Palmer's Finish


Guy C. Deuel

Copyright 1989 by the Author


Palmer Vreedeez looked off at the distant jungle, dark and impenetrable and
then up at the baking sky. He wanted to weep. Then he looked down at the
hard, yellow-gray ground and the mattock he held in his blistered, bleeding
hands and this time a solitary tear did squeeze out of one eye and roll wet
and heavy down his cheek only to lose its identity in the sheen of sweat
that covered his entire body.

What was he doing here? This was like a bad dream. He was an artist, not a
navvy, a drudge. Wasn't he one of the original Church hierarchy? So what was
he doing out here, busting ass and ground at the edge of the Malaysian
jungle? Why wasn't he resting in air-conditioned comfort in the distant
compound of tall and slender buildings that blazed white beneath the fury of
the tropical sun?

Palmer caught a flicker of movement at the edge of his vision and turned in
time to see the robotic overseer striding down the line like a metallic
dinosaur, its neurowhips flickering. He quickly bent over and began chipping
gently at the hard ground.

The birdlike, glittering mechanism stomped up and stopped, towering over
Palmer while it scanned his implanted identity chip, checking if he was in
his assigned area doing his assigned work. The machine stood there,
vibrating slightly, the whips flickering gently and the gun ports opening
and closing over and over again.

The machine reminded Palmer of some human cops he had met; the types who
were always toying with their gun butts or nightsticks. This roboguard
seemed just a little too active, too eager. The mechanism extended its
scanning module slightly and beamed Palmer with soft microwaves for an
instant, then it moved further down the line to scan the next worker.

Palmer took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his eyes on his coarse
rayon sleeve. Oh well, he thought a little dully, at least they can only
tell if you are where you are supposed to be and if you are working. They
haven't made one that can tell how hard you are working...yet!

He kept chopping and chopping at the sun baked ground that had once been
covered with tropical rain forest. Now it was practically a desert and was
as hard as concrete, and here he was, with a bunch of others down on their
luck, scraping away at roots and rocks and other pieces of debris, preparing
to grow food on this awful land.

At that moment a mechanized barrow hummed up and stopped opposite to Palmer.
The container lifted and tilted, dumping a few hundred pounds of top soil,
humus, organic fertilizers and micro-organisms in a neat, conical mound.
Then it moved on.

Palmer chipped away mindlessly for a few minutes more and then, a little at
a time, began mixing the loose, impoverished soil he had created with the
just delivered additives, wondering if all of this was going to do any good
at all.

His eyes felt gummy, his nose was running and his whole body ached. He
hadn't had any drugs for over two weeks and the food here was all some sort
of godawful brown rice with chopped vegetables garbage. No coffee, no sugar
and worst of all no preservatives. No meat either except some occasional
pieces of fish floating in some murky, salty soup that was sometimes served
at midday meal. Of course there were the pieces of roasted meat that showed
up in the barracks. As there was no money you had to trade some sort of
physical favor to get some meat. Palmer hadn't sunk that low, and he wasn't
even sure if he wanted any of that meat, even if it did smell wonderful. It
was supposed to be a local sort of very small deer that lived in the forest
and was about the size of a rabbit, but Palmer thought that the bits he had
seen looked suspiciously like rat. And Palmer Vreedeez knew his rat cuts
after having spent a little over two years on the streets of San Francisco
and Oakland after he had been declared Politically Insolvent and had his NEA
card pulled by the NatGov.

Being Politically Insolvent meant that everything you owned was confiscated
and all your social and civil rights revoked. You were not allowed to work,
beg or even die legally. As far as the world was concerned, you were
none-existent and your PI status meant that if you were caught committing
any kind of crime you got an automatic death penalty and afterwards you were
broken down for your viable components and put in the National Organ Bank,
for the good of your fellow men. Getting 'nobbled' was the street term.

