A Novel by Shelton Bumgarner
Jackson Coleburn shredded his guitar furiously at the end of Break Something’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Airbag.” As he finished, he noticed a waitress with a four beers headed towards Lee’s Retreat elevated stage. She handed him the beers and he distributed them to the other members of Break Something. Jackson looked over at the bar and nodded to Cabell “Mule” Lee in appreciation.
He took a swig of his beer and looked over the audience, reflecting on how tasty the beverage in his hand was. Something about the idea that he would get a free beer for his band’s performance added to its deliciousness.
Lee’s Retreat, a large bar in Richmond, Va., Shockoe Bottom had a Civil War theme. Jackson had repeatedly over the last year looked at the paintings of various Civil War battles that were on the wall. He had studied, at various times, the bust of Gen. Robert E. Lee that was displayed with great honor.
Looking over the audience he noticed a raven haired beauty staring straight at him. He chugged his beer and walked over to the other members of the band. They whispered amongst themselves for a moment and finally nodded.
Jackson hopped off the stage and made a beeline to the gorgeous brunette. She was standing in the center of a small group of women wearing colorful hippie dresses. She stood out amongst them because she was wearing all black, including a black “United States of Ramones” t-shirt and tight leather pants. The hippie women surrounding her parted and allowed Jackson to slip inside to reach the woman who appeared to be their leader.
The band began to play Aerosmith’s “Crazy.” He took one hand of the brunette and came close enough to her that he could feel the warmth of her breath. He looked deeply into her expressive brown eyes. He started to say the opening monologue of the song and a hush descended upon the crowd that was looking at the couple with rapt attention.
The song progressed and finally ended. Jackson dramatically dipped the woman over on her back for a moment and finally gave her a long, wet kiss.
“Everyone give a hand to my wife Gaia!” Jackson said. “She turns 30 this weekend!”
Gaia playfully hit him on the chest. She hated the fact that he was making such a big deal of her birthday, especially her 30th. But Jackson couldn’t contain himself. Jackson and Gaia had only been married a little over a year and he was still smitten with her. She was by far the best looking woman he’d ever seen naked and she had a swimmer’s build that turned him on just thinking about it.
Jackson gave Gaia another kiss and hopped back on the stage.
He again discussed something with Break Something. There was much nodding and laughing and finally a decision was made.
“Ok, folks,” Jackson said. “Enough from me, let’s hear one from the band.”
And, with that, Jackson walked off the stage. The band proceeded to go into a furious jam session that had the crowd going nuts. Jackson plowed through the frantic people on the dancefloor, trying to make his way to the bathroom.
Once he got to the bathroom, he was abruptly shoved into the door. He heard the “click” of the door locking securely. Things happened so fast his mind couldn’t figure out what was happening. Before he knew it, his pants were unzipped and pushed down and he could smell a familiar earthy funk. The blur that was attacking him pushed her pants down and soon enough she was on the bathroom counter with him between her legs.
“I love you so much,” Gaia said in her throaty, deep voice.
“I love you, too, babe,” Jackson said, finishing up.
The smell of sex floating around between them and Jackson looked at himself in the mirror. He was 26 now and looking at the back of Gaia’s head he was still in shock that someone as beautiful as she would be interested in him. He loved her so much it hurt. In the mirror, Jackson saw a reasonably attractive man, taller than most. He had a frame that would probably fill out as time progressed but he was still fit.
“Jackson,” Gaia said softly. “I want a baby.”
“Honey, I can barely take care of myself, much less a baby. I barely have a job and I don’t know if I want the Collective helping to raise my kid, anyway.”
There was silence.
“You knew when you met me about my involvement in the Gaia Collective,” Gaia said. “They were part of deal. You get me, you get them. You’re just lucky all 13 of us were American and didn’t have to worry about visas to live in the country.”
Jackson sighed deeply.
He couldn’t help it that he fell so hard for Gaia in Seoul, where they met, that he had been willing to do anything to bring her back to America with him when his teaching contract finished.
“I know, baby, it’s just, I never thought about the implications a potential family. The Collective will demand to raise the kid together with us and…it just is a little much for me.”
“Whatever,” Gaia said. “Deal with it. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be a drunk without a belt, the least you can do is be suck it up and be a man. Anyway, your band is about to finish up its extended jam session. We can talk about this later.”
They quickly adjusted their clothes to make themselves presentable again. Unlocking the door, they cracked it just a bit to see if anyone was waiting for the bathroom and left one by one.
Mule, from his position behind bar had a clear shot of the bathroom. He made a low grunting noise to himself as he saw Gaia and Jackson make their way out of the bathroom. Adjusting his Stars and Bars belt buckle he took a sip of his moonshine and caressed his “Don’t Tread On Me” tattoo.
For months now, he had been banging Gaia every which way. She had a voracious sexual appetite that made it difficult for him to keep up. He rubbed his ring finger and mulled the possibility of how difficult it would be to eliminate Jackson from the picture. The Gaia Collective was a non-issue for him when it came to Gaia. He wanted her in the kitchen and on her back as much as possible and those hippie freaks would be flat on their ass if he had his way.
It was things like that that separated the men from the boys, the alpha male from the beta male. Jackson, in Mule’s estimation of things, was a classic beta male. He let his wife push him around and remained faithful to his wife despite having 12 slutty hippies readily available.
Mule motioned to Gaia and Jackson as they passed by the bar.
“Hey, guys,” Mule said, “I’ll buy you a shot.”
“Two blowjobs,” Gaia said, without missing a beat.
“Two blowjobs, it is,” Mule said.
He quickly fixed the shots. Gaia and Jackson did them and Jackson gave Gaia a sloppy kiss goodbye.
“Babe, I gotta go back on stage,” Jackson said. “The band is getting tired.”
The moment Jackson was gone, Mule placed his hand on Gaia’s
“I miss you,” Mule said, honestly.
“Mule, we need to talk,” Gaia said. “I want a baby…with Jackson. We’re going to need to establish boundaries between us. I don’t want to risk getting pregnant with your child. I love Jackson too much.”
So much you’ve been fucking my brains out, Mule thought.
