(Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays everyone!)
by: CJ Fogarty
Man, this Miri must be somebody high up, if she thinks she can boss me around. Given her bearing, she’s definitely a leader of sorts, but she’s got this get up I see most of these cyberpunk girls wearing on the street, crazy dyed hair, piercing, boots, and all. Still, it’s a pretty sexy look, and she’s none too hard on the eyes either.
Oh yeah, and I know we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Order since we’d woken up though, to be fair, we haven’t seen the world itself for probably, what, fifty years? Jesus has everything changed. Colonies on other planets, flying cars, invisibility technology, shit outta a science fiction movie back in 2012.
Yeah, so I lied to her, told her something I wasn’t, gave realistic estimations. She’s a rational thinker after all, and in my experience it’s better to let people think what they want until you can really convince them of the truth. Still, it concerns me just a little. We’ve had our share of critics, but to have someone totally not know who we are? Or at least know that we possess some sort of “special attributes”, to put it lightly. But, I guess the Order hasn’t forgotten us if its leadership now demands that we be found. God knows, though, that the world can go ahead and forget us, if in fifty years the world would change so much, so fast, so drastically.
We walk up to this disheveled-looking house that is nonetheless a welcome refresher. The rest of the houses in this future are some weird sorta square-shape with rounded corners. Miri rings the doorbell that looks like that one symbol from Star Trek. Holy shit, that is the Star Trek symbol! It’s good to see people remember stuff from before this millennia. Just the fact that it’s familiar is a comfort to me.
The person answering the door fits the persona of the house like a glove. Shorter kid, a kinda chubby build to him, dark green slacks with matching suspenders I’d thought people stopped wearing since before this millennium. Retro must really be in. I can’t complain, I’m a bit of a relic myself. A stained, faded grey shirt with that curious, rectangle cutout in the center defining the collar. Barely white teeth give probably the most cheerful smile I’ve seen in a while and the hazel eyes behind thin, square glasses are set between a long head of black hair. Guess it’s kinda funny how I expected this kid to have some apparatus of tech on his head somewhere, but from the outset all you’d get is some normal, slackish college kid.
“Ah, Miri, it appears my lead was successful this time”, the kid states, his eyes glancing to me constantly.
“Yes, Sage, at long last we’ve found him”, Miri replies wearily, though I can’t tell if she’s weary on my account or on his.
“Oh, I always knew you could, Miri. You and I are an unstoppable team, my friend”, Sage replies with a playful punch to Miri’s arm.
This is followed by a searing look from Miri, which is followed by an awkward laugh from Sage, which in, in turn, followed by, “But where are my manners”, and with a turn to me he throws out his hand. I take it and the kid starts a wringing handshake.
“Name’s Kyle Gilson, Mr. Bishop. Codenamed Sage. It’s-it’s quite an honor to meet you Mr. Bishop. Please, both of you step into my office”, Sage replies with increasing confidence.
“Now Sage”, Miri warns behind me, “we can’t have any of your tricks on this one. I’m sure you know how long it’s taken us to find D.B., and we have to proceed with leads immediately if we’re going to find R.S. Understood?”
I turn to see Miri’s stormy grey eyes looking past me at the kid, who replies will of roll of his eyes, “Miri, I think those boots get pretty tight on you sometimes. Relax girl, I got this.”
With a sigh, almost of remission, Miri softens her tone with, “Alright, Kyle, take D.B. downstairs, I’m gonna have a smoke. But I’ll be back shortly.”
Sage gestures a thumbs up and opens the door underneath the house’s staircase, the last thing I see behind me being Miri, cigarette in mouth, turn away from us toward the door.
Going down the stairs with Sage, I find a typical man-cave setting: wall-mounted T.V., stained couch, microwave and mini-fridge in the corner with several, scantily-clad women posted on the ceiling, some real, some anime by the look of it. There’s one of those center, beam lights that isn’t turned on. There’s also an odor I can’t quite trace between the pizza smell and what I believe to be Axe, if they still have that. On the right wall, there’s a desk with one, single, wide, thin computer on a thin base.
Sage sits down in front of that computer and, with the air of a man half the king of his own hill, half starstruck, he says, “Impressed, Mr. Bishop.”
