I’ve not been good at villain creation. I’ve known many of them in my life, but I haven’t ever made one. I guess my storytelling child author just assumed people are good or bad. But in reality people are all different shades, moving in and out of these shadows, transforming, deforming, blossoming and withering. What is in the makeup of an antagonist? These are things my growing muse muses about. This year’s Nanowrimo effort contains what I think of as my best effort so far at a “bad guy” who is not bad just because…just because black and white exists.
And now, because there is this little kid inside of me that has to tell everyone about anything that I do to gain attention for inspiration: Here is a little piece of Baxter Hickman’s mind.
Earth was a hell hole, Baxter thought. He thought this every time he was on his way to work. Eighteen billion people on the planet and he was just one of the worker-drones. Just one of the eighteen-billion insects carving out a little hole in the planet, fixing up the cave-ins, fending off the invaders, and scavenging for food. One big giant anthill of industrial might. And some day one of the pest control gods would come by and roll a bug bomb down the entrance.
Most times Baxter envisioned this as some kind of natural disaster, sometimes manmade, and sometimes he envisioned himself with the finger on the button. But, this was just another day working for the hive, and if he so chose, it could go on for centuries. Medical technology had prolonged the human lifespan to thousands of years. The Earth was filling up all its empty spaces, and the Everlasting Life church had firm control of the government to make certain that everyone had a chance to live a very, very long time.
At first it had seemed that the golden age of humanity had come at last. Hyperspace drive had been cracked, extrasolar planets discovered, war abolished, peace and tranquility mandated, hunger, sickness, and old age banished. But there was just one large problem. How do you migrate eighteen billion people? That had never been solved. In fact, the population was growing faster than they could ship people out. Not only that, but a system had developed where the upper-class had more of a chance to get a better life out among the stars than an ordinary joe.
And that’s why Earth was a hellhole, in Baxter’s opinion. It was overcrowded, neglected, and becoming a rundown high-tech ghetto. Humans spread out over the sea bottoms, across the deserts, the tundra, the ice fields of Antarctica. There was nothing left, and the planet was feeling the strain. The strain of eighteen billion breastfed humans suckling it. Someday, Baxter thought, it would shake them off, just like an annoyed mother sow that he’d once watched on a video show talking about farms.
But for now, Baxter Hickman had to become employee number 360452. He exited the self-drive car he rode in and entered the building. Eighty percent of what he did could be done remotely, but there was something empowering about having the people working under you be there in person. Something that control-freaks got off on. That was his personal belief on why he had to show up everyday to punch buttons. Because this here was 2143, and people didn’t do manual labor anymore. No, it was all done by computers and machines, but someone had to keep those machines running, keep those computers working—feed the beast.
He approached the security turnstile and paused. The computer scanned his body in three dimensions; recognized his face; weighed him; sonar’d through his clothing, his backpack, his shoes; sniffed his breath, and body odor; spectral analyzed the sweat on his skin; measured his temperature with an infrared laser; and somehow wasn’t quite satisfied with all of that. It called out a greeting so that it could bait him into analyzing his voice.
“Good morning Baxter. How was your dinner with George last night?”
Fuck you, seemed to be an appropriate response to Baxter at this moment, but there really was no point. The thing was not a person, was just a cog in a very much larger machine and just operating as it had been designed to. He felt no actual malice toward it, only despised the system that had put it into place.
“It was fine. Thanks.” He responded almost as automatically and machine-like as the computer.
“You may proceed. Have a nice day.”
“You too.” Baxter didn’t really know why he’d said that. The security computer wasn’t going to have a nice day. Was not going to have a nice anything. It was just going to operate and pester everyone that entered the building that day. It was just something you said when someone said that to you. It was just something you automatically did, and people had become as robotic and automated as the machines that they lived with.
