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Table of Contents

Chapter Nineteen

I’m getting closer, but my shouts are still palmed back into my face by the slap of the music. Corrosive bass flushes through the tender tubes and seashell swirls in my ears, dissolving faint memories of a world without bass.

I labor to keep Sage in sight through kid-clogged corridors leading off into narrow passageways that push through more rooms. Though I’m moving fast and skirting scatter, veering around loose queue and loiter, I read faces that are X-rays lifted to light: shadowy augers, barely visible bruises on bone, that will metastasize into adult disillusionment and pathology soon enough.

But soon enough is not tonight, and tonight there’s a whirl like 911 dialed on a rotary phone, and everything belongs to this whirl, seems blurred inside it, the kids with an air of festive emergency waiting for Ecstasy to arrive, outlawed ambulance, as it careens toward its destination in the brain.

Eventually Sage and the bouncer-medic disappear through a purple curtain overhanging an archway into a room. Above the entryway hangs an arrangement of daisies that spells the words Federakkt Tribe.

The music is just a faint echo now and so I have the sense that I’m somewhere in the back of the building. Two minutes later I stand at the entrance, just as the Boy of Fleece arrives. He steps out from someplace recessed to the side of the entrance, emerging from darkness that hangs back in neglected adjacencies, looking at a wristwatch bound to his arm with black duct tape. When he looks up, he doesn’t at all seem surprised to see me. “I thought I was late.”

“For what?”

“The what do you call it, the like symposium or whatever for the Tribe.”

Doe-shaped eyes attached to an anvil-shaped head with a coiled cord trailing from a diamond-studded ear thrusts through curtain split. The rest of the body follows like a 9-second ill-synched satellite delay of lips without words. The upper torso is yet another textbook illustration of strength borrowed from barbell and compacted in chest and arms, slabs of physiognomy. If he wore a T-shirt it would surely say mesomorphs rule, but he’s wearing a white wrap-around karate gi gaped around a hibernating grizzly of chest hair. The lower trunk follows the lean from the curtain’s rift and above fire-hydrant red shorts that mistake knees for waist is a black karate belt with a holster containing what appears to be a stun gun.

He presses his finger against the white kernel buried in his ear, listening, presidential high tech, security factotum rising to the challenge of potential assassination. “Get your late ass in here, Fleece. He’s about to get up there, about to break it down. At the podium, talking the talk behind the walk.”

The Boy of Fleece is a twig lost inside the foliage of the surgical scrubs. “Dude, Kyle, I thought today was yesterday.”

“He’s in there, and that means it’s the day after tomorrow already.”

I start to follow the Boy of Fleece and the other guy barricades with his body. “Who’s this? He joining the Federrakt?”

His hand strays down to fondle the stun gun with a deadly absentminded finger. Apparently he’d like nothing better than to inoculate me with crisp voltage, discharging sizzle in my neck that would make me see battery-charged yellow.

“He’s all right,” Fleece assures. “He’s with me. Or I’m with him. We’re with each other.”

We go in.

The lights are dimmed. Perhaps 30 rows of folding chairs, short rows in the front gradually widening out in longer rows to the back, form a pyramid with people sitting hushed as mummies. Expectation wraps them stiff and still. They’re quiet as dust inside a tomb. In the front of the room sheets of plywood propped up on plastic storage crates provide inches of makeshift elevation that allow the whole contraption to conform to the definition for stage you might read in a remedial dictionary.

Scanning for Sage, I notice things. The scarred podium on the stage seems to just hang there, anticipating, hesitant, a Heinz bottle pouring timber catsup. Taking up the entire wall behind, a slide of the planet Earth is thrown from a projector. The other walls are draped in something tattered, synthetic and purple.

The Boy of Fleece pulls me down into a chair next to him.

“I know I saw her come in here. I think the bouncer who was with her must be watching her or something so she doesn’t try to get away. Fleece, is that what’s going on? Where the hell is she?”

The guy with the stun guy, standing near the wall, shushes me.

“Is she sitting in the front?”

He shushes me again, decides sibilance is effeminate, raises finger to lips, shakes his head slow, ominous.

The Boy of Fleece whispers, “I don’t know. I came tonight to drop something off for Kyle. I didn’t even know they were having this until he paged me a few minutes ago and told me to get back here.”

This tells me nothing.

