The dark man had set his gaurdposts all along the eastern border of Oregon. The largest was at Ontario, where I-80 crosses over from Idaho; there were six men there, quartered in the trailer of a large Peterbilt truck. They had been there for more than a week, playing poker the whole time with twenties and fifties as useless as Monopoly money. One man was almost sixty thousand dollars ahead and another—a man whose working wage in the pre-plague world had been about ten thousand dollars a year—was over forty grand in the bucket.
It had rained almost the whole week, and tempers in the trailer were getting short. They had come out of Portland, and they wanted to get back there. There were women in Portland. Hung from a spike was a powerful two-way radio, broadcasting nothing but static. They were waiting for the radio to broadcast two simple words: Come home. That would mean that the man they were looking for had been captured somewhere else.
The man they were looking for was approximately seventy years old, heavyset, balding. He wore glasses and he was driving a white-over-blue four-wheel drive, either a jeep or an International Harvester. He was to be killed when he was finally spotted.
They were edgy and bored—the novelty of high-stakes poker for real money had worn off two days ago, even for the dullest of them—but not bored enough to just take off for Portland on their own. They had received their orders from the Walkin Dude himself, and even after rain-induced cabin fever had set in, their terror of him remained. If they screwed the job up and he found out, God help them all.
So they sat and played cards and watched by turns at the sight-slit which had been carved through the side of the trailer’s steel wall. I-80 was deserted in the dull, constant rain. But if the Scout happened along, it would be seen… and stopped.
“He’s a spy from the other side,” the Walkin Dude had told them, that horrible grin wreathing his chops. Why it was so horrible none of them could have said, but when it turned your way you felt as if your blood had turned to hot tomato soup in your veins. “He’s a spy and we could welcome him in with open arms, show him everything, and send him back with no harm done. But I want him, I want them both. And we’re going to send their heads back over the mountains before the snow flies. Let them chew on that all winter.” And he bellowed hot laughter at the people he had gathered together in one of the conference rooms at the Portland Civic Center. They smiled back, but their smiles were cold and uneasy. Aloud they might congratulate each other on having been singled out for such a responsibility, but inside, they wished that those happy, awful, weasel-like eyes had fixed on anyone but them.
There was another large guardpost far south of Ontario, at Sheaville. Here there were four men in a small house just off I-95, which meanders down toward the Alvord Desert, with its weird rock formations and its dark, sullen streams of water.
The other posts were manned by pairs of men, and there were an even dozen of them, ranging from the tiny town of Flora, just off Route 3 and less than sixty miles from the Washington border, all the way down to McDermitt, on the Oregon-Nevada border.
An old man in a blue-and-white four-wheel drive. The instructions to all the sentinels were the same: Kill him, but don’t hit him in the head. There was to be no blood or bruise above the Adam’s apple.
“I don’t want to send back damaged goods,” Randy Flagg told them, and clacked and roared his horrible laughter.
The northern border between Oregon and Idaho is marked by the Snake River. If you were to follow the Snake north from Ontario, where the six men sat in their Peterbilt playing spit-in-the-ocean for worthless money, you would eventually come to within spitting distance of Copperfield. The Snake takes a kink here that geologists call an oxbow, and near Copperfield the Snake was dammed by the Oxbow Dam. And on that seventh day of September, as Stu Redman and his party trudged up Colorado Highway 6 over a thousand miles to the east and south, Bobby Terry was sitting inside the Copperfield Five-and-Dime, a stack of comic books by his side, wondering what sort of shape the Oxbow Dam was in, and if the sluice gates had been left open or shut. Outside, Oregon Highway 86 ran past the dime store.
He and his partner, Dave Roberts (now asleep in the apartment overhead), had discussed the dam at great length. It had been raining for a week. The Snake was high. Suppose that old Oxbow Dam decided to let go? Bad news. A rushing wall of water would sweep down on Copperfield and ole Bobby Terry and ole Dave Roberts might be washed all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. They had discussed going over to the dam to look for cracks, but finally just hadn’t dared. Flagg’s orders had been specific: Stay under cover.
Dave had pointed out that Flagg might be anywhere. He was a great traveler, and stories had already sprung up about the way he could suddenly appear in a small, out-of-the-way burg where there were only a dozen people repairing power lines or collecting weapons from some army depot. He materialized, like a ghost. Only this was a grinning black ghost in dusty boots with rundown heels. Sometimes he was alone, and sometimes Lloyd Henreid was with him, behind the wheel of a great big Daimler automobile, black as a hearse and just as long. Sometimes he was walking. One moment he wasn’t there, and the next moment he was. He could be in L.A. one day (or so the talk went) and show up in Boise a day later… on foot.
