heavily guarded cocktail lounges, as they dumped the environmental cost on the neighboring peasantry. Once HR 909 passed the House and Senate, the ink from President Norquist’s pen not yet dried, sorties of armed attorneys swept the last bit of Eden off the globe. Little remained in the hands of foreign governments, but the multinational boards were heavy with money men and had the power to ‘privatise’ any and all. Companies like Nestle and Coca Cola jumped. They snapped 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’, were settled without bloodshed. The private paramilitaries stood down and peace did guide the planet.
* * *
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Stimulus Package. Rewind the clock to the fifty year set up for the Aquarian takeover. 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 was signed into law on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. Just three days after a mystical Valentine’s Day. The New Age pundits declared the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Jupiter aligned with Mars, and all that blah blah blah. They were part right. It was the beginning of the end of free water. Buried deep within the bill was a bonanza that eventually landed in 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. Peanuts. But seed money enough, with the free labor of the Corps of Engineers, to ‘secure and protect’ every drop of water that bubbled out of Mother Earth. I was standing in the street next to my pregnant mother. She was crouched like prey. I held her hand as her entire body convulsed with sobs. I looked up at her face as she covered her mouth in horror and I followed her gaze. The Aquarian paramilitary had come to seize our village’s only well. A carefully kept secret that had survived the Water Wars undetected. Some well-paid snitch had turned in the whole village. The reprisal was swift and straightforward—no more fresh water for Clarion PA. A lingering death for those families with no kompromat to trade on, no protexia swag. The same thing had happened down in Ligonier.
I remember Ligonier. Grove Run Spring in Linn Run State Park, where my grandparents of the last incarnation used to take me. The benefit of the view from The Redemption. The delightful shock of fresh water tapped from deep underground, a spring in the heart of the mountain. My eyes sparkle as it glugs ice cold into the bottles we bring. In my lifetime as a towheaded little girl, the spring was swallowed up in the reconsolidation of the Mellon holdings under the aegis of the Western Pennsylvania Aquarian Master. A secretive HMO billionaire, his major civic contribution was 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 had also laid the groundwork for total unmitigated environmental catastrophe. The Waxman-Markey bill was smothered in its cradle by a coven of US senators, never to see the light of cap and trade. The Feds withdrew from all international environmental protection treaties. The EPA funded research to prove that Global Warming was a hoax. Protecting Mother Earth from rape just wasn’t in the cards. By the time of the complete collapse of the ecosystem, fifty years after the 2009 Recovery Act was signed into law, the intended benefactors of the Water Conservation Act of 2059 were sitting pretty with their hands in the till. The kingdom of the water-bearers was a done deal. Anarchy and oligarchy: the black and white keys on which the Neo con artists played the Republic.
* * *
CONDENSATE. It is the bureaucrats who are the magician’s assistants. The nefesh, the nafs, the po. No matter the 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, 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 information. 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 Yitro]
* * *
The Aquarians were only errand boys for the impending Dark Age. The coffin of civic consciousness was nailed shut by the hammer of electronic disinformation. That was the handiwork of corporate boogiemen, government agents and lone sociopaths. The Rise of the Trolls. Truth drowned in a deluge of ‘alternate facts’. The God of the Spirits of all Flesh displaced by algorithms. Algorithms which reached directly into the minds of every woman Jill and her Jack, tickling the psyche with subthreshold conversation, the great Adversary himself whispering in every ear, indistinguishable from the voice of humans from whom his logic was stolen. The underground troll network generated obscene wealth for their rarified crew, largely through the resale of metadata ‘belonging’ to their witless subscribers. There was the Queen of Trolls, who dubbed herself Dr. Illuminatus, and her minions the Illuminati. They pulled 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’d whisper, your neighbors are plotting against you, hate them. And those who didn’t rise to the clickbait were offered tastier and tastier earworms. Fra Lullo’s fourteenth century ‘app’, Ars Magnus, repurposed for the 21st century. A sinister logic tree, the one for converting heathens to Christians, the other, every citizen a cannibal. Plus ca change. The Post-Industrial Dark Age shrouded humanity in dense intellectual silence as the world descended into oligarchic feudalism.