On another level, Baxter was angry about the fact that the entire system knew everything about what he was doing. Sure, there were privacy laws protecting the citizens of Earth, but that only worked if you never went out in public. never did anything at all. Once you came out in the open you were under scrutiny, and not because anyone was particularly worried about what you were doing. No it was just because it was so damn easy with all the big-data flying around the planet to know or infer what anyone was up to. So, the offhand comment that the security computer threw at him about his dinner with George the night before was innocuous, yet telling. The security computer was just using information that it knew about Baxter to simulate humanness, to create integration points, to be user friendly, but the reality was that there was no privacy in any real way. Not with microphones and cameras, databases, and market tracking. The system knew every purchase he made, every move he made, every breath he took. And what it couldn’t see directly, it could certainly extrapolate statistically by comparing his behavior to his previous behavior, and the behavior of the billions of other human beings on the planet.
This continued to grind on him as walked to his cubical. Here he sat in his chair, just like every other day. A day that would dredge on for nine hours, with a one hour break. Enough time to eat food, and decompress for a few minutes, maybe get some water, go to the bathroom. It wasn’t hard labor. He would not even break a sweat in all that time. No, it was more like death by a thousand boredoms. Slowly being killed by a malaise of blah that threatened to consume him and eat his brain bit by moronic bit.
But as Baxter logged into his computer this time, something caught his eye. Anything new was an instant attention-getter. It was just a small icon on his screen and at first it seemed innocuous, likely something that I.T. had placed there as part of a new software or maintenance. But it was odd. A small square box, bright cherry red. The kind of color that caught your eye and also looked delicious. Like candy. One could imagine that clicking on it would be joyful, and that flavor would burst out of the thing.
Compared to the drab user interface of every other piece of corporate software, this jumped right out of the screen at him. It was hard to imagine that the dullards in IT would create such a thing. A simple S was stamped inside of the square. The font was an elegant stylish swoosh with no apparent aliasing in the design.
He gleefully double clicked the thing, and watched his screen explode into colors. His mind filled suddenly with a euphoric pleasure, as art and color flooded his eyes. It swept out from the center of an explosion on his screen. Sounds of whirring vibrato and heavy metal music blasted through his earbuds. Goosebumps rolled down his arms and back up to the tip of his very earlobes, and crawled over his scalp. Big words boiled up on to the screen out of heavy thunder clouds, majestic and dark. Lightning flashed on his display and thunder crashed in his ears simultaneously. Words appeared, again in font perfection, white and stark against the forbidding background now.
“You wanted something more than this, but the world was sick, and the powerful told you nothing but lies. Here’s the truth Baxter. You were born for something much greater than this, and it’s up to you to save this world.”
Thunder crashed again sending electric shivers through his body once more. Baxter waited, for more. He held his breath, but nothing more came up on the screen the clouds began to fade and he clutched the arms of his chair in a death grip, hoping that for some instruction, something more. The clouds faded and a sun rose over a view of the megacity that earth had become. Tall buildings, smog filled air. A scene that Baxter saw each day in every direction, without fail. But, as he watched the buildings began to rot away, the concrete cracked off the steel girders. The girders turned to rust color and crumbled before his eyes, and green wild foliage crept up and covered over everything until the world was a lush garden.
“In the beginning God created the Earth, and the Earth was without form, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters.”
The chills spread over him once again. This wasn’t quite how he’d heard these words the first time, but it was close.
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on it had corrupted their ways. So God said I am going to put an end to all people, for the whole earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy them. But as for you, I will make you my messenger. The instrument of my justice.”
A crescendo of thunder and metal music buffeted his ears, and then the screen graphics exploded into thousands of tiny pieces, faded out to black, and back to the grey of his work interface. The tiny red cube icon was gone as though nothing had happened at all.
Baxter looked around nervously. He’d come in early because, well, his life sucked and he had nothing else to do. No one was seated near him at this time of the morning. In another twenty minutes the place would be packed full, but at this time, only a few others were seated farther away, there was very little chance that anyone had seen what he’d seen. Except he wondered, perhaps the software snoopers, the cameras and monitors, the all knowing security computer.
Yet, whomever had created the presentation that he’d just witnessed must have considered this. Perhaps had compromised the system. They must have, given their powers to bring him this important message. Yes, he decided, he’d have to be careful, but he had this warm secure feeling inside of him, that he’d been chosen and made invincible by the protection of that someone who’d done the chosing.
Baxter straightened his back. No, he wasn’t afraid. Not anymore, and he had a purpose now. A warmth flowed into his bones, a strength into his chest, a secure conservative smile spread over his lips. Yes, things were going to change, and not just the world.
