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10/24/00: Welcome to the Fold
by Serdar Yegulalp

"WELCOME TO THE FOLD"

by Serdar Yegulalp

PREFACE

This is going to be something of an experiment, for both the ĎZine and me. Since the ĎZine is open-format, I asked Piet if that included works of fiction, which could be serialized. He said yes. Idiot that I was, I took him up on it.

To be scrupulously honest, I wasnít planning on rushing out and writing a whole new something for the zine. That would have been 1) a mistake; and 2) very difficult. I planned instead to dip into one of the several projects I had unfolding concurrently, and feed those to Piet a piece at a time.

WELCOME TO THE FOLD was the most natural choice to me Ė a story that deals, in a broad way, with the notion that society is little more than a LARP of unbounded dimensions.

This script started over two years ago, when I read several (wholly illiterate) news clippings about role-playing games being blamed for everything from Satanism to suicide. Obviously, no game is going to have that kind of effect on people -- unless theyíre already primed for it. That inspired a question: "What if these games really were as dangerous as everyone would like to think they are?" Not dangerous in the sense that they are lethal -- but dangerous in the sense that they really do have great power to move the world. Perhaps they do, and we simply do not sense it yet.

This was one of the most difficult pieces of work I ever put my mind to. I didnít want to make it a simplistic morality story or a cheap shot at easy targets, like the above- mentioned fuddy-duddies on both Left and Right who target everything that looks remotely like "fun" as being a problem. Donít get me wrong -- I think theyíre a perfectly legitimate enemy. But in the bigger picture, theyíre strawmen.

What you are reading will probably not be the final draft, but it is certainly representative of what I wanted this story to be.

One more thing:

American media expert Ben Bagdikian has estimated that fewer than two dozen international companies control more than half the worldís media.

With the merger of Time-Warner and AOL, that number dropped.

How long before that number is reduced to one?

 

--s.y.

FADE IN:


A CITYSCAPE

Silhouetted against the dawn.

Slow SUNRISE outlines the huge building at dead center: itís the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. The sunís shining THROUGH huge, ragged holes in its shape. The whole city is in RUINS.

ELIASíS VOICE
Nothing goes on by itself. Every day is new. And everything gets completely rebuilt every day... by us.


ANOTHER CITYSCAPE -- DUSK

Huge, bleak monoliths standing at attention, row after row. The light is dim, dusty.

One of the buildings TIPS OVER and SLAMS into its neighbor... BOOM!

The whole row goes over in slow-motion, like dominoes on a shelf. Clouds of DUST rise and filter the light.

The dust THICKENS, slowly. The titles of books are obscured by a growing patina of dust, like in time-lapse photography...


WIDER

Weíre not looking at a cityscape. Itís the STACKS OF A LIBRARY. The "buildings" are shelf after shelf of books, and the light in the distance is a single, naked LIGHT BULB.

The bulb hangs at the end of a wire, swinging back and forth slightly. Something odd about its shape: itís somehow "futuristic" and sleek. SHADOWS swing back and forth with every oscillation of the bulb.

A HAND reaches up and stills the bulb -- a hand belonging to ELIAS MARLOWE, 35. Dirty blond hair, handsome, but with blue eyes that betray great intelligence and wit.

ELIAS
W hat a mess!

The library is a mess -- books splattered across the floor, books hanging half-open on the shelves... Bindings broken, pages loose -- it looks like a bunch of second-grade kids who disdain reading were set free in here.

Elias drops to his knees, grumbling, and starts trying to restore order. From outside, behind a door, the sounds of FOOTFALLS; the door opens. In comes HALDEMAN -- plump, graying, gravel-voiced.

HALDEMAN
W hat do you expect for a room people havenít been in for years?

ELIAS
Better shelves.

He lifts a volume with its spine almost completely separated.

ELIAS
I f I find the bastard who did this, Iím snapping off his fingers and feeding them to Valis.

HALDEMAN
Youíd be picking on a dead man.

Elias smirks and points to a dim corner, where neither of them have gone yet. The dust has been very recently disturbed.

ELIAS
Oh, yeah? Come on, letís find whatever our illustrious predecessors missed.


INT. ADJOINING CORRIDOR

Also dark, high-ceilinged, and intermittently lit. Like a warehouse, which isnít far from the truth: a warehouse for old thoughts.

Elias and Haldeman emerge with a CART piled with about twenty books that seem to be in reasonably good condition.

ELIAS
Anyway. Iíd sure like to find out who else was tromping around in here.

HALDEMAN
Thatíd be up to you. Nobody keeps tabs on who comes or goes in a place like this.

ELIAS
Yeah, and a shame, too. Trashing a book, thatís like punching your mother in the stomach.

HALDEMAN
Youíre weird.

They both laugh with each other. Elias yanks the cage shut and punches for the ground floor.


EXT. UNDERGROUND GARAGE -- AFTERNOON

Elias lugs the bookcart from the elevator cage across to a large, beautiful CAR thatís parked off to one side. He snaps open the trunk and starts placing his finds inside. Among them is a longish BOX SET.

Elias finishes loading and jumps into the driverís seat.

HALDEMAN
Iím sorry I canít come.

ELIAS
I donít know if youíre missing much. This is the last signing Iím doing for this tour. After this, Iím going home and sleeping for a week.

HALDEMAN
Híbout I catch you on the next tour?

ELIAS
Iíll save you front-row seats.

Elias slams the door and waves to Haldeman.

ELIAS (TO HIMSELF)
If there is a next tour.


EXT. CITY -- FROM ABOVE

The car whizzes through the wired electric maze of the city.


WIDER

The city around him is a beauty -- a vision of what every bygone Worldís Fair of the first half of the 20th century thought the world would look like by the year 1990. Proud, tall buildings, skyways, a pulsing grid of beauty. The afternoon sun bathes the city in deep orange.


INT. CAR

Elias is mumbling into a recorder.

ELIAS
OK. Book signing ... meeting with Miss Waller... and then about six really stiff, well-deserved drinks.


AHEAD -- A ZIGGURAT-LIKE BUILDING

The word DENKERíS glow along its outside surfaces. Elias peeks through the buildings at it expectantly.


INT. UNDERGROUND GARAGE IN DENKERíS

The car corners tight and pulls to a stop at the ticket booth.

Elias steps out and is about to head downstairs when he stops on a whim, pops the trunk... after a moment of indecision he grabs one of the books (we donít see it) and stuffs it in his jacket.

ELIAS
Feel naked without one...


INT. DENKERíS BOOK PAVILION

One of the many subsections of the cavernlike Denkerís department store. The somber elegance of the reading room of a national library.

About a hundred people in attendance.

Everyone in this world, Elias included, dress at the very least with great and understated elegance.

Elias sits at a large desk, dressed with advertising for VALISíS SLEEP: THE LAST OF THE VALIS CYCLE.

ELIAS
(in mid-speech) ...but most people are probably going to find that in the end I made the right decision by making this the last Valis story. Heís had a long and fruitful career, same as me... (laugher from the crowd) ...and now itís time to move him on.

One of the audience members sticks up her hand.

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER
Did you ever consider letting another author take over the Valis stories?

Elias looks at her for a moment.

ELIAS
Did you ever consider renting your liver or kidneys out to someone for a while?

Laughter from the audience. The woman looks flustered.

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER
Well, thatís not exactly the same sort of --

ELIAS
See, itís about the only way I know how to explain it to people who donít actually do it. Valis is always going to be a part of me, same as heís always going to be a part of a lot of you. But Iíve made my decision. Time for the man to sleep.

He shrugs, trying to look guileless. On him, it works.

ELIAS
Weíve got time for one more... Yes?

Elias picks another hand out of the crowd; this one belongs to a tall, pale man as lean as a hound.

TALL MAN
Mr. Marlowe, this is probably a terribly obvious question, but no one has bothered to ask it yet. Whatís next for you?

ELIAS
(immediately) I donít know.

TALL MAN
You havenít decided, or --

ELIAS Iím saying I donít know. The futureís quite empty for me now. Itís a wonderful feeling, I have to say.

... but he doesnít look or sound all that happy about it.

TALL MAN
I see. Thank you.

He sits back down, but Elias and the Tall man do not lose eye contact.


TIME CUT -- LATER

The book signing is well under way. Elias signs many printed copies of the book, but a young woman brings up what appears to be a large, flat SLATE as well, with the cover of Eliasís book glowing on it.

ELIAS
(laughing) You want me to sign your lapfax?

YOUNG WOMAN
Sure! On the back.

ELIAS
Okay...

Elias turns the electronic book over and scribbles his name, in felt-tip indelible ink, on the smooth bone-colored plastic.

ELIAS
Always been partial to dead-tree copies myself... the whole pride-of-ownership feeling...

YOUNG WOMAN
So am I, actually, but I thought this was a neat idea.

ELIAS
Yeah, in ten years itíll be a collectorís item. Maybe I should get a portion of the profit.

He hands her back the slate with a smile. At that moment thereís a COMMOTION at the front door of the Book Pavilion; everyoneís heads turn.


A MAN AT THE FRONT OF THE SHOP

Dressed in a sleek outfit that looks like a high-tech version of a Charles II "fop" outfit, is wielding a WEAPON that looks like a cross between a fencing foil and an electronic prod. Next to him, a WOMAN, similarly dressed, but with appropriate adjustment for the female physique -- and sheís carrying a high-tech variation of a flintlock pistol!

COSTUME MAN
Back! Back!

COSTUME WOMAN
Weíve come to retake this place in the name of Valis!

The crowd OOHS and BURSTS INTO APPLAUSE.

The two "costume players" make their way up to the front, where Elias canít control himself; heís grinning and laughing.

ELIAS
That is great. That is just trick.

COSTUME MAN
(grinning sheepishly) We were sort of hoping no one else would show up like this.

COSTUME WOMAN
Looks like we were right!

ELIAS
You realize youíre going to be starting a trend, right? Although youíre kind of late!

COSTUME MAN
Well, this may be the last Valis book, but youíre not pulling the other titles off the shelf!

ELIAS
True. Still... now youíre making me wish someone had tried this sooner!

COSTUME WOMAN
Weíre wishing weíd tried it sooner. For fun, anyway.

The costume man looks at her as if to say: "Donít go there." Elias looks slightly bewildered, but shrugs it off.

They present him with two "collectorís edition" copies of his book. He flips open to the front flyleaf and starts inking, shaking his head with amazement and wonder.


INT. OUTSIDE THE BOOK PAVILION

The rest of the mall can be seen from here, layer upon layer of glass and steel and merchandise and people, people, people...

Elias thanks the store crew and the two "costume players", then turns away and massages his cramped hand. Flexes the fingers.

ELIAS
I should get a stencil... rubber stamp... something...

A TALL, WILLOWY woman, pushing chestnut-brown hair out of her face, walks over to Elias. This is SASHA WALLER.

SASHA
Mr. Marlowe.

ELIAS
Miss Waller. Good to meet you.

An energetic handshake.

SASHA
Itís good to meet you. I wanted to get here for the signing itself and surprise you, but I got held up by some last-minute things. Are you hungry?

ELIAS
If youíre hungry, Iím hungry.

SASHA
Well, if we can go somewhere to eat, Iíd like to talk about your new contract.

ELIAS
Well, Iíd certainly like to talk about that...

Elias and Sasha step away together. Behind them, in the window of the bookstore, two workmen TEAR AWAY the paper sign advertising Eliasís appearance.


EXT. THE CITY -- OVERHEAD

In all its sparkling glory... and with our attention focused on a single CAR moving through traffic. And as we get LOWER and CLOSER we can see more clearly that itís SPEEDING.


GROUND LEVEL -- AN INTERSECTION

The car runs right through a RED LIGHT, almost causing a pileup.


INT. CAR

The car is being driven by a HARRIED-LOOKING YOUNG MAN. His face and hands are bathed in sweat. On the seat next to him is a GUN, SEALED IN PLASTIC.


EXT. UNDERGROUND PARKING LOT

The car SCREECHES into the lot, scraping its undercarriage.

The Harried Man ditches it in an empty space. Climbs out and works off the gun wrapper with his TEETH.

Digs out change and feeds the meter.

Another car SCREECHES down the ramp.

Harried Man ducks down behind his car. Moves low, toting the gun.


THE OTHER CAR
Pulls over at the foot of the ramp. Out climb an ASIAN WOMAN and a THICKSET BLACK MAN. Their eyes are roving everywhere. Theyíre clearly searching for the Harried Man.


HARRIED MAN
Moves swiftly and silently along a back wall. Backs up into a STAIRWELL and vanishes.


INT. GOLDEN GARDEN RESTAURANT -- LATER

Elias and Sasha are in the middle of their soup course.

ELIAS
Funny thing is, when you mentioned dinner, I already started thinking, "Gee, what can I make for her?"

SASHA
You were planning on cooking yourself?

ELIAS
If youíre up for it another time, Iíll take the day off and get ready in advance.

SASHA
If itís no trouble!

ELIAS
I donít get the chance to do it that often. Even if with that goes the risk of screwing up, itís nice to know I tried, right?

SASHA
(quoting) "Everything thatís from human hands has -- "

ELIAS
(finishing the quote) " -- has an element of risk." I know. (bemused) And when people drive their cars and go to their homes and eat their prescribed three squares a day, the risk is the last thing they want. Or what theyíre allowed to have. They come to me for that. In the right doses at the right time.

SASHA
Thatís what I wanted to offer you. A greater range of freedoms in your work.

ELIAS Youíre never going to get more than whatís allowed by Anti-Sedition.

FLASH SHOT of copies of a book being police-taped together: "ANTI-SEDITION CONFIDENTIAL! NOT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION!"
RESUME.

SASHA
Naturally; they exist for a reason. But putting that aside, I wanted to offer you something.

ELIAS
Whatever youíre offering, itís going to be tough to beat what Iíve already got.

Sasha grins conspiratorially.

SASHA
How about a contract where you get paid regularly whether or not you write a book? Regardless of whether or not you even sell one?

Elias just blinks and looks at her.

SASHA
Itís not exactly a secret that one of the reasons youíre not interested in continuing the VALIS series is because of you donít want to renew your contractual obligations.

FLASH SHOT of Elias, disheveled, at his desk, with a blank screen in front of him reading only "CHAPTER ONE".

SASHA (V.O.)
Iíve dealt with many people in your position. I know how hard it is to be creative when youíve got deadline pressure.

ELIAS (V.O.)
Or, um, writerís block.

Elias sweeps papers and articles off his desk in disgust.
RESUME.

SASHA
(agreeably) Or writerís block.

She doesnít make any connections that we can see. And Elias is very good at hiding them, judging from his smile.

ELIAS
Iíd be lying if I said this wasnít interesting. Howís it gonna work?

Before she can answer, something catches his eye -- the "costume" couple from the book signing are at the door with the maitre dí! Elias waves to them; they wave back.

ELIAS
(off Sashaís reaction) Oh! See those two? They came in when I was signing. Isnít that slick?! They got all the details right!

SASHA
I think their faces say it all.


THE COSTUMERíS FACES

Quite happy with themselves as they are shown a seat.

SASHA
Theyíre happy to be part of something youíve done.

Sasha turns back to Elias.

SASHA
And thatís what I want, too.

ELIAS
Keep in mind -- I donít come cheap.

Sasha just smirks.

SASHA
Weíre prepared to match any other offer thatís already been extended to you and beat it by one and a half times the amount.

ELIAS
Sight unseen?

SASHA
We donít care what youíre working on right now; we want you in.

ELIAS
How about if Iím not even working on anything?

SASHA
Doesnít matter. We figure at some point you will be.

ELIAS
Thatís pretty heavy-duty optimism.

Sasha looks at him curiously.

SASHA
You make it sound like the optimism isnít warranted or something.

Elias shakes his head vigorously.

ELIAS Just that it may be a while before I come up with another idea. I just retired a long-running character of mine, and Iím not about to bring him back.

SASHA
Your work is your work.


INT. RESTAURANT FAÁADE -- LATER

Deep inside we can see Elias and Sasha still eating and talking.

In the foreground: the Costume Couple, paying and walking out.

MOVING with them as they walk along the esplanade... and The Harried-Looking Man we saw before falls into step behind them.

Almost too fast to see: He takes out his gun and PUTS IT TO THE BACKS OF THEIR HEADS. BAM! BAM! Both of them slump to the ground, their brains blown out.

People SCREAM AND STARE.

Exhausted, Harried-Looking Man leans against a nearby wall. And puts the gun into his own mouth. BANG!!

The restaurant empties out. Elias and Sasha are swept along with the flood of people and see the CORPSES on the floor. The BLOOD soaks into the fancy costumes and DYES them.


BEHIND ALL OF THEM -- THE ASIAN WOMAN AND THE BLACK MAN

The Black Man has hia hand in his pocket, his arm tense... but he relaxes and withdraws it. The Asian woman takes his arm and leads him out.

ASIAN WOMAN
Like the man says. You ever find yourself in a police state, walk donít run to the nearest border.

He puts on a HAT, adjusts it, and the two walk OFF CAMERA.

BLACK MAN
Yeah. ĎCos if you run, some frustrate latent queer cop probably shoot you....

Let's close here for now. Always leave 'em begging for more! Join us next month for part two..