Chapter one – A meeting at the bank goes so wrong the church is blown to bits.
Jack is cycling hard towards the old squatted church, but the missile is outrunning him. His eyes, locked on Albert’s face, scream in terror then flick upwards towards the stream of smoke headed towards the door. His expression passes a message faster than words could, even up close.
Albert sees Jack and his pulse speeds up. His eyes widen in empathy with Jack’s horror but his breathing doesn’t quicken, it deepens. A reflex honed through training to immediately suck up oxygen and speed up his brain. To give him time to think, even in the seconds before a missile strike. He looks up to see that speeding artificial cloud heading right towards him.
He shouts back in towards the church, “Zhen! Take cover!” as he dives over the fence into the car park, but the missile hits the church wall before the sound of his voice does. Stone and dust and sparkling glass scatter wildly in all directions.
Jack covers another few metres before the blast-wave hits and forces him to close his eyes, momentarily breaking the hold of his vision on the old vicar’s falling body. Jack’s bike skids backwards as the wall of air passes but he doesn’t fall, just continues the rapid beat of his legs, powering through the oncoming wave of air.
Inside the building, Zhen’s bedroom wall crumples noisily into dust and gravel behind her and she feels an impulse to scream. Her mind fizzes with intense fear, immediate peril powering her brain, stretching time. She finds that she just has time to suppress that scream, to inflate rather than deflate her lungs, to let the oxygen fuel her mind to stretch the seconds longer.
Her brain’s synaptic barriers crumble under the pressure of over-excited neural activity. New nerve connections , barely suggested by intense training which Zhen had hoped would grow over the coming months, are flooded and forged in a instant.
Zhen is on her feet before the wall finishes collapsing. She spins to watch alertly as the wall’s former components break apart and fall under gravity. Her eyes move down, following the curtain-fall of gray and brick-red chunks as they are quickly engulfed over long milliseconds by white smoke. Then her eyes flick back up to ceiling which is itself now breaking up and collapsing in on her.
She decides she doesn’t want to be in this room, turns and dives through the first storey window, briefly looking back as she flies through the open frame to see the force of the explosion finish ripping through the room, pushing her further and faster through the air above the garden.
Albert hits the concrete rolling, the fence shattering behind him, throwing wooden shards into his flesh. The pain rushes through his body, pumping yet more adrenaline into his already speeding mind.
He flattens out and turns his head towards the church to see a rock the size of a fist heading right towards him. He mentally curses his slow and aged muscles as they seem to take an age in stretched-time to respond. His face pulls back just far enough that it misses, but his eyes feel the scatter of grit as the rock pounds into black tarmac..
Jack continues his pace, evaluating and analyzing everything he sees. The entire ground floor is gone, the first floor falling down quick to fill the vacated space. He guesses the entire building is collapsing, and grimaces at the thought that Zhen was inside.
Albert is on his feet as Jack jumps from the bike, throwing it to the ground, seemingly quickly even in stretch-time. The two men’s eyes lock briefly as Jack passes, each reading a whole story in the subtle shifts of their expressions.
As he joins Jack in his run towards the smoking remains of the church, Albert shouts “She’s inside,” but finds he can’t hear himself through the ringing in his ears.
What was already a dilapidated old disused church is now a gray pile of rubble, grit and dust.
Jack shouts into the smoke, “Zhen?”, then looks at Albert’s face. The creases around his eyes plead that she can’t have been inside, but Albert’s nod is sure. She was.
A tall dark skinned woman runs up to the two of them, her long dress ripped off above the knees. Complaining in a Brazilian accent with a splash of French, “They sure don’t make these dresses for cycling in.”
“What the hell is going on?” Albert asks, still unable to hear his own voice.
Jack ignores them both, intent on the smoke and the rubble. Peering, shouting Zhen’s name.
The woman looks at Albert, drinking in the communication and worry on his face.
“You’re deaf from the explosion”, she shouts at him, pointing at her ears and watching his face minutely nodding assent, “I’m Kia Cruz.”
Albert watches her eye wink, the control and purposefulness of the expression, the smooth motion, the deep and searching eye shining, hidden and then revealed. The only time he’d seen that kind of precision was on the face of Jack, with whom he could communicate whole stories in a glance. That knowing wink can only mean one thing. She is awakened too!
Kia is pulling the splinters from Albert’s back when Zhen walks casually up from behind them and touches Jack’s still-searching shoulder. He spins around instantly, sees her face then pulls her into his arms.
