May 13, 2017
Bizarre surrealist painter Salvador Dali once said: “I do not do drugs. I am drugs.” He was being silly. He wasn’t drugs. He was Salvador Dali.
The men rowing out on little boats heavy with building supplies for Not A Metaphor? They were drugs.
Ana watched them lazily, her head resting against the green mast. The three men were in their cabin, and the place was crowded and sweaty. She’d told James that Amoxiel would be out here watching her, so where was the danger? Their first mate had reluctantly agreed.
Ensenada looked like any other quiet harbor town. The people coming aboard looked like any other people. Maybe a little sleepier, their pupils a little wider. But she knew the truth. They weren’t people. They were drugs. Even if there were people in Ensenada – which she doubted – they wouldn’t be sent for something important like this.
James had rowed ashore alone when the sun rose. Amoxiel and the Captain had watched him very carefully as he landed on a dock, found an Ensenadan man, and started talking to him. They couldn’t hear what he was saying, but they didn’t care. They were looking for one thing – did the Ensenadan feed or inject James with any material? As best they could tell, they didn’t. James rowed back to Not A Metaphor, and the crew let him back on. He seemed normal. But he would seem normal, no matter what happened.
Simeon came on deck and sat beside her. “Ever been to Mexico before, Ana?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve seen druggies, though. You?”
“Once,” he said. “In the nineties. On business. And then a little tourism afterwards. Mexico City. Veracruz. And Teotihuacan. With its giant pyramids, standing all solemn and huge in a row.”
“Solomon wise,” corrected Ana. “Goliath huge.”
“Sorry! It’s a game I used to play, with a friend. Unintentional Biblical pun corrections. It’s…kind of compulsive now.” An awkward silence, which she tried to fill. “What is your business, anyway?”
“You don’t know?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
Then, as the first of the druggies came aboard, enlightenment struck. “You’re Simeon Azore! From Bareketh!”
It was so obvious. The face she was looking at, minus ten years and with darker hair, could have been the face she’d seen in various magazines and TV news shows. The face behind Bareketh Capital and an early-level investor in Countenance and half of the most successful theonomics. A stakeholder in every company she had protested in the last ten years. “But…but you’re terrible!” Then she recoiled. “Sorry! Um! Also…compulsive, I guess. I didn’t mean to…”
One of the druggies introduced himself to James as Ivan Colero, a naval repair technician in the Mexican navy. They’d paid well, he said, very well, and they’d gotten themselves the best. The Drug Lord knew that they needed to be on their way quickly, and he and his men would just need a day, maybe less. They could work quickly. Impossibly quickly.
“Let me guess,” said Simeon, “you’re one of those people who can give entire speeches about how the theonomics are ruining everything.”
“Uh,” said Ana.
“Go on,” said Simeon. “Get it out.”
“Um,” said Ana.
“I can already tell we’re both going to be miserable until you’ve said your speech, so just get it out.”
“Uh…my cousin is better at this, but…um…God is born free but everywhere is in chains. The Names, our birthright as children of God possessing the Divine Spark, are patented as if they were especially clever designs for widgets, then whored out to buy yachts for billionaires.”
“Mmmm,” interrupted Simeon, “I didn’t buy this ship. Just booked passage on it. Give me some credit for self-restraint.”
“The Fertile Name brings forth grain from the earth, speeding the growth of crops by nearly half. Children in Ethiopia starve to death, and Ethiopian farmers cannot use the Fertile Name to grow the corn that would save them. Why not? Because Serpens holds the patent and demands $800 up front from any farmer who wants to take advantage of it. The Purifying Name instantly kills eighteen species of harmful bacteria, including two that are resistant to all but the most toxic antibiotics. But two-thirds of American hospitals have no one licensed to use the Purifying Name. Why not? Because they can’t afford the licensing fees demanded by Gogmagog.”
The druggies began to hammer on the red mast. Ana spoke louder so she could hear herself above the noise.
