Title: Truck Stop Earth
Author: Michael A. Armstrong
Genre: Science Fiction, Aliens, Black Humor
Publisher: Perseid Press
Release Date: August 1, 2016
The mother of all alien bases. The big one, the megabase, the center of the Alien Occupation Government, the headquarters, the brain, the nerve center, the absolute pinpoint big base, right there, right in the hills above Della. Forget Roswell. Forget Machu Picchu. Forget Stonehenge and Tikal and all those alleged alien bases, abandoned every one of them. This was the big one, right now, the source of all my troubles, the world’s troubles, the whole solar system’s troubles. Right there.
Out there across the valley, shining across it like a beacon, was a big flat mountain. “Oly’s Mountain” I later heard it called, or Table Top, some said. I could feel it, feel the humming and the disruption of the ether right down to my bones. I didn’t even have to take out my little pocket detector that’s disguised as a Swiss Army knife. I knew, I just knew. And my butt chip burned like an exploded capsule of sulfuric acid. God damn, right there in the mountain — not on it, in it.
Extended 18+ Excerpt:
Note from Mrs. N: This excerpt contains adult language (read swearing), drug use and adult situations.
“New blood!” Barry exclaimed when he saw us. “New students!”
“New students?” I asked. I could see maybe Sarah as the perpetual college type, workin’ on the ten-year plan, only I had clearly gone beyond the university gig. “Where do you get off on that?”
Barry pointed to a neatly lettered banner hanging from the high ceiling. “The Cosmic Rational University of Della,” he said: “C-R-U-D. You mean you haven’t heard of Operation Train Whistle? The Della Conspiracy?”
I wanted to ask if that was another name for the Gray Conspiracy, only I hadn’t quite sussed out Barry and didn’t risk betraying all. “Do tell,” I said.
Barry grinned, and I could see him slip into a standard rap. You know that look? It’s where someone has told a story often enough to have the bones laid down, not often enough to wear it out, and frequent enough they can lay down a few new riffs.
“I’m out of here,” said one of the TFBs, a guy named Nick. “I’ve heard this rap before.”
“Me too,” said Rory, a woman with this dark brown braid going like all the way to the ground. “But you’ll love Operation Train Whistle, kids. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” I said. “Operation Train Whistle?”
“Operation Train Whistle,” Barry said. “Where do I begin? OK, start with a question. How did you two find Della?”
“Smart-ass answer?” I asked.
“‘I turned right at Devil’s Pass’ has been used,” Barry said.
“OK. Honest answer. A mental health professional in Anchorage told me to,” I said.
“We get that a lot,” Barry said. “Sarah?”
“I saw a Zapata ad at the Student Union at my college.”
“That would be the HARD WORK CRUMMY WAGES GOOD SEX LOTSA DRUGS poster?” He grinned.
“Something like that.”
“Yeah, it’s some of my best work. Old, but a classic.” Barry settled back and grinned. “Freddy, Roz, how’d you get here?”
“Third generation Alaskan,” Freddy said. “That gonna screw up your theory?”
“Bear with me,” Barry said. “Roz, tell ’em how you got here.”
“Sisters of Providence transferred me up after I got my MSW. Then, uh, well, the order and I parted ways.”
“So what’s your point?” I asked.
“You were recruited. You didn’t just arrive here of your own free will. Someone suggested you come here. Someone planted the idea in your head, however subtle. Now, why Alaska?”
“You have to go to Alaska to get to Della,” Sarah said.
“Right. But didn’t going to Alaska lure you to Della?”
“And how did the idea of Alaska get planted in your head?”
Sarah shrugged. “Jack London stories. Nature documentaries. Iditarod specials. Oh, and I read this novel once about blimps and nuclear pirates in the People’s Republic of Alaska.”
“Same here,” I said. “I mean, Alaska’s Alaska. It kinda has its own rep.”
“We call it a self-replicating mythos, one that regenerates its own energy. Sort of a perpetual mythmaking machine. It doesn’t need new propaganda to maintain the meme. The meme is pretty much damn near immortal. Take this big idea and let it rip.”
“Sure,” Sarah said. “I see that. And it sucked us in?”
“On its own. Operation Train Whistle, though, has agents. ‘Conductors,’ is what they’re called.”
“This is like its own operation?” I asked.
“To a point. You have this meme and then you want people to populate the myth, only the myth is more than a myth: it’s an institution.”
“An institution . . .” I could see Sarah begin to get skeptical.
“An institution,” Barry said. “A social system with its own infrastructure, its own bureaucracy, its own recruiting agency that exists for a specific social purpose. That’s an institution: churches, prisons, insane asylums, and universities. Alaska is a university.”
“It has a university?” Sarah looked confused.
“No, it is a university.” Barry raised a finger. “We’ll need some serious drugs to explicate this point.” He took out a tightly rolled doobie from one of like a zillion pockets on his vest and passed it under his nose. “Ah, Matanuska Thunder Fuck. You can’t beat 10,000 years of glacial loess.”
He lit the joint, inhaled on it until the end glowed like a comet, then passed it to me. As a rule I didn’t do dope on account of the effects it has on my meds, but I could see this might be necessary for the sake of intellectual discourse. I took a puff and handed it to Sarah, who inhaled that puppy like it was giving her CPR.
“I continue: Why did you come to Alaska?” Barry said. “I mean, why the hell would anyone come to a place fifteen-hundred miles from the nearest state, above the fiftieth parallel, in a land that’s either colder than the twat of a Plutonian ice maiden, windier than a category five hurricane, or damper than a baby’s diaper?”
“Because it’s someplace else,” I said.
“Right. And it’s not where everything else is,” Sarah added. “Like you have all this space and you can get away from all that other shit.”
“Bingo. Sort of a refuge.”
“Yeah. Sort of.”
“Only, not everyone needs that, and not everyone needs it for forever, but some do, and they stay for a dozen years, maybe only a few, maybe a lifetime. The thing is, no matter how you arrive, no matter how you get recruited, you are recruited. You belong here, someone else wants you here, and you can’t leave until you graduate.”
“You mean there’s this grand deliberateness to it? Alaska, coming to Alaska — it’s intentional?” I asked.
“Needed and necessary to the functioning of normal society, which” — Barry sucked on the joint as it came back to him for the third time — “Alaska for fucking sure ain’t.” He pointed at both of us. “You, Jimmo and you, Sarah, by virtue of being here, now, in this place, are here because somewhere someone has determined you should be here. You think it’s accidental. No, you are threats to human civilization, the toxic scum of normalcy, a great clot of pressure that has been allowed to escape. Operation Train Whistle has seen to it that you have been allowed to escape to here.”
“Only we don’t know it,” Sarah said.
“Now you do. Better still, the professors, the administrators, all the grunts and drones who operate the university, the CRUD, they don’t know it, either. Only those of us who have been truly enlightened understand the whole purpose.”
“It’s not a prison, though?”
“Not a prison. Not a loony bin. Not a hospital, either. None of those things. It’s a university. Think about it.”
I could see Barry had turned a corner here in his exegesis, had gone into new territory. Should I pull him back? Nah. I had gotten too stoned to do anything other than let him rip.
“Think about it! A university is the perfect utopia. You have a course laid out for you — a course of instruction, things you have to do before you can graduate. Maybe you decide you like the university, The University, and so you get an advanced degree and stay in it to teach. You might graduate but you never leave. As the great cosmic genius Fredrick Pohl put it, ‘life is one learning experience after another, and what you get for a diploma is, you die.’”
“But some people can leave the CRUD?” Sarah asked.
“All the time!” Barry smiled. “They come up here, get jobs, raise families, get careers, and maybe leave. Some are born here, like Freddy. Imagine that, right into the university, students for life! They can get out and go to real universities and maybe never come back. Others get to leave, except they always pine for Alaska so badly they either come back — and leave and come back and leave and come back — or they recruit for Alaska. That’s almost just as good.”
“And the whole purpose?”
“To keep all those people from fucking up the rest of the world. It’s kind of like Operation Wet Rubber Nipple. You know that one?”
I looked blankly at Sarah and shook my head.
“Wet Rubber Nipple was this college in the 1960s “— — College” (and then and there he told me the name, but like I say, I forget things, which is good, because otherwise I couldn’t write about this and I’d have to be killed). “Actually, a program to recruit students in the 1960s. All these really bright, potentially dangerous radicals got lured to a small liberal arts college in Florida where they had their every demand met. Drugs? No problem? Sex? All you want. You could study anything, do anything, and the whole point was to keep those crazies from actually getting involved in campus politics where they could seriously undermine the normal functioning of American society. It only lasted until after Kent State, and then the big foundation that funded it pulled the plug. Some of those students wound up here, of course. Thing is, that was for a few years. Alaska: Alaska is for life.”
“But you can graduate.”
“Maybe. You can die,” Barry said.
Sarah stared at him, ran a hand through that stiff red hair, and burst out laughing, an insane, stoned laugh that grew until the very walls trembled.
“That’s the biggest pile of horseshit I’ve ever heard,” she said.
Barry smiled. “Exactly.” He looked at me.
I just grinned back. Got to thinking about it, and I understood. If the CRUD was real, if there really were administrators directing the thing, people who knew the actual truth about the true function of Alaska, then they also knew about the Grays, knew about the Alien Occupation Government, in fact, had to be the Alien Occupation Government, since the whole idea so neatly fit their general plan.
Truck Stop Alaska? Hah. Escape Valve Alaska, Campus Alaska, Camp Concentration Alaska. Thing was, it was so damn perfect — that to save the Earth you had to destroy Alaska, destroy Della and turn it into a normal, boring little town. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that.
I kinda like Della. Damn, there had to be a better way.
Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN3JAJS
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Michael Armstrong was born in Virginia in 1956, grew up in Tampa, Florida, and moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1979. He has lived in Homer, Alaska, since 1994. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop and received a bachelor of arts from New College of Florida and a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His first novel is After the Zap. Michael’s short fiction has been published in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Science Fiction, Fiction Quarterly, and various anthologies, including Not of Woman Born, a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and several Heroes In Hell anthologies. His other novels include Agviq, The Hidden War, and Bridge Over Hell, part of the Perseid Press Heroes in Hell universe.
Michael has taught creative writing composition, and dog mushing. He is a reporter and photographer for the Homer News. He and his wife, Jenny Stroyeck, live in small house they built themselves on Diamond Ridge above Homer, which they share with an incredibly adorable labradoodle.
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