He prefaces with an apology.
I am a man of dwindling mental might, years of isolation, with only the crackle and hoots of nature, can hasten a man’s demise… He finishes with a bemused snort, sipping coffee from an old blue and white speckled ceramic mug.
“I appreciate your time…” I assuage, his demeanor already revealing the precariousness of this interview.
This remote, shoreline shack of Maine is not some survivalist utopia… He stares through the rippling contours of his old glass windows, the waves of the morning Atlantic warped and magnified.
I didn’t escape here, as legend suggests… He emits a disinterested sigh, Would you come here, to this run-down hunting cabin?
You city boys love the artifice of roughin’ it… He sneers, biting into his piece of toast, scrutinizing my preparations for our interview as I connect the recorder and microphone… That’s not digital, right? That’s what we agreed upon.
“Yes, it’s cassette recorder.” I place a brick of newly purchased, factory sealed cassettes onto his small wooden table. “I turned off my phone…” I turn the blackened screen toward him.
Gimme… His arm extends, palm upturned.
He pries the phone from its taut, form-fitted protective case, lifting it to his ear as if to detect a discharge of radioactivity.
Good… He grumbles, his fingers pressing the phone’s buttons, eyes inspecting the headphone ports and speaker apertures like a technophobe trained in modern espionage.
“I assure you it is—”
He lays the phone on the table, head gesturing to the recorder, Let’s get this over with…
He was of the original settlement, that tribe of pariahs banished from The City during The Grand Transformation of American society, politics and culture.
It was a three year tumult, He says… All the foundations, all the institutions of society were no longer deemed reformable, so they were sacrificed to the mobs. Then, to appease the mobs, in swept those billionaire Silicon Valley geniuses, humanity’s saviors, we were told. But, as we know, they were simply autocrats, eager to create their technocratic society…The one you live in today, young man.
“Some would say that, yes…"
But, in all your so called content and history, I bet they never mention the technocrat’s lapdogs and yes men, their sycophants of the intellectual classes, do they? Oh, how they hailed this new world, this great transformation! Yet, I imagine, they never mention their tribunals of justice, do they?
“I heard of the tribunals…”
More like an inquisition…If you questioned what was happening, if you didn’t recite the dogma, didn’t praise the revolution, you were ostracized. If you were deemed useful, had some talent they could exploit, and you kept your mouth shut, you would be eligible for a monthly income. I use to write technology articles, praising the 7G Network, how it would connect not only our smart-houses and our smart-mind implants, but our souls to the universal… He stops, straightening his posture, adjusting his shoulders in his chair.
“Then you were exiled?”
Free-thinkers, those of cognitive ability, who had critical, rational, logical and abstract thinking, were slowly marginalized. Then, we were banished from their blessed utopia. The third year was the bloodiest, from what I was told. The so called heretics would be burned and beaten, everything live streamed to the smart devices of the virtuous and moral…
“I’ve seen those pictures…”
There wasn’t many survivors. We had a few at our settlement, but they were so badly damaged, physically and mentally, that even after we had extracted their implants, they were incapable of anything resembling human… He exhaled.
“Just to go back to what you said earlier, you were the first settlement…”
Yes, it took us about ten years to become some what self-sufficient, from building our homes, small industries, to accessing the electrical grids. That settlement became the basis for what your kind calls The New Cynics movement, for all those voluntarily or involuntarily removed from the cities during The Grand Transformation.
“But, then…something happened.”
There is a lot of conjecture and superstition to that evening… He inhales, his chest bulging, lips curdled until finally expelling his breath.
It was a tanker ship, a cargo ship, very large, unusually designed vessel. All my years in California, working at the docks, seeing those behemoths chugging in from China, I never saw something like that; something like that just wash ashore…And, it had been submerged forever, rusted, tangled in seaweed, everyone thought the Titanic had been belched from the bottom of ocean.
I open my case, retrieving a packet of photographs that I lay on the table. “This is the ship?” I spread the photos on the tabletop.
He nods, Yes…Those photos are considered contraband. I would be very careful transporting them across regional lines. The Atlantic police forces around the New York-Connecticut border are notorious bootlickers who will do anything to endear themselves to their technocratic emperors in Boston.
I smirk, “I know, thank you…I’ve gone off the beaten path to get here.”
He shakes his head, The underground is not reliable or safe, if they find you with those, your punishment triples and you will be viewed as a conspirator.
“I have some pretty hefty people behind this mission.” I smile, hoping to quell his discomfort. “They’re also not trying to implicate you.”
He laughs, Implicate? My, what haven’t I been accused of? Also, those photos—my memory not being of youthful accuracy—appear to be Lauren’s?
I smile, “Yes. They’re copies. Do you know what happened to Lauren?”
He scowls, She was unique, feisty. The settlement wanted to excommunicate her when they found out those photographs were taken with a digital camera. I had to intervene, mollify the mob…
“You’re the man the settlement always came to, right? The night the ship appeared…”
That settlement was to be composed of people free of masters and gods, but, humans are impossible creatures, always frightened of the unknown, always seeking authority, so, yes, I was the unofficial elder, the man of wisdom…
“That night, when you went to see the ship, what did you think?”
I had a wooden cabin on the outskirts of the settlement, three, four bedroom, hand chopped, hand built place… He stops, memories overwhelming him.
“They burned it down?”
He nods, Years later, yes. But that night, everyone woke me, pounding on my front door, ranting and raving about some ghost ship on the shoreline. So, I got on Clarke’s little water-powered golf cart, and he drove me down to the beach to see the thing. I knew it wasn’t good. Something radiated from that…carcass.
“You never went inside the ship?”
No, but there was a group of explorers who ventured inside, finding all sorts of odd devices, machines, trinkets…everything not of this world, even, it seemed, from the world of The Grand Transformation. It was all very…futuristic.
“How long before the inspector arrived?”
The Inspector, you should say. Or, The Devil, to the more religious of the settlement…How long? I’m not sure. Few months, maybe? Time progressed differently at the settlement.
“That’s what I’ve been told…But, the inspector was from The Council, correct? There seems to be a lot of rumor and conspiracy about him. I mean, he was official, correct?” I began to laugh, “He really wasn’t some evil spirit, right?”
The man smiles, Oh…I mean, he showed all sorts of official documents, I was visited by a contingent of emissaries one evening, all very gaunt, serious fellows that made it very clear that The Inspector be given wide access in his investigation.
“And, The Inspector—”
Look, son…The Inspector unleashed hell upon us. If you ever, ever think you can create something pure in this world, those who control us, those who rule us, will make sure that can never happen…