“The space age hasn’t begun yet. I believe the time will come when very few members of the human race will be able to point to the part of the sky where the Earth is.” – from Documentary on the Secrets of Project Orion.
Zero Kelvin is the coldest temp. Colder than the vacuum of space beyond The Ganga’s hull, five feet above my head. Atoms stop moving at Zero but electrons keep dancing to the perpetual motion of God’s unconditional love. According to Vedanshi. We call it zero-point energy. In her era, no scientist denied the reality of consciousness, free will or spiritual things. They studied love the way Tesla studied electricity – with the guidance of the River of Consciousness.
Zero is cold, but not cold enough to escape love. Hell is rumored to be the hottest place, but God doesn’t torture us, Vedanshi says, so the hottest point waits to be measured empirically in an exploding galaxy or a particle accelerator.
Still, a larger question looms: can there be a warmest temp?
When I was three I thought I’d found it inside Halo’s ears. The warmth of my puppy fascinated me. I documented it in my head, never to be forgotten…
Now I find myself revising science: the warmest place in the Universe is Maxwell’s sideways hug. I could stay here with his arm around me forever. Or until impeded circulation and gangrene caused the appendage to fall off the man.
Not that he’d notice. He has bigger agony to hide. The first microsecond of a suppressed groan. A bead of sweat rolling down his forehead. A lone shiver. Opiate withdrawal must be a cold, cold hell.
I want to tell him to hang tough. I want to stop this torture. I want to say that I’ve never felt more important in my life than when he said he wouldn’t leave Vaar’s ship without me.
But I can’t talk that way in front of James and Vedanshi. Or The Ganga.
I find the Big Dipper and try to follow its rim to Polaris, but an audible click takes the Universe down to flat black. The red stripe at The Ganga’s perimeter appears and encircles us, giving the hull a red-black hue. Strange to see the hull… instead of seeing through it.
“What’s the deal?” I ask The Ganga, speaking only in my mind.
Vedanshi’s hair floats off her shoulders in the red light.
My body levitates off the carpet for a split second, then comes down with force. The red stripe disappears and the hull vanishes, letting the Universe back in.
The Moon’s in front of us now, huge and growing.
“I lost consciousness,” The Ganga says in my head. “I should land and…”
“Do it,” Vedanshi commands in full voice.
In a blink we’re on the Moon’s surface, The Ganga’s invisible hull resting in fine powder without disturbing it. Somewhere in the blackness above, a bowl-shaped aggregate of moon dust floats down towards us in the plasma of space. Beneath the Moon’s surface, the soil in this spot has an orange hue.
“I’m damaged,” The Ganga says. “I’ll need to do some internal work.”
The red stripe comes on again as our cloak fails and the hull reappears.
“Everyone listen,” Vedanshi says. “We don’t know how long we’ll be here. The carpet exhales plenty of oxygen but CO2 might be a problem if this takes too long.” She looks at James. “Yoga started this way – astronauts trying to survive in space.” She looks over at Maxwell’s sweaty face. “You’re still in withdrawal.”
“I’m fine,” he says.
“No he’s not,” I tell her.
“Here,” Vedanshi says and hands him the jade cylinder. “Go to sleep. It’s the right thing now.”
Maxwell lifts his arm off my shoulder and takes the cylinder. He puts it to his forehead and lies back on the carpet.
“Johanna, you and James take the lotus position, close your eyes and slow your breathing. Imagine your heart is wet clay and your arms and legs are led. Open yourselves to slowness and heaviness. We’ll dilate some dermal precapillary sphincters while we’re at it.”
“Sure,” James says, “the old dermal precapillary sphincters.”
I elbow him.
“This is a Royal visual my mother created,” Vedanshi says. “Picture yellow and black striped bees landing one at a time on your fingers until both hands are covered. The tiny ends of their legs touch your skin individually. Some of them walk a few steps before settling in. They won’t sting you unless you’re tense. So relax like Max.”
“And the Macaques,” James says, bringing up a picture from a storybook I recited to him many times when we were kids.
Vedanshi laughs and slaps the top of James’ head. “Notice the warmth of the bee’s bodies and the vibration of their wings. They crowd together and cover your hands like mittens now.” She hums an A below middle C, locks her crossed legs, cups her hands in her lap and sits tall.
I close my eyes, slow my breathing and imagine my arms and legs are led. I’ve never seen my heart, but I picture it with a dominant right coronary artery and myocardium of orange clay, taken from the Moon dust beneath us. The orange clashes with the yellow stripes on the bees, but I don’t care.
Maxwell’s breathing switches into autonomic mode – regular and deep.
My hands start warming. People do this for migraine headaches, you know. Try it next time.
Something like raindrops land on the upper hull. A tiny meteor shower? Maybe the falling moon dust we displaced.
“Was H. Street for real?” James asks Vedanshi.
I open my eyes.
“More than real,” she whispers. “There were colors I didn’t recognize. When I try to remember, I have blind spots in the images. Places where my mind can’t process what I saw.” She taps her right temple.
James sighs. “So who’s the lucky dude? Could be anyone, yeah? Anywhere in the Universe.”
