Americhrist… The Novel I Told You About…

I posted about a novel I started in 1999 when I saw the Bush administration coming to power and had an apocolyptic vision of the future. In it we didn’t die in a giant WWIII style war, no big drama to our end, but rather we withered away, our life blood draining slowly, almost too slowly to notice until it was too late to do anything about it. I’m going to repost what I have already written about the novel and then post the first chapter from the book. I will continue to post a chapter a week unless I have requests to post them sooner. 

The book also envisions a future America that ultimately becomes a plutocratic theocracy, hence the name Americhrist. There’s another reason as well, but it has to do with a greater metaphor I can’t give away or I’ll ruin the book.

Here’s the post from earlier about the book and why I am publishing it here.

In 1999 I Had A Premonition…

October 5, 2008 · 3 Comments

In 1999 I had a premonition about the election and global warming. At the time conservatives were still trying to argue it wasn’t happening. I looked at the charts of both Bush and Al Gore and it looked like they were both going to win. I finally came to the bizarre conclusion that Gore would win the popular vote and Bush the white house (as this has on rare occasions happened in our history). I won’t get into all the stuff that I ended up predicting at that time that came to pass, except to say, I got very scared.

I had a premonition of a post-apocalyptic world that wasn’t like Mad Max or some nuclear melt down or war. It was a slow, painful death of our world via global warming (In my vision we didn’t end in a bang, we eroded away without much notice). In 1999 before the election was settled, I decided to write a novel based on a series of premonitions (of course there’s also a story in the novel that’s fictional). I knew Bush would take the white house and the oil companies would run wild.

I read the first draft to my writer’s group who all told me what an imagination I had. How had I come up with this stuff? Well, easy, besides being precognitive, I saw the writing on the wall and used extrapolation, and to some degree humorous hyperbole to make my point.

To make a long story short. I finished that book, won a literary prize, only to be told that speculative fiction and science fiction were dead (other than Fantasy and Space Opera) and although the multitude of interested agents who read it, said it was well written and they liked it, ultimately they couldn’t sell it.

Of course, like all things. I’m usually out of step with time, so this didn’t really surprise me. But as my mother used to say, “keep something long enough and it will come into fashion.” So maybe now we’re approaching the time for speculative fiction. Perhaps people will want more than just entertainment, they will want substance, extrapolation, clarity about their world and evaluative thought in their literature. Hey, it’s worth a shot.

Because this novel is so prescient and it dovetails so well with the issues and insight on my blog I’ve decided to publish a chapter a week. The themes are global warming, the US becoming a corporate Theocracy, spirituality and so many other fun things. Actually there is (in my opinion) a lot of humor in the book especially the further in you go. But I’ll let you be the judge.

Other than polishing, I have changed nothing about the original concept or story. So when reading it, you’ll see many bizarre correlations to the present and recent past. But these were written nearly ten years prior.

Next week I’ll post chapter one. In the mean time I’ll figure out a way post the book in an unobtrusive way for those of you who are not interested in this side of my work.

Please forgive anything that would normally be caught by an editor. I have edited the book a bunch of times, but its very difficult to see 100,000 words clearly after you’ve almost memorized them. I was going to have an editor friend of mine go over it, maybe later when she isn’t so busy, she can do so for later chapters. So again please forgive anything I couldn’t see.

And here is the first chapter of Americhrist…

                 Chapter 1 – Digibio Technologies

               (2044, January through June)


     For three months I had worked at Digibio Technologies, but each day the security guard double checked my ID badge, ran a series of computer checks and called my supervisor Geraldine Shumaker. Today was no exception. A line of cars was forming behind me at the gate. It was embarrassing.

     I gave the guard my name, again, “Psyche Hershenbaum.”

     After a brief phone conversation with my supervisor the guard nodded and started, “You’ll be parking in…”

     “Space 1133,” I said. He glared with shock and awe, as if I were a Mambo Priestess. And I laughed at the thought of having any vexing paranormal power, as if there was anything more than routine going on. But in the past twenty years the world had changed from rational to reactionary to hysterically religious, and overrun with true believers who saw the hand of God in each and every mundane transaction. Some “pilgrims” had even trekked into the shattered ghost cities to see the Virgin Mary on the side of broken down buildings at the behest of the national church aka “The Wrath of God, inc.” run by Jessie and Sandy Applegate -despite contamination warnings issued from scientists. Later of course these “pilgrims” died of plague or UV exposure. There was nothing more “evil” than the Applegates fanatical right wing church prodding their terrified flock to the slaughterhouse in the name of salvation.

