STONEARCH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
by Bradley S. Warner
"Now Im sure youre crazy," August said as he went back to shuffling through the transparencies on his desk.
"William Stonearch is not the president," Les asserted again. How could August stand to keep his desk like that? How could he ever find anything in that mess?
August looked up, brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Youre just jealous because you voted for Smith."
"A. Roger Smith never ran for president and neither did Stonearch," Les said, nervously rubbing at his bony shoulder. Somebody had to believe him.
"Here, look at the paper," August said thrusting a flimsy hard copy of that mornings edition of the Times at him. There emblazoned in bold 24 point type the headline said STONEARCH BEATS SMITH.
"I know what it says," Les said ignoring the newspaper. "I know what the TV and radio say too. But I also know what I know. I had never heard of either Williams Stonearch or A. Roger Smith before this morning."
Settling back in his chair and eyeing his friend August said, "Okay Mr. Conspiracy Theory, tell me just how all of this could be accomplished."
Les cleared his throat. "Okay, the Empire State Building has 102 stories, right?" August nodded. "Say everyone in the world suddenly somehow gets the idea that it has 101. The first workers arrive at the building the next day and guess what, there are 102 floors. So where did the extra floor come from?"
August tilted his head at Les, scratched his beard and crossed his meaty arms over his ever spreading belly. "So youre trying to say that everyone has suddenly been brainwashed into believing in a president who doesnt exist? How?"
"Computers," Les said, pushing his old fashioned wire frame glasses up his long nose again. "Mostly them. I mean look at the world today. All of our information systems are linked together in huge networks. Everyone gets the same information at the same time from essentially the same sources."
"Now wait a minute," August said. "What about the primaries and all the pre-election news?"
"Look, do you know anyone who actually keeps a hard copy of a newspaper or magazine anymore?" Les asked waving the onion-skin paper at him. "These things fall apart in a day. Everything is on-line. People print up their own copies of whatever articles they like but they always recycle them when theyre finished."
"Okay so all the information in every storage system has been altered. Even if I grant you that, what about my own memory?" August asked tapping his head. Youre going to tell me that has been tampered with too? I know what I did yesterday. I logged into the government net from my home terminal and cast my vote for William Stonearch. My wife voted for Smith.
"Thats the tough part, but Ive got a theory," Les waited a moment, gauging his friend, he decided that August was someone he could trust. He had to get this out to somebody. "I think theres some kind of signal encoded in the network transmissions, computers, TVs, vid-phones, the whole bit. Its something like hypnosis. It can alter what people remember."
"And Les Monroe is immune," August said caustically. "Why you of all people? You check animation cells for a living. A job of no importance in a company of frankly very little consequence." His voice got very quiet. "Youre showing the classic signs of paranoia."
"Dont analyze me," Les said. "I shouldnt have even brought it up." He went back to his own desk.
Typically, Les thought as he sat down and began going through the days deliveries. Out of billions of people in the world, countless sentient creatures throughout the cosmos, the Universe had picked Les Monroe out as the one whom it would pester and annoy. Constantly it switched parameters around him while leaving everyone else with the impression that nothing had changed. He had been avoiding this conclusion for some time, doubting his own memory, his sense of direction, his own impressions of people and things. Not now.
He though about the time Lisa had driven him over to the Houstons house to prove to him it was blue. Hed conceded then, even though he had personally helped Dale and Becky paint it brick red just six months earlier. But now it had gone too far. The President of the United States for Christs sake. Even he knew who the President of the United States was. He sighed loudly and got to work. Everything on his desk was neat, orderly and in its place. It was his only way to fight back.
Unmoving Les stared into the faces of the thirteen leaders of the world. "Very bad," said one with slanted eyes.
"How much does he know?" asked one whos accent sounded vaguely German.
"Not enough. But the Point is that he slipped through," a fat faced white man prodded him with a porky finger. Les found that he could not move, only stare straight ahead.
