Saturday, May 8, 2010

[Mythos XX] Flaming Zombies and Bargain Catastrophes

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Surrealism combines a blend of reality and unreality. Any person unable to sort the fiction and fantasy from the factual is strongly advised to seek professional help, if only in the area of English reading and comprehension.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Wall Street, somewhat predictably, does not much care for zombies.

Zombies have been the bane of Wall Street for quite some time now. Witness, for example, what happened the last time the financial and investments industry harnessed zombies; the "unstoppable" commoditized debt obligations ("CDO") sure did stop, and dragged down most of Western Civilization, or at least those parts of Western Civilization with which the finance and investment industry concerns itself. Foreclosed properties practically litter neighborhoods all around the world.

Aspen Hill, Maryland, is not immune to the the fallout from that. Looking backwards, it really is almost comical how firms such as Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs were able to create their zombies and actually get other people to invest in them. I can imagine the sales pitch now: "Hey, look it's a zombie, it cannot die, it's not going to stop moving, it's harnessed and it's headed in one direction," and people bought into it, because after all, zombies in fact cannot die and they are awfully single-minded. Yet the investors didn't seem to understand that while they cannot be killed because they are already dead, zombies will keep single-mindedly moving in the same direction only so long as there are two conditions met. First, they have to have the notion that in a certain direction they will find something to eat, and secondly, they have to have not decomposed. Although zombies are almost unstoppable, they are in fact dead and as they are dead, they will rot. Eventually there won't be enough muscle left to work the bones and the zombie can no longer move. The difference between various Wall Street firms is easily summed up, thus: "it's easy to win a bet that harnessed zombie will endlessly pull a cart down the road if you dangle some brains in front of it, but you have to know to bet right on how long it will last before it goes ripe and too mushy to pull". Goldman Sachs more or less sold the zombie equivalent of "day old bread" to investors and bet that the zombies could not pull the cart across the finish line, so to speak. Either way, they got paid. Further, they didn't have to live with the smell of the zombies rotting everywhere as they lay where they fell once they'd gone far enough past their expiration date. Wall Street Fat Cats can afford live help. So to speak.

Zombies, of course, are merely an allegory, an extended metaphor, but when you're dealing with Wall Street -- or a lot of other sectors of society or phenomena within those sectors -- the allegory is often extremely applicable. Next time you're thinking of investing, ask your broker "You're not trying to sell me a zombie that's near its expiration date, are you?" and although they are well-trained to look at you as if you are mad to ask such a question, they'll actually be thinking 'oh fuck, why do I get all of the Shrewd Customers". Then they'll stop trying to sell you tranches of "unstoppable" Commercial Real Estate and convince you to do something sane but very low-yield instead, such as buying 20-year Treasury notes so that unless the world ends, you'll actually have money left when it's time for you to retire.

Meanwhile, to return to the allegory, zombie remnants litter the neighborhoods in the form of homes in foreclosure, or repossessed and put out on an already saturated market. In Aspen Hill, Maryland, we were an epicenter for origination of subprime mortgages. The banks are pretty leery of lending anyone any money and if you want to buy here, you can buy very inexpensively in terms of the price you pay for 60-year-old houses in a neighborhood in partial decline. You will have to pay a very significant downpayment and you will not get "flexible" terms; you'll be purchasing with a very traditional mortgage on the shortest terms they can press.

Of course, people drive into Aspen Hill looking for these bargains, and they realize that they'll be getting an excellent deal mostly because the neighborhood has become desirable because of the low cost of housing. It did not become desirable because the neighbors are rich or because the streets are well-maintained.

Even without a plague of actual zombies, the place had become a "slumburbia" and clearly was headed down the slide towards full-on ghettodom. Yet we did get zombies, more or less, and as for the zombies, they weren't picky about where they lived, if you want to call that living. No, for the zombies, it was even more serendipity, just good luck for them, that Aspen Hill, Maryland, was so littered with foreclosed homes, with lots and lots of places for zombies to hide.

On May 1, protesters had been infested by malevolent alien software downloaded from beyond time and space and stored on EPROM for future researches into advanced weapons systems. Shortly thereafter, most of the EPROM had been destroyed by a very powerful but localized electromagnetic pulse. Some of the EPROM, however, had been removed in a bank-vault crew heist in which the crew had tunnelled in from a five-foot concrete pipe that fortuitously had buried a stream beneath the basement of a former defense facility being mothballed as staff was relocated to a consolidated and far-more-secure new office complex elsewhere.

