The Last Chapter
The little boy yawned and stretched his arms wide as if he were a bird atop the tallest oak preparing for a long journey. Then he lowered them gently and wrapped them around his mothers’ waist. Forming a half-smile from the edges of his mouth, trying not to appear too eager, he said in his softest voice, “Daddy, tell me again. Tell me the story again about Grandpop, and you, mommy, uncle Deacon and great-uncle Kelly. About how you defeated the colonizers.” He waited in the silence of the late evening. “Please?” he added. The story never grew tiresome, no matter how many times in his five years he had heard it.
Ryder could never say no to his son’s pleadings. It didn’t matter that nearly 17 years had passed by. Every morning he woke up, it all felt as if it had happened only the day before. The constant retelling of the story was also his way of keeping the memory of his father alive as well. Ryder sighed. But Keesha interrupted before he could start. “Now, don’t go telling that story again! It’s late. This little boy has to go to sleep.”
Ryder feigned disappointment and replied, “Listen to your momma now. Maybe tomorrow. Uncle deacon will be coming over dinner. Maybe he can tell you the story.”
“Noooooooo,” the little boy wailed, and scrambled down off his mother’s lap in protest. Ryder looked over at Keesha as if to say, “Just one more time?”
“Ugh…” she grumbled with exasperation. “Fine! I’ll go turn down his bed covers and get his room ready for bed.” She leaned over and gently kissed the heads of her son and husband. “The quick version, now! Okay?”
“Yes m’amm,” they said in unison.
The little boy clambered up the large overstuffed chair beside his father and nestled himself.
The little boy knew the story by heart. But he delighted that every time he heard it, his father, or Deacon or great Uncle Kelly would add some twist or detail that he not heard before. It was an ever-changing tale. And it was one that every member of their community knew as well. This story was like an origin story, one in which they could identify how they came into be-coming, into a new world free of centuries of domination. And free from having to look over their shoulders. It had been a rebirth.
Ryder asked, “Now. What part of the story should we begin from? Momma says to keep it short, so let’s pick just one part for tonight, okay?” The little boy frowned but complied with this demand.
“Well …” He paused and wrinkled his forehead. “I like the part where you saw grandpop for the first time. At the grand dinner. You know, where you all tell off the guys from Romer Onyx and turn the tables?” The little boy still wasn’t clear on how tables had anything to do with birthing a revolution, but he liked the way the phrase sounded. It made him feel older and clever. Ryder gave a soft laugh and stroked his cheek. “Yes, we turned the tables. Okay … so there I was at the grand dinner. Now remember, the businessmen and scientists all thought this grand dinner was gonna be a celebration for the success of their plan to begin phase one bio-colonization of our community. And we were just the start. They were launching that same tactic all over the world eventually.”
“What’s that mean again, Dad? Bio …whatever you said?”
“Bio-colonization. It’s when the people who are in control, you know, who have most of the power, and who want to own and control others, use our bodies and minds for that control. For centuries, colonizers relied on external methods of control. External means things around the people, like taking our land. Or making laws that kept us from being truly free. Colonizers had to control us from the outside, using schools, and work, and prisons and money to keep themselves in power. When the data pods collapsed, thanks to great uncle Kelly and the other black hatters, Colonizers realized they could use technology a different way. Generations of resistance had proved their efforts messy and unwieldy. What I mean is, they didn’t work because eventually people found a way to resist.”
The little boy jumped in. “By making the nano sensors that would be inside each and every one of us? So, they could control us from the inside?”
“That’s right,” Ryder replied. “That’s the bio part.”
“Uncle Deacon says that you all realized that the first wave of resistance, the ones that destroyed the data pods, were so busy looking outside that they forgot to start looking inside.”
“Me, your momma and Uncle Deacon knew, from the moment our community started having those odd explosions that were destroying our food and water supplies, that Romer Onyx was thinking differently. So we started thinking differently, too. We weren’t totally sure what they were up to. But we knew that the fight was beyond the data pods themselves. It was us they wanted all along. Then, that night when English fainted at the RO dinner event, I stood looking over all those long tables of fancy foods, that it dawned on me what they were doing.” Then Ryder corrected himself, “Well, I had an intuition about it. It was your grandfather who developed the tools for our true liberation from it. All those years in disguise, working for RO. They never saw it coming.”
Ryder’s throat tightened. It was still hard, knowing his has lost his father twice. Once when he was even younger than his own son was now, and then again as an adult, a short time after their counter-colonization. At least his father had a few brief years to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and to be the best man at his son’s wedding, before the cancer took him.
“Five more minutes, you two!” Keesha called from the bedroom.
The little boy bounced up and down, “Hurry, Daddy!!”