But as Dave had also pointed out, not even Flagg could be in six different places at the same time. One of them could just scoot over to that damn dam, have a look, and scoot back. The odds in their favor were a thousand to one.
Good, you do it, Bobby Terry told him. You have my permission. But Dave had declined the invitation with an uneasy grin. Because Flagg had a way of knowing things, even if he didn’t turn up on the dime. There were some who said he had an unnatural power over the predators of the animal kingdom. A woman named Rose Kingman claimed to have seen him snap his fingers at a number of crows sitting on a telephone wire, and the crows fluttered down onto his shoulders, this Rose Kingman said, and she further testified that they had croaked “Flagg… Flagg… Flagg…” over and over.
That was just ridiculous, and he knew it. Morons might believe it, but Bobby Terry’s mother Delores had never raised any morons. He knew the way stories got around, growing between the mouth that spoke and the ear that listened. And how happy the dark man would be to encourage stories like that.
But the stories still gave him an atavistic little shiver, as though at the core of each there was a nugget of truth. Some said he could call the wolves, or send his spirit into the body of a cat. There was a man in Portland who said he carried a weasel or a fisher or something less nameable than either in that ratty old Boy Scout pack he wore when he was walking. Stupid stuff, all of it. But… just suppose he could talk to animals, like a satanic Dr. Doolittle. And suppose he or Dave walked out to look at that damn dam in a direct contradiction of his orders, and was seen.
The penalty for disobedience was crucifixion.
Bobby Terry guessed that old dam wouldn’t break, anyway.
He shot a Kent out of the pack on the table and lit up, grimacing at the hot, dry taste. In another six months, none of the damn cigarettes would be smokable. Pobably just as well. Fucking things were death, anyway.
He sighed and took another comic book off the stack. Some ridiculous fucking thing called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Ninja Turtles were supposed to be “heroes on a half-shell.” He threw Raphael, Donatello, and their numbfuck buddies across the store and the comic book they inhabited fluttered down in a tent shape on top of a cash register. It was things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he thought, that made you believe that the world was maybe just as well off destroyed.
He picked up the next one, a Batman—there was a hero you could at least sort of believe in—and was just turning to the first page when he saw the blue Scout go by out front, heading west. Its big tires splashed up muddy sheets of rainwater.
Bobby Terry stared with his mouth ajar at the place where it had passed. He couldn’t believe that the vehicle they were all looking for had just passed his post. To tell the truth, way down deep he had suspected this whole thing was nothing but a make-work shit detail.
He rushed to the front door and jerked it open. He ran out on the sidewalk, still holding the Batman comic book in one hand. Maybe the thing had been nothing but a hallucination. Thinking about Flagg could get anyone hallucinating.
But it wasn’t. He caught a glimpse of the Scout’s roof as it went down over the next hill and out of town. Then he was running back through the deserted five-and-dime, bawling for Dave at the top of his lungs.
There are eight companies currently vying for control over the new gTLD (generic top-level domain) .music. Here they are sorted in alphabetical order by parent company—not by the subsidiary that submitted the application:
- Donuts via subsidiary Victor Cross
- Famous Four Media via subsidiary dot Music Limited
- Far Further via subsidiary .music LLC
- Google via subsidiary Charleston Road Registry Inc.
- .MUSIC via subsidiary DotMusic Limited
- Radix via subsidiary DotMusic Inc.
- Top Level Domain Holdings Ltd. via subsidiary Entertainment Names Inc.
Interestingly, Donuts, Inc. also owns the .band gTLD through its Auburn Hollow, LLC and the .rocks gTLD through its Ruby Moon, LLC.
On a somewhat related note, the .game gTLD is owned by Uniregistry, Corp while the .games gTLD (note the addition of an ‘s’) is owned by Donuts through its Foggy Beach, LLC. The costs for a domain from these companies are about $500 and $15 per name per year, respectively, so I guess Uniregistry gets to mark up its names by 3333% for having a gTLD that is only one letter shorter.
Amazon and Charleston Road Registry Inc. (Google) also applied for the .game gTLD and were denied, while Foggy Beach, LLC (Donuts) was the sole applicant for the .games gTLD. Google did file an objection to the .games name, claiming that it was too similar to the .game gTLD and would confuse Internet users. This is funny.
