Stephen Shoup, Liminal Space
8551 words
occult integrity

Holocene, Part Two

Those who treat, define sickness. Those who jail, define crime. But the kindling does not define the flame. Those who are awake will recognize the dream. All power resides within you; freedom can not be granted; it is your birthright—beware those who traffic under its banner, for they bait their words with the totem of tyranny. --Lt. Gov Twnk


Jail had been a perpetually-lit fluorescent hell, but the moment Abigail was buzzed through three sets of security doors outdoors for the first time in 13 days, the intensity of the afternoon sun without shocked her pupils to pinpricks. A corrections officer was set to transport Abigail to her court-ordered home for the next 30 to 90 days, the Hallmark-Oprah Women's Recovery Center in Joliet, IL.

A white transport unit approached. “Abigail Rose?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” She tried to focus on the driver’s face, but it only made her light-drunk eyes hurt worse. The airlock hissed and the rear door retracted. She sat down in the backseat and waited for him to recite all terms-of-service applicable to his duty to transport her, including the use of necessary lethal force, etc., etc., and like a thousand times before, agreed to the terms with her DNA signature on the driver’s outstretched blockpad, tracing the indented circle near the bottom with her index finger. The screen illuminated briefly..

“Identity confirmed, Abigail Rose, citizen,” chirped the pad’s feminine-voiced response.

She had never given it much thought, but as the grid of Chicago’s streets beyond the jail gave way to somber warehouses, Abigail considered that nearly all programmed digital voices were female; speakers, software, home assistants—essentially all the electronic interfaces with which humanity communicated—were helpful, cheery women’s voices. Like secretaries. Centuries of progress, yet a woman’s voice is still the default program choice for the role of assistant.

The Hallmark-Oprah recovery center was located behind a byzantine network of residential streets, and the entire perimeter was surrounded by a digital two-and-a-half dimension privacy screen. The transport vehicle approached the privacy screen’s trillions of mesh-like strands of light forming a simulated glade of mature deciduous trees, ringed by a dense hedge. The screen extended unbroken as far as she could see, save the automated entry gate. This place must be fucking enormous. The corrections liaison, the fat-necked man who had wordlessly escorted her the last hour, slowed and rang the entry pad at the end of the drive.
There was the intake nurse with endless disclosure forms, tissue scans, then a tall, thin chess-piece of a man sent to review her responses to the same ten questions reworded endlessly. On paper no less. He smelled like wheat grass, starch, and coffee.

Sex: Other (always her choice). Race? White/Native American. Twenty-three years old. When did you first begin using drugs? What are your drug/s of choice. What drugs have you used in the last year? Heroin, Dilaudid, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, alprazolam, Soma and all meprobromate analogs, Klonopin, alcohol with any benzo, Adderall, Dexedrine, Butalbital, Fioricet, Fiorinal, hydrocodone, Provigil, Nuvigil. Crack, powder cocaine. Not enough room left on the page to answer completely. Have you ever smoked, snorted, or injected a drug? Yes, yes, yes. Remember, alcohol is a drug. Have you thought about harming yourself intentionally or taking your life in the last month: none at all, on occasion, regularly? Have you made a plan to end your own life? Have you been previously hospitalized for any condition? Do you hear voices that other people can not? Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? Have you ever had a "blackout" where you can not remember what happened after drinking or using? Have you ever taken psychedelic drugs? If so, what kind? Are you currently prescribed any medications? Have you ever been hospitalized for a psychiatric illness? Have you ever overdosed? Lost a friend, partner, or job because of your addiction?

Doctor Gilbert bellowed a coffee-laced yawn and tapped his pen, reviewed her answers.

"This is quite a list Abigail. I'd say you're lucky to be alive."

"I’d say you are too"

"Right. I see in your file that the courts ordered your stay here. Do you have a personal desire to be clean?"

"Yeah. I mean, I want to stop using hard drugs."

"How long were you, uh, in jail before you arrived?"

"Twenty-one days."

"Are you still experiencing any withdrawal?"

"Yes," she replied with perhaps too much emphasis. Hot flashes, insomnia, thought loops, depression, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating. Anger in my heart, my spleen.

"Generally opiate withdrawal has a seven day to three week duration," the doctor pulled a prescription pad from the desk."So you're likely nearly out of the woods...butI don't want you uncomfortable during your stay here. We'll be starting you on Suboxone, just for a few days. Maybe a week. I'll also prescribe Clonodine for breakthrough withdrawal symptoms. I think we can treat your insomnia with 100mg of Trazodone in the evening. I’ll authorize an additional dose if that doesn’t do it. For depression, Amazon HalcyonTX is quite effective. Revolutionary, really.” Starry eyed, she thinks. A fellow pharmacological enthusiast. He stared at her, clicking the pen in and out.

"I don't want to take that HalcyonTX garbage." She had seen the promotions for the medication advertised endlessly. Everyone had. The holographic advertisement stunk of billion-dollar ad budgets. And that fucking voice!

Amazon Medical has partnered with happiness, to bring you HalcyonTX. A new semi-organic/digitally attenuated mood stabilizer that uses the latest in nanopharmaceutical research to work on your neurotransmitters in an adaptive, algorithmic digital transmission from your hopes, desires: your dreams; programmed to work as they were always meant to. Smile again, with HalcyonTX, Amazon helps you be your best self. Exclusively for Prime Members...We're in this together.