“Please understand,” Gaia said, obviously sensing Mule’s rising anger. She withdrew her hand from his.
Before Mule could say anything else, a short man with glasses pushed his way through the crowd. The moment Gaia saw who he was, she jumped on him, putting her legs around his waist.
Mule felt a sense of rage. He knew Gaia well enough to know that such a reaction could mean only one thing — she’s slept with this fuck, too.
“Goody!” Gaia said, slipping off the man. “You made it! I thought you were still in Seoul! The US government finally let you escape its clutches?”
There was a pause as Gaia looked at Mule and realized he wanted answers.
“Oh, Mule, this is Dr. Garry Goodykoontz. Goody to his friends. He’s one of the world’s foremost minds on AI and nanotechnology. I met him in Seoul while he was doing super-secret work for the US government at the big military base there.”
Mule and Dr. Goodykoontz shook hands, with Mule making special effort to crush the man’s hands within his to make a point. Dr. Goodykoontz eyes almost burst out of his skull at the grip and he shook his hand in pain after letting go.
“Ow!” Dr. Goodykoontz said. “That’s some grip you got on you, um, Mule. Anyway, Gaia, thank you so much for inviting me to your 30th. I would never have missed it. But, I’m so excited, I can’t wait to give you your birthday present.”
Dr. Goodykoontz handed Gaia a black velvet ring container. She looked at him quizzically and at his urging quickly opened it. Within it was not a ring, but a pill. A large purple pill.
Mule laughed and laughed hard.
“What kind of bullshit is this,” Mule said. “You could have at least gotten her jewelry or something. Giving her a pill is just nuts.”
“Wait, Mule, hear him out,” Gaia said. “The man’s a genius. There must be some point to it.”
Dr. Goodykoontz soaked up the warm glow of the positive attention from Gaia.
“That, my dear, is the culmination of my life’s work. You take that pill, and, well, you’ll achieve the next level in human evolution. You will become…a god.”
Mule put his hands on the bar and laughed hysterically. He shook his head and tried to picture Gaia fucking this nerd scientist. But, she was fucking Jackson, so anything was possible.
“Goody,” Gaia said. “What are you talking about? That’s just crazy talk.”
Dr. Goodykoontz smirked. He took the pill out of Gaia’s hand and threw it up in the air several times and catching it with his hand.
“This pill changes everything,” Dr. Goodykoontz said. “When you take this pill — and I know you will — we’ll look back and reflect on how everything changed. A new calendar system will begin — Before Gaia and After Gaia.”
“But what is in the pill,” Gaia said. “What makes it so special?”
“Nanobots, my dear,” Dr. Goodykoontz said, handing her the pill back. “You take that pill and your body will be filled with nanobots…and…then the magic happens. The Singularity will occur as you become a super intelligence.”
“But why me, Dr. Goodykoontz,” Gaia said. “Why not take the pill yourself?”
“Good question. I am a feminist and am concerned about the environment and the Gaia Collective is, too. I don’t have the right personality to revolutionize humanity. You’re a beautiful woman and I think the masses would rather hear about the next stage in human evolution from you instead of a weirdo like me,” Goodykoontz said.
“I am flattered,” Gaia said, “But if what you say is true, that is a huge responsibility that I don’t know if I’m ready to undertake. I’m going to need time to think about it. I’ll need to talk to Jackson about it as well as the rest of the Gaia Collective.”
Dr. Goodykoontz looked at Gaia and smiled.
“I know you’ll do the right thing,” he said. “You always do. You’re very wise and when you become humanity’s protector, people will rightfully want to worship you as a god.”
It began to sink in with Mule that maybe Dr. Goodykoontz was serious. He felt the stirring of possibility.
“So, the birthday party is this weekend?” Mule said? “What time should I arrive?”
Gaia blushed ever-so-slightly.
“Um, the party begins at 8 p.m. at Chimborazo Park on Church Hill.”
It was early, too early. At least for Jackson. It was the next morning and, as always, Gaia was getting ready for early morning meditation, yoga and Tai Chi. There was other, more mysterious Gaia Collective things that would occur during the course of the morning, but Jackson actively tried not to think about that.
It was so early, in fact, that he could only groggily say “Happy Birthday” to Gaia as she got out of bed and began to get ready.
As Jackson lied in his warm bead, Gaia walked to and fro their bedroom in their home on Church Hill, putting on the delphinus white garb she always wore in the mornings. Seeing her in such attire always turned him on, but she would have none of it.
This morning she meant all business.
And, yet, she paused long enough to sit on the bed and put Jackson’s head on her lap. Her lap was soft and warm and only managed to turn him on more. He sensed that something strange was afoot.
“Ok, what is it,” Jackson said. “You’re pregnant? Is that it? You usually would be out the door by this point in the day.”
“No, I’m not pregnant, honey,” Gaia said. “But, something, astonishing has happened.”
She lifted Jackson’s head up off her lap, walked across the bedroom to their bathroom and came back with a ring box in her palm. She popped it open and there was a huge purple pill there.
Jack suddenly was very awake. Gaia sat down in bed again, this time lying straight out, putting her head on his stomach and rubbing his leg. He felt himself grow hard.
“What’s this?” Jackson said. “Why would someone put a pill in a ring case?”
“You saw Dr. Goodykoontz last night, it’s a gift from him. It’s supposed to allow me to live for ever, to make me a superintelligence,” Gaia said. “Can you believe that? A little pill being able to do all that. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I am going to discuss it with the members of the Gaia Collective this morning, but I wanted to talk to you first.”
Jackson rolled over and moaned softly. He put his hand on his head and reflected on what happened in Seoul between Gaia, himself and the good doctor.
“I really hate that guy,” Jackson said. “He was always scheming to woo you away from me and he very nearly did. And I think he’s bi-polar or something. He’s kind of a crackpot.”
Gaia had taken the pill out of its container and was now studying it. She handed it to Jackson, who did the same thing. It was a pill. Just a pill.
“So you’re not going to take it, are you?” Jackson said. “God only knows what’s in the damn thing. It could be some sort of elaborate trick. Maybe it’s mind control. Maybe he wants to have his way with you.”