Y.T.’s mom works in Fedland. She has parked her little car in her own little numbered slot, for which the Feds require her to pay about ten percent of her salary (if she doesn’t like it she can take a taxi or walk) and walked up several levels of a blindingly lit reinforced-concrete helix in which most of the spaces—the good spaces closer to the surface—are reserved for people other than her, but empty. She always walks up the center of the ramp, between the rows of parked cars, so that the EBGOC (Executive Branch General Operational Command) boys won’t think she’s lurking, loitering, skulking, malingering, or smoking.
Reaching the subterranean entrance of her building, she has taken all metal objects from her pockets and removed what little jewelry she’s wearing and dumped them into a dirty plastic bowl and walked through the detector. Flashed her badge. Signed her name and noted down the digital time. Submitted to a frisking from an EBGOC girl. Annoying, but it sure beats a cavity search. They have a right to do a cavity search if they want. She got cavity-searched every day for a month once, right after she had spoken up at a meeting and suggested that her supervisor might be on the wrong track with a major programming project. It was punitive and vicious, she knew it was, but she always wanted to give something back to her country, and whenever you work for the Feds you just accept the fact that there’s going to be some politicking. And that as a low-level person you’re going to bear the brunt. And later on, you climb the GS ladder, don’t have to put up with as much shit. Far be it from her to quarrel with her supervisor. Her supervisor, Marietta, doesn’t have an especially stellar GS level, but she does have access. She has connections. Marietta knows people who know people. Marietta has attended cocktail parties that were also attended by some people who, well, your eyes would bug out.
She has passed the frisking with flying collars. Put the metal stuff back into her pockets. Climbed up half a dozen flights of stairs to her floor. The elevators here still work, but some very highly placed people in Fedland have let it be known—nothing official, but they have ways of letting this stuff out—that it is a duty to conserve energy. And the Feds are real serious about duty. Duty, loyalty, responsibility. The collagen that binds us to into the United States of America. So the stairwells are filled with sweaty wool and clacking leather. If you took the elevator, no one would actually say anything, but it would be noticed. Noticed and written down and taken into account. People would look at you, glance you up and down, like, what happened, sprain your ankle? Taking the stairs is no problem.
Feds don’t smoke. Feds generally don’t overeat. The health plan is very specific, contains major incentives, get too heavy or wheezy and, no one says anything about it—which would be rude—but you feel a definite pressure, a sense of not fitting in, as you walk across the sea of desks, eyes glance up to follow you, estimating the mass of your saddlebags, eyes darting back and forth between desks as, by consensus, your co-workers say to themselves, I wonder how much he or she is driving up our health plan premiums?
So Y.T.’s mom has clacked up the stairs in her black pumps and gone into her office, actually a large room with computer workstations placed across it in a grid. Used to be divided up by partitions, but the EBGOC boys didn’t like it, said what would happen if there had to be an evacuation? All those partitions would impede the free flow of unhinged panic. So no more partitions. Just workstations and chairs. Not even any desktops. Desktops encourage the use of paper, which is archaic and reflects inadequate team spirit. What is so special about your work that you have to write it down on a piece of paper that only you get to see? That you have to lock it away inside a desk? When you’re working for the Feds, everything you do is the property of the United States of America. You do your work on the computer. The computer keeps a copy of everything, so that if you get sick or something, it’s all there where your co-workers and supervisors can get access to it. If you want to write little notes or make phone doodles, you’re perfectly free to do that at home, in your spare time.
And there’s the question of interchangeability. Fed workers, like military people, are intended to be interchangeable parts. What happens if your workstation should break down? You’re going to sit there and twiddle your thumbs until it gets fixed? No siree, you’re going to move a spare workstation and get to work on that. And you don’t have that flexibility if you’ve got half a ton of personal stuff cached inside of a desk, strewn around a desktop.
So there is no paper in a Fed office. All the workstations are the same. You come in in the morning, pick one at random, sit down, and get to work. You could try to favor a particular station, try to sit there every day, but it would be noticed. Generally you pick the unoccupied workstation that’s closest to the door. That way, whoever came in the earliest sits closest, whoever came in latest is way in the back, for the rest of the day it’s obvious at a glance who’s on the ball in this office and who is—as they whisper to each other in the bathrooms—having problems.
Not that it’s any big secret, who comes in first. When you sign on to a workstation in the morning, it’s not like the central computer doesn’t notice that fact. The central computer notices just about everything. Keeps track of every key you hit on the keyboard, all day long, what time you hit it, down to the microsecond, whether it was the right key or the wrong key, how many mistakes you make and when you make them. You’re only required to be at your workstation from eight to five, with a half-hour lunch break and two ten-minute coffee breaks, but if you stuck to that schedule it would definitely be noticed, which is why Y.T.’s mom is sliding into the first unoccupied workstation and signing on to her machine at quarter to seven. Half a dozen other people are already here, signed on to workstations closer to the entrance, but this isn’t bad. She can look forward to a reasonably stable career if she can keep up this sort of performance.