"You know, it's quite an opportunity. Amazon Pharmaceutical providing HalcyonTX free of charge is something a lot of people wish they could have. We’re one of their clinical testing sites, which, I, uh, am obliged to tell you. It's a true breakthrough in how we treat depression. We wouldn't want to miss the opportunity, with so much at stake, would we?" The doctor's voice was less casual now.

"I guess you're right.”

"Now it's not just going to work all by itself. You'll be seeing one of our qualified therapists three times weekly for Neuro-Harmony sessions; these are a powerful breakthrough in addiction treatment. Used in adjunct with HalcyonTX, they allow us the ability to not just attenuate biofeedback, but to literally reprogram the reward circuitry that your brain has formed around Untaxable drugs’ effects, and to tie them back to the baseline pleasure response the human brain—your brain specifically—formed before your addiction!” A fellow The man was practically giddy. She thought the whole things sounded absurd.

“But the core of our program is an updated twelve-step model, of course." Doctor Gilbert pushed his glasses down and smiled at her.”

“Of course.”

She could see the anemone-like liquid contraction of the doctor’s e-contacts focusing in overlapping threads against his irises, like the aperture of some antique 3-dimensional camera. The same burning sensation in her gut that always accompanied a man’s stare, that kind of stare. The one that revealed their true nature. Sexual robots. Designed to respond to genetic cues, the amount of fat in the right places to ensure the survival of their...offspring.

"If you would please lie back on the table for me, I'm just going to scan for any disease signatures, check your vital organ functions." Dr. Gilbert's smile widened. Had he been smiling the whole time?

...

“Welcome to group, everyone, I’m Counselor James, and I’m a recovering addict.”

“Hi Counselor James,” twenty-some women unenthusiastically respond.

He surveyed the women seated on folding chairs formed into a circle. His gaze and smile landed on Abigail, sitting cross-armed and staring down at her worn black shoes.

“We have a newcomer to group, would you mind introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about what brought you here, what you hope to accomplish at treatment, and how you’re feeling today?”

The counselor had a facial tic, and his speech was punctuated by a slight snort. Abigail’s heartbeat quickened, and she felt the heat of dozens of eyes fixed on her.

“Ok, ahm. I’m Abigail. I’ve been using drugs most of my life. Started smoking pot when I was twelve, spent much of my high school years taking acid and mushrooms. I never quite saw psychedelics as drugs, or pot...I wanted to explore alternate realities, understand my spirit…” she heard a little bird-like giggle from someone to her right. “Anyway. I was babysitting my neighbor’s kids when I was seventeen. While they were napping I went through the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Vicodin and helped myself. I recall thinking...this is how I’ve always wanted to feel. Just warm and calm and...right. My teen idols, Basquiat, Burroughs, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed, they had all made opiates...well, heroin seem romantic, so it seemed that if I wanted to follow a certain path, creatively, that was just what I would do...at least try it. I started shooting up when I was eighteen and was really in love with it pretty quickly. I’ve been doing dope every day for, I don’t know, three or four years now. Right now I’m feeling pretty shitty. I went through the worst of withdrawal in jail...I was arrested after I overdosed. My ex, Adan, called an ambulance. I was revived with Narcan and woke up covered in my own puke, and Adam was gone. I’m here mainly because of the court. It was either get sentenced to the server farms, or...come here. I guess.” She trailed off and felt like running out of the room.

“Well, we’re certainly glad you’re here, Abigail. I’m sure many of your peers can relate to that experience. I know I can. Group, can anyone here identify with Abigail’s story?” He crossed his stubby legs and looked around the room.

“I know what it’s like, hon,” said a slight woman near the counselor.

“Your name please? Remember group. We..urp, hicasshhh...ahayam. We always introduce ourselves the first time we speak,” said Counselor James, his neck stiffening and looking as if her were having a micro-seizure, snorting, flinging his head back. The woman waited for his spasm to pass, and his mental-health-professional ‘sincere, not just listening to you, but also for you’ expression to return.

The woman continued, and Abigail struggled to listen, she could only focus on the Counselor's face in her peripheral vision, it had become pale, sweaty, anxious, and she felt him staring into her, through her, into some secret place she didn't yet know existed. An enormous reservoir of suffering and desperation whose contours he probed for weakness. The Halcyon was taking effect. Hadn’t they said it took a week to kick in?

The days started to blur. Breakfast on a cafeteria tray, then three pastel pills from the nurse’s station, then group therapy, journalling before lunch, Neuro-Harmony sessions began somewhere during the second week, the details were getting fuzzy.

...

“To begin, we’ll get this headset fitted for you—looks a bit silly, huh?” Counselor James held up what looked like a matte white bicycle helmet, and turned it over so she could see the underside. Dozens of ridges covered in a metallic tin-foil sheen, like those emergency thermal blankets. It looked fairly harmless, she thought. “Now I’ll ask you to sit here,” he approached a swivel chair mounted near the office’s loveseat, it’s back facing them, and started fumbling with an instrument panel near the chair’s right armrest.

