August 18, 2007

Paragon’s People (1 of 11)

Thread: Paragon

His arm thrust out through Bliss into the dark, casting a gnarled hand into the void. The student wanted to touch Bliss, penetrate, scratch. But Bliss was his ruler, never providing surface for him to taste or caress, tantalising him with ghosts of sensation that played across his body, luring him towards climax.

Erotic waves cascaded through his flesh and his muscles danced with their sexual resonance. His rational mind disengaged and he was left with primal impulses, an animal in the wild. He cried out, desperate to touch something and his outstretched arm brushed the wall beside the bed. Ingrain wallpaper, cold, bumpy and lifeless. It wasn’t what his skin had sought, but it was sufficient.

His shriek reached fever pitch and his voice gave out, a supernova collapsing in on itself. A soundless, raw orgasm blasted through his groin.

White ejaculate hung in mid-air, its jet suspended within the blue smoke of Bliss. It bubbled and boiled, hissing as it vaporised.

The smoke retreated from his body, dressing itself in the white strip Bliss had discarded to the floor during the student’s sleep. The strip coiled around the whirling cobalt blueness loosely, hanging like a short, slinky spring. The strip resumed its gentle, orbital motion and Bliss retreated into the far corner of the dorm.

‘I want to touch…’ the student whispered, voice cracking as he turned onto his side through pain. Every muscle throbbed with agony, like his body had been ripped apart then slammed back together. ‘Let me… touch…’

He extended a hand towards Bliss, but Bliss seemed to shrink away in response.

‘What do you… want…’ he croaked. ‘What is it… I have to do…?’

Bliss’ body pulsated and quivered, straining gently against the white coil.

The student sat up, groaning with each movement. He was still dressed, save for his zipper that Bliss had prised open. He tucked himself back in and zipped up, then leaned forwards into his hands. Sweat blossomed and joined into rivulets beneath his clothes, drawing cold lines across his skin.

He stared at the carpet and evoked shapes out of its indistinct form. This darkness, with just Bliss and he together, was more real than the richest colours in the world. But the light washed these moments away, leaving him with nothing but the desolate loneliness, abandoned in the void that was other people. Sartre was right.

‘I love you, you know that… you know?’ he said, the carpet still ensnaring his gaze.

He sensed Bliss move and looked up; Bliss was gone.

‘You always leave,’ he said, shuddering at the thought of normality returning to haunt him. He could see the corridor light spilling beneath the door, staining his private darkness.

He lay down again, the evening’s alcohol still travelling his veins. He let it rock him back to sleep, back to the empty, dreamless slumber that Bliss had rescued him from.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2338

August 22, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (10 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

His legs were trembling, hiding under the desk while the top half of his body did all the diplomatic work. They might be called upon at any moment as a last resort to do their job, which was to relocate the upper half in times of distress, and relocate it with some speed. “Begone foul spirit,” he said without any trace of confidence, making up the words as he went along. “I am not interested in the fear you bring. I am here on God’s bidding. God Himself wishes for this to be.”

“Yessss,” Elvis hissed, “truuuue.”

The conversion of the United States to theocratic state was gradual. The seeds were sown during the initial phase of coerced worship. The separation of Church and State that was enshrined in the constitution, which has foundations going back to St. Augustine, was eventually overturned. Laws and policy were determined through divinity. The inevitable exodus of the wealthy and talented was the catalyst for the completion of Paragon’s project. Tolerance and free speech were cast down. The borders were sealed.

From the sound of Elvis’ voice, he sensed the glimmer of déjà vu, like some beautiful woman beckoning from a dim alley with a beguiling smile… who would vanish as soon as he reached the alley himself.

“I know you,” he said. He was shocked at this realisation.

Elvis said nothing, encouraging the President to say more to fill the dread silence.

“I remember you from somewhere.” The President chased the déjà vu woman but he could not even get close.

“Yessss, you are Paragon. You are my commandment.” Elvis said, drool continuing to spatter on the floor.

The horrific death of his wife marked the end of Paragon’s “restraint” and the beginning of the bloodiest period of Paragon’s America. Fortunately the Office of the Paragon fell just a few years later in a terrorist attack that little is known about. It is generally believed to be the handiwork of the domestic guerrilla group “Lady Liberty”, although there is speculation that another group may have been involved.

Déjà vu no more. Everything fell into place. “You chose me for this, I remember.”


Everything made sense. The night before he had decided to run for President was the night that Elvis had come to him. He then felt empowered. He realised there was – no, sensed a connection between them. The strength that this being had conferred to him was spiritual and divine in origin. He was rocked by this knowledge. God had come to him in this strange form and laid His hands upon His faithful servant. He got up from his seat, but his knees buckled, and he fell into a humble bow before God.

