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Fear is the Mindkiller

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Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the great science fiction books of the sixties, and I usually read it (and sometimes the entire series) once a year. It has never been adequately rendered on TV or film, perhaps because so much of the book deals with the interior states of the characters, something that narrative text can do so well, and visual mediums struggle with. 

One of those interior states dealt with in the book is fear. For the Bene Gesserit, the mystico-political sisterhood that haunts much of the book, the ability to control fear is the mark that distinguishes the human from the animal. 

For years (decades?) I have had what is called an anxiety disorder. The word anxiety brings to mind the feeling of anxiousness, but that doesn’t describe what I feel. What I feel is fear, sometimes panic.

Even ordinary everyday actions—turning on a toaster, leaving the apartment— can occasion fearfulness. I have been driving somewhere and had to turn back, because the fear is too great. These events are usually time-limited; often I am fine, with no trace of fear. Until the next one comes.

To some extent, the pandemic has both helped and hurt. I have a reason for my behavior. And an excuse.

For me this is a disorder of the imagination. My mind envisions all the bad possibilities. Rationally I know these are not the most likely outcomes for a particular action. But I can’t seem to convince my imagination. And this dialogue between rational mind and imagination becomes paralyzing.

I don’t take medication for this condition because I am afraid (that word again) that it will affect my imagination, which will affect my creativity. So I just try to get through the events as they occur. I try to sleep, or work (work is good), or have a cup of tea or listen to soothing music, or sing, or recite Shakespeare (the soliloquy from Richard III helps for some reason), or imagine the peaceful places I have been.

I’m not saying it’s a good plan, nor the best for everyone, nor even the best for me. But it’s the plan I have followed. I’m still here, and still writing. Though perhaps I would have written more, or better, with more or better help. Possibly. But a different plan would have required a choice, and choice often seems impossible.

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit teach a litany for dealing with fear. 

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

That is what I do: ride the fear until it passes and only I remain. And it does. That is what I try to remember each time.

The fear will pass.

And I will remain.


 Image by Aino Tuominen at Pixabay

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Update - 3/1/2016

I've published Returnee via KDP and Smashwords. What's interesting is how the final, edited, published version differs from this draft, posted over a year ago. So, anyway, if you find this, know that this is not the novel that was published.




First chapters of Returnee, a science fiction novel.


Serendipity can kill. For want of a repair kit, a drone was lost….

Don’t panic. Critical words on a new planet. Don’t panic. But –

I needed to pee. I’m not used to that urge and couldn’t recall drinking anything recently. That’s what causes peeing. I knew that.

If life was smoke, I’d be blown away, smothered my head again, bouncy words lacking context. I was on Earth, why we’re here now. At the mall. Events pivoted that day. I met Melody. First human I met I didn’t kill. Everything changed after meeting her.

I’d taken the convoy’s racer. Its autodrive functions worked, a relief. I didn’t feel up to driving. Reclined in a front seat, I coped with unusual impatience. I don’t know why. I’m a fourth waver, accustomed to solitude and entertaining myself. My entourage’s ready presence typically ameliorates solitude’s influences, sure. I guess their absence was part of my impatience but still it seemed strange that impatience troubled me. I think my problems with Carl magnified my stress and fed the impatience.

Fingers tapping, I sang if life was smoke, I’d be blown away, avoided thinking about my pained bladder and enjoyed the ride. The racer followed a fair road through a lush green tunnel of big apple and cherry trees, oaks, sycamores and Douglas firs and pines. I wasn’t certain it was a smart road. It gave me no insights into its reason to be.  I lacked the technology to harvest insights anyway.

If life was smoke, I’d be up in flames, burning in desire for you….

I didn’t think those were the words but I couldn’t know. My memory was MIA.


“Excuse me, Brett. This was after your Castle Hercules escape pod crashed?”

“Yes. I thought I – ”

“On Earth.”

“Excuse me but I was answering you. Yes. The answer is yes.”

“You went to a mall on Earth.”

“I know, it’s striking, I understand your consternation. If it sounds strange to you, imagine the impression on me. But let me go on and tell this. I know you have questions and want clarification but if you just let me tell the story, it’ll all eventually make sense.”

“Do you need to tell it? We’ve accessed your memory – “

“Yes, sorry, excuse me, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Right. Go on.”

“Okay, so you know I went to the mall on Earth – “

“Yes, we’ve accessed your memory.”

