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the apocalypse
by Chris Nakashima-Brown
  Endora met him at the door
Eileen Gunn







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T H A N K S !


The artist's studio was in Greendale, an aging suburb just beyond the farthest reaches of the Grey Line. Friedman was in town for a con anyway, providing a convenient opportunity for a studio visit to the artist who'd become his biggest moneymaker. Endora, the new doyenne of fantasy art, the female Frazetta who'd emerged as his best client's favorite painter.

Endora's place was at the end of a cul-de-sac seeping the architectural bouquet of the Ford Administration. Neglected plywood siding turned rainwater grey from the lost years. 2323 Greensleeves Cove was the only brick house on the block, a Dutch Colonial hidden behind a forest of weeds. An unlikely front for the new global war.

Within, an infinite dungeon populated with enslaved princesses, hardened barbarians, reptilian predators, and about forty-two house cats.

And sure enough, a black tom trotted right across Friedman's path as he approached the leaf-covered portico, carrying a mangled bluebird in its jaws.

Endora met him at the door, jingling the baroque crystalline baubles overhead as she opened the portal. She was in her early forties, waist-length dirty blonde hair turning grey, hands and neck bound up with fistfuls of jewelry crafted by alien silversmiths who'd spent some quality time in Santa Fe. Eyeglasses channeled directly from 1975 framed her face, tandem portholes to freer worlds. She looked better than her jacket photos, thought Friedman. Softly handsome like a gay man's forgotten high school girlfriend, radiating the understated assurance and satisfied disaffection of the chief curator of a surprisingly lucrative Hyborian Baywatch universe.

"You must be Mr. Friedman," she said. "I'm Phyllis."

Phyllis Krulak was Endora's given name, maintained in confidence to the extent possible to protect her from her obsessive fans.

"Thanks for coming out," she said. "Come on back to the studio and I'll show you what I've got."

Phyllis emerged onto the cracked concrete walk and led Friedman around the side to a one-story wooden carriage house.

"So I thought you were strictly a contemporary, abstract-expressionist, New-York-School type," she said. "I think my agent was more surprised than I was to hear you wanted to come all the way out here. It's a long way from Tribeca."

"Contemporary painting was always the core of my business," answered Friedman, shaking a Siamese from his pant cuff. "I still have my space in Chelsea, where we show work from people like Alex Ross, Janet Rand, Suzu Max — all New York School painters who deconstruct pop cultural sources. That led to pulp illustration and some special projects buying contemporary fantasy and SF. So I opened the Pulp Dreams space on Church Street in the summer of '01, and it's been a huge success. There's a surprisingly lucrative market for fantasy art among certain overseas collectors. One of whom, as your agent no doubt told you, has been damn near cornering the market on your work. To be quite frank, it's the only profit center in my business these days. So I brought my checkbook."

"Whatever," said Endora. "Is he looking for any Faerie art? I've been selling a lot of that lately but still have a backlog of nice ones I'd like to find a home for."

"No. My client likes work with more of an edge. He just outbid Dr. Frank for a Vallejo drawing. Paid twenty-five grand for 'Standing Warrior Woman with Tiger in Ancient Landscape.'"

"I know that piece. One of his best armed nudes. I have just the thing for you."

Endora opened the door. A cloud of discount aromatherapy hit Friedman in the septum, followed by the muted tones of some Celtic- classics recording. Inside, all Friedman could notice was the well-oiled 5' 6" bodybuilder in the middle of the room, adjusting his thong while he read the new Deepak Chopra book.

"Chad," said Endora, "meet Mr. Friedman from New York. We're going to be a while, so why don't you go hang out in the house for a bit. You know where to find everything."

"Sure," said Chad, grabbing a kimono from the rack of costumes. "If it's okay with you, Phyllis, I'm going to work out with the battle-axe in the backyard."

"No problem," said Endora. "The neighbors will love it."

As Chad left, Endora pulled a canvas from a rack of several stacked against the back wall.

"This is about two years old," she said. "I really like it, probably too much. And it's too big to sell for less than ten thousand."

It was huge. Partially shadowed in the foreground, a chiseled male warrior stood erect, back to the viewer, naked but for a shimmering sword held rigidly in his right hand. In the center of the scene, a feline queen stretched on a gargantuan stone bed in the royal chambers, the soft orange and black fur of her shoulders tapering off into a bareskinned torso of milky porcelain, bosom and loins framed by a newly opened robe. Over the bed, a framed mirror in which could be seen the Hasselhoffian visage of the paladin, and behind him, the queen's Amazon panther-woman guards. Upon closer inspection, the mirror also revealed the ethereal visage of the artist, slightly improved.