“Insssstrument, I have inssstructionsss,” Elvis whispered. The President heard many things in the voice of his God. He heard the white noise from between the broadcast channels. He heard the waves of the sea that crashed against the cliffs, eroding them. He heard the raging fire of a funeral pyre. He heard the entropy that lay in wait to feast on order.

Most historians agree, however, that the Paragon did something for the world that had seemed impossible. In the face of an extremely capable and tangible foe, unlike the protracted “War Against Terror” of the early twenty-first century which was an exercise in shadow-boxing, the rest of the world slowly united, piece by piece. Gone was the complex conflict of the Middle East; international politics now consisted of a sharp polarisation of America and Not America.

The President could not raise his gaze, humility confining his eyes to the floor. He said, “Tell me, my Lord.”

“All mussst worssship.”

The President understood. America was a home. A single roof under which all lived together. He had been through every room of this house, taking out the garbage, fixing up things that should have been taken care of years ago. But the house was teetering dangerously on wooden foundations that were overrun with dry rot. To ensure a future for all, the structure of the house would have to be completely restored from the ground up.

As much as we wish to condemn the death, despair and destruction that he spawned, what the Paragon indirectly created has endured. The world is a safer place, just liked he promised, although we are still red-blooded, meat-eating capitalists, addicted to money.

“It risssesss. Ssstand, commandment.”

It was the President of the United States who had fallen to the floor in humility, but the Paragon of America who rose in his place.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2208

August 17, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (9 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

Selected excerpts from the introduction of “The Atlantic War: The Birth of the Partnership” (first published 2176)

Prior to Parsons’ reign of theocratic terror, corporations had exerted power through a variety of devices such as contributions to election campaigns. Parsons found the courage to stand on an anti-corporate platform that led to his alienation and eventual exit from the Republican party. He struck a chord with an American public that had been plunged into a series of unpleasant and ultimately unrewarding conflicts around the world after terrorism dragged the public kicking and screaming into international politics on September 11, 2001. The nation had lost its faith in the political process and so the time was ripe for a new political faith to emerge; Parsons led the Small Business Coalition for a Free America (a.k.a. the Coalition) into office. He had had no real skeletons in the closet, so focus turned towards his wife. Although there was a transparent attempt to smear her as being anti-American, their real Achilles’ heel was completely overlooked, which would haunt the Paragon in his final years.

Elvis was slightly hunched. A heavy, black cloak was draped over his broad frame that spilled onto the ground, obscuring all physical features. The cloak only looked black, however, because it was soaked with something dark and red. It also appeared to glisten and move all by itself. Maggots.

Where Elvis’ face should have been an ornate mirror with a golden frame was suspended, concealing what lay there. The President saw only his own reflection, a shocked, white face glaring back. Bloody drool as viscous as treacle was dripping with agonizing slowness from something behind the mirror to the floor. It pooled on the ground, pattering quietly.

Elvis did not move. The President did not move.

The corporations were determined to hold onto power, however, and a short civil war ensued after President Henry Rathschild declared that Parsons was an agitator, linking campaign money through several of his small business contributors to countries such as the DPRK. The belief in Parsons was so strong that this attack merely bolstered his appearance as a fighter against the malevolent influence of corporate greed. The military soon sided with Parsons against Rathschild. When the civil war concluded, Rathschild was executed for crimes against the United States as were a number of corporate leaders who were directly associated with Rathschild’s response to Parsons’ legitimate claim to power.

The President wondered whether he was just tired. Maybe this was just the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be, emerging from his subconscious to give him a hard time. His subconscious was doing a great job thus far. He closed his eyes and mentally wished for the thing to be gone. He denied it life.

He opened his eyes and it was still there, defying his demand for normality.

His heart was pounding now. Maybe he might die of a heart attack, he thought. He might die, right here in the Oval Office, before he had a chance to complete his great project. The revival of America must continue. Why? Why was this happening? When everything was going so well?

And his wife. He could not die. His wife needed him. He needed his wife. They needed each other.

He decided that God was the only one who could help him here and began to pray out loud. He would cast this demonic spirit out by invoking the Lord.

Parsons was a man of deep conviction and, even though his intolerant religious views were in no way concealed, the voters were willing to accept him. A dispossessed people will always vote for a bold man of action like Hitler or Milosevic, who is willing to demonise another segment of humanity as the root of all evil (corporate entities in Parsons’ example), with a convenient blind spot where the potential for genocidal madness and untethered aggression exists.

After a programme to dehumanise one sector of society is proved politically viable it is only a matter of time before the rest of that society suffers the same fate.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1851

August 12, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (8 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

The Oval Office still seemed too small.