“Look, you can call me Duke, first off”, I reply, to the widening of the kid’s eyes. I like this guy, already, he’s the kind kid John woulda trusted. Oh yeah, John. Dammit, “uh, and second off, I mean, I honestly think the Order’s hacker might require a little more tech but I’m a little, antiquated.”
To this, Sage chuckles and says, “Oh just hold on”, and in one movement he folds the computer back into the desk.
I move closer and I see the monitor has lit up and is now a keyboard with white letters. One more button opens up several panels in the wall in front, namely one big screen surrounded by two smaller ones of each side. Next to Sage’s chair a panel opens on each side, this time on the floor. On the left side rises a cylinder with glass chamber and a red light in the top center. On the right rises another cylinder with several buttons around a small screen. From it, Sage takes the headseat with an eyepiece in front, that bit of tech I’d been looking for at the door.
The screens all light up blue, the center monitor reading, “Welcome, Sage”, the accompanying mechanical voice sounding familiar from every IPhone back fifty years ago.
“What’s up Miri? Open Map Interface, File Name: R.S. Leads.”
With that, a map of the world opens up with several points highlighted in flashing red.
“Okay, I am impressed”, I reply.
“Oh this is nothing, really”, Sage says with playful humility, “just enough to probably break into places people joke are, “secure”, or, “firewalled”, or find irretrievable leads, or maybe just throw off the power grid for every house within an, oh, nationwide radius. Frankly, though, it just makes torrenting much easier”.
“I think there’ll always be men of expertise like you, Sage. No matter how old the world gets”, I tell him, remembering the people I’d worked with half a century ago whose functions were of equal, illegal importance.
“But, hang on”, I continue, “The voice system is actually called, ‘Miri’, because it was Siri back in my day.”
At this, Sage gives a jesting smile and, “I know. Yeah, that’d be about when this system was invented. Well, this is more of an interactive AI that has a wide range of functions, which I’ve altered. I named it after our favorite over-stressed vixen smoking outside.”
“That’s funny man”, I reply.
I like this kid. If a full, no, extended life, teaches you anything, it’s that you either laugh once in a while, or go completely crazy. Then again, I might as well be crazy at this point anyways.
“But you’re telling me you’ve pioneered artificial intelligence? What kinda consequences has that brought.” This was actually a genuine concern, because when you’ve seen what I have, the Matrix and the Terminator movies don’t seem wholly like fiction.
“Yes and no”, Sage replies, “yeah, I know what you’re thinking, no tech system, at least that I know of, is self-aware. That’d be something too dangerous for even for me to try. This is just a system that mandates data storage and processing as well as accessing both the Freenet and also weasling into other systems when needed. I call it AI, but, well, uh, how can I explain this, uh, were you familiar with Marvel Comics at all back in your day? Ah you probably don’t. How long was that anyway? Well anyway, it’s like-”
“That’d be about the year 2012, a full fifty years back. And yeah, I get the Marvel reference. It’s not like Ultron who became self-aware and started taking people out, but more like the Batman’s Batcomputer or Iron Man’s Jarvis, right. Helpful, mechanical, but with a personality.”
“Uh, yeah”, Sage replies dumbfounded, “I didn’t think you’d get that.”
“I didn’t think they still had Marvel Comics or comics of any kind after fifty years.”
“Really? Wait, yeah I guess they’d be in decline in your time. All the movies only kinda save them, but today they’ve made a huge comeback. In fact, I think you’d be pleasantly surprised out how much retro stuff is coming back in a big way.”
“Huh”, is my only answer. That is good to hear, at least Rich and I aren’t totally fish outta water. Getting used to a new world isn’t bad, not really, so long as you can ride along with the transition, day by day. But, when we suddenly wake up to find that we’re fifty years ahead of where we were, it’s really hard to keep up. Hard to keep it together. Rich. Wherever he is right now, it’s at the bottom of some bottle. And I know how Rich gets when he stays there too long. It ain’t pretty.
“Anyway”, Sage continues, “we should get back to business. I always relish a nerdy moment, though, and it doesn’t hurt to have THE Great Guardian here too. But we’d better get going before Miri storms back in.”
“Yeah, I didn’t figure she smoked. Is she really overstressed?”
“Dude, she’ll take anything if it means unwinding for a little bit”, Sage replies with a remorseful chuckle, “but, I gotta ask, man, is everything, well, true?”
“About what?”, I ask.