“In the old days, we told ourselves that poverty was a fact of life. That there wasn’t enough food or medicine or clothing or housing to go around. Then it was true. Now it is false. To feed the hungry and shelter the homeless no longer requires scarce resources. It requires only a word. A word that the entire international system of governance – corporations, politicians, UNSONG – has united to prevent the needy from ever obtaining. 86% of known Names are held by seven corporations. The largest, Serpens, has total assets of $174 million…no, sorry..billion…I told you my cousin is better at this. The smallest of the seven, ELeshon, has total assets of $33 billion. Serpens’ CEO, Cate Ilyov, has a net worth of $600 million, houses in the California Republic, Texas, and Virginia state, and her own private 12-seater jet.
“Meanwhile, not only does she employ some of the finest kabbalists in the world to hide the Fertile Name behind klipot, but if some enterprising mind breaks through the encryption and sends the plaintext Name to those starving Ethiopians, she will call up UNSONG, call upon whatever treaties we have with Ethiopia, and get everyone who saw the Name put in jail for life. Because if people who can’t give Cate Ilyov $800 for a bigger jet try to feed themselves, they are, our government tells us, a Threat To Our Way Of Life.
“Since our foundation before the sky cracked, Unitarians have worked on one founding principle: that nobody, no religion or corporation or government, nobody has a monopoly on God. We demand that the klipot be broken, that all known nondestructive Names of God be placed in the public domain and made freely available to all, and that UNSONG be disbanded and its resources diverted to something useful, like fighting the demons. And as long as that demand isn’t met, we’ll do it ourselves. Break whatever klipot we can, spread the Names to anyone who wants to hear them, and stay a step ahead of the law.
“The third commandment says ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; the Lord will not take guiltless He who takes His name in vain’. I don’t know when Judgment Day is coming, but you have to admit the fabric of reality hasn’t been holding up very well lately. And if God does show up and ask us how we’ve been using His holy Names that He has given to us, I’d rather we as a civilization be able to answer that we used them to feed the poor, heal the sick, and shelter the homeless. Not that we used them to buy multimillionaire Cate Ilyov a bigger jet. Because that seems about as in vain as it’s possible to get.”
“Seven out of ten,” said Simeon.
“What?” Ana asked.
“Seven out of ten. It wasn’t bad. But I’ve heard better ones. You should have heard what my nephew used to say. Also, Countenance pushed ahead of Serpens three months ago. I feel personally slighted that you still call them the biggest.”
But he was smiling as he said it.
“But why? You know the arguments? Fine! So how can you just sit there and keep doing it?”
“You think of this through some kind of romantic David-and-Goliath lens, where all you need to do is break up the evil corporations and…”
“…why not? You’re gigantic, you’re evil, and you crush anyone who tries to stand against you! I would say you’re going three for three, Goliath-wise! So why shouldn’t I…”
“…Goliath huge. Solomon wise.”
“What?” Then, “What?” Ana was some strange and discombulated combination of taken aback and mortally offended. Some people had billions of dollars. Other people were good at puns. For somebody to have both seemed unfair, unnatural. She was left speechless.
“Ever hear of Chesterton’s fence?” asked Simeon.
“Yeah. The story of a guy who sees a fence in a field, gets angry that it’s blocking his movement, and tears it down. Then he gets gored by a bull that the fence was protecting him from. It’s supposed to mean that you shouldn’t get rid of a system until you’re sure you know why it’s there.”
“Ever think of applying Chesterton’s fence to the theonomics? Or UNSONG?”
“‘Rich people want more money’ seems like sufficient explanation for a system dedicated to giving rich people money.”
“You know the Comet King helped found UNSONG?”
“Even the Comet King makes mistakes.”
“You’re going to say the same thing you people always say. If we didn’t make sure that the people who discovered Names got obscene profits, there’d be no incentive to discover Names, all the sweatshops would close, and then we wouldn’t have the magic we need to treat diseases or run the railroads. But people have done plenty of basic science research for centuries without those incentives, and I would rather get Names a little bit slower but have them available to everyone than – ”
“Forget curing diseases. That’s a red herring. You want to know why we need UNSONG and the theonomics? Look around.”