Although he had visited before for discussions with his late predecessor he had, at that time, been awed by its grandeur and position as the chamber of global influence. The previous incumbent had always talked down to him like some small state senator who was only kept aboard for a flickering light on the election night map. It was not the same now. Yes, Mr. President. No, Mr. President.

He had special agents whose purpose was to protect him and take a bullet if need be. The thought that apparent strangers would die for him, that his life was more important than theirs was, was something that he found staggering.  His life was no longer just one of many, his life was now one of a special few. It was too easy, though, to bask in that feeling of being affirmed. Self-control was essential – God has his demands. He came here with purpose. Blood had dried on the path that had brought him here; he wanted no more on the path ahead.

He sensed that the men and women who worked for him loved him because they believed in him. People who had not voted for years had started to vote again because he was truly free. Although the media had tried several times, at the secret behest of industry, to hobble his campaign, they had failed. He had no agenda except to save America from itself.  He had nothing to hide but everything to tell. This was the first time he felt genuine, sustained respect from the people beyond the end of a successful campaign.

At the start of a campaign, everything was unrealised hopes and dreams – but the liberal media soon got its teeth into that. That was not the worst of it. Contrary to reason, the worst case scenario for people’s hope was victory, because their would-be saviours were then revealed as Halloween pumpkins that look the part but are nothing but hollowed-out husks. The people lost the will to vote as the years of political unreality wore them down.

It was not the same now.

He had been concerned during the three-week civil war that his attempt to excise the cancer of depravity and corruption from America had killed the patient. That was a year ago and now the patient was fitter than ever. He would sometimes ask his driver to take him down the streets of a poorer neighbourhood just to gauge the mood. He saw more optimism in their expressions than before and it told him that he was on the right path. He was building up momentum and confidence to make bigger changes.

So far, all he done was to introduce some stringent requirements for corporate governance. He had managed to almost entirely divorce the political machine from the business engine that put food in people’s mouths and toys under the tree. There were signs of economic danger, though, he had been warned by the advisor. Some larger conglomerates had lost business to foreign competitors who were not bound by the same regulations. So then he made it illegal to do business with foreign entities that did not adhere to the same rules of play. Both Europe and China had threatened action over his “protectionism” and there were signs that Australia would be soon to follow.

Cheap imports were still causing problems and he was preparing to extend the Fair Play Act to cover them, although his team had indicated that it would be impossible to enforce; a couple of surrogate companies would easily mask the unethical practices. He had put together a rough proposal for an Ethical Signature system that meant that all transactions could be traced back to an American-registered Ethical Source. There was even more resistance after he unveiled his grand idea, and it was said that they would probably never be able to import anything. An empty threat, naturally, which did not bother him as he believed America should be self-sufficient and independent. Congress was getting unruly.

More change was necessary. America was being undermined by the shocking, sinful behaviour of its international “partners”. He was not particularly xenophobic, but he felt tempted to shut out the rest of the world that he now recognised as a malignant influence on his plans to heal his wounded country. Day by day, resentment grew and he felt as if his throat was choked with unspoken, profane bile.

On the monitor, there was a documentary about the First Lady. He sat enthralled. She had supported him through everything. He could go home every night and be the one and only man that could spend time with her. Who else could be entertained by her conversation? He thumped his fist on the desk and felt euphoria at what had come to pass. He picked up the phone to call her, without concern that his private conversation would be recorded. Perhaps a President’s love should become history, part of the legend.

As he began dialling the number, he noticed Elvis skulking beside the Stars and Stripes.

A tidal wave of raw, unbridled fear engulfed the President drowning a scream before it could escape his lips, leaving the sound stillborn and unformed on his tongue. Blood evacuated his face and he dropped the receiver in horror.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2130

August 3, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (7 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

He had Pontius Pilate’s hands, dripping with guilt. The President-elect had failed to avert the disastrous confrontation that his opponent had forced. Deep in the labyrinth, he looked upon the opponent, the ousted President. The opponent hugged the bloody symbol of his defeat in his arms. When Special Forces had burst in, there had been a brief gunfight; the First Lady took two bullets in the chaos, one of which had stolen her face.

The President-elect’s wife slipped to her knees at the horrific sight of her fallen counterpart, her legs unable to support their burden. “God,” she whispered, “we beg forgiveness and mercy. Please find the mercy to forgive us all.” She lowered her gaze and stared at the concrete bunker floor before her, as if trying to find answers in its flat, featureless surface. It offered no such comfort.

The President-elect did not see a defeated enemy; he saw a man who had lost his wife. He thought of the children and having to explain to them what had befallen their parents. They would ask difficult questions, like why. It was a small price to pay, perhaps, as a part of him felt thankful that the positions of victor and vanquished were not reversed.

The opponent looked up. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, cheeks that were dashed with the war paint of the First Lady’s blood. Almost a whisper, he said to no one in particular, “There is nothing left now.”

