I woke up in somebody else's house. I could tell cause the sheets were made. Even though my head was pulsating sharp rickey-tickey pain modules all over my body, I could still smell that sweet clean sheet smell. The celings must be twenty feet high. Lots of swirly little gizmos on the window sills. That's luxey-lux---when they can afford swirly things on the edges of their stuff. Damn, I really ought to hire a servant so I can smell clean sheets on days other than just special occasions like this one. Which reminds me, where the fuck am I? I'm pretty sure I didn't die and go to heaven. Maybe heaven's just a place where you wake up in clean sheets. This definitely isn't a hospital. There isn't even any Beatles music playing in the background. Maybe this is just Macrohard's idea of a joke. Maybe if I sit up, yike! I got bandages wrapped around my ribs.
I got to get some answers. "Hello out there. Anybody home? Heellllooo." The door creeped open. At last a response. A girl with red hair poked her head into the room and stared at me. I tried to move, but couldn't. Damn, she looked familiar. Didn't I sleep with her last year? Maybe at the Droxey club after the show?
"Well, hey," I said trying to conceal a playboy's bad memory.
"I've got a serious list of questions about what the hmmm is going on here."
"I'm sorry. Of course you do. My name is @welcome Trochanter..."
"Hold on a sec. Did you say your name is @welcome?"
"Yes. @welcome, that's right."
"You have an ampersand before your first name?"
"Yes, that's right."
I definitely didn't sleep with her. I don't know any female with an ampersand in her name. That's the kinda shit I'd remember no matter what.
What's with that?"
"My parents idea, really. I think they wanted to make a statement about how dependent we've become upon electronic devices."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude. I mean, I'm giving a speech that short circuits in my face. Then I'm lying here, wrapped head to toe in bandages in some hotel talking to a woman with an ampersand in her name. I don't fuckin' get it."
"I'm sure it must be confusing. Let me get my father..."
"Father? Did you say your last name was Trochanter?"
"Yes, Alan Trochanter is my father."
"And I'm where?"
"You're at the Château Deux Oiseau."
"Now I'm really confused."
"I don't blame you. You were the victim of a Holographic translucination. The CDR4000 you were using was defective. We rescued you. You're safe now, don't worry. I'm the woman you helped out on the street a few weeks ago. Do you remember? You came out of that big car and told me to run away."
I knew I'd see her before somewhere. The night Will was testing his financial fitness finder. I jumped out of the car and told her to scam.
"I want to thank you for what you did."
"Sure, I remember. I was just trying to protect you from some wolves." I wanted to small talk, but I was too busy squirming trying to maneuver my nerve endings out of the path of the pain snipers who were busy ambushing me from every direction.
"Here, take this," she said as she opened a green bottle of white pills and placed one on my tongue. I don't know what kind of pills they were but they worked instantly; all of the snipers instantly withdrew and I was finally able to relax in my sugar coated nerve ending stupor.
"I'm Lane," I said. "Lane Cooper."
"Everyone knows who you are, Lane Cooper," she said in a voice that was sounding more appealing by the moment.
As she spoke I heard the sound of a violin playing in the background. The sound became louder and louder, when in walked Trochanter with a violin in his hand.
"How is our badly bruised up young hero?"
"Father, meet Lane Cooper. Lane, this is my father, Alan Trochanter."
"Alan, please, just Alan," he interrupted. "Lane, I am extremely pleased to see you here."
"Everyone knows Alan Trochanter," I said as I struggled to raise my head. I wondered if he remembered me from the time I got up on his stage and tried to give a speech.
"I recall that you have quite a talent for public speaking. You came to one of our meetings recently, didn't you?" he said to me as I tried to nod my head. Shocking. This appears to be an actual family. A living, functioning, blood linked family. This was too weird. I knew what they looked like from my education.
"Are you ... related? I mean genetically?" I said feeling embarrassed to even ask. They laughed.
"Yes, Lane. We are a family. I know, you're used to the more typical state provided dyads." I paused as I remembered the various dyads that had participated in my upbringing.
"We are, I suppose you could say...a little old-fashioned. @welcome, can you ask the cook to prepare a snack for our friend? I'm sure he needs some refreshment."
Food sounded good to me. That's a good sign---at least my appetite's all right. "What the hell happened to me? I was wired up to the CDR4000 giving my speech and the next thing I know I was in a fight..."
"Lane, you were not hooked up to the CDR4000. You were wired to an imposter: a pirated version of the original device that Hardeman Oxtot and I developed over the last six years."
"A pirated version?"
"I'm afraid so. We only made one. We never released the design because we realized the damage that could be done if it ever fell into the wrong hands. Apparently it has. Where did you get it?"
"Well, it came from you."
"Well, originally it came from Hardeman Oxtot's lab. It disappeared after he was murdered."
"Yes. I hired him as a consultant to help me prepare for my speech. He showed me how to use the CDR4000. He programmed it to give my speech. So, I come back to pick it up and find him stuck to the floor with no CDR4000 anywhere to be found. I thought you must have done him and took it."
"You thought I killed Hardeman? To steal my own machine back? Hardly!"
"But it was here. My people stole it back from your place."
