Once more, we have a welcome visitor at the blog. The excellent dm gillis returns with another short story. I'm quite the aficionado of Ray Bradbury, whose words are my favourite narcotic. I do not lie when I say this story reminds me of a classic slice of Bradbury, his short story The Pedestrian, which is said to be the match that lit the flame of Fahrenheit 451 in Bradbury's mind. So settle down for a fragment of a dystopian future. Every word I have said is true. But the moon, the moon is a lie.
By dm gillis
“The Moon is a lie.”
I say this into the veracigraph. An agent in a crumpled white shirt and loose tie holds a microphone to my mouth. We’re in a large damp concrete garage, lit by a few light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The machine’s internal brainbox hums and clicks, analysing my answer. Then a green light appears on its panel. I’ve passed. I bite my inner cheek, and show no surprise. I’ve practiced endlessly for moments like these. A steady tone of voice; a relaxed diaphragm. The machine has pegged me a true believer. I remain handcuffed to a metal chair, but I live another day.
As an exercise, I run the official narrative through my head: Of course the Moon is a lie. So are its orbit and phases, especially the crescent phases, its dark side and light. The tides are a function of the whirling, shifting planet. The Moon is the enemy’s greatest symbol, a massive manipulation, placed there by the Eastern Faith States. Huge projectors, controlled by vicious Imams, in secret locations beaming it onto the night sky, and sometimes during the day. Watching over the west — over all of us who live in freedom. It is a cruel weapon of mass destruction, the Prime Minister has spoken. All Moon literature, fictional or scientific, recent or historical, are EFS lies. Only the truly radicalised believe otherwise.
So say the newspapers.
I feel dizzy in my chair, and ask for water. A full glass is placed at my feet, but the handcuffs mean I cannot reach it. The agent in the crumpled white shirt smiles.
“Please let me go,” I say to him. “I’ve passed your test, yet again.”
“Not up to me, mate,” the agent says. “There’ll be someone along soon enough.”
I’m eighty years old, in chronic pain. Rationing has made me weak. A decade of self-imposed isolation has nearly erased my memory. I no longer have conventional memories, only flashbacks. Colours mostly. Odd. Flashes of lush blues, pale purples and pinks. Vague recollections of flowers. What are they?
I’m a danger to no one. In spite of the pain, I am amused.
It occurs to me that it’s my age that makes me dangerous, if I am at all. I know truths about the Moon that come from before the dismantling of the internet, before mass communication was banned, books incinerated. I’m from a time when radicalisation was merely a basic adolescent awakening of empathy and endeavour, not a mass doctrinal psychopathy.
“You want a cigarette?” says the agent. He pulls one from a deck for himself, and lights it.
“No,” I say.
“Don’t smoke? Is that it?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“You fucking oldsters…,” he says, shaking his head. “I don’t get all your no smoking bullshit. The Gov says it’s safe.”
The Gov, short for Government. A word shortened to encourage trust and familiarity, intimacy even. The Gov is family, a warm and welcome friend. A lover.
The agent inhales extra deeply, proudly to make a point. The smoke he exhales is as blue as moonlight on wet pavement.
“I’m truly in trouble this time, aren’t I?” I say.
He half shrugs, and picks up and opens a tattered file. He reads. His lips move.
“You were a university prof?” he says.
“How’d you fucking live this long? The Gov don’t like your kind.”
It is a mystery.
“Prof of what?” says the agent. “It doesn’t say here. It’s been blacked out.”
“Mathematics,” I lie. Or perhaps it’s not a lie. I no longer know for sure.
“Mathematics is obsolete,” the agent says. “No more long division for you, my friend.”
“That’s arithmetic, long division.”
A door opens to my left and a woman in a business suit walks in, carrying a black leather attaché case. As she approaches me, I see that she has a young but motherly face. Her lipstick is the red of jingoism, however. Not a colour from my flashbacks. It’s a deep shade of blood, derived from propaganda posters. She nods to the agent. He disappears into the dark.
“Hello, Professor,” she says to me, pulling off black kidskin gloves.
I haven’t been called that in over a decade.
“Hello,” I say.
“You’ve lately come to our attention.”
