(April 1) What if the Tower Had a Different Cast?

The slurry of words falls always from the sky.

They are grey.

They are bits of pulp-paper, smeared with ink, torn to shreds and pouring forever over the Buffalo region.

The monster trudges along the road. He shivers in his shiny winter coat. Little grey words accumulate on his shoulders.

All around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

A bus drives by. It splashes him with data.

He looks up.

His eyes gleam.

He hierarchically orders the bus in relationship to evil two-headed wolves that live outside the world.

“Graar!” roars the bus.

It is taking inspiration from the wolves. It is relaying the doctrine of those wolves into the world.

The bus stops at a red light.

It casts its head around. “Graar!” it roars.

If it had a mouth, it would totally eat somebody.

Ezra is a pedestrian. He looks up. His face is in a rapture. The words of the wolves are the words he has waited his whole life to hear.

“I understand,” he says. “At last.”

The bus snarls and snaps at him.

Cringing, Ezra scuttles back. He hulks low to the ground, like a two-headed beta wolf living beyond the world. He makes a low whimpering noise. But he does not go away.

The light turns green again.

Driven by the senseless imperatives of the wolves beyond the world, the bus starts moving again, lurches forward two blocks, and then pulls over against the curb.

Ezra follows, and there is something on his face of peace.

The monster trudges on.

And all around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

“I don’t understand,” Tina had said, on the phone. “It’s raining data from the sky. It’s practically begging for organization. Why don’t you set an order to it?”

“You can’t give things order when they’re asking for it,” the monster said. “That road leads to ruin.”

There’s the Rice Building to the monster’s left. Moira looks down from a window. She is dressed in an evening dress and holding a champagne glass in her hand.

She experiences contempt for the monster in the snow.

He looks up.

His eyes gleam.

He hierarchically orders the building in relationship to Santa Claus.

A cold northern wind blows through the Rice Building. The laughter of gnomes is loud in the elevator shaft. Soft lights twinkle.

And Moira finds herself thinking, “I should give away everything I have.”

The notion is simple and lucid. She has thought herself a good person, but in the grim Santalight she recognizes that in every aspect of her virtue there is also the taint of greed. Clinging to her possessions and her comfort, she has never known true clarity of spirit.

“I should empty my bank accounts,” she says, “and give presents to the poor. And then I should slip from my skin,” she says: “Leaving it behind me as a gift for humanity or for God, and like a moth fly free.”

Ho, ho, ho, Moira! That’s the illumination of the Santalight!

The monster trudges on.

And all around him there are humans; and there are humans; and there are enemies.

Tina hesitated.

“I know a disordered thing that craves not resolution,” she says.

The monster is going to the Vatican Satellite Archive in Buffalo, where the Vatican keeps all of the various secret archives and papers that for one reason or another it prefers to keep in Buffalo.

It is a big metal building, like a bunker.

It has a giant and somewhat tacky cross on the front, and it is protected by the Swiss Guard.

“Hello,” says the monster.

“We cannot let you pass,” the Swiss Guard clarify.

And the monster’s eyes gleam—but:

“It’s all right,” Tina says.

She is standing inside the building. She is wearing a lab coat. And at her words the Swiss Guard stand down and relax.

The monster goes in.

“Come see,” she had said. “It’s the God machine.”

“Take me to it,” he says.

And she leads him down into the bowels of the building, where the deepest and darkest of the secrets that the Vatican keeps in Buffalo reside; and there he sees it, great and bulky and flashing its lights and devouring punch cards and tape—the God Machine.

“It is sick,” she says.

The monster looks at it. He taps it with the edge of his hand. He tilts his head to one side and listens to its bleeps.

“It’s the conflict with the Allah Machine and the Godless Secularist Machine,” he says.

“That’s why it’s snowing words,” Tina says. “And why every third person on the street is an enemy.”

He attempts to hierarchically order the three machines. Tina stabs him with the knife Quicksilver.

