Books by William Huff

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Surviving the Streets and Future
   As increasing pollution and decreasing natural resources burden the future of Earth, it would be wise to focus upon using less, rather than clawing for more.   This book explores a variety of technologies whereby this objective might be achieved.

Expatriates of Babylon – Book one of a fiction trilogy
   He had not pictured himself homeless in his worst nightmare, but the system had rewarded his years of hard work with a layoff, debt, and now homelessness. Rather than allow himself to be ground to powder by cruel ordinances, he applied his creativity and technical expertise to adapting in unexpected ways. Politics, organized crime, interesting characters and even an unlikely romance bring this novel of disaster and redemption to life.

Beginning of Expatriates of Babylon
1 Falling Out of The System
   “Socrates said that when people know what is right or best, they will do it,” declared John.
   “Trust me on this one,” replied Cindy. “When it comes to human relationships, Socrates was simply wrong. Instincts are better than intellect.”
   As he was searching for a logical response to her irrational assertion, Cindy took another swing: “Are we having a little difficulty knowing what's right or best?”
   In fact, John was loving it. Their conversations in the college coffee lounge were special to him, and he enjoyed an intelligent companion who did her own thinking. Again, before John could collect his addled thoughts, there was another interruption.
   “Can we expect your lovely form at our party this evening?”
   On this point Cindy was undecided on two counts. For one, these fraternity guys were having more parties than she had time for, and two, she was annoyed by the sexist reference in the invitation itself. Somewhere during her pause the interloper added a snide remark about her fraternizing with the lab help.
   At this John quietly stood up. Slovenly dressed, a bit overweight, and not tall, a couple of the group began to snicker at his appropriate exit. However, to their bemused wonder, John had only stood up to address them.
   Why on earth would she consider favoring you children with her gracious presence? Perhaps she prefers to be around people of substance, rather than those dependent upon their funny little cliques for security and self-worth. For you to tarnish an invitation with a sensual reference demonstrates your total disregard for her intellect and other qualities that put her even further out of your league. Now if she finds you amusing, far be it from me to even suggest a choice for an intelligent and responsible person. I'm only in this conversation because you invited me 'Frat boy,' so here I am.”
   Whew! What did I step into? wondered Frat boy. Since he was six two and the lead varsity swimmer, he knew full well what he'd like to do, but he knew that that would be neither right nor best in this situation. And too, John's absolute lack of fear – or even a trace of respect, was frankly a little intimidating. The resulting conflict between his instincts and intellect left him all but paralyzed. “Would you kindly just...” He tried again: “When I invite you to...” Frat boy would have been far better off if he had actually known that he was speechless.
   When others attempted to assist their friend, they too were humiliated.
   “What's your name lab rat?”
   “It has more than three letters, so someone like you would probably misspell it.”
   “Are you her little brother?”
   “Do you see a family resemblance? If you think I'm pretty, forget it – you're not my type.”
   “Everybody likes a little ass, but nobody likes a smart ass.”
   “We've all heard that one before, but now I understand your humor – it's half memory.”
   “And the other half?”
   “Half wit, obviously.”
   And so it went. These guys were trapped, and John was having fun. Although they were clearly losing – both as individuals and as a group – it would have been extremely awkward for them to just walk away. The only one of their number who had been wise enough to keep his mouth shut also had a trace of humility. He finally rescued his friends by extending his hand and graciously offering: “If it were up to me, I'd invite you to the party as well. I'd much rather have you on my side.”  With grudging nods, they were now free to go without risking another word.
   Unlike a couple of the bystanders who had accumulated during the scene, Cindy resisted the temptation to applaud, but her beaming smile and congratulatory nod said it clearly.  Cindy's motherly instincts had been piqued. She had just seen a small dog attacked, only to rise up and humiliate a wolf pack. There was obviously a whole lot more to this loner than she had imagined – and there was another thing: He had protected her – that was a first. Others in this academic environment had only treated her like social furniture.
   “Will I be seeing you here sometime tomorrow morning?” she asked, as she gathered her things to head off to her next class.
   “I have some lab equipment to set up, but I'll be free from about 10:30 on,” said John.
   Although far beneath her station, John was a refreshing change from her usual fare. He wasn't phony, macho, a jock or wealthy – decent looking, but he seemed to care little about his personal appearance. More intriguing was that he didn't try to hit on her; he hadn't even asked her out. He was just a comfortable friend who seemed interested and knowledgeable in almost everything he encountered. As she further mulled the scene in her mind she pictured herself helping him with his dressing and social skills.