     Being a nubie at Digibio, it was a long walk to the elevators and even further through the bowels of the sub city where I worked in the chlorophyll research lab. There were thirty five cameras I had spotted so far. Who knew how many more were too hidden to see.

     The building itself wasn’t much to look at from inside or out. Cold industrial steel bones, concrete flesh and mirrored glass with eyes always watching from the side you couldn’t see.

     Through the labyrinth of hallways I contemplated the heavy security. Most of my research had been in and for universities. I hadn’t worked in the corporate sector much, but I had worked briefly for two other companies and their security was nothing like Digibio just a gate, a few security personal and a couple of cameras mounted in the parking structure. Digibio made no sense. No information was allowed to be shared between departments or scientists. This was the most peculiar facet of the work and the company itself. It went against all ordinary scientific protocol with the potential side effect of slowing down or squashing advancement. Why isolate each sector with different department heads and keep researchers on micro projects for years without any idea of why or what they were researching?     

     I was limited to the reproduction of chlorophyll in genetically altered plants. At first my suspicion was Digibio was trying to produce seeds and rhizomes strong enough to stay mutation free. In the Midwest after the great floods of 2020, farmers couldn’t produce edible corn or wheat because the loss of ozone resulted in high levels of radiation. A hearty, edible, plant could be extremely valuable as a staple food if it were UV resistant. And if Digibio had total control they would reap all the financial rewards. But this line of logic quickly broke down. The population was rapidly decreasing and it made no sense to be so clandestine and elaborate when there was little or no competition.

     I finally got to the bio-sector iris-scan and put my chin on the rest. The beam stung. I hated those things, there were fingerprints scans and so many other ways to do the same thing without causing pain. The iris-scans were even installed at the food court which was the only common area and was redundant after having been scanned everywhere else in the building. It bordered on sadistic.

     Ira had started calling me sleeping beauty because of my project ignorance. It was a clumsy metaphor. The sleeping part, maybe, but I had no illusions of being a beauty. I was made acutely aware of this as far back as I could remember. Some insults haunted me into adulthood such as hook nose, horsy face, sack of bones and of course the universal favorite, kike – with a name like Psyche Hershenbaum there was no hiding Jewish roots.

     I clocked in and Geraldine walked by and nodded at me. Eight in the morning and back to the grind, repeating the same experiment on the manufacturing of chlorophyll in Digibio’s patented rapid growth Planimal. A hybrid engineered by splicing cactus, cockroach and rat genes. It was vitally important that the cells stood up to intense ultraviolet rays and so far my research yielded mixed results. I suspected the ratio of genetic ingredients needed to be tweaked and had filed a report with Geraldine about this opinion, but there had been no acknowledgment of my findings thus far.

     But later that day just after getting back from lunch, Geraldine tapped my shoulder and said, “Follow me.”

     For such a tiny woman Geraldine’s clip was hard for to keep up with. When we reached the digi-block, Geraldine put a hand in front of the scanner, telling the computer, “Meeting with Paul Lamont, section 5-a, special privileges extended to Psyche Hershenbaum code number 771133.”

     “Iris scan indicated,” the computer responded and we put our faces to its lens.

     The tension in my neck squirmed into knots. We took the lift to corporate headquarters above ground in the main building. Few employees had ever seen the inside of the above ground building, only those with special clearance, heads of departments and corporate business types. Geraldine was fidgeting and didn’t say a word. It made me nervous.

     An armed guard met us outside the lift and took us to the boardroom. A plaque outside read: Trilateral Room. This was it. The it. The place where all company decisions were made. Where careers ended, lives were ruined or made. I took a deep breath.

     The guard keyed the wall. It opened.