The President-elect had to respond to the man’s convenient conversion to empathy. “You refused to back down. What was I supposed to do? Why bring us here?” At this particular moment, the President-elect despised the opponent. Not for the deaths of hundreds, but for making him feel so guilty.

Defiant, the opponent shouted directly at the President-elect, “Who is to say which one of us is to blame, agitator? You provoked confrontation and now people are dead!” A body in his arms, he surrendered again to loss and repeated his last words to himself, “People are dead.” He scrunched up his eyes and wailed, his mouth an open, screaming pit of despair.

“I am sorry,” the President-elect said, unable to ignore the opponent’s torment. His apology felt inadequate. “I’m sorry.” His repetition, unlike that of the opponent’s, only seemed to emphasise the impotence of his words, but then his emotions flipped again and he wanted the opponent to stop making him feel guilty. He wished to silence the man and his pathetic squealing. Of what you sow, a harvest you shall reap.

After the lament subsided without intervention, the President-elect noticed that his wife’s prayer had changed. “What did we do?” she was mumbling to herself.

The opponent opened his bloodshot eyes again. The President-elect perceived the glare of a trapped animal, pretending to be subdued while actually waiting for his captor’s guard to drop, so that he might pounce and rip out his captor’s throat. He said, “Free trade reduced conflict. It gave us stability. I hope you understand what you are about to break.” He blinked more tears.

The opponent was still fighting, even in what would be his last moments. Was there no end to this man’s sinful defiance? The President-elect was indignant and the bees of his anger stirred in their hive again.

The President-elect said, “This is a democracy, not a plutocracy. You should have accepted defeat instead of dragging us into civil war. The damage you have done in these three weeks will take years to repair. I appreciate what free trade has done for us, but it has gone too far. God has told me that it has to stop. We have to stop them before it is too late.”

“And do you not understand that God had also told me to play my part?” came the livid response.

The opponent could not hold the President-elect’s gaze, though, and his words began to fall apart. “It was said, don’t you see? This defeat was not meant… it was supposed to… it is the nothing that is… it was said. So it was said.” The opponent rocked the remnants of the woman in his arms, as if helping her to sleep. The man was disintegrating before the President-elect’s eyes. “Did what was told. Won’t let you get away with this. Won’t let you get away.” The opponent shuddered.

“We all have our God,” the President-elect answered, feeling more comfortable in his position as victor. “Only some of them are real. How many people have we now lost because you listened to a false prophet? You were listening to your own voice, not that of God.”

The opponent looked up sharply at that final remark, the embers of his own dwindling fire glowing bright under the hot breath of the President-elect. His composure had returned. “So sure of himself is he with the simplistic beliefs of the black and the white, riding on his grand horse of smug righteousness. How loved the vainglorious man is.” Every word was doused with gasoline, Molotov cocktails hurled at the President-elect to shatter and explode upon his religious armour.

He took the voice of a crooked preacher, quoting distorted verses that would not be found in any religious codex. “Oh thou who art victorious dost carry the light of Jahweh, ‘tis no mistake. Praise the one who leadeth us against our fallen angels. With armies of believers, strike down thy enemy with blade and fire! Fill the chasm of damnation with a deluge of thy believers’ bodies and build ye a bridge across it to Zion!”

The President-elect was unmoved. “I stand here, triumphant. You crouch there, crushed, lost. Which one of our gods, would you suppose, is the real one?”

The opponent was now shouting. “Upon thy bridge of slaughter, thou wilt discover that thy faith hath crack’d. Then, thou shalt tear thy belief asunder with thine own hands. Thou art not the shepherd.”

The President-elect had no desire to listen to such foolish words. Once he had helped his wife to her feet, they left the chamber together under armed guard, the opponent still yelling behind them. They kept on walking until the ranting could no longer be heard.

The soldiers then asked the President-elect to confirm what they all knew had to be done, because the country demanded it. It was out of the President-elect’s hands. The blood would not even touch them because there was nothing he could do. Cause and effect were united and inseparable, their divorce beyond the meagre abilities of a mortal man.

Beneath a bloody twilight sky that summoned the stars, the execution squad pulled their triggers and killed the President. The squad would later tell their husbands and wives, their children, their friends and any strangers with time to listen, the story of how the President died grinning.

One of them was also sure that he had seen a shape beside the President blink into existence for an instant. He was unwilling to share that story, however, for many years.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2310

July 27, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (6 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

He evaded her question by trying to goad the senator, “They don’t like your wife, you know. She is unsuitable as a First Lady.”

“C’est la vie.”

“And you are not exactly the most diplomatic of candidates.”

