The Pulse: New York
From the Battery
Remy was sitting in Battery Park looking out at the harbour. The sky was a weird bright blue, with patches of purple and violet. From where he was sitting, he could see pink beams streaking into the new capital from the Caribbean and South America. He saw that the Statue of Liberty was now a hub for purple waves.
He was sitting roughly in the same spot he’d been sitting when the aliens invaded. He’d been thinking what a mess his country was in — the President had declared the revolution a threat to the business interests of the nation — when from the corner of his eye he noticed a black patch or swarm lifting into the sky from around Hell’s Kitchen. A few seconds later he could see it more clearly: a locust swarm of predator drones, at the centre of which were two squadrons of S-70A Black Hawks, with their elite Marine troops and Hellfire missiles.
He knew their target: the revolutionary camp in Liberty State Park. Students and radical Democrats had set up batteries there a week ago, after the government closed down Congress and declared martial law. All the Democrats who opposed gun culture now openly embraced it, and the showdown was going to be nastier than the regime imagined. The Chancellor didn’t, for instance, know that the revolutionaries had a souped-up version of the Russian S-400 Triumf air defense system. While in the long and unsuccessful process of impeaching the president for his ties with Russia, the revolutionaries had taken the opportunity to secretly import an array of recent hardware.
The regime wanted to put on a display of force, to see if the revolutionaries would fold like the liberal chickens they suspected them to be. If the terrorists didn’t pack up camp, the regime vowed to carpet bomb the entire park. Grizzled grandpas from the glory days of Nam vowed to bomb them to the Stone Age.
The squadrons only got half-way across the harbour, however, at which point they were lit up by a purple pulse that seemed to come from the sky itself. Then slowly, in two or three seconds, the sky shifted from purple to intense yellow and red. The ground itself turned pink.
The Black Hawks looked like black bugs popping in a campfire. For a second or two they roasted on sticks of dark orange light, then burst into a sea of bright candy red. The fate of the revolutionaries was more difficult to make out. The next day Remy learned that they’d been evaporated along with the rest of New Jersey.
Remy’s family had been spared partly been because of his legal expertise: he’d been tasked to explain the Baulian legal system to people brought up with the concept of property rights — a concept that to the Baulians suggested suspicion, paranoia, insanity, or a greed so deep that the Baulians couldn’t understand what it meant. The family’s survival, however, was more likely due to Francine’s expertise in diplomacy and to her deep connections in France and Switzerland. The Baulians had given her the top job as the chief American cultural liaison to the European capital. Every few days she was beamed over to Paris to deal with diplomatic squabbles. Even though completely subjugated, the French still complained and tried to stage marches. In one march they complained that there were no more cars to set on fire. The rest of Europe was no better. Remy imagined that in Syntagma Square the Greeks were still throwing rocks and refusing to pay their share. The Russians, no doubt, were hacking the intergalactic network to see what they could find.
It seems that his family had survived simply because it was useful. They also allowed them to keep their kids, because according to Baulian studies the bond between parents and children was so strong that exterminating the children had a severe impact on the productivity of the parents.
Across the harbour, he could see the Statue of Liberty, festooned with a shifting purple crown that pulsed day and night, signalling who knows what.
He knew that if he could see the way a Baulian saw he would see more lines than that. He would see the orange lines, that for Baulians were almost sacred. He read that they believed that these orange lines connected them to other galaxies, even other universes.
The Baulians said that they had come to save Earth, and to end its five thousand year-old floundering in the dark. They had come to offer their Ethical Directive, which to Remy sounded like just another way of saying genocide. Genocide for host humans that is. There was no doubting that the plants and animals were going to have a better life. Far better than what the old regime had in store.
The year prior to Total Collapse was a bit of a blur, especially because his usual sources of information dried up left and right. The New York Times was shut down in early 2018 and several months after that The New Yorker was sentenced to monthly publication. By the end of the year it was reduced to accounting work and writing Human Resource bulletins for the State Firm, Trump Et Al (TEA). FOX News was turned into an ad agency for selling TeePhones to China, and The Firm had cancelled all environmental projects and doubled fracking output. Eager to protect its nuclear monopoly, TEA forbade nuclear energy plants from operating anywhere. It made up the energy deficit by quadrupling the output of the tar sands and the coal pits of the Empire.