     The head scientist, Paul Lamont, smiled and extended his hand. I let out a breath when my palm met his. And even though he said, “Good to meet you, Psyche. Geraldine has nothing, but praise for your work,” with a twinkle and charm that should have made me feel like I was at a dinner party, I felt very uneasy.

     Paul was uncannily handsome – a tall man with a full head of silver streaked hair, sharp wolf-like sky blue eyes and a disarmingly warm smile. As I studied his face my eyes wandered to a spot of dried blood on his chin where he’d cut himself shaving.      

“Nice to meet you too, Mr. Lamont,” I returned. He smiled again and turned to shake Geraldine’s hand. They exchanged small talk. Soon his smile evaporated and he led us to our seats at the boardroom table.   

     He punched some numbers into his wristcom and reading the screen, said to me, “Graduated in 2035 only six years into school with a doctorate. Something of a prodigy, aren’t you?”

     “No, not really, I just took an extra course load, worked hard and finished a few years early.”

     “Modest.” He winked. “We like that in our researchers. What where you twenty four?”

     “Yes, sir.”

     “So your thirty now?” I nodded.  He looked at his wristcom again. “My data shows you’re age among company scientists ranks in the fifteen percentile group and your company seniority, ha, is so low it hasn’t even been entered.”

     I smiled. “That explains why the gate guard never seems to know I’m an employee.”

     Paul lifted his wristcom and spoke into it, “Computer upload Psyche Hershenbaum’s system files into the main frame.” Paul turned back to me and said, “All taken care of.”

     The wall opened. Several men walked in tandem huddled closely around someone I couldn’t see until he sat down – I gasped. It was the President – the current reigning President of the United States of America, Reginald Strauch and on his right was his wife Camille Pamela.

     My heart raced and plummeted into my stomach. They had the queer magnetism of power – an air of entitlement only a child born into a political dynasty could possess and it was as physical and real as gravity. Reginald’s father, grandfather, paternal great grandfather and great-great grandfather had been Republican Presidents. Democrats (and a few radical Republicans) argued for reforms because the office had become nepotistic and dangerously bordered on a monarchy. People voted for names they had heard of and an ordinary candidate couldn’t compete with the money an ancient dynasty had or could raise. Some left of center Democrats had gone as far as accusing the presidency of cultivating a plutocratic oligarchy akin to the Caesars of ancient Rome. Some argued America resembled Feudal Europe, corporations playing the role of the church during the Dark Ages using their power to manipulate the president who was now nothing more than a pawn of industry. This, they said, was not the America our forefathers had envisioned and changes were needed to preserve the spirit of our democracy. The American ideal had blown away in a gust of corruption like a seed on the wind.

     By the turn of the century Americans were a dying peasant class drowning in debt. They had lost the plot and were mislead by advertising, double talk, and naiveté about the merger of corporate and political power that had overtaken the system. After the third Strauch was elected, there was talk of legislation to disqualify presidential candidates whose family history included political leaders but, of course, this was knocked down, not just because the Strauchs were again in power, but because most politicians had familial roots. And a far deadlier consequence of the shift in power was the inability to pass universal health care due to lobbying pressure. In large part the massive plagues that swept the nation owed a debt of gratitude to the broken health care system – with so many unable to afford health care people tried to cure themselves through herbal remedies and waiting out illnesses. The CDC could not effectively quarantine the infected. Plagues spread like wildfire mutating before health officials could gain control.  

     The faces around the board room table were a blur. All the lead scientists of various departments like Geraldine were present, but I didn’t know any of them. The only memorable people were the Strauchs and of course Paul Lamont.

     Lamont was the founder and CEO of Digibio. He lead the meeting. Publicly he was seen as an uncomfortable mix of scientist and businessman. He had first come to the media’s attention when I was a child for manufacturing organs for the wealthy in need of transplants. His face decorated every major magazine and the ethics of it sent a chill around the world. But despite an onslaught of criticism from nearly every religious leader in the world, his work continued funded by unspecified sources. In D.C. rumors of Strauch dynasty support abounded, but these rumors were largely dismissed due to the Strauch’s close connection and financial support of, “The Wrath of God, inc.”