The workers toiled away at the red mast, laboring just a little too methodically to be natural. They did not take drugs. They were drugs. So were almost ninety-nine percent of the Mexican and Central American population, all the way down to the Darien Gap. So might the Untied States have been, if things had gone a little differently.
People had been using peyote since the Olmecs. Nobody knows what the Olmecs made of it, but when Europeans showed up in the area they wrote about how the cactus buttons produced an intense trancelike state with funny dancing colors and occasional hallucinations of a plantlike humanoid figure. Always the same humanoid figure; the early hippies called him “the green man”, which is just as well since the Aztec name was Pipiltzintzintli and probably hard to pronounce when you’re high. But the sightings were rare; in those days Uriel’s machine was still strong, and there were only a few chinks in its protection, and hippies would laugh about the weird green man they saw and not pay it any more attention.
Then the sky cracked, and peyote changed. It stopped giving an intense trancelike state. It stopped giving hallucinations. It started doing other things. People would eat the flesh of the cactus and they would speak of events happening far away, or gain new talents. A user who was not a doctor would diagnose and treat diseases; a user who was not an engineer would design a bridge. A user in Tijuana could tell her family what was happening to her sister in Veracruz a continent away. When the peyote wore off, in ten hours’ time, all they could remember was a feeling of supreme confidence and self-assuredness, like everything had been planned out and it was all going according to plan.
Peyote began to spread. Buttons would turn up on street corners in Mexico City and at gang meetings in Los Angeles. It was safe, it was cheap, it gave you new talents, it made you feel good. By the mid-1980s, some estimates suggested that ten percent of the Mexican population used it regularly or semi-regularly.
In May 1984, a group of psychiatrists noted a new side effect of peyote: a tendency to buy and stockpile very large amounts of it. There was nothing weird about addicts having a stash; what was weird was that it was only on peyote that they bought peyote. The complex behavior of going to their dealer and buying more buttons seemed to be…a side effect of the chemical? Addicts interviewed while they weren’t high said they didn’t need that much, it seemed weird, but they guessed they would keep it or something because it wasn’t worth throwing it out.
In August 1984, a second survey found that the average user had stashed several large crates of peyote buttons in hidden places, two or three years’ supply even if they took it every day. Dealers were forever running short; growers were working around the clock.
On November 1, 1984, every peyote user in Mexico simultaneously started digging into their stashes and offering it to their friends. First for free. Then with an offer that they would pay to have their friends take peyote. Then upping their offer. Thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. As soon as a friend was high, the addict was moving on to another friend – and the first friend was accumulating their own stash and seeking out a friend of their own.
This went on for hours before the police noticed anything amiss, by which time about fifteen percent of the population of Mexico was high. The news started to spread. Something is wrong. Don’t take peyote. Stay in your houses. Lock the doors.
Imagine. You’re a young Mexican guy, been clean your whole life. You hear something’s up, you get inside, lock the doors, barricade yourself in your bedroom. A phone call. It’s your mother. She was coming to visit you. Now she’s at the door, a bunch of addicts right behind her. Let her in right now. So you peep out the door. There’s your mother. You let her in as quick as you can, lock the door behind you. Oh thank God, she tells you. You have no idea what’s going on out there. I’m starving. Do you have any food? Of course you have food. So she makes herself something, then she offers some to you. All this barricading has made you hungry. You take a big bite. You start to feel a little weird. “What was in the…” you ask. “Only what is in me, and what will be in all of us,” she tells you. A few minutes later, you’re driving her to your brother’s house so she can try the same trick.
Within twenty-four hours, two-thirds of the population of Mexico was high on peyote. And there was enough stockpiled in most areas to keep them all dosed twice a day for the next three months.
The Drug Lord – call him the Green Man, Pipiltzintzintli, whatever – didn’t wait. His many avatars and appendages stopped all their unproductive work – reading, watching TV, political activism – and started cultivating peyote cactus across every spare acre of land in Central America. Using data from the minds of millions of farmers and thousands of agricultural biologists, he directed the bodies under his control flawlessly, perfectly, so that billions of cacti started to spring up from Panama City to the Rio Grande and beyond. Like clockwork, twice a day, each of the millions of addicted people take another dose of cactus.