He is distracted. He can scarcely tell that he’s bleeding, but there’re grey waves of shock inside his mind.

He blinks. He shakes his head. “Huh?”

“Huh?”

“You stabbed me,” he says.

“Oh.”

“Please don’t stab me,” he says, “while I’m trying to hierarchically order God.”

Tina’s lips are a thin line.

The monster looks up. His eyes gleam. He hierarchically orders—

“OW!” he says. “Fudge!”

“I can’t take responsibility for it,” Tina says, cleaning her knife. “It’s natural that you should experience pain when attempting to place these three machines in hierarchical order.”

“I see,” the monster says. “It’s just the inexorable development of a natural process.”

“Yes.”

He looks at her. She is trying very hard not to grin.

He’s got blood all over his shiny winter coat.

“Well,” he says, “thank you for showing me.”

He turns away.

He walks up towards the street.

“You’re not going to break it or anything?” she asks.

He shrugs.

“It’s just the God Machine.”

He walks out of the Vatican Satellite Archive in Buffalo. He walks past the Swiss Guard. They’re mildly concerned about his bleeding but they can’t do anything about it because he’s not the Pope.

He staggers out among the cold grey slurry of words.

And he stumbles.

He falls.

He lays there, on the sidewalk. The humans step over him. The humans walk around him. The enemies stare at him with their shining red eyes.

And suddenly he understands.

There on the ground he laughs; and he looks up; and his eyes gleam.

And he says, “This is a world that loves not order.”

The slurry falls.

And up above the seraphim sing into the chill void of Heaven, and their words precipitate down; and they had never asked that the people of Earth should understand what it is they’ve said.

He is free.

His eyes gleam.

He says, “Systima.”

And the order of things congeals about the words, and the slurry that falls from the sky begins to bind together as it falls; and paper forms books, and books form corpuses, and even the corpuses submerge into data, and there is a swirling serpent of form assembling from the falling gunk, a mad grey thrashing snake like an elemental of the storm; and where there was emptiness there is now an answer, looking out at him from the serpent’s burning eye.

But it is not an answer that he can understand.

Where We Do Not Go

Across the river the Enya-Occupied Territories brood.

Their forests are deep and there are shadows in them. Their music lives deep in the earth and rises in great blue measures to the sky.

“It wasn’t always this way,” the earnest young man named Victor says.

His eyes are fascinating.

“It started when Elvis occupied Germany after the war,” he says. “It wasn’t something he’d planned. They just drafted him.”

“Mm, mm,” Desiree agrees.

“They didn’t need anyone else in Elvis-Occupied Germany. He kept the people tame. He held off the Soviets with his lustful hip gyrations. He proved that one man could bind a nation—if it was the right man.”

“Mm, mm.”

“So when the totalitarians took power they didn’t rule by the gun. They didn’t rule by the bomb. They ruled by the song.”

“Yeah, yeah,” agrees Desiree.

It’s his eyes.

She knows this is dangerous speech. She knows it’s dangerous to agree. But his eyes! They’re the eyes of someone who’s been to the wall of sound and back.

“And they may rule us through music and not fear,” says Victor. “And they may break us with rhythm and not tears. But, Desiree, it’s wrong.”

That’s shocking. She blinks at him. She starts to stammer something and move away.

Victor puts his finger to her lips.

“Shh,” he says. “Everybody thinks that they’re happy here. There’s verve in the air here in the ABBA-Occupied Territories. They pump it out of their pop factories.”

“Mm, mm,” Desiree agrees.

“But verve made in a factory isn’t like the real thing. It gets into your brain and makes it harder to feel real spirit and spark. It’s unhealthy to live under ABBA’s rule all the time.”

Desiree is hesitant to reply.

“And they may rule us through dance music and not fear—” Victor starts.

“Ah, ah, ah,” says a voice.

Victor freezes.

Uh oh, Victor! It’s Officer Francine of the ABBA-Occupied Territories police!

