Ancient of Days (excerpt)
Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from the short story “Ancient of Days,” which takes place in the close future, when American secular society has dissolved into a series of tribes centered around a creator god, the mystical embodiment of modern day corporations, that provides all of their needs in response to strict conformity to their tribal norms. The language features play on words, both in English and Hebrew, of contemporary corporate and pop culture language. These literal interpretations of abstract corporate names form the basis of the manifestation of these deities. They meet once every seven years in an intertribal celebration for the Ancient One to induct three individuals into the cult of Preservatives, who will discover the secret to immortality and live forever as he does. It is the time of a creation of a new world. The story is told from the perspective of the three inductees. This is one of their stories. The excerpt explores a dystopian scenario for disability future, where the progress in mobility equipment used to allow disabled individuals to interact in the world is fetishized into a means of the able bodied to escape into an isolated world while still exerting their power.
USER NAME: Rachel Johnson.
STATUS: At 36th anniversary celebration in coliseum.
I remember the first time I saw one, a person inside the vial. I was five or six. I've never been so scared in my life - like somebody tried to eat from but fell into a giant glass of blueberry jell-o. Her eyes followed me as faintly glowing orbs amidst a shadow in the haze. But how quickly that fear turned to love. It was my mother, after all.
The programs have predicted that I will win. Not that going to Make Done Olds to become a Preservative is terribly important to a GooGill. Our containers preserve us from death just as well if not better than that Make Done Olds hocus pocus. It is the fruit of life that we live within, the gift of our creator to us at the start of our 18th year. I will always remember my first tasting of the fruit of life.
They tell you to savor your last meal, for it will be the last time you will taste food. But how can you do that when you're 18, and they tell you that you can order whatever you want? I have no memory of what I ordered, only inhaling it - not so different from how I eat now, though I'm quite sure I didn't order any blueberry jell-o. After my meal, they gave me the seed of the tree of knowledge of good to eat, which descends down your throat and decapitates the serpent, permanently closing off the esophagus, making an uninterrupted passage to the lungs.
I still have some vivid memories from those hours in between tasting the seed of knowledge of good and partaking of the tree of life. My little brother teased me because boys go thru the ceremony one year later than girls. He danced in front of me, shoving huge fistfuls of cake into his mouth. His face was half covered in frosting he was doing such a horrible job of it, crumbs all over the grass. Mother was in the corner of the yard with her eyes closed, clearly in Eden and paying no attention to us.
You should not let him disrespect you so. My arms started moving on their own. You should not let him disrespect the fruit of the tree of life. My legs started moving toward him. You have made a mistake in holding your tongue, Rachel. The look in my brother's eyes slowly changed as he realized I wasn't in control of my body. My mouth opened, and my mother's voice came out.
"You do not have respect for the tree, Danny, and you will be tasting it in just one year! Such an insolent thing tasting the holy fruit, still so full of mistakes. How will we ever correct all these mistakes in such a short year? To begin, I will show you the fruit of your mistakes."
My fist clenched and flew into Danny's face. He fell to the ground. My body climbed on top of him and rained punches across his body. I couldn’t move my mouth to scream - my own voice reduced to a noiseless echo trapped in my head. It is a mistake to feel bad for him, Rachel. Danny is full of mistakes. He must be corrected before his time comes to eat. You have been a good channel for my actions these 18 years. I am sure that you will use your powers in Eden to bring much good into the world. Now come, Rachel, the time has come for you to taste of the tree of life. I wish to look upon this event with my flesh eyes. Be a good girl and bring me with you into the holy chamber.
I got up off the ground slowly, my newly reusable limbs weak from the exertion, and staggered in a fog to mother's vial. Her whole body turned to follow me I could tell, though I could only faintly see its outlines. I grasped the metal handlebar at the back of the vial and pushed her toward the great temple. She was now totally turned around so she was facing me as I pushed her. The tower of the temple gradually emerged as we approached, its rainbow transmitter connecting and supplying power to all who have eaten. Mother’s face was pushed against the glass now, and I could distinguish her features for the first time. Her face was gaunt but elegant, with a small and pointy nose and chin, like my own. Her eyes protruded much more than I expected, however, giving her an uncanny resemblance to a fish. I averted my eyes when I noticed this deformity, and her form disappeared again into the haze. Her voice came from her vocalizer instead of in my head.
"This is one of the proudest days of my life, Rachel, to be able to give these gifts to you and share Eden with you. Nothing can describe or prepare you for life in Eden.”
We came to the great metal doors of the temple. The black box at the top saw us, and the doors slid open to the sides. A bell tone sounded three times to let the programmers know we were there. Two vials emerged from a hidden passageway overhead and hovered above us.
"You are Rachel Johnson?" One of the vocalizers asked.
"Yes, this is Rachel," my mother quickly replied. "Are you ready for her?"
"Of course, we are ready."
They slowly turned around and glided toward a half full vial, presumably waiting for me. I hesitated at the sight of the container where I would spend the remainder of my life, a mistake that my mother, fortunately, seemed to miss, her focus being so intensely set on the empty vial. When they reached it, they slowly rotated back around to face us.
