January 21, 2016

“Who Done Me In?” by John Martinson – The Complete Novella

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“Who Done Me In?” by John Martinson – The Complete Novella

John, the narrator of this funny, fascinating, futuristic story, is dead. As he spins his tale of what it’s like on the other side, he’s also trying to figure out why he’s dead and who got him that way – hence the title. We’re swept up in a Machiavellian mystery tale that takes us into the world of wisps and preeps, to the Burj Khalifa, to Fameland as John tries to figure out who done him in.

We published “Who Done Me In” in five parts earlier, but now offer it to you in one complete post.

 

Who Done Me In?

How Dick Cheney, Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Gilgamesh,

and A Few Others Solved My Afterlife Mystery

by

John Martinson

Part I

It was a while before I figured out I was dead. Days, weeks, or whatever passes for them here. I found out later from Ashok that it’s not uncommon for the newly wisped to take a while to catch on, especially those in special circumstances, like me. Ashok should know, he’s been here a while. You can hardly see him. He’s just a shimmering turquoise gray nebula.

Eventually, I did figure it out, though. That I was dead, and where I was, and how things worked.

Old Ada, who’s wispier even than Ashok, but not so wispy as to be fully transparent, filled me in. The mechanics are pretty simple.

We wisps are all connected into what we call the Web Incorporating Life and Death, nicknamed the WILD in a kind of wisp joke. Preeps – the so-called living – all think there is a huge chasm between life and death, a great divide. But there isn’t. There is no divide. “Life” and “afterlife,” here and there, are all the same place, except that here is, well, wispier. Think of here as a natural pixilation, where images of molecules replace the actual molecules that held us together when we were preeps. We’re here, but not in the molecule sense.

As for preeps, they’re as connected to the WILD as much as we are – they just don’t know it. For preeps, being alive and staying alive – remember the hammering beat of the Bee Gees’ song? – require an internal concentration and survival-driven narcissism just to keep all their molecules in proper marching formation. Signals from the WILD are lost in the Brownian motion of those molecules.

Sure, there is some leakage. An individual preep might get a signal from the WILD, but he or she would most likely dismiss it as static when it’s really the background hum of the network. That murmur you hear in a conch shell? Background hum of the network. Tinnitus? Background hum of the network. It’s the aural equivalent of what’s just beyond your peripheral vision, drowned out by the cacophony of all that’s corporeal.

Nevertheless, preeps are nodes on the WILD, all important ones.

Here’s why. For we wisps, our us-ness derives from our preeps, all those who knew us or with whom we had encounters, even brief ones, when we were preeps, or pre-wisps ourselves. Their experience of us. As Old Ada puts it, in modern vernacular we exist in something akin to a peer-to-peer computer network, like the ones on the Internet that distribute songs, movies, and software in bits and pieces onto multiple computers to be reassembled into original form on request. We live in a kind of Napster.

Bits and pieces of us are lodged as signals in each preep node of the WILD. Strong signals from those who were close to us, like family, friends, co-workers and rivals, weak signals from those with whom our interactions were more glancing, like TSA agents, prostitutes (not me, honest), and the guy we gave the finger to after he tailgated us for six miles on the Cross Westchester Expressway. Each iota of contact counts. The nod from the guy at the next urinal to us in a rest stop bathroom, the millisecond of eye contact with a jogger in Central Park, the half-second glance at that tank-topped NYU coed in Washington Square Park. Well, maybe more than half a second.

We are most defined, reassembled, given identity in this particular here and now by those who were closest to us, but we owe some of our identity to hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions of others. The iotas add up.

So, no preeps, no wisps.

We obviously don’t have the senses we had as preeps, but we have an equivalent, which, for practical purposes, we call seeing. We are aware of each other. The newly wisped are sharply defined, bright, and visibly coherent, a result of having such concentrated presences in their nodes. As the preep-years go by and generations pass, the average wisp-presence diffuses as preep nodes multiply and the per-node experience of the wisp becomes less concentrated. The signal attenuates. Those who knew us deeply are long gone, diminished to iotas themselves. Wisps that are generations removed from their original preeps are harder to see. Wispier. Eventually, they are as transparent as atmosphere. Our identities don’t decline, but they spread out, diffuse across the WILD.

Take Ashok. He’s a fifth-generation wisp, whose great-great-great-great grandson happened to manage the hotel at a wedding my family attended a year ago this fall. He recognized me here from my encounter with his distant offspring. Perhaps because of his name – repeated in the 2014 Ashok whom I met and the name of an ancient emperor of India – he has been remembered more than most 100 preep-year-old wisps through the generations as his descendants multiplied.

Old Ada, known in her day as Ada Lovelace because she was the Countess of Lovelace, is an eighth-generation wisp. She was the daughter of Lord George Gordon Byron – yes, that Lord Byron – and the patron of Charles Babbage, who designed the first computer, the Difference Engine, in the 1840s. She had a pretty good node-base when she wisped out. No children, but a large retinue of friends and peers. But her nodes have thinned out considerably since Victorian times. She’s the faintest of pink-whites now.

