In the story, "Digem 1.0," that I submitted to Lauren Beukes' "Moxyland" contest I created a Mephistopheles-like antagonist, which I liked very much. In "Digem 1.0," he is flogging drug-ladened cigarettes in Cape Town, South Africa. (You can read "Digem 1.0" on the Moxyland page at Authonomy.com.) In a new story, "The Wall," he is representing an Anglo-American multi-national corporation in moving the Vatican City to La Ciudad, Mexico. Here is the "The Wall."
The Spring Dragon 6, a SUV hybrid designed in Wolfsburg and manufactured specially for the Mexican Federal Police in Shenzhen, China, sped through the Sonora desert at dusk.
Colonel Calypso, snuggled deep into the black leather rear seats, reading dispatches from La Ciudad, glanced up to catch a last glint of the sun and then barked at his driver and aide-de-camp, Sergeant Cantu. “Osvaldo, slow down, you’re going to hit a pot hole and break a wheel shaft.”
“Sí,” snapped Cantu through gritted teeth. “This road is a bruja, Colonel.”
“If it bothers you, send another text message to El Presidente but please use your own sim card this time.”
Cantu laughed and Calypso joined in. The two had been together for ten years, every since the border riots of 2019, and they shared a sarcastic, fatalistic humor.
“How much further, Osvaldo?” asked Calypso, pushing his miniature laptop aside and running his fingers through his thick black hair.
Cantu ordered the SUV’s computer: “Calculate estimated time of arrival.”
The computer replied in the voice of Selma Hayek, a famous Mexican actress of the twentieth century: “ETA at load-down terminal 616—Sonoran Sector--in three hours.”
“That is if you don’t break an axle or turn us over,” added Calypso.
As the sun set finally in a crimson sliver and shadows extending from the Sonora Mountains stretched across the desert, Calypso turned on a reading light and returned to his electronic dispatches.
A few minutes later the computer warned that a spy drone had locked onto their coordinates; Calypso, leaned forward, placed his elbows on the back of the front seat, and ordered the computer to determine the make and model of the drone.
The computer purred: “Reaper 66, manufactured in Quebec 2028, an Anglo-American Alliance signal.”
“Damn it, why do they continually break the rules. Cantu, alert command in La Ciudad that a Reaper is targeting road traffic rather than maintaining the twenty mile no-fly rule.”
Calypso adjusted in his seat to better see the Reaper; he hoped to God it was not on a search and destroy of human contraband. Those blasted machines, he thought, couldn’t tell one Mexican from another.
“Computer, activate the commercial/humanitarian code and beam our info-numerical to that blasted machine.”
A few seconds after Selma Hayek transmitted the code the Reaper dipped its left wing, turned sharply, and disappeared into the gray haze emanating from the hive city Heroica Nogales.
Twenty minutes later, Cantu announced: “I can see the lights of the first tent city, Colonel.”
“Slow down and prepare yourself.” Calypso unsnapped his holster and removed his forty-five caliber Springfield XD compact automatic, manufactured in the Dakota province in 2024, and held it securely in his lap with the safety off.
On the edge of the tent city, barefooted children ran toward the Spring Dragon, screaming, laughing, and begging for a handout. A large wooden cross marked the entrance to the refugee camp and someone had sprayed a message in reflective paint on la Cruz: “Jesus Saves.”
“Electrify,” barked Calypso and the outside of the vehicle shimmered blue, as Selma Hayek sang out to the children—“Warning, Warning, Electrical Field; high voltage. Please step back; please step back.”
The children stopped and backed away from them, as Cantu maneuvered through the tent city that, in some places, completely covered the two-lane macadam road that ran through the walls encircling the Hive City.
Elevated adverts, lining the road, blinked infomercials, as buskers, prostitutes, and hawkers screamed out their talents and wares. One neon tag caught Calypso’s attention: “people are consuming machines; disassemble the machine.” Beneath the sign, a young girl, fourteen or fifteen, wearing a black dress, waved at them and leered. A Digem cigarette smoldered on her lower lip.
Calypso sighed and remembered that the ad hoc tent city grew up around the Heroica Nogales just five years ago and continued to expand ever since. He could not imagine what the people thought they were doing or what they hoped to achieve by camping out on the doorsteps of Nogales; did they hope, he asked himself, that some prophet would shout the walls down and they could cross into the promised land of the Anglo-American Alliance. Didn’t they know that products cross borders; not people.