“The answer to the question is that the Earth should not be permitted to suffer the sins of man and his quest for personal gain. To rebut my colleague’s point, no government in the world can hold its head high and claim to be a bastion of truth and goodness. China treats its populace as expendable cogs in an economic machine that should put up or be shut up. Israel persists in an unholy belief that ten deaths should be visited upon innocents for every one of their own, as if fire is the best weapon to fight fire. France’s virulent xenophobia is remarkable considering its influx of immigrants. The British make us happy, because they do what we tell them to, so good for them. But don’t even get me started about that farce that Russia is prolonging in Chechnya. And India still refuses crack down on the monstrous practice of child brides.”

“Diplomacy is the art of compromise. The United States has endured far too much of this ‘diplomacy’,” the senator replied. “You know this, yet you still cling to a fallen man who holds a once-honourable title.”

The advisor eyed the senator’s open collar. The senator had not worn a tie since he had made the decision to stand for the presidency, refusing to be identified with big business. He clearly saw himself as a man of the people and wanted to sweep away old political philosophies that cast the world as a relationship between the common man and the State. They were an ill-fit for the modern day of unfettered wealth, giving rise to grotesque global conglomerates that dominated the unchecked space between man and government. Ordinary Joe received his consumer culture barcode from these monsters and went on with his passionless life full of want and greenback lust. The advisor knew the senator was right. But he was also so wrong. His actions were not merely childish and naïve, they were suicidal. The man had taken a bungee jump without a bungee.

“I don’t like your stance on abortion. I don’t like it at all, it smacks of hate,” the advisor said.

The senator sighed. “I’m here to sort out government, not chase a single issue. Don’t belittle my position in that way.”

“How the Presidential magicians have misled us time and time again with sleight-of-hand! Look at my right hand, while my left hand is offering a free pass to the murderers of the unborn. Look at my right hand, while my left hand is signing away the rights of the American people. Look at my right hand, while my left hand is accepting bribes – my apologies, campaign contributions – from my corporate friends.”

The advisor wanted to provoke the senator into losing his temper because then the decision that hovered over him like a gluttonous storm cloud fit to burst would go away and leave him be. He said, “If you win, what are you going to do? Do you think you are going to face down CEOs and entrepreneurs with enthusiastic words? That only works on elections, it doesn’t work with real power. Their strings are everywhere, ready to be pulled and tightened around the right neck. The Japanese have a phrase: the nail that sticks out must be hammered down. You will find enemies and subterfuge everywhere you turn.”

The senator leaned back and, casually, explained the grand vision. “You have to remember that the time is right. Surely the souvenir peddlers that used to hang around Ground Zero years ago should have demonstrated that our cultural maxim has become ‘I profit, therefore I exist’. We are all tired of the perpetual capitalist wheel where the profit motive is the only commandment. The opportunity has arisen for the right man in the right place.”

The senator stopped briefly, as if something bothered him about what he had said, but shook his head and continued.

“God has given us this purpose. The people trust my motives. This is no ordinary presidential campaign, you know this. My sails have caught the wind and I am taking this country home. If the system moves to stop me, I will lead a peaceful revolt like that of the great Mahatma Gandhi. This would not be possible if the American people did not trust me. But you know they do. And that is why you came at our request today.”

The senator leaned forward again and put his right hand out. Candlelight from an adjacent table seemed to bleed through his fingers, lending his hand an almost magical glow. “Be part of this,” he said.

The advisor had come here to sabotage what was inevitable, a change of sides. The prospect was attractive but the risk – and fear – was beyond measure. The advisor put both hands over his mouth, not only to distance himself from the senator’s hand but also to block any words from spilling out. The outstretched hand before him was the one bridge that had not been burnt, kept open for one man: the advisor himself.

“You’re a good man,” the senator said. “Don’t think you’re alone with the fear in that throat of yours. We all feel it. We’re all scared. But that’s no reason, no reason at all, not to do the right thing. Please. Climb aboard.”

“We all have the power to change the future. We are all invested with one vote. Use that vote. We all recognise the malaise we find ourselves in. We are hated and feared around the world for the wrong reasons. We are hated for what oil has done to us. We are hated for what business has done for us.

“I speak with a free and honest tongue. Can you say the same, Mr. President?”

The advisor crossed the bridge taking care not to gaze into the yawning abyss below. His hand reached the senator’s and the senator pulled him across the chasm with a firm handshake.

An unexpected chill ran down the advisor’s spine as he thought: the beginning and the end look far too much alike.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2215

July 20, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (5 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

The starters were laid out before the three of them. The senator had gazpacho soup, his wife had chosen bruschetta and the advisor had Caesar salad. The food had been sitting there for ten minutes and no one had started to eat. The Caesar salad was already wilting, but the gazpacho soup was still gazpacho soup, cold and unyielding. The waiter occasionally drifted towards the table but always veered away at the last moment, deciding not to interrupt the tense discussion that was in progress.