This is how wisps age. I know you’ve got a lot more life and death questions, no pun intended, but I have to deal with my OWN problem. It’s this. I know I am dead, and I know where I am. But I don’t know how I died. Nor do my family, my friends, or my employer. In fact, they don’t even know I’m dead. This is the special circumstance I mentioned earlier.

I wouldn’t have known I even had a problem – the transition from preep to wisp is so natural that you don’t feel any different after wisping out – if my college roommate, Terry, hadn’t finally died of pancreatic cancer. The poor soul, who sold paper products in New England and played Santa at Santa’s Land in Putney, Vermont, during the holidays, got the diagnosis last Christmas and wisped out before this upcoming one. He came aboard and noticed me here. Last his nodes had heard, I was still alive.

It sounds crazy to think I wouldn’t know I was dead, but there’s no shock when you wisp out. No adrenalin, alarms, twitches, pain, or thunderclaps. Perhaps because being corporeal is the exception in the WILD, there are just no cues to your transition. I didn’t think anything of being where I was, here, until Terry showed up.

And why would I? As a wisp, you have no memories of the preep world. They don’t come with you. To find out anything from the corporeal world, you do what we call “focusing,” generally on the preeps closest to you – your spouses, kids, lovers, co-workers, and BFFs – because you get the strongest signals from them.

Got it? We see other wisps, focus on preeps.

By focusing, you can learn what your nodes know and think. You can actually go deeper into their minds than they can, which can be shocking at first. But you get used to it. You find you don’t care about their neuroses, resentments, guilt, denials, or misperceptions. You mostly care about what they actually experience. They are your eyes in that world. Your senses.

Heck, you can even have sex. But that would be through the experiences of your preeps, the closest of which will usually be kids, spouses, siblings, and lovers. You want to get off as your kids getting off? As your spouse with a new lover? Too creepy. To make it worse, you have the experience from both sides – lover and lovee. Aaargh. Better to use this vicarious vision to watch TV, which you soon realize is not worth the time even when you have an infinite amount of it.

So here I am. A wisp. Fully aware that I am dead as dead can be.

Yet Will and Martin, my boys, Shirley, my wife, Breyer, my boss, and a host of co-workers and friends think I’m still alive, on my job as a senior investigator for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, monitoring Goldman Sachs’ financial transactions around the world.

And someone is making them think so.

Post-Terry’s arrival, I have watched from here as Shirley has Skyped with me when I was supposedly in Malaysia. Would I get her some jade? Will scored a goal at the Hornets-Indians soccer game. Martin thinks he might add McGill to the list of colleges he’ll someday apply to. She misses me (followed by a wordless transmission of impure thoughts). And so on. I have focused on everyone I know and they have all gotten emails, calls, texts, and even photos from a me that can’t exist.

I need them to know. So they can mourn me properly, fix me in their minds, and cement my nodal position.

I am not alone. Plenty of wisps have no idea how they got here. Many of them have preeps who don’t know what happened to them; some have no preeps at all. The hermit prospector with a broken neck at the bottom of the mineshaft, a disappeared villager in Argentina, the last person standing at Jonestown. Most don’t care. There isn’t much curiosity here. After all, once you know what happens when you die, the drive to find answers to lesser questions just seems to wither.

Oh, there are a few wisps, many crazies, suicides, or mystics, but mostly just the vestigially curious, that rove the WILD, seeking distant nodes, searching for who knows what. We call them Web crawlers (no, they weren’t always called that, but we adapt, even here).

But the fact that my preep network is being continuously deceived into thinking I am still alive strikes me as wrong, and it’s a wrong I plan to right. Somebody or something is behind it.

End Part I

*     *     *

John Martinson is the nom de plume of a highly respected author of nonfiction. He was born in 1944, too old to be a real war baby and too young to be a boomer. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966, too early to be part of the sexual revolution.  When he was alive, he worked as a consultant and researcher in the computer industry, raised a family, traveled a lot, and wrote a lot.  After his demise in the Burj Khalifa in 2015, he began his afterlife detective agency.

 

Part II

It’s me again, reporting back. I’ve learned a little.

It’s taken me a while, but I have been crawling the WILD, focusing on any preeps who might have experienced the real me in the last two preep-months. Anyone I knew well still thinks I am alive, so the ruse, whatever it is, is still working, although Shirley is wondering why this examination trip is taking so long.

So I started scanning anyone who might have bumped into me on the trip who didn’t know me but who had experienced me. Bellhops, flight attendants, cabbies, counter staff, chambermaids. Yes, focusing itself is instantaneous, but doing so in a sequential search like this is time-consuming. Eventually I was able to track my movements from my office at Goldman Sachs on West Street in New York – yes, the Fed has offices in the banks it regulates, how cozy – on October 10, to Amsterdam on October 12th to Abu Dhabi on the 16th, then to Dubai and the Burj Khalifa on the 17th. Room 9024.