Eventually they reached the first fence surrounding the Hive City; it was a barbed-wire contraption manned by a squad of regular soldiers. A corporal in stained green fatigues shuffled toward the vehicle and Cantu ordered the electrical charge off, as he lowered his window. The Sonora heat radiated into the cabin and the corporal smiled as the cold air of the air conditioning hit him in the face. He scratched the stubble of his black curly beard and belched: “Papers please?”
Cantu handed him a smart card with their travel code and orders embedded. The man slipped the card into a flat palm-size computer hanging on his belt and then touched the ear bead in his left ear. He nodded when he received the clearance code and waved at one of his men to open the gate. As Cantu pulled away, the man half-heartedly saluted Calypso, who grunted his disgust and ignored the salute.
A mile later, they crossed a narrow stone bridge over a dried stream bed littered with cola cans, garbage bags, dilapidated furniture, and stopped at a reinforced steel gate. Automatic Gatling guns adorned the parapets like gargoyles and a Captain, wearing mufti, emerged from a guard house and followed by two uniformed men, carrying Austrian MK-36 (2017) sub-machine guns, crisply saluted Calypso.
The men waited patiently on each side of the vehicle as two German shepherds sniffed the undercarriage and urinated on the Japanese reinforced steel-belted tires. When the dogs moved away, the Captain signaled some unseen operator and the gate opened onto a wider, better maintained macadam road, lined with colorful stucco houses and tents. People milled around the streets and shops, blocking their way, and Calypso, frustrated at the continued delay, said: “Turn on the siren.”
The people slowly made way for the SUV and they drove another two miles to the third wall and the entrance to the elevated hive city—Heroica Nogales.
The last fence was a forty-foot high obsidian barrier and Cantu stopped the SUV in front of its stainless steel gate. No guards were visible; just a mechanical box on an iron rod, into which Cantu inserted the smart card. The gates opened and they entered the Hive City, the city that the politicos and nacros alike referred to as Emerald City.
A Policía Federal, a PF, dressed in black fatigues and wearing a balaclava to disguise his identity waved them through the gate and pointed them to the left, toward the entrance of an underground car park. Calypso knew the rules: no vehicles from this point forward and no weapons. He slipped the safety on and holstered his automatic, as Cantu parked the vehicle in a VIP parking slot on the ninth level of the underground.
An electric cart soon arrived, driven by a woman in a skin-tight black uniform. “Colonel,” she said, “Ensign Bolaño, I am to drive you and your aide to the heli-pad for transport to load-terminal 616.”
Calypso nodded, opened the hatch of the SUV and unlocked a safe welded into its frame; he removed a stainless steel attaché case and stowed his automatic. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the safe; Cantu handed him his pistol and holster and then took a seat next to the Ensign on the electrical cart. Calypso locked the SUV and climbed into the back seat.
Cantu fell asleep instantly and Calypso said very little as Bolaño maneuvered through the bee-hive interstices of the underground.
In approximately twenty minutes she delivered them to an elevator tube dedicated exclusively to the heli-port on the roof of the hive-city. As Calypso stepped out of the electric car, Bolaño said: “I will be here when you return, Colonel.”
He coughed and punched Cantu to wake him up. “Sergeant, we are here.”
Cantu rubbed his eyes, straightened his beret, and mumbled: “Yes, Colonel.”
They took the elevator tube up through seventy-five levels of the hive city. With their ears popping, they stepped out onto the steel and plastic heli-port, where a PF, identical to the one that waved them into the car park, waited for them. In the distance a black French Sikorsky turbo idled.
A tall blond man, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and leather tie, approached them. He was so tall he bent almost double to avoid the Sikorsky’s prop, as he extended a meaty fist and said in English: “Van Kahnweiler, colonel, glad to meet you.” Before Calypso could answer, the man put his arm around Calypso’s shoulder and guided him toward the helicopter. “If you don’t mind colonel, we are on a very tight schedule.”
Calypso hesitated and said: “I’m in no hurry.” The man turned and a grimace of anger flashed across his face. Calypso ignored the man’s obvious ire and continued: “Because of your no-fly rules I just drove all the way from La Ciudad. It took us almost two days. In the past, these quarterly meetings to discuss operations of the load-terminal are fairly leisurely. I expect to shower, shave, eat, and sleep. I am in no hurry, Mr. van Kahnweiler.” The man smiled a crooked grin and said: “I know colonel but today is different; today is your lucky day. Today you have won the lottery. Now please come with me, we are late.”
Even though the man was smiling, his pale blue eyes bore down on him and Calypso sensed imminent or potential violence. Cantu, also, was alert to the threat and Calypso saw him crouching, ready to spring. Calypso sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Lead on Kahnweiler.”
