Here's a Monster

Fabulous Furry World
By Gary L Morton (5,000 words)

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Jack floated in Nirvana, enjoying a dream of lying naked on a pleasant blossom of darkness. His exhalations swirled in the silence, and then something began to burn. A flaming configuration of stars spun to a constellation in the shape of number 666 and descended.

With a snap of his neck and a snort, Jack awoke. Morning light frosted the window, tinting it the color of pink grapefruit. Yawning, he rose, judging the dream to be a product of rich food.

Time for a shower, he stepped through a sunburst door to bathe in warm spring rain and golden beams. Breezes from a fragrant meadow lightened his step as he walked to his grooming cubicle.

A slash of his right hand and he hit the repair bot’s hidden off panel, cutting the robots. Under no circumstances would Jack allow a fluttering robot hand to shave him, and that was because of his own fine hands. His fingers were strong and dexterous and he lent them to no occupation. They held powers of communication, especially when it came to arousing women. His hands cupped breasts like they were the Maker's hands and they also formed even crenellations of lather on his chin. Jack closed his eyes and pictured pale breasts as he drew the razor down his jaw. A healthy stroke and a healthy thought. It occurred to him that his fine hands also aroused other men, and the thought was like another razor springing on him. He almost cut his throat as he groaned. Jack didn't care much for other men, though by law he had to love another man at least once a week … the law being one of the results of Special Referendum 100555, which declared mandatory bisexual love. Some people broke the law, but a lifeplan consultant like Jack had to obey the rules.

Lather spun down the drain and his thoughts went back to his 17th wife. Perhaps he should have contested the vote of the divorce committee. His hazel eyes met him in the mirror; they were a fine design that conveyed the brighter emotions especially well. Also admirable were his features, even in a world where everyone was beautiful. There was a trace of the smart guy in his grin, but an innocent one who seemed to laugh from a superior height of harmlessness, like he knew your life was a joke - and the punch line of it - though you didn't quite know it yourself. Character was his radiance; the losers all prettified themselves or tried to look too flamboyant or rugged and came off as too perfect to be desirable. The losers, as he referred to them, were people who had fine brains they didn't use. They were nearly everyone in the world, and they were his clients; the people who hired him to think for them.

A trace of charcoal showed under his eyes and for a moment, he imagined what the ravages of father time would do to his face. It almost made him shudder. He had just the stuff for bags; a bottle of vanishing cream that matched his skin tone.

His purse popped out of a cabinet shell, and as he grabbed the jar, he thought he saw a spot of red in his hair transplant. Could he have nicked himself there? Using his left hand, he parted the locks. Bright red numbers were stamped on his scalp - 666. They wouldn't rub off and as he worked at them, he could see something reaching for him in the reflection. It was a bronze light fixture, warping itself into a hand of twitching metal fingers stretching toward his neck.

Startled, he jumped and a puddle on the floor caught his heel, then he ran on the spot as he slipped to his knees. His chin bumped the basin and the bottle of skin cream slopped onto his head.

A fast glance behind showed the hand shrinking back into form as a light fixture, so he got up, rubbing his chin. Gobs of cream covered his hair transplant and the number. Picking up a water jet, he cleaned away the cream and immediately saw the fixture begin to vibrate. Experimentally, he rubbed a drop of the vanishing cream into the number; it went opaque and the fixture fell still. Whatever the number was, it obviously stimulated inanimate objects dangerously. An ordinary citizen, who didn't do any thinking, wouldn't have figured that out, and would now be in the clutches of a metal hand. Jack wasn't quite sure what to do about it. He decided to keep the number covered. It didn't worry him that much; people were immortal and protected and didn't have to fear minor hazards. Still, it could be an embarrassing problem. A problem he'd never heard of before and he dealt with just about every sort of personal problem through his work.

In the main room, the breakfast nook assembled before him like a large house of cards, and he sat with his hands folded as a cup of black coffee rolled over. He spotted hair in the brew and plucked it out with distaste - a filthy piece of robot fur and a problem that had come with the Lightning Law Votes of a decade ago. Back then, it had been voted that all robots must be cute and cuddly.

A reluctant bite of breakfast, then he walked into his living station. There were thirty minor items to vote on, but as the holo screens flashed, he decided to skip voting. As far as he knew, he was the only person that ever skipped voting. A view of a thunderstorm appeared and he began to shiver, then he adjusted the set for plain viewing. It was a smart move, because a view of a sewer appeared - dark sludge running in concrete gullies to filtering tanks. The camera panned up to a ledge where a man on a concrete bench was sipping coffee. Professional lighting revealed it as a planned shot. The man wore a suit of protective plastic, but had the helmet and gloves off to eat. Taking a sandwich from a tin lunch bucket, he began to chew, swallowing the sandwich in a few bites as the national anthem played.