Abigail rose slightly and peered at her open case file on his desk. She had watched this folder get passed from one member of the rehab’s staff to another, and it had grown in thickness as the days had passed. The photograph the intake nurse had taken of Abigail upon arrival was not paper clipped in its usual position of the inner left folder. She became uneasy; her photograph sat askew in the Counselor’s top desk drawer, hastily half-shut. Her dark hair, a gift from her Cherokee grandmother, and her mother’s mischievous smile peered back at her. Her own face seemed like a caricature of her ancestors, women who raised her seeming to cry out from behind her own brown eyes in the photo. Why had he removed the photo from her file? Why did her own face seem not her own?

“Well, I suppose we can get started, I’ve got the initial settings,” he caught her gaze and the Counselor’s head jerked back in the spasmodic tic that the other patients incessantly mimicked. The result of a cocaine overdose in his bygone party days. He saw what she was looking at, and hobbled over, “Oh, what, would you look at that, must’ve fallen right out of your chart.” He snatched the photo out of the drawer, placed it back on top of her case file paperwork, and closed the folder. She stopped chewing the gum that had lost it’s flavor an hour before, and met his gaze, and involuntarily looked down at his shoes: casual black leather, black laces...but one shoe had a platform, two or three inches high, the other as ordinary as any shoe. “I was born, ah, with one leg shorter than the other.” James said. She felt sorry for this overly asymmetric man. A man who couldn’t speak more than three sentences without his neck jerking back, accompanied by that crisp exhale-hiccup sound, like a bodybuilder imitating the sound of being punched in the stomach by a kid, pretending it hurt.

He seemed harmless, even a touch pathetic, she thought. He probably had just dropped her photo opening the chart. She didn’t let the alternatives play out in her mind. Abigail smiled.

“Well, I’m ready for the chair, warden.”

They both snickered and made their way to the chair, now glowing a soft blue at it’s edges. He was still snickering as he interrupted his own explanation of the Neuro Harmonic chair and headset operation. “Oh, ha, ha! Blehp,” his head jerking back, “that was a good one.”

...

Karen had been waiting as long as she can remember for something to happen. Something that would define her life, her life’s work, and its ultimate direction. As a healer, this goal sometimes felt fulfilled by the thread of people she helped free themselves of illusion, illness, and fear. But that thread had diminished after she’d lost her license to practice.

...

The laminated sheets were passed around the room, and she ended up with one titled “How the Program Works.” Everyone else in the room seemed to be talking to someone. Abby drank the stale coffee and kept her eyes on the table.

“Alright everybody, welcome to the New Beginnings 7pm meeting of Untaxable Euphorics Anonymous, my name is Tara and I’m an addict.” The leader of the meeting looked genuinely cheerful, and tucked her short gray hair behind her ears.

“I’d like to start the meeting with the Tranquility Prayer. I’ve asked Tammy to lead us tonight.”

Abigail shifted in her seat rolling her eyes beneath closed eyelids, and followed along for the first few words of the prayer.

“Benevolent spiritual entity, please grant me the tranquility, to accept the terms of agreement, which no one can change, the courage to abide by their direction, and the wisdom to display my deference. Amen.”

“Amen,” Abigail stirred more powdered creamer into the styrofoam cup of coffee, and eyes the Exit sign by the hallway.

“So if I were to offer only one piece of advice to a new medical examiner, it’s this: never have sex with the bodies. No matter how attractive, or alive they are when they arrive.”

“Sir?”

“Listen, I know it’s old-fashioned to proffer any exclusionary doctrine, especially around one’s sexual inclinations. It can just, get messy. Oh, it starts off innocent enough, no one’s around, you’re pulling a late shift, smoothing the inner walls of some poor strangulation victim’s trachea, and, well one thing leads to another…” Coleman drops the last of the scalpel in the autoclave, turning to Gabriel, the newest assistant Medical Examiner.

Gabriel backs up from the table.

“Hah! I’m a dog! You shoulda seen the look on you face! “

“This is Dreamer,” Karen, propping the screen door open, and motioning to the short man approaching them. Abigail, feeling nervous for the first time since entering the reservation, extends her thin hand towards him.

“Hello, it’s so...it’s such an honor to meet you,” says Abigail, meeting Dreamer’s intense gaze as he softly clasps her hand with his own. There is laughter in the man’s eyes, a wisdom and strength she recognizes. The smile he offers radiates into her, his spirit seems to fill the entire trailer, like fire, trailing out the open windows and into the barren landscape beyond.

On the wall was an old paper map of the USA; most of the northeast coastal states were still on it. Written in black bold marker above the longitudinal lines—The Occupied Territories of the United States. Chunks of the map were cross-hatched in areas that at first glance Abigail thought looked familiar. She surveyed the rest of the trailer’s interior; sparse, fruit crates filled with maps, a carved tree branch in the shape of a jaguar devouring a serpent. Dreamer sat on a loveseat and with a grin, followed her eyes as they landed on a still-drying clay square mounted where a monitor would normally be.

“Karen has told me all about you Abigail. I hear you’ve been filled in on the First Nations’ general plan. What we have not told you is that we have proposed a return of the National Parks to the Native Peoples,” said Dreamer.

He motioned to the reservation beyond the trailer. “The United States are occupied territories. The whole country is living a collective hallucination that the facts are otherwise.”