“Oh Jack, I see it now!” she says, returning his loving embrace more deeply and responsively than ever before, feeling the compassion and warmth pass between them. Communicating through her touch.
He steps back and looks her straight in the eyes, the bloody scrape on her cheek reddening but the muscles relaxed and her composure and control greater than ever.
Kia buts in “Oh, you must be Zhen, honey, I’m so glad you’re alright,” she looks more closely carefully examining every line and fold of her skin, “Oh! Even better than alright”. She turns to Jack, “You said she was just in training!”
Zhen’s hearing is improving. There is still a constant roar of noise but her concentration is sharp as a blade, picking out the distant voices in the ringing. “I am… I mean, I was. It just happened, right then,” she faces Jack, “This isn’t part of the program, is it? Explosively accelerated leaning?”
Albert is well practised at spotting speech through a tinnitus roar, and finds he too can, just about make out the conversation. “Jack, what’s going on?”
Kia answers for him, “No time for that now, it’s a wonder they aren’t here already, we have to go. Now.”
She steps towards the road, selects a car that’s not beeping in alarm from the blast, pulls a tool from her expensive handbag and slips it’s blade into it’s door, pulling up the lock in seconds. “Get in”, she says.
Albert and Zhen look to Jack who says, “She’s right, we have to go, the whole city is going to be after us.”
Albert glances at Jack, communicating his moral trepidation at car theft, so Jack continues, “Yes, we do have to steal this car, we are in mortal danger. Existential danger. I’ll explain as we go.”
Kia shouts out of the car, “And leave your phones behind, they’re useless now”. The car is moving before the last door is shut. She merges anonymously into traffic before even a single siren can be heard back in the distance.
It is often said that ninety percent of communication in a conversation is non-verbal. That tone, inflection, facial expressions and body language convey more information than the content of the words themselves.
This is of course largely nonsense. The reality of the situation is much more complex and confusing than such a simplification could possibly convey. Attitudes and mood and sarcasm can certainly moderate the meaning of words but you can’t mime a Shakespearian sonnet.
However, sitting in the back seat of a stolen car listening to Jack explain how the bank meeting that day had escalated into a missile attack, in her first ever awakened conversation, Kia wondered if in fact an awakened person could convey a Shakespearian sonnet just through a glance and some expressive eyebrow movement. She is stunned at the way expressive feedback loops formed from the subtle signals and prompts between each person could make a conversation so efficient and vivid.
Indeed, none of the four people in that car have ever been in close company with more than one awakened person at a time, and each of them is visibly enthused and awed by the way the events Jack is describing seem to trigger actual perceptive experience, as though the air of the car itself is a portal to the past.
Jack had never been in a bank quite like that one. It clearly wasn’t just a high-street customer service center. He walked through whole floors in Canary Wharf’s main tower devoted to offices and meeting rooms, to an office with floor to ceiling windows and a huge dark wooden desk. Behind it sat Joshua Komba, muscular and intense, dark brown eyes matching his dark brown skin. As Jack walked in, Komba rose animatedly from his chair and extended his handshake. He gripped Jack’s hand firmly, exuding confidence and deep felt elation to see him.
“Ah, Jack, welcome. So glad you could come in and chat with me,” said Komba, his hand pumping firmly, “glad we can push this thing forward.”
Jack looked Komba in the eyes, finding calm reassurance within, and took in the room around him as they shook hands, admiring the skyline view, the expensive furniture, aware of the impression it made on him, the social status signaled by this clean, polished office and Komba’s well cut expensive weave suit.
Below all this surface detail though, this man Komba was himself impressive. Jack had thought so from the first moment he’d seen him walk into th seminar Jack was conducting at the community center the week earlier.
Jack was used to having to guide the participants every step of the way in these things. Capturing their confusions, asking the right questions, repeating himself often, slowly helping them grasp towards the truth and see through their own illusions. It was difficult work, the hour always too short because even the brightest of people need so much grounding and illusion breaking before they can start to build the necessary connections between their senses and thought patterns. It’s hard to teach people control and mastery of their mind when most of them still don’t even know what a mind really is, and all the relevant foundational concepts are so polluted with religion, pseudo-science and other clap-trap that they won’t fit together properly to build the whole until they’re cleaned and molded towards truth.