The Feds still operate in Flatland. None of this three-dimensional stuff, no goggles, no stereo sound. The computers are all basic flat-screen two-dimensional numbers. Windows appear on the desktop, with little text documents inside. All part of the austerity program. Soon to reap major benefits.
She signs on and checks her mail. No personal mail, just a couple of mass-distributed pronouncements from Marietta.
NEW TP POOL REGULATIONS
I’ve been asked to distribute the new regulations regarding office pool displays. The enclosed memo is a new subchapter of the EBGOC Procedure Manual, replacing the old subchapter entitled PHYSICAL PLANT/CALIFORNIA/LOS ANGELES/BUILDINGS/OFFICE AREAS/PHYSICAL LAYOUT REGULATIONS/EMPLOYEE INPUT/GROUP ACTIVITIES.
The old subchapter was a flat prohibition on the use of office space or time for “pool” activities of any kind, whether permanent (e.g., coffee pool) or one-time (e.g., birthday parties).
This prohibition still applies, but a single, one-time exception has now been made for any office that wishes to pursue a joint bathroom-tissue strategy.
By way of introduction, let me just make a few general comments on this subject. The problem of distributing bathroom tissue to workers presents inherent challenges for any office management system due to the inherent unpredictability of usage—not every facility usage transaction necessitates the use of bathroom tissue, and when it is used, the amount needed (number of squares) may vary quite widely from person to person and, for a given person, from one transaction to the next. This does not even take into account the occasional use of bathroom tissue for unpredictable/creative purposes such as applying/removing cosmetics, beverage-spill management, etc. For this reason, rather than trying to package bathroom tissue in small one-transaction packets (as is done with pre-moistened towelettes, for example), which can be wasteful in some cases and limiting in other cases, it has been traditional to package this product in bulk distribution units whose size exceeds the maximum amount of squares that an individual could conceivably use in a single transaction (barring force majeure). This reduces to a minimum the number of transactions in which the distribution unit is depleted (the roll runs out) during the transaction, a situation that can lead to emotional stress for the affected employee. However, it does present the manager with some challenges in that the distribution unit is rather bulky and must be repeatedly used by a number of different individuals if it is not to be wasted.
Since the implementation of Phase XVII of the Austerity Program, employees have been allowed to bring their own bathroom tissue from home. This approach is somewhat bulky and redundant, as every worker usually brings their own roll.
Some offices have attempted to meet this challenge by instituting bathroom-tissue pools.
Without overgeneralizing, it may be stated that an inherent and irreducible feature of any bathroom-tissue pool implemented at the office level, in an environment (i.e., building) in which comfort stations are distributed on a per-floor basis (i.e., in which several offices share a single facility) is that provision must be made within the confines of the individual office for temporary stationing of bathroom tissue distribution units (i.e., rolls). This follows from the fact that if the BTDUs (rolls) are stationed, while inactive, outside of the purview of the controlling office (i.e., the office that has collectively purchased the BTDU)—that is, if the BTDUs are stored, for example, in a lobby area or within the facility in which they are actually utilized, they will be subject to pilferage and “shrinkage” as unathorized persons consume them, either as part of a conscious effort to pilfer or out of an honest misunderstanding, i.e., a belief that the BTDUs are being provided free of charge by the operating agency (in this case the United States Government), or as the result of necessity, as in the case of a beverage spill that is encroaching on sensitive electronic equipment and whose management will thus brook no delay. This fact has led certain offices (which shall go unnamed—you know who you are, guys) to establish makeshift BTDU depots that also serve as pool-contribution collection points. Usually, these depots take the form of a table, near the door closest to the facility, on which the BTDUs are stacked or otherwise deployed, with a bowl or some other receptacle in which participants may place their contributions, and typically with a sign or other attention-getting device (such as a stuffed animal or cartoon) requesting donations. A quick glance at the current regulations will show that placement of such a display/depot violates the procedure manual. However, in the interests of employee hygiene, morale, and group spirit-building, my higher-ups have agreed to make a one-time exception in the regulations for this purpose.
