In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction. Today, The Omnivore continues a serial-fiction experiment: Illuminoimia.
Everything You're Afraid Of Is True.
Five months later, as the Second American Revolution rages down in Georgia, our hero, Theodore Odell, finds himself living in Seattle with his 'soul-mate' Sarah, a gift of the Illuminati--but now his eyes are open and he can't go back to living the lie.
Previously On Illuminoimia
Ch 17: The Second American Revolution
Chapter 18: Angels in the Architecture
Seattle Washington, November 2013: Five Months Later
If there was one thing--one single thing--that had happened to convince me of the power of these fuckers it was Sarah. It was how absolutely right they were about her and I. It was the gripping sense of loss I felt when I was sure I would lose her. It was the easy way we shared our lives together--like there was some invisible oil between us that smoothed everything over--made everything click.
It was the way we made love.
The world had just been pushed over the edge and was tumbling into the abyss and I had fallen head-over-heels for my soulmate and it absolutely fucking terrified me. When I stopped to think about it, at least, which was more often than you might think. I had a lot on my mind these days: I was troubled.
I was troubled by the papers I’d found in the northern annex of the Puppet Theater--the diary ‘Rex’ had been writing and had printed off an ancient custom-built computer terminal. I was troubled by my short look into the ‘records’ They had stored there: Engraved stones with writing that I now know was Sanskrit, scrolls in atmospherically sealed chambers with soft light and languages that I couldn’t find any match for in libraries (I didn’t dare use the Internet). The northern annex was a dark library of texts They had organized for purposes I could only guess at. As ‘Rex’ had lain, dying or dead, at the steps of the altar, I had gathered some documents--his ‘diary’ amongst them--and left.
My plan had been to exit that nightmare, to find the girl in his papers, to see her once, from afar, and then to try to slouch back to my old life and lay low. It was a plan that collapsed on contact when I laid eyes on her in the coffee shop where her ‘common locales’ page said she’d be. I’d looked across that well-lit space and my world had collapsed into a single line of tunnel vision. It wasn’t that the feeling was so powerful--it was the opposite: it was a subtle if sudden lift--it was the first flutters of a butterfly’s wings--a faint tremble of hope. It was trace elements of joy. I’d been hooked.
It had been easy to get into her life--as easy as merging onto a placid highway. It was like she was waiting for me. I realized I had certainly been waiting for her.
So now, months later, I was living a lie.
I thought of Rex’s story when I lay awake next to her at night. I thought of Them making him choose between himself and his ‘Amanda’ for that dark pit and I was pinned in the bed by the horror of it. The idea that they could make him do that meant they could make anyone do that. It meant they could make me do that. That terror and the things I knew--it was a wall between us.
Sarah could see into me with a frightening accuracy that, if it wasn’t utterly laced with compassion, would have ended us. She could tell when I was worried. She could tell when I was scared. She seemed to know exactly when to cook my favorite meals. I got the impression she could finish my sentences but chose not to because she knew it would freak me out.
I couldn’t do the same thing with her--and I thought I knew why: because of the Secrets. When I had met her I had told myself that it would not--could not--last. That any offer They made me was a poisoned apple--that I would be a fool take Their gifts. I hadn’t been able to deliver on that caution: the chemistry between us was intense and inviolable and there were things I just couldn’t tell her...
I couldn’t explain what I was doing in Seattle. I told her, not wanting to try to explain my break with my recent past, that I was unemployed with a small amount of money from an insurance settlement. I lied about not having spoken to my parents in years because I couldn’t explain to them what I was doing thousands of miles from home on the other coast having just met the girl of my dreams.
This was made easier since transcontinental movement was made harder now by the government checkpoints that had sprung up to look for ‘Militia Armaments’ (what had been called Assault Weapons) to prevent potential ‘resistance pockets’ from being armed. We’d seen the nightly raids on TV where shellshocked looking families were led out of their homes by combat-gear suited SWAT and DHS troopers, caches of AR-15’s held up for the cameras. Sarah was disturbed by this--but not seeing the whole picture it looked to her like these people really were dangerous terrorists. I knew better, and I couldn’t say anything.