"Lane, the CDR4000 was never here. A team of my programmers picked up the renegade signals showing that someone was attempting to emulate the CDR4000 bioalgorithms. I have always felt a responsibility to monitor the airwaves in case the CDR4000 ever found its way out into the world. It's part of my campaign to keep public speaking honest."
"But Sandoor returned the CDR4000 to me."
"That was not the CDR4000. What you used was an inferior replicate."
"Now, I'm totally confused."
"The machine you used malfunctioned causing a rather bizarre effect on your biosystem. Apparently you passed out during your speech. Fortunately, one of our people was manning the ambulance that received the call to pick you up. Instead of routing you to the hospital for more Stabbing, she brought you here."
"My speech was short circuited? Did I really strangle Will?"
"You tried to, yes."
"But I thought the CRD4000 was programmed to help me."
"The original probably was. Someone obviously got to it and changed the code."
"That's what we suspect."
"But, Sandoor told me he got it back from your living room."
"I'm sorry, but that's just not the case. I haven't had the CDR4000 in my possession for over a year. I'm sorry, Lane, but your friend is lying to you. He may or may not have killed Hardeman..."
"Hold on a second. You gotta watch your accusations here."
"Lane, I'm sorry. I know this is all very upsetting."
"You're damn right this is upsetting. You're talking about my pal. I know he's a sleazy slick, but he wouldn't mess me up. Why would he do it?"
"Lane, the CDR4000 is part of a collaborative experiment that Mr. Oxtot and I had been working on for the last five years. Although Macrohard provided the original seed money to fund the project, it had pretty much gone unnoticed the last few years. I don't think they realized-until now-just how far we'd come with it."
"You mean they want it back?"
"Precisely. Imagine the havoc one could wreck by using the CDR4000 to negatively sway masses of people. It's unthinkable, the damage that could be done with that machine in the wrong hands."
"So that's why Sandoor wanted it."
"We've got to get it back. There's no way we can leave a tool that powerful in the hands of a killer. Ah, but look-food has arrived."
@welcome returned with the family chef. "Ahh," Trochanter said looking extremely pleased, "black coffee and hot-crossed buns! Who could ever ask for a better way to recover from the wounds of war." He gingerly picked up one of the steaming buns. "Take one, Lane. But watch out, these hot-crossed buns are hot!"
"I don't usually snack on organic digestibles."
"But these are hot-crossed buns, Lane. Don't tell me you've never tried them."
"I can't say I have, sir."
Trochanter shook his head. These yellow criss-crossy blobs of flour mesmerized him.
"The world is missing out. Let me tell you. Lane, when you mix ground wheat with butter..."
"Please, sir." I like the guy okay, but he's grossing me out.
"Come on. We're taking you to the kitchen. I'm going to open your eyes to another way of looking at the world." He turned to the chef, "Arnaud, let's take the young Mr. Cooper into your kitchen and show him what he's been missing. Lane, you can walk can't you?"
He didn't wait for me to reply. Instead they scooped me up, hoisted my arms around their shoulders, and the three of us started toward the door. I looked at @welcome for some support, but all she could do was smile with a "don't ask me" look.
"Lane," Trochanter said, "Try to keep an open mind. You've been nibbling away at synthetic succulents, peel-away protein pods, and Enzymic stabilizers your whole life. You've not once crunched your teeth into a baked potato, or cut into a piece of Filet Mignon. My God, man, what you've been missing. Arnaud, look at what he's been missing!" We hobbled through a pair of stainless steel doors into the master kitchen. I paused and steadied myself on my own two feet. There were five chefs all wearing white uniforms busy at a variety of tasks around me. One stood at a large board and vigorously hacked away with a knife at a branch of bright orange twigs. Two other cooks were standing above cauldrons of steel, surrounded by clouds of possibly toxic gases. Another was rolling a huge mound of white powder with her fingers. We walked straight up to her.
"My pastry chef is making pastry dough for croissants. Do you know what a croissant is, Lane? A croissant, Lane, is the ne plus ultra of pastry making. First, the butter is woven into the flour. But the butter has to be hard. It's still almost frozen. What we're doing is creating ...well, a matrimonial matrix of flour and butter, do you follow me? Next, we bake them. When the mixture melts in the oven, the butter disappears into the flour leaving little air pockets. That's why it's so deliciously fluffy. Do you see? There's nothing like it in the universe. Oh, dear. I'm afraid I'm wasting my time trying to explain a taste. Come on now, sit down and try a little. Here we go. I'm dabbing a little Strawberry jam on the corner. Voila! Now take a bite of this and tell me what you think.
I was overwhelmed. The crispiness of this organic food product amazed me. I closed my eyes and took a sip of Trochanter's black coffee. The rapture, the glory of this taste!
"My god, sir. This is a fantastic taste! I can't say I've ever had anything so good."
Trochanter let out a huge grin. "Do you see, Arnaud? We're making a connoisseur of this young gentleman."
"So this is what you do here? You cook specialized organics; you live in this mansion. Do you eat like this all the time?"
"There's a great deal that goes on here, Lane. I'll be glad to show you all about. You'll get the royal tour soon enough. But, first young man, you are in a bit of trouble you know."