“Sorry. Yes. So back at the neighborhood, shipments of RO water and food were being shipped to the stores, ready for distribution to all our families and neighbors. But with English, through Pops and Deacon and the tunnels where we could pass messages, word had gotten out to everyone not to eat the food or drink the water. Instead, my mother, your grandma, along with everyone else in the community, coordinated with other decolonized zones like our friends from Arizona who were able to deliver for us everything we needed from their supplies. Sure, everyone had to have a little less for the time being. But our very survival was on the line. Meanwhile, Grandpop, and the rest of us were back at the RO headquarters. Grandma Susan sent out the invitations to all the elite guests that Mr. Parks had on his list. Remember she worked for RO and they had no idea she was working against them. Mr. Parks thought he was going to show off his latest innovation. I guess you could say we spoiled the party.” He laughed but the little boy remained serious.
“Get to the part where you see Grandpa for the first time!”
“Ok, ok. So English and I are all set up behind our food stations just as we planned. I worked up my best poker face. You know, where you don’t show any emotion. And these old fat cats linin’ up to enjoy English’s finest cooking.” He gave a wicked smile. “Not knowin’ all the while what they were really eating. Turning the table, as it were” Ryder laughed again, bemused by his own play of words.
The little boy nodded.
“I didn’t know yet, who had made the nano-sensors, or how they had gotten into the food. English just told me we had a spy scientist on the inside. Then Mr. Park’s calls for a toast. You know, the thing where they want everyone to listen to something special they have to say.” In his best imitation, Ryder lowered his voice with mock authority, “Everyone. May I have your attention! Thank you for coming tonight. We have something very special to announce. Romer Onyx, always on the cutting edge of innovation, has finally broken through the barriers that have prevented us from lasting success. Technology has finally caught up with our intentions. Think of it. Imagine the similarities in language in technology and the way we use language for our own bodily systems. Computers run on codes and we are made of DNA codes. We have a neurological system and computers have a system. We get sick with viruses and computers can also be attacked by viruses. The coding of data is nothing compared to the coding of DNA in terms of what potential lies therein for our benefit.” He breathed in deeply and puffed up with anticipated triumph. “And now, my friends, we have moved from metaphor to metonymy. What do I mean? I mean, we have finally discovered a way for the ultimate surveillance and control. Bio-colonization! The latest tech allows us to conduct surveillance and control without the mess of data pods, or policing, or messy regulations that can be refused. Imagine a world of total compliance without the violence of resistance!”
“And everyone liked that idea, daddy?”
“Well, everyone in that room did. At least until…”
The little boy popped up excitedly and interjected. “Until Grandpop walked out into the center of the room!”
Ryder pulled him back down into a seated position. “Yes, that was what happened next. Grandpop walked out from behind on the large staging areas in the back of the room, where all the tray and carts had been stacked. At first, I didn’t recognize him. Remember, it had been about ten years since I had seen my dad. I was younger than you when he left. And I thought he was dead so it didn’t occur to me that it could even be him.”
Ryder pulled his fingers up to his eye and pushed the beginnings of a tear away.
“It’s okay, Dad” the little boy said softly.
“He struts out into the center of the room. Right in the middle of Mr. Park’s speech! Before he says anything, he looks at right at me. I braced myself against the wall. The moment he looked right into my eyes, I knew it was him. I couldn’t believe it. But somehow it all made sense. I can’t explain it. I guess a part of me kept him alive, hoping for a moment like this. And the way my mom, your grandmother, was never grieving the way I knew she would have if she really believed him dead. It was like she was just waitin’ all those years. Like she knew something. “
At that moment, Keesha came back into the room. “You’re gonna just drag this out, aren’t you?” She chided him. “Ryder, let me finish this story so this young man can get some sleep!” She sat on the couch beside them and continued, “So your daddy is so much in shock, seeing his father for the first time. I was in the kitchen with English taking the tiny nano- sensors and fixing them into the food. Grandpop showed us how. They were invisible to the eye. And we had to be careful. But we did it. When I walked out, I saw Grandpa in the center of the room explaining to all those folks exactly what had just happened. Mr. Parks, he was too stunned to move, or to do anything. And then Grandma Susan came out into the center of the room holding a video recorder. She fixed the camera on Grandson. ‘People of Interregnum Mile’ he began, ‘It’s me, Reverend Booker. I have been working undercover here at Romer Onyx for ten years, uncovering their plan. People in decolonized zones everywhere. We are again under attack. Once upon a time, they brought diseased blankets to the indigenous people to kill them-using their own biology against them. Now, hundreds of years later, they have found way to again colonize us through our bodies. Our community resources have recently come under attack very strategically by Romer Onyx. They created a crisis so that they could then swoop in and provide so-called salvation. But of course, their help comes at a price. See this in my hand?’ He held up his fingers but you couldn’t really see the tiny chip in his fingers. ‘Of course you can’t. Its invisible. But I am holding something called a nano sensor.”