“You, you and R.S. I mean, uh, sorry I’m gonna start geeking out here, but you’re like my freaking idol! Well, one of the two anyway. And, like, I heard great stories about you two being heroes, killing vampires, exorcising demons, fighting ancient monsters and gods, stopping death rays and fighting proto Nazis or genocidal cultists, gangsters or pirates and I just think, you know, ‘Holy shit’, when I find out you’re real! I’m just, needing to ask if it’s all true at the end of the day. Is it true that you’re supposed to be thousands of years old? Did you, like, meet Alexander the Great and Abe Lincoln and even Ezio Cortanza back in his day? Cuz let me tell you, most people in the Order don’t believe in you guys. Particularly people like Miri and the other people my age who think that hero worship is just another way of escaping reality.”
I follow what this kid says. He looks away at me awkwardly, then replies, “Sorry, Mr Bishop, I’m wasting your time, our time, by gushing out, like a kid I guess”. With this there is an awkward laugh, followed by, “but you see, the Great Guardians were always my heroes. And I know that your stories are nearly impossible to believe and Miri’s probably right, when she says heroes don’t have to be real to teach us how to be heroes ourselves. But, sometimes I want some of them to be real, you know?”
Yeah, I get what he means. Looking for his heroes to be transient people that you can see and touch not really to prove that they’re real but just to know that they’re actually by your side. I hate to let the kid down, though, I really do. From outta my self-reflection comes those hazel eyes looking at me behind his glasses, waiting for a response. Waiting for me to either confirm or deny his long-held dreams. Well, I’m not gonna lie like I did to Miri, because I know this kid’ll believe in who I am, but, as long as I’ve been on this Earth, I’m still pretty far from being what you’d call a real hero.
“I cannot deny, kid, that you are correct in believing that I am the Great Guardian, possessing of thousands of years of life. And yeah, I’ve fought and faced it all and more. Vampires, Nazis, and done all that comic-book hero stuff.”
I’ll admit, it’s sometimes difficult to be serious when discussing the truth about my exploits. What Rich and I have seen and witnessed. It’s enough to make people either go crazy or live in fear the rest of their lives. That’s why they, regular people outside and even some inside the Order, don’t know about it, or about us. It allows for a world in which people only live in fear of men or men who may become monsters, instead of actual ones. This secrecy makes it better for us as well, because whenever you feel weak or just need to lose it once and a while, well, it’s better not to have an innocent, hopeful world watching you.
“But, kid, I’m not exactly a hero really. And if you really knew what I’ve spent much of my existence doing, you wouldn’t even call me good frankly.”
“Well, nobody’s perfect, Mr-, Duke”, Sage offers trying to put it softly, “and considering the burdens you’ve had to bear, the people I’m sure you’ve lost, I wouldn’t imagine that you’d keep a straight mind each time. I mean, I can’t imagine how you deal with all those memories, the goods ones and the bad ones. I mean, it’d be enough to fry the brain of a normal person.”
“Yeah, this is true”, I reply, fully aware of what a fried brain feels like. I lean up against Sage’s desk and cross my arms. This is my response to the weight my words will carry, “you don’t go through constant wars, constant loss, and an ever-changing world, and still keep yourself all together. We, Rich and I, have followed the journey of humanity into both greatness and insanity since its elder days. The only reason we’re able to cope, really, is by constantly adapting, looking at the world and recognizing just where the future is headed and try to ride along with it. Needless to say, though, it always makes me feel better knowing that some things haven’t changed”, I then offer a lighter comment,” Like your Star Trek doorbell for example. I mean I saw that and it was quite a relief knowing that people still remember old things.
“Oh yeah”, Sage replies, almost surprised, “So you’re a Trekkie too, huh?”
“Well, not quite”, I answer, “I mean, I always respected Star Trek but Star Wars was far superior in my opinion.”
“Ah well, we’re gonna have to disagree”, Sage answers with the air of a decades-old pop culture rivalry. “Episodes IV, V, and VI are classic great, but I, II, & III kinda sucked, you can’t question that, and the VII, VIII, & VIV were-”
“Wait! Stop right there. They hadn’t come out yet, I haven’t seen them. So please, don’t say a word.”
Sage replies laughing, “Okay, okay man. I will. But so sometimes you need a little escape from the new world and so you find comfort in old shit. I get, man, I feel the same way I don’t know how many times.”