Not with Komba though. His questions were surgically precise and poignant. His understanding immediate and deep, his curiosity effervescent and enthusiastic. Jack wondered if he might already be awakened, but his use of empty management clichés hinted not, along with a falseness and lack of depth to a few of his facial expressions. He certainly seemed interested in improving though, stretching his mind further.
To judge from his watch and suit, he also seemed to be incredibly rich, and after the rest of the class left he lingered to talk to Jack about “investing to improve the scale and efficacy of this enterprise.”
Komba had explained that he worked for an investment bank, and many of the operations he managed were training programmes and educational centres and the like. Talked of expensive plush lecture theatres and video presentations and being able to get Jack’s Programme out to a wider audience. He had Jack imagine whole communities of awakened people, growing and thriving, what such a society could achieve, It had sounded vivid and exciting and desirable.
Which led, a few days and phone calls later, to him shaking the man’s hand in an office in a tower with a view over the city. As best he could, Jack mentally discounted all the impressiveness of the décor, the smell of polished leather and wood, the man’s suit and the promise of riches. Fairly obviously they were all part of a package designed to affect the minds of people visiting this room, make people feel important and agreeable and keen to be seen with these high ranking individuals to improve their own social status. Ideally in a subconscious way, but even with Jack’s complete understanding of why and how they worked, they still worked. He felt excited and curious about how this project might plan out, knew it would be hard to imagine the downsides hidden along with the upsides that were almost subliminally presented to him though these and similar cues.
“Good to be here man, great view,” Jack smiled warmly back into the taller man’s eyes, genuinely glad to see him again and unafraid to allow his face to show it fully, “it was cool talking with you at the weekend, you know, some of your ideas were outstanding.”
“Thank you,” replied Komba, pretending an invisibly dark blush, “I’m just an apprentice though. You! You figured it out on your own. And you’ve come so far!”
Jack acknowledged Komba’s flattery with a minute nod of his head, measuring carefully how small the movement could be before it was acknowledged in Komba’s eyes. The answer: very small. This guy was as perceptive as Jack remembered. Similarly tiny movements from each of them negotiated their coordinated movements as they each sat down.
“You must have a drink!” said Komba, “Coffee?” reading the reaction in Jack’s eyes and talking as he did, “No. Tea? Ah, something stronger. Whisky perhaps?”
At the assent from Jack’s expression he pulled a bottle of Laphroaig from a drawer and pushed at his intercom, asking his receptionist to bring in a couple of whisky glasses.
“Nice choice,” said Jack, indicating the white label.
“Couldn’t stand this Scotch stuff when I first moved over from America you know. Imported Bourbon was all I’d touch until I took a trip up to those islands, the raw naked rock, rolling grasses backed up by the bitter cold and salt in the air. Standing watching those waves pound with a dram in the hand was such a vivid and thrilling experience that now this stuff tastes divine.”
A Brazilian woman in a long dress walked in bearing whiskey glasses. “Do you need anything else Mister Komba?” she asked, before being dismissed and leaving again.
“Hey! You’re his receptionist?” asks Zhen in the back of the car.
Kia shakes her head, concentrating on the road and the story, muttering, “A temp. Undercover.”
Jack picked up his filled glass. “Our tastes, our interpretation of our taste-bud’s response to a molecule, are built from our experience.”
He sipped the glass, let the liquid roll over his tongue then slide down his throat. Allowing the stimulus to remind his nervous system of the pleasure associated with previous sips.
“Indeed,” said Komba also taking a sip. Patterns formed by the response of the nerves in his tongue and nose filled his mind with connections to a bracing sea-wind and salty air.
Jack continued, “Association is the essence of it. Memory. We build who we are from our experiences…”
Komba interrupted, “Yet most people take hardly any control over what happens to them. They sit in front of TV sets and don’t even turn off the advertising!”
Jack nodded sadly. “Yeah man, but how do you explain what they’re missing? Pull back the curtain?” He felt Komba’s eyes focus on him more intently, reading, making a decision. They were about to get to the crux of it.
“Jack, I want you to imagine a society in which everyone understands their own mind, has control over it, where everyone knows the true mechanisms of power and mastery over themselves, and feels a drive to constantly push further.”
“I have already imagined it! I’ve been trying to work towards it, but it’s hard to get attention you know?”
“You have my attention now Jack, and I’m able to help you,” Komba leaned forwards, closing the distance between them.
“Yeah, well, I was wondering about that. What exactly do you mean by ‘help’ and what do you want in return?”