   With the comfortable income of her family, college had been assumed for Cindy, but for her it was more of an extended childhood than a serious pursuit. She had however, become intrigued by the intricacies of living things, and was soon to garner a B.S. in biochemistry.
   Cindy was often melancholy and seemingly disconnected from her surroundings – a very lovely girl, clearly preoccupied with deep and troubling issues. When she did smile, John felt the warmth of the morning sun.
As the middle child of a single mom, John was on his own when it came to getting an education, and his resources didn't allow him to pursue a degree. Still, he had been able to pick up a few courses in physics, chemistry and art.
His innate ability to solve problems enabled him to compete with graduate engineers in the industrial world. On the down side, his maverick career required exaggeration and networking to gain such positions. During an “in-between” period while working part-time as a lab assistant at the local college, he had met Cindy while helping with equipment in one of her classes.
   Their friendship had begun when she encountered him outside of class and had asked a question about a lab procedure. Though not officially a teacher, he took the time to sit down with her in the coffee shop and provide a depth of understanding that illuminated other areas of confusion as well.
   By this time their friendship had grown and they no longer needed an academic question for an excuse to hang out, and to share a few of their more personal concerns and experiences. It had been an attempt on Cindy's part to help John with his social skills that been interrupted by the soon-to-be-humiliated fraternity boys.
   John tended to be inept socially, and Cindy could see that. His preoccupation with technical issues had proven to be a good place to hide his emotions, and his endless projects provided an excuse to do other things besides pursue a social life. His refusal to be phony also put him at a disadvantage. He reasoned that he would rather not build a relationship based upon false impressions which he would have to live up to or suffer exposure. But as an insightful observer and listener, not given to boasting, he managed to attract meaningful relationships at the platonic level.

   Cup in hand, Cindy settled herself in the seat and sighed. She gave John a faint smile and a nod in lieu of a verbal greeting, and then proceeded to watch a bird flitting about a bush just outside the window.
   “Alright, what's bugging you?” asked John.
   After a brief struggle, she finally relaxed and replied: “I'll be graduating in a couple of months, and I'm going to miss you.”
John was surprised at how relieved he was to hear her say that. He too had been dreading the day but – ever the social pessimist – his mechanism for dealing with it had been to coldly begin plastering over the doorway to yet another nook of his emotions. Now he suddenly dared to consider that that might not be necessary. “We could keep in touch,” he finally suggested hopefully.
   “I'd like that.” A long pause.
   “That was only part of it,” added John, carefully observing her body language. Their mutual expression of wanting to see each other had emboldened him.
   “It's complicated,” she said. In actuality she wanted – needed someone to care enough to invade her privacy and be by her side. Another pause.
   “And?” John's tenacity was reassuring.
   Finally Cindy dropped her head and began by talking to the table. “My parents have been fighting a lot, and they don't care enough about me to leave me out of it. I'm moving out weekend after next, but I haven't told my parents yet. I've already paid first and last on a two-bedroom apartment.”
   “Would you like some help?”
   “I would be very grateful,” she said, finally looking up. “I've never been on my own before, but the strife at home is killing me.”
   “I'll be there,” said John, and they began to discuss how best to break it to her parents.
After surreptitiously collecting a couple days worth of personal items from home she would contact her dad by phone at work, so he would not have time for a wordy response.

   “Hi honey, what's up?”
   “Have you any idea how difficult it's been to be caught between you and mom in all your fighting?”
   “Could we talk about this later?”
   “I'll be brief. I've rented a place to stay until you and mom can get your stuff together.” A significant pause. “Could you do me a huge favor and break the news to mom?”
   “I don't blame you for being afraid to tell your mom, but can we discuss this tonight?”
   “I've got some major finals coming up this Friday, so I'll be staying with friends for the next couple of days. Oh, and don't worry if I leave my cell phone off tonight.”
   “Very convenient.” (Nobody was being fooled) “I understand honey, and I'm very sorry for what we've been putting you through, but I'd still like time to talk with you – perhaps at lunch tomorrow?”
   “OK, it's a date, as long as you understand that my moving out for awhile is not negotiable.”
   “I don't like it, but I guess I don't blame you – I've got a call coming in. Love you.”

   John kept his one-bedroom apartment reasonably neat in spite of the number of projects in various stages of development. For these he had at least built some shelves to keep them off the floor while they awaited their rotation to the kitchen table to provide access to his tools and a computer. John had offered Cindy the privacy of his bedroom, but she insisted on staying on the couch – it would only be for a couple of nights.
   Between then and the time she was to move there were a couple of additional evenings when she would escape the toxic environment of her home to John's apartment to “study.” When the reality of the milestone moving day arrived, her mom made one last emotional appeal, and finally a threat:
   “If you're that determined to be on your own, don't expect your dad and I to continue paying your bills.”
   Her dad however, was actually relieved that they could now address the issues of their marriage without the distraction of a third party in the house – and of course they both blamed each other for her departure.
   The financial stress was new to her. Her intellectual awareness had not become an emotional pressure until her mom had applied it.

