PIECES OF FILTH
971 words by Stanley Lieber
Haus was down. Jerrymander sank backwards into the wagon and hugged his satchel. The Mold family backups.
More shots rang out from the top of the canyon. A gurgle came out of Haus. He would be useless for at least another hour.
The Secret Service detail had vanished into the brush.
These fools worshiped a blank sheet of paper. Any blank sheet of paper. Considered them sacred. That's why they didn't like it when you filled one with words.
And Jerrymander Mold had gotten an awful lot of ink. According to the Blanks (as they were known), excess quantities of pulp were spoiled disseminating the tales of his exploits. Naturally, such tended to happen when you were the President of the United States, but the Blanks refused abide the extraordinary circumstances. The simple inevitability of the press' fascination with power was considered, by their stubborn, peculiar order, to be no excuse. They declared Jerrymander responsible for the destruction of the 25 lb., white bond industry. The market had simply been incapable of supporting filling demand during wartime. Therefore, President Mold, as the dominant public figure of the war, was obviously to blame for the industry's collapse.
Haus had uncovered only minimal data on their rituals, but it had been enough to put the fear of the Green into Jerrymander. By his reckoning, they indulged in blatantly inhumane practices. And now they had tracked him into the canyon.
Echoes of movement had been detected nearby. Or so Jerrymander calculated the delay. He hesitated to peek over the side of the wagon. He could see nothing but the sky and the western rim of the canyon, straight ahead of him.
Ten minutes elapsed with no further shots fired. Jerrymander assumed the Blanks had moved on, but he declined to relax his grip on the satchel.
By any means necessary, the backups must be preserved.
Two hours elapsed. Jerrymander pulled out a blank sheet of paper and investigated it in the failing sunlight. It looked normal enough to him. He felt no particular spiritual stirring. Of course, the nature of his mechanical body guaranteed that this would be the case. He found himself absent the necessary hardware to affect faith, even if his ghost had been willing. The virgin rectangle of white paper looked very much to him like a virgin rectangle of white paper. It lay spread out on his hand, motionless and lacking in semantic content. He turned it over and examined it at different angles, but could only derive this same, dispassionate reading.
Haus started awake with a gasp. He spit blood on the floor of the wagon, all the while cursing the name of the Green.
"These people are truly trying my patience," he remarked, bitterly.
"I know what you mean. First they elect me, and then they want to kill me just because I find it insensible to worship reams of tractor-feed printer paper."
"It's amazing they've tolerated you for so long."
Jerrymander threw up his hands. "They're a guerrilla force. The Federal government is fat and slow. Furthermore, the recalcitrant aesthetic appeals to the mainstream. These are not the ingredients of an Administration victory."
The horses were tired. Haus decided that the wagon could afford to stay put until morning, even in its disadvantaged position. He'd finally gotten the shields up and running. At first light he'd try to track down the awol SS men, while Jerrymander made a beeline for the Continuity of Government bunker thirty miles to the north. The President would be safe there, provided he didn't run into any more Blanks along the way.
They divided the backups between themselves according to family protocol. Haus carefully punched out duplicates of everything they had. He took the originals and gave his new copies to the President. If either of them were captured or killed, at least one full copy would survive. If both of them were captured or killed, the preservation of the archive would be irrelevant anyway. They were the only remaining Molds left alive, and it took a living Mold to resume a saved state.
Haus realized then that the Molds were the precise antithesis of everything the Blanks stood for.
All the more reason to survive.
Jerrymander dreamed of white squares in space. He conceived them almost as overlapping pixels, multiplying until they blotted out the stars and planets. In his dream, he observed the total heat death of the universe, presented as a linear narrative spanning the spectrum from red shift to blue shift. Near the end, the white squares took on a pale, greenish hue.
He fancied he could make out some meaningful pattern in the mesh of interlocking pixels. The whole enterprise brought to mind Penrose tiles. He felt that there must be some significance to the display that he couldn't quite grasp. Even in his dream he was frustrated that the solution seemed to languish just out of reach.
Jerrymander awoke with a crick in his neck. He ran some diagnostics and adjusted the latches of his spine, but this action only minimally reduced his discomfort. He realized then that he felt cold and reached for his jacket. He could definitely do with better weather. The skin on his knuckles was starting to crack.
Haus had set off without waking him. It was just as well that they split up early in the day. Jerrymander checked his rifles and made sure his internal GPS was functioning as expected. Presently, he yanked on the reigns. The horses roused groggily to cruise velocity.
As the wagon drug forward, each horse evacuated its bowels, one after the other, in an alternating pattern of green and brown.
The dust of the trail caught in Jerrymander's teeth. His grimace felt permanent, fixed in place.
He was embarrassed to admit that the smell of the horses bothered him.
To be continued...
photo by rianklong