“I don’t understand, what do the parks have to do with…”

“Everything!” he cuts Abigail off. Her eyes betray a mild frustration. “The parks belong, like the rest of North America, to our people. These were chosen for their beauty, splendor, the jewels of America, si? Look out the window. What do you see?”

“The reservation.”

“What else do you see?”

Thinking this is a trick question, she answered “Nothing.”

“Exactly. Nada. No elk, no buffalo, no children playing, no water. Not even a single tree. This. This is the land we were ‘given’ by our occupiers. We were murdered, displaced, disinherited...but, hey, we can buy cigarettes, alcohol, tax free. We can build casinos.”

We have waged a war whose bunker has been time. The elders from the Nine Tribes have met in secret for many decades. We can not win our land back with combat. Many felt that if we just waited out the white man, the sickness that he has brought on our land, that we would again rightfully assume our place as the habitants of this land. A group of us, the leaders of the Ute, Navajo, Paiute, Anasazi, Cherokee, Pueblo, Choctaw, Sioux, and Apache Nations began last summer to...carry forward an old war. And with old tactics. And we want you, Abigail, to help us.”

Holocene, Part 1


I.


"I ain't never seen anything like this Ed. What kind of animal could have even done..." Isaac let the sentence hang in the hot afternoon, the two of them panting, shuffling their gaze from the surreal sight on the trail to the rock formations framing the horizon.

"The hungry type, I suppose", Isaac flicking a dime-sized patch of skin off of his worn leather ranger's boots. He had stepped right onto a clump of it before reading the landscape's departure from reality; crimson stains in clumps of feathergrass and the sickening sour smell of rot. Something had maimed and--it seemed--eaten a backpacker, their gear bafflingly stacked in a neat pile: 70-Liter pack, hiking poles, Nalgene water bottle covered in stickers, all stacked like a cairn meant to mark the trail.

The annihilated god-knows-how body lying in three pools of itself near the low mesa not five yards from the path was like Cubist painting of a naked middle-aged man fed through a wood chipper and reassembled into like pieces by a careless, dull child. Not since the Ute and Anasazi had defended their territory here and spilled their own blood back into that home had a human life been lost so brutally, in anyone's memory at the park. Their tribes had long ago been driven to wastelands, and the premium lands of Utah commandeered by this iteration of occupiers, the United States National Park Service.

Eduardo and Isaac had combed this trail the week prior, nothing but a discarded plastic Jim Beam pint bottle was the drama they'd encountered last week. Now this.

"Been up here how many years now? There isn't anything around for half the state big enough to do this. Fuck if I can imagine an antelope or a mule deer or...just what is this?" Isaac's groin tightened. He had to piss but couldn't budge, running through every possible scenario that could have led to this. There were only two reservations that week at the campground just beyond the next bend. Some church group and a landscape photographer couple of days apart. No kin or boss or lover had called the backcountry office to report anyone missing. He heard the image Ed was forming. No way. It can't have gone down like that. Thing was, Ed was right more than not when there was a piece missing from some puzzle out here. And there were a lot of pieces missing in this particular bad hand they'd been dealt.

Ed and Isaac were full-time senior National Park rangers who led search and rescue ops as needed, lost hikers, kids on acid carving on rock faces and breaking a leg falling from their perch on the sandstone, occasional suicides designed to look like falls. That kind of thing. Otherwise they performed trail and campground maintenance throughout the meandering slot canyons, hoodoos, and dry washes. They were tasked with making some of the most remote wilderness on the planet hospitable to human visitors in the scorched and achingly beautiful hundred-mile stretch of Canyonlands National Park's southern Needles district.

They had worked alongside each other stretching into a new decade now, a patchwork of days that had formed into something that felt to Isaac like a shared muscle that operated with its own memory.

Tuesday through to Saturday, sunup till dinnertime, the two men spent their in-field hours hiking three to seven paces apart, walking sections of the park's most wild terrain. They had stopped using words to talk to each other most times about a half-dozen years back, seeing as they had just about run out of things to talk about, and Isaac could feel most of Ed's broadcast thoughts; they came in like a suddenly remembered vivid dream. They knew each other as well as you can know another man without taking to bed with him or sharing a cell together for a spell. You come to know a man when he can't hide his thoughts or feelings any more than he can hide the smell of his body, and many such moments had accrued in their years working together. They shared an intimacy of instinct in danger and in rambling solitude.

So it was that Isaac knew Ed would lift his canteen and pull from it twice before wiping his chin on the sleeve of his shirt, and knew Ed wanted him to be the one to radio this back to the ranger's station. As he made careful steps towards the body, Isaac dryly dispatched the details of their gruesome find to park headquarters.

"Minon to headquarters, we got ourselves a body up here at Chesler Park, we're gonna need some help gettin"

"Still breathing?" asked the voice on the other end of the radio.

"Luke, I mean to say we got a body. In pieces. Matter 'fact, think you should call Moab Sheriff's Department, something ain't right here. Yep. Yep. Ok, I'm gonna send Ed back on down and I'll stay with it up here on lookout till we get it a helicopter lift-out, afraid the birds might do it worse to it if it sits till dusk."

Eduardo gave him puzzled look, "Isaac, what 'worse' is there? There ain't even a face on it. Amazon can have a chopper up here in coupla' hours..."