   True to patterns of children since time immemorial, when one parent doesn't behave you go to the other one – so she soon appealed to her dad and was promised a temporary reprieve: She would be covered through the first full month following graduation. If she couldn't manage her finances by then, she'd have to move back home. This last clause was a sweetener to justify this lenience to his wife – and besides, he was confident she would be unable to pull it off.
   But her dad wasn't the only wily one in the family. Cindy had a strategy of her own, and after settling into her new apartment, she approached her most trusted friend. “John I'm scared. If I haven't been able to land a job and receive a paycheck by the end of the first full month after graduation I'm going to have to return home. If I can't pay rent... I've never worked before, haven't even started looking for work, and I've got these finals to study for and two projects to turn in and...”
   “Whoa, whoa, whoa! One disaster at a time.” He had never seen her panicked like this before and was trying to discern what she expected him to do. Certainly he was incapable of paying her bills.
   In the absence of knowing the right answer, he decided to intentionally give her the wrong answer to buy time – and hopefully to learn more about what she wanted. Why can't she just tell me? he wondered.
   “Do you need some help with your projects?” he offered, while observing her closely.
   Cindy dropped her head in amazed wonder. Why can't this dolt take a hint? she thought to herself. She wanted to know that John cared enough about her to suggest moving in with her to share in the expenses. “No.” she finally said, “These projects are outside of your areas of expertise. The problem is that I've never had to manage my own finances before, and I'm needing suggestions.” If that doesn't do it, he's hopeless, she mused.
   A light was beginning to dawn in John, but the conflict of desire versus fear of rejection began to impede his thinking. By this time in their relationship he was aware of her sometimes devious ways, and he really wanted to be gentle with her, but he didn't want to risk making a fool of himself. So he decided to play it simple and straight:
   “Cindy, you know that I care about you, but you're going to have to simply tell me what you want.”
   “You'd be welcome to move into my other bedroom. It would be a lot cheaper for both of us once I found a job.”
––––– ~ –––––
   Within a couple of months after graduation Cindy indeed had a job, and a good one. Their striking cultural differences held many surprises – both good and bad – as they developed their own style of living together.
   Relationships, like all living things, are constantly either growing or dying, so soon they were enjoying additional benefits.
   Her parents were not impressed with John. Her mom was not even willing to accept the fact that John was now living under the same roof as her daughter. But by pointing out her parents' own problems at the time, Cindy was able to reduce the noise of her lecture-prone mom. It also helped that by this time John too had a full-time job with a very promising future.
   Though unchanged in many respects, John embraced the respect and self-confidence he found in dressing well. This in fact had been a key factor in his landing a stable job with good pay and benefits. Cindy's social connections were a new world to him, and his bearing and social graces – when he cared – quickly improved.
   There was also a dark side to Cindy's family. To an indiscernible degree, her father's wealth hinged upon an involvement with some very dangerous people. When Cindy was willing to talk about some of this, the things she would share were very disturbing.
   Cindy had seemed contemplative the past few days, and John knew something was up. When he would catch her in a moment of reverie and attempt to engage in conversation, she would offer some comment about hormones, being tired, work or some other dodge.
One evening as John was returning home after work, he almost ran into a large man in dark clothing as he exited the parking area. A crushing blow to his face sent him reeling backwards into the arms of another man who seemed to materialize out of nowhere. This second person simply caught him and pushed him back the way he had come, only to be sent backwards again by a devastating blow to his stomach. As he began to wonder how long this tennis match was going to last, he discovered there was no one behind to catch him this time, and he barely avoided smacking his head on the concrete. He twisted sideways, came up on his knees and promptly vomited.
   “He's too messy to ride in my car,” said a mild voice.
   “Then open the trunk.”
   Before John had a chance to join the conversation, a powerful hand was dragging him by the back of his belt, and swinging him easily into the waiting trunk. “You'll stand a chance of living if you remain as cooperative as you've been so far,” was the only other comment before the slam of the trunk lid turned off the lights.
   John quickly collected his wits and began counting seconds in his mind as soon as the car was in motion, repositioning a finger and resetting the count with each sixty seconds. It was a short ride, only lasting about eight fingers, when the car came to a stop. When the trunk was opened they were at the back edge of an empty unlighted parking lot near a row of mature eucalyptus trees.
What did I do?” asked John.
   “Before I answer that,” came the mild voice of the older and slightly smaller man, “how serious do you think we are about what we have to say?”
   “Serious enough to kill I would assume.”
   “Wise,” said the man “Would you like assistance in climbing out of the trunk?”
   “I think I can make it.” John nonchalantly “stumbled” as he exited the trunk, so he could clearly view the license plate.
   “Cindy is pregnant,” said the man, getting directly to the point. “You have three days to move out. And,” he added, “be careful that you don't do anything stupid; that's a 'borrowed' license plate you just memorized – cell phone please.”
   As soon as John handed him the cell phone they drove off without saying another word. It would be about two hours before a bloodied and foul-smelling John would stumble into his apartment. This of course had given John plenty of time to put two and two together concerning Cindy's curious behavior of the past few days. Before a frightened Cindy could express her concern and sympathy, John immediately accused:
   “Next time you have something important to tell me, could you just send an email instead of a gorilla?” said John, dripping with resentment and sarcasm. “Why couldn't you have just told me? Shouldn't I have been the first to know? Or is it even my child?”
   “John! How dare you! What happened?”
   “Ask your parents.”
   “They wouldn't have... My mom might have. We were out shopping when she started asking me all these questions about the problems I've been having lately. I had no clue what she was getting at until she made a phone call and took me to a doctor instead of driving me home. I simply wasn't in control.”
   “I don't suppose this wonderful doctor of hers would be interested in looking at a broken nose,” said John.
   “Since people rarely get pregnant from noses, I doubt if a gynecologist would be interested,” said Cindy, trying to stifle a laugh. John's own seriousness gave way at this point, and his attempt as smothering a laugh misted the air with blood.
   Cindy was terrified when John suggested that they run away together. She immediately began packing her things to move back in with her parents, until John capitulated and promised to be out of there within the specified time. As much as it tore her heart to do so, she made herself pretend to John that he wasn't all that important to her. This impression, she felt, was crucial to John's safety, and by this time she loved him enough to allow him to think poorly of her – for his sake.