The lies were like sand between us: taking something that should have been easy and wearing it down--eating it away.
That wasn’t all: things were happening to me. I was aware now and it made me paranoid. Everything seemed like a facade. Everything sounded like a lie. I thought I could see Their hands behind everything and everyone. Any person on TV was Their puppet: I had seen the cathedral where they affixed the strings. Pop music was encoded with mythic sigils of sinister intent. The newspaper was full of lies and misdirection. I carried an ancient, low-tech pre-paid flip phone. At home, before I went to bed, I took the batteries out. I didn’t trust computers or email. Even the air itself, I felt, was full of threat.
Overhead, the sky was a grid: Vapor trails from airline contrails crisscrossed over the city and now, instead of harmless water, I imagined particles of aerosol gel falling all around us like a chemical rain. When I read about the resistance down in Georgia I could see the shapes of things to come: They were ‘Rolling Up The American Experiment.’ Sure, Mary might hold out for another three months--his army could last the winter against the Department of Homeland Security--but no one expected them to last much longer than that.
Most people were relieved that the “insurrection” would soon be over--but I wasn’t. Most people thought the bizarre maze of legal maneuvering to bring Senator Thomas Mary and his militia to trial was ridiculous--even absurd (save for, of course, the Pentagon not having ‘stepped in’ to the fray allowing Homeland Security alone to fight it out with the rebels)--but I could catch glimpses of greater patterns behind the arcane legal maneuvers that Mary’s lawyers were engaged in with an enemy that existed, like most of the iceberg, unseen under the waters of Washington DC.
I was a believer, forged in the Puppet Theater, and Sarah … Sarah was where I’d been eight months ago. Sarah was a joyous rationalist who believed that ‘chemtrails’ were a paranoid fantasy and the gold fringe on a flag hung in a court was purely decoration. I couldn’t discuss the things I’d seen with her or tell her the things I knew. That lie of omission hung between us like dead air and she could sense it. She knew something was wrong.
Enter Bryan Colter. Bryan Colter was the “king of the coffee circle.” I’d met him that first day I walked in and I had seen immediately that he’d had designs on Sarah--probably since long before I got there. For a group of too-long-out-of-school to be unemployed twenty-somethings he was quite a catch: Bryan Colter had a great steady job. He had his own apartment. He had his own car. He was magnanimous, picking up the tabs for all his still un-(or seriously under)-employed college friends as he held court. He was smart. He was political. And he didn’t like me showing up and suddenly getting the full attention of ‘his girl.’
I thought he was a complete prick but Sarah had apparently known him at school when he was down and out and, I guess, much nicer. She asked me to just calm down about him--to give the guy a chance, so I had. We got along okay face-to-face--but deep down I couldn’t stand him and I knew it was worse than mutual.
Sarah, with a soft--but mischievous grin--told me the reason I didn’t like him was that in some ways he reminded me … of me. That drove me nuts. It unsettled me--and when I felt that wall between me and Sarah, it scared me.
I knew he was going to make his play for her and he was a strategic thinker: he’d set me up, create distance and discord with me and Sarah and then ride in like the hero. Even kind of knowing that, when he made his first move, I was caught off guard.
We were in the coffee shop with The Coffee Circle--Sarah’s group of longtime friends--all having had come up with her since college. The girls sat on the worn-out looking curved sectional sofa chatting and holding coffee or tea. I sat with the boys watching the television--watching the Department of Homeland Security’s latest raid.
The family--a mother and two kids, all woken up from sleep, stood in pajamas or wrapped with blankets on the front lawn of the house. The father--investigated for being a member of the American Insurgency--lay face down on the lawn, his wrists bound behind his back, his legs shackled should he try to run.
It made my shoulders hurt just thinking about it. There were counter-snipers (who, in the absence of any gunfire were just snipers) in positions on rooftops and the follow-along camera showed movement inside the house.
“There it is,” Bryan said, as they exited the door. An AR-15 was held overhead by the DHS trooper. The light vanished into its black finish. We could see the curve of a 30-round extended magazine in the mag-well. “They got him!” Bryan said. He gave me a nudge with his elbow. Go us.
