Friday, July 31, 2009

Again, No Witty Title...

I had a really interesting essay planned to include in this space, but I decided against it. Instead, I'm going to put in a plug for my art prints! for only $10 +s&h, you can get a print of one of my pieces of fine art! I will have pictures up next month of the quality items available! All pieces are printed with a five color process on high-quality, glossy photostock, and will be signed and numbered by yours truly! Just leave a comment or drop an e-mail if you are interested in seeing the catalogue a bit early!

And without further ado, chapter 13!

Chapter 13

It was now Thursday, and even though he had only gone out for lunch the previous day, John found himself sitting with his family in an up-scale restaurant. He didn’t particularly want to be there, especially considering what had happened last time he went out to eat, but he knew his family expected him to be there. Last night his mother had called him, telling him that in the years since he left their lives, the family had taken to celebrating Rosh Hashanah by going out for a nice dinner, rather than the full celebration that they had performed in his childhood.
Despite John’s initial refusal, his mother had pointed out that the family hadn’t gather in force since the barbeque earlier that year, and that Rosh Hashanah was a special time, and that it wouldn’t be right for John to deprive them of his presence. After all, he was the baby of the family, and they still missed him dearly. After twenty minutes or so, John had relented, and so here he was, sitting at a long table, surrounded by most of his family.
Despite his mother’s efforts to gather everyone, there were a few notable absences from the gathering. Some of the cousins hadn’t been able to make it, and, as usual, John’s Aunt Beverly, who hadn’t been there at his homecoming party either. The most noticeable absences, however, were Reggie and his daughter Rachel. John’s mother was upset that they weren’t there, but John’s father, Phil, was able to calm her down by reminding her that Reggie had called ahead to say he’d be late.
In the end, Reggie wasn’t that late. He and Rachel managed to get to the restaurant shortly after the drinks were served, thus giving them plenty of time to order before the rest of the party’s food had arrived.
Rachel sat down in the chair to the left of John. She looked pale and tired, with bags starting to form under her eyes. Whenever anyone tried to talk to her, she muttered a short reply and glared at the table. Reggie, on the other hand, was much more talkative. To John, he seemed to be too talkative, as if he were trying to make up for his daughter’s silence. He tried to strike up a conversation with John about how work was going, but John didn’t have much to tell him. His job consisted primarily of being assigned a project, working on it for a few weeks, and then moving on to something else. When he had run out of things to say, John turned the question back on Reggie, expecting a decent sized reply about how exciting things were at the hospital, but Reggie managed to divert the conversation by saying that none of his stories were really the proper things to talk about before eating.
With that conversation prematurely over, John looked around at all of the relatives gathered here. They were all talking with each other, breaking off into little groups and communicating, sharing stories and lives. John wanted to have some sort of contact with them, but he just felt so isolated. He had experienced something no one else there had, and it had cut him off from everyone. The family moved on, and he didn’t. He didn’t know half of these people; they didn’t know him. What conversations could he have with them? He had to have some sort of conversation. He looked around again, and noticed a boy of about thirteen sitting a few seats down on the other side of the table. He recognized the boy, but couldn’t quite remember who he was.
The boy was sitting near Rhonda, John’s sister. John tried to remember back to the barbeque; Reggie had introduced him to Rhonda’s family… she had two—no, three children, but John couldn’t remember any of their names.
Finally, he leaned over to Rachel and whispered, “Do you know Rhonda’s kids’ names?”
Rachel glanced around, and then replied, just as quietly as John, “Frank, Jo, and Chester.”
“Which one is the oldest?”
John smiled. “Thanks.”
Rachel looked around again, and then smiled uneasily. “You’re… welcome?”
John readjusted himself in his seat and fought off a smile. He finally had a conversation topic.
He cleared his throat and said, “Hey, Rhonda.”
Rhonda was busy wiping partially chewed bread chunks off of Chester, but she straightened up and looked distractedly at John. “What?”
John gestured towards Frank, who was tapping a fork on his cup. “It looks like he’s almost ready to take the Bar.”
Rhonda blinked and glanced at her son. “Him? Oh, no, he’s going into engineering, not law.” She returned to cleaning Chester.
John was more than a bit flustered by her response. “I—I meant… Remember when we were little, that’s what dad called having a Bar Mitzvah? Like, ‘Oh, Reggie’s almost ready to take the bar?’ ‘John’s ready to take the bar?’”
Rhonda looked back at John. “It doesn’t matter either way. We’re Methodist.”
A thin, balding man with a moustache leaned forward to talk. John guessed he was Rhonda’s husband. “I was raised Methodist by my mother, and Jewish by my father, but I always felt I was more Methodist than Jewish, and I didn’t want the kids to have to go through the dual life I did, so we decided the whole family would try to be Methodist.”