After that, the trail got tougher to follow, but I finally located a security guard who knew one of the chambermaids who was secretly seeing the bellhop who brought me to the room and, through him, got a view of security footage for the second night I was there. I saw myself being visited by two men I’d never seen before, both of a size and bearing that practically screamed former military. Jack Reacher types, only not the good guy kind. You are a reader of Lee Child’s books, right? Or you’ve at least seen the Tom Cruise movie?

Then, blank. The trail died. I was in the Burj but Skyping from Malaysia?

A preep-week after that I got a lucky break. At least for me, if not for Jerry Pitts.

Pitts was a computer forensics analyst that I occasionally worked with on the job. He was a full-on computer geek in the prehistoric times of core memory and one of the architects of the Honeywell “snake” computer, which had its memory strung on a cable lumped inside the mainframe cabinet rather than in rows and columns of iron doughnuts. Somehow he had managed to remain geek through the years, working on Digital DEC-10 timesharing systems, IBM 5100 personal computers, on into Unix in all its variants, and, most recently, digital excursions into various corners of the Deep Web and Darknet file sharing networks.

One minute (or what passes for one here) Pitts was a distant node in my preep network, the next he was a wisp, quiet and happily clueless, and bright as a shiny new car in the wisp-scape. Deep, Dodge purple. I knew who he was immediately. I reached out to him and, with Ashok, helped him find out from his preep nodes that a brain aneurism had felled him at work. (Pitts was the kind of geek to whom it might easily not have occurred to check in with his family for weeks.)   We also gave him a crash course on the WILD, after which I began picking his brain. Or rather, his nodes’ brains, through him.

(As I said, we don’t bring our memories with us when we wisp out, but we do accrue memories once we are here. Old Ada told me once that she thought it was some kind of neural network property of the WILD. The little eddies that we wisps represent are sentient, and in some kind of synchronous resonance. Where does this free will, this consciousness, come from? Who knows? There have to be some mysteries in the great beyond, don’t there?)

It was one of Jerry’s nodes, another computer forensic geek at the Fed named Trip Gennis, who had discovered some software anomalies in a Goldman Sachs mainframe at a hot back-up site in New Jersey. He’d found a number of squirrelly programs nestled in the layer between the operating system that managed the computer and the hardware that did the actual work. Together they evoked all the functions of a second computer, a computer within a computer, and a hidden one at that. There was also a subterranean network, undetectable from the upper layers of software, that apparently ran to other Goldman mainframes. It was like an embezzler’s second set of books, only this was a whole second computing system running a whole second transaction system.

Gennis, and an outside hacker friend and gamer, Buck Howard, had just started looking at the transaction stream in this subterranean financial network, when all of a sudden our focusing effort went blank. Next thing we knew, Gennis was among us, a wisp. Just like Pitts before him. Only a bright British racing green this time.

This was getting creepy.

How does the old Prell shampoo ad go? Wash, rinse, repeat? That’s what Ashok and I did with Gennis. He was clueless, but once we got him to focus on his nodes he discovered they had no idea he wasn’t still very much alive and at work.

Following my guidance he focus-hopped from his administrative assistant to a corporate librarian, to a front desk attendant, and, a few steps later, to a security guard in the surveillance room. The guard’s conscious memory had nothing to show from the corridor outside Gennis’ office, but there was a trace of peripheral vision imagery still lurking below the cortex. Two more Jack Reacher types, opening the door to the office, then, moments later, coming out with Gennis’ laptop, but no Gennis. It wouldn’t be long, then, before Gennis’ body would be discovered and eventually he (and we) would know what flavor of foul play had done him in.

On to Buck Howard. We got to him just a little before the same two Jack Reacher types did, which allowed us to download to our wisp-minds everything he had on the secret financial network. A full brain-tape, including all the stuff he didn’t know he’d seen. Transaction records passing too fast before his eyes to determine individual characters, patterns in IP addresses, packet headers, routing data, non-alpha numeric characters, and clumps of hexadecimal detritus. Then the Reacher guys walked in.

Buck the Preep went blank, and Buck the Wisp showed up.  Candy apple red as a 1966 Ford Mustang.

Gennis, Pitts, and Ashok gave him the speed orientation to his new here and now.

They weren’t uncomfortable, Gennis, Pitts, and Howard. No one (all right, mostly no one) comes out of the wisping process anxious, or uncomfortable. It is just not a big deal. You don’t stop and start again, you just peel away the noise, hubbub, and frenzy of the corporeal you and then become the you that it feels like you should have been all along. You see your folks (but not your dog – pets are little swirls in the mist, too weak to see but not too weak to give you a feel-good feeling when you try to focus on them). You have a sense of coming home, a relaxation you’ve never known, and a little sadness for all those who still live in the preep world. Float like a jellyfish.

The folks thing is interesting. You’d think it would be a warm homecoming, a joyous reunion, but because they have been networked in your whole preep life, there’s nothing for you to fill them in on. They’ve been with you all the way. And in the wisp equivalent of a Vulcan mind meld, all their information is available to you, albeit a little gauzy. Very comfortable. It’s a slotting in, not a backslapping affair.

No, the WILD is not wild. That’s the joke of it.