   On the surface John fared well upon returning to the solitary life, and he was able to create a suitable cocoon in which to hide his life and emotions. He had always been a loner, and was soon able to reestablish his emotional protective mechanisms. Deep inside however, he was grievously wounded.
   Cindy refused her parents demands that she get an abortion, and an equilibrium of wills was eventually reached. John managed to stay in touch with Cindy, and her parents eventually accepted the fact that he probably always would.
   The birth of their daughter awakened a universe of new feelings and priorities for John. He was helpless to dictate any of the terms of visitation when dealing with the wealth and the more sinister aspects of Cindy's family, but, he was granted a limited access to his daughter. Child support was handled through the state to insure Cindy would receive payments whether or not John was consistent with them and to further prevent John from being involved.
––––– ~ –––––
Several years later
   John knew how to solve problems and loved the challenge of it. Heedless of worries about health, he generally flowed with whatever he found easy or intellectually stimulating.
   His only emotional tie by this time was to his now six-year-old daughter – whom he was rarely able to see. His protective mechanism was to avoid thinking about her – but even so, he would find himself choking tears at inopportune times. Buried even more deeply were his feelings for Cindy, but by this point he had convinced himself that he really didn't care. For now it sort of worked.
   When a major government contract was lost to a competitor, rumors of layoffs began to circulate, but he was confident that any layoffs would not include him. As their de facto mechanical engineer he was too valuable. He routinely solved problems that nobody else would take on. Besides, management had repeatedly assured them that they had no intentions of laying off anybody.
   One Friday morning several groups of people were notified that they were to report to the conference room. As the first group emerged from the meeting they looked shocked, tearful or stoic – no one looked normal. The company had carefully concealed all warnings so they could reap a final productive week from those they no longer needed.
   The hatchet list held no regard for seniority, ability or value to the company. What they needed was impressive looking proposals, and people with degrees looked better on paper. The company was in far more trouble than anyone besides top management had known, and appearance was everything. As John's group answered the summons, he was sure there was some mistake, but as the meeting progressed he began to realize that the biggest mistake was that he had allowed himself to go into debt.
   The state of the economy was very bleak, and with the scarcity of work John found it particularly difficult to compete without having a college degree. John's self confidence ebbed quickly after being denied work dozens of times every week. He wanted desperately to quit and go to sleep on a couch forever. He now understood why so many had turned to alcohol and other substances after a few months of not being able to do anything right besides accept rejection. He was grateful to be living alone so that no one could see the crushing, emasculating effect it was having on his emotions.
   He then entered a period of “couch-surfing,” where he stayed with various friends and distant relatives who really didn't want him there. They had no idea how diligent he had been in relentlessly pursuing any and all forms of work, but since he still didn't have a job after all this time, they too began to assume he was just lazy. By this time he was spreading his resumé into different counties and states – an obligatory action he secretly hoped would not produce anything. While living in the backyard shop of a long-time friend, he finally faced the fact that he would soon have to move far from friends and familiar surroundings.