But, despite the awful mechanical guards, the shitty food and the
hard-labor-style coolie work, Palmer had to admit that things were a lot
better here in Dobbstown. He didn't even mind those indoctrination classes
that they all had to sit through every evening. After all he had helped
write some of the basic materials hadn't he? So most of the time Palmer just
sat there and smiled. Sometimes the classes would remind him of the old days
when all this had just been getting started. When all those wild and crazy
guys were his friends. And then Palmer would feel very sad as he tried to
reconstruct his phrane-trashed life and figure out what had really happened
to him after that night at the Victoria Theater when he saw his master shot
down before his very eyes!

During his sleeping periods he would often lie or sit in his austere room
(it must never be thought of as a cell) in the throes of deep and artistic
depression, worrying about pain and injustice, inhumanity and suffering, and
all those other things that had been responsible for ultimately delivering
him here.

Palmer shook these thoughts from his head and looked down at the ground and
the head of his mattock, but he found himself concentrating on his hands for
some reason. Why his hands? Well, if you could see your hands clearly then
you could take control of the would be come a lucid dream and you
could take over and direct the entire thing and have the dream do anything
you wanted it to do. This was one of the most important and secret
techniques that you learned when you underwent Malayan Dream Therapy like he
sometimes felt he had.

Palmer could see the blisters, scabs and sores, plus his horribly chewed
fingernails very clearly, but somehow, he just couldn't see his hands. It
was as if he was looking at all the blemishes and imperfections and could
see them but couldn't see what they were imperfections and blemishes on!

He kept on chipping and mixing soil and slowly, his hands became clearer and
clearer. He could see his knuckles quite plainly now. He worked a little
faster, really looking at the head of his mattock as it chipped the ground
but somehow trying to see his hands without looking directly at them.
Suddenly, from deep within he felt an indefinable surge of some sort of
energy and his consciousness seemed to separate and split up in a remarkable
way. Here he was, watching what he was doing, but there was also a part of
him that was watching himself watch what he was doing. And then there was
that part that was trying to see his hands clearly. All sensation except for
these three interlocking but slightly different senses of identity ceased to
be for him. Palmer felt as if he were suspended, glowing, in a vast and
empty space. The very processes of his thoughts seemed to shine before him
in clusters of symbols that he understood but could not read. The image of
his hands grew very large and was even clearer now while the image of the
figure that was himself, bent over and working the soil, became smaller and
more intense. The image of the head of the tool and the furrow in the ground
faded to almost a transparency. Time and his sense of continuity both ceased
to be, the space between the worlds was near and the crack would open any

Then this luminous moment turned into shards and dissolved as Palmer
Vreedeez was pulled back into real time and space by the shriek of the siren
that marked the finish of the four hour morning shift.

Now came the only decent part of the day, lunch and siesta. Three hours to
do as you wished until the second half of your shift began. After that of
course it was time for the evening meal, bath, classes and bed. Lunchtime
was the only time they had to themselves and, besides the serving of the
food, it was completely unsupervised.

Palmer straightened up, shouldered his mattock and began plodding over to
the field kitchen. The others were coming in too, all dressed in thin, black
clothing like Palmer, human ants marching back through the heat to the nest.

In the olden days this would have been a monastery full of kind and gentle,
even artistic people seeking shelter from the plagues and wars, thought
Palmer. Not derelicts, convicts and the like of what's coming here nowadays.
Monks worked hard too, but there was nothing remotely monk-like doing forced
labor, under guard, alongside the dregs the prisons of a dozen countries. He
picked up a pressed cellulose bowl and shuffled into line. Why do they even
bother to serve it to us 'cafeteria style' thought Palmer sourly. There's
only ever two things and you don't have any choice. He picked up a plastic
spoon and cup and hoped there was soup today.