I almost keep talking, and I’m tempted to stand, take the stage, begin shouting Sage’s name, but decide that I have a better chance of finding her if I don’t give the president’s bodyguard the excuse he’s looking for to escort anything that breathes outside. Out of the tidal wane and wax of occasionally passing people in the hallway, stray audience sounds rush like sand crabs obliquely into this room’s silence, so like a deserted beach that has swallowed the sedative of midnight and in a lunar stupor stares up at the moon. Some members of the Federakkt to fidget in their seats,, feel the pinch and pull of a thousand nameless distractions.

The guy with the cord spiraling from his ear nods his head, decides that the ruckus in the hallway won’t do, slices through curtain as though his shoulders were a film noir switchblade. I hear a kid out there say, “Take your hands off me.” Then from the hallway come two short sandy bursts. Or maybe it’s more like the shrunken sound of brittle extinction that a bug zapper makes when you’re sitting on the patio.

No one turns around to look when the guy comes back in the room, taking his place in the aisle again, assuming the military at-ease posture with hands behind his back, legs slightly apart.

When I turn my head to the front I’m surprised to see a man on the stage behind the podium. Though standing still, he gives the impression of having taken the stage briskly. I strain my eyes through colander sockets and the shape behind the podium begins to spaghetti into solid mass, making a dinner of the dimness. With the somber orb as his backdrop, he seems a second projection, a slide of a slide, the representative of that shimmering circle with its shadowed birthmarks of ancient rock and water, an avatar of the Earth. Head bowed, his white hair is leonine and Einsteinian, a blended calculus of jungle chaos and cosmic intricacy. When he finally lifts his head, I recognize the face – paternal and cherubic, the eyes twinkling behind grandfatherly spectacles once reluctantly chosen for utility and now eagerly worn in the service of high fashion by youthful masses. Standing in front of the stage, off to the side, are 4 guys wearing stun guns.

Kodiac.

His Hawaiian shirt is violently tropical, the regurgitated lucid dream of a toucan with a 105-degree fever, a thermometer in its beak climbing to a peak of polyester temperature. Colorless hiking shorts tamp the temperature down with neutral ice. A beanstalk of black socks sprouts from oversized pods of black dress shoes, my eyes climbing the calves like Jack. The flesh directly below his knees bulges, held in a chokehold by the socks’ elastic, thighs in contrast bloated as pale asphyxiated giants. His hands conduct the burial rites, digging deep in his pockets. The stomach protrudes with the bristly durability of a wild boar.

So now it occurs to me the overall effect is one of confused amalgamation, high married to low, exotic myths wedded to fairy tales, and human to animal conjoined: hair an entanglement of heaven and hell, shirt suggesting shamanic island myths, broad belly an attribute shared by both man and beast.

He says, “I think we are still talking about the brain’s thermostat, yeah, and resetting it? Otherwise it’s left to” – and here I take it he deliberately mispronounces the word – “evilution. How is the thermostat reset? It can be adjusted in one of two ways. Pharmacologically or genetically. Why is this so, why do I say it? Because secrets of the neurochemical substrates of feeling-states are coming to light. The holy text of the human genome is revealing itself in the chapels of laboratories all around the world. How do we feel today, this evening? Good or bad?”

There is a pause as the audience ponders whether this question is rhetorical or actual. Kodiac waits patiently and a few members of the audience, looking around for permission, decide to risk an answer. “Good!”

“We feel good, right now? Okay. Right now we feel this way, good, but twenty minutes later, what, inexplicably, we discover we feel bad. Reasons for this? Yes, I would like to speak of reasons.”

I whisper to the Boy of Fleece, “What the hell is he talking about?” but he ignores me, hangs his body like suspension bridge suicide off the chair’s edge.

“Nature is cruel. She goes to greatest lengths to protect her own interests. What are those? To ensure that the species survives, through Darwinian selection. To survive, the species must, what, evolve. Evilution must continue in its spiral, at any cost. It is bigger than any individual, bigger than you and bigger, certainly, than Nikolai Kodiackeskv. Bigger, yeah, than even Kodiac, and that is so big indeed.”

In comic illustration, he jabs his ample abdomen out, a huge fatty cutlet on a grill of gluttony inviting fork’s thrust, a splash of Adolph’s meat tenderizer. In the room a zipper of laughter opens on politely creased slacks of silence. The Boy of Fleece sighs and expands in delight, like genitalia freed from fabric.

