The Ganga stops within inches of the face of a vertical cliff.
Offended fish scatter, small and blue, yellow and rare: the Femininus wrasses.
I can’t tell if Vedanshi is reckless or if non-local buffers and gravity lifts are designed to jar the nerves. At least there’s no whiplash.
Vedanshi closes her eyes. In a silent click we’re hovering inside a large granite chamber with geometric rock walls that have the odd nubbins I’ve seen in pictures of ancient Peruvian ruins.
They remind me of the nubbins on the Pyramid of Menkaure in Egypt. Drain hole artifacts from molds, I would guess.
I wonder if people realize the staggering complexity of designing random block sizes into a high tolerance structure.
Water drips from The Ganga and splashes thirty feet below onto a dark floor. The room is the size of my old high school auditorium on Oahu.
There’s a picture in my head of a small platform somewhere on Easter Island.
The blockwork is similar to the walls that surround us now.
Here’s another platform on Easter Island…
Here’s a close up of an ancient wall in Peru. The trapezoid is about the size of a finger and extends completely through the wall.
“How was this rock work done?” I ask Vedanshi.
She gazes across the room at the opposite wall. “Molten hot granite cement poured into heat-resistant molds of cloned spiderweb. Black widow, probably.”
OK, I was basically right. “Tell me about quantum stasis.”
Her fingers move horizontally across her forehead. “I’ve been in 2015 for four months,” she says. “Alone.” There’s a quiver in her voice. “I’m at the age where pilots start hearing the river. The first day the asteroids were spotted, my mother’s techs gave me a crash course in consciousness – basically how to let a bunch of ones and zeros connect with the machine language.”
“So the brain has a machine language,” I say.
“Sort of,” she says. “It’s a five-dimensional hologram, analogous to the river of consciousness itself. It resembles the physical structure of the universe.”
A deep image of my universe comes to mind.
It resembles the cultured hippocampal neurons I sometimes work with in the genetics lab at OHSU…
“Like most things,” Vedanshi says, “our machine language seems to be an analog process at first glance, but ultimately it’s digital. Everything is digital this side of space-time.”
“Which five dimensions are we talking about?” I ask.
“There’s the usual four of galactic space and time,” she says, “and then there’s a fifth that curls outside of ordinary space.”
“That figures. Free will needs some sort of foothold outside causal space.”
Vedanshi nods thoughtfully. “The old woman’s back in her ship, by the way. Trying to find her burner phone.”
“I’ve been seeing ones and zeros all morning when I blink,” I tell Vedanshi.
“Really?” her face brightens. “You could be a pilot in the rough! Try this… close your eyes and slow your breathing.”
I close my eyes but can’t stop breathing fast. It’s the fever. I’m still shaky. Too hot or freezing cold in this robe.
“Let the ones and zeros come into your head and rest on the base of your skull, right on the pterygoid processes of the sphenoid.”
I open my eyes and Maxwell and James are staring at me.
Vedanshi sees them. “We’d better do this later. In private.”
James is blinking and covering his eyes.
“You seeing ones and zeros?” I ask him.
“Not for sure,” he says, closing his eyes again.
“Anyway,” Vedanshi says, “The stretch heads – they were the ones who really understood the quintic manifold. Mother told them to rig a buffer glitch that would scoot me and The Ganga forty years ahead – so there’d be vegetation again, and hopefully other survivors. But the buffers overshot and took us to February 3, 2015.”
“Millennia off course,” I say. And it dawns on me that she was abducted into an essentially alien culture while inside her own UFO. That’s backwards, isn’t it?
I want to ask her about the “stretch heads,” but now’s probably not the time. A picture from old Egypt comes to mind…
I sneak a glance at the back of Vedanshi’s head to see if she’s normal. Strange relief.
The many elongate skulls that the experts brush aside seem to have a higher average volume than today’s average, though significant numbers probably don’t exist. Some of the elongate skulls lack major sutures. I’m wondering if all this was really due to head binding. Bigger question: does binding affect the mind?
“Six to twelve millennia, according to The Ganga,” Vedanshi says and pats the deck. “I was in stationary orbit for 29 hours after the first asteroid hit. It felt like forever. Then the buffers finally wobbled and everything went from chaos to calm quick as a sneeze. The polar ice caps were tiny. All the colors of Earth had faded. But without complaint, The Ganga isolated a signal from your internet and started teaching me American English. Thousands of years – gone in less than a millisecond.”
James moves his lips silently. I recognize the words. A dark Manson song jumps from his head to mine…
“I can tell you what they say in space. That our Earth is too gray.
But when the spirit is so digital, the body acts this way.
That world was killing me…
I can never get out of here.
I don’t want to explode in fear.
A dead astronaut in space.”
