Mainlining Moonshine

– Peter C. Ormerod


Note: This is an excerpt from Peter C.
Ormerod’s first novel, the story of Rachel
Porcher, a 27-year-old with sterling credentials and prestigious job at the
White House, who’s increasingly convinced she may be more machine than human. Examining
the age-old question of what makes us human—refracted through the lens of the
digital age, Ormerod has set the book in a near future dystopian America, where
average Americans have been decimated by corporate greed, automation,
ineffective policy, and globalization. All three branches of the U.S.
government have been crippled and corrupted; and the Silicon Valley technology
bubble has popped, leaving only two rival technology titans, FrienDexx and
Brickster, stronger than ever, aggressively expanding to all corners of modern
life, including the defense industry. Against this backdrop, THE REVOLUTION
BLUES follows the members of an as-yet uncorrupted DARPA program tasked with
creating the first Sentient Machines, an enigmatic domestic anti-technology
terrorist group’s attempt to topple the broken government and the corporate
parasites it hosts, and the CEO of FrienDexx’s desperate attempts to obtain the
ability to create his own Sentient Machines.

It was a
surprisingly short period of time before Rachel Porcher appreciated all too
well why residents of the nation’s capital derisively referred to it as “The
Swamp.” Some genius had decided to build a city — one to contain the H.Q. of a country by no means short on
geographic landmass — in a swamp.

The banal platitude
that “it’s the humidity, not the heat” actually seemed like it had some truth
to it, here in The Swamp. Having spent the past decade of her relatively short
existence on the planet in the Bay Area of northern California, the phenom of
feeling as though the late spring air may as well have been the deep end of a
swimming pool was utterly foreign to Ms. Porcher. Nor were her days prior to
Stanford much help: the mountains of Western Carolina kept things really rather
temperate. The Swamp’s humidity, though, that was the real kicker; inhalation
felt akin to plugging one’s nose and breathing with lips wrapped around a
humidifier containing boiling water.

Rachel found it mind-boggling
that her twenty-minute walk from her DuPont Circle area apartment — straight down
Connecticut Avenue to that confusing block where a pair of 17th Streets bound
Farragut Square to its east/west, where Connecticut vanishes only to rematerialize
having switched east/west positions with 17th, and finally a left onto
Pennsylvania Avenue, through a security apparatus and then beyond to her “office” — that she could
perspire so much. She’d never perspired like this ever before — not on a bike,
treadmill, sauna, nothing. Her pair of daily commutes seemed to generate a
greater volume of brine than she’d generated in the first twenty-seven years
her life combined.

And, Christ, the
effect the weather had on her hair was a constant source of consternation.  Never before had Rachel Porcher had hair that
anyone’d fairly described as frizzy—or even, really, wavy.  But in The Swamp?  She felt locked in a perpetual battle against
the humidity’s effect on her long, dark hair.
She spent maybe two weeks trying different strategies to blunt or
counteract the frizz, but truly, it was futile.
So up into a ponytail or bun it went—out of the way and off her
neck.  It’s not exactly like the
Executive Branch’s a beauty contest, after all.

And really now, who
builds a city on a swamp?

Nor did it take her
long to understand the Old Executive Office Building’s security apparatus’s
toad-woman’s hostility towards Rachel on her first day reporting to the job.
The memory still sends pangs of anxiety through her, forcing some weird kind of
involuntary tic-like response — e.g., quietly humming a
foreign melody, sharply inhaling through her nose, blowing out her lips like a
horse, & c. These anxiety-memory-tic-things would draw unsubtle sideways
glances from her coworkers, so Rachel tried her best not to let her mind wander
on over to anxiety corner. But of course there’s that truism about there being one thing and one thing only that you can’t avoid thinking about right
after you command yourself not to
think about that thing — be it vampires or a locust infestation or whatever. Still,
as far as White House staffers go, Rachel tended towards the well-adjusted end
of the spectrum. Government workers were a queer bunch, it seemed.

The first week on
the job had been mind-numbingly brutal. Training this and training that. Even
pain seemed like it’d be preferable to this all-consuming abject lack of
stimuli. Once the training sessions tapered off, that’s when Rachel gleaned a
real understanding of the toad-woman and her kin. Though to be totally fair to
toad-woman, Rachel had been naïve, there’s just no two
ways about it. But naïveté, it seems, isn’t a vice, per se. It can have
unfortunate effects, sure — see, e.g.,
anxiety pangs and tic-like responses — but it wasn’t like Rachel, in her naïveté, had any malice
intent.

And who could blame
her, really? She’d had no previous experience navigating a byzantine
bureaucracy, only to be thrown into the deep end of the bureaucratic hierarchy.
One of the many appealing aspects of working at FrienDexx had been the very
loose approach to hierarchy and rigidity. Which could make things seem a bit
chaotic at times, sure, but getting too rigidly set in your ways was a
guaranteed way to get disrupted into non-existence — that’s what Matt
always said.

Anyways, once, it
seemed, the new job actually got under way in earnest, that’s when it became
abundantly clear to Rachel Porcher why the OEOB security personnel’s hostility
was triggered by a string of mere numbers and letters. Stanford and FrienDexx
had been competitive, obviously, but in a much different way; toad-woman’s
hostility was, essentially, a product of the cruel, crystal clear reality that
Rachel’s deep end was in the stratosphere, while toad et al.’s might well have
been a lengthy trip down a mineshaft, comparatively. The competitive aspect in
D.C., at least in the circles Rachel frequented, was all about “Proximity to
the President,” a.k.a. “POTUS Prox.” Access, access, access. Toad’s mineshaft
reality almost certainly had some pecking order of its own, like, say, Rachel
mused, whose job wouldn’t be automated out of existence first.

