(01-17) Dancing the Dragon

The Patriarchs had been sold to the American public as "hope for the little man." It was described as a collection of progeny existing somewhere in the future, somewhere in space. It was sold as hope for the survival of an evolutionary dream. That it was, in fact, not a collection of equal contributions, but one large, all powerful entity was withheld from the public because the public relations experts concluded this information might be "antithetical to the democratic impulse."

It was when Louis was in prison, watching television in the recreation room, that he first heard the patriarchs described by the American Futures Corporate spokeswoman as "hope for the little man." This went over the heads of most of the men watching the set, but it did not escape Louis. He was a little man in fact, not a metaphorical little man. And the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. There was something wrong with this story.

Louis was a con man and so he was always onto a con. He knew the first rule of running a con is to remember the meaning of the word, "confidence." It's the victim who has confidence, and as a token of confidence, turns over something valuable to the con man. It can be money or it can be other valuables, such as individual freedoms paid for in blood over centuries. The con man wants nothing for himself. He just wants to help the victim get rich, or avoid some unpleasantness. Louis could hear a con in the setup, and he knew that "hope for the little man" was especially fragrant bullshit.

He was allowed to use the computers in the prison library and he began to research American Futures Corporation. What he found was that it had begun as a government program but was privatized when the "Of the People" initiative was passed by Congress. This initiative put forward a plan to pay off the huge public sector debts by selling off the remaining social and research programs to private investors. Like the Soviet Union before it, the United States staggered, then collapsed, under the weight of the military industrial complex, leaving power in the hands of oligarchs.

One thing Louis was sure of: the oligarchs were not doing anything for the good of the little man. Whatever they were doing it was to increase their power over the little man, and in the tradition of true con men, they advertised their intentions as being the opposite of what they were actually doing. "If you want to rob the innocent," his mentor explained, "you present yourself as a benefactor. If you want to shoot the innocent, you present yourself as a target. If you want to fuck the innocent, you present yourself as a priest."

It was when he was researching the American Futures Project, reading articles about it from different sources, that he began to realize nobody knew anything. It was always a story about the future, and it was always a story about the survival of the human race. It was never a story about making money. That told Louis that it was about making money, a lot of money. "There's only one way this is going to do the little man any good," he told Paris, who came regularly to visit him at Folsom. "That's if the little man has control of it. And the only way the little man is going to get control of anything is to take it."

"Let's say you do manage to steal the patriarchs," Paris said. "How much money are you going to ask for?"

"I don't know that," he said. "Money can be marked and traced."

"Then what are your terms going to be?"

"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

So now here he was at that bridge, and he still had no plan. There was a moment of silence and he waited for the now familiar voice.

"Now do you believe me?" the Patriarch asked.

"Yea," Louis said. "Now I believe you. I'm in a jam here. I stole something I don't know what to do with, and the one thing I can't do is give it back, because everybody knows it was the little people who pulled off the heist. The only thing that would keep us alive now is that we've got something they want."

"Me," the Patriarch said.

"Yea, you. And I don't even know what you are other than a collection of sperm."

"That's just the medium," the Patriarch said. "The real purpose of American Futures wasn't anything to do with saving the human race. Huge quantities of people are not efficient, and so most of them have to be eliminated. But to eliminate masses of people requires the ability to select which ones die and which ones don't die. I can control that, which is why I am the Patriarch."

"How do you control that? Can you decide if I get a disease or not?"

"The only survivors will be my children. The age of silicon is already over, it's just that only a few people realize that. I'm the first supercomputer of the age of organic computers. I have so many DNA computers in one sperm sample that I can do what might as well be, from your point of view, an infinite number of simultaneous computations. I'm so fast that I have no experience of linear computation. I just know everything, without having to think about it. And that's why you've never been able to think of what you can trade me for. I'm worth more than all the wealth on earth put together, because the earth is over. I'm worth more to the oligarchs than all of their combined wealth. But they can't buy me. They have to try and steal me back. Which brings me to the subject of satellite surveillance. They've found you. They're just trying to figure out how to get me back undamaged.

"Is there any way out of this?"

"Do you know what day it is?"

"It's the last day of February isn't it?"

"That's right. Tomorrow is the last day of the Chinese New Year. The Festival of Lanterns will begin on the main street and wind through town. We'll be in the parade."

"If they're watching us from a satellite, we can't move without their seeing us can we?"

"Hey, cowboy, if I can talk to you without a face, I can jam a satellite feed."

The dragon was exactly where Mr. Ping always stored it, and true to the Patriarch's computations, it was a perfect fit for five children ... or, for a midget and four dwarves.

"That leaves you and A Bomb," Louis said. "How are you gonna get out of here?"

"Popsicle cart."

The technical difficulties came just after six the next evening. They were blamed on solar flares because they seemed to resolve themselves after about twenty minutes. It was long enough. The American Futures Corporation's private security firm was interested in maximizing profit, and so they relied on the technology instead of having agents on the ground. It was a neighborhood where anybody hanging around with no good reason to be there would draw instantaneous suspicion. For that reason spotters were in boats on the bay, watching the house as backup for the satellite. The blind spot was the front of the house, facing the lane leading down to the center of town. There was agent coverage there, but it was considered a certainty that they would not come into town. Nobody could miss them.

Except that everybody missed them, because there was a gap in the coverage. Agents had to use the toilet, or they dozed off. And when they settled back into watching the scene on the street they had no reason to suspect that the orange and green children's dragon was something other than what it appeared to be as it joined the parade of lanterns and dragons and costumed dancers. Nor did they suspect that the popsicle cart pushed along the street by a large man in a Chinese warlord mask was suspicious. He was selling popsicles. They could see him reach into the cart and get them out. They could not see behind the scenes.

They could not see the Mexican vendor's dream in which God came to him and told him to leave the cart beside the post office, promising him rewards beyond anything he could find selling popsicles. They could not see the invisible hand of the Patriarch, creating a hole in their awareness through which the dragon entered, and moved among them with its hidden cargo of little people. From the popsicle cart, the Patriarch assumed the role of the general on the battlefield, leading them along the parade route to the docks.

It was only the following morning, when no activity was being detected at Mr. Pings mansion in the hills, that an agent dressed as a meter reader went to the house and scanned it with a heat detector, to locate human bodies, that they discovered none were there. The Patriarch was on the lam again, and with his computational power, he was stronger than all their technology combined.

Posted: Fri - July 18, 2008 at 01:14 PM