The advisor warned the senator, “The President is not a happy man. He is not a very happy man at all. He is confused as to why one of his own has turned Judas.”

“You are a good man,” the senator replied. “I want you to know that.”

“God, man,” the advisor said in exasperation, “why burn every damn bridge you have? You made him look bad. Very bad.”

“I may have belonged to the same party as this man, but it does not mean I call him my buddy. Our culture, our country, our spirits have been devalued by home-grown American avarice. I respect the flag, I respect this country, but I cannot respect a man, no matter what his standing, who considers the dollar to be the moral compass. The companies of this fair country might like to think of themselves as Mom-and-Pop stores on the street corner, but this is a poisonous bait-and-switch of a pleasant image for the salient, inconvenient facts.”

The senator explained, “Jim Jeffords turned independent over twenty years ago. Handing control of the Senate over to the democrats demonstrated conviction but led him to abandon many bridges. He survived that and so will I.”

“Jeffords was a black belt in taekwondo if I recall,” commented the advisor with a wry grin. “Besides, an independent will never win the Presidency. The electorate understand nothing other than left and right,” the advisor fired back.

“I think we can thank the media for that,” the senator retorted, still calm. He looked away from the advisor for a moment, observing the other diners who were making excellent progress with their meals. “All these people are eating and not saying a thing to each other. It’s all about consuming. Even the waiter is nervous because we haven’t started eating yet. There is a problem with the culture.”

The advisor was becoming more and more agitated with every exchange, which contrasted with the senator’s unnatural composure. He was either profoundly confident or under sedation. The senator’s wife sat beside him, her intense, piercing gaze following the conversation as a crowd follows a tennis match. He found the pair of them unnerving, particularly the evangelical undercurrent. But even more unnerving were the feelings that the senator had unearthed deep within him. He kept battening down the hatches, but the feelings were now tearing their way out en masse.

“You talk a very good talk,” the advisor said, “and I have to commend you for that, and you’re pulling in a serious crowd. But you don’t have a head for this level of the business. No one is going to support you. Your sole achievement will be putting the democrats in the White House. Congratulations. Is that what you really want?”

The senator’s wife smiled at the advisor to put him at ease, which did nothing but put him at unease. He had often thought of the senator and his wife as escaped mental patients, detached from reality and joyful in the bliss of the fall, the roaring wind in their hair, the ground looming. The wife leaned forward and said, “We’re the ones who called you here for this conversation. Don’t you know why you’re here? My husband has told you that you are a good man. Don’t you know why you are here?”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2134

July 12, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (4 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

“I knew your mother had passed on, but you’ve never talked about it…” the senator’s wife said.

The senator shot out the next words as fast as he could, saying, “Caught in the crossfire between government and rebel forces. They hadn’t aimed at her but a random bullet… There was some fuss made over whose bullet it was, but these people shouldn’t have been firing guns at all.”

He paused and an angry, barbed word escaped his lips: “Stupid.”

He continued, “I had to go over there and bring her back for the funeral, Dad just couldn’t. During the flight, I started reading all the articles that Mom had wanted me to read about the conflict, that explained what was going on there. I had kept putting them off because I wasn’t particularly interested in the affairs of some tinpot African regime, but Mom thought it was important for me to know, part of my world wise education. She never knew, of course, that her son would go into politics… and I guess neither did her son. Funny, I felt like I was carrying out her final wish, by reading that battered file full of newspaper cut-outs and magazine clippings.”

Now that he had managed to get past the event of his mother’s passing, the rest of the story was natural and easy. He understood that it was part of his life design; all things come to pass for a reason. He said, “You see, I had thought it was about poverty – that’s all I had thought her missions were about – but I had never really listened to Mom talk about her work halfway round the world. Of course it had to be about the tired left cliché of oil but believe me, oil is simply the catalyst.

“A new reservoir of oil had been discovered in Chad and members of a select government clique had been making themselves rich on it. That utter failure, the World Bank, had tried to ring-fence the proceeds of the oil sales to go to positive projects like hospitals, schools and so forth. When easy money exists, there’s always a way to make yourself rich if you have the strings to pull. One way they got around this was by getting friends to make over-priced bids for the projects and then awarding them the contracts.

“Mom went there to help out the ordinary people during the civil war. You might think this was because the people eventually turned on their leaders – wrong. Now that the president and his cronies were getting rich on the oil, it made others around them jealous. Even members of the president’s own family were willing to take a shot, that’s how bad it got. The World Bank relented on their tight controls and let the president use oil money to buy weapons directly for the purposes of ‘security’ but it was too late. The government splintered and boom, civil war. The ‘rebels’ said it was because the government was corrupt but, frankly, it was because they weren’t getting any of the proceeds of the corruption they were claiming to be protesting about.”