“I am well fed, you see, thus perpetuating the species of Kodiac. This is just what nature wants, precisely. You might almost think that nature cares for Kodiac. It is a temptation to think this, yeah? But I survive, whether happy or sad, whether I feel good or maybe not so good. In fact, as nature looks after her own interests through the mechanism of evilution, everything that makes up Kodiac therefore evolves. The central nervous system in concert with the brain evolves. But what is this, what can it mean?

Evilution cares only for itself, it never cares for how you feel, for the qualitative aspects of your experience of consciousness, even though the potential for paradise is mapped in the landscape of certain pathways in your brain. Your brain certainly has the potential to put and keep you in glorious paradise states, but nature imposes cruel limits. As your brain and central nervous system evolve, in fact, it is the sad reality that your neural circuitry conspires to ensure that there are strict boundaries to how good you can feel. And a very tragic bias on the part of modern medicine takes as its point of departure nature’s limitation, and translates it to the realm of ethical and moral judgment: it is not right if a treatment or cure goes beyond simple efficacy and has the undesirable side-effect of making you feel good, or ‘high’ in the process – as though pleasure were inherently evil. But now I am fast-forwarding ahead of myself. May I rewind and say this another way, please? Okay.”

Fourth aisle from the podium, end of the row, I see a head that reaches left to grab listening’s hand strap as Kodiac’s bumpy subway ride threatens to topple balance. Rows ahead and to the side, I see that Sage is leaning to the left. Left is where Sage’s body lists when she listens intently, when she laughs or yawns, the angle from which she delivers kisses. When I see the black leather jacket I bought, the collar upturned like the weathered face of a gardener watching for rain as he stands in a wild dark garden, her hair in its tumble the wild dark garden, I’m split in half by the sharpness her image elicits, by the chop of Kodiac’s words, hypnotic spade, reaching me like I’m rooted deep underground.

“We have discussed this before, but allow me to refresh memory by saying that what I see is the central nervous system and the brain, victimized by certain negative feedback apparatus in the form of dead-ends, loops, abductions taking place in synaptic clefts. Neurotransmitters that pave the way to serotonergic and dopaminergic and other brutal cul-de-sacs. Deanimating monamine oxidase enzyme structures and, I am sorry to say – but I always tell you the truth – some very ugly neural metabolic pathways. I say and say again, there is darkness taking place in the sea of peptides, enzymes, hormones – bradykinin, substance P, the bovine nociceptin precursor protein. And this is what is meant by the nightmare of our genetic legacy programmed by evilution. Why is it programmed thus? The concrete business of attending to everyday survival would not be served if this evolutionary programming and these neuro-genetic bastions and limitations did not exist, is this not so? It would not do for you, Mr. caveboy or Ms. cavegal, to exist in a state of constant bliss, with no idea of pain and suffering. The creature hiding in the bushes would easily pounce upon one like this, okay?

Have you heard of Michael Eysenck? A doctor doing much work in this whole field? His work describes why, at this point in time, lasting happiness is a biochemical impossibility, why it is evilution’s slutty concubine. An impossibility he has aptly called the ‘hedonic treadmill.’ He is a nice man to have lunch with, if you are in London and he isn’t rushing off, whoosh, bim, bam, to give a lecture. He will explain it to you in a way that makes it seem simple, especially if you care to pick up the tab!”

The zipper slides down, the laughter nearing nakedness as the Boy of Fleece’s nudist colony of delight, barking laughter, encourages a wider disinhibition.

Kodiac slides suddenly to the side of the podium, bends his knees, throws up his hands, scattering a confetti of excitement. “But all this grimness is to be fucked! Yes, and be careful as you are fucking, for this grimness is a wanton prostitute, ridden with commonplace disease. You need protection – shall we be florid and say that what is needed are the diaphragms and condoms of knowledge? – we need protection to intelligently fuck down this grimness!

What I am suggesting, with your kind permission, is that while this is where we are right now, on the hedonic treadmill, there is the future. So think five hundred years into the future, think 1500 years, more. Come with me for a moment there. Do you know that I can tell you something wonderful, if you wish to hear?”

With the rest of the crowd, even as I keep my eyes on Sage, I lean forward in reflex as his voice softens, retreats down a conspiratorial corridor carpeted with secrets.

