Monday, December 31, 2018

He Will Live Up in the Sky

Good Lord willing and if the crick don't rise, I'll be getting my debut novel He Will Live Up in the Sky into your hungry little hands 1Q 2019. To celebrate I'm posting a year-end preview for all my Sunners out there.

Seeing as how I'm a major proponent of the "dance with the one what brung ya" concept, He Will Live Up in the Sky will cover familiar ground to Sunners; remote viewing, UFOs, cults, MKULTRA shenanigans, technocracy, the Greater Boston metro area, rock 'n' roll, and of course, the Nineties.

I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it.


Darja struggled with a road map with one hand and the steering wheel with the other as she made her way down Boondock Boulevard in beautiful East Bumfuck, New Hampshire.  She couldn’t make heads or tails of the tangled mess of paper and was already ten minutes late for her interview. This whole job thing wasn’t getting off to a great start. 

She decided to toss the map into the back and try her luck with the directions the placement agency had sent her again. Spotting a landmark from the list, Darja gripped the wheel with both hands and focused all her mental energy on not missing the upcoming turn. 

Darja also hoped she wouldn't get pulled over, seeing how she took a few swigs of Southern Comfort at a rest stop in Massachusetts. She always got a little jittery before interviews, which is why she always kept her trusty old flask under the driver’s seat.

The turnoff was unmarked and brought her onto a very long gravel road winding through a dense wall of hemlocks. Darja wondered if she had somehow taken a detour into a bad horror movie and was heading for some tarpaper shack where toothless hillbillies hung human hides out to dry on wire coat-hangers. She was glad she brought her little Beretta .22 with her. A girl can't be too careful these days.

Then she spotted a building through the tree-line that made her heart sink. It was a crappy-looking old ranch, with moldy siding and a mossy roof that looked for all the world like Chez Serial-Killer. This had to be some kind of setup. Was her agent part of some Charlie Manson murder-cult or something? 

She did have a phone interview with the people she was supposed to be meeting with today, and it seemed legit enough. Well, not ‘people’, exactly. She actually spoke to a guy who sounded like he gargled with drain cleaner. He never did give Darja his name. 

Maybe she should turn around.

She would’ve done but the road was super-narrow and lined with deep, muddy ditches. She then happened upon an automatic barrier, the kind she recognized from Naval bases.  She saw a keycard box on the driver's side with a call button and a intercom. Darja looked around for instructions of some kind and couldn’t find any, so she simply pressed the button. Maybe this was some kind of intelligence test.

The speaker buzzed, then a vaguely-accented male voice said, "Insert the card in the slot and wait for the gate to rise.” Darja went fishing in her purse for the paper keycard the agency gave her. After a minute of digging, the voice impatiently repeated the instructions. Darja muttered, “All right, all right, already,” under her breath before she finally found the card and did what she was told. The voice then said, "Park on the left side of the house. Enter in the code at the back porch door."

A glint of reflected sunlight caught Darja’s eye as the gate raised; there were a number of surveillance cameras posted on trees overlooking the roadblock. She couldn't decide if this should make her more nervous or less. Maybe Drano-Voice was a tech-savvy serial-killer. Darja drove on very slowly, seeing how she didn't much fancy driving into one of those ditches.

She reached the gravel lot and parked next to a black Chevy Suburban the size of a Winnebago. It looked brand new and had a fancy whip antenna around the back, leading her to wonder if maybe Drano-Voice was a tech-savvy serial-killer with loads of disposable income. Granted, that all seemed rather low on the probability scale but Darja decided to keep her purse unlatched anyway, just in case she needed to shoot herself up some hillbilly serial-killer ass. 

It was showtime. Darja took two sprays of Binaca and sniffed her breath in a cupped hand. She couldn’t really tell if the blasts were hiding the whiskey or not, so she took a couple more. She then inspected her makeup job in the rearview one last time,  carefully removing a wide smear of lipstick on her front tooth with her pinky. 

Finally, she checked her pits. They passed the sniff test so she got out and headed towards this seriously ugly-ass house. 

