I’m publishing my science fiction novel Pareidolia in slow motion. A new chapter will be published every week. The premise is available here.
Powelton Village, Philadelphia | June, 2000
Come on, Todd. Pick up, motherfucker.
“Zeke. Put Todd on. Metamorphosis.”
My nails. I’m biting them. My knee is bouncing up and down. Haven’t called in a while. Only ever spoke to Her Majesty on the phone once, but it was an accident. He remembered me from when I first joined the family. Picked up the line thinking I was someone else. We actually had a nice chat, once I gave the password and told him things only someone in the inner circle would know. He’s funny actually, but distant. Always looks puzzled.
“This is Todd. Password, please.”
“Hey, it’s Zeke. Metamorphosis.”
“Zeke, you sick fuck! How the hell are you?”
“I need to speak with Her Majesty.”
“Todd, it’s not a joke. I either need to see him in person or talk to him on the phone, and it has to be in the next twelve hours.” Then, just for good measure: “It’s an emergency.”
“Shit, hang on.”
A conversation through muffled fingers, some shuffling sounds.
“Z, he’s sleeping. Everyone here is. I’m under strict orders not to wake him unless the house is on fire. He’s had a long fucking week.”
Keep it general, keep it vague.
“I have information that would be of much interest to Her Majesty.”
“What kind of information?”
“The kind of information that you should know better to ask about over an open line, asshole.”
“So I can read minds now?”
“Fine. Who’s his body man these days?”
“I am. Me.”
“Well, body man. When Her Majesty awakens, please fucking tell him I have some very important information about it,” I shout this word, “and he better have someone arrange a secure line to talk to me, or have me come up there, or he can come down here, or something.”
“I have to call you back.”
He does, four minutes later.
“Zeke, he’s up. He was up anyway. Couldn’t sleep. Heard us talking. His curiosity is very much the fuck piqued. Wants to chat with you on HELLO right away.”
“I’ll be on in two minutes.”
HELLO is a terminal chat program we use if phone calls are for whatever reason not an option, or if Her Majesty is feeling particularly paranoid. It’s one of ours actually, made by a hacker who’s been with the circle for almost a decade. HELLO stood for Hyper Encrypted Layered something or another, and uses some high-octane, real-time encryption over a virtual private network connection. Considered better than a conversation over an open land line, but not by much. Time and necessity have made Holcomb and his closest followers into cyber-security experts, an accident of his evolution, aided in no small part by the lucky overlap of computer enthusiasts and UFO nerds.
I open a command prompt on my desktop, fire up HELLO, enter my credentials, and request a tunnel to Holcomb’s username. Two minutes pass: a staring contest with a blinking cursor. Three minutes. Then finally:
#HELLO: this is her Majesty
#HELLO: Hi, this is Zeke Eppler. Metamorphosis.
#HELLO: pls tell the name of my fav cartoon char
#HELLO: Marvin the Martian!
#HELLO: ver funny – that’s right! hello, zeke
#HELLO: Hi. So sorry if we woke you.
#HELLO: not at all dont worry – couldn’t sleep anyway – watts up?
#HELLO: Keeping it very general, very vague…
#HELLO: I have some intelligence regarding that which was lost.
#HELLO: o do you
#HELLO: Yes. Are you up to date on the latest? Confirmed that it’s still out there?
#HELLO: yes- got a rpt from my contact last week still missing
#HELLO: A friend of mine may have stumbled upon it.
#HELLO: really who
#HELLO: His name begins with an M. He is not a member of the inner circle. I’m going to call him Mario.
#HELLO: He is a good friend, someone I’ve known for a few years. Goes to my college, different track. Big fan of yours. Edited my profile on you for that zine, actually.
#HELLO: oh thats nice
#HELLO: Yeah. I was just about to find out how I go about bringing him inside.
#HELLO: wed better do that
#HELLO: Yeah. So anyway Mario happened upon an event where it was potentially spotted this last weekend. He got up close and personal. Or at least he thinks he did.
#HELLO: He’s familiar with the general design. We watched one of those old cable specials you did in the ‘90s.
#HELLO: There’s one thing – Mario says he was under the influence of a certain greenish recreational substance when saw it.
#HELLO: uh oh
#HELLO: Yeah. But he swears up and down that he’s right. He described some rather minute details that weren’t mentioned in the cable special. Stuff even I hadn’t heard of.
#HELLO: Right, I know. Nothing over this connection, don’t worry. That’s all I had to say on the matter.
#HELLO: ok where does mario live
#HELLO: Just off campus. Here in Phili.
#HELLO: hmm – and he doesnt know you know me
#HELLO: He doesn’t know what to think.
#HELLO: ok im coming over there
#HELLO: We could come to you.
#HELLO: no it would be 2 hard 4 your friend – what would u tell him?
#HELLO: Good point.
#HELLO: ill have todd get us a room at a phili hotel to be specified via different chanel for security reasons meet tomorrow?
#HELLO: Sure, I think that would work. I’ll see if he’s free.
#HELLO: hell come free or no
#HELLO: OK. I’ll figure something out.
#HELLO: good todd will be in touch with the particulars well see what mario has to say
#HELLO: OK. Thanks, Your Majesty.
#HELLO: welcome nite
#HELLO: Good night.