“The old woman’s dialing your cop friend,” Vedanshi says.
“Losing your whole family in one fell swoop,” Maxwell says to Vedanshi. “I’d be in a permanent funk. How do you stay positive?”
She presses her lips together and pulls her head back away from her knees. “I had a near death experience when I was thirteen,” she says. “What I saw there changed me. My heart went from superstition to absolute knowledge. I started looking for the good in things. Even terrible things.” She clenches her eyes shut for a moment. “Mother and Daddy were good rulers. They stayed on the ground with the common people. The ones who couldn’t use time dilation or space for an escape.”
I want to ask what she saw, but some near death survivors feel a need to keep the details private. I should be patient.
“So you were their only child,” James says.
“How can you tell?” She’s defensive. “You think I’m spoiled rotten?”
James turns both palms up. “No. I don’t think that.” He shakes his head and looks into her eyes.
“I know,” she says. “It’s just that…”
“Not rotten,” James says. “Not completely rotten, anyways.” He laughs.
She smirks and takes The Ganga down to a black obsidian floor with a purple crack that branches like lightning and runs its full length, about two hundred feet.
The ceiling glows with a bright design that reminds me of an exploding chambered nautilus with her Fibonacci numbers coming out as Chinese fireworks, and her “more stately mansions” becoming the wings of birds.
“Your parents don’t sound like people who’d save only one of their kids,” James says, then softens his tone. “So you must have been their only one.”
She looks over at him. “I am kind of spoiled, though… I plan to get over it.” She puts her hair behind her ears. “I felt victimized by the stretch heads for a while. Their blunder with the buffers. But I’ve done some reading and I’m glad I didn’t spend my life in the proximate shadow of an apocalypse.”
“Heck no,” James says, “that could put a damper on the whole evening.” He starts a grim-reaper portrayal but abandons it. “You know, you throw around some big words, Vedanshi… The Role of the Knowledge.”
“The Sacred Knowledge,” she says.
“I bet you’re way smart like Johanna.” James looks at me and does a coke-bottle glasses, buck-tooth geek impression, then grins so enthusiastically I can’t help laughing.
I had an awkward stage as a child. Took me a while to grow into my front teeth. James and I love to laugh at our old pictures.
Vedanshi pats my right leg. “I wish I were in your league,” she says to me, then looks at Maxwell. “My parents wouldn’t have made it. I would have watched our renown pyramid builders turn into stone stackers.” Her eyes move gently from Maxwell to James and then to me. “I’m lucky to be here with the three of you. Nothing could make me happier.”
I should probably tell her about my leukemia before she gets her heart set on having the three of us around forever.
“The cop’s telling the old woman everything,” Vedanshi says. She steps out of The Ganga onto the cracked floor and stretches her arms. I’d say she’s five-seven in bare feet.
“I’ve been exploring here for four months,” she says. “Doubt I’ve seen half the rooms yet.”
I think she wants us to follow her, but I kind of like the safety of The Ganga. I’m fairly sure we’re under water in a room with a seriously cracked floor.
Vedanshi reaches into her purse and pulls out a credit-card made of what looks like South African Desert Rose granite. She raises an eyebrow at Maxwell’s shirt pocket, and he hands over her mirror with a trace of reluctance. She sets the granite card on her left forearm, blows on it, and the hair on her head stands on end for an instant, twirls and pops with static, then falls and covers her in Royal Egyptian splendor. Something like this ancient statue I’ve seen, but without the jewel on the forehead…
“Whoa!” James says.
“Thank you.” She glances at herself in her tiny mirror. “They left several styles in the river archives.”
Out of the blue she looks at me and says, “The Ganga thinks capitalism is responsible for the enormous quantity of food in America. But I suspect it’s the work ethic.”
“It was Boston switching from tea to coffee,” I tell her with a straight face.
She leans inside the ship and puts a firm grip on James’ left arm. “Let’s roll some grapes down your esophagus.”
“Tight,” he says and starts to get up. “I’m dying.” His upper body passes freely through the place where Maxwell’s head met The Ganga’s ceiling in Honolulu.
Vedanshi holds James’ arm as he steps out.
“Capitalism’s the reason everybody’s so poor,” he says.
“Don’t parrot your high school friends,” I tell him and wish like anything I hadn’t said it.
He fences the air. “Douchette.”
Yeah, I earned that. “Your band friends listen to you,” I tell him. “That’s the way is should be.”
I want you to know, I never acted like a jerk with him while Mom was alive. Not sure what’s wrong with me now.
Vedanshi beckons us with a hand gesture.
“What’s the cop telling the old woman now?” I ask.
Vedanshi puts her left hand to her mouth and says something in an unfamiliar language, puts the palm to her left ear to listen, then says, “They haven’t figured out who the masked girl in Honolulu was.”