“I don’t think they show us the ones where they don’t ‘get them,’” I said.
“Oh, bullshit,” Bryan said. “They know what they’re doing--data mining.” He grinned. “They can cross-index everything. Medical records and interviews, credit card receipts, all that stuff. This guy was buying 5.56 from Walmart in bulk and they knew it. Trust me: Big Data knows everything. It knows what you fap to.”
He gave me a predatory grin.
“You think they found it loaded like that?” I asked. “Like he had it all ready to be held up with the magazine in there and everything? Just laying around? Or do you think that guy put it in for the cameras?”
They hoisted the guy--one in front, one at his feet. He was going to be loaded like lumber into the detention vehicle. The camera didn’t show us other windows: were there neighbors who knew the guy looking out? Into the darkness? To see him taken away? I wasn’t sure if I would--not with a sniper on top of my house looking for targets.
“What happens to his wife and their kids?” Sarah asked. She was a little distance from me--Bryan had maneuvered himself between us--with the help of Carla, a loud and proud wiccan who made money writing x-rated fan-fiction on a select pay-per-view website. I’d been told her stuff was hair raising. I believed it.
Carla: “If they can afford a lawyer they can get access to him while he’s in processing. Public Defenders won’t touch him until post arraignment--which could take weeks. Of course finding attorneys who’ll do that is hard. You know--The Stigma.” She sounded gleeful. The woman on the lawn, clutching her children to her, looked hurt, baffled, and lost.
I presumed she was referring to the gladiatorial legal warfare going on in Washington between Sen. Thomas Mary’s representatives and the United States Government.
Bryan laughed. It was a harsh sound--and I got a tingly sense: he’d been waiting for that--for exactly that.
“It does,” he said. “National Sec lawyers go for about 300 an hour.” He looked at me. “I hope the guy’s well employed--and been saving.”
I knew where this was going: he didn’t know I’d lied to Sarah about not having any money--but he’d accurately assessed it was a weak point between us. Damn him. I felt my hands go tingly with a shift in blood pressure.
Sarah and I were spending a lot of time together so I couldn’t just fake having a job. If she found out I had a small fortune in the bank that I hadn’t been able to figure out how to tell her about she’d know I’d lied and then one thing after another might come tumbling out. I’d actually looked for decent Database Administrator jobs--there weren’t any.
I’d considered taking a job at a supermarket or anything--something miserable--just to be able to show some income--but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to count for anything. The worst part was that Sarah was sympathetic. She thought it was eating away at my self esteem. She felt bad for me--and I was caught.
“Yeah,” Bryan said. “Look at them: you can tell they’re in deep shit no matter what the case.”
“He had a banned gun,” said Carla. “What’s the excuse? I needed it to stop a mass-attack of squirrels? I had to go hunting a pride of lions? And like she didn’t know!”
Bryan nodded--but this was off message. He wanted to bring it back around to him having a job … and me being long-term unemployed. “I bet he didn’t manage to provide for them,” he said--with such false sympathy I was sure Sarah would see through it--but she just looked miserably at the screen. “Not for something like this.”
“Who’s ready for something like this?” I asked. “Look--that thing wasn’t illegal six months ago. And the acts to force surrender of them are still being challenged in the courts--he might get off entirely.”
Bryan nodded--sagely. “I hope they have somewhere to go until then,” he said.
“I’m sure they find something,” I said, darkly. “Her parent’s house or whatever--”
“Your parents are all the way on the other coast?” he asked--as though that was just news. Fuck him. Absolutely fuck him.
“What does this have to do with him?” Sarah asked … honestly. Sometimes ‘seeing the best in everyone’ could be damn annoying.
“Nothing,” Bryan said--”but hey! That does remind me!” he beamed at me. The fucker.
I looked back. I wanted to smash his smug face in.
“I got good news, man,” he said. “I talked to some people at my company--I told them about you--and I think, if you can come down tomorrow--” he looked at me, eyes sparkling, “I can get you a job.”
