GUILLERMO HARPO awoke to the strident rant of the digital clock built into the ceramic headboard of his sleep alcove and vigorously scratched the dried skin on his chest and stomach before kicking off the bed’s synthetic sheet and swinging his legs onto the faux floor of the cold, illuminated plastic frame of his cubicle. The refrigerated air of sub-level seventeen far below the central dome of La Ciudad chilled his naked body and smelt of fried onions, cabbage, cigar smoke, antiseptic spray and raw sewage. Harpo, responding to the temperature, the odor, and the chemicals sneezed, not once, but three times. Snot rolled freely from his sinuses onto his Nietzsche-like mustache, and he coughed, choking on the phlegm that drained into his throat. He grabbed a corner of the sheet and blew his nose loudly, clearing his nostrils, before taking six baby steps to the toilet.
Glancing up at the low ceiling as he relieved himself, he remembered today was his sixtieth birthday. He was born on July 24, 1999, in Hobbes, New Mexico to illegal immigrants, who worked as agricultural day workers for AN Corporation. As he flushed the toilet and stepped beneath the shower nozzle embedded in the ceiling above the room’s single drain, he recalled the day the Anglos expelled his family from the North; he was a senior at the University of New Mexico, twenty-one years old, and home on Spring Break. A day or two after he arrived home, the University of Chicago notified him he had been accepted to study economics and political philosophy in the graduate school; he had applied there because he admired Leo Strauss, a 20th century professor, who had taught at the university, and whose followers still dominated the political science department. As the postman pulled away from their adobe house on a quiet, tree-lined street in Hobbes, near Carlsbad Caverns, the only home he had ever known, the emigration police arrived in three shiny black SUVs built in Shenzhen by a Chinese affiliate of the AN Corporation, the same company that employed his parents illegally. Without warning, they knocked the front door down and pointed their submachine guns at his family before handcuffing them and parading them out through the back yard to an idling Japanese van in the alley. Although born in Hobbes, he was not an American citizen: a recent amendment to the Constitution took that right away from him and his siblings.
Harpo never saw his home again; he spent the rest of his twenty-first year in a dirty, overcrowded detainment camp in a reserve on the Mexican side of the Great Wall. The camp, although government owned, was run by a subsidiary of AN Corporation.
The shower switched off at the end of his water allotment and the dryers commenced. Dried and nude, he examined his close-cropped hair in the mirror; a few strands of gray seasoned his sideburns and his burgeoning mustache, warning him it was time for his bi-annual injection of nanobots and hormones. Shrugging off the memories of the camp, he brushed his teeth shaved his chin, combed his hair, and dressed in his usual attire--black single-breasted suit, white cotton shirt, and black boots.
He checked himself one last time in the mirror on the door and noticed his green eyes were sparkling; a sign he was happy. He had a date to celebrate both his birthday and finishing the book later in the day with Carmelita Guttmann, his translator of his last book into German, and a lunch appointment with his agent to handover the flash drive with the final draft of his new monograph: Doctor Dee and the Machinicians, the book his agent presold last year to a German publisher, Wolf Verlag, GmbH, in Munich. This book, he hoped, unlike his others, might win the Vatican’s approval and garner a small but select readership; something he had never had before in his writing career and something for which he most earnestly yearned. If so, if he were correct, he harbored the silent hope that not only would he have readers but the Mandarins under the Dome would offer him a professorship at the university.
He commanded the lights off, closed the door, and thought about the book in which he placed so much hope. His thesis was simple. In 1583, Doctor John Dee, after receiving a revelation from angels, joined Adrian Gilbert and John Davis to form a corporation to exploit and develop the resources of New Atlantis in the North before the Spaniards, who were exploiting the South, turned their attention toward them. The corporation they formed by authority of Queen Elizabeth in 1584, he argued, still operates today under the name: AN Corporation; the very company that employed his parents in New Mexico and subjected him to imprisonment and forced labor in a maquiladora. AN Corporation’s original mission statement was to influence and control the world for the financial benefit of the Queen and its multi-national shareholders. AN’s mission statement continues to be its current mandate and the conclusion is that corporate man, not Universal History, as Hegel proposed, is making the world.
As he turned left and walked down the narrow corridor toward the elevators that would take him to sub-level ten and the tube station, his cubicle door locked behind him. Except for a swarm of nanobots scouring the underground, cleaning it of all debris, the corridor was empty; it was too early for children to leave for school and his neighbors, bureaucrats like him, who worked in government offices within the dome, pushing electronic mail through the web, had already departed.