It wasn't until a little later when he was hunkered down alone next to a
land grader and trying to keep in the narrow strip of its shade that
Palmer's thoughts returned to what had happened to him a little earlier. As
he tried to recall the experience he began eating mechanically. The meal was
the usual brown rice with a sort of thin, fishy gravy containing
unidentifiable pieces of chopped vegetables. He spooned up his first
mouthful and was immediately struck by how flavorful it was. Up until now
all the food he had eaten here had been horribly bland, almost tasteless,
now it seemed remarkably spicy and quite delicious.

Palmer began eating hungrily and looked down and saw his hands, one holding
the bowl the other wielding the spoon.

It had been sort of like this, hadn't it? The taste of his food somehow
evoked echoes of that feeling he'd had briefly out there in the field. He
had been trying to change reality by applying a technique that was supposed
to help you understand what your dreams were really saying to you. There was
this feeling, this idea he had that something very important had been very
close and that feeling convinced Palmer that something very meaningful had
happened to him even if he didn't understand what it was.

Palmer finished his lunch in a hurry and then wandered over to one of the
portable toilets. He stood in line with several other men, all waiting to
accommodate their natural urges. There was some good natured jiving and
bantering among the others waiting there, but none of it was directed at
Palmer. The word was already out that he wasn't just a regular conscript.
They weren't sure what or who he was but they knew he wasn't one of them, so
nobody said anything to Palmer unless it was absolutely necessary. They all
felt that perhaps you couldn't trust him.

A short while later, with still more than two hours rest ahead of him Palmer
sat and concentrated, trying to recapture that feeling he had experienced
right before the siren had sounded. He was unsuccessful but the trying made
the rest period pass very quickly.

Strangely enough Palmer didn't feel nearly as tired as he usually did when
the afternoon shift commenced beneath the tropic sun.

Finally, sun low over the dark wall of jungle, the siren blasted again and
the workers hurried in from the field for their ride back to the compound.
If you were late and missed the truck you had to walk back with the
robo-guards and they set the pace. It was only about two miles but who
wanted to walk at a near run after eight hours of hard labor?

Palmer had to admit that he felt better at the end of this particular day of
hard work than he had in years. Even though he was as physically exhausted
as ever and his hands were still cracked and bleeding Palmer felt an inner
strength and tranquility of spirit he had never felt so strongly before. He
wondered if the Gurdjieff-like routine that "Bob" was putting him and all
the other recruits through might not have some sort of value after all.

Back at the barracks he ate, showered, changed clothes and went with his
fellow sufferers to indoctrination classes.

Their instructor for this particular evening was a tall, thin young man with
thick glasses, a wispy moustache and a very prominent adam's apple. He had
an incredibly strong country or plain 'hick' accent that grated on Palmer's
nerves at first. As he warmed to his subject which was "You Cannot Hide From
J.R. "Bob" Dobbs!" Palmer found himself caught up in the man's sing- song
cant. He sensed in this man an inner flame that none of the other
instructors he had seen had possessed. There was also something terribly
familiar about the instructor, but Palmer couldn't put his finger on it.

Soon he was totally caught in the lesson as were all the others and he found
himself jumping to his feet every so often and screaming with the class and
the teacher, "help me somebody...she ain't got no legs are on

By the time class was over Palmer and the other twenty-three 'students' were
flushed, lathered with sweat and literally gasping for breath. As the final
syllables died away the instructor regarded them benignly through his coke
bottle glasses and smiled. It was a warm, friendly smile, even if the man's
teeth were a bit mossy. "You boys done real good on that one," was his
parting comment.

Back in his room, the door locked for the night, Palmer lay on his bunk,
held up his hands before his face and studied them again. He found that if
he sort of looked past them and up at the stained, cracked ceiling he could
see them a little more clearly. Flushed by his initial success Palmer let
his mind drift as he had earlier in the day, and suddenly, the feeling was
back. Once again his consciousness seemed to split into three factions while
his hands grew clearer and clearer. Then the sensation of the world being
somehow stretched thin began anew. He felt the flow of the energy as it
passed through the crack in the cosmic egg and swirled around him. His body
became deliciously warm as if he were drowsy to the point of falling asleep.
The intensity of these sensations increased, there was a sudden feeling of
compression coupled with a sudden sensation that he was falling. He could
see his hands now, absolutely clearly. He turned them over and noted with
increasing excitement that he could see the loops and whorls of his
fingerprints. He had done it! He could see them clearly.