Of course everyone freaks out. This is the mid-eighties, so America is back in business as the Untied States under Ronald Reagan. They shift their entire military to Texas and California. Everywhere within two hundred miles of the Mexican border is a giant mess, addicts fighting non-addicts. The military tries to get involved in the fighting. The Comet King yells at them and tells Reagan to burn all the cactus plantations north of the Rio Grande, then guard the border. Reagan takes the hint. The supply of peyote mostly dries up, and twelve hours later the addicts come down, become individual humans again, ask what the hell happened to them.
The threat isn’t remotely under control. There are still a couple addicts north of the border, surviving off their own small basement plantations. And Mexico is starting to industrialize really heavily – like, more heavily than any country has ever industrialized in all of history. Turns out communism works just fine when there are no individuals. The two countries start to prepare for war.
In 1986, Mexican troops cross the Rio Grande, and the Drug War begins. By this point, the Untied States has started to get some kabbalistic Names. The appendages of the Drug Lord can’t speak Names, something about not working off individual souls anymore, so the US has the tech advantage. On the other hand, the Drug Lord is a single being with ninety million perfectly cooperating bodies and an inhuman level of industrial base, plus anyone he can convince to take a peyote button starts fighting for his side. The battles are fierce, but the Mexicans slowly begin to advance.
The Comet King asks someone to get him a peyote button. He sits in his fortress in Cheyenne Mountain and swallows a piece of cactus. Two hours later, the Mexican forces retreat back towards the Rio Grande.
Mexico deteriorates, addicts fighting those who had spontaneously become non-addicted. The Drug Lord retreats to small villages and goes underground, while a couple of dazed politicians dust themselves off and start to re-form a normal government.
The Comet King doesn’t explain. The Comet King never explains. Some sort of spiritual combat? Some successful negotiation?
An old man in Arizona who’d been high on peyote during the war told the newspapers he had felt it happen, that he’d been in the Drug Lord’s mind at the time. When the Comet King had taken peyote, the Drug Lord had felt a feeling of supreme confidence and self-assuredness, like everything had been planned out and it was all going according to plan. He’d realized what was in store for him, if he didn’t expel the foreign influence from his mind right away. He pled, begged, for the Comet King not to take another button.
In Soviet Russia, drugs get addicted to you.
But now the Comet King was dead, and the Drug Lord had reasserted himself. Most of the Mexican cities and lowlands had fallen a second time. And so old men with dilated pupils rebuilt their ship for cash. Some said the Other King had signed an alliance with the Drug Lord, and that when the last remnants of Royal Colorado were destroyed they would sweep across the Southwest, destroying all in their path. Others said the Drug Lord hated the Other King but feared him. In any case there was peace, of a sort.
The workmen finished their task. Three men with dilated pupils went back onto their rowboat and went away.
James sighed with relief as the last addict left the ship. People were too smart to take the Drug voluntarily nowadays, and he’d checked them for any weapons they could use to overpower anyone, but any contact with Mexico was still creepy, and they were glad to be done with it.
“Uriel’s machine is deteriorating,” Simeon told Ana. “When it finally falls apart, it’s going to loose a lot of things that look at humans as the bottom of the food chain. The Drug Lord. Thamiel. Other things. Older things. Technology won’t save us then. The only thing that can save us is Names. Lots and lots of Names. We beat the Drug Lord back with Names, but not well, and now we don’t have the Comet King on our side. When the last screw falls out of that machine, I want us armed with as many Names as we can get. Cate Ilyov buys private jets because Cate Ilyov is an idiot. Me, I’m sinking all Countenance’s profits back into Countenance. And a few other projects besides. Not because I’m not selfish. I am. I’m selfish enough to be scared. For me. For my family.”
The dinner bell rang.
“Join me for dinner?” asked Simeon.
“I’ll…I’ll have to think,” said Ana. “You’re not getting out of this one this easily.”
Simeon was already gone.