Darja was what old ladies liked to call “handsome” and wore her natural platinum blonde hair in a short, conservative bob. This helped accent her high cheekbones and her pale, hooded eyes, both a legacy of her family’s Laplander heritage. But at 5’10” she was a bit too tall for most guys, and no one ever seemed to drool when she walked into a room. “Good-looking," she heard a lot. “Cute?” All the time. ”Knockout?” Not so much. Maybe a makeover was in order.

Either way, Darja was dressed to impress, or so she thought. She wore a white linen jacket with shoulder pads, a white silk blouse and a tight charcoal gray skirt that showcased her tall, athletic figure while still lending her that elusive “professional” aura. She even broke out her padded bra for the occasion, on account of there being actual mosquito bites bigger than her boobs. 

Still, she was very proud of her body, and saw it as an asset in her line of work, even if some guys thought she wasn’t particularly ladylike.  An effect, incidentally, that was only heightened when she got to swearing like a sailor, which she actually had been. A sailor. 

As she walked up the back steps, Darja noticed all kinds of expensive-looking air conditioning and generator equipment around this miserable shit-box of a sty. The keypad on the back door looked factory-fresh.  Darja now began to wonder if she hadn't wandered from a horror movie set into a James Bond film. She entered the code and heard the door click. 

She entered into a grubby kitchen area and was startled by a rather imposing man stepping out of the shadows. He wore black private security garb, and was packing a Desert Eagle .50 in a leather hip holster. A Desert Eagle, for fuck’s sake? What the hell was this guy expecting out here? Dinosaurs?

"Put your purse down on the counter, please," he said in a light accent Darja couldn't place. He looked Turkish or Arabic, ripped, youngish, handsome, with dark olive skin and very intense black eyes. She did what she was told and swallowed hard. 

The guy opened her bag like it might be wired to explode and peeked inside. He lifted the Beretta out like it was a dead fish, and dangled it by its butt. His indignant glare clearly demanded an explanation.

"Hey, I don't know who you people are,” Darja said. "It was a precaution."

"You'll get this back when you leave,” Turkish or Arab Guy said with an annoyed tone. He put the gun back in the purse and walked with it into an adjoining room. "I have to pat you down,” he said as he returned, almost apologetically.

He did the pat-down quickly and efficiently, without playing any grab-ass. Then he pointed at a door. "Go downstairs and take a right. Follow the tunnel to the end. The conference room is there." A tunnel? For real? This was a James Bond scenario.

The tunnel was disappointing. It was more like a glorified cinderblock hallway, lined with a clear plastic tarp and lit with emergency lights. She ended up in the conference room, which was surprisingly large, bare and definitely smelled like a basement. 

There was a swanky glass-top table with four leather office chairs set up around it. A thin, severe-looking woman with long jet-black hair sat motionless at the table. She looked young and foreign. Darja thought she might be Turkish or Arab like the guy in the kitchen, and wondered if they were related.

Darja saw a small stack of folding chairs against the far wall. There was a black wooden podium in front of a small projection screen. On the far side of the room was a slide projector on a wheeled stand. There was also a weird-looking TV thing on a huge stand tucked against the other wall.

A trim, older man with a flat-top and a severe, deeply-lined face stood at the podium sorting through papers. Darja had this guy’s number right away; former military intelligence and most likely a management post at some alphabet agency. In short, he looked like any number of total fucking assholes Darja had encountered in her Naval career; humorless bureaucrats who got their rocks off pulling rank on peons like her. And sure enough…

"Lundquist. You're late. Take a seat," the man said in a familiar voice, without looking up. We meet at last, Drano-Voice.

"I'm sorry, I had trouble finding the turnoff," Darja replied, even though she wasn't actually sorry.

"Well, you got here first anyway. The others seem to be having trouble, too. Make yourself comfortable."

Darja supposed that was Drano-Voice being amenable. "Thank you." She'd be god-damned if she called him 'sir.'

