Cosmic Charlie
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson

The Charlie Effect
by Keith Campbell

Cosmic Charlie
by Island Girl

Cosmic Charlie
by Misha

KamiCosmic Charlie
by Colin Campbell

Sea Foam
by Swagman

Cosmic Charlie
by Jeffrey P. McManus

Holy Lunch
by Aidan Butler


to Swagazine


by Keith Campbell

Behind Vons, beneath an exterior light, in a garbage dumpster that had once been rectangular, "Wierd Andy" Cappola sat down do a dinner of a soggy sandwich and some bruised peaches. He occasionally tried other dumpsters at night, but this was his favorite. The Vons was the best store in town, and their deli, salad bar and bakery meant that there were often good pickings in the dumpster. Tonight, unfortunately, the sandwich and peaches were a bit of a disappointment. The other reason he preferred this dumpster was that it was well lit from the exterior floodlight above, which made searching easy, and made it possible for Wierd Andy to read. He had once taught school, after all, and he liked to keep informed.

Tonight, he found a crumpled paper in the box with the peaches that made some interesting reading from last weeks news. As he finished the paper an tossed it over into the corner, he noticed something else at the bottom of the peaches box. It was a brightly colored little pamphlet, in excellent condition. Andy was pleased, for he knew a religious tract when he saw one, and he was an avid collector. The inside pocket of his brown coat contained a very eclectic assortment ready to be passed out to those who passed through Balboa park, where Andy still taught his "classes", in memory of more normal days that he had difficulty remembering now. He especially prided himself at being able to match the personalities with those he met to the pamphlets that they "needed". There were ways to spot a potential Jehovah's witness, Baptist, Scientologist or Mormon, as he had explained to himself again yesterday.

And so Andy picked up the pamphlet and eagerly began the process of classifying it. First, the back page. They never tell you who they are till the back page. But there was no organizational name and no credit at all. Ok, try the back cover. Nothing... Very well, he would do it the hard way and start at the beginning. He looked at the cover closely for the first time. "The Testimony of Charlie". Nothing definite there, so he began to read.

As Wierd Andy sat shielded by the dumpster's walls and read, a look of engrossment possessed his face. For five deliberate minutes, he poured over the book intently. Then, as he finished the back page, he looked up with a start. With fascination and disgust he surveyed the dumpster around him. Standing up, he wiped the debris and garbage from his clothing with finality and then grabbed the edge of the dumpster to hop out. But then he remembered, and he quickly turned around and snatched the pamphlet that had fallen from his hands.

Smiling, he tucked in into the pocket of the old coat, gave it a pat, climbed out of the dumpster, and strode off purposefully into the fresh night air.

* * *

Down the middle of the studio ran an imaginary line dividing two very different universes. On this side of the line, where "weird" Andy Cappola (Dr. Anthony R. Cappola for this occasion) sat, everything was beautiful. Colors harmonized with the impeccable furnishings of an elegant sitting room cut inexplicably in half. On the other side of the line were lights and steel poles and snaking wires and equipment and cameras. Two visions of reality. Across the table from Dr. Cappola sat a formidable opponent in Dr. William Roth, bestselling author of "Mindbenders" and several more scholarly works on mass psychology. In the middle, the moderately moderate moderator, Ken Larson. His ratings were sinking, and a show on the "Cosmic Charlies", as this had been billed, would be a sure boost. Doing his shows live had sparked some interest, but it was quickly ebbing. Dr. Cappola had received invitations from other networks and shows, but Ken had gotten there first. It was fair to say that no hot-button had been left untouched in promoting this encounter in the most sensational manner. "The Cosmic Charlies are growing by the millions" screamed one 30 second spot. "Are your children being influenced? How many high government officials are already under their control??", and so on...

As the hum of activity increased, signaling the immanent beginning of the show, Tony patted a small pamphlet in his coat pocket. He no longer needed the physical booklet, except as a pleasant reassurance. Every word of it was completely committed to memory. Now the whole drama was beginning. The three of them now talked and moved and thought under the incredible intensity generated by the knowledge that the small circular piece of glass at the front of the camera was now vicariously the eyes of millions of people.