He felt Gaia flinch. Her hand was now between his legs.
“Yes, know,” Jackson said. “I know all about you two. The expat community in Seoul is very small and there’s no way you and Dr. Goodykoontz could hide you were fucking each other’s brains out while..while..”
“…you and I were fucking each other’s brains out…” Gaia said.
“Yeah. That,” Jackson said. “Anyway, I think you should give yourself a long, long time to reflect on that pill before you even begin to contemplate taking it. Maybe give it to the government or something. Let them study it, maybe it can save lives.”
Gaia let out a giggle and rolled on top of him. She hadn’t managed to totally fasten her attire and her bosom fell down on his face as she did so. She kissed him on the forehead, rubbing her breasts in his face along the way.
“You, of all people, suggesting we give something of potentially huge historical significance to the government,” she said. “You’re the one who’s so suspicious of the government you thought they were sending government agents to monitor your DJing at Nori Bar in Seoul.”
Jackson knew she would bring that up. She always did. The two of them had met hole-in-the-ground bar named Nori. He had been the DJ and she had been a regular. One morning after finishing his all night set at the bar, he was both wired and drunk, as usual. Gaia had helped him walk to his home nearby and the rest took care of itself. She had rocked his world so hard that he was instantly in love.
“I was drunk a lot back then,” Jackson said. “My mind was pickled. Drinking so much does funny things to your mind. But you saved me. You cleaned me up…”
“…found you a belt…” Gaia interrupted.
“yeah, found me a belt,” Jackson said, “and forced me to realize I needed to do something with my life besides be drunk all the time. And so here we are, debating if you should take a pill that might turn you into a monster.”
Gaia laughed hard and leaned back on her legs while sitting on Jackson’s lap. Her garb was now totally open and Jackson ran his hand down between her breasts.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Jackson said.
“That I’m late for morning yoga?” Gaia said with a leer.
“Oh, you’re late for morning yoga alright,” Jackson said, grabbing Gaia by the waist and gently pushing her onto her back.
Gaia left her home one Church Hill and walked to nearby Chimbarzo Park. Church Hill was not known for being the safest part of the city, but it was dawn and there were 13 of them, so the Gaia Collective was willing to take the chance.
The park was small and afforded an amazing view of the city.
Gaia walked out into the early August morning and could see that the rest of the “coven” as Jackson called them, were waiting for him. They all wore the white delphinus garb she was wearing. The only thing that distinguished her from the others was a playful crown of flowers on her head.
“Where have you been?” Tavi Monroe, the Gaia Collective’s second in command demanded. Tavi was a large, but not fat, woman with the type of hips that would one day allow her easy birth.
“Yeah, have you been with that smelly boy again?” said Echo Peterson, Tavi’s best friend and the Gaia Collective’s most avowed lesbian. Ech had a ruddy complexion that would be easy to hide with make up and shoulder length brown curly hair.
It was the worst kept secret of the Gaia Collective that Gaia and Echo were long-term lovers who had reluctantly put their relationship “on hold” to see if Gaia’s relationship with Jackson would last. She was also the most devout of the Gaia Collective outside of Gaia herself. She was a vegan and tried to use a bike as much as she could.
“Hold on, hold on,” Gaia said with a broad smile. “Don’t I even get a happy birthday? Anyway, I have big, big news. I waited this long because I wanted you all in the same place.”
“Oh, Jesus, you’re pregnant?” Echo said.
There was murmuring within the crowd for a second and Gaia did her best to calm them down.
“Oh, darlings, I’m not pregnant. But something…amazing…may have fallen into our lap. Something that could change everything. Something beyond our wildest dreams.”
With great flourish, she presented the women with the black velvet ring box and opened it. The women jostled around, with each individual member of the Collective trying to get a better look.
“A pill?” Tavi said. “That’s it? A pill? And it’s a pretty big pill, too…”
“I don’t care what it is, just as long as you’re not pregnant with that asshole’s demon spawn,” Echo said.
Gaia blanched at Echo’s unkind words towards Jackson. She really wanted a baby by him and she didn’t know how she was going to explain that to Echo once she was, in fact, pregnant. Echo had hated Jackson almost from the moment she’d met him. Gaia assumed it was because she saw him as a threat.
“Folks, let me explain,” Gaia said. “This pill, if it does as its inventor claims, will transform me into a superintelligence after I pop it. I will, for all intents and purposes, become a god. I will be able to spread Gaianism across the land and humanity will, at last, live in peace and harmony with the earth.”
There was a pause as this sank in.
“I call bullshit,” Echo said at last. “Such Singularity-like technology is decades away, at best. It’s just crackpot silliness concocted by scifi writers who can’t get laid.”
Gaia could feel the crowd turn their attention back to her with suspicion and she felt like taking the pill right then and there to prove the point. To prove that she believed.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tavi said. “Let’s hear Gaia out. She wouldn’t bring such business up unless there was a good shot it was real.”
“Thank you, Tavi,” Gaia said. “Yes, I believe this pill really does as Dr. Goodykoontz…”
At the mention of his name, Echo threw up her hands in disgust.
“First I have to worry about Jackson getting you pregnant, and now I have to worry about that bi-polar freak Goodykoontz trying to get you to pop some pill that will make you his love-slave for all we know,” Echo said.
“Calm down,” Gaia said. “Let’s think this through. If I become a superintelligence, the Gaia Collective would effect real change in this world. We could guide humanity to the next level in its evolution.”
Gaia motioned for the women to sit down. They did so in a semicircle around her and they all sat cross-legged as she began.
“We all know that humanity is doomed if something isn’t done quickly,” Gaia said. “The oceans are rising and the callas actions of mankind are an affront to nature. If I become a superintelligence, I can spread the love of Gaianism across the globe in ways we could have never imagined before.”
“But what does all of this mean in real terms,” Echo said. “Won’t you be, in effect, dead to us? Won’t you just become some sort of technological spirit?”
Gaia wrinkled her head and thought deeply about that.