“I am a police officer,” says Francine. “I have a shiny badge and a blue uniform. I arrest criminals and traitors. If you’re not careful, I might just arrest you!”

Victor’s nostrils narrow. He is backing towards a suspicious lump of camouflage canvas along the river’s edge.

“I won’t go back to Swedish pop prison,” he says.

“When I was young,” says Francine, “I thought a police officer would be the best thing to be. I still wake up thinking, ‘Today I’ll save some lives. Today I’ll keep some peace. And if you get in my way, I won’t think twice; you’ll be under arrest.’ And you’re a dangerous man, Victor.”

“They did fiendish musical experiments on me there,” Victor says. “I still can’t get that song out of my head.”

“‘Even Traitors Love Obeying the State?'”

“No!” shouts Victor. He covers his ears. “Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“You’re preaching treason against ABBA and the RIAA,” says Francine. “And the young lady is listening. That’s why I have to arrest you.”

“Nuh-uh!” protests Desiree. “I was looking at his eyes.”

The cop’s gaze is withering.

“You don’t have to arrest me,” Victor says. “You could join my crusade against totalitarianism.”

“You squirm and you protest,” says Francine, advancing. “But I’ve still got to arrest you.”

“You know it’s wrong. You have to know it’s wrong.”

“You’ve stirred my heart with your beautiful eyes,” says Francine, “but I’ve still got to arrest you.”

“No!”

Victor’s shout is as much a strangled noise as a word. He throws aside the canvas, revealing a hidden motorboat. He tumbles back into the driver’s seat and guns the engine.

Francine draws her ABBA gun. “Victor! Don’t be a fool!”

Victor pulls away.

Francine fires bolt after bolt of classic ABBA hits after Victor, but he steers like a maniac and soon she has only songs from their less impressive periods left in her gun.

“Damn it,” Francine says.

“Mm, mm,” agrees Desiree. Then she frowns. “Am I under arrest?”

“You’re under arrest!” Francine asserts.

“This is the moment,” says Desiree. “This is the moment when I realize that he’s right. That you’re a really nice cop but this system is wrong.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” says Francine. It’s a warning.

“It’s no fair,” says Desiree. “Why do bystanders go to jail and real criminals go free?”

Francine blinks at her.

“What?” Desiree says.

“That’s not policy,” says Francine. “It’s just—”

“What?” Desiree demands.

“To Enya’s domain, we do not go.”

The boat has reached the far shore. Victor looks back for a moment.

“Oh,” says Desiree.

Victor’s eyes are as lost and distant and hopeless as the fading light.

(Bonus Content) Current Events

1. Three guns.

The Burger King is not popular in India.

Murdering cattle is a strong source of spiritual pollution. It generates tamogun, best translated into English as the quality possessed by n00bs. The pollution of this act is contagious and infects everyone who eats a delicious fire-grilled Burger King hamburger.

In traditional Hindu metaphysics, tamogun is a quality possessed in greater abundance by the lower castes. They are born as n00bs and die as n00bs. Rajogun is the intemperate quality of warriors and kings. Sattvagun is the higher quality of gurus.

The powerful cast themselves in terms of rajogun and not sattvagun because they cannot serve as the source of their own moral authority. In terms of social dynamics, that’s a no-no; it’s hard to dominate people without vesting the justification for your dominance in some external power. This is why societies often develop a division of secular and moral authority wherein one group rules and a second group, ostensibly powerless, provides them with their moral sanction.

2. The new commercials.

This entry is about a new series of commercials for the Burger King chain of restaurants. These commercials show the Burger King himself.

The Burger King presents himself as a populist reformer. He is a King who wants you to “have it your way.” On December 21, 1979, this controversial figure dropped out of sight. For nearly twenty-six years he has not been seen.

The reason is straightforward.

The Burger King had lost his moral sanction.

He could not show his face while Pope John Paul II lived.