Darja sat down and smiled at the Turkish or Arab woman sitting opposite her. “Hi, I’m Darja Lundquist." The Turkish or Arab woman said nothing and turned her attention to the table top, which she apparently found utterly fascinating. Darja was glad she didn't offer her hand. She hoped whoever else was coming would be a little chattier. She took a sip from the large glass in front of her. It tasted clean and fresh, like backwoods well-water. Which it probably was.

Two men arrived in short order, ten minutes apart. The first was a youngish Eurotrash type, dressed in a snazzy dark purple sweater and tight black slacks, a dark-gray windbreaker of some kind draped over his arm. He had short cropped dirty-blond hair and very German eyeglasses. Darja figured he was probably planning to go clubbing after the interview. Either that or annex the Sudetenland. 

The second arrival was a guy who looked like a college quarterback-turned-underwear model. He was dressed in a cheap and ill-fitted suit, but Darja could tell he was buff. He kind of looked like the guy who played Superman on that Lois and Clark TV series, but a little bit older and even better-looking. What the hell was he here for? A Calvin Klein shoot? A guy who looked like that had no business in a musty basement in the middle of Hee-Haw New Hampshire. 

A very big, very mean-looking mercenary-type entered in after them, moving like he was expecting a firefight to break out any second now. Mean-Merc wore the same outfit as Turkish or Arab Guy upstairs: tight, heavyweight black t-shirt, black fatigue pants and black SWAT boots. Only Mean-Merc here carried a SIG Sauer P226. Darja figured that if any dinosaurs happened by, this guy would just strangle them. 

Mean-Merc took a look around like he was searching for explosive devices then went over to stand at the door. Probably figured he could more effectively intimidate everyone if he were blocking their only escape route.

"Good, you're all here," Drano-Voice said. "Let's get started. My name is Robert Travis. I was a senior officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency for thirty years. And now I'm hoping to bring those skills to the private sector. I hope to bring you along as well." Darja wondered how many times this dude had rehearsed that introduction.

The way Drano-Travis stood at his podium reminded Darja of a priest at a lectern. Rather, priests at lecterns on television, seeing how she’d never stepped foot in a church in her life.  He turned everyone’s attention over to a pulldown screen and clicked a remote until a slide came up that read, "The Bifrost Initiative: New Frontiers in Human Intelligence."  

'The Bifrost Initiative?' Seriously? What the hell was all this about, switch-hitting Eskimos or something? 

Travis then stared at the four recruits as if willing their total attention and began his spiel. “The four of you have been chosen for a very exciting project on the cutting edge of the intelligence industry,” Drano-Travis preached. "As you know, these are very exciting times, with the rapid growth of information technology and the resulting options made available to professionals whose very lives can often rely on the quality and quantity of information they are able to gain access to…”

Take me now Jesus, Darja thought. She’d suffered through hundreds of these pep talks in the Navy. Everything was cutting edge-this and innovative-that and the best thing since canned tuna, bla bla bla. It all ended up being the same old crap, only with more hassles and paperwork attached. 

This pitch was as stiff and insincere as the rest of them. Darja also found it a bit rich that Travis McDrano-Voice here kept using the word "exciting,” when the guy projected all the excitement of a mortician.

"…this mission you are about to embark on will employ the latest tools of information warfare available, both electronic and psychotronic…"

Wait, what? What the fuck does "psychotronic" mean, Darja wondered. But she noticed Eurotrash Guy bolted up in his chair when that little buzzword dropped. This Travis guy started droning on about that new Internet thing, which Darja couldn't care less about. Limp-dick nerd-boy crap. The placement agent had her thinking this was a security gig.

Drano-Travis then paused for effect and clicked to a slide of men and women sitting in what looked like high-tech school desks. They were wearing the kind of eye-masks Darja’s grandma used for her naps. EEG electrodes were attached to their foreheads.  

"What I'm about to tell you is highly confidential, and of the utmost sensitivity. But it cuts to the heart of your mission and the work you're being called upon to do with us here." Darja couldn't possibly guess what he meant. Clearly the guy was going senile. Too much Drano, maybe.