As with any part of the procedure manual, new or old, it is your responsibility to be thoroughly familiar with this material. Estimated reading time for this document is 15.62 minutes (and don’t think we won’t check). Please make note of the major points made in this document, as follows:
1) BTDU depot/displays are now allowed, on a trial basis, with the new policy to be reviewed in six months.
2) These must be operated on a voluntary, pool-type basis, as described in the subchapter on employee pools. (Note: This means keeping books and tallying all financial transactions.)
3) BTDUs must be brought in by the employees (not shipped through the mailroom) and are subject to all the usual search-and-seizure regulations.
4) Scented BTDUs are prohibited as they may cause allergic reactions, wheezing, etc. in some persons.
5) Cash pool donations, as with all monetary transactions within the U.S. Government, must use official U.S. currency—no yen or Kongbucks!
Naturally, this will lead to a bulk problem if people try to use the donation bucket as a dumping ground for bundles of old billion- and trillion-dollar bills. The Buildings and Grounds people are worried about waste-disposal problems and the potential fire hazard that may ensue if large piles of billions and trillions begin to mount up. Therefore, a key feature of the new regulation is that the donation bucket must be emptied every day—more often if an excessive build-up situation is seen to develop.
In this vein, the B & G people would also like me to point out that many of you who have excess U.S. currency to get rid of have been trying to kill two birds with one stone by using old billions as bathroom tissue. While creative, this approach has two drawbacks:
1) It clogs the plumbing, and
2) It constitutes defacement of U.S. currency, which is a federal crime.
DON’T DO IT.
Join your office bathroom-tissue pool instead.
It’s easy, it’s hygienic, and it’s legal.
Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:
Less than 10 min. Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling. 10-14 min. Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing a slipshod attitude. 14-15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details. Exactly 15.62 min. Smartass. Needs attitude counseling. 15.63-16 min. Asswipe. Not to be trusted. 16-18 min. Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details. More than 18 min. Check the security video-tape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).
Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so of this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary.
Having got that out of the way, she dives into work. She is an applications programmer for the Feds. In the old days, she would have written computer programs for a living. Nowadays, she writes fragments of computer programs. These programs are designed by Marietta and Marietta’s superiors in massive week-long meetings on the top floor. Once they get the design down, they start breaking up the problem into tinier and tinier segments, assigning them to group managers, who break them down even more and feed little bits of work to the individual programmers. In order to keep the work done by the individual coders from colliding, it all has to be done according to a set of rules and regulations even bigger and more fluid than the Government procedure manual.
So the first thing that Y.T.’s mother does, having read the new subchapter on bathroom tissue pools, is to sign on to a subsystem of the main computer system that handles the particular programming project she’s working on. She doesn’t know what the project is—that’s classified—or what it’s called. It’s just her project. She shares it with a few hundred other programmers, she’s not sure exactly who. And every day when she signs on to it, there’s a stack of memos waiting for her, containing new regulations and changes to the rules that they all have to follow when writing code for the project. These regulations make the business with the bathroom tissue seem as simple and elegant as the Ten Commandments.
So she spends until about eleven A.M. reading, rereading, and understanding the new changes in the Project. There are many of these, because this is a Monday morning and Marietta and her higher-ups spent the whole weekend closeted on the top floor, having a catfight about this Project, changing everything.
Then she starts going back over all the code she has previously written for the Project and making a list of all the stuff that will have to be rewritten in order to make it compatible with the new specifications. Basically, she’s going to have to rewrite all of her material from the ground up. For the third time in as many months.
But hey, it’s a job.
About eleven-thirty, she looks up, startled, to see that half a dozen people are standing around herworkstation. There’s Marietta. And a proctor. And some male Feds. And Leon the polygraph man.
“I just had mine on Thursday,” she says.
“Time for another one,” Marietta says. “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.”
“Hands out where I can see them,” the proctor says.
Hey, hey… what do you say?
Do you want to be a part of the freakshow?
Look at them go: evade, dodge, collide and connect
A split lip, a low kick, a moment of truth
Deep down we all know what it means
It’s an animal urge to defy what you see, but it’s real
Right now I can almost relate
For a split second I can almost believe
Let’s die just a little tonight
Step out of line
Nothing is right
Bruised knuckles and a gallon of gasoline
Homicide, rape and abuse
Forcefed on a diet of hatred
Shove it in, shove it in, shove it in… puke!
My life, it will only begin when I finally see you go
I will celebrate death—a divine pure grace—to liberate me and erase you
Let’s die just a little tonight
Step out of line
Nothing is right
Hate me and I will be fine
Encourage me and die
Let’s die just a little tonight
Step out of line
Nothing is right