The senator was felt excitement stir in the pit of his stomach as he edged closer to his story’s climax; the tears were gone. He said, “The bilge that pours from the democrat mouthpiece is so constant that I was unable to pick out anything they said which was wisdom. A true fact I had missed: did you know that those African states that have oil actually develop slower than those that don’t? And I thought, if oil did that to Africa, how did we escape its chilling embrace?”

Just like the previous night, he found his words stuck, mired in emotions that wanted to depose rationality. He found himself scared to continue. The right men for the job never take the job because they know the difficulty ahead; they see the troubling details and the Devil that dwells within them. Yet the wrong men take the job in a heartbeat and then bring ruin upon all the people. That was the way of the world. Power attracts the narcissistic. He did not believe the fallacious precept that power corrupts.

His wife rose, glided around the table and knelt down beside him. She said, “Let me finish for you. So you worked out that oil had damaged us as well. And you thought that corporations have been running government for some time. No one can see anything of famine, poverty, faith or love because they’ve got the dollar blindfold wrapped around their head. Your mother’s death was clearly a signal from God that you should get into politics and start fixing things, get things moving. But you’ve been waiting for someone to listen to you for a long time. This is your fork in the road. Do you stop waiting? Or do you force them to listen?”

Her expression was one of importance. This was the greatest decision of their joint life. They were at the nexus that coloured all experience and events; look back, you see cause – look forward, you see purpose.

With an intense gaze that could not be evaded, she said, “Look at you. You’re so beautiful. You will run for President. Whether you succeed or fail, you will ennoble America with ideas that will not be forgotten overnight. This is why I love you. You are both hope and dream. And you are, and always will be, my husband.” There was joy in her face. She was happy to be here, to be here with him, regardless of what they encountered along the turbulent road ahead.

The senator leant towards his wife and embraced her. He was overcome with hope and he was overcome with dream. She accepted his arms and lips with reciprocal, equal love. His heart was pounding like it used to in his teenage years. His emotions were unruly and chaotic; jumbled feelings with no obvious outlet or control valve. Pure love coursed through his veins. His cynicism had been replaced with sturdy, muscular optimism. He believed. He felt holy.

For the first time in their marriage, the senator and his wife made love in the morning. The summer sunlight streamed through the windows, blessing their physical communion.

They did not notice Marion beyond the kitchen door, taking a picture of them with her mobile phone, taking care of her insurance policy for a rainy day.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2123

July 5, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (3 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

Over a wheat cereal and a glass of ruby grapefruit juice, the senator reflected on his strange dream that he had not yet realised was no dream at all.

Marion had parked herself before the dining room window, a patient, human eclipse of the morning sun. She asked the senator, “You’ve been sitting there for half an hour, now, sir. Would you like me to… clear anything away?”

The senator was still muddled in thought but replied, “Half an hour?”

His wife, who had been pretending to read the New York Times while peeking over the top of the newspaper at his faraway face, sniggered. “Oh yes you have, Mr. Senator.”

“Shucks, I’m really sorry Marion,” he apologised, grinning with mild embarrassment. “I guess I must still be a little tired after yesterday, although, truth be told, I feel quite rested.” After an almost meditative pause, he added, “Tell you what, come back in when I call you. I’d like to discuss something in private before I’m ready to abandon the breakfast table for a another day of boring work up on the Hill.”

“Of course, you just let me know if there’s anything you need, sir,” said Marion and she retreated to her sanctum, the kitchen.

“Honey, I’m can’t say sorry enough, I was so down last night, I just felt, like, at my wit’s end, you know how it goes,” the senator began. He suddenly banged the table a few times with violent rapidity, inducing an earthquake across the breakfast crockery landscape; some milk spilled onto the table, but no one cried over it.

“Today, it’s all change inside! I feel… invigorated!” he continued with his arms animated like a pair of high-tension power lines whipping around with newfound freedom. He was thankful to the Lord for all of the things that were. He thanked the Lord for the wings of insects, the hue of the sky and the songs of poets. He gave thanks for the children his wife would one day bear for him. He was thankful for being brought to a unique and special moment in his life. He was going to begin hiking into unknown territory, getting off that senatorial train once and for all. Yesterday was a day of selfish self-pity. Today was not.

His wife put down the newspaper as there was no longer any reason to hide behind it. “I know, something is definitely changed in you today,” his wife replied, blinking softly.

The senator composed himself, sitting upright yet relaxed. He asked his wife, “Do you know why I went into politics?”

“Now that’s a tough one. I don’t believe you’ve ever spelt out your reasons. I would think the reason would be that you wanted to change things, but I can see that you have a little more to tell me than that,” she replied. She leaned forward, resting her head on one arm and waited for his words with famished eyes. It had been a long time since the senator had spoken to her with such passion and verve.