When he reached the grimy elevator, covered with graffiti, it too was empty. His journey to the tenth sub-level to his surprise was fast and uninterrupted. The platform for his train, however, was crowded and he pushed his way through the workers toward the edge. As he man-handled his way roughly through the commuters, he noticed more Policia Federales (PF) on the platform than usual. He counted six quickly without really looking; his two stints in detainment camps had made him sensitive to their black uniforms and balaclava masks. However, once he reached the edge of the platform, he let out a long sigh of relief. No PF had grabbed at him or looked at him menacingly. He was without reproach, he thought, returning to his good mood and high hopes for the day. He would make the next train and be at his cubicle in the basement of the library within half an hour.
He leaned over the edge of the platform and felt a warm, electrical breeze emanating from the tunnel’s mouth, an intimation of the train’s arrival. He rocked forward on his toes and shook his arms, readying himself for the onslaught of the exiting commuters, hurrying to make a connecting train, and the frantic rush forward by the people behind him. He turned once more to the tunnel. Light filtered through its vague grayness and he inhaled a deep breath, readying himself to move, when a hand grasped his arm forcibly and pulled him back into the crowd. A curse slipped spontaneously from his lips, as he tried to shake off the grip that dragged him inexorably toward the back of the queued pedestrians. He balled up the fist of his right hand preparing to swing at the brute that seized him, when he saw the black mask, the body armor, and the Taser.
The PF was stout and short, somewhat square like a washing machine. His eyes were dark black and his skin brown. An indio, thought Harpo, as he relaxed his body and allowed the man to guide him through the crowd toward the plastic seats screwed into the cement walls, where a woman, wearing a PF officer’s uniform, waited. Her face and head were uncovered but she wore the black body armor that was de rigueur for the PF and carried both a sub-machine gun strapped to her protective vest by a nylon cord and an automatic pistol in a leather holster on her left hip.
“Bueñas dìas, Señor Harpo,” she said, extending her right hand for him to shake. “Please sit down while I explain why we delayed you this morning.”
Harpo hesitated. He was very familiar with both the brutality of the PF and their underlying sarcasm that emerged during moments like this, moments of courtesy that quickly morphed into horror, torture, and mayhem. He cleared his throat and then moved toward the plastic bench and sat next to the woman, who smelled of musk, gun oil, and jicama. He didn’t say a word, knowing from experience that opening his mouth could easily be seen as an opportunity for one the PFs to close it with a nightstick. He placed his hands in his lap to show he intended to cooperate, to follow their lead and instructions. Finally, she smiled and said casually: “I am Lieutenant Sanchez and I have been asked to escort you to level five and turn you over to some colleagues. Consequently, I would appreciate your going with us. Any display of revolt or hesitancy will result in personal pain.”
He looked into her dark black eyes and knew she would happily strike him with the black baton on her right hip or stun him with the plastic Taser, secured in a breast pocket of her vest. He nodded and waited for her to stand. When she moved he followed her because his role in this matter was quite clear: he was to obey her every command. They marched together toward a small elevator in an alcove on the platform. Sanchez punched in a series of numbers on the key mechanism and the doors slid open and they entered the car to stand close together. Someone said “cinco” and the doors closed with a silent sibilant slide, then the car shot up fifteen floors to a small, intimate, and very clean governmental pneumatic station five stories above the surface, where a four-passenger robotic vehicle waited. Sanchez pointed to the car and Harpo climbed in with her close behind him. The five other PFs remained on the platform as she ordered the driverless craft to the Swiss Guard headquarters within the walls of Vatican City. It automatically lifted from the tube surface and hovered within the vacuum; he felt pressure building in his ears, as they shot through the tubes with a whoosh.
The pneumatic station under Vatican City was adjacent to the Swiss Guards’ militarium. Their car stopped and its glass, gull-wing door opened automatically, as two Swiss Guards, dressed in pseudo armor, reminiscent of that worn by the Conquistadores, approached, carrying traditional Roman pila in their right hands. Sanchez climbed out first and then extended a hand to help Harpo exit. He wrinkled his nose, showing his irritation, and then grasped her hand, which was dry and warm. Against his will, he felt a slight sizzle of frisson and then chastised himself silently for being such a fool; this woman would strike him down at a modicum of provocation.
One guard led them to another bank of elevators, while the other followed. The platform was clean: its walls painted eggshell white, without a scratch of graffiti; its refrigerated air odorless; the overhead lights bright. The elevator doors of the militarium were stainless steel and the floor of the elevator carpeted. One of the guards said “fünfzehn,” and after just a few moments the doors opened onto in a large space filled with light. One man stood in the center of the space, wearing a black cassock, and fingering a black rosary in his right hand. “Leutnant, I will take it from here,” he said in German, and then addressed Harpo in Spanish. “Señor Harpo, please follow me.” The priest set off across the open space toward wooden double doors, where he paused and then knocked. Without waiting for an answer, he pushed the door open and entered a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and several long library tables. Harpo paused before crossing the threshold and gawked at the floor covered in a dark red carpet, the walls of leather-bound books, and the arched stained glass windows that contained illustrated scenes from Book of Revelation.