“Is the old woman angry with the guy?” I ask.
“She hasn’t made plans to hurt him,” Vedanshi says, “but her mind’s not in a planning mode with all the expletives. I think she’s mad at the masked girl, but doesn’t know it was you.”
Maxwell checks for The Ganga’s ceiling but can’t find it. We stand, step off the edge of the Indian carpet and onto the floor, hopefully clearing the edge of the UFO. The carpet vanishes for an instant then the ship decloaks beside us.
If ever there was a graceful flying saucer, this is it. I reach out and touch her soft, giving surface and wish I could thank her for helping Maxwell and Vedanshi rescue me.
The four of us walk side by side through a large arched opening into a wide granite hallway that curves to the right and eases down into a 20 degree slope. In this area the volcanic glass floor is crosshatched to resemble snakeskin. There’s a purple hue when the light’s right.
“This place was built about a thousand years before the asteroids fell,” Vedanshi says. “Its location in the ocean beside an island must have saved it.” She’s still holding James’ arm. “The Ganga has all the old maps and keeps begging me to take her exploring, but I’ve been too busy here.”
“Asteroids,” James says. “Why didn’t your parents fly out and nuke ’em?”
“Every non-local buffer that could survive in space was out there, along with some who knew they wouldn’t make it. The Ganga, herself, diverted two large metallic asteroids and a dozen smaller ones. But hundreds of them kept showing up and closing in. Faster than typical meteors, my daddy said. From the first sighting to the first impact was barely three days.”
“Must of sucked,” James says.
“Indeed it did,” Vedanshi says, then looks over at me and adds, “totally,” with a glow.
I notice an old hubcap on the wall, then realize it’s the tri-lobed disk from ancient Egypt. I put my head against the wall and look at it from the side. Unlike the one under glass in the Cairo Museum, this one is symmetrical. Everybody has a theory about what this thing was. Finally I’m going to find out!
“What on Earth is this incense burner really for?” I ask Vedanshi.
“Right now it marks the door of the library,” she says and grins.
As far as I can tell, there’s no door here. Just a massive rock wall that should have been imported from ancient Peru if the world made sense. As I stare at the wall looking for evidence of a door, several Sanskrit words appear sparkling a millimeter off the surface of the granite wall. I haven’t studied Sanskrit, but I once read an English version of the great Mahabharata and glanced at the Sanskrit as I went along. I can tell you this for sure, the letters on the wall are identical to what I saw at the end of the Mahabharata. It was translated, loosely I would think, as this…
“Here words end like thought.”
“It’s a museum piece,” Vedanshi says, “from the middle third of my era. They stuck it on a titanium shaft and spun it at specific speeds to create sonic vibrations to match the resonant frequency of a quartz platform beneath it – used for transporting heavy things. The platform and just about anything on it could be tuned to vibrate like a snake’s tail and slide across a smooth surface as if weightless.”
“I love the way you talk,” James says.
She smiles at him, glances back at me then fixes her eyes on him and says, “In the Builder’s religion, a person’s soul was weighed on a scale in judgement for the afterlife. This device became a symbol of pardon, making the soul lighter in the balances. Analogous to the Christian Messiah that The Ganga is so fascinated with… a man who takes permanent scars into the afterlife so free will’s integrity is preserved, despite the absence of emotional scars on the others living there.”
“Dude,” James says to her. “You’re not like, super religious or anything, are you?”
“And what if I am?” she says.
He looks her up and down. “You know, honestly? You’re hot enough to pull it off, but…” He laughs. “Just don’t tell me you’re all into boy bands. That’s where I draw the line.”
She looks puzzled.
I cringe and remind myself he’s barely sixteen. If you think about it, though, he’s at least being open and honest.
You know, Vedanshi’s pretty bright. I’ve only met one other person in my life who could grasp the concept that once you’re in the afterlife looking back, free will didn’t exist if no consequences remain. Logic demands an eternal scar. I tried to make the point once in Sabbath School when I was seven.
Vedanshi puts her left hand over her left ear again, listens, then says, “The Ganga says the old woman’s heading to Nazca. I bet her ship uses iridium. What an antique!” She laughs, then looks at me with mischief in her eyes. “You want to go snoop on her?”
“Holy Vishnu,” Maxwell mumbles.
“We probably should,” I tell her. I need to fix the mess I’ve made for that guy’s autistic son. I pretty much dunked my soul in tar lying the way I did. “Anybody got an Advil?”
Maxwell checks his pockets. James shakes his head. Vedanshi opens her little square purse and pulls out a small jade cylinder.
M. Talmage Moorehead
If you want, please read this story from page one (beginning with Johanna’s unorthodox, no hook, chapter 0). It starts here.
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