An unseen announcer spoke. “Citizens of Fabulous Furry World, here is today's message from President Joe Smith.”

“Mornin' folks,” Joe Smith said. “I'm proud to be president and I'm proud to be the last sewer worker in this great nation. This sewer is the setting I chose to help the leisure classes remember the workin’ stiffs of this land. Today there has been a lunch box, ballot box victory for workers. I'm proud to announce that Constitutional Referendum 200175 has legalized facial hair on both men and women.”

A hand signal and the screen went dead. Jack scowled as he got up. Today's president was a meathead, the sort of working class demagogue he hated. Sometimes he wished he could start a grass roots campaign to vote out Amendment 5, the law voted in to guarantee every citizen the right to be president for a day. It was unfortunate that the amendment was in the sacred cow category and he couldn't hope to challenge it.

At the exit chamber, Jack decided to check his itinerary before tangling with the outside world. It was an exercise day, meaning he’d flash to work on the public transfer. Adjusting his wardrobe, he drew out a shimmering suit, a rocket jacket and air roller-skates. In theory, he was supposed to walk part of the way, but down on the lower streets there were protesters on every corner, so if he didn't rocket over them, or roller around them, he’d never get to the office. The right to protest was another sacred cow of course, and it was abused by the loose gangs of street activists and radicals - mostly one-track-mind single-issue protestors who went on for decades trying to get ludicrous items voted into law, or else trying to get new referendums on ironclad amendments they disagreed with. Other than the president, there were only local politicians, and they represented issues and not territories. One of the reasons today's president, Joe Smith, was ridiculous was that he thought an organized working class existed. In reality, two or three issues were the maximum any group lobbied on.

The window expanded like a soap bubble, transformed to a rainbow and opened. Rocketing out Jack did a controlled free fall to the lower avenues. Much of the exercise came from the body twists required to dodge reflectors, traffic tubes, weird jags in the architecture and the hundreds of banner poles. He saw no other flyers on the way down and he hit the ramp without a snag. The air wheels on his skates had perfect rebound, so now it felt like he had winged feet. A clean plate of blue sky showed overhead, an illusion created by the reflectors. Sun-gold streets were ahead. These weren't auto lanes, but there were a few people on rocket skis and scooters. Several clear blocks of foam glass buildings passed before he zoomed up to the crowds. The first picketers were studheads with manes of colored feathers, and they wanted the molecules they plugged into to be declared legal drugs. They were always around, blocking the streets with impromptu and rowdy concerts played by android bands. Jack knew that if he didn't blast over them swiftly they'd pace him on their rocket skis and harangue him like they did all members of the establishment.

Crossing the city, he found the protest scene vibrant; furry Teddybots were busy moving in here and there at scenes of police brutality to drive the officers back. After twenty minutes of wild riding, he floated down to his office window ledge. The glass recognized his reflection and opened. Today he knew he'd have to stay dressed in his Flash Gordon outfit, as he didn't have servant robots in his office. Ducking in he checked the desk screen, noting that his first client was in the waiting room. She was a foxy blond woman named Alisha Murphy, attended by two albino Teddybots.

A ring tone came from his prompter and he checked the message. It was a reminder from his lawyer on the new sexual harassment laws voted in. Legally, all he could do was sit tight and deadpan the clients. Gestures of any sort would be risky. Jack grimaced, but at his lawyer, not the laws. Of course, he didn't vote for sexual restrictions of any type, and he expected society to treat people like babies. But his lawyer had no excuse for treating him like a baby that needed prompting on everything. Jack had grown up sweet-talking his way past people who wanted to press charges of one sort or another. It was the only way when the laws changed by Lightning Vote. Early in life, he'd learned that the law was an ass with two faces.

Alisha entered and the pneumatic door whooshed shut. She walked with such natural pride she might’ve been an angel with freshly folded wings. Her eyes had a baited twinkle and he knew she was seeking ways to control him. No matter how she dressed her sexually provocative nature showed through, and she was one of those perverted people that get away with it because it seems natural. Sexual confusion had always been one of her problems and that made her similar to Jack. Her addiction was for shallow men who were easy to throw away. Jack read that as fear of deep emotional attachment. A problem he also shared. With Jack the problem was rooted in the fact that professionals weren't really allowed to have sex with anyone. On the other side of the coin, sexual relations were mandatory. You had sex with everyone, yet it was terribly illegal - the result being guilt, fear of discovery and disgrace, and bonding problems.

