Bill Rimsky:

Remember Your Mission

August 17, 0004 PPE: somewhere west of OKC Sector West


Mile 54:  4:15 pm, Friday, August 17, 0004 PPE

—courtesy of Melodram, the smooth way to soothe your inner animal!
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Use only as directed.

     "Bill," said Lucy.

     Bill looked. It took a second to see her. He had been watching the easy circling of three distant birds against the hot sky. Every time he saw one, he found he'd almost forgotten the way the last one had made him feel, and it took him by surprise again: the soaring sensation inside. The distant roaring in his ears..

     "Bill, I want you to remember something for me. No matter what happens later today. Can you?"

    Bill wasn't sure. But Lucy looked down at him, holding the steering wheel steady for a long minute. Snowfall purred, asleep on his lap. Serendipity, the long quiet station wagon, hummed along. Finally he nodded. Lucy looked back at the road and Bill let out a silent breath of relief.

     "I want you to remember your mission."

     "My mission?" Bill had already crucified his mission. Blasted it right out of the wild blue. His mission was the last thing he wanted to remember right now.

     "Yes. Do you know what your mission is?"

    "I knew that from the day I was born. They even drilled us in our sleep. But it's a total wipeout, my mission, after this."

     "I'm not talking about your military mission," Lucy said. "Hired muscle for the highest bidder! That's over now. Before you had a name, a rank or an ID number, you had this." She reached across the seat and poked him in the muscle of his arm, hard. "Not just your body. Your life. Your precious, precarious, life-threatening, inevitably fatal life. No matter what they tried to tell you at that Academy, it's yours, and no one else's. But there's a catch. Every living thing is born with a mission. It's a mission that takes your whole life to complete. Sometimes longer."

     "But I heard—" Bill stopped to think. This was personal. "Conway says we all got fertilized in some kinda test tube. Boogers thinks we must be clones."

     "You didn't come from any test tube, Bill, even if everyone down to the techs in the lab swears you did. They might even believe it. I was still a young woman when they grew their first fetus in the lab, it made such a lovely front-page controversy in the tabloids! By now, they imagine they own the genetic codes and even life itself. But in fact it's the other way around. That muscle in your arm comes from a far more ancient and mysterious source than those Academy labs. It's life itself that created you. And them too. Those oversized brains. All that musclebound meat."

     "But how could— who could—"

     "Nobody knows. One of those invisible powers. It's a mystery to this very day. But ever since the first people lived here on the Earth among the animals and other things, they could see that none of it was an accident— even the position of the stars up in the sky! That's how they first figured out that each of them— us— is born with a mission. The world is so carefully designed, so intricately put together . . . isn't it obvious, even now, to anyone with eyes?"

     Lucy gestured vaguely out across the fields to the distant horizon. Bill saw the birds circling. He'd always wondered how. Suddenly he was wondering why.

     "It was easier then, of course," Lucy went on, "with a million different ecosystems functioning in harmony as one biosphere, and nothing better to do in the evenings than invent astronomy. And for thousands of years no one questioned the existence of a divine creator. Though they fought and argued and murdered one another by the million over which name to use."

     On the dashboard miniscreen a blonde vixen giggled and jiggled. A plastic tube of pills stood beside her, dressed in a tuxedo. Melodram, it said in jeweled letters.

     "Then— who won?"

     "The cruelest god always wins. For a while it looked like it would be the Christian god; the Christians burned, tortured, enslaved and wiped out more unbelievers than any of their rivals. About a century ago they gave up all those tactics and concentrated on electing Christians to public office. They started with the local school boards and soon after the turn of the Millennium they took the White House— you must have studied all that history."

     Bill nodded. "The Millennialists."

     "But all that time an odd thing was happening. An even crueler god was rising in popularity, almost unnoticed. The new god didn't claim to be the creator of the original Creation, but of a new, improved version. The believers in this new god were gradually replacing the old religion with the new one. And since people couldn't see the old Creation so clearly any more under all the improvements, gradually even believers in all the older gods found themselves worshipping the creator of the new Creation instead."