"Right. But see that's part of what bothers me. I want to poke around the campsite see what I can see. Look at the way the skin is cut away at the head. It's not jagged, looks like -"

"Something skinned the face off." "Yep."


Ed stepped toward him and they stood side by side, each blocking the sun with a cupped palm, looking like soldiers saluting a horrid fallen flag, staring at the precise cut at the base of the neck. A few ground squirrels scampered erratically out on the slickrock.

II.

The morning Adam left the Humboldt Park apartment he had shared with his partner Abigail, he was taking precisely the same route to the Blue Line L train he took nearly every weekday. It was a particularly cold, cloudy day for early Spring. The winter had offered an endless stretch of these bleak, subzero days. The fact that even the formless clouds blanketing the stratosphere were the exact gray-charcoal color of city-bus diesel exhaust infusing the snow and ice clumps lining the curbs was simply another grim detail in Adam's growing arsenal of reasons he just had to get out of Chicago soon. Even the fucking clouds look depressed, he thought, just as he passed the Myopic Closet bookstore on Augusta Ave. Adam tightened the careless lumpy scarf against the skin on his neck, already feeling the rug-burn cold spreading down to his coat's first half-fastened button. The bookstore was one of the main reasons he and Abigail had rented the apartment just a scream away down the block, eagerly enough to pool the max cash advance allowed them on virgin credit for the deposit and move in together. That winter had began as a romantic period, spread out in their unfurnished living room, reading to each other from whatever paperback they chose at random from the bookstore. Broke as shit but ethically-inclined thieves, they followed a strict buy one for every one you steal book policy, it being a local small business, and the supercorps that had eaten the small bookstores had long ago been eaten by the megacorps that devoured the publishing industry. But all this was irrelevant now, He just had to get a few bags for the train out west, wean himself off, and heavy-handedly contrive an adventure he couldn't conceive was barely worth a footnote in the transformational journey Abigail would soon follow to Utah's hidden canyons.

III.

Amazon, Inc. Majority Shareholder's Q3 Profit Analysis


Dear Shareholders,


We begin this quarter's profit analysis with some of the hot topics and hot products emerging from our Strategic and Tactical Fiat-Generative HQ (And remember, as always, the content of these reports is confidential and shall not be circulated or reproduced in any fashion.)

As most of you are aware by now, Naloxone, USP (Narcan) is an FDA-Approved medication (the primary method of action binds as a mu and delta opiate receptor antagonist) to reverse the effects of more popular, deadly FDA-approved opioids, cost to Amazon: 47 USD per unit, 8mg liquid vials. Billed currently at 387 USD per vial by Amazon, Inc. Ambulatory, in addition to 500 USD for any onsite Emergency Response, which is to say, always. (Way to go for your hard work in Vertical Accounting! Mary Delagney at our Tulsa, OK Satellite Campus--you are magic incarnate!)

Our cost represents approximately one-third of Narcan's retail OTC cost, negotiated between Amazon, Inc. Medical Ambulatory Emergency Response and Viacom Pharmaceuticals, Ltd., at present, our bulk purchase agreement totals procurement of ten-thousand Narcan vials monthly. While Amazon bills any individual majority-human entity administered the opioid-overdose reversing drug 387 USD onsite, the exceptions are, of course, our Prime members, who are permitted one at-cost opioid overdose reversal per 12-month billing period, invoiced at our aforementioned cost (47USD) to the Prime member's USD Bio-Tether on file, appearing discretely on monthly statements as simply "Customer Retention Service." (A BIG thanks to Barry Lyndon, Creative Lead in our Lingustic Patch Deptartment for his work on yet again making Beet Salad sound like Dark Chocolate Cake!)

Any additional, subsequent Amazon Prime-member opioid overdose(s) within a 12-month period are then billed at the current 387 USD rate charged to non-Prime members when administered by Amazon's Ambulance Service. Folks, I'm just thrilled to the gills to announce that Amazon Ambulatory Medical Transport vehicles now outnumber all other privatized ambulance service vehicles combined nationwide, owing to the prophetic forethought of the Bezos Foundation's visionary dual-use package delivery van/ambulance service vehicle, reducing emergency response time to 14.8 seconds for Prime Members--just nine months after the Alexa Vital Signs Embedded Beacon afforded us a near-perfect ability to measure Prime cardiac and respiratory signature deviation in households nationwide.

Since we are a tight-knit group, I won't beat around the bush on numbers here: though Amazon Medical purchases ten-thousand Narcan vials monthly, only around half of that amount are used for emergency administration each month, the remainder are now resold by the ever-useful Amazon subsidiary, Red Cross, based in the very business friendly Semi-autonomous Disneyland Iran Region, who then resells the re-labeled Narcan vials to Facebook Harm Reduction kiosks for 339 USD, and Amazon reports these diverted anti-overdose vials (slippery little devils!) as damaged, expired, or otherwise unusable as enormous write-offs for increased nontaxable income, allowing further subsidization of Amazon Medical pharmaceutical lobbying to keep opioid prescriptions abundant and available cheaply to non-Prime members who need them most ("poverty is pain"-- as Jeff used to remind me), as well as funding Amazon's physician-outreach programs, which, as we shine, are building the most elegant AI Patient Records software suite in the industry. Heading into Q4, we are more robust, diverse, and profitable than at any time in Amazon history...as has been reported for 32 consecutive fiscal quarters!