“This is all very new to me,” Gaia said. “I don’t really know what to expect. I should probably wait a long time before I take the pill, but the crisis humanity faces is too dire. If something is to be done about the unbalance in the natural system, it needs to be done sooner rather than later.”
Tavi put the tips of her fingers together and arched her hands out. She seemed deep in thought. Gaia knew her well enough that she was on the cusp of a revelation.
“Yes,” Tavi said. “I would suggest you take the pill sooner rather than later. Maybe make a Gaian ceremony out of it?”
There was a general nodding of heads on the part of the Gaians, except for Echo.
“I can’t believe you’d actually even contemplate this!” Echo said. “This is just crazy. We have no idea what is in that pill and to think it could turn Gaia into some sort of goddess is just nuts. I suggest you give the pill back or give it to the authorities. Anything but just take it.”
But Gaia had made up her mind. She knew what she wanted to do. She was going to take the pill, she just didn’t knew when or how.
That evening, at the height of the birthday party, Gaia realized she was completely drunk. She rarely drank — preferring pot instead — but right now she was totally drunk.
“I need to lie down for a little bit,” she whispered in Jackson’s ear. “I think I might vomit if I don’t do something.”
“Do you need some help?” Jackson said. “I can walk you into the house if you like.”
Gaia stood up shakily and steadied herself on the white plastic chair she had been sitting in. It was dark by this point and all she knew was she needed to take a nap for a moment.
“If you want to help me, you can,” she said.
The two of them walked to their home nearby and Jackson tucked Gaia into bed. He turned the light off.
Gaia lie in bed, thinking. She could almost hear the pill in her mind, as a beacon. She knew exactly where it was. She struggled out of bed, opened a drawer next to her bed and found what she was looking for.
She was drunk enough that she opened the black velvet case it was in and popped the pill into her mouth. The weight of history and destiny was too much for her. She swallowed the pill with a harsh gulp and waited.
The light to her bedroom suddenly came back on and she was shocked to see Mule walk in. He sat down next to her before she had a chance to tell him to leave.
“Oh, there you are,” Mule said. “I was worried about you. You just left the party abruptly.I thought we might have a chance for one last goodbye….”
Gaia felt funny. She felt an intense pain in her stomach, so much so she could barely speak.
“Get…out…Jackson…might…come…back…” she said over the pain.
“Are you ok?” Mule said. “Wouldn’t it be hot to do it in the bed you share with that beta male Jackson? Maybe you’ll get pregnant….”
“No, I’m not alright,” Gaia said. Gaia looked down at her stomach and it was bubbling through her clothes. She could feel her arms and legs go weak and she fell into Mule’s arms.
For a moment, there was blackness. She heard Mule scream in agony and there was another moment of pitch black darkness. Finally, Mule’s consciousness came crashing into hers. She felt herself absorb all of his experience. For a brief moment, she saw the world as a man did, and he saw the world as a woman.
She was aghast at Mule’s worldview. She realized she had made a horrible mistake by sleeping with him. And now the two of them were linked forever. He would be second only to herself in the power structure of the new era she was about to establish and she did not like it one bit.
A mental singularity existed for second, with the two of them at its center. As soon as it happened, the two of them split into two different consciousnesses. Gaia felt her own mental abilities grow exponentially.
Thankfully, Mule’s abilities, while changed, did not grow to be as profound as hers. She used all her influence over him to alter him as much as possible. But, alas, no matter what she did, he would continue to have free will.
His conation would continue to exist.
Jackson heard a horrific scream from his house and he jumped up and started running. He knew the voice well enough to know it was Gaia’s. Something horrible had had happened and he had to get there as quickly as possible.
He raced up the stairs to his bedroom and was flabbergasted at the sight he saw before him — it appeared as though Gaia and Mule were naked in bed. He burst into tears and cried out in a voice that was equal to the horrific one he’d just heard from Gaia.
Jackson looked up after a second to find Gaia before him. She lay her hand on his head and for some reason he immediately felt at peace.
“Jackson, honey,” Gaia said. “I’m fine. It’s not what it appears. I took the pill and….Mule was closer to me than you and he became a part of the process as well. He’s been transformed, too.”
Mule leaned out of the bed and stood naked before the growing number of people who had come to the bedroom worried for Gaia’s safety.
“I am no longer Mule. I am now Gypsy, the first person to enter the next stage in human evolution after Gaia herself. I have seen the error of my ways. Jackson, I want to confess that yes, Gaia and I have been having an affair, but it’s over. You should join us and we can united humanity in a way that has never been done before.”
Before Jackson could say anything, Dr. Goodykoontz pushed his way through the crowd.’
“I want to join,” he said. “I want to join the Gaia Collective. I’m ready right now.”
Gypsy stuck out his middle finger and Dr. Goodykoontz kneeled before him and kissed it. He jumped back as if he had been pushed. His skin was lit up with a golden spark and finally got up and stood next to Gaia and the newly named Gypsy.
Jackson did not like the looks of any of this at all. He finally had enough wits about him to grab a robe for Gaia. Without thinking, he found something for Gypsy to wear as well.
“Ok, now that everyone has clothes on,” Jackson said. “What the fuck happened. Did Mule…er Gypsy….really just magically when you screamed? Or was there something more nefarious at work?”
Tavi and Echo at this point pushed their way through the crowd. They gave Gaia a hug and started crying.
“Oh, honey,” Tavi said. “Are you ok? We heard your scream and thought something horrible had happened to you.”
“I am well,” Gaia said. “I took the pill. Join me now in the next stage in human evolution.”
Tavi embraced Gaia again for a moment the two women were covered in a golden light. Tavi stood with Gaia, Gypsy and Dr. Goodykoontz.
Echo looked at the growing number of members Gaians and seemed to be deep in thought.
“Well, Echo,” Jackson said. “Are you going to just rush into this without thinking about it? You and I don’t get along, yes, but you always seemed to have a good head on your shoulders…”
Before he could finish, Echo, too, hugged Gaia. Again, the was a warm light. The two women were covered in it for a moment and Echo stood with the rest of the Gaians.