3. Who is the Burger King?

The parlamento Italiano would have you believe that Italy is no longer a monarchy. This is a half-truth at best. Charges of malfeasance and corruption cloud the 1946 referendum against the monarchy that ousted King Umberto II and his wife Maria Jose. There is a reasonable argument that he remained King of Italy up until his retirement in 1974.

Many liberal and moderate Catholics, allegedly including Pope Paul VI—whose ties to Maria Jose are well-known—believed just that. To them, Umberto’s son Burger I became King of Italy upon Umberto II’s retirement in 1974. In 1978, the “Castelgandolfo bloodbath” cost the world both Pope Paul VI and Burger I; Umberto’s grandson, Burger II, ascended to his throne.

For fifty-three glorious days, the message of King Burger II—“the Burger King”— rang out through the world.

4. What was his message?

“I will not dictate to you how you should have your hamburger,” declared the Burger King. “I will not dictate to you how you should live your life. I am King. I will rule you. You will pay me homage. But except in this regard—you may have it ‘your way.'”

The Duke of Doubt questioned his motives, as did a number of cardinals, but Pope John Paul I supported King Burger II fully.

It was time, the Pope said, to move away from dictatorial government and the conservative principles of the “Humanae Vitae.” It was time that people should have it … their way.

If someone wanted to eat a hamburger with six pickles, ketchup, and no mayonnaise, and then go home and have vigorous sex with six pickles, a condom, and no possibility of conception, then they ought to do just that.

“It’s insanity,” railed the Cardinal of Fries.

The great Burger Face on the wall of the Sistine Chapel groaned and shook.

But Pope John Paul I only laughed.

5. An end to summer.

In those heady days the moral weight of the Burger King’s statements was immeasurable. He had an impeccable royal demeanor. He had a catchy message. His hamburgers were popular—again, except in India—and he had the backing of the Pope.

It seemed inevitable that this story would play out as these stories always do. He would use hired Corsican and Sicilian mercenaries, Burger King-brand magic tricks, and popular support to sweep aside the government of Italy. The Pope would crown him anew and he would seat himself on Italy’s throne. Opposition cardinals, legislators, and even the Duke of Doubt would find themselves poisoned, beaten, or garrisoned in distant lands.

Then, on September 28, on the night of long shadows, Pope John Paul I vanished from the sight of men.

He had been Pope for just thirty-three days.

6. The Burger King’s mistake.

The Burger King found himself between a rock and a stale bun. His grand experiment in politics was a textbook example of rajogun—governance driven by passion and ambition. (Rajogun is also the spiritual quality associated with meat, sauce, and onions.) If his support principally came from the people—who recognized in themselves the quality of the n00b—then his reign would lack legitimacy. Neither Italy nor the world would celebrate his experiment; rather, they would regard it as folly. He needed a source of sattvagun. He needed a source of moral authority. He needed a Pope.

So he made the classic mistake that Italian Kings have made time and time again.

He meddled with the papal succession.

7. The dark horse.

The Burger King pushed. He pushed very hard. He threw every kernel of good will and influence he had into the election of his son, the Croissanwich Cardinal, as Pope.

On October 16, the dark horse candidate Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. The Croissanwich Cardinal, driven by a pain he could not accept, hanged himself until dead from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took ten men and six ladders to get him down.

The nightmare of the Burger King had begun.

8. Deeds of Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II affirmed the Humanae Vitae. He withdrew his predecessor’s protection from the Burger King. In Novo Millennio Ineunte, using the traditional numerological code of Popes, he extended his formal support to Ronald McDonald in his conflict with Burger II. “We shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person,” he said; and to a student of Biblical prophecy, his language could not have been more direct.

From the first days of Pope John Paul II’s reign, the Burger King’s power began to wane.

9. Assassination attempts.

The first assassination attempt came in early May, 1979, when Zilo Vassilev conjured “the E. Coli Equalizer” to destroy the Burger King. The E. Coli Equalizer was a former agent of a shadowy government agency. He wore a wig with strands of giant escherichia coli bacteria instead of hair. He had a gun. Burger II was able to defeat him with a magic trick. The second assassination attempt came in December, when John Paul II’s rejection of liberal theology made the parlamento Italiano bold. They hired Bad Potato to take the Burger King down, and Bad Potato very nearly did.

