Teleported to a Secret American Military Base
Episode 13 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11, and 12. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
Finally the afternoon heat started to fade. As soon as the sun struck the distant mountains, cool blue shadows washed along the desert floor and insects emerged from their hiding places, swarming over me, drinking the sweat on my face, stinging my neck.
At dusk I stopped singing, content to listen to the songbirds and watch dozens of swallows which materialized out of nowhere, dipping and swerving high up in the last of the light. Several white-tailed deer were feeding nearby, one of them with an ornate rack of antlers. Something startled them and they took off, their fluffy tails erect.
That night of a million stars, long after it had grown cold and still, a big rattlesnake, its spade-shaped head raised above the ground, appeared and wrapped itself around my neck. I remained perfectly still, breathing as slowly and evenly as possible, wondering what my heartbeat meant to the snake, wondering if it was going to puncture my jugular vein and drink my blood. For a long time it lay coiled around me soaking up my warmth, its forked tongue emerging from its mouth now and then, until a rustling in the bushes caught its attention and it slithered off dragging its rattle.
Then the rodents came, several deer mice followed by a kangaroo rat with long hind legs. He bolted away from me and approached again, nervously sniffing the air, his body quivering. Finally he took a shot at biting me and I roared, "Get lost!" He zoomed off into the sagebrush.
I must have shouted louder than I realized because, as if in response, I heard the unearthly yelps of coyotes in the distance. Quickly they drew near, their harsh, high-pitched cries surging and mingling in the cold air. I stared off into the night, focusing on the faraway mountains, preparing myself for the end. And here they came, six of them, pale and thin and wary, circling me, stopping, sizing me up in silence before they erupted in cries again. The hair stood up on the back of my head.
"Holy Spirit, spirit of the universe, I call on you. Take me if you must. But let me go out as a warrior, wrapped in your radiant arms. Show me your light, your splendor."
They were barking furiously now. In spite of myself, tears ran down my cheeks as two of the animals surged forward snarling. I gagged from the smell of their fur, yeasty and sharp. Snapping furiously, they leaped into my face. Blood surged into my brain, blinding me until light flooded everything.
Suddenly I was re-living -- for the first time in how long? --my big dream. I plunged off the rainslick sea cliff into space, totally unafraid. Transformed into a luminous energy field, white light shooting up my spine, I was released once again from my self-image, from my stories and rationalizations, my reactivity. I laughed aloud. That brazen sun-faced being blossomed again inside me. Buttery golden light streamed out of eyes and ears and mouth, flooding the sagebrush and pinyon and juniper.
"I AM the universe!"
Then I heard the coyotes say, "He's still awake, he must be stopped. Still awake, must be stopped."
I was yanked furiously out of the ground, the damp sand erupting in all directions. Hundreds of fingers needled swiftly over my body, cleansing me of earth and urine and feces. Acrid metallic breath blew across my face and I realized that the coyotes had surrendered to something else, to entities far removed from the animal realm. Another order of being was ministering to me now, those hundreds of fingers knitting themselves into a hammock-like net and lifting me up to the stars. We approached a ship shaped like a cupola, a copper-colored dome floating in space. Sucked inside, I nearly fainted when I found myself surrounded by dozens of narrow columnar beings without arms or legs, multi-colored neon batons dancing in space with pinpricks for eyes and ears and mouth. But how could I call those holes eyes and ears and mouth? How could I say their sense organs corresponded to mine? Wasn't that just my human mind frantically assembling another story?
"You see our traces everywhere but you rarely see our faces," they said. "Our traces but not our faces."
Clucking and gabbing, they crowded around me full of curiosity. Even though they had no arms or legs I felt those supersonic fingers again -- what else to call them? -- invisibly prodding my cheeks and stomach and ass, lifting my eyelids, opening my mouth, pinching my skin.
Then all the columns disappeared and I was alone in a cold, empty chamber. The ship took off, throwing me to the floor, and I began counting.
"One-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three..."
Six seconds went by. The floor opened underneath me and I tumbled into space. Nothing around me except those voices.
"He's still awake, he must be stopped. Still awake, must be stopped."
I hovered in the nighttime sky looking down at an enormous military base that seemed to go on forever. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I saw large tents and rows of trailers, anti-aircraft guns and tanks, armored personnel carriers and fighter planes, piles of ordnance, all of it expanding beyond the horizon. And hurrying through the shadows, soldiers and black-clad figures carrying automatic weapons.