End of Part II

*     *     *

Part III

The Howard brain-tape was a treasure trove, but we had to call in help to decipher it. I had to build a team. Gennis, Pitts, and Howard were in by default – we’d had preep connections after all – but we needed more horsepower.

Recruitment took a while, at least of people who hadn’t known me as a preep. There’s infinite talent in the afterlife, from the cave-grandma who tamed fire and the 10-year old who invented the toy we now call the wheel, to a full panoply of warriors, inventors, craftspeople, crime fighters, doctors, masons (and Masons), scientists, teachers, in fact, all 748 occupations listed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data base. The best, most talented of all time, are here, not counting any preep geniuses destined for that category.

Talent, yes, sense of urgency no. When you’re dead, there are no deadlines.

So it was a one-by-one effort of persuasion.

Old Ada joined the team because she hadn’t paid much attention to what happened to calculating engines since she died – her nodes had been more interested in contemporary events like the Crimean war, the World’s Fair at the Crystal Palace, the potato famine in Ireland, Jack the Ripper, and her era’s rapidly changing fashions – and felt stirred to get a closer look at the modern-day digital universe. She could bookend her knowledge by hanging out with us. Luckily, she still had enough preep nodes in the business to be a functioning wisp. And her preeps knew other preeps and so on.

I also tried to interest Alan Turing, of course, but frankly his nodes were a little too brainy to help. And over the years, their interests had changed from solving puzzles to Zen mysticism and cosmology. Not a Sherlock Holmes wisp-pixel in the bunch. I struck out with other math-y types, too, from Einstein to Hazelton Mirkel, my freshman math teacher at Dartmouth who had self-wisped after a rough winter. You can’t do math without curiosity, it seems. Why bother?

My lucky break was snagging Amazing Grace, which is how Grace Hopper, the woman who invented COBOL, is affectionately known around here. She’d been in the Navy when she and a small team of interns and sailors had come up with the computer language, and, partly as a result of this contribution to the country’s computer supremacy and partly on leadership, longevity, and an ever-present twinkle in her eye, made it to Admiral, one of the few women to ever make flag rank.

She also had a boatload, pun intended, of nodes in military intelligence, computer science, and even among Wall Street quant traders, where programming Turks of modern day make millions. With just a dozen or so focus-hops she was able to sketch an outline of the subterfuge at hand.

In fact, there were two skullduggeries underway.

The first was the Goldman Sachs alter network, which we discovered was funneling money – trillions – from overnight Fed loans to all manner of nefarious recipients. A shadowy reincarnation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) still operating out of Abu Dhabi here, Red Guest hackers in mainland China there. Also the Cerberus Capital fund that took DynCorp private, suspect charities in Qatar and Yemen, the Vatican bank, arms dealers buying weapons from companies like Grumman, Martin Marietta, Raytheon, Nexter and MBDA and shipping them to who knows where, and more than a hundred military contractors in 50 countries.

But why?

We were stumped on this one.

The second was the one that had my family and coworkers still in the dark about my demise. A wisp friend of Gennis we had recruited, Charlie Rose, had noticed some vector processing going on within the Goldman alter network when he took his turn with the Howard brain-tape. He, in turn, recruited Joe Ranft, the story master at Pixar, famous for movies like “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” and “Cars.” Joe had wisped out in 2005 by crashing through a guardrail in his Honda Element on Route 1 in Mendocino County, California, and plummeting130 feet. He was a Web crawler, too, who I think joined our team to have an instant of purpose in an otherwise infinite meaningless quest.

At any rate, he and Rose read the vector stuff this way. Based on the code bursts, variable bandwidth, long inactive periods, and sheer number of vectors – used to squirt pixels onto a screen – the code was used to create an avatar. One as clever, subtle, and realistic as anything Pixar might have done and one requiring supercomputers and imaging experts to get it right. Based on its launch date, which was right about the time the two Jack Reacher guys came to Room 9024 in the Burj Khalifa, the avatar was me.

Goldman was using this digital doppelganger of me to create bogus examination reports and mimic my postings, emails, and even Skypes. It was quiet much of the time, but a bandwidth hog when it was active. I assumed that, unbeknownst to me, my investigation had been getting too close to finding the alter network and I was killed for it. The avatar gave whoever was responsible within Goldman time to cover his, her, or its tracks, and, as I said, post fudged reports.

What could I do? How could I tell my family?

And what was the deal with the secret computer system?

*     *     *

We found out the answer to the last question when Dick Cheney died.

Well, actually he didn’t die. In his secret second heart transplant – secret because getting a second one would violate organ distribution laws or, more to the point, generate a ton of bad press – there was a moment where he wisped, then unwisped. One of those rare moments when the dying “see the light” but then come back to the world of the living. We call this “undying” in the WILD. Very rare, I am told.

During the period when he was a wisp (a nanosecond? millisecond?) he was open to himself as a preep. He could read his own node and, without realizing it, put what he read out on the WILD network. He knew all about the scam.

