By the time you get to Christian Heaven,|
you'll be wishin' to GOD you'd made it to SubGenius Hell.
"Bob" sold it|
I bought it.
That settles it!
After the destruction of Akron (and the rest of Northern Ohio) in the aliens' sneak attack on Christmas Eve, I'd seen the spray-paint on the wall and prepared. I had my Church to thank for that. Originally, the pancultural SubGenius religion had appealed to my alienated sense of humor, long dulled by the desensitized asylum that was life in the Rubber City. I joined up, first becoming a Convert Op, then a Dogma Sprout, finally worming my way up through the DobbsHeads to Overbaiter Prime. I went to Dokstock. I did it all, new family, new hairdo, new TV.
But... then it all started to come true. With every passing year, the Light of "Bob" became a little less funny and a lot more trouble. All the sick things I had envisioned as merely humorous black commentary on the stewing, devolved culture us (HA!) Earthoid primitives had trapped ourselves with was coming to pass! Every collective fear, learned long-ago in filthy caves from supposedly benevolent aliens, every Church Rant and OutreachBurst of irrational, auto-hysteric spouting, every prophetic utterance, every drop from the dried-up teat of the Great Dogma of us all was coming to life with dream-like precision. Now that Jesus was stomping about, who could argue?
As previously arranged, Doug Smith and I met up in Chicago, at Pope Flores' place. The Pope was long gone, off to Dobbstown at the first sign of trouble. Being populated mostly by atheists and drug addicts, Chicago had made it through the Rapture, barely, but the same couldn't be said for the economic federation it had belonged to. The United States of America had collapsed along with most western nations in The Shakeup, as it was popularly known. The continental U.S. was dissolving into a haphazard arrangement of warring city-states, oddball political territories, private kingdoms, military dictatorships and corporate control systems, all at each others' throats, fighting for the scraps of power and technology that hadn't yet been destroyed.
Smith had then first revealed to me my true role in the galactic sting taking place on what turned out to be a rented planet -- not even ours! We decided to travel together, making our goal the flying saucer Doug claimed he had buried under the main temple in Texas. The last two months had seen us zig-zag across the Midwest, evading various martial law roundups and relocation camps, heading for Dallas. HOME. But I was getting tired.
One last stop, Smith had promised. A Church board of directors meeting had been called to discuss cutting a deal with the aliens, we couldn't miss it.
And so, in a blast-proof Temple-Clinic in Free Fire Zone 554--St. Louis, Missouri, I was about to meet the infamous Ivan Stang face to face.
Nervously, I paced back and forth in Dr. Drummond's waiting room, raising the gun blinds to glance out the window slits at the burning buildings every few moments. I felt naked without my old riot-pump, there'd been a gun check at the clinic door and the receptionist was very insistent but I'd managed to hold onto the rocket pistol. It was some kind of security, anyway. I heard an occasional car blow up, off in the distance by the river. The fire storm was hurling cinders every now and then against the thermal plastic with a thin, brittle sound that sent shivers up and down my back.
Across the room, Doug Smith sat blankly leafing though a Church pamphlet he had dug out of a stack of Hi-Lights magazines on the coffee table. "How can you be so ass-scratching calm about all this?" I wanted to screech at him, to throttle his skinny neck in my hands, but I already knew by heart what his sing-song answer would be. It was amazing, considering what Dobbs had put him through.
"I'm sure it's just a false alarm, Paul," he had told me again that morning over a scavaged breakfast of canned cat-tuna and warm Gatorade in a drainage ditch just outside of town.
Well, that was what "Bob" had written in the Book, too, but somehow, it failed to reassure me.
"And what if it isn't?" I had demanded angrily, "Then what?"
Doug had frowned. "You must learn to trust "Bob", Paul. Have faith. If this is His will, then He will give us the slack to accept it. Or you can kill me."
What a temptation lay in that offer! I flopped back onto the tattered, orange vinyl couch, next to Smith. The air-conditioner kicked on with a sick grind as the wall began to heat up.