“You may call me Ruik, colonel,” the man said, as he moved toward the waiting helicopter.
Load-terminal 616 was technically in Mexico; however, under United Nations Treaty 16543 (2021), the area fell under United Nations Jurisdiction and control. As a quid pro quo for that control the Anglo-American Alliance assumed all responsibility for the financing and security of the facility, as well as control of all roads and rails entering or leaving. In addition, because of or perhaps as a result of the riots of 2019, the United Nations passed Resolution 72666-b3 (2020), which mandated that a corridor extending twenty miles south of the North America-Mexico trade barrier, known as the Border Wall or the Great Wall, would be a no-fly zone and the Anglo-American Alliance would regulate all flights coming from Mexico, Central America, and South America.
They took their seats and the Sikorsky took off, circled the apex of the Hive City, and then followed the Great Wall, heading toward the load-terminal. Calypso enjoyed flying and he used this rare opportunity to scan the virtually empty space north of the wall.
As they neared the mammoth terminal, he saw a McDonnell-Douglas 2020 turbo dirigible docked at the terminal. Calypso had only seen one of the huge ships once or twice before and he felt a child-like sense of wonder at the sight of the solar-powered airship. This particular model he remembered could carry up to seven hundred passengers and travel an unlimited range at a speed of 300 kph. This ship displayed the symbol of the salamander, the logo of the multi-national defense and construction company, Argent Noir, also known simply as The Company, and the city of its origin--Quebec City.
As soon as the Sikorsky set down on the pad, van Kahweiler was out and leading Calypso and Cantu toward the dirigible. The dirigible’s size dwarfed anything Calypso had ever seen before and he willingly trailed after Kahnweiler. They soon reached the ramp leading to the cupola, where a blond woman in black fatigues greeted them. The shoulder patch on her left arm was a yellow background with the Anglo-American insignia—three stacked red “As” forming what appeared to be either a pyramid or an oil derrick, crisscrossed with fasces, a bundle of rods, which identified her as a member of the Black opts unit, simply known as Special Forces or SF.
“Welcome aboard colonel,” she said. “Please follow me to the dining room; they are waiting for you.”
As they worked their way through the labyrinthine design of the ship another SF officer appeared and said: “Sir, we have made arrangements for your sergeant to join our non-commissioned officers for lunch in the mess on the second level.”
Cantu frowned but Calypso waved him away; his presence would not help if the Anglos decided to kill them on the ship. They were both unarmed and outnumbered.
The blonde led him to a wooden door marked “executive dining room” and knocked. A voice called out to enter and the door opened.
The wood-paneled room housed a long dining table, where four places were set with crystal and fine china. The three men sitting at the table rose to greet Calypso.
Father Rebollendo walked toward Calypso with both arms extended and Calypso stopped, startled by the appearance of his philosophy professor from Loyola University.
“Father, what the hell are you doing here with these people?”
Rebollendo stopped, smiled wryly and said: “I am doing the lord’s work, Roberto, and I hope to persuade you to do the same.”
The other two men joined Rebollendo and the priest introduced them: “Roberto, let me introduce Bishop Britton of Toronto and Colonel Max Schilling of the SF.
Calypso shook each of their hands.
“Please join us for lunch, Colonel,” said Britton. “We have some interesting news and a proposition for you and your brother, El Presidente.”
“Ah,” thought Calypso. “That was it; they want something from my brother and they are prepared to bribe or threaten me to get to Alfonso.”
Van Kahnweiler entered the room and joined them at the table. As soon as he sat down, the Priest cleared his throat, smiled, and said: “Listen, Roberto, I am not going to beat around the bush with you. We are here because we want something from El Presidente but it is not what you think. It is a great opportunity for Mexico and the west.” He paused and cleared his throat; his eyes were sparkling with excitement. The Holy Father has decided to leave Rome and create a new Vatican City in La Ciudad.”
Calypso coughed and reached for a crystal goblet of mineral water. “What?” he stuttered.
The priest continued: “The Holy Father no longer sees Europe as safe. The EU is either atheist or Muslim. All of the Church’s growth is coming from either Africa or Central and South America. He feels it’s time to move and he wants to relocate to Mexico.”
Calypso thought for a moment and asked: “Why come to me? There are plenty of priests in La Ciudad; thousands in fact who could intercede with my brother.”
Van Kahnweiler interrupted and said: “The Holy Father has granted my company the contract to negotiate, finance, and build the new Vatican City; consequently, we want to grease the wheels before we start.”