I know I'll be seeing the five of you in the usual 'Hotspots,' but until then, may the shine of the enclosed dividend bio-check (I know you peaked!) make those winning grins wide and white, the world is watching, let's keep those pearly whites telling our customers and constituents "Amazon Knows How to Show the Love!"
Your Partner in Prosperity,

Peter Hoffman, Chief Financial Officer, Amazon, Inc.


IV.


Abigail's skin felt ten degrees cooler to the touch than any living body should. The bruised-blue colored continent shapes that were forming just a minute prior to the EMT's Narcan injection receded from her face regained and it regained its living, olive hue.

"Looks like we've saved another customer," are the first words Abigail hears as consciousness regains her. She begins to sob as the instant pain of withdrawal begins its predictable course. Abigail vomits profusely into the lap of the Amazon EMT knelt over her, simultaneously losing control of her bowels. Her small apartment becomes thick with the odor of her foul escaped fluids. She doesn't notice as a police officer enters her apartment, a small crowd had gathered in the lobby near her open door after the EMT had loudly summoned for the police on his ring radio: Prime Member or not, an EMT never knew how unstable or violent a resuscitated overdose patient could become, procedure was followed and the police had been dispatched. The officer makes quick, judging eye contact with the medics and waits until they verbally confirm her vital signs before announcing himself to the girl crumpled like a soaked and deflated human piñata with the candy batted-out on the hardwood floor.

"Ms. Abigail Roth, I'm Officer Stanley," he says, turning down the squelch from the radio on his ring.

"We're going to need to stand you up ma'am," says the officer, comically tall in Abigail's apartment. He had the hard jaw and red nose of the profession. "You are lucky to be alive, but we're going to have to detain and process you for possession of Untaxable Euphoric Substances, a violation you agreed to abstain from when you accepted the terms of agreement, just like the rest of us" turning his attention to the spoon and syringe on her counter, several empty Batman logo plastic baggies with telltale tan traces of powder was more than enough evidence for her arrest. "You know," Officer Stanley says, "this stuff can turn you into a..."

Abigail wails "you mothe...r... you moth-er fucking Nazi pig! I'm sick, I, I'm..."

"Lady, I'd keep your mouth shut real tight if I was you, or you'll be charged with conspiratorial noncompliance. I'm just doing my job," the cop says flatly, resting one hand on the club hanging from his belt.

She knows what he's reaching for next, so many thousands of parts intricately folded into a figure-8 shaped brushed-metal rod hanging between his flashlight and .45 caliber handgun. He pulls the bodycuff from its holster, she thinks the slide-suction-release woinnn kuh-thwack sound is even more sinister than in the movies. One thing about opiate withdrawal: it's not just the shaking, puking, shitting flu wrapped in-a-blanket Basketball Diaries slice of miserable white bread many folks imagine. It is enraging. All emotions are at full throttle, a rude clerk can put you in hysterical tears, or a ridiculous TV commercial for an antidepressant, the newly-prescribed, freed-from-darkness patient running a sun drenched meadow can make you weep with the intensity reserved for life's most dramatic moments.

Intravenously-administered Narcan not only reverses the overdose by stripping out the substance that caused it; in the addicted brain, the physical withdrawal that normally takes 2 to 3 days after a last dose is immediately. Here. Now. And so, with this intensity freshly induced by the instantaneous withdrawal, Abigail's hysteria and rage expressed itself in the form of a giant wad of vomit-speckled spit that she torpedos directly towards the cop's chiseled face, where it lands with Olympic-skill precision, just a cat's whisker below Officer Stanley's murky blue eye. The EMTs stand slack jawed as the officer's face flushes port-red, a suddenly visible vein in his forehead twitching like a caged squirrel on fire.

His crop-haired head nearly grazing the ceiling, the cop lurches towards her as the bodycuff begins its wing-like enlargement, ball bearings and precision-engineered slide mechanisms engaging, awaiting contact with the back of her now felony-charged neck. Abigail thrashes on the floor, screaming as the cop struggles to force the body handcuff over her head and engages the lock mechanism, a capillary network of wires and thin steel restraints expanding downward as the cuff eagerly buzzes, looping around her arms, hands, thighs then in a thud, auto adjusts down to the bottom of her feet in a final ratcheting staccato of metallic snaps, immobilizing her, and forcing her entire body upright. The cop recites her ex-Miranda rights in a deadpan sing-song tone and flips a remote switch on his belt, and four small wheels advance from their folded position at ankle height on the bodycuff, allowing her to be wheeled like a broken appliance on a horrific dolly to the front door and into the frigid evening.

In her rage Abigail wants to tear the cop's face off, but no part of her body can move more than three-quarters of an inch, per Johnson & Johnson OfficerAssist Product Division's Bodycuff specifications. She can only scream hysterically as she is wheeled away from her apartment, catching a glimpse of the Amazon EMTs through her window.

"Pieces of shit! You traitors, fucking traitors, I'm a Prime member! A Prime member!," she screeches as the cop radios in his arrest through crackling static.