“Yes, I have more to tell you,” the senator explained, stretching his arms out wide with a smile to demonstrate something epic. He had to tell his wife a new story that, to him, was a crumpled, dusty, old one.

“I never really told you much about my mother. Mom used to be an important woman running errands as an accountant for a big firm. But she really had enough of it in the end. It gets to you after a while, doing the same thing, day after day. You get surrounded by people who have this self-inflated concept of importance and you all believe the same common good. What’s good for the company is good for you and good for the country, apparently. And no one talked, of course, about what was good for mankind because that just wasn’t interesting enough to be part of a corporate credo. Heck, no one would have believed in a company that said it believed in mankind anyway. Or God.

“Anyway, I’m rambling. As she had no real power to change anything, she tore up her five-figure salary and decided to spend more time in church. She canned her career completely. She threw it all away because, to her, it had become worthless. Career wasn’t a treasure to be prized… it was the millstone around her neck. She wanted to do good things. She wanted to change the world for the better, in bite-sized chunks if she had to.

“And you know what? Our family was happier. There was a darn sight more empty space under the tree at Christmas time, but it didn’t matter one bit. She was so positive. She started to love herself more than she had for a long time. When it’s not about ego, but simply about liking what you see in the mirror in the morning, that kind of love spreads out across us all. It was a great, humbling lesson to me – it’s all about the love you have in your cupboard. Wow, you wouldn’t have guessed that my Mom and Pop used to have such screaming matches… but devoting herself to the happy man upstairs changed not just her life but our whole family.”

The sparkle in his eyes began to melt and tears slowly dripped from his face. His wife rose, to hold and comfort him, but the senator motioned for her to sit down.

“And so… I still find it difficult not to shed a tear or two when I talk about her death in Chad.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2254

June 28, 2006

Paragon’s Prologue (2 of 10)

Thread: Paragon

The senator had met his wife at one of the churches on the election rounds two years earlier. He had spoken to the congregation, putting forward his personal opinions on the role of faith in political leadership. Although he was experienced in the art of public speaking and was as usual engaging every face in the audience, he felt that his focus had been on just one special lady. He had been hypnotised by her hungry eyes whose pupils blossomed with gorgeous intensity whenever he spoke, seemingly feeding on his tireless, impassioned oration; her appetite for his words was voracious. The effervescent chemistry that bubbled in the church that day could only have one conclusion. When God brings two perfectly matched people together, resistance is blasphemy, the senator joked at the wedding three months later.

“I will go with whatever you decide because I am here for you not for your career,” she said, beside him in the bed. “Just be sure that what you decide is what your heart truly wishes.” She laid her head on his shoulder.

He never wanted to be without this understanding, patient woman whose dark hair was a warm forest of delight. Snow White might be lost in this forest too, he thought, but she would never have cause to leave and Prince Charming would be in tears. It always smelt inviting; he kissed it with marital expertise. “I love you so, so much.”

He had watched Warren Beatty’s senator in Bulworth suffer a nervous breakdown and throw his career away just to say, for one exciting and subversive day, all of the truthful words that had been bottled up inside him. He had found the film amusing back then, despite its uncomfortable leanings to the left, but he did not find it amusing any more. He found it sad. “Honey, why don’t you turn the light out?” he asked.

His wife turned away to switch off the bedside lamp. The senator saw her breasts hang freely within her loose nightdress and felt not only pangs of tired lust but other, more important emotions. Gratitude. Humility. Responsibility. He wanted to be happy to enjoy her and start the family of five they had talked about. He needed to get off this doomed senatorial train permanently; the two of them rarely stopped at the same stations anymore.

In the darkness, the senator began a silent prayer. He wanted to ask for forgiveness for thinking the unthinkable thought and also, if God was not too upset with him already, for some guidance, a way out, a solution to his distress. Fitting the conversational trend of the evening, his prayer was also left unfinished – halfway through his mental recital he began to snore.

At 3:19 am, Elvis appeared in the bedroom.

Ten minutes later, the senator was roused from sleep by the sensation of being watched, but he thought he was dreaming when he saw the black silhouette of someone hunched over in the bedroom corner. In his semi-conscious state, he was unperturbed by this discovery and asked in a hoarse voice, “Who’s there?”

The silhouette did not move and the senator thought it might be a statue until the statue spoke. “It risssesss,” it whispered in an unnerving voice that sounded like the words were sculpted from white noise; a random, hissing, growling madness.

“What rises? Who are you?”

“You are Paragon!” it hissed. “Beeee my commandment!”

The senator slipped back into slumber unaware that Elvis continued to observe him for a full hour before taking his leave.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2038
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