“What makes you think we would let the Company into Mexico?” asked Calypso.
“Brother, what makes you think we aren’t there now?”
The muscles in Calypso’s jaw fluttered and tensed; he wanted to lash out at the pompous Kahnweiler but he knew the SF would be all over him before he reached the man. Instead, he said, “I doubt that we will be interested but I will convey your message to my brother. But I have to be honest; I will do everything in my power to prevent the Company from entering Mexico. Let the Holy Father come. The people will dance in the streets but the Anglo-American Alliance and the Company can stay away.”
Van Kahnweiler’s eyes blinked and Calypso imagined he saw a serpentine skull buried beneath the man’s chalk white skin.
Schilling stood and said abruptly: “All right, Colonel; I think we understand your position. Thank you for coming. I know you have your quarterly meeting and we do not want to detain you.”
The door opened and a SF officer escorted him from the dirigible. Cantu waited for him on the roof, next to the idling Sikorsky.
Cantu asked: “What happened? They threw me out before I finished my soup.”
Calypso took off his beret and ran his fingers through his hair. “I will tell you once we get out of here. Let’s finalize the monthly audit and head home. We are not wanted here, my friend.”
Two days later, they left the Hive City and drove south. Seventy-five miles south of Heroica Nogales, they stopped at a taberna perched precariously on the side of a hill above a dried river bed. They parked the SUV and walked up a winding trail to the tavern and took a seat outside, underneath a wooden lattice covered with flowering vines. Bees buzzed from flower to flower as a young Indian woman with long black hair that cascaded down her back served cervezas and posole.
Cantu wiped his mouth and asked: “What are you going to do?”
Calypso scratched his leg and patted his pistol nervously: “I am going to let my brother decide but I am also going to encourage him to establish another link to the Vatican.”
Cantu nodded and turned back to his posole.
Besides the buzzing of the bees and Cantu’s slurps, Calypso heard the faint hum of a drone. “Osvaldo, do you hear that?”
The sergeant stopped eating and listened. “It’s a drone outside the no-fly zone.”
“Jesus,” said Calypso standing up and surveying the ground. A gully ran away from the taberna, etched roughly in the soil by runoff from the hill.
“Take cover in the gully there,” said Calypso through gritted teeth.
The Reaper came in slow and level, passed over the taberna three times, and then turned north toward the border.
As soon it disappeared on the horizon, Calypso dusted himself off and trudged back up the hill to his table. The young woman emerged from the kitchen with two cold beers and placed them on their table. Her hand shook and Calypso reached out to touch her. She smiled and said: “They have never come so close before; those bastards and their machines.”
Calypso rubbed his face with his right hand before taking a swig of the cold beer. It crossed his mind that the reaper was a warning from the Anglos, a warning to him and his brother.
The woman stood with one hand on her hip near Calypso, gazing off toward the north. Calypso sensed she was afraid and she sought protection or solace from his uniform or from him. He didn’t know.
“So you see them flying in this area a lot?” asked the colonel.
“Not so often and not so low. This was like a threat.”
Calypso nodded in understanding. He felt the threat and associated it with the man van Kahnweiler.
Cantu pulled out his chair, grabbed his beer, and quickly swallowed half of its contents.
“So Colonel, what do you think?”
Calypso sipped his beer to buy a few seconds, while he gathered his thoughts. “I think the Anglos are warning me to cooperate.” He scratched his chin and asked the young woman: “Señorita, what if the Pope moved the Vatican City to La Ciudad; what would you think?”
The woman, surprised, turned toward him, and asked: “The Pope here in Mexico?” Her eyes sparkled and she continued: “I would say God has blessed us finally for our fidelity.” She crossed herself and asked: “Is this so, Señor?”
He waved his hand vaguely and answered: “It is a possibility.”
“Could we have another cerveza?” asked Cantu, handing the empty bottle to the young woman, who smiled and returned to the kitchen.
“Why are they coming, Osvaldo? They have everything? I don’t understand.”
Cantu pulled on his ear and brushed away a fly. “It is the shark theory.”
Calypso leaned forward and smiled. “You surprise me Osvaldo. I think you have hit upon something important. Capitalism must continue to move and expand. Failure to move produces a crisis; we have millions of potential consumers and an emerging market on their border. They shut their doors on us twenty years ago but failed to see the dynamic effect our people had upon their economy. Now they want us back but not there on the other side of the wall; they want us here. They want to absorb us.”
“So what will you tell your brother?”
He placed his hand flat on the wooden table, as if in surrender.
“What do you say to a shark?” he asked as the woman placed another cold beer before him.