“I, uh, I see…” John lied. Growing up, Rhonda had always been constantly active in the Jewish community center, and always volunteered at the synagogue. John had no idea how she ever could have been talked into switching faiths…
The thin man nodded, and then turned to talk to someone next to him.
Rachel leaned towards John and whispered, “That was Rhonda’s husband. No one really likes him, but gramma and grampa put up with him because he does their taxes.”
John nodded. “He seems like an accountant…”
Rachel held back a laugh. “One sentence from him and you already hate him.”
“No! I don’t… okay, yes. Yes I do.”
This time, Rachel couldn’t hold back her laughter, and neither could John. They laughed for a few moments, gathering stares from the rest of the family. With some considerable effort, they were able to stifle the laughter.
After that, they began talking, and the conversation lasted for quite some time. They discussed accountants, bald people, politics, the way that politics was affecting the world, and from there, school.
“It’s getting pretty bad,” Rachel said. “About a fourth of the students have dropped out, another quarter have been pulled out by their parents, and everyone who’s left is treated like a criminal. No one’s allowed outside at any time, we can only get in with student IDs, all fieldtrips have been canceled, and all the teachers talk about are those **** E.H.U.D.s. The biology teacher talks about how their powers work, math teacher works them into all of our word programs, the English class is actually pretty fun, we’ve been studying super-human archetypes in science fiction, and the comparative religions teacher says that they foreshadow the apocalypse.”
“Yeah, we have a guy at work who says that.” John paused to eat a mouthful of salad. “So,” he said, his mouth still full, “you’re taking comparative religions?”
“Dad made me. He said it’ll prepare me for college.”
“You like it?’
“No. I mean, who cares what Buddhists believe? If I’m interested, I’ll ask one of them!”
“Any classes you do like?”
Rachel snorted. “You wouldn’t really care. You’re done with high school, you’re free.”
“But to me, high school just finished a few years ago. It’s till something that haunts my nightmares.”
Rachel laughed at that. “Okay, all right. Civics is pretty fun. We started going over basic government types, and it was actually pretty interesting, seeing how all the different ways work. But the teacher is a bit of a jerk, and he failed me on the last project.”
“School just started, and already you have a project?”
“It was an AP class, and everyone in there took pre AP last year, so we just did a refresher and started in with projects.”
John nodded. “What was the project about?”
“It was about the E.H.U.D.s, of course. The premise was that they destabilize the government enough that it collapses, and we have to start a new society.”
“Sounds like it could happen. What’d you do?”
“Well, I figured the E.H.U.D.s would still be a threat, so no new large-scale government could develop. I went with small collectives, were everyone pools their resources and lives off of social work.”
“And what problem did your teacher have with that?”
“He said I was just ripping off communism, and that it had already proved ineffective, so it was stupid to re-use it.”
“That makes sense. Communism always fails because people aren’t able to conceive of themselves as one mass whole, and the bureaucracy needed to implement it can’t support its own weight.”
Rachel sighed. “That’s one of the parts I fixed. People can’t work together on such a large scale, but all throughout history the most stable, the most lasting societies have been tribe based. The groups I’m talking about wouldn’t have more than about a hundred people, at the largest, and everyone would know each other. And even though all the resources of the… the… social unit, we’ll call it, are owned by the social unit, it can’t be used by the social unit. An individual has to buy the resources from the social unit, through communal work, or by buying in with their own supplies. Everything is owned by the collective except the individual, so their work can either go towards other things, or towards the collective, which they can exchange for supplies.”
“Define ‘supplies.’”
“We’re assuming a societal collapse, so I’m thinking something like the situation in The Postman, so—“
“What’s that?”
“Oh,” Rachel paused. A waiter reached past her and took her cup, then replaced it a moment later with a fresh one. “I can’t remember who wrote it, but it was one of the first super-soldier books we studied in English Lit. It has a government-free America, were industry also collapsed, and so things like batteries, bullets, food stuffs, and consumer goods were important. I guess they’d be the ‘supplies.’”
“If we had complete collapse, there would be quite a bit of anarchy.”
“The social units would function as peacekeepers. I’m sort of basing this off of Native American culture. The SUs would be independent units, but they would form alliances and do basic trade, so if an enemy came, they would band together against the threat, and then break back into the SUs when the threat passed.”
“This is actually pretty good. And he failed you on this?”
Rachel’s expression turned sullen. “Yeah. He said it was too derivative.”
“Well, it’s government. All of modern government is derivative. It builds off past systems. What did he expect?”
Rachel shrugged.
“What did the other kids do?”
“Mostly benign anarchies and stuff like that. One kid made a theocracy based around himself.”