If only Doug knew! I had lost my faith on that long-ago, warm November afternoon, out on the grassy knoll that overlooks the Plaza. There were the tourists on the banked hill. The whole crowd had turned as one at the sound of the First Shot, solemn and respectful. The women red-eyed and the men in their dark suits, looking still and uncomfortable under the hot television lights. Doug himself had delivered the Presidents' eulogy. "Bob" had a plan, he told us in a firm voice. It was not for us to question the ritual slaughter of the actor-politician. Or we could kill him. But I had stared angrily into the Black Limousine that day. I cursed the ways of Doug's merciless and unintelligible God. One of these days someone would take up his dare.
Just then, Dr. Drummond's nurse appeared at the interior airlock, his throat vocorder announcing, "Reverend Smith and Mr. Mavrides? The Doctor is ready to see you now."
The dull echo of the Southern Navy xenon-bombs carried all the way down the corridor and the whole clinic shook in response to the thunder of their fighter jets coming in low. The nurse, a once swarthy Cuban weight-lifter, cursed them and led us to a tiny room toward the back of the shielded Quonset hut that Philo worked out of. The fellow wasn't a very positive testimonial to Dr. Drummond's healing powers or skill. I'm no medic, but he was obviously suffering from at least six of the major phage-weapon strains and would be dead in a matter of days. Still, he was cheerful. I made it a point not to get too close when I gave him his tip.
The door closed behind us with a click of the lock. Then, the clicking of several more locks. More than had been visible on the door frame when we had entered. A string of bare red light bulbs hung from the ceiling, which was only four and a half feet high. Both of us were forced to to bend over in a humiliating manner to avoid the lights. It hadn't seemed that small until the door shut behind us. I felt a lurch and heard the whine of a motor start up. Was this an elevator we were in? We seemed to be going down.
I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. In spite of everything I had done to get here, I wanted to leave -- to die, to just have it all be over and finished, forever. Dread blossomed and grew off the corners of everything. I felt dirty and cheap. The dim 25 watt bulbs cast an evil glow in the decending cube. The building shook again, and the lift stopped. The lights kept banging into my forehead, burning my hair if they touched against it, filling the space with the foul odor. They were far hotter than they should have been for that low a wattage. The fillings in my teeth began to hurt. My clothes smelled bad. My face was dirty. I needed a haircut. Something.
Smith looked affected by the change in mood, as well. He had wet his pants and lay curled up on the floor, banging his head against a plastic chair leg, the only piece of furniture in the incredibly claustrophobic "room." His convulsions made a nice pattern as he thumped away. Almost a cheap, Casio, chip-stick samba-beat. That Smith always did have musical talent.
Another lurch. Were we going down now or sideways? I was sinking to my knees. I heard my gun fall from my jacket to the floor and felt apathetic about retrieving it. Why bother? It was just my gun. So what? Why was I here? Now there was a mystery. Where was here, anyway? At least there was a nice drum beat.
I woke to the sound of thousands of angry bees swarming inside my head. Feeling nauseous and vaguely "high", I lay still for a second and kept my eyes closed, trying to listen to the voices I heard coming through the mental blizzard of white-noise. I could make out friend Smith having an argument with someone who punctuated Doug's always urgent tones with ugly laughter. My skin felt like it had been drenched in paint stripper. Hot, unpleasantly-scented air, mixed with the odor of burning Frop, was blowing softly across my face, making me gag.
"No use pretending you're out, Mavrides. Sit up and shake the third hand of the Only Hope You Have," demanded a rough, deep voice, "And when you're behind the lines, from now on at least try to look like a SubGenius. Take off that Pink slave-suit and act your nental-age before somebody grabs that disgusting tie and strangles you with it. Want a drink?."