     Lucy paused and scanned the horizon. The silvery-grey stubble of wheat. The white patches she said were salt. The cloudless sky, cut by the dissolving white crosshairs of the two 1600 overflights. Finally Bill couldn't stand it any more.

     "What was the new god's name? The cruelest one?"

     "Me."

     "You?"

     "No, me. Not you."

     Bill stared. Lucy slowed down to steer cautiously around a large boulder that lay halfway across the highway.

     "Wonder where that fell from?" she said. The familiar wrinkle appeared in her forehead while she thought about it.

     "The Me god has a mission for everyone, too," she went on. "That's what makes it so confusing. But the Me god gives everyone the same mission; that's how you can tell the difference. The Me god says we're all here to get as much as we can for ourselves. That's where your military mission fits in. We all tried mightily to believe, as good Americans, that it was our democracy and free enterprise and honest sweat that made us the richest, most powerful country in the world. But in fact we were spending half of our taxes to support the world's biggest armed forces. Seven times as much as the closest competition— Japan, I think. A lot of good it did us when the plagues came."

     She looked over at Bill without seeing him, without seeing anything, and Bill saw tears glistening like glass in her eyes..

     "Somehow it never hit us until we . . . lost someone. Then it was too late. Looked around one day and we could no longer just walk numb in the funeral procession like we'd been doing. It was a funeral a week, sometimes two on a weekend. And then the Quake, as if the plagues had only been a preparation. Suddenly there was no time for funerals. They barely bothered to identify the bodies, some places, they were digging them up so fast. And burying them again. And if it was someone you knew—"

     She didn't finish.

     "Did all those people—" Bill swallowed and his voice grew bolder. "Did they all have a mission, too?"

     "Thank you. Yes. All of them. Something very important which no one else could do, which some of them never got to finish, at least in this life. I believe we get lots of help if we're engaged in our true mission in life, especially if we remember to ask. And if we're humble enough to accept it. But there's no particular guarantee that we'll succeed, no matter how hard we try. Though it might be different if people followed their real mission right from birth instead of somebody else's idea of a useful career. My Bill, prime example. All he ever wanted to do was draw cartoons."

     "What—" Bill said before he knew which question he wanted to ask first. "Which— I mean, how could you tell what your mission is without— you know—"

     "Orders? Preferably in writing? Or drilled into the brain by mindless repetition. Both of those methods have been tried, not just by various militaries but by various religious traditions. Along with a whole range of other things, from self-inflicted pain to unbridled partying. The natives of this area used to go out alone on the prairie when they reached the age of twelve or so, carrying nothing but a knife."

     "They let them have knives?"

     "They stayed out for several days and nights, and the knife was all they had to hunt for food. Each little twelve-year-old came back with a vision— some kind of clue about their mission in life. And more often than not, a whole new name."

     "A new name?"

     "A name related somehow to their mission or to the vision they saw."

     "They changed their name?"

     "Why not? I changed mine when I married Bill." Lucy's low liquid voice suddenly hardened to bright stainless steel. "Except instead of choosing my own name, or seeing it in a vision, I just switched from my father's name to my husband's. Neither of us had the courage to call ourselves the Benedict-Vandergelds, or the Vandergeld-Benedicts. Since I was none too fond of my father or his money or his name at the time, and because getting married was my idea, not Bill's, I had mine changed. And I've always been disappointed in myself. I've always hated being 'Lucy Benedict.'"

     "I've always hated being called 'William Rimsky,'" said Bill. "It's my dad's name."

     They both sat thinking for a minute. Lucy drove.

     "Marrying Bill Benedict didn't exactly turn out to be my mission in life," Lucy said. "More like a weight I've carried along. Because I just couldn't be sure he would survive out there on his own."

     Bill didn't say anything. He was wondering what his mission could possibly be, now that he wasn't an NSI Cadet any more. And what name he might choose if he could just drop the name he had.

     Starbolt here. What's the mission for today, over?

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