A team of bodyguards are always at my side now. They rest at my flanks no matter where I go. People on the sidewalk part like the Red Sea. It's like walking with some sort of magnetic force field around you pushing all surrounding entities against the walls as we pass. You walk differently; you think differently. The ultimate power rush. Instant respect...instant this dude is someone to reckon with...Don Corleone in a box. Just add chutzpah and stir. I don't dare go anywhere without them.
The union grew at an unprecedented rate after Trochanter's funeral. I don't believe in ghosts, but I felt as though he was behind the scenes pushing us like a snowball down a hill. Each day we gathered more and more members. We were doubling in size every month, increasing our momentum as we continued on a collision course with Macrohard. I had more speaking engagements than ever before. The United Information Workers wasn't big enough to come out in the open yet, but soon we would be. Soon we won't need to hold our meetings in abandoned buildings. Soon we won't need to communicate via the network on our terminals using anti-surveillance codes. Soon, but not quite yet.
It was time to take a more public step. We were big enough to stand up to them now. Public sentiment was leaning toward the Union. Our programmers had broken the code for the cable network and we could now deliver a speech live to every terminal in the Nationstates at the same time. Everyone in the underground knew about the plan. I was to give a speech at eight o'clock tonight at the downtown auditorium to a crowd of ten thousand supporters. All the arrangements had been made by word of mouth. With the cable network in place, I will be speaking before several million people. Many will be supporters of the union.
Recently it dawned on me that I've achieved a sort of fame. I'm known wherever I go. People recognize me. They stop me in the street. I think what I like about being well known is that I can now communicate with large numbers of people at the same time. It's not so much the admiration--although that doesn't hurt--it's the feeling that everyone seems to want to listen to what I have to say. I've awaked a sleeping giant within myself. When I speak before a crowd, it's as if I were bigger than myself. I feel physically as if I've stretched out beyond the barriers of my skin to take on the dimensions of the audience. Knowledge seems to pass between us the way information passes from cell to cell. When I speak out to that big, collective "YOU" I start by projecting myself outward, but soon find I am no longer emitting particles. Rather I find that I am enjoying a moment of mutuality. What started as differentiation has now become identification, and with this shift toward identification, ideas cease to be transferred back and forth. Instead, thoughts just come and go exactly as if I was thinking by myself.
And so the moment had arrived. As the lights brightened around me, my already nervous perspiration increased. I could hear the babbling of the enormous crowd hush as I walked out onto the stage. Behind me an enormous screen displayed my image for all the world to see. The crowd roared with applause. I smiled as I touched the podium, my buoy in this sea of excitement. My knees were flimsy and my heart relentlessly searched for an escape route from its bony prison. This was a do or die moment, my ships were all burned behind me. I looked out into the endless fields of faces and breathed in. I smiled and ten thousand smiles boomeranged back. I began:
"You are all here with me tonight for many reasons. We here tonight have all eaten at the same table, shared the same food from the same plates, and have been poisoned by the same guilty hands. Poisoned by those we trusted the most.
It is time to cement together again the broken pieces of this vase of humanity. Working together this shattered pottery can once again hold the vital essence that was its birthright. It is time to recover from the ravaging disappointment brought about by a cruel, heartless, dictatorial logic. A logic that in all its perverted perfection was never used to further the quest for truth and wisdom, but rather to punish us for our own humanity. Logic twisted to serve the desires of its users; to turn us into slaves. A nation of slaves, silenced into servitude, severed of all scientific sense. A nation guided only by a misguided logic. A merciless master menacing its own citizens. Even as we speak, the carnage continues."
While I spoke, I could hear my own voice as if I, too, was in the audience. All my words echoed back to me in faces of the crowd. It was no longer just me speaking. I was a sign pointer, showing them what they already knew. Meaning was magnetically merging between us. I felt time slow down. My arms were swaying in pure expression, creating a wind of enthusiasm that blew them up to their feet. The crowd began to chant and sway from side to side in unison, transformed into one super being.
I hardly saw the flash from the left side of the front row as I felt the hammer blow into the center of my chest. I flew backwards into a snake nest of cable. I tried to arch my head upwards but was blinded by the floodlights glaring into my eyes above. A lens shutter of dark heads drawing shut around me immediately eclipsed the light. As I lay still the thunder dimmed into a whisper. For a moment, I relived the glory of the crowd. I could hear a chorus of crying around me growing dimmer with each passing moment.
I had come to the last moment of my life and was left with the forced realization of living with my regrets. All my aspirations now replaced by the grand anticipation of what lay before me. All fuel was spent; all I could do was coast down to the final landing pad. All my plans fell before me like a giant sack of marbles spilling onto the floor.
I felt my body petrifying into the final hibernation. And then I heard the staccato popping of small explosions like old-fashioned cameras flashing.
Suddenly I jolted awake to the sounds of party favors. It sounded like a New Year's eve celebration. I opened my eyes and saw that I was surrounded by people yelling "Welcome back Lane!" My vision was blurry, but I could tell I was lying on a bed of grass in what looked like a jungle. Birds were cluttering up the sky. It felt like a mob scene. I was in the middle of an enormous crowd that seemed to extend in all directions; all of them reaching out and touching me, congratulating me for some unknown accomplishment. There were animals everywhere as well, I could feel fur rubbing against my side. I squinted and rubbed my eyes trying to see who was surrounding me. A hand reached out and grabbed mine, pulling me up to my feet.
"Come one Lane. It's me, Hardeman. Trochanter's here and wants to see you. Come on, we'll explain everything."
Go to chapter 23