Gaia held out her hand to Jackson. It hung there for a while until it became obvious that he was not going to do anything with it. She dropped it slowly.
“It’s ok Jackson,” Gaia said. “I’ll give you time. You’ll always be welcome to join us.”
Gypsy and Jackson made their way through the streets of Richmond on Gypsy’s Harley. Gypsy could tell from how tightly Jackson clutched this waist that he was terrified at the speed at which Gypsy was going.
“Gaia must really want us to bond, is all I gotta say,” Jackson said over the den of the traffic. “She knows I hate riding motorcycles.”
Be kind to him, Gaia said in Gypsy’s mind.
It had just been hours since his transformation, but Gypsy was quickly getting used to his new persona. He was going to ditch the Harley soon enough because it wasn’t in line with Gaian teachings. It consumed too much gas and could be replaced easily enough with a cross country bike. But Gaia gave him a special dispensation for the time being to use it.
The reason for this specific Sunday afternoon was to find Gypsy new clothes. Gaia had been clear to him — while because of a quirk in history and technology he was second only to her in power within the Collective — she had the power to make his life hell.
In other words, it was within his self-interest to willingly become a Gaian. In Christian terms, if accepted Gaia into his heart, then he could acquire great power within the Collective. She had even dangled the idea of him becoming, in essence, the “system administrator” of the the “cloud” network that was made up of the minds of those who were participating in the Collective.
But that was down the road, the network was too small right now. In their immediate future was his need to improve relations with Jackson and to find some attire that better suited his new worldview.
They finally found a thrift store new Virginia Commonwealth University that was frequented by art students. Gypsy parked his Harley and two of them walked the short distance to the store. In his previous life, Gypsy would have felt threatened by such a place and would have idly thought of throwing a brick through it’s front window.
But, now, he was honestly interested its offerings.
He could tell, however, that Jackson was immediately — and extremely — bored.
“Jackson, let’s talk, just you and me,” Gypsy said. “What do you have against Gaianism? Gaia offers you the chance at eternal life and you turn it down. What’s going on?”
“It’s times like this when I wish I was in South Korea so I could find a market and buy some soju while I reflect on life,” Jackson said. “Um, why am I the only person to think all of this is kind of bonkers. Eternity is a long is a long, long, long time. It’s like getting a tattoo for me. I just couldn’t rush into a tattoo shop and get one. Not my scene.”
Be kind, Gypsy. I love him, Gaia said in Gypsy’s mind.
“Is that so,” Gypsy said, pretending to eye a bead necklace. For a moment he mulled buying another necklace with a peace symbol on it.
“Yeah, that’s so,” Jackson said. “And I’m still processing the fact that you were sleeping with Gaia. I can’t believe she would fuck a redneck like you.”
Careful, Gaia said in Gypsy’s mind.
“I have been reborn,” Gypsy said. “I am a new man now. Please forgive me for my past ways. I now abide by the teachings of Gaia and aspire to live in tune with nature.”
“So you’ve, like, been washed clean by the blood of the lamb,” Jackson said sarcastically. “You talk about Gaia like she’s a god or something. Well, I know Gaia. I know her personally, and she’s no god to me. She’s a flawed human like you and I.”
Gypsy made a silent noise of bemusement. Gypsy paused for a moment to think about how he was going to explain his transformation to the other people in his life. He was going to sell the bar and use the proceeds to help the Collective grow. But he still had three ex-wives and five children to deal with. He was all but estranged from them all, however, so it wouldn’t be nearly the big deal he feared it would be.
“What has happened to Gaia — and myself — is pretty profound. And, really, what is the nature of god? What is the nature of religion? Why do we even worship the traditional God, anyway? Out of fear? What has God ever done for you? We talk about how all powerful God is, but Gaia actually is all powerful, at least relative to you.”
It didn’t take a god to realize Jackson was rolling his eyes at such talk.
“You guys really think you’ve got all of this figured out, don’t you,” Jackson said. “I hate to break it to you, though, but people like my sister aren’t going to be convinced. They’re either going to say Gaia has become just a powerful machine, or worse, much worse.”
“What? How so?”
“Anti-Christ, man,” Jackson said. “They’re going to call Gaia the Anti-Christ if you don’t play your cards right.”
He’s right, you know, Gaia said in Gypsy’s mind.
“Maybe,” Gypsy said. “But if you stay quiet about the Collective, then it won’t be an issue. The Collective will have grown powerful enough that people like your sister will be overwhelmed by our power.”
Gaia and the rest of the members of the Collective had debated a great deal in the hours since Gaia’s transformation the place of Jackson in the historical context of Gaianism. They had all agreed that they needed — at least for the time being — to handle with him care. He, and he alone of the members of the birthday party the night before had not joined the Gaia Collective. If he grew upset and notified the authorities, there was a chance that all of them would be rounded up and studied.
And the obvious option — that of Gaia of connecting to the Internet and simply taking over the world by force — was out of the question for the time being. If Gaia was going to take over the world, she was going to do it with stealth. So, for the time being, Gypsy, the alpha male, was at the beck and call of the beta male, Jackson.
Gaia was growing ever more comfortable with her powers. She spent most of Sunday meditating with Tavi and Echo. Initially, Gaia spoke directly to the women in their minds, but if they wished to speak to each other, they had to vocalize whatever it was they wanted to say. But they managed to come up with a system whereby Gaia relayed messages from one woman to another.
Right now, all they wanted to talk about was Gypsy and Jackson.
Gypsy is going to be a problem, Gaia told the two women in their minds as they meditated. He’s a man, he’s ambitious and he hates Jackson.
Yes, that will be a problem, Tavi said. How are we going to fix that problem, long term? He is going to test your powers no matter what.
Echo, what do you think? Gaia asked.
We just have to be careful, Echo said. Jackson is a weakness right now, but so is Gypsy. Men always allow their ego to cause problems. If I had my way, Gaianism would be only for women.
That was never going to happen and you know it, Gaia said. We have to deal with the facts on the ground. Men were always going to get involved in Gaianism once it stopped being just the 13 of us. I just wish I had managed to convince Jackson to join us instead of accidentally giving Gypsy so much power.