It was simple. Goldman was merely funding all sides of any conflict it could in order to make money in the arbitrage. Keep the wars going, keep expending the consumables of war – bullets, rockets, Sarin, missiles, tanks, soldiers – so their replacements would need to be manufactured, purchased, rented, fed, or housed. The network was linked into the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency and the Foreign Military Sales Program, which was the part of the U.S. military that made the U.S. the number one supplier of arms to the world.

From the millisecond focus we even picked up an acronym, NEW. Never Ending War.

In retrospect, we should have known. One minute of clear thought on the global arms business would bring up the possibility. Goldman Sachs today, IG Farben in the 1940s, and, according to our oldest Latin scholar wisp, Tacitus, back to the days of Nero, Vatinius, and Tigenillius. Probably back to the first cave man shaman who discovered the value of fabricating an unseen enemy tribe in order to create an “other” as a foil to gain power. NEW was old. Ancient-type old.

So, dumb me. But was it really worth killing me?

Assuming I ever really would have unearthed the subterranean computer and network, there would have been plenty of ways to obscure, obfuscate, deny, explain, and otherwise discredit whatever I found out. Goldman had done it to Sergey Aleynikov, the programmer who led investigators to discover the high-speed trading scam by which the big banks duped the market. The Fed had done it to Carmen Sacarra, who taped Fed bosses letting Goldman get away with shady deals. The NSA had done it to William Binney when he went to the New York Timesabout the agency’s warrantless wiretapping. I would have been just another turncoat whistleblower, doomed to obscurity and unemployment.

On a whim, I decided to focus on my boss, Bryer Campbell, to see if I could unearth anything I hadn’t previously. Earlier I had focused on my whereabouts and when-abouts. This time I focused on my assignment.

I was able to delve into my reports to him, ones he’d barely read but had brain-taped without knowing it. Nothing much there. In fact, I wasn’t even examining outgoing transactions, the things funding much of the mayhem of the mid 2010s. I was looking at sources of funds for Goldman, the inputs to the giant financial engine, not the outputs.

I was missing something.

So back to Howard, Gennis, Pitts, old Ada, and Amazing Grace. Rose, Ranft, and Ashok watched, in the wisp use of the term, from the sidelines as we focus-hopped up the financial stream. It was slow going for instantaneous work, but eventually we found a clue from a router technician working deep in the bank’s hot site in Jersey where Gennis and Howard had been working. He’d seen some data packet contents in a service scan of a router transaction log which, although he had no idea what they signified, his clever geek brain-tape had recorded. Gennis and I deconstructed it and recognized the packet contents as the send-from portion of a financial transfer. No dollar amount, but half the address of the sender.

Alarm bells went off. I recognized the send-from address, or the half of it.

It was the Fed. My employer.

It got bad after that. If a wisp can be depressed, I would have been, but it doesn’t really happen when you are a pixilated version of your former self distributed across the thousands of nodes peppering your life’s timeline. But still. I recruited more geek wisps and accountants I knew or met through others until we had a full army of wisp sleuths. If every preep is only six degrees of separation from every other preep – not true of course, but good enough – imagine how many nodes we wisps could interconnect. The WILD is big, bigger for sure than the corporeal world. Do the math.

So yes, the New York Fed and other regional reserve banks had been shoveling money to Goldman Sachs and other investment banks for years. Years and years. Way before Geithner and Paulson ran the U.S. Treasury. We never did dig hard enough to find out how far back it went, or who in the government knew about the clandestine funding. We did discover that it also included governments from other countries, including France, Germany, Israel (yes, Mossad sending money to Hamas), Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Oddly, not China, perhaps because there was no real local conflict. What were you going to do, send arms to a handful of Tibetan yakherders?

Dubai turned out to be a major hub in this money flow, a mirror to the air travel hub it had become. In fact, it looked like Dubai – the Dubai that became a financial center in the 1980s and 1990s after independence, not the pearl-diving outpost of 50 years earlier – had been concocted almost solely to funnel this “conflict” money hither and yon. As global strife shifted from the Cold War’s ideology versus ideology to the Middle East’s theology versus theology, Dubai grew and grew.

And as far as I knew, my corporeal self was still in Room 9024 in the Burj Khalifa. Probably in a tub packed with ice. Or shot through with formaldehyde, or ground up in a blender.

The Jack Reacher types, by the way, didn’t work for Goldman or the Fed, but for Halliburton’s Dubai headquarters and were funded by the military. (Thank you Dick, hope the new heart treats you well…not.)  The avatar was created by the NSA for Goldman.

Not that knowing all this made much difference, I still had my problem.

How to get word to my family about my demise? Their grief would focus my contours a little more, crisp my wisp so to speak, and maybe even bring my colors up a lumen or two. They could then get on with their own lives.

It was time for a pilgrimage I had been putting off.

End of Part III

*     *     *

Part IV

My pilgrimage was to Fameland.

This is what we call the area – a logical, not physical area of course – of the network where wisps who were massively famous people abide. Gandhi, Elvis, Dahmer, Cleopatra, Siddhartha, Hudson, Selassie, Einstein, Lennon (and Lenin), Mao, Pol Pot, Hirohito, Mussolini, Morrison, and so on. And, of course, the big three, Jesus, Hitler, and Mohammed.