That EPROM was incredibly dangerous, should it ever be connected to the global telecom networks. Yet as dangerous as that was, it was locked in a metal box inside another metal box, which aided in its dread preservation from the cleansing radiations of the electromagnetic pulse that wiped the majority of the EPROM, along with all transistor-equipped anything within about three miles radius of the balloon-lofted pulse antenna. So long as the EPROM couldn't connect to the networks, it wasn't a problem.

More immediately, the problem was the protesters, about 1000 of them. They had been using Salvinorin A, an entheogen drug, in slight overdose. This "peace pill" had stripped away the natural filters that ordinarily provide physical entities some defense against direct control by the sort of non-corporeal entities that have been called Djinni, or Chindi, or even -- mostly by those who have actually fallen (in whole or in part) victim to one or more of them -- Deity.

What most people would perceive -- if they perceived it at all -- as "the still, small voice of conscience" or the whisperings of temptation, what a schizophrenic might perceive as disembodied voices screaming insults and commands, these thousand or so protesters perceived as first a tickling as the alien software probed for usable elements of a potential host operating system, than as a rush from Beyond as the alien software established protocols, escalated through handshaking to modem training, and downloaded large parts of itself to the protesters, who by this time weren't protesting anything. The alien software had quickly located the brain's pleasure center and was prodding it as hard as it could. As their minds were usurped to the point where the malevolent alien 'wares could rewrite elements of genetic code to set the body into motion building alien structure within the hosts, they felt nothing but the ultimate rapture that they could possibly feel, even as the alien code permanently disabled the "god filters" of their temporal lobes.

The alien warez were mostly exceptionally compressed, and generally speaking, far too large to decompress into a single human mind's ultra-short-term memory from which it would have to be absorbed and incorporated into the full intellect. The warez could try to download a module at a time, so to speak, into the small-but-fast short-term memory, and that was what it was doing after it downloaded the compressed payload into long-term memory, where it could not be decompressed nor processed in the compressed format. Many of the modules had been transferred, but not enough, when the electromagnetic pulse severed the link as it destroyed the EPROM reservoir from which it had been radiating. Yet if enough of the now-possessed protestors could put their minds together, so to speak, there would be sufficient communications bandwidth, processing power, and especially available short-term memory available to decompress the entire "seed" payload. Probably six to ten individuals would be required for this successful "communion".

How unfortunate, thus, for the goals and intentions of the alien software, for it to have downloaded itself into a mass protest, a demonstration for worker's rights and against enforcement of immigration laws, which was well and truly surrounded by a police SWAT team and dozens of additional officers, who were suddenly very agitated and ready to respond to anything and everything, as all of their electronics had suddenly gone dead.

This is what you get for fucking around with implacable alien gods from incomprehensible universes in other dimensions: Really Bad Shit Happens.

Really truly: don't try this at home.

SWAT gets reinforced by special forces who have special orders, to by whatever non-nuclear means are necessary, keep anything resembling the demonically-possessed (or even deeply religious) from getting anywhere near any communications equipment more complex than banging sticks on trashcans.

SWAT drives zombies into vacated former defense-contracting and research facility, uses flamethrowers and large amounts of flammable liquids to incinerate zombies and drive them deeper into the compound. Unfortunately for all concerned, at least some of the zombies may have stumbled onto the tunnel in the basement through which the bank-vault crew had heisted their alien-infested EPROM. If that's the case, zombies have traveled both upstream and downstream through the five-foot concrete drain pipe, beneath and beyond the police and military cordon around the commercial core of Aspen Hill, and exited directly into the nearby residential neighborhoods... where there are lots of vacant and foreclosed single-family detached residential dwellings in which to hide. Or, depending which way these putative and hypothetical zombies might have turned had they in fact escaped into the tunnels, they might emerge at the northern corner of the intersection of Connecticut and Georgia Avenue, at the stormwater retention pond next to the Wendy's burger joint. From there, they could easily invade Wendy's, a couple of gas stations, and the immense expanse of the Big K-Mart store, and the crime-ridden apartments and condominium developments just beyond.

Which, of course, is exactly what most of them did.