Arland – Book two of the trilogy
   Overcoming awkwardness, politics, and mortal enemies, a professional student develops a technology and culture for populating the harshest climates on the planet. After rescuing a young lady from a bar, and then finding himself in desperate peril, he turned to her for help. She introduced him to a whole new style of technology and culture. Adventure, romance, and a assortment of surprising characters pave a road to a more promising future for us all.

Beginning pages of Arland
Chapter 1 – Uneasy Rider
   Michael Levits was on his way home to his condo in Flagstaff from a distant college lecture. Hunger could no longer be ignored, so he pulled his chopper off the freeway onto a segment of old Route 66 in search of a meal. Slowly cruising the service road he spotted a large rustic building, surrounded by an expanse of deteriorating pavement that was large enough for semis to maneuver. The pickup trucks parked outside assured him that it had good food at a reasonable price.
   He was a young man and clean shaven, but the wind and sun of the freeways made it difficult to discern his age. He was still about two hundred yards away when the setting sun revealed a young lady working her way through the weeds and sparse sage from the freeway. He briefly considered driving behind the building to intercept her and see if she needed help, but her stride seemed strong enough, so why bother. Although exceptionally young for his impressive academic credentials, Levits was not a social person.
   As he entered and drank the aroma of the beef-heavy menu, he noted the already busy bar in the far end of the room. He knew he was in redneck heaven, and he didn't mind it a bit. He did feel a little out of place as he shed his leather jacket to reveal an expensive silk shirt, but he had no interest in relating to the culture – just the food.
   He made eye contact with a waitress, who nodded towards a stool at the counter. As he slipped in and began to survey the slightly greased menu, a lovely young lady with a strong balanced stride entered. Her clothes were simple, but her long light colored hair had become complicated during her trek through the sage and the freeway fence beyond.
   She paused to stand in the counter pathway, and lifted her chin slightly as she surveyed the patrons. She soon made a selection and zeroed in on Levits. “Nice shirt. Silk?” she asked with a winsome smile. “May please I borrow your cell phone?”
   As Levits stood up to dig into a front pocket for his cell phone, they were interrupted.
   I know you – you name Kat,” said a gruff and slightly inebriated voice. “Honey, you can borrow my cell phone any time you want it.”
   She wasn't talking to you,” said Levits quietly. As Levits extended his hand with his phone, a powerful hand batted it to the floor.
   Mind your own business – Silk,” said the man, to the rustle of his friends rising to their feet.
In a pretense of reaching down to pick up his phone he crowded between the speaker on his left and Kat, to prevent him from taking a step towards her as she backed away. He had just learned that this brute was right-handed, and expected a blow would quickly follow as he bent over.
   Silk!” screamed Kat, assuming the looming blow was unexpected.
   Silk” shifted to his right, and raised his left forearm to deflect the blow. As he rose he continued to turn, and drove his right elbow into the side of the brute's neck. As the man staggered sideways Silk briefly face Kat. “Out!” he said. “Left – to the chopper.”
   As the brute toppled, his head met the edge of a table, spewing instant evidence of a severe cut. “You've killed Tommy!” yelled a brawny worker as he reached across his fallen friend to seize Silk.
   Outside, Kat paused to glance through the glass door in time to see Silk grab the wrist of the extended hand and yank it forward, causing the man to stumble over his fallen friend. Silk gave a hop as he placed a knee on the inside of the man's elbow while still tightly holding his wrist, and slammed him viciously into the floor. Bounding from there to the door, Silk quickly passed Kat as he raced to his chopper, starting it as he backed it out of the parking place. “Now!” he urged Kat, as she looked frantically back and forth between the door and the chopper.
   When the restaurant door flew open in the fury of pursuit, she made up her mind. “This is insane!” she exclaimed as she bounced onto the seat behind Silk.
   It seemed only seconds before the roar of the motorcycle was answered by the sound of pickup trucks awakening for pursuit. At least one of them sounded far more powerful than it would have been while on the showroom floor.
   Silk controlled his speed as they passed a scattering of gas stations, old motels and pedestrians. The pickups didn't seem to care, coming perilously close to oncoming traffic and completely ignoring a stop sign.
   I think they're gaining,” said Kat. “I expected this motorcycle to be faster than this.”
   It is but I'm not,” said Silk. “I'm not going to drive stupidly just because they are.”
   Ooh!” said Kat, cringing as she saw a pickup narrowly miss a pedestrian.
   A rapidly approaching pickup was only fifty yards behind as they passed the last of the businesses and turned to ascend the overpass to the freeway on-ramp beyond. The pickup ceased to gain further as it negotiated the curve leaning heavily to its left.
   As Silk aligned himself with the freeway on-ramp, chopper and driver became a different animal. “Hang on,” shouted Silk.
   Kat shamelessly wrapped her arms around the muscular back of this total stranger and clung for dear life. The engine began to bellow and she closed her eyes tightly and let out an involuntary wail, as the power lifted the front wheel off the ground – surging forward, clawing the on-ramp for traction. Kat opened her eyes to see white dashes flickering past beneath them, and occasional cars that appeared to be parked on the freeway in comparison to their speed.