Cracking my lids apart, I saw a rather imposing figure dressed in an expensive, grey three-piece before me, offering an oversized snifter of greenish liquid and puffing on a cigar-sized frop-stick. He looked like a heavy-set cross between James Bond and Mike Hammer, with dark, sunken eyes set off by a plastic nose that rode a thick, brown moustache. It could only be G. Gordon Gordon, the Church Head of Security, that was giving me this warm welcome. Smith had warned me about him back on the road, "meta-killer with a heart of gold" or some such crap. Gordon had been backstage at the Victoria Theater, the legend went. A dangerous fellow to cross, Smith said. Gordon worked both sides of the razor blade, his nervous system boosted by Conspiracy military med-tech, spine scraped out and replaced with meat-chips and the latest carbon-ceramic weapons systems in some secret underground Pentagon hospital. He always went heavily armed. I had heard from others that his instant fits of violent behavior were a horror to behold, but that he was equally capable of acts of irrational, saintly kindness.
I sat up painfully and took in my surroundings. I was seated deep in a black leather, executive chair in what appeared to be a left-over set from some cheap, Hollywood spy blow-out. A pale-grey concrete ceiling, covered in reinforced-metal beaming that looked like it could withstand a direct nuclear strike, rose in a dome over a luxurious, over-designed, pentagonal meeting room, tastefully lit by colored spots that threw green and red shadows over everything. The place looked like a bad comic book panel. My fully loaded Gyro-jet pistol, spare clips, money belt and packet of fake I.D.s were on a brushed copper, board-room table in front of me that ran in a crazy pattern around the hall. It could easily hold thirty or forty people at individual, computerized desk settings. Bowls of bright pills, a clear beaker of ice water and a single, black carnation were placed before each terminal.
Set flush with the floor against the nearest wall was an enormous pool filled with what could have been several tons of steaming Lime Jello. I could make out indistinct, dark shapes about the size of compact cars, slowly moving back and forth under the surface, their churning actions sending quivers throughout the emerald "gelatin". Another entire wall looked in on an equally large tank that was swirling with toxic-looking, dirty-yellow vapor. The inside of the tank window was splattered with bubbling, reddish-brown oil running down deep gouges and scratches in the plastic that had the look of powerful claw marks; the floor was covered with small, dark-grey pebbles and muddy, purple rock. The four remaining sides of our "executive corral" appeared to be seamless black plastic. There were no doors of any kind that I could observe.
"You going to drink this or are `Bowel Lifters' and `Screamers' more your style?" Gordon again pushed the glass into my face. I took it and then saw Dougs' grinning puss peering at me from over a padded shoulder. Twice. From over both of Gordons' shoulders. There were two Doug Smiths! This was really too much. I did need that drink. Grabbing the offered snifter from the ham-sized fist, I tossed half of it down without thinking and recognized the familiar, vile taste too late. I started to choke. The crystal slipped from my hands to the stainless-steel, tiled floor, shattering at my feet, splashing my legs with the thick, foul drink. The poisonous, bitter flavor brought bile up my throat and hunching forward, I started to spit up all over my boots.
"What is that shit? Love Canal water?" I gasped, trying to catch my breath. "God, it's like --"
"No need to be crude. If you don't want any, simply put it down, like any civilized, well-mannered jackass," teased the smirking Gordon, who sipped at a mason jar full of the stuff. "I guess ninety-proof Green Peyote Joy Jacker is a mans' drink. Sorry."
"Leave him alone, Gordon. He's not the enemy," cut in one of the Dougs, handing me a flask of water. "Can't you see how close it was for him? We're lucky there's no brain damage or I'd have another useless broom-pusher to take care of."
Patting my back as I gulped at the cool water, the Doug apologetically explained, "Never mind Security, here. We're all a little bit edgy. You both had a near thing coming down when our `special guest' took the drop shaft with you. All three of you just made it in under the shields. I'm afraid our little space buddies have found out about "Bob's" briefing today and now there's a bit of a hub-bub topside. We're safe enough for the moment. Oh, and don't worry about the `sunburn.' It won't happen again. The pain should go away in about a week. We had Dr. Drummond check you and Doug both out. If it gives you any trouble, just let us know. By the way, I'm Ivan."
It was incredible, Smith and Stang were identical twins. Almost. . . clones. Was it possible? How? Dopplegangers? Robots? Surgery? Magick? The visual similarities that the two SubGenii shared were unsettling.