     After Lamont made the introductions, President Strauch told the hovering swarm of secret service agents to, “Take a hike. Go guard the corridor.”

     Lamont called the meeting to order and said, “There have been significant findings in the development of ultra-violet resistance in the patented Planimal Cell. Miss Psyche Hershenbaum has found variable mutations, and according to her paper, she estimates stability at ten years unless there is ‘a significant restructuring of DNA.’ We’ve brought Psyche here to explain her findings and illuminate us with her proposed solution, which I might add, looks very promising. Psyche I turn the floor over to you.”

     “Thank you sir.” I wasn’t prepared for a presentation but my research had been hard wired into my brain through repetition. I tried to steady my voice. “What I’ve seen in the experiments are multiple results from exposure. In some instances the cells have shown little to no effect from increased ultra-violet light, in others they’ve completely mutated. The range of change is so varied from one cell to the next that I think there is a very minute code problem in the so called inactive genes which maybe causing the mutations. Further study is needed.”

     Paul interjected, “Please keep this simple Miss Hershenbaum, layman terms.”

     I nodded. “Right, basically, I took it upon myself to isolate those cells that performed best under ultra-violet conditions. I was given permission from Mrs. Shumaker to deep freeze the specimens for later study and if everything checks out. I believe we can clone those cells and fix the problem.”

 “Well, that’s a relief,” President Strauch said. He glared at Paul and with a wave of his hand said, “What are you waitin’ for? Get your people on this – right away.”

     Paul smiled. “Yes, sir.”

     “Okay, this meetin’ is over,” the President said getting up from the table with his wife Camille Pamela. “Well, boys I’ve got some big fish to fry. I’ll check in with you later.” In seconds he disappeared in a swarm of suited men down the hallway.

     The scientists were exiting when Paul pulled me aside. “Excellent job. Thank you.”

     I wondered why there had been no warning about the meeting, but all I said was, “You’re welcome, sir.”

     “Keep up the good work.” He clicked through his teeth, leaving me alone with Geraldine. 

     The guards escorted us to the lift. A sea of Strauch’s secret service men parted for Lamont and the two walked toward his office. And the lift doors shut.

     What the hell was going on?

     Why did the President of the United States care about my research or Digibio’s production of the Planimal? The lift felt uncomfortably silent, I broke the tension by saying to Geraldine, “That was a great honor… meeting President Strauch.”

     Geraldine’s eyes met mine with a queer look I couldn’t read. After a long uncomfortable walk back to the lab Geraldine said, “Very well done Psyche, go ahead and catalog the frozen samples then put them in the fridge for study tomorrow.”

     So that was it?

     The rest of my day was devoted to freezing planimal DNA strands. It had been a strange morning, everything had taken a 180. I had to reevaluate my research and reorganize how my project was going to be handled, from catalogue samples, to designing a new series of experiments.

     There was one advantage to the fresh set of problems, Geraldine let me go home early. When I arrived Ira was sitting on the couch in his boxer shorts and dress socks, watching the news with a bale of rice treats. It looked as if he’d been there all day. Chi, our cat (a Himalayan), was draped over his legs, asleep, turned belly up and fighting something in his dreams.

     “Shouldn’t you wake Chi? It looks like he’s having a nightmare,” I said.

     “No, he’s fine, it’ll just confuse him,” he said turning up the screen’s volume.

     I scooped Chi up and sat next to Ira to watch the news.    

     “New York City has been devastated by this unforeseen monster. Shouldn’t the NWFS have warned of this killer hurricane?” the anchorman and actor, Bill Surnow, queried. Shaky video footage from surveillance cameras around the city ran behind him. Buildings swayed from high winds and water suddenly crashed through the streets, the camera went blue. “More after we take a break,” a disembodied voice said.

     I grabbed the cordless phone and dialed my mother, simultaneously asking Ira, “What’s going on?”

     “Didn’t anyone tell you?”

     I shook my head. “There’s a busy signal.”

     “Yeah, I’ve been trying all day. They say the lines are down from North Carolina to Maine.”

     I dialed my mother’s cell and waited as it endlessly rang.

     Ira’s voice cracked. “I’ve already tried that number, too.”

