No less a personage than the President himself attended the unveiling of the Spirit Communication Utilization Matrix, or SCUM. The President sat on the front row, along with several of his top cabinet advisors, bodyguards, mistresses, and so forth. The top bankers, media celebrities, and captains of industry filled the rest of the seats of the vast hall in lovely downtown San Diego.
The head of the SCUM project, Dr. H.P. Negron-Omikon, stepped up to the podium amidst wild applause. Today would be the grand day he would unveil his system, which would allow for humans to communicate with the spirits of the dead. No Ouija board or seance session, this! No, the science behind it was good and hard and the spirit in question would actually manifest itself in a visible, albeit ghostly form.
Dr. Negron-Omikon had tested this thoroughly back in the research complex. He knew all the ins and outs of SCUM, and had arranged for a smooth-running dog and pony show for the President and all the other dignitaries, as well as the folks at home too poor to afford a ticket who would be watching the live broadcast of the grand event. All the spirits to be involved in the show had already been contacted and given scripts to follow for everything to work out properly. The good doctor had even arranged for deceased CEOs and founders of major corporations to come forward to offer special commercial announcements from beyond the grave!
After a brief explanatory speech on the workings of SCUM that nevertheless caused no fewer than two dozen people in the audience to be rushed to the hospital for critical anti-boredom treatments, Dr. Negron-Omikon announced the words everyone was waiting for: “And now, let us meet our first guest!”
He pressed a button, then another, and, under a special lamp attached to the SCUM machine, the spirit of Abraham Lincoln emerged, as if from thin air. The audience gasped and then applauded wildly. Dr. Negron-Omikon quieted the crowd and then asked Mr. Lincoln, “Is there anything you would like to say to our president today?”
“Yes, there is.” Lincoln turned to face the President, who waved like an idiot at the spectre. “Mr. President, you are a vile criminal.”
Even though most people in the audience suspected as much, they all gasped in shock at someone so bold as to say such a thing, as if he had no fear of death!
And then, the dawn of realization came to the audience and Dr. Negron-Omikon, one by one.
Lincoln launched into a full disclosure of the President’s numerous peccadilloes, outlining not only his campaign finance irregularities involving many of the men in the audience, but also naming off, one by one, the people the president had had murdered. “I can have them come forward to bear testimony of their own, if you would like.”
The President’s lawyer leapt to his feet. “That’s a pack of lies! And spirit’s words have no standing in a court of law!”
Lincoln waved his arm to dismiss the lawyer. “We spirits see everything and have our own legal system for the dead. Your arguments are moot. You also won’t be the President’s lawyer once he discovers how you’ve been pocketing a goodly portion of the profits from his money laundering operations!”
“I’ve done no such thing!” insisted the nervous-looking shyster.
Lincoln spoke directly to the President. “They were your cocaine dealer friends’ operations.”
The President turned red and stood up to strangle the man who now realized he was the President’s former lawyer. To be precise, he was the soon-to-be-ex-President’s former lawyer, given that the President’s greed had overpowered his political instincts.
Dr. Negron-Omikon looked as though he’d seen a ghost. This was not in the script! Had terrorists from Himynamistan hacked into the device and compromised the project? Quickly, the good doctor pounded a few buttons and flicked a few levers in a desperate attempt to dispel the judgmental and embarrassing Mr. Lincoln.
Lincoln’s spirit was stubborn, but eventually yielded to the recall codes from the SCUM machine. As the crowd quieted and a few bodyguards dragged the President’s former lawyer to an undisclosed location, Dr. Negron-Omikon apologized profusely for the major gaffe and promised his next spirit would be a properly respectful industrialist, the founder of the massive Yensid entertainment conglomerate. Yes, it would be Wroclaw “Wally” Yensid himself!
Mr. Yensid appeared after the proper buttons had been pressed and waved to the crowd. “Hello from BeyondLand!” Dr. Negron-Omikon breathed a sigh of relief and pressed the button to resume the broadcast.
Wally Yensid talked about the great fun he had in creating characters that children of all ages would love. And then, without warning, his eyes blazed with fury and he jabbed a damning finger through the air, directly at the face of the current CEO of Yensid, INC.
“You’ve run my dreams into the ground, you pervert!” The crowd, true to form, gasped. “Worse, you run ads and television shows constantly to brainwash children into buying all of your crap! You’ve brainwashed a nation and left them unable to think properly! You’ve made them victims of a totalitarian society based upon corporate, rather than government, propaganda!”
The CEO of Yensid, INC, kept up his fake smile as he looked to his left and right.
“The kids don’t turn in their parents to the secret police as much as they sell them out to the damned Yensid corporation! They can’t read or string a sentence together because of you and your accursed advertising! Why, we have to have literacy classes for people of this generation that pass over to us – they couldn’t survive in the afterlife without them!”
The CEO tried to offer up a defense. “Well, we’re not forcing anyone to buy anything. This is a free country, and we’re just trying to make a buck, ha ha.”
The “ha ha” must have been too much for Wally Yensid, because that was precisely when he flew from the stage, then directly through the CEO, who suffered a heart attack immediately. Wally Yensid took the CEO’s spirit by the scruff of his neck and said to Dr. Negron-Omikon, “I’ve got what I came here for. Send us back and bring up the next one. Or else you know what’ll happen next.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon’s eyes widened with eternal fear at Wally Yensid’s threat. His hand shook over the button to cut off the transmission to the rest of the world. “Get your hand off of that, H.P., or we’re comin’ for you.”
Dr. Negron-Omikon obeyed without hesitation. Automatically, he sent Wally Yensid and the damned CEO back to the rest of the spirits and called up the next in line.