Rachel recognized
quickly that there was nothing to be done about the hostility issue, vis-à-vis
the rigid hierarchy of the federal bureaucracy. Because there was, frankly,
nothing that Rachel’d done or could do about the facts causing the hostility.
So as her own personal mother had always said: Kill ’em with kindness.

Though Rachel had
no reason to go anywhere near the security apparatus’s hostile toads, in the
rare event she had reason to interact with a federal employee unconcerned with
POTUS Prox, Rachel Porcher made certain to be utterly and completely polite,
beaming so hard her cheeks ached. Much of this behavior, of course, was just
interpreted as another loathsome layer on a rotten onion, this
“gee-whiz-smiling-as-I-slide-the-blade-between-your-ribs” shtick. But, alas,
this too couldn’t be helped, so Rachel resolved to stick with it. After all, if
she were rude, that would only reinforce the conclusion that the onions in
closest proximity to POTUS really were rotten from layer to core.

Nor did it help
that Rachel Porcher was really quite physically attractive. This too couldn’t be
helped or changed. But Rachel was nothing if not perceptive, which many would
probably describe as enabling the manipulation of others — especially male
humans — as revoltingly
simple.

So too rang true
the trick Rachel had picked up frosh. fall semester, one she previously had no
reason to know she possessed. See, there was something terribly intoxicating
about subtly slipping into her particular sub-Mason Dixon mountain folk speech
patterns.

When people call it
a drawl, there really is some nugget of weird truth to it, the way certain
pairs of words seem to lose their distinct identities — “y’all” of course
being the most obvious but least subtle example. More effective—i.e., subtler but no less intoxicating—was
dropping a “reckon” to denote any marginal degree of uncertainty; following any
remark that anyone could possibly interpret as disparaging with complimentary
verbal tics such as “Bless her heart”; this queer and exceedingly difficult to
imitate emphasis on the first syllable of some words —e.g., “cement” becomes
“SEA-meant” and “insurance” becomes “IN-shurins”; & c.

It was something
about these speech patterns that made people reared outside the historical
Confederacy assume the speaker lacked a certain degree of sophistication. Which, when it comes to Rachel
Porcher, not only fails to accord with reality, but also proves fatal in the
getting-her-way department — even more so when a homo sapien possessing a Y-chromosome is
within earshot.

“Fear” is far too
strong and nefarious of a word, but subsequent to accepting the White House
job, it did indeed occur to Rachel that this little speech technique’s utility
might well diminish in The Swamp — given, of course, its geographic location south of the
Mason-Dixon line.

Not so. Still like
mainlining moonshine.

The only
individuals seemingly both aware and capable of resisting the southern drawl
were other females from the historical Confederacy, especially if they too were
considered physically attractive. There were more women in D.C. who fit these
criteria than in Palo Alto, and Rachel quickly got the impression that there
was some type of unwritten code w/r/t, e.g.,
dropping a “reckon” to get your way — at least within earshot of an attractive Southern-reared
female sharp enough to know what Rachel was doing.

So to Rachel’s
understanding, this unspoken code consisted of something like three axioms: (1)
Don’t flaunt it; (2) Don’t abuse it; and most critically, (3) Bless whomever’s
heart dares trying to fucking use it another
code-knower. Fair enough was Rachel Porcher’s approach. Limits she understood — not just the
mathematic concept.

Training sessions
in the fourth dimension’s rearview mirror, along with the fading temporal lag
to getting settled in a new location, establishing and adjusting routines,
& c., and it turned out that Rachel Porcher quite enjoyed her new job thus
far, aside from The Swamp conditions, of course. The title, however, was quite
the mouthful: “Principal Deputy Special Adviser to the President for Technology
and Intelligence.” Rachel memorized getting it right by staring at her
reflection and repeating it over and over in her apartment’s lone wall fixture.

It, the job, it was
different than anything she’d done at FrienDexx, yes, but Rachel enjoyed the
challenge and there was little that could be considered rote, boring, or
routine about her slate of assignments, at least so far. She was still awaiting
final confirmation of her security clearance — these things can and do take months and months and months,
she’s been told, repeatedly — so there’s still some lingering uncertainty what all
she’ll actually be doing, post-clearance final confirmation.

The whole idea of
having to accept a job without really knowing what, exactly, the job entailed — given the
position’s portfolio was itself classified, Top Secret (‘TS’), Sensitive
Compartmentalized Information (‘SCI’), No Foreign Nationals (‘NOFORN’), in the
compartment referred to only, thus far, as ‘VVFSI.’ This struck Rachel Porcher
as the zenith of absurdity.

But Matt had really
encouraged her to take the opportunity, to go try her hand at something
different, work in service to the homeland, & c., and he’d assured Rachel
that she’d always be welcome back at FrienDexx. Paralyzed by the equally likely
implications of the CEO’s personal encouragement to depart FrienDexx — Was she going to
get up getting pushed out sooner rather than later, with or without the White
House job? Or did Matt trust her enough to think she’d go to D.C. for his and
FrienDexx’s benefit? — taking the White House gig seemed like the prudent move,
since doing so eliminated the former concern, and she’d have
three-thousand-plus miles and a good bit of time to formulate a strategy for
dealing with the latter.

So Rachel accepted the White House position in January— reservations about the position’s portfolio’s existence
within the VVFSI compartment notwithstanding.


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Peter C. Ormerod is a twenty-eight-year-old licensed attorney, who, over the course of a twenty-month career at a large corporate law firm in Washington, D.C., recognized that practicing law could not provide the opportunity to pursue his passion for writing. A voracious consumer of literary fiction and follower of developments in contemporary literature since college, he began creative free writing after law school, and since leaving his law practice, has dedicated himself to writing his first novel full-time.  

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