"Just how bad is it? They sent me to the hospital?"
"As far as Macrohard and your friend, Sandoor are concerned, you are in the hospital. Sandoor has the real CDR4000 and he thinks you don't know anything about what's happened. We can use that to our advantage. Everything has been taken care of in advance. You have been placed in the hospital's information system as a patient, and no one will know otherwise unless we tell them. You are scheduled to be in the hospital indefinitely, a perfectly normal hospital stay for someone who was almost electrocuted."
"But won't they figure out that I'm not really there?"
"Lane, we've created a fictional record for you. Anyone who monitors their system will see that you're there in emergency care---not to be disturbed. Don't worry we've got that under control."
"Shit, what's it matter. I can't go back there. I'm a dead man. I didn't deliver my speech. I tried to kill my boss!"
"Now, listen to me carefully. I have a proposal for you. I have a good sense about you. I want you to work for me. In exchange, I will teach you more than you ever dreamed possible. I will teach you how to really speak in public without any artificial machine to back you up. I will show you how to become part of something... greater or finer, as my old friend Richard Weaver used to say."
"You want me to be a spy? Is that it?" I said.
"Not exactly," said Trochanter as he placed his violin under his chin and started playing. Then he stopped and looked at me with a long pause.
"But, I'm going to need you to get the CDR4000 back. You worked directly for Will. You know how their headquarters is organized. You'd be an asset to us. Lane, if the CDR4000 ever gets in Will's hands, it's all going to be over for all of us."
Trochanter leaned close to me almost whispering as if there were someone nearby who might hear us. "You are going to be involved in the creation of the greatest labor union movement of all time."
"Union?" I said hesitantly.
"The Nationstates are ripe for a grass roots movement. A unification of all the loose confederations of unspoken for interests. You, Lane, are going to help galvanize the many. I know, you're wondering, why me? Well, Lane, I watched you carefully that night at the grain mill. Few of my students have shown such promise so quickly. I've seen a million speeches and I know a true orator when I see one. I have complete confidence in you. There's something about your face, Lane, that just spells believability. You're genuine. People want to believe you."
"I'm just a regular Dudley Do-Right. Isn't that it?"
"Well, I don't know a Dudely Do-Right, but I do know you've got an honest face. You won't be alone, of course. I've assembled a team. You'll be supported every inch of the way. I can promise you that. You don't think anyone ever got to be president by themselves, do you? This self-reliance stuff is hogwash, you know that don't you?"
"Self-reliance?" He was making me remember my childhood prayer.
Each day these discs I do unfold
to play their tunes as I've been told.
Their rules and lines and pictures say
all that I need throughout the day.
"It's like this, Lane. We're gonna stick a rocket up Macrohard's arse, light it, and then peel them off the ceiling." He gleamed as he swiveled his cup of coffee, inhaling its vapors.
"I'm not sure I really get what you mean by a union exactly."
"In the days before the Nationstates, unions were commonplace. Workers banded together to protect themselves from greedy factory owners. They formed their own organizations with the common purpose of looking out for their own common good. My God, before labor unions people didn't even have weekends. They would jointly negotiate for higher wages, better working conditions, and so on. If the owners of the factory became oppressive or unreasonable, the workers would collectively stop working and shut the factories down."
"Forcing management to listen to their demands," I interrupted.
"A trade union for the workers of Macrohard...that is to say for all the workers in the Nationstates. If every employee at Macrohard were part of a union..."
"And that's just about everybody in the entire world."
"You catch on quick."
Trochanter could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he burst out: "Then the entire country could speak with one voice. We would have hope for a new democracy. A real government by the people, of the people, for the people. You're too young to remember lad, but free speech---the only true glory of citizenship---existed in this land of ours at one time. But don't bother looking up free speech in that damn CD4ROM5 encyclopedia of yours, you sure as hell won't find any references to it on that thing."
He stood up and walked over to a large wooden box and pulled out a cigar. "Would you like one?" he asked.
"Thank you, no. I have my own." I said as I pulled out one of my tobacco tubes. "I didn't care for real smoke." I sensed his mood change as he silently snipped the end of the cigar, placed it in his mouth, and lit it with a match.
"Lane. I don't want to kid you. The formation of a union will not be easy. Believe me, a union is the last thing Macrohard will want. Hell, even when unions were legal, Macrohard managed to avoid any involvement with them. No, it won't be easy at all. We're going to need protection. Some real muscle-- and I mean that in a military sense. Once word gets out about the creation of a union, they will do everything in their power to crush us."
Trochanter looked worried. "This will be the biggest challenge of our lives, Lane. I want to place you second in command. I have the utmost confidence in you, Lane. I'm not one to give a lot of complements, but you've got something. You're charismatic, people like you, they listen to you." He came up to me and gave me a little slap on the face.
"Sure, you're rough around the edges. That tattoo of yours...well, I'm gonna teach you everything I know to make you into a first class leader. What do you say?"
Trochanter stood up straight, his cigar stuck out of his mouth, its red glowing tip seemed to wait for my reply.
"I'm with you sir. You can count on me."
Go to chapter 19