"For nearly a quarter century, the military and intelligence community have been conducting research into what is called remote viewing, which is nothing less than the most exciting, most revolutionary tool our intelligence community has ever developed. With little more than pen and paper, remote viewers have been able to gather intelligence completely inaccessible to our most advanced satellites and listening stations. Believe me when I tell you that some of the most decisive intelligence breakthroughs of the Cold War came out of the remote viewing project. It's safe to say that without it, we’d probably all be speaking Russian right now."

OK, Darja wondered, what in the holy living fuck is this coot actually talking about? Pen and paper more revolutionary than satellites? What the hell is this crap? 

Travis paused for effect, and began sermonizing again: "Remote viewing is not only on the cutting edge of human intelligence, it's on the cutting edge of human potential. It's not an exaggeration to say it's on the cutting edge of human evolution itself. It has proven that the human mind is unbound by the laws of physics, that time and space are malleable, that operable psychic power is not only in our grasp but may in fact be our destiny. Our birthright."

Wait; psychic powers? Is this some kind of joke? This guy seemed as New Age as a drill sergeant. Darja felt the floor beneath her begin to spin. She wished she took a few more swigs of SC before she wandered into this madhouse. And she wished even more that someone would give this nut a fucking throat lozenge.

"With the end of the Cold War, remote viewing technology is now going mainstream. Intelligence gathering is an imperative not only for governments but for large corporations and other major business interests. It's in the economic sphere where the decisive battles of the coming century are going to be fought. And the war has already begun, make no mistake about it. Remote viewing may be something we all can learn, but only a chosen few can do it with the accuracy and predictability needed in an adversarial environment. The problem is that many of  those with the highest potential for remote viewing and other psychic skills are often unaware of their potential. And there is already fierce competition over those who may hold the key to full-spectrum psychotronic domination in the years to come."

Darja fought back a dry heave. Well, this is where you are now, she thought. This is what you've been reduced to, bitch. Years of training, hard work and achievement flushed down the toilet by all the wrong decisions and you end up in a mildewy basement in New Hampshire listening to some spook-ass lunatic ranting about mental telepathy. 

The problem was that she didn't really get the impression she could just sashay out of this dungeon and chalk it up to experience. This old coot might be a lunatic but he was obviously a deadly-serious lunatic.

"This unit here has been set up to help find these people. Plain and simple. This isn't science fiction we're talking about, it's just good, old-fashioned detective work. Years of work with psychics and viewers has allowed us to develop reliable profiles that can help to locate and identify those individuals with the greatest potential for the gathering of nontraditional intelligence. The problem is that so many of these people exist on the margins of society. Many tend to develop addictions and dependencies. Many fall in with dubious, sometimes criminal elements. All because our society doesn't allow for the existence of their abilities, never mind their cultivation and exploitation." 

Another dramatic pause.

"This team will be comprised of two field agents and two analysts," he continued, "The field agents' job will be gather intelligence on persons of interest and then hand it off to the analysts, who in turn will provide reports to me. Decisions will then be made by the advisory board on how best to handle the situations that arise. It’s just as simple as that. Now does anyone have any questions?"

Yeah, where's the exit, Darja thought. But no one at the table could think of any questions. No one seemed able to form any actual words, so they all just sat in stunned silence. The Quarterback looked totally lost, as if this pitch had just been made in a foreign language spoken backwards.  Eurotrash Guy was studying his handout with an intensity Darja thought had to be be feigned.  Turkish or Arab Lady sat stiff as a statue, staring at passing dust motes like they were a fascinating new lifeform.

"Good. I'm going to let the four of you get acquainted now. I have to go out of town on business but I expect to meet with you all when I get back. Oh, before I forget…"

Travis took four standard envelopes from the podium and handed one to each of his suckers. "Have a look at those," he said, enigmatically. "My phone number is on the handout. I look forward to speaking with all of you individually when I get back.” Turkish or Arab Lady got up without saying a word and followed Travis out. She clearly didn't want to get acquainted. Travis mumbled something to the woman but Darja couldn’t parse it. 

Mean-Merc gave the group another dose of scary-face and stomped off shortly afterwards. There were probably some grizzly bears out back asking for a knuckle-sandwich.