"That one's a piece of work," says the Amazon EMT as he flicks Abigail's vomit from his pant leg, turning to his partner who is repackaging their Prime medic kit, leaving the fluids to marinate on the floor. "I mean, I don't, like, enjoy informing the police about Untaxable Euphorics when it's a Prime member, but, hey...I mean...she like, spit on that cop's face!"

"You're just doing your job," the other EMT says, snapping the kit shut.


V.

The brown and golden yellows of an early Midwestern spring formed great sweeping rectangles of farmland out the window, a patchwork of corn and soy that the train tracks cut through like clumsy stitches. “Mind if I sit here?" a muscular, kind-eyed man asked Adam as he eyed the two seats next to him on the right side of the Amtrak's futuristic twenty-years-ago blue and gray passenger car.

"Go for it." Adam responded, scanning the empty seats surrounding them.

The Amtrak etiquette of choosing empty seats opposite the aisle of another passenger is equivalent to signaling some desire to start a conversation with a stranger. It says I'd like to talk with you if you do too. And if you're nutty or talk to much, the aisle becomes an imaginary fence either person can choose to re-erect back between them.

The muscled man threw a stuffed, rugged backpack onto the aisle seat and sat next to it. The pack looked brand new.

Adam was still in a pensive mood after a stressful week preparing for this trip alone across the country to meet his closest friend for what the two planned would be a three-week backpacking trip. He'd used the trip to wean off for good, and if all went as planned, Abigail would be out of their apartment when he returned. Adam put his headphones on and looked back out the window. Now there are journeys you plan for, journeys that invite you in out of nowhere, a sudden symphony of chance and adventure. Adam Bosnitch had the fault of trying very hard to plan as much as possible to curate journeys in which the type of adventures that simply can't be planned could occur. Adam was quite sure, even now, so many years on, more half-over than not, that he could shed his lifelong role of an illusionist among magicians, so to speak.

He was the man who wrote a graduate thesis on Kerouac's On the Road, that lauded but hyperbolic bit of plagiarism, but was hardly the type to saddle up for an impromptu road trip without the more pure- bred free-spirited companion onboard whose whims and nonchalance he so dearly needed as a proxy to be truly bold. Adventurous. To explore. While aware of this unpleasant contradiction he remained hopeless to change its course. And so it was that Adam Bostich went about what would be certainly be his life's largest adventure, albeit one whose occurrence he groomed and courted lest it escape him.

As the train passed under a rare grove of old Fir trees, Adam caught his own reflection in the window and quickly messes his hair to appear more unkempt, his thinning blond hair suddenly prickles on end as a warm flash spreads to his shoulders, a flush of conflicting sensations, cold, hot, electric, dull, travels down his slouched spine and back up to settle in the center of his chest. Adam wondered for the third time that day if his heart might just stop. Then he wondered if he continued on with this years-long fixation of wondering whether his heart would stop the moment he inadvertently heard his own heartbeat from the inside out, or on the floor lying face down, when he felt his own heartbeat echo back, this too caused Adam great concern about its certain, any moment, sudden failure. This was, he thought, a real drag. Had Adam being slightly more self aware, he would realize such concerns, sans justification, were the very meat of his inability to be in the moment.

Adam had held thirty-some jobs in as many years, and a smell in the train car triggered a memory of one of the more pleasant of these occupations. The smell of a certain Brazilian tea, one his boss, the psychic, had made before giving a reading to any of her many, hopeless he though, 'clients.' The muscular man in the seats next to him had poured hot water from a thermos into a soda can with the top cut off, and was stirring mate tea calmly. The passing view from the window a seemingly unending soundstage of soybean farmland without beginning or end.

“Where you headed?” Adam asked the backpacker across the aisle.

“Utah man!” and he shifted towards Adam, clearly eager to chat.

“Utah. Alright. Never been. There's like no alcohol, right? Mormons and shit?”


He felt ridiculous the second the words left his mouth. Why did he always try to sound dumber than he actually was? It's not like it ever came across as cool, which was what he was going for.

“Yeah there's some Mormons in the north part of the state. All that. I'm headed for the canyons though, actually, I'm doing a full year solo backpacking the national parks down there. Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches....Escalante. I'm Nick.”

And Nick's hand reached out to shake his. “Adam.”

“Good to meet you Adam. Where you headed?”

VI.

The criminal judge of the Great State of Illinois, Judge Timothy McVay-Manning had that morning already sentenced 237 people to various lengths of incarceration in the server farms, none less that one year, when Alexa Court Assist announces “now comes Case 0F4635, the Terms of Agreement (T.O.A) vs. Abigail Rose, Felony Assault to a Peace Officer, Possession of Untaxed Euphoric Substances, and violation of Amazon User Agreement Category 1, failure to render payment for medical services rendered to Prime Citizenry.”


Abigail watches this man in form fitting white neuronal extensionwear extend his entity awareness from one of his plurality-stitched nodes and bleed into focus onto the metal screen in front of her like watercolor paint filling an outlined caricature. For several seconds she hears a multitude of overlapping monologues he is concurrently emanating from his core to to other prisoners before the session is hardlinked and his boy-face and coffee-colored teeth giggle upon taking in the image of her still and sedate, her long black hair falling around sunken shoulders. She knows immediately he is attracted to her.


“How do you plea to the chargesss, that have been assigned your violationsss, are they correct Ms. Rose? Or is it Mrs. Rose? Are you prepared to attest Boolean assignation in the affirmative?