I stared, thrown. I hadn’t expected this. What the hell was he--
Then Sarah gave a little squeal, and I knew exactly what he was doing.
“Are you serious?” She asked, standing to come around. Bryan basked in her approval.
“I am--yeah, really. No,” he said, “it’s like a done deal--just, like, show up dressed. And this isn’t any job.” he looked at me. “It’s a good one--the department I work in.
“He’ll be working for you?” Sarah asked--she could see, I thought, maybe something wasn’t quite right here--but it wasn’t that. No--this was … good. He was good.
“No--same department--same boss--awesome salary. Great health care--get off that Republican sabotaged government shit--” he winked. The Coffee Circle uniformly agreed the Exchange Plans were the best thing since forever--”and even flex hours … although sometimes a lot of them!”
“If you want it,” he said. “If you’ll let me do that for ya.”
“He will!” Sarah was quick--jumping in--beaming. “Bryan! Thank you!” she threw his arms around him and Bryan, never closing his eyes, hugged her and looked into mine.
The next day, after she had me get dressed twice (she didn’t like my first outfit), we both piled into her beat up car and drove to Forward Look. He was going to give both of us the tour. It was, of course, crucially important that she come along: There wasn’t any question about that.
He met us in the parking lot of Forward Look Enterprises. It was chilly but bright. The lamp posts around the large gray building were hung with red wreaths in preparation for the holiday season.
“Theo! Sarah--hey. Come on in. We’ll meet Cherry who’ll do the tour--but,” he gave me that magnanimous grin that he put on when he was paying for someone’s coffee, “the interview already happened when I told them I wanted you on my team!”
“ … Thanks, man.” I ground my teeth as Sarah beamed with joy. She’d told me on the way over she was glad I was giving Bryan a chance.
“Let’s go inside,” he said. “On my level the coffee’s pretty good.”
I said nothing as we pushed through the glass doors.
Bryan worked as ‘senior messaging associate’ for Forward Look Enterprises. Forward Look paid an army of twenty-somethings to sit in a massive open-plan work area and perform “directed marketing” by posting to Internet bulletin board systems under the guise of normal users. They posed as a slew of artificial personas, each carefully crafted by data mining, to have a specific demographic appeal. When they sat down for the day they’d get a queue of ‘marching orders’ and go out as hidden shills for whatever product had paid for this treatment.
In the interim, between posting ‘calls to action’--sales pitches--they would forge fake friendships with people, exchange fake pictures of ‘themselves,’ gush about their fake cats, and otherwise try to con anyone they could into believing that they were real folks who just happened to be proud of their new Skagen Watches or George Foreman Grill. Being a fake fan of Captain Crunch cereal (it’s kid’s cereal--so it’s ironic, right?) paid about fourteen thousand dollars a year: money that was only good if you were living in your mom’s basement.
Bryan, however, was way more elite than that and I’d made the mistake of letting him know I “used to be” political. Bryan made thirty two thousand dollars a year working in a special department named only ‘IDEOLOGY.’
Sarah and I wore visitor badges given to us after signing several pages of non-disclosure that might’ve taught the FEMA lawyers a thing or two (damages for speaking out about what they were doing were in the multi-millions: the NDA laid it all out in chilling black and white). We had been cleared by some kind of instant Internet background check after we’d surrendered our Facebook, Twitter, and Google passwords (a necessary precondition of working for Forward Look) and they’d let us in.
I’d have been more surprised by that if my blog hadn’t mysteriously disappeared from the Internet with no trace at all that I could find. Tim’s was still there--but he wasn’t updating it. His staff page on the university website said he’d gone on sabbatical. I’d made two attempts to contact him and then given up altogether.
Cherry had met us after the legal orientation and taken us on tour. She was an absolute knockout to go with her stripper name and the sharp tailored business suit she wore didn’t do anything to take the ice-queen sex-appeal out of her. I guessed she had no trouble riding herd over the army of keyboard geeks. Bryan was trying way too hard to make out like he wasn’t intimidated by her.
“Bryan says you used to be political,” Cherry said as we climbed the stairs towards the ‘top offices.’