"`Pears to be that I'm not the only one getting `burned' by Dobbs this time `round," Doug said, picking flakes of translucent skin from his cheeks and nose while staring icily at the impeccable Stang. "This is truly some goddamned Holy Shinola, I'd say, coming from my own `best friend', thank you so very much. Dr. Drummond doesn't know his foot-gland from his Oxfords. `Bob' almost toasted us like a couple of meat-filled pop-tarts back there. Look at poor Mavrides, his eyebrows are practically singed off," he added, gesturing in my direction.
Ivan Stang was dressed in a dapper, ice-white suit with matching ten-gallon hat and pointed, snakeskin cowboy boots, but his thick, plastic, horn-rim glasses exactly matched those of Doug Smith, standing there in a soiled, olive-drab jumpsuit next to him. Studying the twins more closely now, however, I began to see that the differences between them became more than just the matter of a shower and a good tailor.
Doug Smith showed the weight of a lifetime time spent in search of Dobbs' fabled SLACK, fighting for the SubGenius Right of the Wrong-Way. Doug had the gaze of the veteran grunts' thousand-yard stare, walked in a stooped over shuffle and had acquired a tobacco jones that left him wheezy and generally short of breath. He had lived a hard forty-five years, with most of the last decade spent in a Tampa maximum-security federal prison on trumped-up blasphemy violations.
Doug had been at "Bobs'" side from the late sixties, back in the early days, serving as go-between for Dobbs and his contacts in the New Left and later, the developing New Right. By 1978, dropping out of public view, he became the mysterious Stangs' ghost-writer, responsible for all the speeches, rants, ravings and most of The Book of the SubGenius, all presented as Stang's original thoughts and writings. Many people had assumed that Stang and Smith were one and the same. Smith had vanished and Stang had appeared, or rather, not appeared but seemingly created behind a scrim curtain of obscuring PR drek. The mysterious Stang never showed his face in public. There were no personal audiences with him. No photos existed. The Church videos were the only place one could ever see his image, their quality being so poor that an accurate image was impossible to discern, even with computer-enhancement imaging. The unbreakable copy-guard on these static filled tapes was such that film in a sheilded camera would fog trying to take a picture off a monitor.
The Church had used Doug, paying him barely enough to keep his family alive, keeping him tucked away in a hidden Dallas slum, letting Ivan take credit for the works that Smith slaved over, then turned him in as the fall-guy when the Hinkey Senate SubCommitte had come too close to nailing the top boys for the Dobbs shooting. Only Connie's "special appeal" in an all-night secret session with a certain friendly Supreme Court Justice finally paid off where years of open lobbying, world-wide demonstrations for mercy, political threats and outright bribery had failed, freeing the popular, martyred pamphleteer last Spring after serving a small fraction of his two-hundred-and-twelve year sentence.
Knowing that Connie could have done this from the day the first indictment was served; that he could have been spared all the pain and humiliation of the year-long trial; that he had been considered more valuable to the Church rotting away in that tiny cell as a symbol of Conspiracy oppression; that the upper Foundation had let him sit out ten years in cold storage until the approaching X-Day had revived his usefulness, hadn't made Doug bitter or hard. "Bob" had his plan. Smith still believed, was still fool enough to follow Dobbs' maniacal path, explaining to anyone who would listen, "It's just his way."
This bottomless well of faith didn't extend to Ivan Stang, to hear the way Smith talked about him. Stang was a sore point. Doug would become instantly angry and abusive anytime the Scribes' name was mentioned around him, almost as if Smith held Stang solely to blame for his misfortune, even when he knew that it had been Connie keeping the big-house door shut on him all along. Smith had indeed taken the all-too traditional path of organized, or, rather, disorganized religion, and paid heavily for it.
Ivan Stang, on the other hand, in mid-life, seemed like a twenty-five-year-old version of his over-aged double. His youthful, thin face was smooth, unlined with worry, except for the sun-baked, wrinkles around the good-natured, twinkling eyes, which gave him a warm expression of deceptive, cheerful friendliness. Smiths' mousey-brown hair, greying at the temples, ratty and uncut, hung over the worn-out, reddish face in sad contrast to the greased and pomped peaks of Ivan's styled power coif.
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