“I ask for nothing other than your unique talent Jack, the very work you’d do for that society; teaching, leading, directing and helping to tend the herd.”
At that, Jack looked startled. “Tend the herd?”
“Why of course,” said Komba, “The Society needs resources, people to man the factories, people who work hard to ensure The Society has all the riches and wealth it could want. You could help us, keep them in check, believing in the dream so they’ll work to keep it true. For us. For The Society. For the benefit of the transcended. I’m inviting you to join us, Jack, help keep the herd in check.”
By now Jack’s brain was reconfiguring itself, viewing all the conversations he’d had with Komba in a new light. Electrical impulses re-wiring nerve pathways though his memory. In less than a second he jumped to a new level of understanding. He kept it off his face though, consciously limiting and suppressing his rage at his new understanding, waiting. Remaining calm.
Zhen’s surprise makes her shriek from the back of the car, “He means a secret society? Oh my god!”
Kia snarls over the wheel, “Of course. Do you people really think you’re the first to make this leap? The first people on earth to… what did you call it? Awaken?”
Albert sighs, “Of course not. We thought there’d been others in history. Buddha perhaps.”
Jack puts his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “But there’s no way Buddha could have really understood it. No way he could have known enough neuro-science to see anything other than mysticism, and without that knowledge how can you direct yourself, guide your further development? It takes more than just sitting under a tree for heaven’s sake!”
“Indeed. Not Buddha” says Kia.
Jack turns on her, “so who was the first?”
“I don’t know”, she replies, “I was taking a more prosaic route to trying to find out rather than just preaching from street corners, shouting until I attracted the attention of probably the most dangerous people on the planet.”
Jack slumps back, pointing an imaginary gun at his own head, “Then I walked in and, BLAM.. Cover blown. Sorry about that.”
“So what’s this secret society do then?” asks Zhen.
Komba’s eyes showed a slight hint of concern, spotting Jack’s micro-delay in answering as his mind adjusted to a new realization. “You must understand though, going forward, that you can’t speak of this. Obviously. The last thing we need is the herd transcending and demanding truth, justice, and a fair say in government.”
Jack nodded contemplatively, trying not to show his cards, or his anger, “Hummm, yes, because that would lead to…” he trailed off slightly. Ever since he’d met Albert the two of them had talked of very little other than how to awaken more people, show people their situation, encourage them to take charge and stop the blind descent into global destruction they could see all around them.
Komba finished Jack’s sentence, “…Chaos! The Society itself would be exposed, retribution demanded, an outright war between the people and the transcended. The herd is prone to panic, to stampeding and even a transcendii can get trampled in a mess like that.”
Jack looked thoughtful, “wouldn’t they be less likely to stampede if they were, you know, more awakened?” he countered.
Komba stood, started to pace, “Ah, but the control of the world’s resources needs a steady hand, not an anarchy of equals. How could capitalist democracy even work without a pliant easily-led hoard to vote against their own interests? Instead of gathering the wealth all together to be enjoyed and administered by wise guidance, they’d vote themselves a fair share!”
Jack studied the banker’s face thoroughly again. Like Albert, he seemed quick and bright and clearly utterly in control of his own faculties but there was still something missing. A lack of warmth, perhaps. Something like ice in his glare. Was this guy really awakened? Was he really representing a whole secret society of awakened people directing the world? If so, why was the world such a mess?
Jack slipped into his ranting mood, railing against all that’s wrong in the world.
“So rather than getting a fair share, the majority are duped by bad education and media to willingly hand over everything they have to let this Society do what exactly? Support its own gluttony? Fight wars in the Middle East over the oil the world’s addicted to? Heat up the planet? Run the prohibition racket to lock up black guys for cheap prison labour? If the mission isn’t to help others achieve the same enlightenment we have, what is it?”
Komba gestured his arm across the window, highlighting the sheer magnitude of the city below. “Civilisation!” he smiled, “You think things like this just happen? It takes planning and years of concerted effort to build a city like this! The whole city was tiny when The Society was born, and half of it on fire! Were the herd so much better off when they were working themselves to death in the fields or dying of plague before we brought them central heating, medicine, life insurance, mass consumption, mass communication, and light entertainment to keep them distracted?”
He paced back to the desk, lent in tight towards Jack, “The herd are better off distracted, and The Project calls for the kind of resources only a whole city can gather and concentrate, only a whole global economy.”