It’s not a happy place. Everyone here has sharp, defined contours – who wouldn’t with millions of active preep nodes – but those contours are radically misshapen. What the nodes carry as “experiences” of the long deceased famous have no resemblance to the original wisps or the preeps they once were.

Take Elvis, once a manly hillbilly and soldier. Now you can practically see the sequins glinting in afterlife dusk, hear the hoarse pants of 80-year-old retirees remembering teenage fantasies from years ago if nothing else in their mental twilight, and feel the bemusement of young postal workers as they sell stamps of a stranger to customers who feel like they are buying tiny portraits of a long-deceased family member. Elvis’ wisp shape is more that of a manikin than someone who walked out of the woods of Tupelo, Mississippi, and reshaped the world’s music.

As for the big three, Christ – the expletive, not the dude – it would break your heart. Hitler? Nothing he would like more than to subside into the downstream mists of the WILD, to get away from 20+ million wisps – the original 6 million deceased plus deceased relatives, friends, colleagues – and a billion preeps of the present day. He’s a husk, kept alive here by the screams of the innocent and a few survivalist Aryan Brotherhood nodes. He has no friends.

And Jesus? OMG. He is unrecognizable, even to himself. Bright as if he died yesterday, rather than 2,000 years ago, but morphed over the centuries to a wisp homunculus, striated, scarred, and stained by the conflicting experiences of millennia of love meeting torture, torture meeting hypocrisy, hypocrisy meeting enlightenment, enlightenment meeting dogma, dogma meeting truth, and truth meeting death at the hands of a billion preachers. He is inflated like a sad Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, a rubber character now with less soul than Ronald McDonald and a wisp demeanor of Edward Munch’s “The Scream.”  Those who think he will come again to save the corporeal world wouldn’t be very happy if he did. Guaranteed he would call down another flood.

Mohammed? Think Jesus Junior, but perhaps skinnier and more distressed than Jesus (at the moment). It is said, based on what he was when he got here, and what he is now, that he envies Hitler, who has at least become a little foggier in the last 70 years. Mohammed has gotten brighter – even than he was when he wisped out in Medina 1,383 years ago – fueled by the fires of jihadist fantasy, Never Ending War, charlatan imams, the “72 virgins await you in heaven” lie, and the electric sparks of modern media as they add to the flames.

As I said, Fameland is a downer. Wisps are supposed to disseminate over the generations at a pace at least commensurate with the attenuation of oral histories. The advent of cave paintings, art, writing, and the printing press have changed that, elongating the natural life of a wisp, at least those chosen for fame, beyond what is natural. And modern electronic communications may, until some unforeseen event creates a galactic electronic pulse that wipes clean all disk drives, eeproms, tapes, CCDs, RAMS, ROMS, and semiconductors, crystal or amorphous, have frozen millions of wisps in amber.

As for God, you ask?

There is no wisp by that name here. The father Jesus referred to years ago was actually his grandfather, who took him and Mary in when she was an unwed, single mother after Joseph took a powder. If there is a God here, any evidence of him (or her, or it, or them) is as sketchy as it is in the corporeal world. There is mystery in the WILD, and the WILD came from somewhere, but there is no one claiming responsibility. On the other hand, wisps don’t care so much. After all, the biggest mystery of the preep world is solved the instant you get here.

What a wisp philosopher I have become.

But I didn’t come here to ruminate. I came to deliberate. On how to get word to my family that I was, to the best of my imperfect knowledge, moldering away in Room 9024 of the Burj Khalifa. There must be some way to get a message across the divide.

Desperate to find that way, I conducted what you might call a wisp focus group. Sequentially (no other way) I polled all the sages of the WILD on what to do about my predicament. Most were more than glad to get interrupted from eternal contemplation of how fucked up the preeps of today were in their recollections of them and to deal with a real here and now question. As long as they didn’t have to initiate anything.

But they were all either powerless or suffering from lack of afterlife imagination. None had a clue about how to actually affect anything in the corporeal world. Einstein? Space may be curved, and who knows, maybe even WILD space. But even at the 11th or even 15th Mbrane, the two spaces don’t cross boundaries. Father Damien?  Pretty much just stay away from lepers. Ray Bradbury? Maybe you can talk to Martians, and they can invade earth. L. Ron Hubbard? Don’t bother, preeps are fools. Who’d believe they would take my joke for religion and now keep me artificially inflated. And this was the best I got. The older, more dominant sages, Jesus, Aristotle, Mohammed, Archimedes, etc., were, at this time in their WILD-hood mumbling mantras they had perfected long before Columbus stumbled onto the West Indies, mantras chock full of why-mes, wha’-hoppas, and you-got-that-wrongs. I could have learned as much if they were running their pointer fingers against their lips – if they had fingers and lips – and going dibidadibidadibida. They were gonzo.

*     *     *

It was Dick Cheney, of all the SOBs, who became the telegraph operator I needed.