Then the entire universe sped away from him in all directions and he hit the
bottom of his fall, landing in sudden darkness and lying there exhilarated
and trying to catch his breath.

Palmer's breathing returned to normal and he reached up and turned on the
bedside lamp he knew was there. He sat up and then got out of his king sized
bed slowly so as not to awaken the beautiful young woman whose nude,
sleeping form lay next to him.

Palmer's silk pajamas rustled softly as he padded across the thick pile
carpet and went into the next room, closing the door silently behind him.
The room lights came on when he triggered them with a wave of his hand.

Palmer went over to the ornate hardwood and crystal bar, poured himself a
stiff drink and then selected a hand rolled cheroot of the finest Malaysian
'frop. He lit the cheroot and, drink in hand, went to stand in front of the
enormous picture window, puffing away happily.

Despite the lateness of the hour Dobbstown lay before him all lit up like a
christmas tree. He could see people and vehicles scooting around on the
broad tree-lined boulevards three hundred feet below him. He sipped and
puffed, bathed in the glow from the beautiful city.

Yes, he thought. It was really great to finally get back here to Dobbstown
Malaysia, and talk about perks! No doubt about it, "Bob" had sure done right
by his oldest followers who had stuck by him all those years. All of the
'Bobbies', even the very rich ones were living in much smaller and less
sumptuous places than he was. But that was only right, after all he was
Palmer Vreedeez, wasn't he?

"That's right, you are definitely Palmer Vreedeez," said soft and pleasant
voice right behind him.

Palmer whirled and came face to face with Doctor Philo Drummond who was
standing less than six feet away.

"Doctor Drummond!' to see you again sir, I'm afraid you
startled me a bit." Palmer thought Dr. Drummond was downright scary.

The Overman laughed, a deep and vibrant basso. "Sorry about that Palmer. I
didn't mean to spook you. I was in the neighborhood, mentally speaking, and
heard you here so I thought I would drop in and check up on you."

"You know what Doctor Drummond, I'm glad you did," said Palmer. "There's
something I've been wanting to talk to you about."

Drummond lit one of his stinky little cigars. "Well then, go ahead son, get
it off your chest."

"I'm not really sure how to explain this," said Palmer slowly. He finished
his drink and put the glass on a coffee table as he moved around the room
while he spoke. "I keep having these really peculiar dreams that I'm not
here at all. I mean I'm here in Dobbstown but not up here in this

"Really? Let me ask you this Palmer, do you dream that you are out in the
fields working an eight hour day and then sleeping in a small, narrow room
better called a cell?"

"Yes, that's it!" Palmer said with growing excitement. "The sun is so hot,
it's back-breaking labor and my hands are all blistered and bleeding. It all
seems so real when I dream about it but when I wake up here, well it seems
so ridiculous." He held up his beautifully manicured and unblemished hands
and puffed on his cheroot. "I also keep thinking that it's really important
for me to look at my hands. That's when I usually wake up. I don't
understand it Doctor Drummond. Am I losing my grip or something? Heading for
a crack-up or like that?"

Drummond stepped closer and draped his arm across Palmer's shoulders in a
friendly, almost fatherly manner. "Don't you worry about any of it old son,"
he said in a very comforting voice. "You sure went through a whole lot
before ole GG Gordon brought you here. The stress and the pain will take a
long long time to work their ways out of your psyche. But you're doing
great, so just relax and go with the flow. These dreams are quite healthy
and natural, believe me."