“The malady of everyday consciousness, made up of all the suffering and malaise and sadness and boredom that seem to be our emotional heritage, interrupted only briefly by moments of happiness and slippery content, will one day be looked at in the same way that we look upon our forbearers who practiced surgery with no knowledge of the anesthetic. We will wonder how humans lived in such primitive emotional distress. Distress that is, sadly, seen today by an entire community of standard-bearers in the psychotherauptic disciplines as the mental normative. Yes, they will probably shoot me for saying so, eventually put a bullet in Kodiac’s thick skull for speaking so forthrightly. You think I exaggerate, yeah? If you dare to exhibit signs of so-called mania, the exquisite pole of the disease that used to be called manic-depression, you will see, you will see, so be careful. They will, what, ‘cure’ you of it and return you, whoosh, bim, bam, to a normal euthymic state: the everyday consciousness without too many lows or too many highs resembling nothing so much as affect hammered flat.

So, what about that one day to which I earlier referred? In that post-Darwinian world, nanotechnology and genetic engineering utilizing, let us say, retro-viral vectors, combined with incredible advances in psycho-pharmacology, will mandate a marvelous new status quo. One where the peak states of consciousness we can only now catch glimpses of is the order of the day. The biological basis of daily discontents will be altogether phased out.”

Walking to the edge of the stage, he leans forward with avuncular politeness. “You are Amber, are you not? Amber, am I recognizing you correctly? Would you stand, please?”

The young woman he calls Amber rises sheepishly from her chair. Her frame is the skeletal blueprint for a shatterable tenement of flesh, her blue dress the listless curtains hanging behind board-slatted windows. Her eyes are enormous and childlike, peeking out between the boards’ horizontal spaces. Taking his hand, she steps up on the stage. Red high-topped sneakers suction her shyness securely to the floor, both feet turned in so the toes touch. Hidden behind the dress, her knees must surely be awkwardly inclined toward one another as though conferring, bumping heads. A timid lollipop rounding out the jaw would complete the pose nicely.

Four rows behind Sage, there’s an empty chair. I look around for the presidential bodyguard but he’s gone. Maybe he’s off somewhere, plugging in an AC battery pac, recharging the stun gun I suspect has my name on it.

Since I’m sitting at the end of the row, it’s easy for me to slip into the aisle. I hang in a stoop from my spine, the way Sophiala had in the room before the Prodigy had picked up her handbag. The Boy of Fleece’s eyes raygun the stage in hungry stare and my empty seat for him ceases to exist, vaporized by stray rads of inattention. I armadillo the floor, hunching close to the ground, edging along the back of the room, then crawl down the aisle on the opposite side. I grunt a little with exertion but don’t mind, because it keeps my armadillo impersonation authentic.

The empty chair is on the end of the row and I uncurl like a bendable Frito Lay corn chip into it, sitting next to a clean-cut middle-aged man wearing a Cub Scout uniform and reeking of Vick’s Vapo Rub, sucking on a pacifier. I know the odor of the Vick’s is coveted by some on E, intensifying the sensorium when it’s smeared on the inside of a surgical mask worn over the nose. He smiles at me and the pacifier pops out of his mouth. Then he focuses forward again on the stage, inserting it between his lips. A horse-flank twitch swarms in his jaw muscle, as though chemical flies buzz below the skin, buzz in the bloodstream.

“Amber – such a dear girl. Please, just look at this young lady. She is a vision in sky blue, yeah? For some reason I find her elbows fascinating, they are so competent and thin. To say nothing of those luminous eyes. Spin for me, let’s show the audience of Federakkt how an old man dances!”

She twirls in his hand, shy inside the fanning flamboyance of the blue dress.

“And that is all that an old man like Kodiac is capable of. To stand still while the world revolves around him. Now. Look what I do.”

From his pocket he produces a bill, eyes mischievous stars, twinkling. “This is a one-hundred-dollar bill. Please, don’t ask me whose face is on it. You call it dead presidents, yeah? Here it is. I hold dead presidents out. I say to Amber, it is yours. Please, the dead presidents, take it.”

Amber warily takes the one-hundred-dollar bill.

“And now, the question of questions. How do you feel, taking this, knowing it is freely given and that you owe nothing?”