The Livewood – Book three of the trilogy
   The Livewood was a space ship designed to establish self-replicating extraterrestrial colonies. As politics and the threat of war consume Earth, the Livewood and the colonies it spawns have an opportunity to reinvent humanity, and to become the heirs of the Solar System and beyond. Politics, romance, and disasters draw out the personalities of an eclectic cast of characters.
    The science involved is a mixture of existing technologies, and radical theories. Science-oriented readers are challenged to either debunk or consider theories that depart from traditional views.

Beginning pages of The Livewood
1 – A Game of His Own
   Although barely eighteen, Wade was fed up with life – as was much of the human race. He lived in a generation where important decisions were made for him. Since preschool days, instruction, test results, and occasional interviews with institutional personnel, had determined his scholastic path. Now they would determine his lifetime occupation.
   It was also true that the internet had given him access to any subject of interest to him, and that the monitoring of these these interests had been factored into this lifetime decision. But he still felt cheated. It was his life and should be his decision. When he allowed himself a philosophical moment, he pictured himself as a plant whose nourishment depended upon his roots remaining where they were so they could receive regular water and nourishment.
   His desire for adventure had been partially fulfilled by video games. Vicarious fulfillment through sophisticated avatars gave some relief, but knowing that such games were entirely safe, they had become boring. He continued to wonder what real danger and real pain would be like. He had never seen a real explosion – or even seen a real gun – and he wondered what the flashes on his screen would actually sound like.
   A few years earlier he had begun to deduce that his choice and performance in games was yet another means by which his abilities and responses were being analyzed. As he became convinced that the cunning intelligentsia who provided his computer recreation were using it to monitor his intellect and personality, he began to realize that this very intimate snooping could actually become an avenue by which he could choose his own future.
   That was when he began to conceive a game of his own. He decided that he did not want to be a “brain cow” and become one of their resources. He would attempt to conceal the level of his intelligence so he could flow among the more average of the population, and manipulate his position among the less wary of society. So he intentionally began to make “mistakes” that would get his avatar killed or severely handicapped so he would return to lower levels of the programs. He also reigned in his personality pattern of boldly taking charge and anticipating the next looming challenge. This he coordinated with intentional “failures,” so it would appear he was becoming naturally cautious in response to mistakes. He would react more slowly to developing situations. His new game was to analyze and to manipulate his handlers.
   He had a small advantage in his realization that pride was the Achilles tendon of brilliant people. The game masters, smugly confident that their true objectives would rarely be discerned, would need to be managed with care. The “mistakes” he would make would have to be consistent with the types of mistakes he had made in the past. Also, he would need to make some other slight changes in his life so that the inevitable cross-correlation of data would obscure the fact that he was intentionally manipulating his game performance.
   As he began to consider the methods and opportunities of this game of his own, he realized the broader potential it had for actually gaining control of his “real” life – if life in this cage that society had created could be considered real at all. While performing the more routine obligations of life that did not reveal his actual thinking, he would ponder the type of life and career he would actually prefer. He would create his own life avatar, and manipulate his responses in the games he played. He would also modify his performances and responses related to his career assignments to suit his chosen image. While planning all this, He created a few diagnostic responses so he could discern the degree to which his intended actions would be noticed.
   Although previously he had excelled in mathematics and physics, the potential of actually being truly creative in these areas was limited to an elite few on the very cutting edge of science. The rest in these intellectually demanding disciplines were relegated to developing applications of technologies, that would support the work of this elite.
   As he began to learn more about life sciences, he recognized a vast opportunity for exploration within this realm of inner space. Although already having been explored for centuries, life sciences still held depths of secrets yet to be plumbed. He felt that there may be at least some remaining expressions of invention and creativity in these areas.
   He settled upon the in-between field of bionics, where math and physics met biology. In this narrow field, systems, software, and devices were developed that emulated abilities found in nature. He was realistic enough to see that opportunities simply did not currently exist for him in this field, so as a stepping stone towards it, he targeted botanical research.
   Upon this decision He began to voraciously consume materials available online to make himself as qualified as possible. By specializing in sophisticated instrumentation and analytical tools, he hoped to enter at the leading edge of this discipline. This was a risky move because if he could not pull it off, he would likely be categorized as a farmer – a comfortable yet common and mundane occupation. Wade was in danger of receiving exactly what he had earned.
   But now it was payday. He was about to be assigned to a career whether he wanted it or not, and the final two or three years of his education would bind him forever to this choice that they had made for him.

