Publius: Libertas Aut Mors
Chapter 1 Damnatio Memoriae
Nosce te ipsum.
"You are Delta 3. You were born in Wister Oklahoma, to Jim and Kathleen Barus. You have been salvaged from a life of corruption to perform a service for your country."
He was not Delta 3, a hideous creation of Project MKDELTA. He had deceived the trichina for so long that, at times, it was hard for him to be confident of his identity. Nevertheless, there still existed the smallest remnants of his heart to help him overcome such damnatio memoriae.
He was strapped to a table in a barren room. He did not recognize the voice coming through the speakers.
"No," was his whisper. It was a plea for sanity. "My name is…"
"Your name is Carl Barus. You've been granted full pardon for your crimes. But you must repay."
"No." His whisper was less; his will was broken.
Hours upon hours, day after day-every second, every minute-he was secured to the table and subjected to the overpowering indoctrination. This would continue until MKDELTA was satisfied that he was a slave to their commands.
Unsure who he was, unable to make sense of the world around him, he was the clay and they-the sentinels, the guardians-were the potters.
Round and round the table spun, until he was fashioned into whatever image MKDELTA desired.
But no matter how many times he was ripped apart and fashioned into a new image, no matter how many times his sanity was violated, he had always managed to hold on to one fact-one truth-that gave him the meaning to continue to live.
I know who I am.
I am Richard Haler. I am an American. I am a good man.
He had to believe that, no matter what the trichina put in his mind.
In his identity, he found a will to live.
It was well before predawn. Richard Haler had gotten up and was again looking out of the west window into a world that was dark and hideous to him.
He hadn't slept at all, afflicted by memories of his destruction and reconstruction.
No longer secured to a table, now he was unconstrained, living outside of MKDELTA Technical Services Division (TSD) Compound. The location of the compound was unknown, TSD simply an acronym for reference.
"Your left arm-it's on fire, burning."
He heard the voice and quickly dropped into a crouch, diving into a narrow alley. The street was nearly empty; there was no one around him on the sidewalk.
I heard the voice. It was plain as day.
His safety assured, he inspected his arm. All was okay.
Without warning, his arm was on fire, the pain unbearable. He writhed on the ground trying to put out a fire that he could not see, only feel.
"Your left arm-the pain is gone."
The end of the pain took him to a euphoric state. It felt so good to be free of the horrible pain. In his euphoria, he almost fell asleep on the ground.
At last, he rose to his feet and walked on, his apartment a few blocks away.
I see a hideous world because they make me see it that way.
In the early stages of his mind reconstruction, there were times when he could not determine if the images in his mind were his or placed there by MKDELTA.
They've remade my mind.
At first, he hunted his thoughts vigorously, uncaring if they detected his search. It did not take him long to discover that independent thought, without permission, was dealt with instantly and severely.
The voice in his head was audible to him. He was able to speak back without moving his lips and it amazed him.
How am I talking?
"Without us, you don't exist. We can hear your thoughts, and you can hear ours."
Am I… hallucinating?
"Is the pain not real? Do you wish to feel more pain?"
No! I beg you!
"You feel what we tell you to feel. You do as we tell you to do. Pleasure can be yours. All we require is your conformity."
To avoid the pain and gain the pleasure led to his transformation. However, that did not stop him from searching for himself through the labyrinth of his mind. He developed the ability to compartmentalize his mind in elaborate ways to avoid detection.
My thoughts are mine. The world is not always a pretty place, but it is not hideous.
In order to calm his system, he began to pace.
After a few minutes, he came to a stop in the middle of the room.
When he was under the care of his guardians, he lived in one room. It was a common room, not too large, not too small, just enough space for him and a few non-personal items-nothing more. There were no room numbers, yet his room identified by the staff as room 31. The room overlooked a well-manicured courtyard that contained a tidy grouping of trees and well positioned scrubs. When permitted, he loved walking in the neat enclosure.
The courtyard is beautiful.
For a second, he forced his brain to focus on the beauty his eyes saw, but only for a second. He had to be vigilant of the trichina-always vigilant. If he saw too much beauty, it was a certainty that the trichina would detect it, no matter what part of his brain the loveliness was stored.
A soft wind blew through the leaves of the trees below and he kept his eyes on a piece of fallen branch that the breeze was rolling across the dimly lit courtyard. In his fixation, he began to recollect more about his entry into Delta.