The TV screen on the wall came to life. On the screen appeared a man dressed in a bizarre costume, like an employee of some bizarre theme park. The giant head with its exaggerated cartoonish features wobbled on top of a padded round body dressed in a blue pin striped suit. "Mr. President," said the leader with the slanted eyes.
The costume heads smile remained frozen, google eyes rolled around and around as the president spoke. "This one? Let him go. Maintain observation. See that there is no contact with Tommy Strange." The screen went blank.
Les awoke in a cold sweat, his heart pounding. 3:17. He went to the kitchen and made himself a strong cup of coffee. He would not sleep again tonight.
"Whats wrong dear?" Lisa asked, padding bleary eyed into the kitchen.
"Nothing. Couldnt sleep, thats all," he replied, levelly he hoped.
"Me neither," she said as she began to knead his tense shoulders. "I had a nightmare. Wanna hear it? I think youll like it. I didnt."
In Lisas nightmare shed been tied spread eagle to their bed. Three tall oriental women dressed only in knee-high black leather high-heeled boots surrounded her examining her naked body with calculating eyes and probing fingers. Again and again they stimulated her to the brink of orgasm then abruptly stopped.
As she related the dream to him, Les began to wonder if she was just trying to cheer him up. She knew he liked that sort of thing. If that was the case, it was working.
"At the end of the dream one of the women ran her tongue around the rim of my ear," she said, obligingly demonstrating with he own warm wet tongue. Then it got really weird." She stopped thoughtfully, "This oriental woman I never saw before whispered Tommy Strange."
"What?" Les said.
"Tommy Strange, you know, the guy who used to play guitar with you in the Bursting Brains," she answered.
"I hear what you said, I just dont believe it," Les said.
"Its true. I really dreamed it," Lisa said defensively.
"Its not that," Les began, then told her his own dream.
"What about William Stonearch?" Les asked tentatively.
"The new president?" Lisa replied giving him a puzzled look.
Les signed disappointedly. It was going to be tougher that hed hoped. "Tommys in London," he said, pointing at his lap-top where hed spent the last hour tracking down a man he hadnt had contact with in 15 years. "He works for a record label out there called Delerium. Tommy was hired as an A and R man, maybe 1997 or so. He was supposed to be a great spotter of new trends."
Lisa cut into him with her clear green eyes. She was still beautiful, still had that same spiky black hair that used to get Les so worked up back in the old days.
It was getting light out. The orange sunlight of dawn made her eyes sparkle. Things would be all right, he thought. He turned to kiss her. The doorbell rang. "Who the hell is that at this hour?"
The Church Thing did not wait for an answer, it forced the door lock open and rolled heavily into the entrance hall, beginning its sermon. "There was once a man, a drunkard who had a son..."
Les looked aghast at his wife. "What the hell?"
"Damned Church Things, there ought to be a law," Lisa said with resigned annoyance.
"...the little boy said Daddy, did you bring me my TINY SHOES?" the barrelshaped construct droned on, the words THE APOC-O-LYPSE ® IS NIGH emblazoned on a glowing green TV screen where its head should have been.
He gaped at the robot then spun his head back around to his wife. "Church Thing?" Les said, his face gone completely white.
"Of course, dear. Were Tantric Buddhists!" she yelled at the machine.
The Church Thing stalled for a second, relays opened and closed, switches clicked and disc drives rattled and crackled. "Christ is the one true way. Please accept these pamphlets as our gift," it droned at last. A small slot opened on the Church Things front panel and two slick magazines with candy colored paintings of the apoc-o-lypse ® on their covers plopped on to the floor. The machine turned and wheeled out and on to the neighbors.
"Works every time," Lisa grinned.
"Lisa," Les panted. "There is something very wrong here. You act like that was an everyday occurrence. Ive never see a Church Thing before."
"Dear are you all right?" Lisa looked concerned.
"Im all right. Its the rest of the world Im worried about."