The priest, sensing Harpo was not behind him, turned and waved him forward with a scowl on his face. The library contained only one man, who stood with his arms crossed across his chest, leaning against a library table. Light from the windows framed him in a penumbra of white, obscuring his face. Automatically, Harpo raised his right hand to shield his eyes to better see the man. The room smelled of incense.
The man, seeing Harpo shade his eyes, moved to the right out of the direct light of the window and shifted into the shadows, near the bookshelves. He was tall and very thin; clean-shaven, with pale blue eyes and thick blond hair, parted on the right; coincidentally, he wore, like Harpo, a black suit and a white shirt open at the collar, which somehow calmed the writer. The priest began to introduce the man in the shadows but the man held up his hand, palm open, and said: “Thank you, Father, I will take it from here.” The priest sputtered and he continued: “Please close the door on your way out.”
The priest nodded and then left the room. The man gazed steadily at Harpo, and Harpo wondered if he should speak. Finally, when he could no longer stand the weight of the silence, he asked: “May I sit down?” The man smiled and nodded in the affirmative.
Harpo pulled out a leather chair from one of the long oak tables. He was nervous and intimidated by the situation but he was also intrigued and awed by the ancient, physical books, the space, and the light of the room. He placed his hands, palm down on the table, and scanned the walls, trying to read the titles. The strong odor of the incense, burning in a golden censor, irritated his sinuses and he held back a sneeze, as he read the titles of the books on their leather spines. For a moment, he forgot about the man and his nose; his passionate interest in books overcoming the fear he felt.
The spell was broken when the man slammed a book down in front of him. Harpo jumped, almost wetting himself, and turned toward the man with a curse. He hated to be treated like an idiot or a pawn and he suspected that was what was happening. The man, however, simply smiled and pulled out the chair next to his. “Take a look at the book, Herr Doctor Harpo,” the man ordered in a mixture of German and Spanish.
Harpo gingerly picked up the leather-bound book, opening it and turning its thin, onion-skin pages to the title page. “I should be wearing gloves,” he said, as he read the title out loud—“Liber Mysteriorum, dated December 22, 1581, by Doctor Johannes Dee and edited by Doctor Meric Causaubon.”
“Correct,” said the man. “Did you have this available to you when you did your research for your new book?”
Harpo, startled by the man’s reference to his book that he had yet to turn into his publisher and embarrassed because he had not read the Dee book, blushed, knowing that one of the fatal flaws of his latest work was the paucity of available primary texts in La Ciudad. Most of Dee’s important works to the extent they still existed were in the libraries of the Anglo-American Empire and unavailable to him. So, to answer the man’s question, he simply shook his head in the negative; and, in response, the man cleared his throat, as if to say: “I thought as much.” But said instead: “Herr Doctor, I have access to many of Dee’s works, as well as secondary sources on both Dee and the AN Corporation. If you intend to truly expose its workings to the world, you must go back to the beginning, to Dee and his alchemical work. You must understand what he did at the University of Louvain and his relationship to the alchemists.”
Forgetting for a moment where he was, Harpo shot back. “But I did discuss that. I have an entire chapter on Dee’s alchemical preoccupations, as well as his experiments in the occult.”
The man, unfazed by Harpo’s defense, responded: “But you did not have this book or any others like it when you composed your work.”
Wondering how he knew what texts he consulted in the writing of the book, he answered: “No, I did not read this book.”
“But you would like to read it?” the man asked softly.
Harpo nodded and touched the book, as if to claim it.
“Right,” said the man, walking toward the door. “Let’s take a little trip.”
Harpo stood suddenly, startled at the suggestion, fearing that “a little trip” really meant back to prison or the work camp.
“I have a lunch meeting with my agent,” he stuttered.
“Oh, we’ve canceled that. Your book is not really finished is it? I mean you still have a great deal of research to do before your work is complete.” He held the door open and gestured for Harpo to follow him. “Where are we going?” Harpo asked as he passed through the door.
“Up,” the man answered with a grin.
They took the elevator to the roof where, on an elevated landing pad, a silver and gold two-man ornithopter, designed to resemble a giant cicada, idled. Harpo, experiencing a slight vertigo, licked his lips, tasting the air of the dome. It was different from that of the under city, not rancid or bitter, but still artificial. He gawked at the buildings under the dome and marveled at the hive-city from this altitude; the vision caused a mild dizziness, as he shuffled across the roof following the man.
At the ornithopter the man removed his coat, handing it to a Swiss Guard, who appeared from a door on the far side of the roof, and extracted a leather jacket from the pilot’s seat of the aircraft and pulled it on in one fluid motion. “Herr Doctor,” he ordered: “Please take your seat.”