“I used to be,” I said. I didn’t want to reveal too much to her--but despite what Bryan said, I was pretty sure if I didn’t impress her I wouldn’t get the job--and with Sarah so happy I was going to find the ‘work I’d been looking for’ and chatting with Bryan, I wanted that job more than ever. “I had some experiences that kind of soured me to it.”
She nodded, opening the door for me. Bryan and Sarah climbed behind us, talking to each other.
We were in a room with a glass wall that looked down on the main floor. It was here, with the indirect lighting and tasteful wood-paneled walls that the ‘political arm’ did its work.The ‘elite’ of which Bryan was one, did their work. It was here that they covertly shilled for Forward Look’s political philosophy one hair-raising Internet argument at a time.
Most of these attacks were simple inflammatory messages designed to try to get people to ‘rage-stroke’ when confronted with them. A few were more subtle: pretending to share beliefs with people on the message-boards but then ‘raising concerns’ about ‘issues’ that would cast their movement in the most dismal light possible.
In some cases--very few--the employees were allowed to engage in actual argumentation with a group of experts feeding links, historical information, and other facts (or ‘facts’) so that whoever they were up against wasn’t just battling one person but something like five or six bearded guys with Ph.D.’s … who were getting paid.
There were leaderboards for various accomplishments like being banned and thrown off a board while still staying technically within the rules or getting responses with a computer-measured higher incidence of spelling and grammar errors than the poster normally exhibited. Forward Look was measuring Internet-induced rage and paying well for it.
The stats appeared on a 50-inch high def TV at the front of the room where a white board would be in a school with bonuses and electronic achievement badges used to incentivise productivity.
“Would you care to talk about them?” she asked. Behind me, Sarah was lavishing Bryan with praise.
“I used to be … I used to have a blog,” I said. That was stupid: they’d already run a search and hadn’t found anything. Would they think I was lying? “I was pretty liberal--a two time Obama voter--gun control--and everything,” I told her. That, at least, wasn’t a lie.
“So what happened?” She asked.
I got trolled by the Illuminati, I thought glumly--and now my eyes are open and I think the whole system is fucked on ice? I couldn't’ say that. I had to say something.
“I lost a lot of arguments,” I said. “It made me think that maybe it wasn’t worth it to keep getting into it. Do you think ‘the other side’ has groups like this? I got pretty burnt out with all the acrimony. Plus, you know, some stuff was pretty hard to defend. I worked for a small business …”
She pursed her lips at that last bit--but had warmed to the first. “They’re learning, Theo,” she said. “The same way we did after a series of defeats based on our 70’s view of prudent foreign policy and an open-eyed view of the potential future. The public didn’t want negativity from their Commander In Chief and they had, well, a movie star.”
“The noosphere--cyberspace--the Internet--this is the battleground of the future, Theo. This is where we lose or we win. This isn’t just about some electronic words on a screen. This is where the real American Spring arises. This is where we infect people with memes that shape the future of the electorate. It’s how we launched the president. It’s how we’ll launch the next Congress. It’s how we’ll ‘bank our winnings’ in the Supreme Court.”
She looked at us--as if wondering if maybe she’d gone too far.
“It isn’t just philosophy,” she said, a little more carefully, watching my face. “It’s biology. When a man’s favorite sports team loses his testosterone noticeably drops--it’s testable. Social rejection--even imaginary rejection--fires the same parts of the brain that respond to physical injury. You can see it on MRIs and PET scans. These are things we can study and even induce.”
She made a face. “But yes: we’re not the only ones employing this approach even if we do it better and are more mature in it. You got ‘burnt out’ on the arguing because you didn’t understand the game you were playing.”
“I didn’t?” That actually surprised me--even if it was annoying.
She gestured to the leaderboard monitor: “Bryan’s our attrition-response leader,” she said proudly.
Bryan gave me a smug look: “That’s people who tangle with me online and then,” he blew on his fingernails for dramatic effect, “don’t come back. Who leave the board--they ‘attrit.’”