Don't dwell on the memory too long. Don't leave a mental imprint for the trichina to trace.
First, the Delta specialists had numbed his physical senses, a necessary step for them to unleash his violent nature. Physical agony brought him under their control. From torture tests, to deprivation of the most basic bodily needs-his body subjected to unspeakable pressures.
They next moved to his mind.
From the first moment that he felt their reshaping technologies inside of his mind, he did not like it. Their violation of his most private areas he considered to be beyond the right of any authority on earth.
It was this damnation of his memory-the destruction of his individuality-that hurt him most.
I'm no longer me. I'm whatever they want me to be.
"You like to kill."
He was in the barren room. Only a chair and a few other accessories filled the room.
Confined to the chair, he was naked and blindfolded.
Fiercely he fought to break free.
He shook his head. "Killing is not good. Nothing positive can be gained through violence."
The voice was like a thunderclap. "Yes, you like to kill. You killed many soldiers in the Iraq War."
"I don't like to kill. In the war, I had to. I'll risk my life to save others. Killing in peacetime is unlawful."
"Killing is not unlawful if we wish you to kill."
"Killing is immoral. It is a sin against God and humanity."
The pain was direct: he felt the electric current in his most sensitive areas.
"Listen to me: we are your God. We dragged you out of a pile of shit; don't presume to elevate your status at our expense."
Everywhere he looked, he saw what they wanted him to see, heard what they wanted him to hear, and thought what they wanted him to think.
Damnatio memoriae was the destruction of the memory of a person. It was MKDELTA's customary first step when it came to new roster additions.
The ancient Romans had used such tactics to remove all memory of an unwanted person or political adversary of the empire. In many cases, the entire historical memory of an incompetent or unscrupulous emperor removed, all traces of his existence wiped out and obliterated.
The contrast between the Roman methods and the methods employed by Delta was in the realm of consciousness. The Romans had simply removed all public record of the individual whose memory they wished to abolish. Delta's practices focused on destroying the mind of the individual they desired to eliminate, the actual mind of the person forgetting they had ever existed. Instead, a new identity would be constructed, new memories created, new thoughts and beliefs imprinted. The foreseen outcome would be the image of a completely new person.
"We exist only to you. We exist to no one else."
Haler's mind began to drift. A stabbing pain drove him to his knees. He felt the dirt in between his fingers.
"Pay attention! Never leave a shred of memory in your mind about us unless we put it there! Do you understand?"
Yes. Delta comes from Omega. Omega is over Delta. There is no MKDELTA. There is no Omega.
The government had long abolished project MKDELTA. Omega had reformed the project; all record of its reformation was sealed.
Only specific departments of the government were aware it existed.
Delta made him an art form of death.
Nevertheless, Omega shaped him in other arts.
"I have come to see the lunatics."
Meadows Museum Director Anthony Castillo was conducting one of his rare walkthroughs of the museum floor, a weekly effort that kept him current of the goings on of the institution. The unkempt man astonished him. "Lunatics, Sir?"
"Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes."
The name rolled off the man's tongue smoothly. Museum Director Castillo became even more dumbfounded.
"Courtyard of the Lunatics."
The director's face lit up. "Ah, yes. Pardon me, Sir. Come this way please."
Walking down two long hallways they came to a gallery where rested the masterpiece.
"Here we are, Sir."
Haler, awed by the delicate brush strokes, stood viewing the painting for hours on end. "Courtyard with Lunatics," he whispered.
It was a fitting title. Only a romantic could have dreamed such a name.
I am a lunatic too.
He revered such horror, upon a canvas of beauty.
"How could such a painting come from a man who painted such magnificence?"
The director, held by the force of the man's inner energy, had remained standing behind him. "He was conflicted between the beauty of life and the horror of its inescapable end. Only a soul so tormented could paint such contrast."
I am also in conflict; I am all the lunatics in the painting.
After eighteen months of mind reprogramming, shaping and forming, MKDELTA finished his transformation.
MKDELTA succeeded in destroying Richard Haler.
Their new creation was Delta 3, a lethal killing machine who desired neither civilization nor comfort.
After his recreation, he hated them for what they did to him.
Before I could see the beauty of life-the sunshine reflecting off the water; the recollection of a warm touch; the pleasure of a good meal-now my mind can only see ugliness.