TEA controlled all the major industrial parks and media outlets in the greater New York area. It had turned all the small bookstores and magazine stalls into employment centres for those who still preferred work in the city to the labour camps on the Mexican border. The war with China was going well, but it was difficult to say: one day they seemed to be at war with China, then the next day American troops were facing the endless columns of the Eurasian Army. Apparently, it was all the fault of a treacherous Jew from Brooklyn who went by the name “Goldstein.”
Les Liaisons Bienheureuses
Francine and the children had finally joined him on his bench. Francine was absent-mindedly unloading the picnic basket, which was full of the delicacies that would run out in a year or two. On her trips to Paris she scoured the bakeries and the larders of the three-star restaurants for the best France had to offer — confit de canard from Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, macarons from Pierre Hermé, moutarde de Normandie, etc. In their apartment she had turned the spare bedroom into a larder, packed with sacks of rice from Camargue, Black Diamond Hackleback caviar, fleur de sel de Gruisson, hams from Parma and Jabugo, and every brand of sheep cheese from the peppered pecorino of Sicily to the smooth pecorino of Tuscany. She would carefully select some of these and add them to her picnic basket of fresh sandwiches from Zabar’s.
Francine’s mind was usually on the delicacies in her picnic basket, but today she didn’t even mention what was inside. The kids had already eaten so she encouraged them to play with their soccer ball on the grass in front of them. Usually, she’d try to get them to guess the difference between a pecorino stagionato from Rome and a pecorino stagionato from Sardinia. As they kicked the ball around in front of them, the Zabar bagel with lox and cream cheese dangled above her lap as she stared out into the glistening harbour.
“Dis-moi, qu’est-ce qui se passe?” Remy always spoke French when he wanted to know what was really up.
“Jsai plus. I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it.”
“This morning I was videoconferencing an old friend of mine at le Collège de France. Martine. Tu te souviens d’elle?
“Yes, I remember her. She was seeing the philosopher, the Canadian who talked in circles.”
“Yes, Kenneth. They finally got married. In any case, I met Martine for a coffee last week in le Quartier Latin. O, ce quartier! It looks just the same as it used to. If there was a sandlot on a backstreet there I’d stick my head in it and never come back. But ça ne vaut rien. What’s the point of looking backward?” She paused. It was as if she had windshield wipers in the back of her eyes, to erase the possibility of regret. Souvenirs, chagrins, plaisirs, all swept away. Edith Piaf didn’t know the meaning of the word.
“Martine told me she’d been assigned to liaise with other representatives in la francophonie du nord.”
Remy was interested in la francophonie, since his parents were from Quebec. He’d often wondered how much he’d lost when they left Montreal for New York.
All of these differences — French, English, Spanish — all seemed so quaint now. Remy had seen videos of the White House bursting like a pink balloon made of bubble gum. The bubble rose higher and higher, above all the nations, puffed up with all sorts of rubbery sugar. Then ** SNAP CRACKLE POP! ** it became one with the pink sky.
All that was left was to shape a memory, a history of humankind — and, of course, of human unkind. All they could do was be true to the record, so that the universe would know that there was once a race that was proud and ingenious, ruthless and loving. A planet of ten thousand peoples, all so proud of themselves that they couldn’t get along. Peoples that built great monuments, walls, guns, and supreme commandments, but couldn’t imagine anything greater than themselves.
Francine continued her account. “Kenneth was also assigned a liaison job — between Europe and the three northern centres that still exist — the old city in Québec, central Montreal, and Vancouver.”
“Kenneth had been in contact for several months with a writer from Vancouver, Matthieu Leclerc, who was compiling some sort of philosophical survey of the human condition. Matthieu wanted to know what had happened to the university system in Paris. He was also interested in the re-design of the city, and wondered what happened to the Louvre, the museums, the wine bars, the cafes. He asked Kenneth whether or not the French who survived had managed to remain French. He’d heard stories of cafés closing, of professors tasked to very specific chores, of vineyards converted to bean fields.”
“All of this is sad, but we know it already. Laissons tout ça à côté… But there’s something else. Martine told me that Kenneth and Matthieu were videoconferencing when a form emerged from the wall behind him. The wall is a dark cobalt blue, yet the figure was darker, deeper blue. It wasn’t a Baulian. It said that it wasn’t even from the three universes. It said it’s name was Farenn. The last thing Kenneth saw was Matthieu slowly swivelling his right arm and turning the camera off.”
Next: The Monster in the Manor