“Yippee,” Amber exclaims.

“Amber, you have taken it, and I think your response more than indicates you feel very good about this?”

“Yippee,” Amber exclaims.

“Thank you, Amber. Please to take your seat now. The bill is yours – at least until the end of my little talk and no one can witness me begging like a wily snake to flick it back into my pocket with my tongue.”

He winks and the audience manufactures hygienic 50’s laughtrack like it’s the wacky I Love Kodiac Show.

“This is something else I am demonstrating. Internationality. Big word, perhaps one of the biggest, yeah? Words either build or destroy, this I have found. In this context in which I use this word, it is the latter, not the former. In philosophy, permit me to reduce, internationality means the object-driven conditionality of thought. The aboutness, as it were, of thought. Right now, in this phase of our evilution, happiness must be about something, attached to things outside it. I give Amber a bill, and that bill causes her to be happy. The thought about, you see, followed by the feeling. This, my children, is not so very good. Why assert this? Because such happiness is doomed not to last. Go find someone who fell in love, okay, or won the big lottery. Buy them lunch and they will maybe talk to you. You may learn how very happy they were in the beginning, but they are maybe not so happy anymore.”

Removing his glasses, Kodiac squints into the crowd briefly before dropping his head, squeezes the bridge of his nose morosely. Then he sinks the stems back into hair that bundles his ears.

“This happiness I speak of, you have just seen it in Amber. Amber, I am so very sorry to have used you in this way, sometimes I am not a … not a very nice man … when I feel there is a larger point to make. And the unfortunate thing is, there is always some larger point to be made. But you can forgive an old snake like Kodiac, okay?”

Amber nods slowly, confused, looking at the bill in her hand.

Returning to the podium Kodiac leans on his forearms, jutting upper torso. “This happiness that comes from things outside, no, it cannot and does not last. It is elicited by adaptive external and environmental stimuli, enabled by biochemical transduction triggers.”

Sage turns her head to the right, and I see her face facet into profile as she responds to her neighbor, an older woman with cheeks drawn in like pink poodles restrained by leashes. The woman barely moves her lips while speaking, teeth locked down in a Folsom of aristocratic clench, tongue unseen in its solitary confinement behind dentin bars. Maybe molars of wealth root her haughtiness deep in the gum line. She appears to have an insulated quality though it’s understated, the discreet buffer of prosperity, perhaps, enabling her to view life through a window as though riding in a stately stained-glass carriage built for leisurely slumming.

Isn’t this the sort of person Sage avoids?

Thrown by circumstances into an inescapable proximity such as this, with a woman like this, Sage would typically and simply fail to acknowledge her. Such lightly veiled snobbery invariably triggered in Sage a fierce everywoman’s counter-snobbery. The few times I had witnessed it, I eagerly teased her – with the self-righteousness of one for whom high principles often proved unsustainable – teased her for violating the credo she had adopted as a governing strategy in all her relationships, including those with strangers: never treat another human being bluntly.

“Why not?” I probably asked.

“Because, Peace,” she said hotly, “there are people whose shoes you’ll never be able to stand in, much less walk in.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she intended me to understand by that remark, nor what answer I was expected to give, since her comment didn’t answer my question so much as force me flat against a wall of baffled nonresponse while the firing squads in her eyes warned me to enjoy a last cigarette and accept my fate with equanimity. I only understood that for her the sentiment, whatever it meant, was real, and that she spoke of it with passionate conviction.

“And in the meantime,” Kodiac goes on, “in this mean time, this long period of transition, we have inklings that science is moving in the right direction. From the first primitive antidepressants – gritty, unselective – we have moved to site-specific, selective reuptake blockers: noradrenaline, etcetera. Do you want examples of these? Please, don’t let your ears deceive you, I said examples, not free samples! Very well, I am speaking of fluoextine, reboxetine, and others on the therapeutic side of the coin. There is, of course, another side of the coin: the so-called recreational euphoriants. The best and most promising of these may be the drug Ecstasy, though some might be prone to disagree, since there is no accounting for taste.”

More laughter from the audience.