So what’s next for the growth of the network? Tavi asked. We need to grow quickly. There is too much of a risk that Jackson will tell someone about us out of pique because of Gypsy or whatever.
I’m working on it, Gaia said. Gypsy is up to something. But he’s managed to hide the details from in his mind for the time being. My power is not absolute. I just can’t find anyone just yet I trust enough to help grow the network quickly. That will change soon enough as my power grows.
The three women continued to discuss the workings of the Collective for several hours.
Jackson knew Richmond well enough to know that they were totally going the wrong direction to return to Church Hill.
“Uh, Gypsy,” Jackson said as he held on for dear life, “Where the hell are we going?”
“I have a friend I want to catch up with,” Gypsy said.
“Doe Gaia know about this?” Jackson said. “I know her well enough to know that she might get upset if you add new people to the network without her permission.”
There was silence. Soon, they were crossing the James River and were in the Southside of the city. Jackson hated Southside for various reasons, chief amongst them the inordinate number of monster trucks and gun nuts running about.
Soon enough, they were pulling into what appeared to be the parking lot of a strip club. Jackson was flabbergasted that Gaia had not used all her powers to prevent this from happening. Maybe she knew and yet did not know the context.
They paid the cover and walked into the run-down strip club. Jackson was no stranger to strip clubs — he felt that they had their place — but if Gypsy was no longer Mule, he had a weird way of showing it.
“Mule!” the woman behind the bar said. “Is that you? You look like hippie fag. What happened to you? What’s her name?”
“Charlotte, if you only knew. Is Al in?”
“Yeah, honey, Al is in. He’s going to get a real kick out of your outfit, is all I gotta say.”
In a moment, Charlotte motioned to the two men and suddenly two beautiful women appeared by their sides.
Jackson, an extreme extrovert, jumped at the opportunity to chat up his escort, an attractive woman he initially thought was African American. He knew this assumption was wrong the moment she opened her mouth.
“So, where ya from?” Jackson said, grasping at things to talk about.
“Guess,” the stripper said.
“Um, you’re obviously not from Richmond. Let me see…Nigeria?”
The stripper flinched in surprise.
“Oh, baby, how did you figure that out?” the stripper said.
“Your accent. I used to live in Seoul and there are lots of Nigerians there. What brings you to the States?”
“It’s a long story,” she said.
The two women escorted Gypsy and Jackson into a private room where an enormous pear shaped man in a high-end black suit with a fashionable red tie was smoking a cigar while a topless woman in a sarong did what appeared to be cocaine.
The man jumped up and gave Gypsy and warm bear hug and politely shook Jackson’s hand.
“Al,” the nearly naked woman whined, “Are we going to share…”
“Oh, be quiet, Lolita, can’t you see I got company,” Al said. “So, what the hell have you been, Mule? And what’s with the hippie get up? That tail must be might, mighty fine for you to look like that.”
Gypsy looked at Jackson in a hard manner, as if to shut him up before he could say anything. Jackson and Gypsy sat down, were handed cigars and some champagne and soon enough they got down to business.
“Al,” Gypsy began, “I come to you with a once in a lifetime opportunity. Maybe more than that. Maybe once in an eon opportunity.”
“Mule, I have known you since high school and you’ve never shitted me before. So, I will hear you out. But this had better be good.”
Yeah, what exactly do you have in mind? Jackson thought.
“Over the weekend, something truly astonishing happened to me. Something that once you fully understand it, will leave you in awe.”
The stripper next to Al offered him some coke, but Al was too wrapped up in what Gypsy was saying. He took puff of his cigar and leaned back, waiting.
“Have you ever heard of the technological Singularity?” Gypsy said. “Well, it happened over the weekend, in the guise of a woman becoming a superintelligence. But, for various reasons, she wants to be discreet. She wants to quietly grow her network instead of attempting to take over the world in one fell swoop.”
Al leaned in and looked deeply into Gypsy’s eyes.
“You’re serious,” All said. “Go on…”
“The problem is, Gaia is wasting precious time trying to find someone she can trust to help expand the network. I thought of you right away. You have how many…exotic dancing bars…”
“…you mean titty bars?” Al said. “How many titty bars do I have across the country? I have 16 from LA to NYC. Why do you ask?”
Yeah, why do you ask? Jackson thought.
Gypsy drank a little bit of his champagne and motioned for someone to light his cigar. One of the girls did so and Gypsy took a long, deep drag from it before continuing.
“Gaia needs to grow the network and grow it quickly,” Gypsy said. “If you joined the network, I think Gaia might entertain the idea of using your…titty bars…to expand the network abruptly and in a way we could manage. I trust you totally and I feel Gaia, once she met you, would, too.”
Al pushed the stripper next to him aside and took a snort of coke. He leaned back and the stripper gave him a kiss on the neck. Al seemed on the cusp of laughing or asking Jackson and Gypsy to leave.
But the moment passed.
“Ok, you’re really pushing it, Mule,” Al said. “This is just crazy talk. I don’t even know if I know what this ‘technological Singularity’ you talk about is. I’m assuming it’s something good and something I can make a lot of money with. But what, really, do you want? Money? Girls?”
“I knew you would have a lot of questions,” Gypsy said. “But imagine being able to live forever in real terms. Not this spiritual, after death mumbo-jumbo that Christians keep harping on. I mean really, really live forever. What do you think about that?”
Before Al could answer, the stripper from Nigeria abruptly stood up and sat down next to Gypsy.
“What do you want? What do you need? I want to live forever!” she said.
Looking at Al for a split second, Gypsy lightly touched the stripper on the forehead and she seemed to pass out.
“Mule!” Al said. “If you’ve hurt one of my girls, I swear I’ll…”
“Oh, calm down,” Gypsy said. “She’s fine. Some people’s mind’s can’t handle the initial shock of entering the Collective and they pass out. Give her a second.
Sure enough, within a moment, the Nigerian stripper’s eyes opened.
“Albert,” she said, “I quit. I’m going home to Nigeria to spread the good word of Gaianism. Goodbye.”
And with that, she left.