“I've been thinking about death,” Alisha said, her look obviously designed to shock.

“Hum,” Jack said, taking a cigarette from his purse. He snapped his lighter and instead of a flame, a hairy tentacle whipped out and broke the cigarette. He knew if he went by the book, he'd force her in for observation. “People are immortal, why would you want to think about death?”

“Call it fixation, and I mean real death - not that I would attempt suicide . . . not when they put you back together no matter how painful it is. You're a thinker, Jack. I bet you've thought about everything, even death?”

“I do think about everything, but for other people because they like to vote with their hearts and skip out on bothersome thinking. In normal life planning no one asks me to think about death. The ones that do are mad.”

“Maybe we’re all mad. I mean why do we believe in heaven without ever questioning it?”

“A natural understanding; the day comes when the marked are taken to heaven by the Priestbots.”

“Am I marked?”

“I don't know.” Jack thought of the fresh mark on his head. “No one knows what the mark is.”

“What about in the past,” Alisha said, “when people believed in the wonder of death? It was a genetic defect, I guess?”

“A social one,” Jack said. “People can be socialized to believe and behave in almost any fashion. But we operate by the truth. The Priestbots and heaven are a certainty.”

“This is such a headache, all this thinking. Let's get back to my therapy. Where were we? Ah yes, I was imagining what life would be like if I were a nurse.” Alisha paused then began unbuttoning her blouse. “We're in Fabulous Furry Hospital. I'm the nasty nurse and I've just caught you doing something dirty with your penile implant. Regulations say I must seize it. Will I disconnect it or not?”

Alisha was still playing the nasty nurse, slamming her hips from side to side as she left. Jack sprayed his mussed hair back into place with a groom gun and checked himself in the mirror. His fly was undone, and his face pinked as he suddenly feared discovery.

It was time to get a second opinion on that damn number, so he went out, down a corridor painted ballot blue and into Frank Gavin's office. Frank visibly jumped at the sight of someone entering; he was beside the open window blowing out a cloud of blue smoke. A Teddybot lay on the carpet by his desk, and it was out of commission with a letter opener planted deep in its forehead.

“Ah, smoking has been voted out again and you've surrendered to temptation,” Jack said, smiling.

Gavin's cheeks hollowed as he sucked on the cigarette. He was a big jolly man like a larger version of a Teddybot, only he was without fur. “You're going to inform, I suppose?” he said.

“No, I could use a butt myself,” Jack said, taking one of the dope sticks he thought were cigarettes from his purse. “What I'm here for is a second opinion.  It's this mark on my head.”

As he strolled over, Jack parted his immortal hair and rubbed the mark clear. Interest lifted Gavin's face then he seemed to weird out as he took a step back.

“Stay right there, I know what to do,” Gavin said in a tone that was suddenly certain.

“Okay,” Jack said as Gavin walked over to the fallen Teddybot. Sparks showered as he pulled out the letter opener. Bizarre emotions showed on Gavin's twisting face. Saliva dripped on his fat lips and his gaze was upward and enraptured like that of an idiot visionary.

“Ah yes, heaven and bowls of polished fruit,” Gavin said, apparently addressing someone higher than Jack. “Extinguish me in the flaming bosom of your love O Mohammed. Let virgin breasts be the pillows of my soul . . .”

Jack took a cautious step back. Gavin was holding the letter opener like it was a holy dagger. Knowing that Gavin had never been a mystic poet Jack wondered why he was acting like one now.”

“Don't move, Jack,” he said, becoming suddenly stern. “You can't run from heaven. The Priestbots are all-seeing.”

Perhaps that was so. Jack didn't know, but he could run from Gavin, and as he charged with the letter opener, Jack simply stepped over and jumped out the window.

It was suicide, he wasn't wearing his rocket jacket or emergency balloon bag, and suicide had been voted out, which meant - Rescue. On a high ledge, a robot gargoyle shook off its verdigris, sprouted gossamer wing blades and jetted down, seizing Jack with griffin claws. It soared through the wind channels of the upper city and down to the lower streets. 