“Let me say this so that we can all know exactly where Kodiac stands. You recall I spoke of those nasty little negative feedback mechanisms. I will say this for you, very clear and loud. Drugs like Ecstasy do not transcend these negative feedback mechanisms. They do not and cannot lastingly transform or subvert them. For example, okay? If my ruined memory serves me, there are 3 major endogenous opioid families.” His tone of voice intimates fairy tales, cozy once-upon-a-time narratives. I might consider climbing on his lap and curling up to listen were it not for my persistent, unreasonable fear of the stun gun.

One of them assists in the creation of utterly dsyphoric psychological states. Brutal negative feedback sequelae that are spawned by interplay between the mu and kappa systems, modulating what the 5-star generals of our ultra conservative, goose-stepping medical regime would call an excess tendency to well being. This is astounding to think about: An interplay between mu and kappa designed by nature that strives to correct excess tendency to well being. Therefore, you find dynorphin activity at the kappa receptors tonically suppressing what would otherwise be, what, felicitous discharge from mesolimbic terminals.

If well-being were to be permanently enhanced, the balance between mu and kappa would have to be shifted, and shifted radically. This is only one thing among many that would have to be done. Ecstasy cannot accomplish this - this is the province of re-engineering, gene therapy effected on both somatic cells and the germ-line. And at this point in time, we are far, far away from big advances on the germ-line forefront, yeah? How far? I do not wish to end this on a less than optimistic note, but I must tell you we are talking about the kind of progress that will not happen in your lifetime, or your children's lifetime …”

Sweat sparks his brow, a mica of effort belying the ease with which he seems to chisel words into an audience that's been his willing slate. This is Kodiac as Rodin, masterful but exhausted by the rigors of creation, and each of his edge-of-the-chair listeners is The Thinker, that preeminently Western sculpture capturing thought as it involutes, teeters on the verge of realization before vanishing into futility. There's a tip-of-the-iceberg weariness surfacing in him, displacing the energy he's been able to absorb from the predominantly college-aged crowd.

Perhaps for dramatic effect, he appears to allow himself to deflate, the podium now propping Kodiac up like a nurse walking alongside an unsteady elderly patient.

“Please, think back to other little talks like these we've had, and for those of you – that would be almost all of you – who know Kodiac personally, you will recall that I have said this many times and in many ways, on and off the record, in my public life and in the shambles that passes for my private life. In actuality – such a peculiar phrase, 'in actuality' – recreational drugs eventually bring negative feedback systems sadly and invariably into play. Ecstasy and many other drugs are quick fixes, with the danger for users being that quick fixes do halt the treadmill – but only temporarily. You must see this, this you must understand if you understand little else. You will pay a price for 3 or 4 hours or so of the profound connectedness and hallowed clarity that this most miraculous empathogen, Ecstasy, gives you as its gift. For when the drug runs its short-lived course, we know what happens, do we not?”

Kodiac slowly swivels his head from left to right, but his eyes are closed now. “The operation of the treadmill begins again, only now it operates in extremis, on the barren borderlines of depletion. But, having tasted the golden nectar of well being as never before in his life, the user wants to taste again. This is the meaning of craving, yeah? Craving – an ugly word that makes it possible to vilify the natural desire for wholeness and psychological health that a drug like Ecstasy temporarily bestows. What did I say before about words? Ah, the word craving is a perfect example. All this, I know, sounds farfetched. But please, remember that Ecstasy, in its early days, was thought to be a drug of great promise by those in the psychiatric profession. Why? Because it zapped the patient, whish, boom, bam, to a place that would otherwise take years of therapeutic work with no guarantee of success: a place of insight and self-acceptance.”

As if on cue light leaps from trapezes hidden in the ceiling, acrobatic beams in red, white and blue swinging through air and exploding against the world on the wall, a patriotic Ringling Brothers bomb. The same music I heard an hour ago with the intermittent Slavic banshee chant starts up again, piped in low from unseen sources, discreet as a mist of Muzak spreading in an slowly rising elevator.

He explains, “But drugs like Ecstasy and a few other street drugs, they are useful for us, in a way that is – how do you call it, down-and-dirty? So be it. They are useful, in down-and-dirty fashion, as we wait for the future. They are, what, instructive. They serve as illustration, they are our chemical parables. Why do I say this?”

Extending an arm with finger pointed straight at the audience propagandistically like an Uncle Sam Wants You poster, he sweeps the arm slowly out, to the side and back, without turning his head or waist, until he’s pointing almost 180 degrees behind him to the planet Earth projected on the wall.