"The fruit is just about prepared for you to taste, Rachel. Before we begin, I'm going to explain how it works, for it can be a fearful thing to be submerged in the fruit at first. Many people think that they are drowning and panic, but the fruit is not like water. You cannot drown in the fruit. As long as you are in the fruit, your body is able to absorb and remove everything it needs through the medium of the fruit: oxygen, nutrients, water, everything. The most unpleasant thing for people to get used to is the way the fruit fills your lungs. But it is important to the absorption process that you be able to inhale and exhale the fruit because your lungs can absorb things from the fruit much more efficiently than your skin, and it also creates a current within your vial so the fruit is circulating.
"Now, as for your sensations while submerged, there are other radical changes that can cause people to panic at first before they get used to them. Your ears will be completely obsolete within the fruit. You will hear a constant oscillation of flowing noise, but nothing will be distinguishable. It disorients many people at first, but after a few hours, you won't even be able to notice it if you try. The sense of sight pretty much remains the same, though everything has a blue tint to it, for obvious reasons. One person, after hearing that, have asked if maybe the fruit came in the color red, so it would be as if they were wearing rose colored glasses..."
The programmer burst into hysterical laughter at his joke. His shadow could be seen thrashing within his vial. The vocalizer does not translate laughter very well, however, so a robotic repetition of ha ha filled the air for the minute it took him to recover from his joke.
"But seriously, the fruit of life is blue. That is its color. We don't make this stuff. It is the gift of our creator. The person who asked that question... well, let's just say it was a big mistake. So your sense of sight will remain the same, though the visual cortex is so heavily involved in Eden that most people rarely open their eyes in the course of a day, depending on the extent of their external obligations.
"Now, the sense of smell, this is the one that gets people. Your sense of smell will be about 20 times more acute. You will be like a bloodhound. The fruit conducts the small particles that cause smell extremely efficiently and allows them to be sensed more powerfully, so your sense of smell will be your biggest tie to the world outside your vial. For many, this is a great inconvenience, for you cannot close your nose. But most get used to it and learn to find it useful. For instance, you ate pepperoni pizza, french fries, Peep See Cola, and chocolate ice cream for your final meal. I can smell it on your breath very distinctly. You've been rolling around in the grass and... my goodness, you've been hitting somebody. I can smell the blood. Well, I'm sure you had a good reason to do it. You can imagine, perhaps, how this can cause you to feel you know uncomfortable details about people with whom you're in close contact..."
"What about Eden?" I quickly asked before he had a chance to jump to the next uncomfortable thing. "How do I connect with Eden?"
EVENT ALERT: Speech of the Ancient One commences
STATUS: Accessing live feed
There's the old man teetering up to the podium like I'm watching a turtle climb a mountain. The programs have predicted I will win, but I wonder if their programming doesn't contain some mistakes. Oh, he's finally made it up to the counter, and he's starting his speech.
“Peoples of Amaracowach!1 Today, we celebrate our 36th year since the establishment of the coming to manifestation of the creators!”
But when you think of the importance of all the work I've done, how could I not win? Has any other single person in all the Lands of Amaracowach accomplished what I have accomplished? I have proven beyond a doubt the positive effects that GooGill children experience for their entire lifetime because of the programs implemented for them by the GooGill people. Not only that, but I've fought and struggled to bring these practices to the other peoples, helping thousands if not millions of children have better lives, especially in the impoverished These Knee people. Why, I went through those very same programs since I was born, and look at all that I've accomplished.
The key principle of GooGill education is to begin early, especially while the children are still in fetal stages. The brain is built by sensory input, and we've discovered absolutely conclusively and without error that the more sensory stimulation occurs, especially in those stages where the human mind absorbs everything and is shaped for the entire lifetime, the more intelligent the person will be, the fewer mistakes they will make, and the more they will succeed. I did it with my children. I spared no expense to have the programmers fit me with special sound speakers to my stomach that would play the great masterworks of music and the most eloquently written pieces of literature. Also, a series of different colored high intensity lights were fitted to my stomach that the fetuses would be able to see. They flash in predictable and subtly changing patterns, so that the fetuses learn pattern recognition. All the GooGill children of the elites who receive this programming start talking inevitably before they are a year old and are reading by the time they're two. I only wish the technology had been available when I was a fetus.
This year's recipients are... Rachel Johnson of the GooGill people, Steven Smith of the Cause Koh2 people. And the final recipient is Timothy Jacob of the Alms Art people, the youngest recipient in the history of the Lands!
No doubt my children are jumping up and down in front of the screen screaming for joy. Yes, they will have a mother who has achieved the highest honor possible in these Lands. Just let one rise to tell them I have any mistakes now. They will know the truth before the person finishes their sentence.
When I open my flesh eyes, the whole stadium is a blur on either side of me. It feels like I'm freefalling down to the field at the bottom. I better turn on the vocalizer and find out what's going on out there.
"Smitty! Smitty! Are you there?"
"What on earth are you doing?"
“We need to get down to the counter as quickly as possible if you're going to get that discount, Dr. Johnson.”
"What discount? Do I look like a person who needs a discount? Slow down! This rapidity is highly undignified. Once you get me down to the counter, leave at once as fast as you can. I will take it on manual controls from there."