“Yes you have,” she says. “It might have happened sooner, but information doesn’t flow the way it once did.”
“How does it flow now?” I ask.
“Downhill. Over stone and through culverts. Sometimes it gets stuck in whirlpools and back waters. People like me have to search it out. You lied many years ago, when you first said that you were a mathematics Professor. But it was an intelligent lie.”
She might be correct, I think.
“It seems you actually professed philosophy,” she says.
True, that’s it!
“Which is disturbing enough, but it is the area of philosophy you engaged in that’s troubling to us.”
She stares at me for a moment.
I leave it at that.
“Social philosophy,” she reads from her document. “Do you deny it?”
“Is it a crime?”
“You know it’s not,” she says. “And yet it is. You know that, too.”
It’s the perfect answer.
“You wrote prolifically,” she continues. “And there was one paper you wrote, in particular, before the militant Imams began projecting the Moon onto the sky. It troubles us. The Philosophy of Denial.”
“It was well received,” I say.
“Then you don’t deny writing it?”
“The question is too ironic to answer,” I say.
She retrieves another document from her case.
“In the abstract of your paper, it is stated: Interest in the problem of method biases has a long history in State sponsored denial of essential realities. A means by which to control these methods of denial and their methods of dissemination exist as a matter of clandestine fact. The purpose of this article is to examine and discuss the cognitive processes through which a population of intelligent individuals living in a progressive, affluent milieu may be convinced by the State that opposites of reality exist.”
“Yes,” I say. “That’s rather good.”
“It’s treasonous. It’s sedition.”
“It wasn’t then.”
“But it is now.” A satisfied grin. “That’s the point, and it will be as long as the article remains in existence. Somewhere, even as we speak, it is being read and rewritten. The problem is, however, that with every rewrite, it loses a little something. That’s why we’re here today.”
“Burn it,” I say, “and your problems are over.”
“Even if we could track down every copy — and let me assure you that there are many, and more are found each day — that would still leave us with the problem of you.”
“There’s nothing left of me,” I say. “A small thing would end my life. An injection. A well swung iron bar.”
“But enemies are difficult to cultivate, in any meaningful way,” she says, changing track. “You say so, yourself, in your paper. And you’re correct, of course. Genuine, functional enemies are difficult and expensive. But having a serviceable enemy on your side can pay very high dividends.”
Enemies on your side. She gets it. Clever woman.
“So you’ve read it,” I say.
“Allies are much easier,” she carries on. “The human world naturally divides itself down the centre. Despite the reality that cooperation leads to better outcomes.”
She’s paraphrasing chapter two.
“Interesting,” I say.
“When did you last have an egg, Professor?”
This is unexpected, a bit bewildering.
“At least fifteen years ago,” I say. “If I recall correctly, which I’m not sure I do. Just after the supply chain was redirected into the wars. Around the time the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was suspended.”
“A cup of coffee?”
“About the same time.”
“I have them every day,” she says. “And more.”
“How nice for you.”
“You could, too.”
“You’re old, Professor,” she says. “How long do you have left, hmm? Come over to us. Join our small army of primary Villains. The world awaits you.”
“Are you serious?”
“You’ll write more of this sort of thing.” She holds up my paper. “We’ll distribute it, and punish your readers. Just imagine all of the lovely unrest, and the outrage you’ll cause. The very fuel necessary to run a formless government, indefinitely. You’ll have value again. Your photograph will deface every lamppost in every city of the country, the world.”
“You can live in comfort. Receive medical treatment. Sleep on a proper bed, without pain. In a home with heat and hot water. You’ll live longer for all of that. Think of it.”
“So, you’re bribing me,” I say. Strangely, I suddenly see orchids. The colours. I raised them once, my God. Now I remember. The joy!
“Of course we’re bribing you.”
“Then we agree?” I say. “The moon is not a lie. I don’t believe it, and neither do you.”
“Naturally, it’s an absurd idea. How we ever convinced the people it was, remains a wonderful enigma.”
“And the endless war, it’s only an empty room.”
“Yes, it is.”
My belly tightens. There’s a wicked hope in my gut.
“May I have orchids?” I say.