“Please. Don’t interrupt. Please. Just let me tell it. I need to. For my health.” I gave him time. Health is a dangerous word. Health always makes them think again about their plans. It’s in their corporate structure.

“Resume,” corporate guy said. “Resume.”


Someone is pursuing me. I hope this reaches you before she takes me. She may be blocking our communications. I’ve done what I can to encrypt and protect this but unless you respond or at least let the systems answer, I remain dark about whether you’ve received it. Meanwhile, because you haven’t responded, I’m sending you a vmail with the entire story.

I wish you would answer. It doesn’t matter whether you confirm or deny what I’m telling you. I want to know you received it. I think I know what’s wrong with you and I think I can help you but you need to answer me. It would also give me a chance to start again if I’m wrong.

It’s difficult deciding where to begin without telling too much. Like most people’s explanations of what happened when, it’s sliced out of a circle. No, not a circle but an enlarging spiral.

I guess I’ll begin with my Eureka moment and tell it from there.



I heard someone.

They sounded like they spoke on the other side of a wall. I listened hard as the racer sped along but understanding eluded me. I thought they said, “Help me.” Maybe it was, “I can help you.” Help was definitely in there.

It’s a new recurring thing to hear someone distant in my head and not fully comprehend them. Between it and the need to pee, I was becoming weary and more impatient. I disliked coping with body functions. I’m not certain what’s normal but needed to relieve myself with increasing frequency. I thought I’d gone before leaving the convey but couldn’t remember if I’d done as planned. I must not have as I had to go again.

That’s the only thing that makes sense.


My Eureka moment flares clearest of all the memories I hold, well, it, the breadth of that day, like a feast impressions, sensations, events. Without even engaging my memory, I can relive it as though it’s happening now.    

Summer Festival was commencing. A rainbow sky reigned. Don’t know if you’ve been to Nobel. The Summer Festival is an homage to Earth and humanity, a time to celebrate. The rainbow sky’s the crowning reminder of what we’re doing. Seriously, the sky wasn’t blue but swathed with wide rainbow bands, red, orange, yellow, well, you know a rainbow’s colors.

A party mood was invading.  This was the seventy-fifth Summer Festival, the diamond celebration. Maybe they chemicalized the dome’s air to make us all happier and more energetic or we experienced a cumulative release, a natural breaking point. My domains’ denizens had been working hard on their own projects, me, no exception, and we were surfacing from the routines like it was a great awakening. Thris was singing, harmonizing with his boyfriend’s falsetto. Others joined, lighting the filament with music. I even sang, “Summertime, and we’re alive, lazing in love’s sunshine. Celebrating the beginning of the end, and thinking of the days we’ll be back together again. Summertime, the last one we’ll know, until death’s winter is lifted.”

Pings lit my filament. Those aren’t the words, my system said as did everyone else pinging me, laughing. I laughed, rebutting, “So? It’s the best I can do. Live with it.” Accomplishment pumped my giddiness. It wasn’t that I really found me, like I was missing but only that I’d confirmed my records were wrong. A new balance settled on me when I discovered that. The wrong records explained so many gaps I’d noticed but never connected. I couldn’t wait to talk to Mom about it although I didn’t really know if I would. She doesn’t take well to those things.

I’d just been speaking with the fabulous ChaWhana about the mood change right before my Eureka moment. “I know,” she kept bubbling. “We’ll get together. Let’s plan it.”  Not tall nor short, ChaWhana is a brown eyed white girl with vampy black and blue hair. She’s uncomplicated, five mood and behavior settings, maybe more that I don’t know, but I think, from all I’ve witnessed and heard about her, she has five settings. Unfiltered and raw as I am, I have settings with settings in settings and they change with a gnat’s fart. ChaWhana told me she likes that about me, that I’m so uncontrolled, unfiltered, emotional, impulsive and passionate. She’s even stated she enjoyed my darker sides.   

ChaWhana is my bizzaro world opposite. She bubbles but it’s leashed. Being uncontrolled is the antitheses of her behavior. Yet she’s always, always happy, not just quiet happy but energetically so. Her first three settings are happiness, happiness and happiness. She’s always bubbling with happiness. I envy that, that someone could be so uncommonly happy and joyful and that it seemed so honest.