Jack's thoughts rushed with the wind tearing at his hair transplant. He was marked for heaven and logic dictated that the religious beliefs of the society he lived in were a delusion. A bronze letter opener through the brain wasn't a heavenly idea, and Gavin's reaction to the numbers had been psychotic. He thought of the light fixture trying to strangle him, and it occurred to him that any other marked man would've died shaving, when the robot shaver slashed his throat. If it weren't for the fact he was a peculiar person he'd be dead.

A city park was below and the robot gargoyle released him, sending him for a tumble on soft artificial grass. No sooner had he gotten to his feet than Gavin blew in on a wind channel and landed beside him, hitting the sod so hard it rang like a drum. It was more than Gavin's prosthetic limbs and brain transplant could handle, and moments later, the robogoyle appeared and soared off to the reconstruction tubes with his broken body.

Teddybots were coming around a fountain that showered golden water so Jack ran off down a path of glass earth and into a library. Covering the mark on his head, he went down to a private chamber, took out his cream and smeared it over the number. A guard robot with a uniform of shining fur and two revolving heads of striped fuzz was approaching. No doubt he was in a reserved space. Ducking out he went to the fabulous newsroom and sat at the back.

To his amazement, his image was on the holo platform and it was slowly rotating. An evangelist with a hair transplant modeled after the burning bush appeared in the 4-D announcer's square. “Yes, it's a miracle,” the evangelist said in tones both awed and fiery. “Jack Morton's angel has returned to our Fabulous World and is at large in the city. Any citizens sighting him are to report to the nearest public church.”

A disguise was needed and he had to get out of the library. Taking advantage of screen flicker and a moment of darkness, he edged over to the door and went out. Browsing people were as thick as flies so he made an unauthorized entry into the antiquarian stacks and ran to a back fire door.

Bright sunlight blinded him and he was hesitant to step out. When he did, he found himself in a side alley. As he began to stride briskly away, an undercover Teddybot rolled out of the shadows and blocked him.

“Eye scan verified. You're being held in custody,” it said. “Violation of state referendum 100555.”

Jack thought fast. 100555 was the law making bisexual love mandatory, and he'd been hiding from his listed lovers. Now he'd be held until he could be stamped.

It was a tense wait while the Teddybot communicated with another bot, but there was some relief in the fact that the bots didn't seem to be aware of his new status as an angel. Perhaps only the citizens had been alerted so far. It was five minutes before the second cop Teddybot rolled up with a man in tow. “Maybe I can get this over with and get away,” Jack thought as he realized the bot had managed to find a volunteer. The volunteer was an obvious gay stud with a blond crew cut and a muscular build. Jack figured quick sex with him would mean a quick stamp and release.

Jack coughed and spat on the asphalt, risking a ticket. Something wasn't right because the blond guy was looking at him like he was the handsomest man on earth, when he knew he was the mainstream sort of guy muscular gays didn't go for. Ever efficient, the Teddybots rolled to guard positions while the volunteer moved in and embraced him. As was the law, a sexual relationship developed, with Jack skillfully pretending to be a responsive partner. Things progressed until he was against the wall with his partner mounting him from behind. Jack ground his teeth as his body rocked and he was forced to cooperate for the sake of comfort, thinking that when the populist state votes to screw you it really does the job.

Feeling somewhat annoyed he decided he would still escape the 666 version of heaven. Frowning at his volunteer lover, he zipped up his pants.

“Hey, don't blame me,” the big guy said. “Do you know how many women I have to suffer through?” He held up large hands. “I volunteered to do you because you're an angel.”

“Angel, angel,” the Teddybots repeated in unison, and then they shot out hairy tentacles to hold Jack again.

A solid wall of darkness towered over him, then bright lights flared and Jack saw heaven. He felt more like he was in hell. His temples rang in his ears like sheets of vibrating aluminum and he knew he'd been drugged. The room was white and a strait jacket that smelled like robot cleaning fluid confined him. A huge window lit up in front of him and at first, he could see nothing but a brain-stabbing glare beyond it.

His dry tongue choked him and he watched in misery as the glare became a blurred scene. It was a robo industrial complex; hulking machines, blocks and cylinders. Wheels whirred, and chains, gears and rollers created a rushing din … if it was heaven Teddybots had dreamed it up.

Just outside the window, a spotlight shone on an open circle and a Priestbot in vermilion robes of judgment was reading scripture from the preface of a huge leather-bound Record of the Vote. Ermine trim framed a hairy face that was nasty rather than cute like the Teddybots.