Not long after his mind went, his heart followed.
She was my first love.
He tried to remember her, but couldn't. Looking for her throughout the corners of his mind, he searched for her everywhere, but she was gone.
Where is she? He screamed in his darkened mind. What have you done with her?
"We've done nothing. It's you. It's always been you."
He was lying on the floor, without even a bottle of whiskey to keep him company. Snot ran out of his nostrils as he sobbed in the night. Reaching for her warm body, he only felt the cold air.
"I can't remember her name. I can't remember her face," he said to the faceless watcher in his mind, his voice falling on bare walls.
In a cold sweat, he awoke. The clock on the walnut mantle read 3:11. For two hours, he had been sleeping.
In a flash of brightness, she came to him. She was a softness that numbed him like a drug.
"How can you be so beautiful? You're the only woman I'll ever need."
She pressed his head to her breasts.
It wasn't love, but at least it was lust. At least he could feel.
The lovemaking was new and clumsy-it was his first time and he wanted it to last more than a lifetime. Her long hair buried him in their sweat, their bodies turning with the earth.
Then it was over.
At least I'll have the memory until I die.
He had consoled himself throughout the years. Now the memory was nearly gone.
"You can't take her away from me! She's all I have! She was my first love!" His yells filled the night.
"All you have?" The voice was cruel in its tone. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Delta 3 was cold to the touch, only the small part of what remained of Richard Haler felt the pain of his torment.
The voice cut into him, like a sharpened blade gutting him. "Do you think she would have anything to do with you? Look at yourself. You're certifiably psychotic. Besides…" the cruel voice paused for effect, "…she's not real."
Haler became still. Sitting up, he asked, "Not real? What does that mean?"
"It's not important."
"We put her into your mind. She never existed. You-her-it never happened."
She was my first love. She was real. They couldn't have made her up. She told me she loved me. I loved her.
He was out of control with rage.
Instantly, he was on his feet.
Falling into a ichimonji no kamae, he slowly moved through the empty house searching for the man behind the voice. Impulses, wild and indefinable, came over him without warning. Memories of events that he did not completely know circumvented his reality. The impulses and memories were not familiar to him, as if not part of him.
Then, resisting the ferocious urges, he was able to gain some semblance of control over the strange cravings that possessed him.
Exhausted, no longer able to stand, he collapsed into a heap on the floor.
Chapter 2 I love you, Mommy
Men are what their mothers made them.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Go to sleep, Cuddle Bear."
It was her pet name for him.
"Tell me a story, Mommy."
She smiled as she reached down and gave him a big hug. She told him a short story and she tucked him in again. "Okay, it's sleepy time. My little Cuddle Bear will be tired in the morning, if he doesn't get to sleep."
"I love you, Mommy, with all my heart."
"Awhhh," she pursed her lips and kissed his forehead. "I love you too, my little man."
I know the truth.
"That is the truth, Carl," the voice sounded in his mind. "Your mother loved you."
Richard shook his head. His body convulsed all over. "You know that I was abandoned as a child. You know that I lived without parents all of my life. They didn't want me."
I wish I had parents: a mother, a father. I wish I had brothers and sisters.
"You did. You had a loving family."
"Stop it! Stop it, Goddam you!" His voice gloomy, tears formed and fell from his eyes.
"Why fight it? Why resist us, Carl?" The voice in his head was soft, even calming.
"Because it's a lie," he said, through his heartache. "Because I know that you'll use it to control me."
Second by second-minute by minute-his mind subjected to the words, thoughts and images of a life he had never lived.
There came a point when he weakened. There came a point when he desired the life they had created for him and he begged to live it.
It was on a rainy day. The clouds had covered the sun for a long time. He reached out and immediately felt her comfort.
She wrapped him up in her arms and showered him with kisses only a mother could give. "Oh my little Cuddle Bear, mommy loves you."
I love you too, Mommy. I love you with all my heart.
Baltazar Bolado is the author of numerous books and short stories including his most recent book Publius: Libertas Aut Mors a heart-pounding thriller seemingly ripped out of today's NSA spying, government corruption headlines.
Born in Texas, Baltazar champions the US Soldier, reveres the US Constitution, and honors the US Patriots of 1776, and the modern Patriots of today who still believe in Liberty.
He lives in northern Michigan.
To learn more please visit baltazarbolado.net