She nodded: “That’s right--in some cases people arguing with you may have simply had the explicit purpose to drive you out of the political arena. In your case perhaps it worked.”
Cherry went on: “Some dialogs--some ideas--are not good for society. Part of the mission of the Political Arm is to reduce the number of people engaging in those discussions. Partially we do that by attriting them as well as other means.”
“That’s what you do,” I asked Bryan, “Drive people off the Internet? That’s a paying job now?”
“Oh, no,” said Cherry. “That’s only part of what we do. A lot of what we do is educational outreach--hence our tax-exempt status.” She gave me a dazzling smile.
“It’s educational?” I asked. I risked a look at Sarah. She didn’t look too pleased--but she wasn’t as repulsed by this as I was.
“You’ve been in political debates before?” she asked me--keeping her tone friendly. “Online even?”
“I have,” I said. Boy had I.
“Did you know your facts?” she asked.
“Generally,” I said, “I would have to say I did.”
“Did you ever convince anyone?” she asked. “You’d have a modest debate on the facts and when the dust settled one party was always convinced of the other’s point?”
“Yeah, and then I got the pony I’d always wanted as a child,” I said. “I don’t think Internet arguments ever convinced anyone.” They did, I knew, occasionally--but damn few.
“We know,” she said. She turned to the monitor and used a wireless mouse on the table at the front of the room to bring up diagrams--boxes and lines (it was something like a Logical Database Model, I thought--if you knew what that looked like). “We have a whole taxonomy of different argumentation models with their likely lifetimes and outcomes.”
I studied it. They did. It was pretty rich and I was starting to get impressed with the quality of their work despite myself.
“You may not have convinced the person you were arguing with that you were right,” she said--”but that doesn’t mean you didn’t win.”
“Explain that,” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “It’s 90-9-1 Internet Culture Rule. Across almost all Internet sites the ratios remain surprisingly constant: Ninety percent of the users don’t interact other than to consume content. Of the 10-percent that engage, edit, or discuss it,” she said, “only one percent creates it. If you were participating in debates you were in that one-percent! Congratulations.”
“It’s not the 10% of the people we’re interested in--those are the hard core believers whose minds you’ll never change. No, Theo, we’re interested in the ninety percent. It’s the same way neither you nor anyone else in this room has ever bought anything off a banner ad but they’re still big money because someone is. Those ‘someone’s’ are our target market.”
I have to admit that threw me for a moment.
“You know what the biggest deciding factor is for an observer is when determining who won or who lost an on-line debate? Anger. Whoever gets angry first loses in the eyes of the populace. When you start throwing insults or stalk off in a fit of rage or use swear words you lose something like three to eight percent of undecideds right there.” She smiled.
“So you probably did win those arguments--even if you weren’t aware of it!”
“So your goal is to phrase your arguments in the way that makes the most people angry?” I asked. “How is that--how can that be any kind of a good idea?”
“The electorate is already polarized,” she said. “Now more than ever. The number of people up for grabs is growing smaller and smaller every day--I’m glad to say our side is winning--but it isn’t over. It’s important to get our messages out there and that means limiting their messages. Remember: we aren’t fighting over people who have made up their minds--we’re looking for one percent of one percent. That’s where this will be won.”
I thought of the militia forces, falling back in the snow in Georgia while the Department of Homeland Security tightened its coils around them, choking off the American Dream one grid-square at a time. Even in the heated office, I felt cold.
Was this Them? I wasn’t sure. I looked at Sarah. She looked back at me, full of hope. She’d told me the night before that she thought having a job again would help me. That I’d sleep better--that I’d feel better about myself. She had told me how happy she was that Bryan and I were working together.
My eyes slid across the room to the massive leaderboard with Bryan’s name in amber at the top of one of the columns and it clicked. I knew what he was doing: if he pushed me--if I got angry at him--when I got angry at him--in Sarah’s mind I’d “lose the argument.”
And he’d win.
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I can do this.”
“ ‘Course you can,” Bryan said, coming around to clap me on the shoulder--hard. “You’ll be a natural.” I could see Sarah seem to glow with happiness.
Continue to Chapter 19: Negotiations With Men