Quite probably he was the one who, by fiat or by cultural precedence, was the cause of my demise. But he was also the only one handy who had done the “undying” thing in my wisp lifetime. (After lifetime? Afterlife time?)  And, what do you know? His second heart – third counting the one he was born with – had a few electrical problems. Our preep spies told us he was back in the hospital.

Gennis, Howard, Old Ada, and Amazing Grace and I huddled. We came up with a plan. If Cheney, by some miracle – I can’t believe I was wishing for this – didn’t flat out die, but did the die-undying thing, perhaps we could connect to the preep world, if only for an instant.

Old Ada did the schema, Howard did the design, Gennis wrote the code, and Amazing Grace debugged – she had, after all, coined the term after plucking a moth from the relays of the Mark I computer back in the 1940s. As I kept watch on the preep operating room, my focus jumped to a cardiac operating room nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church. I would do the insertion.

What I was inserting was a piece of linguistic code, like the “nam shub” in the Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash – which I’d read as a preep and as had many of my preep nodes – that would spin around in Cheney’s head in the preep world as a subliminal message he had no idea was there. Gennis wrote it in computer machine code, which Old Ada converted to Sumerian (following the Stephenson formula) after drafting the support of a nearly transparent Gilgamesh, ancient king of Uruk, Sumeria. He, in turn, was supported by some much brighter recently deceased authors of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature published by the University of Oxford.

Sumerian is, apparently, the mother language for humans, coded as deep as DNA. (I have no idea how Stephenson knew this, but I thank him.) In Sumerian, the code Gennis came up with appeared to the eye as gobbledygook, but it was structured like a computer Trojan horse. It would infect the “software” in Cheney’s brainstem and, when he was sending emails, hijack his muscle memory so he’d type a message that was different from what he thought he was sending. That was the plan, at least.

It looked like we might get a chance.

A few preep days after we had finished our code, Cheney was back at Inova. I could see him on the table through the eyes of the cardiac nurse, whom I now knew as Rebecca. Instruments beeped and buzzed, lights blinked on and off, and the attending doctors waited around with paddles in hand.

Cheney wisped, then unwisped, catching me by surprise. Aaargh. Had I missed my opening? No! He cycled again, and this time I zapped the code to his wisp-self, and yes, he un-died again, taking it to his preep-self. He died three more times, actually, but it didn’t matter. And I was so, so glad, he stayed alive. His new heart had just needed a conversion, the medical term for a reboot.

We were in business.

End of Part IV

*     *     *

Part V – The Conclusion

It didn’t go quite as planned, but it went well enough. Apparently our Sumerian wasn’t quite accurate, but, hey, the language died out a few thousand years ago.

What was supposed to happen was that the first time Cheney typed an email to his daughter Liz, it would go instead to my boss, Campbell, and say, in essence, “Help. I am trapped in the Burj Khalifa, Room 9024. John M. Someone is impersonating me. Call my wife. Kaire.”  The last was a code word that only my wife knew – the sacred secret greeting from my fraternity she had weaseled out of me long ago.

Instead, what got transmitted – hey, at least there was a transmission – was “Hope I am taped in xccxbfcyx in cave VMMMMXXIV. Junam. Him is much not me. Kill my wife. Ccxxxbgy.”  I guess autocorrect had a problem with Sumerian.

Campbell, however, is not a fool. He had been wondering about my dispatches, which lacked my usual flair. They were missing my droll add-ons, clever asides, and bon mots, which had he called “email flotsam and jetsam” in my last performance review. So the message got him thinking, and he did call my wife. Together they decided to track down my movements using an in-house private eye whose nickname was Efrem – none of us knew his real name. Soon enough Efrem tracked me to the Burj Khalifa, where the trail stopped. I had sent reports from Bangalore, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong, and the travel department had made arrangements and paid the bills, but after Dubai he couldn’t scare up anyone who had actually seen me in person.

So Efrem circled back to the Burj, and, with some help from the Dubai police, found out that I had been in Room 9024. The hotel’s computer had me checked out on October 21st, and the room rebooked to a person named Kellogg Brown for three months. When they finally checked the room, there was no Kellogg Brown to be found, but there was a John Martinson. I was wrapped in a Mylar blanket, like a Boston Marathon runner at the finish line near Dartmouth Street, and powdered in desiccant, as if the Dubai atmosphere and Burj Khalifa air conditioning were not dry enough. I guess I had the appearance of an emergent mummy and the odor of baby powder.

From my preeps’ standpoint, the mystery surrounding my death would likely never be solved, or if the truth ever crossed the veil, would probably not be believed as anything but a nutcase rumor (read on). But at least they knew I was dead. Now they could mourn.

So, for a while I was bright indeed. A wisp with the contours of grief and remembrance, a temporary standout in the WILD. My new friends here – Gennis, Pitts, Howard, Old Ada, Ashok, Terry, Amazing Grace, and even Gilgamesh – all congratulated me on the strength of my preep remembrances. I was bright silver with shimmers of blue, it turned out, like the Datsun 2000 I had owned in 1970. Old Ada said it was almost like I was in Blu-ray. She’d learned a lot about preep life in our investigative sojourn.