Baxter sat in his dingy apartment. It was dingy because he’d refused to buy enough lamps to light it up. He sat on his couch and watched vids on the floor-to-ceiling wall-screen at a super realistic resolution that his eyes could not distinguish from reality. The pixels reacted to his head position and the distinct distance between his eyes, projecting a three dimensional image no matter if he walked around the room or turned his head cockeyed. It scanned him one hundred and eighty thousand times a second.
He knew this, and millions of other technical bits of information that had been force fed into his consciousness by a combination of RNA and flash audio-video training. Speed reading drugs and combinations of hypo-genetic treatments had put his brain into a semi autistic mode in which it became more like a sponge than a thinking organ. He’d soaked it all up, and more. When he’d come home from those sessions, his brain wouldn’t stop. It was like a methamphetamine rush which he could not shut off. He had to ride out the tsunami wave that would not be stopped until it had run its course. He’d logged into the net and soaked in the data for hours until his body simply collapsed from exhaustion.
Yes, he’d asked for the training. Given them permission to turn him into a kind of human computer, containing thousands of petabytes of technical data that he could retrieve in nanoseconds. It was all stored in what neurologists refer to as eidetic memory. The same memory that is sometimes called photographic memory. His had been artificially created, and enhanced.
There was a forty percent success rate. His rating had been in the ninety-five percentile range. Baxter’s performance reviews were most annoying. His supervisors felt put out by his knowledge of most everything technical that existed, and did not know how to scale him, unwilling to give him too much credit, and unable to score him low. They found him to be irritatingly competent, and Baxter found everyone else to be irritatingly stupid.
A brilliant candy red icon appeared on his wall screen with an ’S’ inscribed into the square block. Baxter’s eyes bugged out of his sockets and he scrambled for the control. Clicking it excitedly, he watched as his living-room exploded into colors and sound. This was entirely immersive, so much so that he felt vertigo as clouds formed on his wall, and thunder shook the sixteen-point surround sound. Again the mighty gooseflesh took over his entire body, crawling over it like thousands of ants. He shivered with excitement, a ludicrous grin spread wide on his face.
The magnificent white font in huge letters scrolled up onto his screen once again, but this time a voice accompanied the words. A voice consisting of the elements of waterfalls and ocean waves that modulated up and down the lower registers, affecting the emotional centers of Baxter’s brain, manipulating him into a manic fervency.
“I looked on the earth for any that understood. I have searched through the polluted seas, walked through the endless wastelands of the cities, flown through the smog choked skies. There were none who were worthy, no one seeks me. Then I saw my servant, Baxter, who has suffered long and hard at the hands of those that rule over him, and I chose him to lead this world into the next age. Yes, you Baxter. You must follow my instructions without fail, because the fate of the world rests on your obedience. If you will do all of these things, I will raise you up as a standard against the darkness. A beacon against evil, an everlasting fire to light the way.”
Symbolically the clouds parted on the wall, just a crack in the darkness of their boiling turbulence of dark purple fury, and a bright spear of golden light shone down out of the wall so brightly, and so incredibly skillfully crafted in three dimensions, that it illuminated a distinct circle onto the floor in front of Baxter.
Before he knew what he was doing, he was drawn down onto his knees to kneel in that circle, bowing his head beneath the blinding light.
“I’m here. I’ll do it.” Baxter’s voice croaked out hoarsely.
“I…know…you.” The voice thundered in like Niagara falls, shaking the floor that he kneeled on with intensely low subwoofer action.
Baxter’s eyes became wet, he felt tears leak down his cheeks. He could not control it, he was under the powers of something he did not understand, not with all of his knowledge, not with all of his logical deductions, with all the contents of eidetic memory. This was beyond his reckoning. He felt the need to say something.
“You don’t know… you don’t know how it feels… to be me.” He stammered, and clenched his mouth closed in a choke to keep his soul from bawling out in a long scream.
A long pause, filled only with the soothing sounds of ocean waves rhythmically washing over him in low rumbling sounds of crashing and then trebles of hissing as water simulated sliding back over sand into a vast sea. Baxter felt himself swaying lightly to the sounds, his body synchronized to the waves, relaxing into it, his eyes lightly closed, reverently peaceful.