     The heroic New York which had survived terrorist attacks, plagues and earthquakes was now being washed to sea. The images were gruesome and horrifying. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother’s short white hair. Her hunched feeble body and the familiar smell of her sandalwood oil, drowning.

     The fear mom had to have experienced, seeing the ocean pitched like a tray of water. The sound of breaking bricks and mortar splintering and glass shattering and people screaming.

     Mom alone. Trapped in the brownstone.

Warren Street bursting with salt water, busting down the cobbled street, exploding two hundred year old row houses into broken brick walls with rocking chairs and baby’s cribs, sofas and teddy bears pouring out of holes – everything taken by the water — people struggling to grab anything floating by to keep themselves steady in the raging flood. The water infested with rats and trash, the tide crashing hard against each new building it seeked to destroy.

     My home. My mother. I was outside myself.

     It wasn’t like me to cry, even now the hot tightening in the deep of my throat was in a tunnel far away. I was frozen. Emotionally paralyzed. “I spoke to her yesterday. She’s alright. Right? She’s okay, isn’t she?”

     Ira moved gently across the sparse room and caught my hand in his. Its warmth momentarily penetrated my numbness.

     The commercial break ended. A grim Bill Surnow stood at the anchor desk to announce, “Early estimates for Hurricane Xavier are thought to include hundreds of thousands dead and many more missing. One source reported most of Brooklyn and Long Island shore entirely decimated. There is little hope the area will ever recover.”

     Bill Surnow cut to a local reporter who was standing in the middle of an ER in Queens. “The hospitals are inundated with the injured. In Manhattan F5 winds cracked and shattered windows, glass chards sharp as daggers hurtled in every direction. The scene more gruesome than words could describe.”

     I dialed my mother, Miriam’s home again. Again, no use. Mom’s cell phone. “All circuits are busy.” The University where she worked. “You’re call can not go through. Please hang up and dial again.” I went through lists of friends and relatives but to no avail.

I bottled up the urge to throw the phone across the room and instead demanded of Ira, “When?” 

     “Around noon the Weather Service started to see signs of a hurricane gathering…”

     “But how?” I asked him.

     “The conditions were just right off the coast of North Carolina…”

     “But why? Nothing…” I stopped myself because my voice was starting to quiver. It was as if my cranium had cracked like a polar ice cap and it was melting so fast the water was drowning me. I raised my voice at Ira, “It’s impossible. Nothing like this has ever happened in New York.”

     Ira, who had arrived at my side to give comfort, retreated. “Take it easy, Psyche everything is going to be all right.” He said this with all the skill and assurance of a man who had never had to utter such words.

     “Don’t tell me to take it easy. And it’s not going to be okay. My mother is missing. She’s probably dead and you have no answers. No one has answers.” I grabbed my coat and headed toward the front door. Ira followed after me.

     “Where are you going?”

     “I need to think.”

     “You can’t go out, it’s dark and late.”

     But I darted past him and left. The storm that had hit New York was coming into town and it was cool and misty out. Ira busted out the front door and ran after me. “It’s dangerous.”

     “I need to be by myself.” He tried to grab me but I shook him off. “Please. Just leave me alone.”

     “When will you be back?” He pleaded. He looked concerned and confounded. In eight years I had never raised my voice or shed the smallest tear in front of him.

     It was starting to drizzle and I wiped a gathered tear of rain from his cheek and said, “As soon as I can.” A moment later I broke into a run and headed into a dark alley.

     I felt a drop of water run down my face and I wasn’t sure if it was me or the rain. But it didn’t matter. I roamed the streets dotted with city lanterns and sickly trees. The cold moon followed as if mocking my pain with a twisted snarl on her face. The rain halos around the street lamps tainted with memories of Brooklyn — things I tried to hold back but couldn’t — waving good-bye to my mom from the car as she stood on the stoop, never thinking it would be the last time I saw her. This image I couldn’t shake no matter how long or far I walked.

     I hadn’t noticed time slipping by or the pound of my footsteps or the chill or the rain soaking through me until I hit the Potomac and I stared at the obstacle it posed on my quest to loose myself. I had walked at least five miles and I knew I had to get back before Ira started a vain attempt to find me. It felt like the edge of the earth and the edge of time, I was crashing and splintering like a fine piece of porcelain hitting concrete.