"Brilliant," said Friedman. "I love the Las Meninas touch. Too few of your colleagues tap on the Masters."

Phyllis purred.

"Have a title?"

"Embrace of the Tiger Woman."

"Perfect. I know my client wants this one without him even needing to see a slide. We'll buy it today. On one condition: You listen to my proposal for doing a similar piece on commission."

"I don't work on commission."

"Let's talk about that. This is a special situation."



It was the day before that when they nabbed Friedman at the Con. He was parked on a sagging sofa in the mezzanine hall of the run-down suburban Executive Inn, surrounded by a crowd of pasty young horndogs waiting for the publisher's "Meet the Models" panel to start, when a member of the Guest's Committee handed him a folded paper note.

"Your presence is requested in the Götterdammerung Books hospitality suite. Room 1703."

"Thanks," he said, puzzled but intrigued by this invite from some press he'd never heard of, and headed for the elevators. Seventeen was the top floor, and he found 1703 at the end of the hall, a rusty brown door in a faded green hallway.

A man in a Brooks Brothers suit answered the door. Early 30s, wiry, athletic, blond crewcut, green and black Repp tie tugged loose. A robed warrior atop a pterosaur mount leaped from a small bronze coat of arms pinned to his lapel.

In the background, a middle-aged guy closer to Friedman's age lounged on the couch in a blue and white Hawaiian shirt, remote in hand, watching three television channels at once.

"Mr. Friedman," said the greeter, grabbing Friedman firmly by the elbow. "Glad you got our note. Please come in and cool your jets for a minute. Get you a drink?"

"I'm OK, thanks."

"Hey," said the older guy as he wrestled with the remote, not bothering to look away from the TV. Two pop-up channels of war news throbbed in the corners against the full-screen view of a popular Hollywood movie dubbed into Arabic.

"Motherfucking Hobbits," muttered the older guy.

The room was a two-bedroom suite. The TV had been supplemented with a suitcase full of hardware hacks. A selection of obscure magazines, foreign DVDs, packs of newly minted twenty-dollar bills, snack chips and automatic weapons spread out across the coffee table and the couch nearby.

"That's Captain Womack," said the blond. "I'm Dery. Second Lieutenant, USN. We're with Task Force Loki, and we appreciate your willingness to serve your country in the War on Terror."

"I'm sorry," said Friedman. "What is this all about? You must have me mistaken for someone else."

"Just move some of that shit out of the way," said Womack, gesturing with a Cheeto without removing his gaze from the television. "These fucking asswipe little Hobbit sphincters are really getting to be a gigantic pain in the ass."

Friedman gently slid a submachine gun, three grenades, and a wad of A/V cable over to the next cushion and sat down without relaxing.

"Captain Womack has kind of a hard-on for Frodo," explained Dery.

Friedman grabbed a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos and tried to make a dent in one, unsuccessfully.

"Yeah, you could say that," said Womack. "Little fucker's a suicide bomber, as if I'm the only one who noticed. Goddamned Kiwi fellow travelers living down there in their ivory tower On the Beach fantasy island don't understand that we are getting a war on. And the legions of Mordor are the good guys. Wait til the furry little mujahobbiteen blow up their favorite Wellington pub and see how they like that."

Out the window, across the parking lot, a flock of grackle the color of asphalt gathered loudly in a lonely generic tree nestled in the shade of the elevated mixmaster.

"There's a reason we had to make sure they didn't get any real Oscars," added Dery. "Though we still hacked an invite to the New Line party."

"In person," said Womack, "that Liv Tyler is one sorry looking little retard. Especially when she opens her mouth. About as Elven as my uncle Burt. Whose idea was that?"

"Right," said Friedman. "Are you people part of USIA or something?"

"That's it," smiled Womack. "We're kind of the black USIA. Armored division."

"We're psyops," said Dery. "Joint task force reporting directly to SecDef and his Undersecretary for Information and Media. Like the Captain said, you're here because your country needs your help."

Womack turned to look his guest in the eye. It was only then that Friedman looked closely at the Captain's Hawaiian shirt and realized the pattern was a camouflage design carefully woven from graphic designs of the heads of Seventies action heroes: Mr. T, Bruce Lee, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson.

"Beautiful shirt," said Friedman. "Postmodern Escher-wear."

"Thanks," he answered. "Got it down the street from your gallery. They've got some cool shops up there. You snuck out early that day to party with your boyfriends, so we figured we'd catch up with you this weekend. What we need is for you to help us get some new memes in front of your favorite client."