Dry and rasping, the voices whispered in my ear, "Welcome to the new America, sweet earthling. There's more here than meets the eye. More than meets the eye. Top secret, top secret. No light must escape into the world. No light. Let's see how much you can take."
"Let's see how much he can take," they chortled. "How much he can take before he falls asleep."
"Before he falls asleep again," they corrected one another, laughing and laughing.
I was whisked along the main thoroughfare past enclosures surrounded by hurricane fence. Finally we came to a long, high, airplane-hangar-like building. The checkpoint leading to its entrance seethed with a crowd of military police as dense as bees at the portal of a hive. Further afield, more soldiers and black-clad agents patrolling with automatic weapons.
"The new America," the voices whispered. "Try not to judge or put on airs."
"Please," they said. "The new America. Don't judge or put on airs." Then they added, "And the new Americans! They think they're in charge but little do they know."
"Little do they know! Their skills are unsurpassed. Skills unsurpassed. But the vision thing, that's our territory. Vision thing, our territory. Because they have no idea what's coming. No idea!"
"Sh-sh-sh, don't spill the beans. Don't tell everything. Not beans, not everything. Then we'll have to dispose of his body. A crying shame because he's sort of cute."
"Dispose of his body. Sort of cute."
Stark naked, I approached the building wondering what would happen when I was spotted but the military police made way for me as if I belonged. I paused, looking up at a banner which hung above the entrance: "GRAB WHOM YOU MUST, DO WHAT YOU WANT."
One of the black-clad agents separated himself from the rest and walked over to me. A lean-faced man with a ready smile, he saluted smartly and said, "Hello, sir. My name is Virgil. Let me show you around. We're about to enter the research end of things."
Noticing that I was staring at the banner, he added, "Yeah, kind of says it all, doesn't it? That used to be guidance for special operatives like me. No traceability and no budget. But it's become the motto for everyone. Nothing's allowed to stand in the way of Operation Complete Control."
We strolled into the monumental, open structure, its rafters barely visible high above us. Divided into brightly lit aisles which receded into the distance, the space felt like a convention center except for the air of absolute concentration which hung over everything.
In one aisle I glimpsed a line of placid, cud-chewing cows. Male and female figures in white lab coats leaned over and scraped the bellies of the animals with flat metal implements, dropping curls of skin and hair onto a conveyor belt. In the aisle next to them, hundreds of pink and white piglets, blind and squealing almost soundlessly, squirmed out from under the reach of their handlers who nevertheless applied their scrapers with patient exactitude. In the following aisle, the same procedure took place with a procession of dark-skinned, pre-teen girls dressed in patched, faded saris. Barefoot, they stared into space with trusting smiles. In another aisle I saw a line of musclebound black and white American males, naked except for jock straps and shoulder pads. Their game faces on, they lay spreadeagled on the floor looking up into the rafters with raw aggression. "Erase the motherfuckers," one snarled. "Cream their butts," another called out. In the next aisle, fierce New Guinea highlanders wearing bark loincloths and splinters of bone through their noses held long wooden spears in one hand and sleek new laptops in the other. They lay down their spears and picked up piping-hot cheeseburgers which they tore apart with their teeth and devoured. Dress shirts and striped ties sprouted on their chests. In the time it took me to inhale and exhale, their thick, kinky hair dropped out of their heads, their faces turned ashen and slack, and spare tires appeared around their midriffs. Finally I saw tableau after tableau of blond, rosy-cheeked Madonna and Child figures dressed in pre-industrial European costume. Each was positioned slightly differently on plain wooden chairs. Their angelic features had been softened to a pleasing glow. The unconditional love passing between mother and child melted my heart. Their handlers gingerly stepped around them removing a piece of skin here, a ringlet there.
"Modifying these creatures will allow us to turn all the grazing land on the planet into one gigantic pharmaceutical farm. The skin of whatever lives and breathes turned into factories for the manufacture of every drug we'll ever need. And not only the grazing land, of course," Virgil said, gesturing at the line of girls. "For our multinational project, we need workers all over the world who are docile, intelligent, and conformist. Why spend a generation educating them when we can have what we need in the time it takes for a single cell to reproduce?"
He stopped himself. "Again, no news to you, sir, I'm sure. Culling animals and plants for the production of antibiotics or new viruses or streamlined body parts is common knowledge, even if most people think it's slated for sometime in the future. Little do they know."
Little do they know...