Her other settings are much different. Her fourth setting would be somber or sad, like when she’s thinking about her mother and grandmother, who cut her off and won’t speak to her. Won’t accept vmails from her or nothing like that. When she goes into that setting, she styles like a recluse. You won’t see her for several days.

Don’t ever go to ChaWhana’s fifth setting. You don’t want her on her fifth setting. Because, see, that’s her angry setting, her absolute pissed off to all orbits above and below position. We villagers all flee when she goes to five.

I’m not saying she’s a ‘bot or droid something or someone mechanical or nothing like that. She’s not. ChaWhana is absolute human and about as real and true and hot as a person can get. My references to her settings and positions are just metaphor.

What I’m saying about ChaWhana is she was usually very happy and bubbly but when she becomes angry, it’s righteously so and just about always, just about over ninety percent of the time, it’s merited. See, what I’m saying is that ChaWhana was happy about probably eighty percent of the time. Most of the rest of the time, she’s in that happy mood but when she’s sad, she’s really sad, and when she’s mad, look out. I profile her and know when her moods are coming on.

I told her that, too. She knew how I felt. She and I were connected. We profiled one another, confession, I’ve profiled her more than once and frequently profiled her again to see if anything had changed. According to all the math and science, she and I profile at about a seventy-two. It varies. I think once it got as high as seventy-four and as low as seventy. It’s never gone below seventy but if you know about profiling, anything in the seventies is not indicative of a successful relationship with another. Most people who keep company share at least something in the nineties.

But she and me, with our seventies relationship profile quotients, link up all the time. I’m not saying the profiling science isn’t right. ChaWhana and I were the exceptions in the profiling. Something about us defied the systems. I believed it was true love and special chemistry.   

I think other things now, like how she’s not genuine. Sometimes I think that she has more settings than I ever knew but other times I think, no, she just had one setting, that was to be deceitful.

She completely duped me and all the rest although they won’t all acknowledge it. After they found out, usually from me, many comments from people who knew her began – paraphrasing the gist –“You know, I wondered about her. Yeah, she was usually happy, with this hyper effervescence but didn’t that seem like that was faked to you sometimes?”

No, I never saw that. No, no, no, it never seemed faked. No. Not to me.

Liana said, “You know, I sometimes wondered because she had those dark days when she just disappeared. It was really mysterious, you know? No vmail in or out, virtually out of every domain, completely absent from everything, like she didn’t really exist, right? So I wasn’t surprised because it was like she was living a secret life then.”

I didn’t accept what Liana was telling me about her suspicions. It seemed like Liana was solving a crime after all the facts have already been revealed and the trial is over. “You never said anything to me about that.”

“I know, she had you so deep in her grasp, you wouldn’t have believed me and that would have just pushed you away from me. I didn’t want that.”

Liana’s revelations cooled me. I’m notorious among my friends for withdrawing and sulking. “I still wish you told me.”

“See, there you are already, you’re already mad at me and starting into your angry and hurt portrayal, just what you would have done if I’d told you and I didn’t want that. I know you. That’s who you are and who you will be unless you re-engineer your personality which I know you will not do.”

The challenging jab is familiar. “You think you know me, like you think you knew ChaWhana.”

Even with all our chips and technology and memory enhancements, we can still be fooled. We can still believe we know and trust someone, and be completely wrong.


“Smoke of Life” is the song. I remember it now with my memory returned. Crowdsong created on the HMS Churchill. Big sister played and sang. The song was hot on the Galex for two seconds.

It wouldn’t leave my mind that day as I went to the mall, part of a greater plague of songs in my head. “Downrange Blues” cycled through my head the prior day. “Seens Through The Corporate Blinds” partials serenaded me the day before that.


I was the music man.


True love.

ChaWhana always laughed and agreed with me that it was probably true love we had but that never let her become willing to contract with me. I think she was joking, I think she loved me but not deeply, not enough to cope with my millions of emotional settings and capricious behavior. Even if it was true love….

I’ve known a few true loves, always with women, never had an inclination for a man, three true loves since I’ve mentioned it. We profiled over one hundred each time and we stayed together a while but it didn’t last. Trivia note:  most people who score below one forty on their profiles will contract three times and stay together ten years. People scoring one forty and above are more likely to stay together more than ten years.

ChaWhana said that’s because true love is a fluid state. She believes our profiles are off because they look for what we know we like instead of exposing ourselves to different people that might reveal something else. She feels true love is too often thought of magnets and steel. Magnets are drawn to steel but that’s not all that defines either material.