Ryder jumped in excitedly, saying “So then your grandpop announces in his most commanding voice, ‘We need to counter-colonize them!”
“Everyone in the audience just gasped,” Keesha added. “The guards were waiting for the signal from Mr. Parks, but he knew enough to hear out your grandfather first.”
Ryder said, “So then your grandpop says, ‘While we avoided the virus infecting us thistime, subverting their tactics to create a crisis by which we were forced to comply with their ‘help’ which amounted to an attack, not unlike how water in Flint MI was deliberately poisoned destroying generations of families in the process. From there, they got an idea. They got the idea for bio-colonization. What started as GMOs and the ways food are genetically modified began to affect the human body, the coders knew they were on to something. The relationship between DNA coding and computer coding went from metaphor to metonymy. The coding of each were interlaced.”
“They wanted to poison us?” the little boy asked. Keesha and Ryder looked at each other, sadly. “They didn’t want to kill us, honey. We were more like …” she searched for the right word, “… a product, or a resource, to them.” The little boy frowned. His face looked tired. “He’s gotta go to sleep, honey” Keesha insisted to Ryder.
“Ok. So let’s hurry!” Ryder said to the little. Boy. “I wanted so badly to run to your grandfather. To hug him. He looked like he might just pass out right there on the floor. I had to help. I said to everyone in the room as Susan turned the camera on me, ‘We could fight and refuse but they’d keep coming.’ I looked at everyone in the room, my face hot with fury, ‘You’dkeep coming. Youwon’t stop! You’ll find one way since we had refused the last.’ Then your Momma came into the center of the room.”
“That right,” Keesha said, “I spoke right into the camera and said, ‘We had to think more strategically. What could ensure our safety better than parity? Or equity? We facilitated an arrangement of mutually assured survival or destruction. Now, theyall have nano sensor data pod coding in our bodies.” A loud murmur rose through the ballroom, people turning left and right examining one another’s bodies as if they could detect a physical change. ‘You can’t taste it. You can’t smell it. But it’s there. In that fine meal Mr. English prepared for all of you. And now, wehave the means for surveillance and control-thanks to Reverend Booker. We co-opted all of your programming since it was the programming he helped build. We all hold the power now. The only thing that matters more to men who want to take away the freedom of others, is the right to their own freedom. You will forgo this new effort toward bio-colonization because we now have that same leverage over you. We own your data. We can track your bodies. Your movements. We will take from you, or give to you, that which you take or give to us. It is counter-colonization.’”
“So what happened?” the little boy asked, although he knew the answer. He yawned. Ryder stroked the side of cheek.
“Well, RO lost all of its investors practically overnight. Investors are the people with money to make the company run. With no money, RO couldn’t continue its work. Those investors had ingested the nano-sensors. And we had not. They were now as powerless as they had tried to make us. But RO’s plan had backfired. They destroyed themselves.”
Keesha lifted the little boy, and he fell limply into her arms with sleep. Ryder had to wrap up the story. “Your grandfather shared the technology he had created with every other decolonized zone we knew. We shared knowledge and we shared our resources. After the fall of RO, the most powerful corporation in the world, all other companies were too afraid to attempt to use bio-colonization either. RO had been a warning to them all, that we too had power. And we had no need for them. They’re still out there. Running their little schemes and plots to run the world. And they do, in their own way. We can’t change that. But that’s their world. And we stay clear of it. We don’t want world domination. We want freedom…for ourselves, and for anyone else who seeks it. And we no longer have need of their world.”
Ryder sighed, feeling exhausted himself. “The powerful have always used sneaky techniques to lure the powerless into a system owned and run by them, with the false promises that all the powerless need to do is play by the rules of the colonizer, and that somehow they too can aspire to power. But those who make the rules always design the rules to keep others in their place, no matter what they say otherwise. The system was designed in their image. And there is no room for us. There never was. The system isthe power. So, we designed a new system for arranging ourrelationship to the rest of the world. One in our likeness. One that is equitable and sustainable on our terms. We own our narrative now.”
The little boy wasn’t sure what all of that meant. His parents had done what they often do toward the end of the story, fall back into using grown up terms that he couldn’t understand. It was as if they were retelling the story for themselves. Which, in a way they were. The new narrative must remain alive for future generations. The little boy fell asleep, safely in world where he would never have to worry about his safety, health, security, or freedom. Was it too good to be true? Anything is possible, if we direct our attention to the right things, and the right people.
We are a creation of the stories we tell ourselves, about who we are, and what we can be. We read and write the world. And we can re-write the stories that others tell about us. Action begins with voice. Even if those stories begin as fiction, as this one did, it does not mean they cannot equally be true. Or possible.