     And then I saw them. A woman about my age, in her early thirties, holding a small limp girl in her arms and struggling to walk the rain slicked stairs.

     Logic told me not to, they could have been afflicted with a plague or a crime may have been taking place, but I ran toward them. Something compelled me. And for the first time I can remember, I discarded logic and apathy.

     By the time I got to them the mother was struggling to put her dying child in the car. She was about to lay the girl on the sidewalk to open the door when I took her from the woman’s hands. She looked at me as if I had always been there like some sort of guardian angel. We said nothing. She opened the door and I slid the girl into the backseat. Seconds later the woman was backing out of the driveway, barely getting the driver’s side door fully closed as she sped down the street.

     On the way home I wondered about them, whether the mother had gotten the girl to a hospital in time, if the girl would survive. Helping them had for a moment made me feel a little less helpless. And I treasured that feeling through my personal darkness like an heirloom.

     Ira was fully dressed and ready to start his search when I let myself in. It looked like he had been crying. The flat screen was a cacophony of devastation behind him.

     “If I wasn’t so happy to see you I’d strangle you right now,” he said grabbing me.

     “I’m not a child.”

     “And what? You didn’t think I’d be worried? Why are you punishing me like this?”

     “This isn’t about you, Ira.”

     “Yes it is. It’s about you not letting me in. I want to help you, but you make it impossible.”

     I nodded. He put his arms around me and held me until I couldn’t be held any longer without breaking down again. “I’m sorry,” I said.

     There was a repeat of an earlier news broadcast. It was a press conference with none other then my boss Paul Lamont. I sat down to watch it.

     Lamont looked too put together, in a suit that would have cost an average person a year’s wages. He was unnaturally relaxed for the circumstances. “There has been a rush to judgment by the scientific community about the Atlantic’s rise in temperature and global warming. For years I’ve poured over countless studies, reviewed thousands of reports and culled through all the supposed proof. I’ve never found a correlation. The evidence is overwhelming for a natural shift in the Earth’s climate. This has occurred many times before human history. It’s unfortunate that we happen to be living during one of these intense global changes.”

     I yelled at the screen, “Fucking asshole! Those studies were done by oil companies, they have no credibility. They’ve been discredited by every independent survey done by the scientific community.”

     Paul then took a question from Bill Surnow. “What about the ozone hole?”

     Paul responded, “Another natural phenomena caused by radiation imitated during solar storms. We’ve seen evidence of holes before in layers of igneous rock. And it’s been repairing itself over the past forty years.”

     “Bullshit,” I said.

     Ira cautioned me, “Just hold on a minute,”

     Bill Surnow asked his follow up, “Are you suggesting all the horrible tragedies that have occurred over the past forty years, are simply a result of natural earth changes?”

     “Absolutely,” Lamont said. He waived away any further questions and left the podium.

     Ira sat down beside me. “I saw it this afternoon, but I don’t get why they’re still trying to cover up the global warming thing when it’s been proven countless times.”

     I hit the rewind button and replayed Lamont’s speech, freezing a medium shot of him and examining it carefully. “There’s something strange about this. I was taken in to see him this morning at work.”

     A curious Ira walked back in. He asked, “You were?”

     “Strauch was there, too.”

     “The President was at Digibio?”

     I continued to stare at the screen trying to determine what exactly was different about Paul Lamont. Was his hair a little longer? I went through the catalogue of images fresh in my mind from the boardroom meeting. Yes. But without a physical picture, I couldn’t be sure. His clothes were obviously different. The suit most patently not something he would wear to work. Of course he must have changed. Then I noted something that confirmed my suspicion.

     “This was prerecorded,” I said.

     “What makes you think that?”

     “When I saw him this morning he had a cut on chin.” I paused the image and zoomed closer, pointing to his chin. “There’s nothing there.”

     Ira squinted. “They knew this would happen.”

     “Yeah, and they didn’t give any warning.”

     “But why?” he asked.

     I shook my head. “I can’t think about it right now.” 

Americhrist… The Novel I Told You About…