"Good evening and welcome to 'Larson Live'. Today we'll be getting to the bottom of what one university president has called the most significant threat to American pluralism in the history of the United States. Are they a cult? Are they master hypnotists? Consummate brainwashers? What's at the bottom of the movement that has come to be called 'Cosmic Charlie'? My guests tonight are Tony Cappola, the mastermind behind the 'charlies', and his most feared critic and opponent, Dr. Bill Roth, author and exposer of religious abuse, and my guest on several former occasions. Welcome, gentlemen.."

Here the guests exchanged pleasantries and wary looks.

"Before we get Tony Capolla's defense of his organization, let's hear what the 'prosecution' has to say. Dr. Roth, what do we really have to fear from Tony here? Isn't this just another cult like so many we've seen before?"

Dr. Roth looked confident and well rehearsed as he was given his first opportunity to talk to the little round lens. "Well, Ken, I only wish this were just another cult. Many movements, of course, have utilized psychological manipulation techniques with great effectiveness. But the success of the 'Charlies', as we are now calling them, has been something of an entirely different magnitude. I have detailed some of their methods in my new book, _Torn by Terror_. 

"Quite simply, this man, Mr. Capolla, has developed techniques of compelling a certain response from people through emotions so powerful as to be virtually irresistible by the untrained. The average person will respond to Mr.Capolla's methods as irresistibly as he would reflexively kick if his knee is tapped with a hammer."

Tony Capolla interrupted the interview, "And would you yourself be vulnerable to my manipulation, Dr. Roth"? Roth smiled evenly. He had anticipated the "demonstration" request, especially on this type of show. "No." he said quietly. "I have certain psychological safeguards against that." Tony nodded, "And would Ken here, or our audience, be endangered if I were to attempt to influence you? "Not at all", said Roth reassuringly. "Only the person on whom the manipulation were attempted would be in danger, and I could interrupt you if you attempt to influence anyone but myself."

Methodically, Tony took a pamphlet out of his pocket and began to read. He knew the words, of course, but he thought it would raise less initial suspicion if he were reading instead of looking at Dr. Roth directly. For about five uninterrupted minutes, Tony read the pamphlet out loud. 

* * *

The other experts and networks, of course, were quite sure that both Dr. Ross and Ken Larson had been part of the plot all along, despite denials by the wives and friends of these newly-changed individuals. However it happened, Dr. William Ross, Ken Larson, the technical crew on the set, the network execs who were monitoring, and entire 20% of the viewing audience who were watching were all part of the movement now. Viewers who had stepped out of the room for a snack or bathroom-break returned to completely different families and a very unusual talk-show. Naturally, all the rest of "weird" Tony Cappola's interviews were promptly cancelled...

* * *

Lumbering like a mechanical black shark, the limo glided to a spot directly across from the array of reflective glass doors. The top of the car boasted a strange array of what appeared to be antenna equipment of many varieties. The door opened and the fish vomited out a squad of identical secret service men surrounding a fat bearded man with two decrepit briefcases, papers protruding. All the escorts, as well as the fat man, wore identical reflective glasses and what looked like complex sets of stereo earphones that weren't connected to anything in particular. Thus protected against both visual and audio assaults, they shuffled quickly into the well- guarded building.

The group soon passed both the first and the second Faraday shields, and were expertly guided into the conference room, where the fat man joined the ranks of the occupants of several dozen earlier-arriving limos at the CIA all-government briefing on the Charlie Crisis.

Bill Worthington, who didn't really feel as fat as his description, looked up at the monitor in front of the conference table and shuddered. Inwardly, always inwardly. The glasses helped, but being a Charlie and sitting at this conference was still a terrible risk. On the monitor, Andy Cappola lay in carefully monitored medical oblivion, restrained and surrounded by technological terror.

Careful not to move his head, only the eyes behind the glasses, Bill tried to penetrate the emotions of those seated around the table. The room was simply alive with fear. Fear of something worse than death - the annihilation of the old self. A fear that bore as it's child a determined, calculating aggression fueled by a relentless blazing anger.

And it was so stupid, Bill thought for the hundredth time. All he rage and paranoia and aggression directed at people who simply had found a way to solve their personal problems, and, with them, the problems of the whole society in one fell swoop. What carrion vultures, he thought in black mirth, to so revel in defending human misery and despair. But what was the point of dwelling on the obvious?