“Your Nodular Majesty, it is true. I have committed each offense the digital court assistant has brought forward. I have been a sick...woman, your Majesty. I was a very sick entity. I felt such shame for not being able to bear human children by the age of my syntactical completion that I became alone, lost in a world where injecting untaxed euphorics became the only way to survive that shame. I throw myself before you, knowing your Ultimate Truth will decide the best use of my cellular conglomeration...but I beg of you, shall I be allowed to receive treatment for my addiction in the Hallmark-Oprah Recovery Center as alternative sentencing to server farming, I will not only give my human eggs to Amazon for full restitution for my nonpayment, I will--”


“That will be enough Abigail Rose,” the amused boy-face in front of her chuckles. I can shee that you are a troubled entity, and I am so sor-ry to hear of your barren hemisphere, I shall allow your release to the care of Hallmark's exshellen-t program under the power granted all of my nodular awarenesses and under the condisshen that you shall have your human eggs removed for restitution this very day, which I will directly observe with great pleas-sure, you will also agree to relinquish your USD Bio-Tether to the State of Illinois, and should you find yourself standing before any of my multiplicities charged with so much as a chronological deviation, I will sentence you to the maximum possible term allowed my nodularity!”


“Of course sir, I mean, your Maj-”

“No more vocalization! I am unthreading and Alexa will final-ize your statement of guilt, voluntary offer of embryonic precursory containments, and your placement into Hallmark-Oprah's immediate custody following your procedure.”

“Thank you, Majesty,” Abigail arches her shoulders back and her face down slightly so he can't see the grin in her eyes. She'd sold her eggs long ago for cash, and shared some of the yield with the surgeon to replace them with synthetic replacements, coated with bonded human protein sheath. Her eggs would be so deep in the international resale market before their failure would ever be discovered by any of Amazon's breeding programs. All she had to do was let this chubby-faced creep watch her state-issued cocktail dress be removed under surgical lights and her polymer eggs be removed by vacuum laser, then spend a few months at Hallmark playing their game, and it would all be over. No jail, no server farm, no Amazon indenturehood...


Fuck the USD-Tether, fuck the unending silence that would greet her upon her release, Amazon did patent every vibratory frequency in every piece of recorded entertainment, the technology itself was patented into perpetuity. She imagined the possibilities of a life without serialized input, suddenly her neck tingled in excitement where the cop had affixed the bodycuff. The drab cell went dark as the digital court assistant finished its babbling transmission. Abigail, free from Adam (he was a worse addict anyway), he chose to get high like there was something romantic about it, like the psychic pain would inspire him out of mediocrity. (And there was never enough heroin for that.) And his intolerable, awkward mind- games and constant need to reenact his own childhood trauma with the aesthetically-improved mise-en-scène she offered. And more, free from Amazon's endless foray into the very embedded tissue of her consciousness.


“I love you so much,” she said to no one in particular in the dark cell, it was an impulse that couldn't express itself in other words, escaped like a tear. “Fuck. You.” She said, from the same impulse, to, well, almost everything in particular she had encountered over the last year. Both were so, so gratifying for her to hear reverberate.


Both utterances brought a clarity that allowed Abigail to focus on the image that had been knawing to come up and take shape. She'd seen a holo-mersive documentary about the most strange rock formations in South Utah some years ago, so surreal and beautiful the place had seemed, its endlessly varied undulating rock formations stretching into canyons enormously more vast than a dozen Grand Canyons. Ancient seabeds with their conversations secretly passed over millennia, responses carved by wind, rain, and erosion in the twisted sandstone spires. She remembered her grandmother telling her of her family's Anasazi American Indian heritage, and how her people had came from this area. Like the posture of a serpent, the water-carved canons and spires seemed the correct posture of the universe. With this thought, a great bird applauded its wings, the biophony of the detention center, people wailing, banging doors, sentencing being announced by loudspeaker in the cafeteria, the woman next to her cell sobbing, the guards' radios; the whole of it became a composition of immeasurable beauty before it disappeared entirely to the sword-like tip of a synesthesiac dance whose choreography curtsied. The great bird quieted, nowhere in particular.


“There are no answers, only more elegant questions,” it fluttered to her with casual poise as it flew out. And with that last call, all sound capsized into a sea of laughter and her cell was thrown into brash light as the door clang inward, the surgical techs pausing at the threshold, readying the device that would soon emit the extractive beam for her counterfeit eggs.


The judge himself, apparently officially off duty given his composite nodes were all silent beneath the white neurosuit, appeared and nodded for the techs to enter and begin the procedure. Abigail laughed aloud and sat readied for the punctuation their egg harvest would ink.


The judge wasn't quite sure what she found so funny, but his excitement to see this beautiful woman sedate and naked—what was she, Polynesian? Native American? This excitement weighed so heavily that the judge did not even notice the incongruity on the white wall behind her on the bed, an intricately penciled vine of words twisting in and around themselves, “And where they have made their parks on our land, we shall eat from their flesh,” over and over in the script of vines. Vines on which Abigail thought the great bird, and the Utah desert, would enjoy her last postcard before she entered the anesthesiologist's trademark blackened tunnel, soon to emerge into the waiting bed at Hallmark-Oprah's court-mandated treatment bloc.



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