2 – The Cultural Environment
   Wade's young mind was ravenous for truth, and this had drawn him in to wondering why everything in society seemed so predictable and under control. He knew that his own inner thoughts were not under control, and he knew full well that he wasn't the only one. But almost all communication took place on screens. This allowed people to present whatever face they wanted to about themselves, and somewhere every word and scene was being recorded. There was an intuitive dread of expressing anything that might be contrary to what people had been instructed to think and feel. There were words that no one dared to utter, and problems that no one dared to mention.
    When he turned to history for answers, the story of any country or empire contained far more of the standard geopolitical commentary than historic facts. He was able to glean a few more details by searching histories of art pieces, architecture, and various period technologies. He would then zero in on backdrops incidental to the context of the subjects. The best mining came from examining opposing views – when such were allowed.
   There were cases where his web searches happened upon troves of forbidden information, and within hours he was unable to return to the website. He knew that this was not how life should be.

   The social life fostered shallow and uncommitted relationships. This was facilitated by a hedonistic night life that favored the more transitory levels of relationship.
   Marriage had long since ceased to be the norm in society, and the benefits of sterility were a routine part of scholastic and cultural indoctrination. This theme was increasingly repeated as children approached puberty.
    As students approached the age where they could volunteer for sterility, the benefits included opportunity for sexual experience a year earlier than it would be allowed for those who retained their potency. This ironically (and intentionally) made those with less control of their sexuality, less likely to reproduce.
   Another lifetime benefit of voluntary sterility would be the guarantee of a stable income. This would appeal to those with less confidence in their skills, and in their abilities to adapt to changing situations. These two enticements amounted to a breeding program that would slow population growth among those less disciplined and less confident in their abilities – the lesser performers.
    By this time children were essentially wards of the state, and only lip service was given to the role of parents in their lives. There was little reward or satisfaction in parenting, and their allowed involvement was essentially symbolic – overwhelmed by the influence of the school and daycare systems. All adults were expected to work. The state was the de facto parent – apparently for adults as well as for children.
   Education and entertainment constantly portrayed religious experience as a psychological weakness that were both opposed to rationality and detrimental to humanity. Historically, vicious wars had been fought over religious beliefs. As a result, any religious doctrine that allowed violence against another for any reason, was banned. For the sake of harmony however, there was symbolic allowance for peaceful religions. And indeed, religious experiences and beliefs continued to arise – seemingly out of nowhere.
    By blunting loyalties to both family and religion, the primary triggers of moral objections were mollified. Governments were thereby less likely to be threatened by conviction-based conflicts. The welfare of the state was then promoted to fill the vacuum left by the suppression of these other two institutions.
   As the global culture was developing, other causes of war were addressed and mitigated as much as possible. Conflicts motivated by survival needs were managed through technologies that met those needs, but ongoing access to these technologies had to be purchased by individuals through productivity. In other words, people were forced to earn what they needed to survive.
Behavior deemed criminal resulted in relocation to areas of reduced provision and reduced opportunity to damage others. This “reduced provision” translated into longer working hours to achieve survival itself.
   Actual prosperity took the form of increasing levels of comfort and convenience, and in some cases, additional space. The increments of improvement became smaller and increasingly difficult to achieve as they inched upwards. Such increases became available through longer hours, better performance, and additional public service.
   This made it possible for individuals to find levels where their ambitions were balanced by the levels of effort they were willing and capable of exerting. It was thus understood that wealth was available to any who were willing to pay the price, and this in turn reduced complaints due to jealousy or the perception of unfairness.
   This social order all depended upon the existence of a vague government that arranged and manipulated it all. This Society of Benefactors (SOB) was distant and impersonal enough to be considered untouchable. The extent of the gap between this global government and the populations of the world was unknown, and the path from one to the other did not exist. The news media they controlled offered few details.
   Unlike and unknown to the world they controlled, this Society of Benefactors, was fraught with factions and infighting, but with no referee. The SOB was roughly divided into three areas of administration: Asia, Mideast-Europe-Africa (MEA), and the Amers. The primary conflict was between Asia and MEA. The Amers, lacking the ambition to take on either one, were neutral, but covert envoys from both belligerents actively wooed their favor.