I don’t know. I was mad for her but –

I live in the shadow of exceptions, hesitations, frustrations and qualifications. But, she wasn’t willing to contract. I’d suggested it, kind of teasing around a kernel of need and truth, but I didn’t press her when she turned me down. Love her I do but contracting is when you’re ready to dock somewhere in a family way. That was not my gig then. I have to wonder how history would have been different, my history, anyway, if it had been true love and we had contracted.

When I had that Eureka Moment, I called for ChaWhana naturally. This was big news and joy was overwhelming me. I had to share it with her of all people.

I couldn’t find ChaWhana in the domain or on my filament and thought how weird that was but nothing else. I’d just been conversing with her and I was happy. She’d been happy. Although I started sharing my news with everyone from the first line, I especially wanted to share it with ChaWhana so after the fail finding her in my filament, I thought maybe she’d gone into one of her moods. I hadn’t noticed anything, though, and she had tells about when she was about to go do the darkside. Once I’d started seeing them, I used to try to cajole her into being happy but when the tells begin creeping out, her mood isn’t going to change. I’d learned that so when the tells demonstrate her darkside rising, I usually just prepare myself for her withdrawal and got ready to spend time without her.

But there hadn’t been any of those tells that day, nothing. She’d exhibited her usual happy bubbliness. I didn’t there would be anything wrong with me going to her place so I ported from my lab to there to find and tell her.

Then, pop, that was it.


The racer found the mall, supposedly a collection of retro buildings, an economic project to imitate a past era and revitalize a dead area, built eighty-seven years before. Service and store listings weren’t available but I had nothing else to try before expanding my search circle. I’d be stupid not to try the mall first, given its closeness.

I would have walked. Walking would have been three hours one way, not bad, but I was tired of walking. Looking back, that might have been because I’d started aging but there were other things as well. Some issues contributed to my decision. It was very hot in those days. Difficulties of carrying sufficient water and coping with the heat and wild weather and the uncertainty of what might or could happen at the mall made me take the racer.

And there was the dog. I could have left the dog behind but loyalty had stretched a cord between us by then. I liked her company. No, although using the racer was a studied risk, walking wasn’t feasible for going to the mall.

The racer announced my arrival there with a friendly triple chirp. Stomach lurching with the sudden slowing, I halted the racer and looked for the building amongst the surrounding trees. No mall was visible.

Everything had been going poorly to that point. Remember, I’d left Verde, evacuated Hercules, crashed a pod and didn’t have my Backhand and all my systems. I thought the racer had failed me. Everything else had already failed me.

I swore a bit and checked the racer’s systems. They indicated the mall was to my right but I only saw trees. Another thing seemed awry. I was foolish to trust the racer.

A gap in the foliage ahead was visible. Deciding not to yield to doubts yet, I skimmed the racer forward. By the blessed stellar winds, glimpses of materials resembling filthy white cement, crumbling brick, stone and broken glass came up on my right through leafy branches, my destination and hope for rescue, the Historic Jackson County Mega Mall.

I laughed, drawing Noname’s look. “Don’t look at me like that,” I told her, laughing more. She turned away.

I laughed harder. I don’t know why. I guess it was relief. The racer had worked and found the mall, the mall was where it was supposed to be, and it actually existed.

Something had gone to plan. It had been seventeen years since something went to plan for me.



When I say, pop, that was it, I didn’t know what it was but this is what it was.

See, I trusted the systems but I’m not guilty of stupidity or negligence for that so don’t charge me. You can’t indict me for being part of a culture brought up to trust the systems, which is why and how ChaWhana was able to succeed. I knew she’d manufactured herself out of pieces of her past, which is some great deal about why her mother and grandmother won’t return her vees. We all do that.

Well, that’s a broad assertion and it’s not really true. We all don’t. Fundamentalists and throwbacks and several other cultural and religious niches resist tech aids to improve or change themselves but these groups are outside the norm and outside of my social and educational filament. I knew of them and respect that they’re not like me but I can’t put on their brains and comprehend their thinking. I’m wholly assimilated as a standard culture creature, as mainstream as you will find. They told me to figure out what I didn’t like about myself and re-invent yourself and that’s what I did.

That’s how I learned about me.


That’s why I started looking for you.

copyright Michael Seidel, 2014

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