“Mine is the still small voice. The voice of many waters. The voice both within and without you. The voice in the wilderness calling out to you my servant. I will be your strength, and I will protect you. Nothing will harm you and no power of man will stand against you. Go forth the very next day as you do every day, but this day my presence will go with you, and you will be as a mighty sword to bring down evil. In the car that I will send to take you to work, look under the mat. I will place a signet ring, a symbol of your new position. You will be my emissary.” The mighty voice of waters echoed… “So you will be.”
Baxter sat still as the sound of flowing waters faded into silence, and sensed the light of the wall screen fade to black. He was left in the darkness, only his breathing disturbing the stillness of the room. He dared not move, did not want to move, did not want this experience to end. His every nerve was at attention. He felt so alive, so incredibly alive. He’d never felt like that in his entire life. And another thing, he felt completely at ease. He’d always been like a tightly wound spring, tensioned by the fear of failure, by the hatred of being wronged, by the stress of the city, but now he breathed easily in and out, like the waves, the mighty waves of the voice. He crawled, did not walk, to his bed. Rolled into it, and fell fast into a dreamless, blissful sleep.
Baxter awoke early feeling rested. There was a moment of disorientation until he remembered what had happened the night before. How he’d crawled to his bed, emotionally overwhelmed and slept there barely moving all night.
Now he was filled again with excitement and replayed the incident over and over in his mind, remembering and seeing every detail again and again. He ate a quick breakfast, eating only for fueling his body, and not thinking about enjoying the taste.
Out on the street he waited for a car that came for him sharply at seven A.M. each morning. This morning it was as prompt as ever, and he hesitated just slightly before entering it. Looking at everything inside of it before sitting gently down in the seat as if something unexpected might happen. The single passenger vehicle door closed smoothly once his body was completely in, and a restraint wrapped around his waist and right shoulder. The comfortable seat changed shape around his body and molded to it perfectly, maintaining a perfect temperature in contact with him.
The car accelerated rapidly and pressed him back into his seat for about five seconds until it had matched speed with the other cars, tucking up a few feet behind the car ahead to take advantage of the draft break. The cars were all communicating with each other in a light speed connection of shared sensory data. They could react simultaneously to any situation that might arise. In fact, traffic fatalities had been virtually eliminated in just a few years of removing the human drivers from the roadways. Now fatalities only happened when citizens (and the occasional granger) tampered with the system, circumventing some sub-process or other.
There were few situations where tampering was even worthwhile. Typically initiated by youthful participants of highway pranks and hijinks. In most cases the pranks were harmless and Baxter found them quite amusing, at least the ones that were recorded and leaked to the nets. The government couldn’t block everything, there was just too much in the firehoses of the networks, too many ways of obscuring things. Several thousand ways sprang to Baxter’s mind almost un-summoned.
Now that the car smoothly glided along on the electric engine, sucking power from the inductive field below the road, Baxter’s eyes drifted down to the mat under his feet. He knew from the blueprints, that the car had three internal cameras. One at his feet pointing up, one looking down from above his head, and one looking right at his face from the dash. The only one he was concerned with was at his feet. He could block the top one by leaning over. He placed his foot nonchalantly over the floor based camera, leaned over as if to check his shoe, and flipped the mat up. As soon as he had done this, the car pulled into the emergency lane, but instead of slowing to a halt as it was designed to do in case of malfunction, it actually sped up even faster, passing the cars on the right.
Baxter’s hands clutched the armrests of the small cockpit within the car. His jaw clamped down sending painful signals up into his teeth. warning him that he was likely to damage something if he didn’t stop it. He forced himself to unclench and looked about wildly. Had this been some elaborate trick? Was some adolescent now laughing his ass off with his friends watching a video of him shitting himself? No. It couldn’t be. The voice had assured him that he would not come to harm, that it would watch out for him no matter what. He forced himself to relax and trust the direction that car was headed more and more as the seconds ticked on and no catastrophe occurred.