"Little do you know," I said, glancing up through the rafters toward the sky, but he didn't hear me. In spite of what I was witnessing I still felt a surge of sympathy for Virgil. He went on enthusiastically, oblivious of what was in store for him and everyone else in this place.
No idea what's coming. No idea.
"Even full-on cloning," he gushed, "which in the media is still being debated as if it's decades away. Well, guess what, sir. We're already there. The thing that no one on the outside can conceive of is -- how shall I put it?"
He looked me up and down before continuing.
"Genetics in, eugenics out. That's our real game plan," he said meaningfully.
He guided me to an enclosure in the middle of the building, a sort of chamber within a chamber. More grim-eyed security blocked our way. Virgil breezily waved them off and we entered.
Once my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting inside I had to suppress a desire to vomit. A line of people--"the recalcitrants," Virgil called them--were being snuffed out right in front of me. Hooded figures dressed in black proceeded down the line applying a sort of electric wand to one person after another. Erect and full of life up to that point, they instantly crumpled to the floor.
He looked into my eyes. "You all right, sir? This part can be disconcerting, I know."
"I'm fine, soldier."
"Good. Because genetics in, eugenics out, remember? Our crowning achievement," he announced proudly. "The new Americans!"
When they had reached the end of the line the hooded entities returned to the beginning. They bent down and affixed small transdermal patches to forearm after forearm. One after another the dead came back to life. As they slowly got to their feet and stared straight ahead without noticeable affect, I saw bar codes flickering on their foreheads.
Trembling, I managed to ask, "What's in those patches?"
"Oh, SSRI effluents, chemotherapy effluents, personal care product residues, antibiotics. Petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. All the endocrine disruptors that are winding up in our rivers and soil by the ton, changing the hormonal balance of the general population. Turning all of us into another species. Except here we've speeded up the process, refined it by using homoeopathic doses of the stuff. Like the guys who were hard to manage? Now their testes are filled to bursting with eggs. And the others -- male and female -- who maybe lacked initiative, the layabouts and slackers? Now they're full of new ideas. Altogether this crew will wake up docile, intelligent, and conformist. Similar to the Hindu maidens outside, only these folks weren't innocents stuck in some cultural backwater. They were America's misfits and rebels, the ones who kept acting up even after they'd been given fair warning, even after their jobs were taken away, their homes repossessed. Even after their marriages fell apart. It's really day and night, isn't it, sir? Talk about being born again! This is the true River Jordan. And science," he added worshipfully, "that's the new gospel."
As we stepped out into the relative fresh air of the larger structure around us, he said, "Genetic engineering doesn't have to stop at cloning sheep or making tomatoes that can grow in North Dakota. We're operating on another level here. We're reconfiguring people's thoughts. Instead of having to rely on advertising and public relations, we just re-program whoever gives us grief. Behavior modification at the cellular level. Citizens in possession of precisely the beliefs we need them to have. When that's a done deal, well, just imagine. No more struggling with cantankerous, cranky mindsets, with the loose cannons rolling around in people's heads that cause problems for us. No more weird-ass, antiquated Islam or sniffy labor movements or quaint, outmoded Geneva Conventions. No-"
He was interrupted by a high-pitched, undulating siren. The handlers working in the aisles dropped their scrapers. Earpiece-wearing Secret Service in business suits materialized all around us. Over the loudspeakers came an authoritative male voice.
"Attention please! Form ranks and stand at ease. We have a very special group of visitors arriving."
Everyone immediately assembled into rows while two soldiers rushed onto a little stage near Virgil and me and set up microphone stands. Then one of the walls slid open to reveal a big black helicopter noisily touching down on the tarmac outside.
As a swiftly moving entourage of officials and security swept into the building, a three-star general grabbed one of the microphones and boomed, "Ladies and gentlemen of the armed forces, let's give a rousing, down-home welcome to our Secretary of Defense and the Vice-President of the United States of America!"
To a deafening chorus of cheers, yells, and whistles the two men bounded onto the stage. While Dick, dressed in a grey business suit and blue tie, cooly surveyed the crowd, Dan appeared to be at the far edge of excitement. He wore freshly pressed battle fatigues and black paratrooper boots. His wire-rimmed eyeglasses dancing in the lights, he pumped his fists in the air, his craggy face fractured by a big grin.