It feels more like a camera zooming in than moving, the counter rapidly growing in size and its details coming into the focus of these saggy flesh eyes. I'll get a better view here with the Angel Eyes. Ah yes, look, I'm almost to the counter now. Look at all these people! Half of Amaracowach must be here. This stadium is gigantic. I'm not even as big as an ant. Let's zoom in some more here... just a few more steps. And there goes Smitty. Wow, I've never seen him run so fast. He can really book it. What's that? It... is somebody tapping on my vial?
I open my flesh eyes to see the old man pressing his face up against my vial. What disrespect! Does he let people rub their faces all over his body when he first meets them? His whole face leaves a huge smudge mark every time he moves it the tiniest bit. Smitty will have to clean that up. His face... it's so grotesque. Thank the creator I'm not exposed to the harsh elements that would do something like that to a person's face, even though they're a Preservative. His face seems to have no bone structure to it whatsoever. His entire face conforms to the curve of the glass. Doesn't he have any teeth? Or a skull? How can he do that? Maybe he's just so old that his bones have gone soft. I've heard of that happening in the really old Preservatives.
Thank the creator, he's pulled his face off the vial to go look at something else. It is clearly taking some effort, parts of his face remaining stuck even after his head has pulled several inches from my vial. That sound... why, I think this is the first sound I've heard with my flesh ears since tasting the fruit of the tree... like a giant rat tearing a phone book. That must have been his face peeling off my vial. Oh my, he looks quite angry. They're carrying up one of the other recipients. Looks like he fainted. The old man is bent over and is slapping him in the face, trying to wake him up. He's saying something... I better turn on the Angel Ears.
That sound! Just a deafening roar comes through! My goodness, how loud all these people are. I better focus in on this platform. Here we go.
“Did I make the sale?”
“No, you did not. All items will be full price for Timothy Jacob!”
Oh god, the screaming. Gotta turn it down even more here. I don't think I'll be able to use the Angel Ears at all with how loud these people are.
The old man says something else into the microphone. Maybe I'll try using the lip reader. Here we go. Now, the old man and one of the other recipients are heading towards the ramp down to the Great Freezer. I better not get left behind. It's been so long since I've used this thing manually. OK, here we go. There, following right behind them. Where's the other guy, that fainting kid?
There was one time I fainted when I was a kid. I was his age, maybe a little younger. My mother was with me. She was in her vial in the corner as usual, but she was with me, making me move. That was how she was with me. I never viewed her actual body except through the fruit of the tree. She was instructing me on something in the back yard... some task, I don't remember much. It was a brisk spring day, but with a really hot sun, so you could just sit in the sun and be made warm to the point of sweating but with a nice breeze constantly cooling you off. I didn't like to do much on those days, just sit in the sun, so I guess I wasn't being a particularly attentive student that day.
Mother, I don't want to do this. But this is how you are with me, Rachel. But I can't feel you, Mother. Rachel, I can make you move according to my will. But what else, mother? Can you do anything inside me other than control my movements?
There was silence. I kicked my leg out in front of me and pouted. I was shocked because I didn't think I had any control of my limbs when mother was inside me. Even the notion was regarded as the highest mistake, the notion that the one being controlled by the eater of the tree of life had any control of themselves whatsoever. All of a sudden, my hand came up and slapped me on the cheek. The moment it hit my cheek, I regained control of my arm and held my hand there, pressed into my soft, reddened cheek. My hand struggled to free itself from my cheek but eventually submitted. This was the closest I ever came to embracing my mother.
Rachel, I didn't want to have to tell you this story, but since you have learned this secret, I have no choice. The fruit of the tree of life is not this gelatinous substance that I float in. This is the manna that was given by something beyond our creator. I was in Eden before in my body but had to leave. I instructed the GooGill how to get to Eden. The tree of life I ate in the Garden of Eden, it was actually a piece of bark off of the tree, which was the same as the fruit in every way except one. This being beyond the creator told my husband, your father, not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. My husband then went and ate from the tree of life and found that it gave him the power to control any of the living things that this being had created. So he went to me and took control of my body, made me walk over to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, pick off a fruit, and eat it. All the time, his voice in my head soothed me, told me that only he was commanded not to eat, not I. I had nothing to worry about, I was assured. When I ate, a serpent jumped out of my mouth and swallowed the fruit himself. The being beyond the creators appeared before me and said quickly, you must eat of the bark of the tree of life and leave this place as fast as you can. Outside, you will find the Lands of Amaracowach. You will be able to live there. You are in danger here now. So I left and came to live with the GooGill people. But Mother, that doesn't make any sense. The hand on my cheek started to move in a loving caress.
We are at the gates at the base of the ramp.
"Timothy Jacob! Come at once."
The old man's shouting at the top of his lungs. He turns to me with a striking look of solemnity in his face and gravity in his voice, "I hope you've said goodbye to your children, Dr. Johnson."
 Hebrew, roughly translated: the power of speech
 Hebrew, Koh is usually translated as thus, is an abstract word used by later prophets to introduce the words of God in their prophecy, “thus spake the Lord.”