“Because they give us, as we inhabit our spinning planet, an alluring glimpse of what our default state of consciousness could become if several terrible neural metabolic pathways were abolished or aggressively inhibited. Surely, you can see what is already happening. Powerful long-acting mood brighteners, not just the clinical psychic anesthetizing substances that have been jammed down our throats, are coming on the scene. I like to think of it visually, that these mood brighteners are coming on the scene like a debutante appearing at the top of a stairway at a ball. Perhaps a girl like our own Amber, standing at the top of the stairs! They will serve as the life enriching stop gap until the brave new gene therapies permit us to root out altogether the Darwinian pathologies of consciousness.”

The music begins to rise slowly like Lazarus after the onset of rigor mortis. The medic-bodyguard and the man with the stun gun move in a mincing military trot down the aisle and hop up on the stage. Flanking Kodiac on opposite ends, they stand staring out into the audience with harshly bland expressions straight jacketing their faces.

Sage leans away from the whispering woman and directs her attention to the stage. The man next to me holds a pair of opera glasses against his eyes, gazing at Kodiac behind the helpful nurse of the podium. Someone from the back rows calls out, “Kodiac, could you tell us how long this stop gap period is?”

The entire room turns as one to find the speaker. In this way I see Sage’s face for the first time since entering the room. I glimpse her features, an encyclopedia on the history of poetry: her eyes a chapter on Mallarme, nose in its voluptuous dominance Baudelairian, the color of her skin distilled from verdant olive groves tinged by copper as they might have been limned by Virgil, lips the dream escaping deferment in lines that Langston Hughes, had he been Caucasian, might have penned, and an impalpable veil overlaying the whole shimmering like Rumi’s mystic music. I finally turn but by then the speaker, whoever he was, is staring forward again, along with everyone else.

Kodiac’s laughter has legs that wear corduroy, thick thighs that rub, producing gruffly tuneful arpeggiated frictions. “Patience, my friend, patience! You must be happy for the idea of the utopia that will exist for all humankind one day, even if you will never intimately know this post-Darwinian world. But maybe I have been making this sound too easy? Neurotransmitter systems interconnect, almost inextricably. They are complex and delicate in their interplay of feedback circuits in a way that, in actuality, defies facile simplification. It is not just a few things I am talking about, yeah? Tyrosine-hydroxylase activators, receptor density-regulators, transcription factors, opiods, intro-cellular second and third messengers, oxytocin-releasers, phosphorylated proteins, genetic promoters and repressors, other neurohormones … all are implicated in the modulation of mood, emotional tint and psychophysical pain. These must be reconfigured if a new biological manifesto is to be written. And, okay, they will be. So, to answer this question of yours? What is the stopgap time? Perhaps, conservatively, another 400 years?”

The voice in the back groans loudly, oddly expressing disappointment with the phrase, “Aye, currumba!” Maracas of laughter here and there throughout the room shake out little rhythms of commiseration.

The music climbs up with cat burglar stealth, looks through and lifts the window in our ears by degrees almost undetectable. Light beams now skim and agitate in intersecting loops over the wall behind Kodiac. From the ceiling, balloons are released like magnified particles in a multicolored sneeze, floating down in an orchestration of the evening’s impending finale that is infectious with cheer for all its cheesiness.

“No, no, you are not to be sad, my friends. I forbid this. First of all, look at all these lovely balloons! And secondly, know that at some historic, some precisely dateable instant, the last aversive experience in the realm of consciousness on this godforsaken planet will occur. This is the purpose of the Federakkt, okay? To remember the future, to lend our support and resources to this future. To be educated and to spread the word, to explain that there is no superior system of ethics in the idea that suffering is right, or inevitable. To work against the blind prejudice that would have you believe that pleasure and freedom from the tyranny of our genes is wrong, or that the tools, pharmacological or otherwise, for changing our predicament are somehow demonic. We will talk later, my friends. We will discuss this matter of ethics in greater depth, another day, okay? Maybe you will buy Kodiac’s lunch and we will discuss it over ham and cheese sandwiches. As long as you order mine with no mayonnaise, doctor’s orders, okay? For now, I bid you all good night. Kodiac is an old man and will soon be, as you say, hitting the sack, but the rest of you are so young, there is nothing left but that you should dance. Yes, it is good to dance while you can!”

And so the dancing begins.

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