"Yeah!" he shouted. "Yeah! What a thrill it is for the Vice-President and me to be able to visit you brave folks laboring secretly here at the frontier of the possible. If we could tell them about it, the American people would be as proud as we are of the work you're doing. While your brothers and sisters will soon be risking their lives in Iraq to make the world safe for democracy, you're engaged in something equally important: how we're all going to be living tomorrow. Because as you know, nothing stands in the way of Operation Complete Control. America has the worst enemies in the history of the universe. Thanks to you we're doing what's necessary to turn them into pussycats."
Delighted laughter ricocheted around the building.
Dropping his grin, Dan added somberly, "But we're also here, the Vice-President and I, to remind you that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. In spite of the isolation of this base in the middle of the desert, in spite of the state-of-the-art security we've provided for you, you never know when a dirty, despicable turncoat might attempt to worm his way into your midst. All of you must remain on red alert. The well-being of our great country demands nothing less."
Clapping an arm around Dick's shoulders, he said, "And now, I'm sure the Vice-President would like to say a few words. God bless you and keep researching!"
Scanning the ranks with his crooked smile, Dick took the microphone and opened his mouth, the black and white lines of a bar code briefly appearing on his forehead. Then he spotted me.
"Mr. Secretary," he said evenly, "the Good Lord works in mysterious ways. It looks like we have an interloper in our midst at this very moment."
A collective gasp drowned out all other sound until, his voice rising abruptly, Dick shrieked as he pointed at me, "Yes, there's a Judas among us! Worse than a terrorist, he's a traitor. Get him. Kill him. Cut his head off and feed it to the coyotes!"
I bent down and touched the red braid around my left ankle. "Protect me," I whispered. I saw the dead space in the middle of Dick's chest, caved in on itself, devoid of life. The man with the frozen heart.
"You're so sick you don't even have the decency to warn people about what's coming before it's too late," I called out.
Dan turned to the Vice-President. "What's coming?"
"Off with his fucking head!"
Spitting in my face, Virgil reached for the revolver tucked inside his pants.
"You nameless prick. The way you carried yourself, I was sure you were brass. Now it's five years of cleaning out latrines for me if I don't bang your ass dead."
Sharpen your intention like a knife.
I held his glance. "You're alone, Virgil. No matter how tough you are. All alone. And what's more, you're not seeing me. You have no idea where you really are. Look at me! Touch me!"
I seized his free hand and guided it down to my cock. His gun falling to the floor, he stood there riveted to the spot as I stroked myself with his hand. Winking at him, I turned and ran. An otherworldly wail escaped from my lips. Shapeshifting into a magnet with the opposite charge of everyone around me, I bounced away from countless military uniforms and lab coats surmounted by pair after pair of panicky eyes.
Not allowing the possibility of being stopped to enter my mind, I tore through the open space from which Dick and Dan had entered as bullets hissed and whined around my head.
Vaulting a fence topped with electrified wire, sparks exploding from my heels, I flew across the desert. My feet skimmed above the sand as I rocketed into darkness, zooming through sagebrush and around trees and boulders, my arms and legs jabbed by cactus thorns whenever I lost my concentration.
Moments later I was standing in front of the elevator. Without hesitation this time I reached out and pressed the UP button.
Polished metal doors slid open and I leaped inside. Punching GROUND over and over, I called out, "Where are you? Where are you?"
"Pipe down," the eagle commanded. "What are you trying to do, wake the dead?"
Out of breath, the pupils of my eyes dilated, I examined my reflection in the mirror of Georgia's cramped, little bathroom. I picked several thorns out of my flesh and flushed them down the toilet. Sighing as I bent over and touched the red yarn around my ankle, I longed to be sitting with Rosa and Manuel in their garden, eating and drinking and singing, far from Fortress America's fever dream. But first I had something to do. I retrieved the yoga pants and embroidered shirt which lay crumpled in the corner and put them on my bruised body. Here and there, spots of red blossomed through the white material.
From down in the street I heard the sound of a car alarm, then another. I ran into the bedroom. Georgia rolled over in her sleep. She was smiling.
I shook her awake and said urgently, "We have to leave right now. Entities you wouldn't want to meet might be showing up here at any moment. I can't explain. Just trust me."
She rubbed her eyes.
"What are you talking about? What happened to you? Your face is as red as a lobster's. And there's blood on your arms and legs."
"Georgia. Get moving. Please."
While she dressed I found my white parka and threw it over my shoulders. Standing perfectly still I stared into space.
"Be sure to wear your winter boots," I said. "We're heading out."
Image by Abraxas3D, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet