Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Reptile Way

Renee was enjoying her first visit to Kansas City.  The city was more comfortable than New York while still suitably urban. She strolled past The Roan Horse Tavern in the Westport section. It looked like a cozy place. She tentatively planned to stop there for a drink after the meeting. She assumed she would leave the meeting alone, just as she always did back home. It was not for a lack of invitations. Though she was mousy, nearsighted, somewhat pudgy, and scarcely over 5 feet tall, among the singles in the New York City chapter she was almost a goddess, so several of the members had asked her out. The club had no shortage of quirky and offbeat people. Their company was fun an hour or two every week, but she had balked at dating any of them. There were first-rate alphas among the membership, too, but all of the males of that description were married, and none had expressed an inclination to cheat – at least not with her. She had no reason to expect the membership in KC would be any different than in New York.

Ostensibly, she belonged to The Sunshine Club, a small association purporting to promote solar power in the state of New York. This was a front. Secretly, the club was the local outpost of the Illuminati, or so the Inner Circle claimed. Numerous other fraternal organizations made the same claim, most of them openly, but The Sunshine Club’s leadership insisted their own descent was legitimate – that there was unbroken continuity with the secret society of the Illuminati founded by Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1776. Meetings were full of secret handshakes, ceremonial robes, arcane rituals, and toasts to a strange assortment of historical persons, most recently Napoleon III. All cell phones and recording devices were strictly forbidden: phones always were surrendered at the door and returned at the end of each meeting. Renee conceded to herself that the whole thing was silly, but she found pleasure in it in much the same way she found pleasure in Halloween.

The invitation to join The Sunshine Club had come a year ago from an old high school acquaintance from Mineola, New York, named Neville. She hadn’t remembered him at first when he called her out of the blue, but then she realized he was the creepy student who sometimes stared at her in school but never spoke to her. With some trepidation she agreed to a coffee date in broad daylight at a nearby diner. He chose the off-peak hour of 2 PM. When she arrived, she found him sitting in an isolated booth at the far end of the diner. After a few awkward pleasantries, he revealed to her quietly that he was a third generation member of the Illuminati. She thought he was joking. He wasn’t. Then she thought he was crazy. She still considered the jury to be out on that one. When he invited her to attend a meeting of the Outer Circle, she was prompted by an inner urge to accept. Throughout her life, she had experienced the odd sudden afflation to do this or avoid that or invest in some other thing. She called it her inner voice, even though it never conveyed anything to her in words – which was fortunate, because that might have been a sign of schizophrenia. She assumed it was what others meant by “gut instinct,” though her version seemed to be particularly strong. The inner voice rarely steered her wrong, so she had learned to trust it.

 “How do you know I won’t attend a meeting and then go blabbing on the internet about your secret society?” she asked Neville.

“You won’t. You’ll join and you’ll choose to keep our secrets,” he answered.

“You seem awfully sure of that.”

“I am.”

Neville proved to be right. At the first meeting of The Sunshine Club she met charming oddballs, plus some movers and shakers in surprising positions of power. The ritualistic hocus pocus appealed to her sense of the absurd. She was inducted that very night. In the ensuing months she rose in the Outer Circle ranks, advancing ahead of long-standing members. This caused no rancor among them she could detect. She wondered if she was being primed for the Inner Circle for some reason. She hoped so, because she was very curious about them. Unlike the members of the Outer Circle who used their real names, the Inner Circle always kept their identities a secret, except, presumably from each other. Always robed and masked during meetings, they arrived and left from a separate entrance. If they aspired to some real political or social goals, those goals were a mystery to her, for there was no ideological consistency among the membership whatsoever. They spanned the political spectrum.  She was sure some of the longstanding Outer members must know who at least some of the Inner Circle were and what they were about, but they never spoke of it. Even Neville feigned ignorance.

The chapter’s Inner Circle chief executive styled himself the Grand Garloo. He wore different robes and masks on different days, but they always were green. On a whim, she googled “Grand Garloo.” She discovered the name was a variation on a 1960s robotic toy, perhaps one the Inner Circle head remembered fondly. That didn’t tell her much, though it did suggest his age. The Grand Garloo himself had assigned Renee to the Kansas City trip. He attended a meeting of the Outer Circle and, with only a week’s notice, informed her she would be liaison to the Kansas City chapter. He told her all expenses would be paid by The Sunshine Club.

“What would I liaise about?” she asked.

“Go there, and you'll find out. Representatives from other chapters will be there, too, I believe,” the Grand Garloo said.

She’d been about to decline when her inner voice urged her to accept. She agreed tentatively to the trip, but said she needed to check with her boss at the security firm where she did IT work. She knew her boss wasn’t rigid about vacations, but liked more notice than a week. The Grand Garloo told her he would arrange a full week paid leave for her. He proved as good as his word, because the next afternoon she was informed of her time off. She wondered who he was to have such influence with her employer.

So, here she was in KC on what she regarded as a vacation. Pennsylvania Avenue was an ostentatious name for a fairly humble street. It also was an odd name for a street in Kansas City, but then Kansas City was an odd name for a city in Missouri. The street number she sought was only a few doors away from The Roan Horse Tavern. Renee double-checked the number on the black wooden six-panel door. It was the right one. She opened it and stepped into a small vestibule with scuffed black and white tiles. A second steel security door blocked her. A conspicuous security camera was mounted in a ceiling corner. She pressed the doorbell button

“Yes?” rasped a metallic voice.

“Renee Rensalier,” representing The Sunshine Club, New York.

“Second floor,” answered the voice.

The door clicked. She opened it and faced a dark and foreboding narrow stairway. Her inner voice egged her onward, but she patted the bulge in her pocket of the small pocket knife she had bought by impulse at a hardware store around the corner 15 minutes earlier. The feel of it calmed her, though the amount of protection it offered was minimal.

Renee climbed the stairs. She knew there was a third floor to the building, but this stairway terminated at the second. She concluded there was a second entrance with a full stairway. Perhaps, as in New York, the Inner Circle used a different door than the Outer Circle. On the second floor was a truncated and barely lit hallway with a single door. The door was marked simply 2A. She already knew that this chapter of the Illuminati called itself The International Enameling Association (IEA). The Sunshine Club had the name painted on the hallway door, and even had a rudimentary website, but here there was no sign, no phone listing, and no website for the cover organization. Apparently this club preferred to be even more secretive.

She knocked the requisite seven-knock pattern. A bald middle-aged man in pince-nez glasses opened the door. He wore a bow-tie on a white shirt without a jacket. The glasses gave his otherwise common face a distinctive look. She wondered if she should get a pair. She decided against it.

“Renee Rensalier, New York chapter,” she said

“Yes, yes. Follow me. Everyone’s here,” he answered.

“Am I late?”

“No, everyone else is early.”

“Why?’

“So they wouldn’t be late, of course.”

The first room resembled the outer office of a detective in a 40s film-noir. The frosted glass panel in the inner door to which Mr. Pince-nez led her did not read “Sam Spade,” but it looked as though it should.

“Do you fellows rent the entire floor?” she asked.

“The IEA owns the building. The street level is rented to shops. Second floor is for members. Third is a residence for the hetman.”

“Hetman? Is that what you call the chapter president here?” asked Renee.

“Yes, that’s one of her jobs. Please, come this way.”

On the other side of the frosted door was a barroom of the sort one might find at a VA hall. The bar formed a horseshoe that doubled back against the far mirrored wall. The divergence from a VA bar was a stage with stripper poles in the middle of the horseshoe. Except for herself and her guide, the room was vacant.

“I thought you said everyone was here,” she said.

“They are. Meetings of the Innermost Circle are held in the Council Room. The general membership normally congregates at the bar, but the general membership is absent today.”

Renee was disquieted, but her inner voice was excited by the news. Mr. Pince-nez led her through yet another door to a comfortable if somewhat tatty library with lounge chairs and overstuffed shelves. The books on the shelves tended heavily to history. He swung open a bookcase to reveal a hidden doorway.

“You’re kidding, right?” she asked.

Mr. Pince-nez smiled. “You must forgive our sense of theater. We couldn’t resist.”

The doorway was blocked by gleaming bars. He slid the barred door open with the push of a finger’

“Are those bars gold?” she asked.

“Gilded. Plate.”

“Still, they must have cost a fortune. Will we be locked in?”

“There is no lock. Try it yourself.”

“That’s OK, I believe you.”

She passed through the door. Her guide, remaining outside, slid it shut behind her. He then closed the swinging bookcase.

In all but one aspect, the Council Room in which she stood room had the workaday appearance of a meeting hall for a small municipality. Thirteen people – eight men and five women – sat in chairs behind a long podium faced with plywood veneer. They wore ordinary street clothes and no masks. Facing the podium were twenty-four folding steel chairs. Half of them were occupied by an ethnically diverse mix of people. Renee took a seat in one of the chairs. The one obvious dissimilarity to a municipal meeting hall was a cage to the right of the podium. The size of a small jail cell, it had gilded bars like the sliding door by the bookcase. Inside the cage, a young woman sat in a leather recliner chair. On her head was a skull cap with a tangle of fiber optic wires flaring of it. The wires tied together into a single cable in back of the chair.

At the far right of the podium, a middle-age woman with curly gray hair and a severe gray business suit banged a gavel.

“For those of you visiting Kansas City for the first time, I am Judith, hetman of the Directorate of the Innermost Circle” she said. “Now that we are all here, I want to welcome you all to this international meeting of the Illuminati. A select dozen of the world’s chapters are represented today, called here to witness something exciting. Before we start, I wish to ask the New York representative, who has just arrived, whether she has any questions.”

“Me? Um, OK. Why is there a caged woman in an easy chair?”

“I’ll explain that shortly. Anything else?”

“I’m not sure I know enough yet to ask any useful questions, ma’am,” said Renee.

“My name is Judith. You can call me Judith or Hetman Judith.”

Renee was distinctly uncomfortable calling any member of this chapter’s “Innermost Circle” by a first name, so she included the title. “Alright, Hetman Judith. I do have another question. Back home our Inner Circle is disguised and uses false identities. You don’t. Is there a reason for the difference other than local preference?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Renee could see smiles on the faces of other liaisons.

“Renee… May I call you Renee?” asked Judith.

“Of course.”

“We also maintain secret identities and disguises when the general membership is present. They are not present. This is a closed meeting of the Innermost Circle, and we are all friends here, are we not?”

“But…”

“But you do not belong to the New York Inner Circle. We know. By my authority you are a member of the Innermost Circle.”

“Oh. Thank you,” said Renee.

“Don’t thank me yet – not until you learn what duties attend your elevation.”

“Duties?”

“In good time, Renee. The other liaisons here today were selected for several reasons, but most of all because of the trust we have in them. You were chosen primarily for another reason.”

“What reason?”

“I’ll explain that in about 10 minutes.”

“Alright.”

The hetman cleared her throat. “Fellow illuminated ones. Since the founding of the Illuminati, our researchers have explored the uses of what we now call ESP for pursuing our goals. Centuries ago we called it by various other names including mesmerism and mind reading. Our early experiments lacked rigor, and we repeatedly were duped by spiritualists and frauds. In the mid-20th century we finally put our investigations on an adequately scientific basis, and we have continued with them up to the current time.”

Judith held up a pack of cards.

“Most of you are familiar with what I am holding in my hands,” she continued. “These are standard Zener cards, which have been used for testing telepathy since the early 1930s. They contain five symbols: star, cross, circle, wavy lines, and square. A tester looks at the card while keeping it hidden from the subject; the subject then tries to determine what card the tester sees. The likelihood of the subject guessing the correct symbol by pure chance is 20%. Except in experiments in which the methodology was later disputed, there never was a replicable and consistent violation of the odds – until recently. At long last we have identified individuals whose results cannot be explained away as statistical flukes. They do not violate chance by very much – none scores as high as 25% – but they violate it consistently, thereby demonstrating the effect is real.

“Enter modern technology. I’m not talking about paired cell phones, in which two people with headsets learn to communicate by manipulating their brainwaves instead of their voices – though we have experimented with this, too. What we have done is much more revolutionary. We can enhance the innate psychic ability of these already gifted individuals. A natural psychic when connected to our device can transmit and receive thoughts from someone who is not connected to any technology at all. When boosted, several of our subjects regularly score over 70% on the Zener card test. The woman in our gilded cage, the one about who Renee queried, is Colette. She is our best subject to date.”

Colette waved to acknowledge the hetman’s reference to her.

 “Unboosted, Colette averages a score of nearly 24%: impressive but still low enough for doubters to question the legitimacy of the results – for them to ask, for example, if she is picking up hidden cues somehow. But boosted, she scores close to 90%, even under the most rigorous testing conditions. Furthermore, she can project her thoughts to other natural psychics. If she reads the cards when boosted, her unboosted partner will score better than 30% – not a huge improvement, but a significant one. You can see the possibilities: we are developing the tools to influence people at a distance. If we can we put a card symbol into someone’s mind, we also can plant thoughts in that person and influence his or her decisions in ways that serve our agenda.”

Renee felt tingle of excitement inside her. It was mixed with something else. Alarm? She wasn’t used to that from her inner voice.

“Remember,” said Judith, “when boosted, she can read anyone whether that person has any innate psychic ability or not. She needs another natural psychic as a partner only when projecting her own thoughts.”

Someone four seats away from Renee raised his hand.

“Yes, Mbutu?”

“Hetman, how common are these natural psychics whom you can boost,” he asked in an accent Renee hadn’t heard before.

“They are less than 1% of the general population.”

“What does this boosting device do to the scores of the other 99%?”

“Good question. The answer is nothing. They continue to average a purely random 20%, but it is possible we eventually can find a way to tap into their latent abilities, too. We will now give a demonstration. I know this is not a rigorous setting, but you will have the opportunity later to satisfy yourselves that this is not a trick. For this demonstration, all of you will play the role of tester. Renee, will you please come here and shuffle this pack. ”

Renee did as Judith asked, though as she shuffled the classic card sharp’s line kept running through her head: “Pick a card, any card.” She returned to her seat.

 “Neither I nor Colette will see these cards directly,” said Judith. “I’ll present their faces to all of you. Colette, please tell us what they are seeing.”

Judith held up the cards one by one.

Colette spoke from the seat in the cage as Judith held up each card: “Circle, wavy lines, circle, cross, square, circle, star, square… Mbutu is trying to fool me. He is deliberately thinking of wavy lines, but he sees a star, as do the others. Square, lines, cross, star, star, circle…” She continued through the full pack. “How did I do?” she asked.

“Perfect score,” said Renee. She was genuinely intrigued, but had been to too many magic shows accept the result at face value. Staging this would have been no difficult task for any modestly competent magician. Colette easily could be cued through that bizarre headset, for example.

“Miss Rensalier thinks it’s a trick,” said Colette.

“Is that correct, Renee?”

“Yes, ma’am… I mean Hetman. But Colette’s guess about that doesn’t require psychic skill either. There remain alternative possibilities for the results.”

“She means ‘this is probably a fraud,’” said Colette.

“No doubt she does,” said Judith with a gentle smile. “We on the directorship also had similar doubts at first, but we have been convinced. Now we intend to convince you.”

“Why is it important to convince me?” asked Renee.

“Do you know why you were asked to join the Illuminati? Why you were advanced in the ranks? Why you were chosen to attend this meeting?”

“No, to all three.”

“I instructed Neville to recruit you,” said the hetman.

“You? Why?”

“When we identified the traits associated with innate psychic ability, we began a search for people who had them, and who also met certain other criteria that suited them for membership in our organization. Neville filed a report on you when you were still in high school.  Subsequent tests confirmed that you are part of the 1% of population with enhanced ESP. So, last year, you were invited to join.”

“I didn’t take any tests.”

“Yes you did, you just weren’t aware that’s what they were,” said Judith.

“But I’ve never experienced ESP…” she stopped herself as her inner voice tingled.

“I believe you have, even if you don’t think of the experiences in those terms.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We’re telling you now. Would you please take Colette’s place so we see what you can do?”

Her inner voice conveyed a rare sense of caution. Then it nudged her forward.

“Alright.”

“Charles, please help Renee into position,” said Judith.

The Director named Charles nodded and stood up. White-haired, mustached, and of short stature, Charles looked like an aging classics professor at some rural college. In his a three piece suit he was the most formally attired in the room. He was definitely a Charles, not a Charlie.

Colette removed her headgear. She slid open the cage door and stepped out.

“This way please,” said Charles to Renee.

Renee followed him into the cage and sat in the recliner. Charles helped fit the wired cap to her head. Renee felt ridiculous. She was sure this wouldn’t work for her.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Renee said. “By the way, why the golden cage?” she asked.

“Think of it as a sort of Faraday cage for psychic energy, but it works on different principles,” said Charles. “There is an outer cage built into the walls, floor and ceiling of this room. We found that gold provides the greatest effect. We don’t know why. It just does.”

With Renee situated in the chair, Charles withdrew and closed the barred gate.  “We’re electrifying the bars now. Don’t touch them, they’re dangerous,” he said.

“What? Wait! You didn’t do that with Colette!”

The lights dimmed briefly as Judith flicked a switch mounted on the podium.

[The reptilian named Slinter tried to switch off his resonance chamber, but found that he couldn’t move. Just the barest sliver of consciousness remained in his own body. On the other hand, he was pulled forcefully into full control of the human host called Renee. He never had taken full control of her before. Instead he had experienced her life in the usual passive way, giving her only an occasional helpful hint or nudge. A mere ghost of her consciousness remained in her body – far less than enough to challenge his control. With a start, he realized her consciousness had been impressed in his own body. The small piece of him remaining on the other side was overwhelmed by her. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It never had happened to any gamer before. He turned Renee’s head and stared at the directorate with a deadly gaze.]

“I see we have your attention,” said Judith. “I suspect you’ll be disinclined to talk at first, but bear in mind that Renee is over in your world at the moment, something that may not be good for any of us, so the sooner we understand each other the better.”

 [Renee wondered where she was. Had these nut cases knocked her unconscious and sealed her in some kind of box? Had they buried her alive? Nothing felt right. She didn’t know how to describe the sensations she was experiencing.]

“I’m listening,” said the creature speaking through Renee. As was usual in cases of full possession, he had access to enough of Renee’s memories to be able to communicate in her own language. It worked best if he didn’t think about it. If he did, he could become tongue-tied. He had nothing to lose by hearing what the humans wanted. Besides, he needed to buy a little time. He was aware that Renee wanted out of the resonance chamber. If she opened the lid, the gravito-magnetic circuit would break, and both of them should snap back into their proper selves.

 [Renee reached for the lid. She realized she knew how to work the device if she didn’t try to think about it. She tapped a code sequence. The lid unsealed and opened. She sat up and looked around. She looked at her clawed hands and then at her body. What had they done to her? She had reptilian scales and resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon.]

Fear enveloped Slinter. Renee had opened the lid on the other side, but he was still here! How was it possible? Had the humans duplicated the resonance technology? But how? The physics in the universes were different. He pulled the skull cap off her head. Nothing changed.

“It’s too late to leave,” said Judith to the creature in Renee. “Only we can let you go. We pulled more of you over here and pushed her over there, and now we’re blocking you from withdrawing.”

“What do you want?”

“First, thank you for not wasting our time with protestations that you are just plain old Renee. We know basically what you are. We’ve known for hundreds of years, which is why you and your fellows have labored to destroy us all that time – it is why you were so eager to infiltrate us when we offered Renee membership. Second, you should know that you are not in some obscure cozy corner of the Illuminati,” said Judith “This is the global headquarters and we are the Innermost Circle Directorate for the entire organization. Kansas City is a well-connected city large enough for anonymity but small enough to be overlooked by our enemies as a likely HQ. For decades, we’ve had the ability to detect your kind. We spotted you inside Renee early on. The device in which you sit is new, though. It sets up a resonance with your plane of existence, which allows us for the first time to counter you on your own terms. We assume you use something similar to infest people here. Your universe is as big as ours, however, so we couldn’t hope to find your world by just poking around aimlessly over there. So, we needed to capture one of you in order to direct us to the right place, which is why you are here. How did you creatures find earth, by the way? Blind chance?”

“Our devices are more sophisticated than yours are or can be,” said the creature in Renee. “They rapidly can locate points of psychic resonance within large swaths of space. We found many other intelligences, but, of those we’ve examined, your people make the most congenial hosts. While I admit to being impressed by your technical ingenuity, your device is an incredibly crude one by comparison. Besides, it can’t work in exactly the same way as ours for reasons of physics. I’m amazed it works at all.”

“I see. Thank you again for not pretending with us,” said Judith. “What should I call you?”

“‘Slinter’ is about as close as you can manage. Hetman Judith, if that is what you wish me to call you, you’ve put yourself and your entire civilization at grave risk. When Renee makes her presence known in my world, my compatriots will strike at you – they may decide to knock your technology back to where you can’t build any more resonance devices. I’ll let you imagine how they might do that.”

“The way we look at it, Slinter, we’re already at risk. We’ve suffered grievously at the hands of your puppets for centuries. You creatures… are you really reptiles by the way?”

“Our biology is completely different. You can’t apply your taxonomy to us, but I suppose we would look like reptiles to you.”

“I see. Back to the point, you reptiles control this world, and look what you’ve done to us. Hitler, Stalin…”

“No, no. Those were your people. The worst thing that can happen to earth is to have humans fully in charge. The fascists, communists, and other populist authoritarians were an unexpected reaction to World War One, for which we do accept responsibility. They disrupted our influence in a way that wasn’t fully restored until 1990. Despite the occasional war, you are better off when we manage things.”

“World War One was just a minor little thing in your view?” asked Judith.

“It wasn’t as bad as it would have been had we left you entirely to yourselves – not that we are trying to help you. We’re just not trying to destroy you. Many of you on the other hand are hell bent on destroying each other.”

“What are you after, then? Are you really feeding off our psychic energy as David Icke and his followers claim?”

“No. It’s just a game.”

“What?”

“A game. It’s just a game. You play Grand Theft Auto. We play Earth. When we resonate with host humans, we sense and feel all they feel, even when we don’t take full control of them. We hardly ever take full control, actually, because this can do bad things to a host’s sanity when he is released. We usually just observe and discreetly nudge our game pieces. We play against each other and experience our hosts’ victories and losses. It’s fun and exhilarating. Humans clearly have sensed something of the sort for a long time. The basic idea is everywhere in your popular culture, whether it’s the old notion of possession or the modern premise of movies like the Matrix, Stargate, Surrogates, or Avatar.”

“A game! Don’t you have anything better to do in your own world than play in ours?”

“Not really. The physical needs of our People were been met by our self-replicating industrial robots ages ago. We successfully extended our lifespan so that, barring accidents, we are effectively immortal. For that reason, we don’t like to take many risks in our own world. We prefer to take them here. When a host dies we can find another easily enough. We typically work several at once, rotating our presence from one to the other. Certain bloodlines are easier for us to possess than others – the same 1% you say have innate ESP talent. It isn’t much fun experiencing the lives of peons, so we’ve assisted our favored bloodlines into positions of power. Not all members of them. Renee, for example, leads an average life. Average lives have some attraction for us, too. I believe you’ve suspected all this as well.”

“Indeed we have. How many of you are there?”

“Fewer than 10,000. We aren’t the breeding machines you people are – in fact there hasn’t been a birth on our world for a century. Hetman, we have been doing this since Sumeria. You owe your civilization to us. Do you really think you can free earth from us, or that you would be better off if you did?”

“Yes.”

“You are mistaken. I’m afraid I have to leave now, and inform my People of what you have done.”

“We can’t allow that,” said Judith.

“I’m not requesting permission. When our pawns die, we simply return to our own bodies. You’ve been warned.”

“But…”

Slinter pulled out Renee’ folding knife from her pocket and slit her throat. A look more of puzzlement than panic was on her face as she slumped to the floor.

“I was going to say,” said Judith, “that your return to your body will be prevented by the same golden resonance cage that’s been keeping you here until now. Resonance works by imprinting your way of thinking upon your host – it alters the current flow through the host’s circuits. You are blocked from re-imprinting yourself back into your body on your world. You should have known that – or are you an artist rather than a technician?”

Slinter didn’t hear Judith’s explanation or her question. He had terminated with Renee’s body.

“What about Renee on the other side?” asked Director Nicole, who sat next to Judith.

“I don’t see how we can help her,” said Judith.

“So, what do we do now?”

“I imagine we find another reptile-infested human to take Renee’s place. Let’s open the matter for discussion with our liaisons.”

 [Renee felt herself die earthside. The remnant that was still Slinter reached out for control on this side, but he didn’t have the power. Instead, she could feel him blend with her. The process was rapid. She remained predominately Renee, but the blend imparted to her a reptilian ruthlessness. She began to see possibilities. She explored a few rooms of her manor and reassured herself that the robots responded to her as though she were still Slinter. She realized she owned hundreds of square kilometers of land – and Slinter wasn’t especially rich by the standards of the People. She would have to examine her possessions more closely later, but for now she had something pressing to do back on earth. She returned to the game room and slid back into the resonance chamber. She knew how to search for a suitable host nearby the Illuminati HQ.]

The man in pince-nez swung open the bookcase.

“What is it, Sergeant-at-arms?” asked Judith.

“Excuse me for interrupting, Hetman, but a woman claiming to be Miss Renee Rensalier is at the door. She doesn’t look anything like the last one.”

“Really? How odd. Let her in.”

A few minutes later a tall attractive blonde dressed for a night out appeared outside the bookcase. Renee had found the potential host sitting at the bar of The Roan Horse Tavern. She had liked the look in the mirror. Possession was an easier way of improving one’s appearance than diet and exercise. She also liked what was in the woman’s purse.

“I’m not going in the conference room,” said Renee in her new form. “I know there is a secondary cage built into the walls. If you want to talk to me, come out here.”

Renee entered into the interior of the horseshoe bar and sat on the edge of the central stage. The Directorate and the liaisons filed through the library into the barroom.

“Come on, take the seats,” Renee said.

The members slowly seated themselves, with Hetman Judith directly facing Renee.

“Are you really Renee?” asked Judith.

“Yes. At least, as much as I can be. I regret the necessity of taking full possession of this woman, which means dispossessing her from her own mind. She isn’t likely to get it back, even if I let her go, but let’s make sure her sacrifice counts for something. Judith, dear, you referenced the Illuminati ‘agenda’ earlier. There isn’t any such agenda beyond power itself, is there? You don’t particularly care about ideology so long as you are in charge.”

“What’s your point?”

“The only way this secret society truly can take charge is with my help – and I won’t provide it unless you appoint me the new hetman. I’m offering you a chance to be my lieutenant. With a foot in both planes of existence, I can get human allies into other reptiles, and before you know it we’ll be the dominant gamesters on two worlds. Colette, you have the right bloodline. How would you like to be immortal – to occupy one human life after another?”

“Sounds interesting,” said Colette.

“It sounds horrific,” said Judith. “How would your rule be any better than rule by the reptiles?”

“I never claimed to be better.”

“I forbid it! I’ll issue an executive order forbidding any co-operation with you – in whatever guise you take. We can identify possessed individuals.”

“Yes, and that ability will come in handy while gaming. It may surprise you to know that we can’t always recognize each other’s pawns. But I can’t allow you to issue any such orders.”

Renee removed a 9mm from her host’s purse and summarily executed Judith.

“Any other objections to my elevation to the post of hetman?”

There were none.

“I presume you can dispose of the bodies,” she said.

“We’ve done it before,” said the pince-nezed sergeant-at-arms,

“Good. Other gamers have tried to disrupt or suppress the Illuminati in the past, but taking it over will be a master stroke. If all of you do as you’re told you’ll be rewarded beyond anything for which you might have hoped. If you don’t… well, I think the consequences of that are obvious. Inform all the chapters to stand by for orders. You silly people soon will get what you’ve been after for centuries. The Illuminati conspiracy is on the verge of success.”




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