It took half an hour to get through the maze of secretaries and underlings and finally establish a vid-link with Tommy Strange. "Les Mucus!" he said laughing, "I thought Id never see you again."
Les smiled back. "I havent heard my punk name in ages," he said. "It looks like youre doing all right." Les could see the well furnished office behind Tommys older but still clean shaven head.
"Not bad. Its funny," he said staring at Les with that old wiry coffee fueled intensity. "I was just thinking of you."
"Me too, I thought of you. Lisa, too, shes my wife now. We both had dreams and your name came up in them," Les said.
Tommy Strange looked thoughtful. "Is that so?" He paused, changed his tone. "Lisas your wife now? I always thought it would happen. Listen, can you come over. I have something that might interest you."
"To London? How could I afford that?" Les asked.
"Ill put it on Deleriums tab. Ever since Dimentia 13 had that big single in Japan weve been rolling in cash. Im an exec here. Nobody questions me," Tommy said laughing with the kind of mocking tone hed had back in the old days.
"You dont get it yet?" Tommy said tilting the screen so Les could see.
"Looks like any other video game to me," Les frowned.
Tommy Strange held the small black box in his left hand, making sure Les could see it very clearly and began working the tiny buttons below the screen. "This time dont look at the rabbit, just look at the background."
"Doesnt look like a rabbit to me. More like a lizard," Les said.
"That doesnt matter. Now watch. The player can change the trail, but only the parts the bunny has already hopped across; his past. But when you do that the things in front of him; his future, change," Tommy said.
"Looks like you got him killed again," Les said.
"I never can get past level one. But dont you see? Whoever designed this game had a very different view of the nature of time than most people," Tommy said, putting the game down on his light metal desk.
"Who designed it?" Les asked.
"I dont know. I got it in the mail one day," Tommy replied. "There was a note attached. It said Give it to Les Mucus when you see him."
"Me?" Les said pointing a wiry finger at his own sunken chest. "Who knows me by that name anymore? Any why didnt you try to get a hold of me in the first place."
"I did, but I couldnt find Mucus in the phone book," Tommy laughed heartily. "Actually, I think this came from Frazier Suicyde. The Bursting Brains were a three piece. It was sent to me and mentioned your name. Who else could it be?"
"Fraziers dead," Les said. "Hepatitis. Its no wonder, the squalor he was living in towards the end. Can I give that a try?" he asked reaching for the game.
"I never heard," Tommy said faintly as he passed the fame over. "Im sorry. I hadnt heard from anybody back in Akron for so long." He paused for along time. "If it wasnt him...?"
"Got it!" Les said excitedly. "I dont know what language this is, but I think it means I made it to level two."
"What? Let me see that, Ive been playing this damned game for a week now." He reached out for the fame and thats when it began to melt in Les hand. As it softened and turned to liquid, Tommy stepped back. "Les, I..."
"Whats going on?" The game was now completely liquefied and the black fluid began to seep through Les skin. In seconds it was gone completely. His hand turned black for a moment, but soon faded to gray then to a color just slightly darker than usual. Les expression when blank.
"Youve absorbed the game," Tommy said blinking.
"I think so," Les said evenly. "Or else its absorbed me."
"Weve got to get you to a doctor," Tommy said as he took Les by the shoulder. Les stopped abruptly halfway to the door. "What is it?" Tommy asked.
"Whos the president?" he demanded.
"You heard me. Whos the president of the United States?"
"William Stonearch," Tommy answered puzzedly.
"Just what I thought," he said. "Lets go outside. I just need a little fresh air." The two men walked together out into the blazing light of the sun, the ringed planet that filled half the sky reflected blue-green cascades on the cloud tops. Les looked up at the sky, took a deep breath of clean cool air.
"Beautiful weather today," he said.
Bradley S. Warner
102 Chalet Okura II
4-2-19 Okura, Setagaya-Ku
Tokyo 157 JAPAN