The din increased in volume and at its heart was a sound like thundering pistons that died down as an assembly line began to move. A powdered white face appeared; it was a man in a strait jacket and he was held by huge clamps. More followed on the assembly line, all of them conscious, with shaved heads, bright eyes, and enraptured facial expressions.

Caterpillar-like, the line eased forward, carrying the people toward its end at the Priestbot and the light. The window hummed in its frame as the machinery halted with the first man placed in the holy circle. After reverently setting the book on a brass altar, the Priestbot fell to his knees in prayer. He'd hardly begun when there was a sudden ringing. Cha-ching and a huge metal cylinder swung over and knocked the happy man's head off. Blood and splintered bone blossomed and spilled like strawberry pulp in front of the Priestbot, and blood was still showering as the line jolted forward with a clank. A second person was moved up as the headless body of the first was carried under the floor.

Although it was a revolting and traumatic sight, it was the absurdity of it that vaporized the residue of Jack's religious beliefs. All of his life he'd believed in the Priestbots and heaven, and the reality of it was Cha-ching, Cha-ching - whomp, whomp, whomp - doom, doom, doom. All of it totally meaningless cruelty that people must have at one time or another voted into existence so future generations would have happy lives of fake immortality and then be put to death. It was too much; he couldn't cope with the reality of death and the loss of immortality. Vomit rose and he blacked out.

Lifted from a gentle cloud of sleep he saw a flow of bubbles. Soft and metallic blue they brushed his cheeks and filled his ears with the glissading of harps. Through his fluttering lids, he saw a man spraying him with a gas gun - an evangelist with a wizened face, flowing silver beard and robe of many colors. Getting up, Jack noted that he was now wearing linen robes and smelled of spices and perfume. The building was a tele-cathedral and he could see a vault and Gothic arches above him.

Jack felt positively enlightened or negatively enlightened - it depended on the charge of the gun. He smiled as the evangelist turned off the flow. “Say, you're Moses Daniel of the Public Church, aren't you? I thought I was in the hands of the Priestbots.”

“You were found after the heavenly mark faded, so the Priestbots have declared you an angel. The tele-board awaits your divine message.”

Jack stood up, feeling unnaturally light in the linen and tinted light beaming in through stained-glass windows. Beyond Moses, the board members were seated at an ornate table set beneath a giant trompe l'oeil cross. Since a heated theological debate was underway, Moses and Jack walked almost unnoticed to the table.

“Ah hear the voice of the Lord sayin’ Jack is no angel,” said a jowly evangelist with a Southern accent.

“It's blasphemy!” yelled a flame-haired prophet as he pounded his fist on the table. “Our predecessors, the Ten Populist Evangelists, are rolling over on their divine clouds. This man is here to alter the Ten Heavenly Laws and destroy the religious sanctity of the state.”

Moses looked to Brother Judas. “Could he do that?”

Brother Judas cleared his throat. “All laws are transitory, changing by the vote of the people. Except for the Heavenly Laws. Thanks to the foresight of our predecessors, they can't be altered. For my part, I intend to assist our new angel, to help him avoid theological errors that would cause the Priestbots to dispatch him quickly back to heaven.”

There was much confusion. Moses put up a firm hand. “There will be no more speculation. Let's allow our angel to deliver his message to our all-seeing helpers, the Priestbots.”

All heads turned to Jack, and he was thinking furiously. He could see that the all-seeing Priestbots were represented at the table by a camera mounted in front of an empty chair. So far, he'd gathered that the Priestbots were androids that made sure the religious laws never changed. He knew there was a way. “As the Lord has commanded,” Jack said quietly and reverently. “I have returned as an angel. A humble lifeplanner, I am chosen of God to be a world planner. This is to be done through Heavenly Law Number Five, which guarantees freedom of religion. I will begin by building a new church and a new gospel for ….”

Judas gasped and interjected. “The Priestbots cannot allow this. I move that our angel be returned to heaven.”

There was much trumpeting and the Inauguration Day Parade came on as it did every day, but the citizens of Fabulous Furry World knew something different was in the air. They knew an angel was said to be on earth when none had come before.

“And now a message from our president, our angel, Jack Morton,” said the unseen announcer, and Jack appeared, looking fabulous in sunshine and his new cloud-of-heaven hair transplant.

“Citizens, this is a day of great celebration, as every day is a day of great celebration. Today the trumpets are louder because I have sent the Priestbots and our glorious tele-evangelists to heaven. At this moment, they are safe and saved at the feet of the Lord. Of course there is much to vote on now that I am angel president for life, and . . . .”

 ---The End---

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