“Wow. All right, I got another question about your system. If this has to be done long-term, what do you do if the population in a given SU starts rising?”
“Just like cells. They would split. If we get up to say 200 people, maybe seventy-five of them age zero to ten, seventy-five teens, and fifty adults, we’re assuming that most of the adults are split into married pairs, and that they have the kids, maybe twelve couples, with their kids, maybe a few unmarried teenagers, they’d have the right to choose for themselves, they’d all buy as much as they could from the SU, and then go off to somewhere else and start again. But my main assumption was that the post-collapse world would probably have hardships that would keep the population fairly stable. People would have more kids, but the anarchy, food shortages, lack of medicine… And this is all assuming there’s no natural disasters.”
“Or, the biggest threat, foreign powers coming in.”
Rachel didn’t say anything for a moment. “****. I didn’t think of that.”
“I guess your teacher didn’t either.”
“No, he was just looking at America…”
“So, I guess you’re idea doesn’t work after all, at least in the context of the assignment.”
“But if it’s any consolation, I think the idea could work if there were a global disaster.”
“Oh, that’s sweet… and a bit disturbing…”
“Thank you.”
The conversation slowed after that, and in an effort to keep it from dying completely, John dredged up a name from the barbecue and asked Rachel, “So how is Wayne doing?”
Lucy shifted her gaze down to the table. “Well, we haven’t seen each other much, since I had to start school, but he’s doing okay. And… and I really don’t want to talk about it… we’re having some problems…”
John nodded sympathetically. “I understand. I’m currently having a bit of a relationship problem of my own.”
“Yeah, my fiancĂ© from before the… you know, before, is engaged to someone else, and I’m okay with that, but she isn’t, and her fiancĂ© is blaming me for what’s going on.”
“Wow. Yeah, that’s… that’s pretty bad. We’re not having problems like that, but… well, I’d rather not—“
“I understand,” John repeated. “If you ever do want to talk about it though, just call.”
“Sure, thanks.” Rachel smiled, and then focused her whole attention on her food.
John watched as the conversation died in front of his eyes. He was actually connecting to someone, discussing ideas they were both interested in; it wasn’t just the polite small talk he shared with his coworkers. Rachel was now his friend. John couldn’t help smiling at that. He had a friend.
The dinner lasted for another half hour, and then began to break up. In two or threes, people got up and left. Eventually, John too got up and walked towards the door. He was just about to leave when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
It was Reggie. He was sweating slightly, and his eyes could never rest on John for more than a few seconds. Watching the movement of his eyes, John realized that throughout the whole dinner, Reggie had never looked directly at him or made eye contact. Strange.
“I need to talk to you, John.”
John glanced out of the front window of the restaurant. It was starting to get dark. “We’ve had all evening to talk. Why do you want to start now?”
Reggie glanced back at the small group of relatives that lingered at the table. “This is a… private conversation. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others. Here.” He gestured to a small alcove near the restrooms, and John reluctantly followed him. As soon as John arrived, Reggie began talking.
“I saw the president’s speech yesterday. It provided the final piece of the puzzle. You’re an E.H.U.D.”
John rolled his eyes. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, I—“
“Someone at work said the same thing. It makes no sense!”
“Yes, it does! You were gone for fifteen years, presumed dead, and when you came back, you didn’t exhibit any signs of a coma patient, even a short-term patient! Also, why do you think the government was so eager to help you out? From what you’ve told me, you suing them would actually be cheaper than what they’ve done for you!”
“Okay, so I’m an E.H.U.D.! So what?!”
Reggie’s voice fell to a whisper. “So if you are, you are a danger to everyone around you. You need to turn yourself in before you do something dangerous.”
John didn’t know how to respond to that. He raised his arms as if to gesticulate, but then dropped them again. He walked a short distance away and leaned on the wall, and then pushed himself up and walked back. “All right, you want proof? You want proof I’m not an E.H.U.D.?”
“In July, the day immediately after Lemlin showed up and this whole thing started, I met a woman who had seen me when I was in the coma!”
“A government employee?”
“Yes, the Queen of England—of course not a government employee! It was Udarian’s wife!”
“And who’s—“
“The man buried under my headstone! I saw her walking down the street, and I recognized her, and I followed her to the synagogue, and later I researched her, found out who she was, and realized she had visited me, and I had somehow gotten a sense of who she was while I was comatose!”
“Some sort of sixth sense let you recognize her?”
John shook his head. “I don’t need this. Go ahead, report me, whatever. Tell the Nazis you found a Jew.”
“Hey that’s not exactly a fair comparison! The E.H.U.D.s are a threat and—“
“And anyone can be reported on suspicion.” John turned and walked back to the exit, and then turned back once more to look at Reggie. He wanted to say something, but he was to angry to think of anything. He shook his head, and walked out into the night.

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