“Hey, if that nut out in San Diego could do it, why can’t I? ‘Member that? With the matching Nikes? And he didn’t even have a spaceship.”
Richard Kryuss glanced at the dash of his pink ’59 Cadillac when a California Highway Patrol car materialized in the heat waves on the horizon, and adjusted his speed accordingly.
Slowing down for cops was old school; they didn’t pull you over for speeding anymore. No one cared. Sometimes, though, even for a visionary(as the media often called him), old habits died hard.
Galen shifted in his seat and tug-tested the pretensioner on his seatbelt. “Heaven’s Gate? Are you being serious right now? You really want to start a cult?
“Not a cult,” Kryuss corrected him as they sailed past the highway patrol car. “A religion.”
“A fake religion.”
“Aren’t they all? The important thing is it gives people hope; something to help ground themselves.” He reached forward to crank the volume knob on the stereo all the way up. The voice of Little Richard belting out “Rip It Up” rattled the side view mirrors as it escaped from the confines of the speakers and ascended to the heavens, becoming part of the wind in their hair and the sun’s warmth on their flesh.
“Only rock n’ roll can save my soul baby,” Kryuss shouted over the wind and the music.
Galen turned it off. “You really think you can pull this off?”
Kryuss sighed. “That was my favorite song.”
“Shut up. Every song from the 1950s is your favorite song.”
“That’s because it’s Americana, man,” he said, gesturing at the silent radio as if it were still playing. “It’s all us. We don’t have anything that’s us anymore. Baseball, the atomic bomb, the moon landing, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Ronald Regan…freakin’ burgers, dude? Hello…
It wasn’t uncommon, Galen knew, for Kryuss to trail off mid-rant and change the subject to coffee or monkeys something he’d seen on YouTube that morning that had changed his life. He could sense such an abrupt 180 approaching now, but he wasn’t going to allow it this time.
“Well none of that is important now. All gonna be gone in eight years. Is that enough time for you to amass a legion of disciples for your Noah’s Ark in space project?”
Kryuss smiled. “You see, this is why I like you. Why I keep you so close at hand. Raw honesty. Friends like you keep a man grounded in reality, ya know? But don’t worry, I already have about four hundred.”
“Four hundred what? Disciples? Where’d you find them?”
“Amongst the fine group of men and women currently under my employ,” said Kryuss.
Galen snorted. “You think your employees are going to follow you to another planet? What makes you so sure of that?”
“I’m the cool boss,” said Kryuss. “I make work fun and I don’t push because I know they’re the best. And they love me for it and they go in there every day and give me one-hunnerd n’ ten percent. Every day! Woo!” He slapped the steering wheel, and his sunglasses slipped down the bridge of his nose.
He pushed them back up, but not before Galen had taken note of how red they were.
“How much pot have you smoked today?”
Kryuss laughed. “I mean I’ve been smoking since I woke up but it’s cool; balanced it out with coke.”
Galen groaned. “You know, they love you because you pay them.”
“Ex-act-ly, my litt-le friend, I give them lots of cash to spend,” he rapped, drumming on the wheel. “Capitalism! It’s a beautiful thing. Money is the great peacemaker. If everybody had money, there’d be no wars, everybody’d just be super chill.”
“Assuming that was ever true, it certainly isn’t anymore.”
“Precisely,” said Kryuss. “And to what, pray tell, no pun intended, do people cling to when all hope is lost and life seems meaningless?”
“Right, I get the whole religious angle. I’m not saying I don’t understand what you’re proposing here. You think adherence to religious dogma is the only way mankind can survive a multi-generational space voyage. Keep them in line, keep them praying and believing. I’m saying that I think it’s absurd and way over the line that separates normal people from say, Hitler.”
“Are you mocking your prophet?”
A laugh died on Galen’s lips when it became clear that Kryuss wasn’t joking.
“Prophet? I don’t think–”
Kryuss backhanded him across the face.
“Have you lost your mind?” shouted Galen, rubbing his cheek.
Kryuss grinned, wide, and Galen saw his own terrified twin reflections in the mirrored lenses of the other man’s ever-present aviators. He suddenly felt small.
“How was that? Scary? Do you feel genuinely intimidated? Hot dog, I think I’ve got what it takes!”
Kryuss cranked up the radio again. “I Want to Walk You Home” by Fats Domino signaled an end to their conversation. Galen spent the next two hours contemplating his life’s decisions with his mouth shut, his arms folded and oldies pounding his eardrums.
By the time they finally pulled up to the front gate of whatever complex it was that Kryuss has dragged him to, Galen really had to pee.
The armed guard waved them through, and they parked in front of a dome-roofed structure that appeared to be about the size of a typical shopping mall.
Galen winced as he stepped out of the car and stretched. “Where’s the bathroom?”
Kryuss gestured towards the ground at the other man’s feet.
“Just piss on the ground, like nature intended,” he said. “Cut out the middleman.”
Galen shrugged and moments later there was a muddy, frothy wet spot on the gravel.
“You ready to have your mind blown now?” Said Kryuss, standing by the door with his hand on the smooth black surface of a computer panel embedded in the wall beside it.
There was a beep followed immediately by a click, and the door slid silently open.
Galen was immediately taken aback by the overpoweringly sweet scent that poured out of the open doorway. He followed Kryuss inside.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but whatever it was, it sure wasn’t a vast expanse of apple trees.
“I don’t get it.”
“Your attempt to encode educational trivia into the DNA of grapes so that soccer moms would feel like they were learning something while they got drunk on wine made from them, except nobody bit? Yeah, I remember that.”
“Plants,” said Kryuss, “are the future of data storage. They can last forever if properly maintained. Embedded within each molecule of each of these trees is the entirety of recorded human history.”
He walked over to a low-hanging limb on a nearby tree and plucked a shiny red apple from it. He offered it to Galen.
“Take a bite.”
Galen didn’t really like apples, but he knew this was leading to something, so he played along.
“Not bad,” he said with his mouth full.
“Think of the implications here,” said Kryuss. “The Internet was great until control of it was taken away from John Q. Public. What alternative does Mr. Public have, though? There’s only one internet, right?”
He picked and apple and took a bite himself.
“We fill up America with trees like this, coast to coast; all people need do is purchase a device–patented by Krytek, of course–that can access the data contained within them and upload new data, and bam, free internet for everyone.”
Galen was stunned. “Sometimes you behave like such a juvenile that I forget how much of a genius you are,” he said.
Kryuss smiled. His shades were hanging by the arm from the breast pocket of his Hawaiian shirt, and his eyes were as red as ever.
“That was my original intention, anyway. Current events demand a change of plans. We aren’t going to plant these trees on Earth… We’re going to plant them in the promised land. They will be the method we use to preserve our knowledge, our history. Our culture. And they will provide the food that sustains us and our progeny. All manner of plants will carry the code. We’ll be making vegan eggplant parmesan in space.”
“The promised land,” Galen repeated. “You’re serious about this cult thing, aren’t you?”
“It’s the only way,” said Kryuss.
He stared hard into his childhood friend’s eyes. “Well, Johnny Appleseed,” he said, “you are the prophet.
Kryuss smiled. “Go, johnny go.”