Al made a motion to stop her, but Gypsy waved him off.
“Al, I want you to be the apostle Paul of Gaianism. We need someone with the ability to help us build a temporal infrastructure quickly around the country, if not the world.”
“Someone give me a dictionary, I don’t think I understood any of those words,” Al said.
“He means he’s willing to give you enormous power if you’ll just shut up and join his technologically-based religion,” the stripper who had come in with Gypsy said out of the blue.
Everyone looked at her for a moment and she proceeded to get up and wrap her legs around Gypsy.
“Now do me,” she said softly as she shoved her bosom in Gypsy’s face.
Gypsy touched her temples and she went limp. After a moment, her eyes open and all she could say was, “Man, Gaia is fucking furious with you, Gypsy!”
Jackson figured there was a lot going on in the room that he wasn’t privy too simply because he wasn’t a part of the Gaian network and couldn’t hear Gaia in his mind.
Al seemed honestly curious at this point. He seemed as though he realized there may be some basis in fact to all this crazy talk that Gypsy had been talking about.
“Ok, Mule, or Gypsy, or whatever your name is now. I want to meet her. I want to meet Gaia right now!”
Al’s late model black Lincoln moaned as he got out. Al knew he should live better, but he was too busy making money and living to worry about what he ate. Despite owning 16 strip joints across the country, he considered himself a family man. He had a 25-year-old son he was grooming to take over the business for him and a wife that loved him and tolerated the nature of his business.
He was a good provider, that’s all that mattered to her.
And, now, he found himself well out of his comfort zone. He walked to the entrance of the home of the leader of this crazy hippie sex cult Mule — er, Gypsy — had gotten involved with and the strange things at his strip joint a few hours ago were enough to get him to this point.
The door opened a simply stunning brunette with long, lustrous hair stood in the entrance. He felt like he had to close his mouth from the shock of seeing her. Behind him was Gypsy and Jackson and they pushed their way through the door so Gaia could no longer block their way.
They made their way to a large living room. He noticed some hippies in colorful attire lurking about and they all seemed focused on him. Al was used to being the center of attention — for his size, if nothing else — but he still felt a little uncomfortable.
Gaia motioned for him to sit down on the couch and he did.
“Can I get you anything?” Gaia said sweetly. “A cup of coffee? A glass of wine?”
“No, I’m fine,” Al said. “Let’s get down to business. Gypsy told me earlier today that you’ve taken some sort of pill that has made you a superintelligence. What exactly does that mean, and how can I help you?”
Gaia looked at Gypsy intently before beginning.
“I would say there had been some sort of mistake, but, sadly, there hasn’t been. Yes, I am now a superintelligence. My mind is growing more powerful by the moment, and I can speak directly into the minds of the members of the Gaia Collective. But for personal reasons, I have chosen not to take the direct route of simply logging into the Internet and attempting to take over the world.”
“And those personal reasons would be…” Al said.
“I would much rather, through the strength of my ideas, grow in power to the point that it’s a moot point. The ideology of Gaianism is such that it all but precludes me doing what seems natural — taking over the electricity, Internet and nuclear facilities of the world.”
“Tell me more about the ideology of Gaianism,” Al said.
“Gaians want to live in harmony with nature. We want to abolish the traditional patriarchy that has oppressed women since the end of the last ice age. We want to return to a more natural state. But, in general, we wish people to adopt Gaianism of their own volition.”
“Do you mind if I smoke, you guys are stressing me out,” Al said.
Gaia looked at Tavi and soon a huge bong was in front of them.
“I’ll do you one better — let’s smoke this instead. Cigarettes are so terribly harmful to your body.”
They passed the bong around with only Jackson not participating. Jackson left for a moment and came back with a green bottle of something Al assumed was liquor. Al was surprised at how potent the pot they were smoking was. It was high quality stuff, but he knew he risked getting really high really quick.
“So, you want me to join the Gaia Collective?” Al said. “You want to use my clubs as nodes in the network so you can grow quickly without anyone noticing?”
Gaia looked at Gypsy intently. It seemed as though a decision had finally been made.
“Yes,” Gaia said. “I supposed that’s what we want. Gypsy trusts you completely, and so I’m willing to trust you. You have the potential to have vast amounts of power in the network. We are small right now and we need such as yourself to help us grow quickly. I had assumed we would wait for someone with a world view more in line with my own, but events have obviously overtaken that plan.”
“And there’s no going back?” Al said. “Once I’m in the network, that’s it? I can’t shut it off?”
“Indeed,” Gaia said. “But you will always have free will, of that I can promise you. You can een shut me off in your mind….”
Gaia turned to Al and gave him a fake smile.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Gypsy said. “The network will grow significantly faster because I ignored you, if this works out.”
Al didn’t know if it was the pot or what, but he realized he did want to live forever. He realized he wanted it badly. Badly enough to upend his life in a dramatic fashion, abruptly and nearly without warning.
He got up and walked towards Gaia.
She touched his forehead lightly and for a moment Al passed out. He awoke with Gypsy leaning over him and Gaia’s voice in his mind. He felt an inrush of memories and experiences from others in the network.
He got up and steadied himself, looking at the world around him in a new way. Suddenly, his wealth didn’t mean anything. Suddenly, he wanted to change the world in a way he never previously thought imaginable.
“I’ve got to make some calls,” Al said.
Gaia in the days after Al joined the Collective became ever more cryptic and elusive to Jackson. He knew she was speaking directly into the minds of the people in the collective because there was furious activity on an organizational level, but there didn’t seem to be any physical meetings to coordinate things.
Things came to a head when Jackson realized he had not spoken to anyone — not even Gaia — in three days and he was going a little stir crazy.
He found Gaia meditating outside with Gypsy and Al. He figured that was the closest he was going to get to finding Gaia in an actual meeting. It passed his mind through his mind that it was amusing that Gaia’s top two aids were now men.
“Gaia,” Jackson said. “we need to talk. Everyone in the Collective has stopped talking altogether and I don’t know anyone not in the Collective. You’ve got to do something, anything, to help me out.”
Gaia’s eyes slowly opened and she smiled.