The spirit of a soldier appeared before the audience. Someone whispered, a little too loudly, “How is it they all have clothing appropriate to what they wore in life? Is there some kind of wardrobe in the afterlife?” But he was shushed into silence before anyone could offer an answer.
The soldier said, “It was my pleasure to serve my country.” The audience clapped hesitantly, happy to hear the patriotic sentiments, but suspicious of the other shoe yet to drop.
“It was my duty and my honor to die for my country.” More applause, but still there was the shadow of dread anticipation hanging over the crowd. They all suspected that they would gasp collectively at least one more time that day.
“But it would seem that I served and died in a war that benefited the fat cats at Pratt-Fall Oil!” The audience almost accidentally sighed with relief instead of gasping.
The soldier outlined the connections between Pratt-Fall, the President, key men in the State Department and the Department of Defense, and how Pratt-Fall spent billions on ads supporting the elections of Congressmen and Senators that voted for the war over in Bechuanaland.
Poor Bechuanaland! For centuries, it had been completely ignored and neglected by the industrialized nations of the world, and, consequently, had one of the happiest, least oppressed populations humankind had ever seen. But when Pratt-Fall exploration teams discovered the volcanic oil running ten miles under Bechuanaland’s surface, the idylls of the destitute were over.
As an oil-rich nation, Bechuanaland had to be invaded so that its democratically elected government could be toppled. That would, in turn, allow for a military dictator to be put into place. The dictatorship would be a necessary precondition for Pratt-Fall to start extracting the oil, as it was much cheaper to bribe a dictator and his advisors than to comply with the just laws a democracy would impose upon a company like Pratt-Fall.
By not paying proper wages or cleaning up its pollution, of course, Pratt-Fall could offer cheaper gasoline to the consumers of the world – and rake in massive profits from the markup, as their gas was only a penny or two cheaper than the more expensive stuff.
But now the dead soldier was ruining all that as he went into all the atrocities of that oil company and its accomplices in Congress, the military, and the defense industry.
Dr. Negron-Omikon got the distinct impression that he was the least popular person in the room, at least among the living. As the dead appeared one by one to deliver messages that were certainly not on his script, Dr. Negron-Omikon feared a lynch mob at the end of the presentation.
There was only one way out.
Dr. Negron-Omikon summoned all his strength of will and quietly depressed the one button he dreaded most, but which held out his only chance of escape.
He pressed the button labeled “FULL ACCESS.”
With a BAM! and a WHOOSH! and a FRIZZATZ! billions upon billions of spirits materialized in the hall. Those who had unfinished business there, stayed there and sought out their targets. Those who had axes to grind with people not in the hall flew out into the wide, unwary world.
The hall filled with cold, accusatory cries as each person in the audience endured his own private hell.
“You stole from my grandmother!”
“You raised interest rates on my home, then foreclosed!”
“Your company’s chemicals gave me cancer, and you knew it, yet you fought my claim in court!”
“You were cheating with your secretary all along, weren’t you?”
“You were the guy that was driving drunk that night I died!”
“Seriously, what WERE you doing with that toaster when I walked in?”
No one there could gasp at the crimes of another, as all were guilty, each in his own special way. All their secrets were now exposed and financial reporters – now possessed of a spirit worthy of the profession after enduring the chastisements of the great journalists of old – began to wonder if a global economic catastrophe was about to descend upon the world, since every businessman and banker and accountant and financier at the major corporations was now known to be a dire fraud – or worse. Who could trust anyone with the revelations of this day?
The violence began after one of the President’s bodyguards shot the President after hearing from the President’s Great-Aunt Maude that the President had seduced his fiance. “Oh, he done you wrong, my boy! He done you wrong!”
The President’s spirit then rose from his body and was set upon by an indeterminate number of other spirits. Nobody lifted a finger against the bodyguard. Instead, those with guns started demanding the truth from those without guns. Not wishing to be totally at the mercy of the spirits, those still living quickly confessed all, resigned from their high positions, and generally plead that they be allowed to live out the rest of their lives as penitents in monasteries.
Dr. Negron-Omikon himself had a good dozen or so spirits pursuing him down the street as he fled the hall. As they screeched their curses and moaned their invectives, the good doctor smiled. He realized, that, all things considered, he was getting off rather lightly for how the SCUM had gone horribly, horribly wrong. By rights, he should be dead.
As he boarded the tram that would take him across the border into the sweet, non-extraditing embrace of Tijuana, he rested easily as the spirits that had pursued him finished their tirades and faded away to trouble other souls. He laughed a little as he rolled across the border, having left judgment of all kinds behind.
And then, it began.
The one nightmare he had never dreamt of began…
First one, then two, then five, then a hundred, then a mob, an endless, eternal mob of spirits came to him, each repeating, over and over, the one phrase that Dr. H.P. Negron-Omikon could not stand to hear.
They thanked him for this and they thanked him for that, but they all thanked him, one after the other. Each patiently awaited his chance to speak, alone, with the great inventor that had made their return to the land of the living possible.
It was not as if Dr. Negron-Omikon was a beatific savior that loved all of mankind with all of his great and mighty heart. No, the good doctor was simply a research grant seeker that hit on a way to score a fat government project. The good doctor only wanted to make headlines, win a Nobel Prize, and have his name remembered after he was dead and gone – not before his time.
Now he had no choice but to suffer through the endless, monotonous, droning of gratitude from those that he didn’t give a single care about, dead or alive. He contemplated suicide, but realized it would be no escape from the truly endless cavalcade of spirits.
After thirty-seven weeks of this torment, the spirit of Mary Shelley came to him. She said, “Like Dr. Frankenstein should not have tampered with life, it seems as though you, Dr. Negron-Omikon, should not have tampered with death!”
Dr. Negron-Omikon looked up at the shade with world-weary eyes. “Lady, you don’t know the half of it!”