* * *
My Uncle Harrison, a self-taught man of letters, lived in a farmhouse he had built with his own hands up the mountain on Lover’s Leap Road in Leechburg. An early adopter of solar energy, he was off the grid in every way possible. Before Ben was born we’d visit with Uncle Harry pretty often. I’d sit at his knee and listen to him preach his gentle gospel of self-sufficiency. Beautiful ancient printed books communed with each other on every wall of Uncle Harrison’s modest bungalow. His nearest neighbors viewed him with some suspicion. He had no use for the weekly Aquarian pep rallies. His absence there was noted. And what did he want with all those books anyway? Rocks were hurled through Uncle Harry’s windows in the middle of the night. But he never thought it would amount to more than that. He didn’t own anything of value other than his books. Well over three quarters of the county’s population were illiterate. They had no more use for the written word than they did for each other. No matter, every year on Earth Day, Uncle Harry would stand on his front porch and orate. His chosen tract, The Prayer of the Creatrix from The Aquarian Bible, an ancient anonymous work of ecospirituality. Some thought Harry wrote it himself. Some believed it went all the way back to Adam. He read slowly, with many a dramatic pause and flourish. He would cease to read altogether at times, waiting for the spirit of oration to return to his larynx as he scanned the scrawny wood, the surviving cattails, the dull eyes and stopped ears. It took many a long and luxurious hour. But noone in the crowd of dozens of unwashed souls ever complained. They sat on picnic blankets spread out in the meadow behind Harry’s house, where the wild turkey used to strut before their extinction, taking in the annual Uncle Harrison Show. Neither would anyone stir, but all sat in rapt attention, whether they understood a word Harry said or not, as the liquid phrases tumbled 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 coating 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 descended. 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, the bad smell 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 took Harry down. Trashed and burned his farmhouse with every book in it and lynched him on the spot, no questions asked. Hatred, pure and simple. There was no talk of justice. The constabulary’s sole job was the protection of the local oligarch’s property. My family wasn’t in the business of revenge. It wasn’t even clear exactly who had done the heinous deed. We suspected the local Aquarian had a hand in it. We mourned Harry quietly, in the privacy of our heavily shuttered home. Harry’s death was a microcosm of what had been happening at all levels of society. Knives were out, the unthinkable happened. Massive system-wide apoptosis, the programmed self-annihilation of everything. The government was finally shrunk small enough so that the ‘Invisible Hand’ could strangle it and drown it in the bathtub. The skeletal remains of civic governance were buried with little ceremony.
The plutocrats had no reason to share their technobooty with the hoi polloi as they withdrew into their castles keep. Some of the billionaire social phobes unselfconsciously declared 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 sent 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 could not handle the flood of paperwork generated by these gratuitous inquiries. Ha ha hee hee, boys will be boys. Billionaire anarchists clearing the deck for their eventual hostile takeover. The ‘unimproved’ territory between Aquarian fiefdoms deteriorated into barren wilderness barely fit for human habitation. The internet went dark. It would be another lifetime before my soul once again saw the clear light of day. I got lucky, I guess. Got a job as a singer in the ‘house band’ for the local Aquarian. Years after Uncle Harry was killed I started having a recurring dream 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 interesting 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 sent among the revelers. They are to find the last two players and inform them of their status in the game. I suspect that I may 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 that I know noone 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 continued among the new feudal lords. Human flesh was cheap. I should know. The downside of being a ‘house singer’ for a rich sociopath. My family had managed to eak out a subsistence on account of the fact that both of my parents could read. My father forced himself to keep up the family business after my mother died, though he hadn’t the heart for much else. Citizens from villages within a fifty mile radius would come to our house to ask him to read their tax bills. Of course it was only the poor proletarian chumps who had to pay taxes. The fear of the dire consequences of missing a tax payment inspired their grudging appreciation for the lost art of reading. In exchange, my father accepted produce, barnyard animals, clothing, furniture, tools, farming implements. And occasional found objects of exceptional beauty. That had been my mother’s department, but he kept the collection going in her honor. Beauty. There were no real amenities in our brittle no-tech society. The infrastructure imploded. The shared power grids had long since crashed under a withering series of cyber attacks. Nation upon nation, corporation upon corporation. Roving bands of cybermercenaries and internet privateers orchestrated the takedowns for the highest bidders. The inheritors of the original Aquarian masters had gone off the grid long before its final coup de gras. Telecommunication was reduced to messages relayed among electronic devices cleaving to their lords’ and masters’ whims. The ability to travel was preserved by algorithmic communication among vehicles which flew, crawled and swam untouched by human hands.
But in 2009, the very year the chips were set up for the Aquarians to sweep them off the table, something else was afoot. Something much more profoundly disruptive to the social fabric than the backroom machinations that deprived John Q. Public of that most basic element, water. The lynchpin of the anti democratic movement that eventually swept the oligarchs into absolute power, the bold move that more than any other single event sealed the deal between the oligarchs and plutocrats. The virtual coup d’état. What was 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 was the honest-to-God tipping point, cinched that same fateful year, twenty ought nine. That’s when the blinkers got pulled over the eyes of the American electorate never to be removed again. Two thousand nine, the year the stimulus package was sucked irretrievably into the insatiable maw of the politico-fiduciary complex.