His eyes flashed the fullness of his resolve straight into Jack’s, “So we created it, this entire world, and we won’t have some half-baked newly transcended cyber-hippie who knows nothing fucking it up by showing people the truth. Not at this stage. There’s too much at stake. Got that?”
He leaned back and smiled warmly again. “Listen, Jack, we both want the same thing here. A society full of transcended people supported by the kind of resources that can make their life comfortable. I’m inviting you into that society. You’ll be rich, pampered, and given practically unlimited funding to continue your research. In return, all we ask is you shut down that church, forget those fools and dupes and accept your role among your equals in The Project. This is the opportunity of your life time. Don’t blow it.”
Jack looked out at the city, deliberately and consciously letting his anger subside. He recognised that this was indeed the kind of important decision that should be pondered from all angles so he took a few seconds to count to five, determine exactly how to phrase his reply. Then he stood up and leaned over the desk, a mirror image of Komba’s earlier stance, using height to assert dominance.
“I’m not stupid,” he said, “I know how this city and civilisation grew. By the people constantly demanding more. More freedom. More control. By throwing off lies and oppression. Rejecting the notion of kingship, of privilege. By the people becoming more aware, more enlightened. That’s how we make the world greater, not hiding things, suppressing people.”
Komba shook his head sadly, disagreeing, as Jack continued.
“I reject the notion that people are better off not knowing the truth and I will never be a part of your society of suits,” Jack gave the word some venom, “nor ever help spread it’s lies.”
Jack turned and headed to the door, while behind him Komba spoke. “Regrettable. I was afraid it would be like that.”. He flicked a switch that clicked closed the lock on the door before Jack could reach it.
Jack spun back to confront the banker only to find a gun in the older man’s hand, pointing right at his face. “If you won’t close down the church, then I will have to do it for you,” stabbing once more at the intercom with his other hand.
Jack said nothing, trying to control the racing of his pulse and take the edge from the fear flowing through his body.
Komba addressed the intercom, “Doctor Josephson. I’m afraid it’s gone as you thought it would. We’ll need to do it your way after all. Let the launch team know.” before another button-click made the intercom fall silent.
The muscles in Komba’s finger tensed as he started to slowly squeeze the trigger. Jack read it and dived to the floor just as the pistol’s hammer clicked home and drove a bullet across the room so quickly neither man could perceive it as anything other than a noise and a sudden hole in a wall.
“Come on now, stand still,” said Komba, advancing on Jack’s prone body, lying by the door, “I have some important business to attend to this afternoon.” He loomed over Jack, aiming his gun again.
Before he could fire, the door lock clicked again and the door bumped open suddenly with such force it knocked the banker’s gun from his grasp, and Komba himself down to his knees.
Jack scrambled up and out the door before Komba even regained his balance, let alone picked up his firearm. He followed Kia sprinting through an open plan office, over and around desks full of surprised workers, both of them breathing steadily, working up the crank on their minds. Feeling the world slow down as they sped up and crashed through a lift door, which closed behind them as the lift headed down.
“Nice rescue. Thanks! I’m Jack,” he held out his hand.
“Rescue? We’re stuck in a lift! Why did I do that? You’re an idiot and I’m an idiot for thinking I could help you. Damn.”
“My friends will help us, we just need to get out of here” Jack said.
“Your friends are all dead by now!” She banged her hand in anger at the lift buttons,. “You heard him order that missile launch.”
“Missile launch?” Jack’s eyes bulged, “Is that what that was? Fuck!” He too pushed at buttons while knowing it would be useless to get that lift moving any faster. “But there’s still time, right? How quickly can you launch a missile in London?”
Kia rolled her eyes, “Fifteen minutes? Ten? Who knows. Those things are faster than taxis though. There’s no way we can get there and their phones will all already be cut off.”
“I’ll get there,” Jack said, determined, as the doors opened and they found themselves in the lobby, security heading towards them, guns drawn.
“Will they shoot us?” Jack asked.
“Unlikely, unless you threaten them, they’re just muscle, they won’t know how important this is.”
So Jack ran at the outer doors, leading Kia through them with the guards shouting warnings behind. He looked around, wondering how he could get across the city faster than a missile. What’s the quickest way to travel these clogged up roads?
Five seconds later he had pulled a passing cyclist from his mount and started to power his legs up and away to the north, Kia following his actions and the security waving their guns uselessly alongside two angry and bruised ex-cyclists.
Update: Nobody seemed interested in seeing Chapter two, so I shelved it. Do let me know if you change your minds.