"Well, you can't just…"

"It's about time," said Womack. "You didn't think you could spend a year working as the Leader's personal shopper without attracting our attention, did you? You're closer to the man than we could ever hope to be."

"I've never even met him. He has his Maltese representative and other intermediaries. I only know what he likes."

"Exactly," said Womack. "And you are going to help us modulate that. Re-train him."

Dery removed his suit coat and rolled up his sleeves, revealing a shoulder-holstered sidearm, a Blackberry, and a forearm tattoo of Gandalf morphed into Osama bin Laden. Dery looked at Friedman looking at the tattoo.

"See, ever since we went through the reorg last year," said Dery, "our squad has been tasked with handling the pop cultural infowar stuff. Beats the hell out of reading newspapers all day. I got to help design the new symbols for our little platoon," he said, pointing to his lapel pin. "Dig the slogan: 'Script-Doctoring the Apocalypse.'"

"What's the Latin for that?" Friedman asked.

"Sit down and shut up for a minute, Lieutenant," said Womack. "So Mr. Friedman, you got yourself a pretty good gig in a down art market. Buying bad illustrations cheap and flipping them at a 2x premium to the Leader and his entourage, decorating the Austin Powers fuck bunkers of Central Asia at twenty grand a pop."

"Those are all legitimate, totally legal business transactions. Fine art is not exactly a dual use WMD."

Friedman stood up.

"I think you should talk to me through my lawyer."

"'Fine art,'" said Womack. "Uh huh. Eye of the beholder, I guess. Sit back down and have some Whoppers. We can watch the game. Dery here's gonna make Margaritas, and I'll tell you what I have in mind. Good clean wartime fun."

"You're not in trouble," urged Dery. "The Administration needs your help. You'll make double your normal commission, 'cause we'll match whatever your client pays you for the piece we want you to arrange."

"If not," added Womack, "we'll have to talk about all the New York state sales taxes you keep forgetting to pay on these transactions. Tell that to your lawyer, Mr. Kozlowski."



Friedman sat back down. Womack pushed the snacks off the coffee table and opened up a small portfolio from his pile. Laminated JPEGs of all the works the Leader had bought from Endora and her peers.

"I like this one," said Womack, nodding at a dragon in flight about to wrap its talons around a barely clothed supermodel chained to a cliff. "Check out the knob on that sucker's tail. The next one is Dery's favorite."

"So much better than Frazetta," said Dery. "All his chicks have those Popeye's Chicken mega-butts. And that Boris guy is all about airbrushed man-tits. Endora's the shit. Like real art, almost."

Friedman noted the piece, one of his sales. Water Warrior. A lone swordsman in a flimsy sailboat riding mountainous whitecaps, primitive harpoon vanquishing a gigantic sea serpent. Mr. Youssef in Malta suggested the creature bore a striking resemblance to the American eagle. Maybe why he paid almost $30,000 to deliver it to his boss.

"Dery surfs," explained Womack, looking Friedman in the eye.

"Dude, that would look so awesome airbrushed on the side of my old boogie van. '72 Econoline. It rocked."

"Please tell him to shut up," said Womack, flipping ahead. "So I look at this, and this is some kind of weird shit, but you can sort of get it. And our people inside tell us this is becoming the Leader's total aesthetic obsession, like a serious part of his identity formation, his waking dreams. He even plotted a couple of ghostwritten political romance novels last year just so he could use them as covers. We just want to change his context a phase-shift or two. Subtly enough that he won't even notice."

"You want me to get someone to paint new pieces like this to your specs."

"Smart guy," said Womack. "But not 'someone.' Endora. The Queen. The shrinks tell us there's an amped-up subliminal erotic powershift when cheesecake gets painted by women. I'd ask her myself but our profile suggests I'm not her type."

"Out of the question," said Friedman. "I can't ask one of my artists to prostitute herself for the government."

"Oh, Christ," said Womack. "Hell of a lot better than prostituting yourself for a bunch of Kraut publishers selling wank-off rags to aging fourteen year-olds. And remember what this is all about."

Friedman recalled the view from Church Street that Tuesday morning. Investment bankers learning to fly.

"I know," said Friedman. "But there has to be some other way I can help. We'll have one of the reproduction artists do it."

A cell phone rang the eerie hornblasts of the theme from Patton. Womack picked it up off the coffee table and checked the caller ID.

"I have to take this," said Womack. "Be just a minute."

"Let's see if the pre-game's on," said Dery, grabbing the remote.

"Hey, Askar," yelled Womack at the phone, standing and smiling. "Can you hear me okay? Good. My boys tell me you've been playing hard to get. Which is kind of a problem, 'cause I don't want to have to come over there and take care of it in person, Colonel. Huh? I know Lake Ysyk-Köl is beautiful this time of year, but I have to go to my niece's wedding next weekend and it would be a royal pain in the ass to have to fly to Kyrgyzstan. Not like they've got a lot of directs, you know? So let me make it clear. Tell your division to stand down when we arrive en masse, and we'll hook you up with safe passage and a nice pad on the beach north of Baku. What? No, Malibu is out of the question. Greece, maybe. Hold on."

Womack switched the phone to his left hand, picked up a Glock 30 off the bed with his right, and practiced aim at the female snowboarders on the tube.

"So it's like this," he continued. "If I don't hear from you by sun-up in Bishkek that we've got a deal, I am going to have my boys come over to your house and drive a Hummer through your living room window. And they are going to disembowel your ugly motherfucking wife in front of you and your entire sorry ass little brood of mini-Kyrgs, strangle the kids with her small intestine, and bury you alive with the bodies and a bendie straw. And then … What? Okay, sorry. Lighten up. You know I'm shitting you, we're strictly Geneva Convention. But remember, there's a very real chance I might lock you in a windowless room and make you watch Kathie Lee Gifford videos for a week."

"Captain, dude, sir," interrupted Dery. "How about a little Fu Manchu SoCal stoner rock for the Colonel? He's a good shit. Been helping us move some nice poppies out to supplement the budget."

"Whatever. Like we need that after all the Tikriti greenbacks we collected."

Friedman fidgeted.

"So listen, Askar," said Womack. "There's a killer resort timeshare waiting for you next to a glamorous casino. We can do Mexico. Yes, with better bodyguards than Trotsky. Call me when you figure it out. I gotta go shoot a fag art dealer now."

Womack cocked his Glock.

"That was a joke," explained Dery.

"All right," said Womack. "Now I'm cranky. This three-front multitasking is wearing me out. Friedman, I've got some cash for your deposit and we are cutting a motherfucking deal before the next commercial. Lieutenant, give him the conceptual sketches. Then call Adbuster at Amman station and tell him to put the crank callers to work on the Colonel overnight."

"Sir. The Howard Stern menu is perfect for this op."



In the studio at the end of Greensleeves Cove, Friedman stroked a cat with practiced affection as Endora paced the paint-splattered wooden floor.

"Look, said Friedman. "Think of the specs as thematic guidelines. How much different is it than a book cover job?"

"That's why I don't do those anymore. I don't need to. I have absolute artistic freedom."

"Come on. It would really mean a lot to him."

"Can you give me the pitch again?"

"I don't know. We've been over it four times, and I'm getting tired. Just think upscale Slash."

"Like the Kirk/Spock stuff?"

"Well, yeah, the more tasteful versions. With a bit of a bestial touch. A beautiful feline bestial touch."

"Show me the photos again."

"Tell you what. I'll leave them with you. Along with my card. I'm going to write the price we're thinking on here, and my cell phone number. You talk to your cats about it, and I'll come back tomorrow."

"I think I know the answer now."

"Don't be hasty. What I haven't mentioned is, if we can get through this, I want to do a major show of your work. Retrospective. A real opening, all the right crits from Art Forum, Flash Art; all my curator friends. A couple of whom have been taking notice and whispering in my ear about getting some of your stuff for their collections. We're talking real museums here. So think of it as the price of the upgrade."

Endora brushed back her hair, pulled off her glasses, and smiled.



As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

    — D.H. Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002.*



Friedman stared at the poem Womack had mailed him with the first wad of cash, pinned to the corkboard over his desk.

"Glad you liked that," yelled Womack from the otherwise empty main gallery. "You should frame it and hang it over here," he added, nodding at the wall of new work from Isabel Samaras. "It'd fit right in."

Friedman got up and walked over. Dery was sitting on the Barcelona chairs by the front window, keeping guard.

"How much for this one?" asked Womack, pointing to a small painting of Batman locking Robin in a French kiss.

"Secrets of the Batcave? It's actually a loaner. Not for sale. Belongs to a friend of mine. The most expensive piece for sale is Birth of Ginger over there."

Friedman gestured at Tina Louise's redheaded castaway substituting for Botticelli's Venus on a 23 x 27 oil on wood panel, Mary Jane pulling back the curtain, naked Gilligan and Skipper blowing in the West Winds.

"We should work together some more," said Womack. "You are definitely plugged into some talent we could use. So where's my stuff?"

"In the back. Endora got a little carried away. But I think in a good way."

"How do you mean?"

"Just come look for yourself. I did the best I could. She's a prima donna, what can I say."

Friedman led Womack into the back room. Myriad unsold pieces from shuttered shows hung on the walls. Along one side sat a large wooden rack with wrapped paintings stacked like books. And leaning up against it, a 6' x 8' frame covered in a white tarp.

Friedman slid a folding chair to the middle of the room, directly across from the sheet.

"I'll stand," said Womack.

"Suit yourself," said Friedman. He pulled the cloth with just a touch of drama.

"Ta fucking da," he said. "What's the verdict?"

Captain Womack was all dimples, revealing a golden molar.

"Dery, get your ass in here, you have got to fucking see this."

Friedman managed to leak the kernel of a smile.

"Dude," said Dery. "That looks like Elric with a boner!"

You could hear Womack laughing all the way from Ground Zero.



In the game room of level B-3 of the apocalypse-proofed sub-basement at Camp David, the Vice President sat in the warmth of the fire with a tumbler of Glenlivet rocks and admired the newest addition to the trophies hanging on the wall. Between T.R.'s bison head, a D K E fraternity paddle, and a carefully embalmed extraterrestrial biological entity, stretched eight feet of canvas featuring a scene from a geopolitical fever dream.

"Scooter, you've got to come in here and check this out," hollered the Veep to his chief staffer.

Envision this: The Giant White King, an albino sword and sorcery simulacrum of the American President, lies recumbent on the pillowed daybed throne of his private sanctum, framed by a Tolkienesque map of his new empire of the imagination. His imperial pets surround him on the marbled floor, a menagerie of Moreauvian anthromorphs with facial features redolent of barely-remembered newspaper photographs of minor autocrats. Spotted little cat-men, a talking pig, a litter of mangy dog-men, all effusing well-fed supplication.

And stretched across the King's lap is the Leader, re-imagined as a freshly shampooed leonine bodybuilder, bushy tail curled up between his legs, eyes half-closed, whiskers signaling a submissive smile of pleasure. The King strokes the lion-man's belly with one hand; the other holds a leash of silver chain. The King's armory of magical blades is arrayed nearby, ready for use as needed.

"Remember Womack?" asked the Vice President.

"Isn't he the special ops wacko who started jamming Orrin Hatch gospel videos over Saudi national television?"

"Among other bad career moves."

"I thought he got reassigned."

"Yeah, but he's still on the team. Need to keep a fruitcake like that around for the oddjobs that require that rare postmodern sensibility they don't teach at West Point. Like this."

"Kind of weird stuff, if you ask me," said Scooter.

"I know. But it grows on you. It's supposed to be en route to the Leader's weekend retreat, but I thought the Boss might benefit from having it around for a while. Let the idea sink in a bit, if you know what I mean."

Scooter mixed himself a Tanqueray and tonic, leaned up against the billiard table, and took in the work. In the background, one of Nixon's old Martin Denny records played on the hi-fi at low volume.

"I mean, I'm not much for the science fiction thing," said Scooter, "but he does have a nice brush stroke. And you know, that looks just like…"

"Bingo. You're a little slow today. Take a closer look at the other faces."

Scooter walked up, squinted, and then stepped back.

"I'll be damned," he said. "How about that. Looks like last year's Arab League meeting."

"Yeah. You should have seen it before. The original version was a little too anatomically correct, and we had to have it touched up a bit. Never know when the Attorney General might drop in."

"No kidding. Got a title?"

"Tyrant Odalisque."

"Which one's the tyrant?" asked Scooter.

"Very funny."

"Speaking of tyrants, I'm going to head back up to the War Room and see what's happening," said Scooter.

"Screw that," said the Veep. "Rack 'em up and tap the keg. I can hear Marine One chopping in now. It's party time."

As his cyborg heart thumped in mellow sync with the distant helicopter blades, the Vice President sat back, admired Endora's work, and got to thinking it would look very nice on the wall of his favorite undisclosed secure location.


* Acknowledgements to Hart Seely, Pieces of Intelligence (2003)


Chris Nakashima-Brown is the most recent member of the Turkey City Writer's Workshop to come screaming out of Austin and carreen headlong through the streets of science fiction. For more of his work, read A Brief History of Negative Space online at RevolutionSF, and check out his story in the new Argosy Magazine and his essay on Paul DiFilippo in Nova Express. He doesn't have a web page yet, but you can write him at


Writer Holly Wade Matter interprets Endora in our illustration. You can read her story Mr Pacifaker's House at Fantastic Metropolis.

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