Bill's mission was clear, and his heart content. It required such patience, to listen to the briefing now in progress. The reports on the failure of new "Charlie testing" devices, new TV, radio and phone protection devices to guard against the pirate Charlie signals that had been broadcast nearly everywhere. Then the details of the new emergency measures proposed by Congress for containing the Charlies, and the latitude which had been promised in enforcing those measures. Hardest of all, perhaps, were the interrogation reports from the sessions with Andy Cappola. They had learned everything - and nothing. In his pain, Andy had invented a million fictitious plots and methods and explanations for the Charlie effect, all nonsense. The inquisitors were finally coming to believe that he really didn't know.

Finally, Bill's turn came. He gathered his papers together, made a passible introduction, and then directed attention the tape recorder he placed on the table. He allowed himself only the glimmer of a smile as he punched the button that started the high-speed blast of the Charlie message encoded and scrambled correctly to bypass the interception equipment they all wore in their headphones. It was a new technique developed for this emergency, and it probably would have worked on an unprepared individual member of the group. But as it was, the bullets destroyed Bill and his tape recording before they could finish the critical message. The faces of the group were ashen with the national security danger that had so narrowly been avoided, and, when the security detail turned over the bloody body of Bill Worthington, there was a smile on his face that sent chills down the spines of not a few there present...

* * *

Sergeant Raul Rojas was a veteran of three years of the Charlie Wars, and he knew by his instincts he was on to something big. A district nest at least, or possibly a regional headquarters. Automated comparison of the architectural plans of the offices on Lake Street with a recent inspection map revealed a discrepancy, large enough to be hidden rooms of considerable proportions. As always, the trick was to find the entrance and make entry with enough of a force before escape was possible.

A break finally came in surveillance that showed one of the air-conditioning units to be a mock-up concealing the entrance. And so Rojas readied his unit. Each wore the totally enclosed helmets containing the latest in Charlie detection and filtering technology, and each carried a battery of weapons ranging from debilitating to multiply lethal. Last-minute checks of their equipment were made in the shielded recon truck and then the strike began...

It was a calculated 20 seconds from the truck to the air conditioning unit, not enough for the Charlies within to hope for escape. As Rojas and his unit toppled the fake air conditioner and smashed like a juggernaut through the plywood beneath, they saw the frantic efforts of Charlies scrambling to destroy as much information as possible before the inevitable apprehension. Tazers zinged through the air, zapping the scrambling men and women into inertia.

In the eternal 5 seconds of first rushing into the pandemonium, Rojas saw on the walls the pictures of the late Andy Cappola and a smaller one of Bill Worthington, right next to what he assumed must be a complete copy of the Charlie message, since his helmet was scrambling his visual perception of it. This was obviously the right place, and the number of people inside promised a rich haul in information and further arrests.

Suddenly the building began shaking. At first, Rojas feared his unit was about to meet the fate of the Charlie unit 49 in Denver, where the Charlie central headquarters had been rigged to bury it's valuable information, along with any intruders, through several well placed explosive charges. But this was not an explosion, Rojas began to realize, it was an earthquake, and from the feel of it, it might well be the Big One that was 50 years overdue now or some such thing.

In any case, Rojas, convinced the building was coming down, sprinted for the exit. His barked order was completely lost in the groan and crash accompanying the shaker.

And it was getting worse. As Rojas half ran, half fell, through the doorway and stumbled outside, he was being thrown around like a puck in an air hockey game. Everywhere, buildings where crashing into oblivion, and Rojas leg was sliced by a stray shard of glass as a desk, complete with surprised, well-paid occupant, flew through an upper window of the rapidly disintegrating Lake Street building.

It was a LONG earthquake. Rojas had lived though several serious tremors and this was the first time he had time to sit and think about just how long it was. And the noise from all around was a cacophony of destruction. Clinging to his small piece of intact earth, Rojas said a short prayer of thanks for his incredible luck in living through this one.

Finally, the shaking stopped, although the sounds of falling, breaking and bursting from the buildings on the street continued for a few seconds. Rojas finally glanced at the damage to his leg, and concluded that he could patch it up and probably walk on it alright, when his vision began to fade. Or that's what he thought at first. Then he realized that it was actually getting darker around him.

Gradually, the sun, which was behind a cloud at the moment, just seemed to fade as if a giant celestial rheostat was being turned down.

Stars began to appear, and then, as if the whole thing were a giant hallucination, the stars all fell out of place like a thousand meteors and the sky was black like a hole into absolute nothing. And then, into that blackness came a piercing light, and the deep silibant, all-penetrating sound of a voice. And then, unstoppable by Rojas' helmet or any other intervention, the voice began to read...


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