As the man inserted an electronic communication bead into his left ear, he turned to Harpo, extended his hand, and said: “My name is Antonius Bleak, and I have been sent to initiate you into the category.” Before Harpo could respond or ask what he meant by “the category” the man pushed on the throttle and the wings hummed as the sparkling ship made out of steel and glass and shaped like a cicada rose from the roof and headed toward the heliostat and its open storm doors.
Before they reached the doors, Harpo repeated his question-- asked first in the militarium— and shouted above the mechanical clatter of the wings: “Where are we going?”
Bleak pointed toward the heliostat and said: “Teotihuacan.”
Harpo repeated the word and then sputtered: “why?” But the man did not answer; instead, he piloted the ship through the open doors and out of the protective dome of the central district into the hot dry air of summer. Waves of heat roiled off the doom and produced turbulence that shook the tiny craft. But Bleak calmly guided the ship, turning it toward the northeast, toward the ruins of Teotihuacan.
The man said nothing as they flew, but once the ruins became visible, he shouted over his shoulder: “Professor, there lies the road to the gods.”
Through a heat haze rising off the ruins, Harpo could make out the three pyramids. It had been years since he had traveled to the ancient city and he wondered what madness brought him here today. He took a deep breath and tried to relax. Surely, Bleak would not bring him here to do mischief; he could have easily done that in the basement of the militarium.
Bleak throttled back on the engine and turned the craft toward the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and said: “We will land there near the Temple.” He then pointed off the starboard side and laughed. Harpo turned to see a blue-back dragon soaring on the heat waves and thermal currents maybe five kilometers north of the ruins. “I didn’t know they had migrated this far,” said Bleak absently. “They appeared in Mexico maybe five years ago,” answered Harpo, “the blue-backs entered our world through Patagonia maybe twenty years ago and slowly worked their way north.”
Once they landed, Bleak hopped out of the craft and helped Harpo unbuckle his harness. The heat was dry and almost unbearable and Harpo peeled off his coat and left it in the seat. As he walked away from the craft, he rolled up his sleeves and unbuttoned his shirt, exposing his chest. Standing in the sun, sweat oozed from his pores, wetting his head and running down his back. “This heat!” he said, rubbing the flat of his hand over his forehead and flicking away the sweat. Bleak was not sweating. Harpo didn’t notice it at first but then he did and it troubled him.
“Why aren’t you sweating? Aren’t you hot?”
Bleak did not respond; instead, he pointed to the top of the temple and said: “Let’s climb. I want to show you something.”
They climbed up the crumbling rock in their polished black, lace-up shoes and their wool pants. Half-way up Harpo panted like a dog, his tongue hanging out and his eyes bulging. He cursed Bleak and the Pope under his breath and imagined him killing the man by crushing his skull with a loose stone.
When they reached the top Bleak strolled toward the center of the building and signaled for Harpo to join him.
“Professor, as I said at the militarium, I have come to initiate you into the category. If you are chosen, then you will join us in our work to balance the world and satisfy Moirae.”
“Have you lost your mind?” asked Harpo. “Satisfy the Moirae?”
“Fates, if you would prefer.”
“Prefer? I would prefer to be left alone to write and study. Is this some ruse of the Vatican to drive me into a mental institution?”
“No, Professor, I don’t work for the Vatican. I’m a representative of a category, just as Edward Kelley was a member and leader of a category.”
Harpo sputtered and spat: “Edward Kelley was a scoundrel and a charlatan.”
“No, Professor, Edward Kelley was one of us and the magic he performed was real.”
“His magic was real? So you’re saying that Dee actually talked with the angels and the spirits?”
Bleak nodded in the affirmative. “Professor, if you join us I will introduce you to Kelley and Dee and others like them.”
“I’m leaving. This is too much. You’ve really lost your mind, Bleak.” Harpo started back toward the edge of the pyramid but suddenly he felt a hand on his left shoulder and then a tremendous pain in his right side where the silver blade entered his back. The pain was sharp and exquisite and he coughed up blood and fell to the ground, where he died slowly in a widening puddle of blood.
Bleak waited an hour for the sound of the Valkyries flying in from the far North. When they arrived, Harpo, having passed the first test of the category, was waiting for them; his immaterial self, barely visible in the hot Mexican sun, hovered over his now rotting body, covered with flies. Vultures circled on heat waves emanating from the hot stones and crows cawed from a ragged mesquite tree that had grown up through a crack in the crumbling stones. The Valkyries did not speak; they simply enfolded Harpo into their arms and lifted.
As he rose above the ruins in their bronze covered arms, Harpo heard Bleak say: “When you return, we will begin.”