“We were just…talking about you,” Gaia said.
“No you weren’t” Jackson said. “You didn’t vocalize a word. To someone like me, you were just sitting there meditating.”
“Jackson, you really need to join the Collective. You could sit at her right hand and guide humanity….” Gypsy said.
“…to its next evolutionary level, I know, I know. I’ve heard that a few times now. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s just not my scene. I love Gaia, but I’m not going sacrifice my mental privacy for her,” Jackson said.
Al continued to meditate silently. Gaia and Gypsy were wearing colorful hippie attire, while Al was wearing something akin to a toga. Gaia was wearing, as usual, a crown of flowers and a peace sign necklace. Her jet black hair was braided elaborately.
“Oh, honey,” Gaia said. “we want you to be happy, we really do. And we think we’ve come up with a solution. We want you be the liaison between the Collective and…and…”
It seem as though Gaia was trying to avoid using the word humans.
Jackson was taken aback. He realized it was the perfect job for him, given his emotional proximity to Gaia, but he was suspicious. He was afraid it was just an elaborate ruse to co-op him.
“What exactly would this entail?” Jackson said. “What exactly do you want me to do? I do have journalistic experience, but I’m not going to be some lapdog for the Gaia Collective. I’m simply not going to write your version of The Watchtower for you.”
There was silence as Gaia processed this.
“We will give you a small staff and you can do whatever you like with them,” Gaia said. “And we’ll make it clear to them to actually talk to you. We’ve agreed to give you Tavi and Echo. Tavi because she likes you and Echo because, well, if you get Tavi you get Echo.”
Jackson had a hunch that Gaia was killing two birds with one stone for political reasons. As the Gaia Collective grew larger, there was some jostling for political power. Gaia had clearly made her decision — Gypsy and Al were going to be the leaders of the Collective for strategic reasons, while for personal reasons she was going to use Tavi and Echo to keep an eye on Jackson.
“But Echo hates my guts,” Jackson complained. “How am I supposed to do anything with my staff if they won’t listen to me?”
“Take it or leave it, Jackson,” Al said. “Don’t force our hand.”
Jackson didn’t like the sound of that. It seemed like a threat, but he was too close to Gaia for anything to come of it. He did like the idea of having something to do.”
“Ok, I’ll do it. I would like to start a publication of some sort,” Jackson said. “I had a little zine in Seoul that was a lot of fun. I’d like to do something similar in Richmond. And, yes, I know if you guys are funding it I will have to be careful what I print. I’m not stupid.”
Gaia closed her eyes again and Jackson thought he saw the edge of a smirk on her face.
Jackson. Tavi and Echo pulled their new electric car into the parking lot of what could only be described as a building in the middle of a transformation. It looked half like a strip joint and half like what it was about to come — a meditation and yoga facility.
Several months had passed and Jackson had settled into a routine of trying to be a publisher, historian and informal PR person for the Collective. As such, he was active in trying to see first hand what was going on with the growth of the Collective.
Tavi and Echo were both wearing typical hippie garb. He could almost hear in his mind how furious Echo was to be entering something that had even once been such a bastion of the patriarchy.
“Al really took Gaianism to heart,” Jackson said as they walked to the building. It was mid-afternoon and the door was propped open with a cinder block.
They passed the small foyer where previous people would pay their cover charge and pushed through the doors. The center stage of the bar was half gone and there were various women in white diaphanous garb walking around, some of them wearing their clothes so open and loose that Jackson smirked.
“I think a few of these women haven’t gotten the memo yet that this isn’t a strip joint anymore,” Jackson said.
They found Al at a table looking over some building schematics He was obviously growing his hair out. He had dropped at least 30 pounds since he had converted to Gaianism. His black suit and tie ensemble was gone, replaced with attire that would not have looked out of place at a Grateful Dead coverband show. Al was drinking a greenish-blue drink that Jackson guessed was some sort of fruit and vegetable smoothie.
As was the custom of Gaians, there was no greeting or acknowledgement on Al’s part to the two women. With Jackson, he barely nodded his head.
“Things sure have changed,” Jackson said. “Looks like the old strip joint is going to clean up its act and go legit.”
“Oh, joke all you like. But Richmond is in real need of a facility like the one we’re building and we needed a place a little bit more…formal…to meet Gaia,” Al said.
“You need a church,” Jackson said. “What you need is a church. You’re turning your strip joints into churches devoted to Gaia.”
“Well, Jackson, Gaia can’t just been something we run out of the house on Church Hill forever,” Echo said. “The collective is starting to grow and we need a place to meet in physical form. And, not everyone is comfortable with just communicating directly to Gaia in their minds.”
Jackson continued to be torn when it came to his position in the Gaian hierarchy. In some ways he was powerful, because he was so personally close to Gaia, and yet in other ways he was totally powerless because he was not a member of the Collective.
“So, this place is going to be some sort of yoga and meditation center, huh,” Jackson said, looking around. “Interesting. Very interesting indeed. But what’s that thing for over there, that thing that looks like something you might baptize someone in.”
There was silence as the Gaians seemed to be listening to something in their heads. The pause lasted a beat or two longer than Jackson expected. He had grown accustomed to such events — they took place whenever he asked a question that people needed Gaia’s approval to answer in just the right manner.”
“Um, think of it as a place of rebirth,” Al said. “A place of second chances.”
“What, exactly, does that mean?” Jackson said. “I have been proactive in my ignorance about Gaian ideology, but even I know it includes an aspect of reincarnation to it. Is that where, like, people come back when they die?”
Again, there was silence on the part of the three Gaians. This time, there heads were bowed deeply as if they were processing a great deal of material at a high rate of speed.
“Yes,” Al said. “When people die, they will be judged by Gaia and if they have lived their life in abidance with Gaia’s will, they get to leave their mortal bodies behind and become a part of her. But, if they have strayed too far from her will…”
“…they come back to the misery and suffering that is real life here on earth,” Jackson said. “Huh. That is an effective way to manage the issue of free will, isn’t it. I guess Christians have been using it in some respect for a few thousand years, so why not Gaians?”