I suddenly remember what we’d actually been talking about, and my tone gets noticeably serious, “Well, it isn’t as simple as that. There’s adaptation and holding onto relics as I myself am one, but, the real way Rich and I cope with over ten thousand years is, really, by shutting out a lot. Over time, we’ve kinda developed the ability to compartmentalize our memories and shut them out. The worse the memories, the deeper they get stored. Some things we can recollect with time, little memories like where I was when the Declaration of Independence was signed.”
“Where were you?”, Sage suddenly asks.
“On a prison brig being shipped over to London.”
“What about R.S., or Rich I guess, right?”
“Oh, Rich? He was the one who brought me in”, I reply, trying again to lighten the talk as I “fondly” remember how Rich and I ended up on opposite sides of the American Revolution.
“Kid, there’ll be time for stories later, but right now I need to make something clear.”
Silenced, Sage listen while I continue, looking through those glasses “Now, naturally you’d think that no matter how much somebody represses things, at times it begins to be too much. And you’re right, it does. That’s why we have moments when, sometimes, we go rogue, as well call it. It’s those moments in which we forget our obligations as Guardians for a while, even abandoning the Order if we see fit. During these times, and many others, we aren’t exactly heroic characters. We’ve stolen, cheated, killed people, yes, we’ve taken many lives that probably didn’t deserve it.”
“But, you never lose yourselves, right? You always come back right”, Sage chimes in with a hopeful look.
Damn kids, always trying to be hopeful against all odds. It’s something I hadn’t grown accustomed to in the youth of recent years, and by recent I mean in my history so the turn of millennium. But, there’s always those few.
“Most of the time, we come to the brink, make terrible mistakes. I mean, it’s not a though we can exactly sit down with a shrink and talk about our problems since they’re something no one else can really comprehend. Needless to say, I did spend time in a nuthouse. And the lead you gave Miri to follow in order to fid me? She found me both completely wasted and pretty depressed too.”
“Oh God”, Sage exclaims, “And Rich?”
“I don’t like to think about what’s happened to Rich, largely because I don’t know. Lets just says he’s had a bigger problem with alcohol than me, and it has persisted across the years.”
Sage looks down sullenly at this mention, and I don’t really know what else to say about it, unless to completely go into self-pity, which never helps.
“Regardless of how you feel about it, John’s orders, his last orders, were for Sage and I to find you two. I don’t entirely know why, but he must have seen that the Order needs its “Great” Guardians, if anything for what you symbolize more than anything else. So, it’s my job to make sure that you two do yours.”
The words came from behind us, belonging to pretty, leather-clad girl with stormy grey eyes staring right into mine.
“And, do you know why John’s dying wish was for you guys to find us? Do-do you even know how long we’ve been gone? How completely fucking crazy this new world is to us?”, I reply heatedly.
Miri goes on evenly with, “It isn’t rationally possible for the human brain to process as long as lifetime as you’ve claimed to have, without being a drooling mess.”
Drooling mess? She’d be surprised. She should’ve seen me after the First World War.
I want to put this as evenly as her, but I’m a little over that at this point, “Well, what the hell does it matter if you don’t believe my story or who I am. If you really don’t then what the hell’s my purpose here anyway. Why’d you drag me outta that bar last night and try to pull me back into an Order and a world I haven’t seen in fifty years?”
I’m not sure whether I’m asking these questions of Miri, John, or God Himself fucking frankly. Whomever can give me answers to why Rich and I are still even alive.
“Why”, Miri begins authoritatively, “because, since you, for whatever crazy reason, are clearly not familiar with anything pertaining to the world we live in right now, let me explain to you just what the situation of our world is. Kyle, pull up the Great Guardian debriefing program.”
“But, Miri”, Sage replies, “we’re only supposed to do that upon locating both D.B. and R.S. so, I mean, well-”
“If we can’t convince one Great Guardian to pull his ass out of this funk of purposelessness, then there’ll be no point in trying to find the other one. Bring it up, Kyle.”
She’s speaking with pretty ballsy authority, so her rank must be high up for her to carry this sort of leadership in the Order and with me. In fact, she sounds a lot like John himself used to when all about the mission, objectives now, objections later. Miri walks over and leans on the wall next to the computer, folding her arms. I turn around and see an aerial view picture of New York city as I knew it, the setting sun gleaming off the tops of skyscrapers from the orange glow of the water.