Burger II was too visible and too isolated. If he stayed in the public eye, it was going to mean his death.

So he hid; and for more than twenty-five years, we have not seen his face.

10. The man behind the mask.

Now the Burger King has returned.

It is 2005, and King Burger II is old. He wears a mask depicting his younger self’s face. (One can only assume that he is horribly scarred.) The Burger King appears in commercials with scantily-clad maidens and Darius Rucker. In a moment of biting pathos, he mutely extends a silver plate and “Croissanwich” to the actor representing the Everyman.

He appears in public because no one dares to kill him now.

Pope John Paul II is dead. The new Pope may support Ronald McDonald, but then again, he may not. He may stand with Burger II. He may support the Burger King’s cause. He may declare that, once again, we should have it “our way.”

Until the white smoke rises, King Burger II is safe.

Until the white smoke rises, or the thuggees come.

Careful Attention to Calendars

They decorate the tree.

“National Peduncle Awareness Day is coming up,” Martin says.

“You shouldn’t skip over Christmas,” Jane determines.

“Well, yes,” says Martin. “Christmas. And St. Stephen’s Day. And New Year’s. But after that, National Peduncle Awareness Day. Are you excited?”

Jane makes a face. She takes a giant plastic truth quark out of a box. It is a Christmas ornament. She hangs it carefully on the Christmas tree. Her actions make the italics quite clear.

“I will be very aware of peduncles.”

“That might be hard for you,” Martin cautions. “You don’t know what they are.”

“I will practice alert paranoia!”

“It’s a condition where your eyes extrude on stalks,” Martin says. “‘Peduncles.’ You would think it was a space alien disease, but it’s actually local and very tragic. So you’re supposed to be extra observant and aware of it on January 12, to help show tolerance and love for our peduncle-afflicted brethren.”

“How do you get it?”

Martin shrugs. “Dunno. Eating infected crab eyes, maybe?”

Jane wrinkles her nose. “Ew.”

“That’s not very tolerant of you!”

Jane hangs a top quark on a middle branch. “It’s also Miltymas,” she says.

Martin raises an eyebrow.

“I mean, on the 12th,” Jane says.

“Oh.”

“He’d started as Pope Miltiades,” Jane says. “But everyone called him ‘Milty John.’ He was this guy in a ragged outfit and a torn and dusty miter. He’d come hiking up when you were having trouble with lions or whatever.”

“Did this happen often?”

Jane shrugs. “Dunno. But on the 12th of January, people’d celebrate Miltymas. It was to honor all the times when they’d been in trouble, and something had saved them. Like luck or a friend or a renegade ex-Pope. They’d leave out unleavened bread and milk for him and wear little pope hats and make lion cakes and stuff. Eventually, everyone forgot about him, but Milty John was still worth a lot of money, so they stuffed him in the tunnels rather than throwing him away.”

“Huh,” says Martin. “I’d heard of him, of course, but the details of his Papacy are so fuzzy! I couldn’t tell if he’d survived to become a legendary holiday figure.”

“It was probably quantum indeterminate until just now,” Jane says.

“Really?” Martin sounds pleased.

“It’s your keen probability-collapsing observation at work!”

“I keep meaning to collapse all the rest of history into a deterministic state,” Martin confides. “But whenever I try, my eyes bug out so hard from all the observation that I get dizzy.”

“Maybe that’s how you get peduncles,” Jane says.

Martin hangs up a small candy cane. He thinks.

Jane watches him think.

“Wow,” says Martin. “That’d make National Peduncle Awareness Day kind of ironic.”

“Your eyes are totally bugging already. You’ve been awaring too hard!”

“Are not!”

Martin checks that his goggles are still secure and Jane cannot see his eyes. Then he nods firmly.

“Are not,” he repeats.