The three remaining recruits sat there and stared at each other in mutual astonishment. No one knew what one should possibly say in a situation like this. 

Darja tried to break the ice by telling this dirty joke she heard in the ladies’ pisser of this crappy dive in Abington she got shit-faced in the other night. No one laughed, but Eurotrash Guy loosened up enough to inform Darja exactly how fucking stupid he thought her fucking joke was. She thought it was funny, at least. Maybe you actually needed a clitoris to appreciate it. 

Even so, it snapped the guys out of their trance and the three of them were able to have a not-entirely-excruciating little chat. Even so, they all realized this gig was a bust and they’d all be back doing whatever it was they usually did when they got up tomorrow.

The conversation died down and an awkward silence descended upon the room. Not really knowing what else to do, Darja opened her envelope. Inside was a computer-printed bank check, made out to her, for an amount she'd never seen before in her life. It was many multiples of any paycheck she ever got from the Navy. In the note section it read, “six-month advance." After watching Darja’s face go snow-white, the other two immediately opened theirs. 

"Hooool-lee sheeee-it," Eurotrash Guy said, and clutched his head in his hands. The Quarterback’s jaw dropped and stayed dropped. After a minute or two, Darja wondered if it’d actually become frozen in place. “Oh well, I guess it's time to start hunting for mutants,” Darja lamely mumbled as she got up from the table and left the boys to cope with their shock in private. She didn’t want them getting embarrassed once they began to weep, which Darja did shortly after she left. 

She pulled into a nearby McDonald’s, parked in the back and cried hysterically for a good twenty minutes. She cried like she cried at a wedding, only the kind of wedding where the bridesmaids are given $200,000 cashier checks in their swag-bags. Ironically, Darja had actually applied for a job at a McDonald’s not two weeks before. She’d been going through a rough patch.

After she cried herself out, Darja drove directly to a local branch of her bank. She had no earthly idea how long it would take the check to clear, and she prayed her checking account wouldn't go into overdraft before it did. The drive-through teller just burst out laughing when she saw the check so Darja had to go in and spend an hour filling out a ginormous stack of documents while some fat-ass lech of a manager stared at her falsies. Her wrist hurt like hell by the time she got back on the road.

As she headed home, Darja tried to recall the insane spiel that this Travis guy laid on her and the others. She also thought about the halting conversation she had with the rest of the group after he left. Well, the two guys anyway, seeing how Turkish or Arab Lady fucked off with Travis.  

The Quarterback's name was Porter Dowd and said he’d worked private security. Which seemed kind of funny to Darja, because "Porter Dowd" actually sounded like the name of a private security firm. The guy seemed a little evasive about what kind of private security exactly, but he seemed competent enough. 

The Quarterback was almost too good-looking, Darja thought, but also kind of blah. The two usually went together in her experience. If he’d found Darja attractive at all, he hid it pretty well. She was probably too old for him anyway. He was probably still banging college girls. Or movie stars.

Eurotrash Guy introduced himself as Bruehle and indeed came from Germany by way of Toronto. Darja had no idea whether Bruehle was his first or last name. But she did notice he seemed the most dazzled by Travis's bullshit. 

Bruehle spoke nearly-perfect, idiomatic American English with a weird kind of sing-songy accent that reminded Darja of a slightly-warped record album. He also seemed a bit fruity, but that might have been because all the zeroes on his check were making him giddy. 

But Darja did happen to notice Eurotrash Guy—Bruehle—sneaking glances at the Quarterback—Porter— the whole time, too.  She thought he actually licked his lips during one glance, but maybe he was just thirsty.

Oh well, at least Darja wouldn’t be distracted by interoffice romance on this gig. She made the long drive back to her broom closet apartment in Weymouth. Her lease was up in two months, but she figured she could probably afford to break it now. Luckily, this madhouse gig wasn’t too far over the border from civilization. No way she was moving to New Hampshire. Not for love or money. 

Well, maybe money.

© 2018 Christopher Loring Knowles. All Rights Reserved.