3 – Game Over
   The holographic instructor continued: “Within a few minutes your individual career categories will begin to appear on your tablets – along with the classrooms to which you will report. Upon receiving this information you are individually dismissed to the refreshment lounge for approximately thirty minutes. There you may relax and exchange congratulations and farewells among your fellow students.”
   The instructor disappeared and the nearly fifty students began to chat with each other as the individual assignments began to appear.
Wade noticed that there were whoops of joy in response to the first of these revelations, but the responses – though pleasant – became more subdued by the time about half of the class had departed. Eventually the responses began to sound more like relief than pleasure, and finally they got down to occasional groans. This did not bode well for his own results, as he continued to wait among the final few.
    A smallish man of about forty in immaculate formal attire stepped into the room. “Wade? Come with me. The rest of you will continue to wait here until your careers are revealed, whereupon you will proceed directly to your assigned classrooms.”
   Dr Kyle was identified only by a name plate on his breast pocket, and did not offer so much as a handshake by way of introduction. When just the two of them were seated in a small spartan conference room a couple of doors away from the classroom, Dr. Kyle spared no words.
   Until a few years ago you were at the top of your class, and headed for a prestigious career as an aerospace engineer. What happened?”
   Wade was caught totally off guard by this blatant confrontation. He found himself intimidated by the complete lack of empathy and encouragement that until this point had oozed from all whom he had encountered within the educational system. “I..I guess I'm uh probably not all that good... after all.”
   Parrot poop! You've been under achieving. Why?”
   Wade was under attack, and he began to intentionally adjust his position in the unpadded chair as a pretext for delay, while rapidly evaluating possible responses – short of confessing to the accusation at hand he had few choices. I had kind of cheated a little – before.”
   I had this friend who helped...”
   I don't quite remember his name. It was a few year ago...”
   Liar!” Silence. It was Wade's turn to speak, but there was nothing he could possibly say. He sat there staring at the table for what seemed like an eternity, rather than making eye-contact with this intense enforcer of reality. Kyle was diabolically patient as he continued to await Wade's response, but finally:
   There is a farmer who needs an assistant. The studies you've been feeding yourself lately have qualified you for this position, so you will need no further education. If you do what he tells you, and if you perform at the level you are capable of, you may eventually work yourself up to the position of farmer.
   I have posted the location of a retail suite in a nearby connected village on your tablet. You will report there at 8:00 am day after tomorrow with a backpack containing your tablet, such personal items as will fit, and an eagerness to perform. All else you will need will be provided at your future home.
   I am giving you opportunity and motive, and can offer you little more – other than any special tools or equipment you may feel you need.”
   Wade stirred and looked up from the table at this point. Had he actually just been given the opportunity to request something? “Are you offering me the opportunity to request tools or equipment – right now?”
   Have you also a hearing problem?”
   I'd like a portable mass spectrometer so I can analyze and monitor the elements within the plant nutrients. I would like the library of analytical procedures for monitoring plant health and diagnosing weaknesses. I would like the equipment for performing these procedures. I would like a high-resolution screen one and one half by three fourths of a meter, so I can simultaneously work with multiple screens, plus the computer resources to manage them. I would like to begin with 48 remote sensors for monitoring temperature, humidity, and soil conditions, but will doubtless need more in the future.”
   That's an outrageous list – and far more than any farmer would even know how to use, but I've been told to provide what you would request so I am constrained to see what I can do. There will also be an ongoing budget for additional essential tools and materials that you can clearly justify on a piece-by-piece basis.
   8:00 am day after tomorrow then. Another gentleman will be on hand to conduct you to your assignment. You are dismissed.” Whereupon the austere Dr. Kyle arose, turned away from Wade and began a phone call. As Wade left the room, he could not see the smirk on Dr. Kyle's face.
   Other than while awaiting Wade's responses, this highly efficient “Kyle machine” had not wasted five seconds of time or a single syllable of speech. As Wade stumbled along a garden pathway, stunned by the disaster he had made of his young life, he could not understand why he was smiling – until he realized: Adventure at last! He had succeeded in breaking something – even if it was his own life, and he was excited. He had felt real emotions about a real situation. He had broken the game!

   Even as an avowed techno-nerd, I found myself writing poetry as a means of sorting out my thoughts – ironic: I didn't think I even liked poetry. By the time it occurred to me to share them, I was able to locate over three hundred such reflections. I share a few of them here.
   A section has been appended to this collection to provide some of the back-stories from which the poetry was born.

   Those who complain about deception and hypocrisy in the churches today are in good company: St. Paul and others in the Bible also complained. I learned this after I had expressed my anger to God for not warning me about a deception in a church I had been attending. In a subsequent verse-by-verse search of the New Testament, I was able to locate well over a hundred and fifty warnings and instructions concerning these issues. God’s response? “I only warned you a hundred and fifty times.”

   I share this study of these verses in the off chance that there may be others who might blame God for all this.