Jane giggles merrily. “It’s your own fault for trying to skip right past the Christmas spirit.”

“It was reckless of me,” Martin concedes.

Creating Reasonable Explanations1

1 an authorial interjection, with inexplicable allusion to melomids.

To save the world you have to understand it. That’s why you can’t just start talking about a dancing army of Popes without a bit of backstory.

* Where did the dancing Popes come from?
* Why are they an army?
* To what sinister purpose and uses are such forces put?

A petty metaphysician handwaves the dancing army of Popes, declaring, “They are: they exist: they sprang into being from nothingness, most likely, ineffably participating in the warp and weft of material existence without independent cause or creator.”

Shun the petty metaphysician!

Rather look back through time and see the roots of things; then tell yourself stories, put things in order, try to understand.

If you had a lens made from the skin of a melomid—

For example—

You might peer back through the centuries, into post-apocalyptic Rome, and (after that pitched battle shown in so many historical films) you’d see the Pilate, with Jesus at his mercy.

“I will put you in a sinister deathtrap,” exclaims the Pilate, washing his hands, “from which there is no possible escape. Then I will leave.”

“You imperialist fiend!” Jesus rages. “You won’t get away with this!”

But he would!

He’d nail Jesus to a cross, next to two equally helpless thieves, and he’d get away with it too. He’d laugh, saying, “In a few days, Jesus, you’ll die of exposure. And if that’s not enough, this entire crucifix is a bomb!”

Jesus would try to use the God Communicator, but if he hears anything, you wouldn’t know it from his face.

He’d look like he was hearing static.

So “It’s a grim situation,” Jesus would tell the thieves, “but there’s one . . . last . . . hope!”

And if he bursts into a country-western ditty right then as you’re watching—

If his heart shouts to the world his sorrow that his God has left him and some Roman has nailed him to a cross—

Wouldn’t that say a lot about the Popes?

If the thieves realize that Jesus has a better plan than they did (theirs involved number theory) and backed him up all the way? If they were a baritone and a tenor and if their song together rose to Heaven?

If Apostle Paul, Roman talent agent, would walk by just then and say, “Jesus! You could be a star!”

Then Jesus would look away, in his blood and loincloth and people who’ve just heard him sing, and suddenly all shy, and the seeds of the dancing Pope army would be sown.

Wouldn’t they?

Skip forward through the years.

People say that after Jesus left it to its own devices, the country-western Vatican got set in its ways. That’s why the “blue suede Pope” brought in the Vatican II with his hip-thrustin’ and his gyratin’ and his sparkling white Pope pants.

He had no choice!

The whole Church was stagnating!

And once again a petty metaphysician would leave it there. “Elvis was Elvis, and the Popes are the Popes.”

But Elvis was an unusual Pope in more ways than one.

First, he was Elvis.

And second, he kept coming back. Even after he “died.” He kept showing up, at gas stations, at minimalls, his face in your burrito—so much so you kind of wonder if he really died at all.

And then, if you were Jane, you might come up with a better answer.

If you stared into the chaos long enough, you’d start to see a pattern there.

He didn’t die at all.

Isn’t that a better explanation?

He didn’t die.

None of them have.

Popes are immortal. Jesus gave them eternal life.

The mausoleums under the Vatican aren’t musty places full of dead people. They’re like a giant rave full of ever-living Popes.

They’re down there.

They’re immortal.

And ever since Pope Joan, they’ve been breeding.

Just look at this timeline.

First, there was Pope Joan.
Then, she “died.”
Nine months later, the first cardinal showed up.

And maybe some of the other people at the tower would argue. They’d say,

“This is a crazy conspiracy theory, and there’s a perfectly rational explanation.”

“Cardinals are probably just like in those stories, a natural stage priests pass through on their way to Pope—nature’s crimson allegory to puberty. Or their garments are stained red with the blood of aliens. Or it’s all due to government mind control rays.”

Insightful minds are drawn to deepness!

These arguments would not stand.