Baxter watched a light-rail maglev swoosh by in the opposite direction. It was by in seconds, with the combined speed of the train and his car. Ahead the tunnel under Snob Hill loomed and he could imagine an immense collision in which his smashed, bleeding, and possibly burning body was removed from the car with the jaws of life, and his barely existent bank account consulted before someone decided that he couldn’t afford a resurrection. That was the price of an afterlife, despite the supposed goals of the Eternal Life Church. The ELC had promised all citizens access to this failsafe procedure. So far they’d only been successful at making the preventative anti-aging treatments for all citizens. Resurrections were still highly controversial, and a significant percentage of all resurrection fees went directly to the church. It was a sick setup, and full of corruption.
They plunged into the tunnel with no headlights. The internal lights shone out showing the ribbing of the tunnel sections flicking by, and then suddenly his car slowed rapidly. He felt it twist sideways and accelerate away into the side of the tunnel. He looked around bewildered and a bit dizzy from the rapid movement. He’d been whisked down a smaller tunnel and no sign of the other cars could be seen, only his solitary car down a solitary narrow tunnel, now descending deep into the ground. A lighted culdesac appeared ahead, and Baxter held his breath as the car braked to a halt not far from a single closed steel door. The car door opened with a servo whine, shut itself down, and the internal lights darkened. The only light now, a single lamp hanging above the door ahead in a cavern below the earth.
Baxter staggered to his feet and walked to the door. It beckoned to him and he did not worry that it might be locked. He was sure that this was his mission. He was certain this was the voice’s doing. That his every step was being guided for his higher purpose. He knew even as he approached the door, his footsteps echoing off the concreted walls of the circular tunnel, that as his hand turned the door knob it would turn freely. It did, and he stepped inside. His jaw dropped, eyes popped wide, and a gigantic grin spread across his face, feeling as if it were overstretched.
The door had opened into a giant hall with walls lined by workbenches with every kind of tool that he could think of, equipment and shelves of inventory. This was a kind of robot repair station, but it had been stocked with some unfamiliar equipment. Things that his training had not been focused on, but he could guess. Weapons, explosives, gas canisters, delivery systems. Three tanks stood parked in the middle, two jeeps from a bygone era, not self drive, equipped with gun mounts and machinegun turrets. This was the bug bomb that would roll down into the hive of the ants. This was the world re-booter that would restart everything all over again. Wrong the right, and bring justice to the poor and suffering. They might have to sacrifice a few on the way, but their loss would be so worth it all. Baxter was certain of that.
Baxter had been left alone in a giant room of technical toys. He ran from bench to bench looking at all of the gadgetry. Most of all of it was familiar to him. The weaponry was new territory, but he was soon thrilled to find all the technical manuals had been provided for each one of these. He flooded his mind with the new technical data. It wasn’t all that different at the core, but the specific details of weapons systems hadn’t been part of his original education.
He climbed in the tanks, examined the robotic flying drones, manned the jeeps, pointed the guns. It was like playing toy soldiers when he was young and setting up the little plastic men in kneeling, standing, and prone positions. He wasn’t sure though, what he should be doing, so he just indulged himself by becoming familiar with everything.
There was food and drink in a small kitchen to one side of the cavernous hall, with the curved roof of the tunnel towering above in a grand arc. He stopped from time to time when his stomach could wait no longer, and filled it. He found it an inconvenience, but a necessity. Baxter wondered about this. About his single minded obsession with his mission. It was beyond any obsession that he’d ever experienced before. It was all-consuming, but he felt good for the first time in his life. He had a purpose, a reason, and a goal, and by God he would achieve it. He’d promised that the other night. Had it only been last night? He couldn’t tell, being underground. His phone had quit working. He didn’t have any network connection here. He was completely isolated.
And what about work? Wouldn’t they be checking up on him by now? He’d been here perhaps all day. Maybe into the night now. He’d lost track of all time, and had no reference. He didn’t feel tired, but that didn’t really mean anything with all the adrenaline he was running on. Work didn’t matter anymore. He was free. Free to follow his destiny, free from mindless mundane tasks without purpose. Now he was on a new course, and he’d changed. He wasn’t a nobody anymore. History would remember him, oh yes. He’d make his mark.