My family loved me, my colleagues missed me. The corporeal world noted my passing and said I left the world better than I found it. This is, really, the wisp’s prayer.

*     *     *

My demise was solved for my purposes, if not for my family, colleagues, the Dubai police or Efrem. But what about the rest of the story? About Never Ending War? How could we alert the corporeal world?

Believe it or not, it was Gilgamesh who came up with the idea. The contact he’d had with us over the Sumerian virus we put in Cheney’s mind perked him up. He was still nearly transparent, but he could focus-hop. Working up through the millennia along the generations of his former preeps, he was able tap into enough mystics unsullied by modern religion, the merger of church and state, written history, or social networks, to determine that it might be possible to connect the preep-wisp dots.

In his day, it had been possible for those of us in the WILD to get messages through to preeps. They were less distracted back then. Like the Dani Tribe headhunters of New Guinea who killed Michael Rockefeller in the 1960s, they were more connected to the spiritual world around them. Rockefeller himself confirmed this, as did his Dani nodes, who had ingested certain of his preep parts. They instinctively knew that the dead and the living were in continuous contact, and were, in fact, still bugging him in the WILD. To death, he said, which, of course is a joke here.

I blame the telephone for breaking that contact between preep and wisp, but maybe it was the semaphore. Or the printing press. Or cuneiforms.

In the modern corporeal world, most contact between the living and the dead takes place in dreams, where signals are usually scrambled and where false ones abound. But it does happen. If you are a preep and haven’t had your deceased parents, siblings, or children visit you in a dream, then you are a WILD denier. Sometimes it is not a dream, but just a feeling that we, your deceased dearly beloveds, are present, watching.

But going from dream visits to getting the word out in a coherent manner is a different thing altogether.

How was this going to happen?

The Gilgamesh plan was, as befits a ruler from 2,500 BCE, one of brute force. We would recruit an army of wisps, I mean a giant army, and then target any preeps that would be on the Internet at 12:00 noon GMT/UTC. About 250 million of them. Daylight hours for most of them. We would assign 10 wisps to each preep, which would require a good bit of focus-hopping to align with the right ones. Then at noon, we would “group visit” each preep and transmit as best we could the story of the Never Ending War (NEW) conspiracy. Sort of like a giant EMP pulse. To the preeps the pulse would manifest itself as a giant group dream (we hoped). Someone would take it seriously (we hoped).

And someone would write it down, post it on the Internet. We hoped.

*     *     *

It worked, right? You’re reading this. You’re going to do something about it, right? Look for other people who got the transmission and put a stop to Never Ending War, right?

Yeah, sure. About the same way the preep governments put all those bankers in jail for creating the 2008 Great Recession. About the same way the Chinese repudiated Chairman Mao for starving 45 million people. About the same way the Catholic Church turned over all those pederast priests to law enforcement. About the same way the world saved Ethiopia, Darfur, and Rwanda. About the same way the wealthy barons of Johnstown rebuilt the dam before it could flood. About the same way all the nations of the world are banding together to stop global warming.

Sure, none of them ever had a zillion wisps yelling at them in a group dream, but then who on the Internet at noon Greenwich Mean Time would be in a position to halt a trillion-dollar scam run by the captains – and admirals, generals, CEOs, sultans, sheiks, presidents, finance ministers, and hedge fund managers – of industry and government? Who, indeed? Anyone with that power was already part of the scam.

No, I never expected anything like a solution to NEW. Once I knew how it tied to my demise, I just wanted my family to get the word about Room 9024. The epic group transmission was just a way to get on the official preep record. A truing of the tale, if you will.

But Houston we (I mean you), have a problem.

It’s Gilgamesh.

He was, after all, a warrior, a righter-of-wrongs, and a seeker after spiritual wisdom. He was also a ruler pretty much used to getting his way. And a planner.

And he is planning something now.

I am not sure what. I know from other wisps that it involves a more systematic process of communicating from wisps to preeps, the Sumerian language, the insertion of more nam shubs into preeps, particularly those in the mainstream media and those active on social media. He has a motto that translates to something like “walk the Earth again,” which is one thing that can’t, of course, be done from here. I do know that when Gilgamesh walked the earth millennia ago, he was eventually considered a god by the preeps he ruled. Maybe that has something to do with it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nor do I much care. After all, I am a wisp. Comfortable, floating, and, in a dozen preep generations, to be disseminated across the WILD and transparent. Who could wish for anything more?

You? You might want to bone up on your Sumerian.

Sumerian conclusion

The End

*     *     *

John Martinson is the nom de plume of a highly respected author of nonfiction. He was born in 1944, too old to be a real war baby and too young to be a boomer. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966, too early to be part of the sexual revolution.  When he was alive, he worked as a consultant and researcher in the computer industry, raised a family, traveled a lot, and wrote a lot.  After his demise in the Burj Khalifa in 2015, he began his afterlife detective agency.

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