Palmer felt a lot better. After all Dr. Drummond would know about these
things. "It's just that they are so damned real Doctor Drummond. When I
dream I'm out there, it's the only thing I know, the only life I can

"But when you wake up and you are here," said Drummond,. "in the real world,
the real life, it all returns to you doesn't it?"

"Aw I guess so, sort of. I mean I can remember my job, my office over there
in headquarters building," Palmer gestured towards the enormous edifice
directly across from them. "I remember what my work is, who I work with and
even what I'm working on right now, but I can never remember actually
working. The only work I can remember is hacking at that horrible hard
ground with a mattock and being fed rice all the time." He shook his head as
if to clear it of such images.

"Just relax Palmer," said Drummond in that same professional tone of
comfort. "You went through a really bad period in your life. Don't forget
you were a chronic 'phrane addict when we got you out. Substantial damage
has been done to your brain and mind, especially your memory regions. It
will be a long time before all that is healed. Until that day, these drugs
we have been treating you with may make it hard to locate specific memories,
particularly the more recent ones.

"But you are coming along splendidly, just be patient, take your medications
and things will continue to get better." He smiled, his big, blue eyes
twinkling. "Now, as your doctor I recommend that you finish up that there
'fropcig and go back to bed. Wake up that charming companion of yours and
get her to help you with some specialized therapy,...if you catch my drift."
He punctuated that last statement with a big wink. "I gotta go now Palmer, a
doctor has his rounds you know!" Drummond raised his right hand, palm out,
as if giving an Indian greeting and vanished without a trace or sound.

Boy, that Overman teleportation is positively creepy, thought Palmer. But
one of these days I'll be an Overman too, and I'll be able to appear and
disappear at will like Doctor Drummond. He took a last, deep pull at his
cheroot and then stubbed out the sticky buttend before heading for the
bedroom door untying his pajama trouser drawstring as he did so. Drummond
sure knew the best therapy!

Meanwhile, back in Dream Therapy Control Center Philo Drummond removed the
silver helmet of strangely convoluted design from his head and turned off
the power. He looked over at Ivan Stang who was standing a few feet away
studying a certain television monitor which was part of an entire wall of
such screens.

"Well that's over for the day," Philo observed, getting up from his padded
chair and walking over to join Stang. Together they stood and watched the
image of a figure on a narrow bunk in a small cell. The man was apparently
sound asleep but his hips were jerking as if he were copulating with an
unseen partner.

"So how's ole Palmer coming along?" Stang wanted to know.

"Very well indeed," said Drummond. "As of now he has no idea which side of
the dream barrier he is on. A couple more weeks of good, hard work and sweet
dreams and he'll be ready to hook into the Heisenberg Generator."

"You know, we really don't need him," said Stang. "The Barrier is up and
working perfectly and we've got two full backup teams in the tanks on stand

"Waste not, want not Ivan. Palmer is a perfectly good component. You don't
throw away a perfectly good, working integrated circuit chip because you
already have one, do you? When Palmer is ready, we'll put him in the reserve
tanks until we can use him. We do owe him that much, and it's nice when we
get one that needs so little modification. Who knows? After several decades
of dedicated service to the Church we'll decant him and retire him to
Dobbstowers with plenty of 'frop and a sexdroid or two and he'll be
deliriously happy. He'll never know what a great sacrifice he will have made
for Dobbs, the Church and of course...US!" He smiled broadly, showing an
unusually large number of teeth. "Besides, this IS the will of "Bob", isn't

"Yeah," snickered the shorter, skinnier man. "The will of "Bob"... as we
interpret it of course!"

"Of course, Ivan. But even if "Bob" were really still alive and here running
the show, this is the way he would do things." Drummond began chuckling to

"Oh yes, of course he would," agreed Stang, beginning to laugh along with
Philo. Their cold, inhuman laughter rose to a crescendo while the figure on
the screen writhed in the grip of his solitary orgasm.

The End

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