“The Finite Multiverse,” Vedanshi says and giggles.
“What’s funny?” he asks.
“You are.” She leans sideways and touches the left side of her head to the right side of his. “Your sister rescued us, by the way. It wasn’t me.”
“Team effort,” I tell James. “Vedanshi carried you to The Ganga on her back…” And dropped you on your head.
The red circle goes out and the hull vanishes.
“Are you back?” I ask The Ganga silently.
If James and I could talk, I’d say I can’t imagine that Vedanshi has feelings for anyone but him. Romance isn’t my field, but my brother knows I’m not wrong very often. Confused a lot, yeah.
Vedanshi’s near death experience confuses me. It’s not the same as Eben Alexander’s. The neurosurgeon? This man gets e-coli meningoencephalitis, spends a week in a coma and visits a place where God has no physical form and communicates without words. Alexander said that love permeated the place he calls Heaven, and now his soul is changed.
Niels Bohr, the great physicist said this: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”
I guess he was thinking of the paradoxical nature of photons or the “collapse of the wave function” caused by conscious observers. But I wonder if near death experiences are profound truths that we should allow to contradict one another without rejecting them.
Near death people report love, joy, new understanding and purpose. Maybe the conflicting details don’t matter because they’re all true, despite being profoundly opposite by human standards.
I wonder if all roads lead up the same hill, like Ojiichan said – “all religions point north” – including the devout priesthood of scientists who insist that reductionist materialism is beyond question, like a holy tenet of faith that makes the observer, though central to quantum mechanics, an illusion of mindless energy and matter.
Me, I believe in “mind” and God for unbiased scientific reasons: The coded instructions in DNA, the 3D organization of DNA, ordinary epigenetics, and the electromagnetic three-dimensional blueprint in cell membranes that guides embryonic development from beyond DNA’s instructions.
I don’t know how I’d change if I met God face to face in a near death experience.
The neurosurgeon wrote, “…the science to which I’ve devoted so much of my life – doesn’t contradict what I learned up there [in Heaven]. But far, far too many people believe it does, because certain members of the scientific community, who are pledged to the materialist worldview, have insisted again and again that science and spirituality cannot coexist…. They are mistaken.”
As my eyes adjust to the harsh lunar lighting, something metallic glints from a distance. Beyond a boulder-cluttered valley there’s a smooth gray hill covered by hundreds of metal towers all side by side. It reminds me of Alaska’s old HAARP array, a gadget for examining the ionosphere, if you trust the Air Force and DARPA.
As I squint at it, spirals of light come out and twist up into space, forming a corkscrew trail that widens into a pattern of concentric white rings like the Norwegian spiral anomaly of 2009.
“Are you seeing this?” I ask The Ganga.
“That’s a scalar weapon,” she says. “Something’s cloaked. Let’s see if this helps.”
The surface of the moon turns bronze. The spiral of light disappears into a circle and a ghostlike ship emerges in the center.
“What in the world?” I ask.
“One at a time,” The Ganga says.
I glance at Vedanshi. “Sorry, I’ll just listen.”
“No apologizes,” she says.
“In answer to Vedanshi,” The Ganga says, “the ship’s cloak is fairly standard, I think, but the weapon… scalar energies don’t involve the visible spectrum. That blast had components I’ve never seen combined before.”
I’m determined to keep my thoughts to myself, but it’s not easy.
“Johanna, I don’t recognize the vessel,” The Ganga says to me. “Its structural asymmetry seems primitive, but a primitive design couldn’t withstand a scalar blast of that magnitude. The ship didn’t seem the tiniest bit annoyed.”
A wide beam of white light flashes on and shines down from the ship onto the tower array, moving over the entire hill in one pass. Then it goes out and the hill seems invisible now that my eyes have adjusted to brightness. As I strain to see, the ship glides on and over the dark horizon.
“Can you get us back to Easter Island?” I blurt out silently, unable to shut up any longer.
“Really?” The Ganga says. “You’re both going to talk?”
“Sorry, I just…”
“Yes,” Vedanshi says out loud. “We are. Deal with it.” She winks at James.
“Fine,” The Ganga says. “Which of you is the real Captain?”
“Johanna is,” Vedanshi says.
A faint glow appears on the front edge of the carpet with James’ left foot in the middle of it. It grows brighter until it’s a distinct purple circle, eight inches across, and bright enough to make everyone’s skin look blue.
James pulls his foot away, but the glow moves with it. He takes off the slipper and his foot has a bright purple sun tan with strap lines. The slipper’s straps glow in his left hand.
“Standard green fluorescent protein,” The Ganga says.
Really? I use this stuff in the lab, but there’s no way I brought it here.
I play things back in my head: The ship sends the white beam down and moves on. I watch it again in slow motion and see a flash I hadn’t noticed before. It’s a needle-sized laser beam coming our direction from the back of the ship. I slow things further and try to pay attention to my lower peripheral field. It’s vague, but the laser beam is moving in a circle.
“That ship did it,” I tell everyone.
James tries to rub the glow off his foot but no luck.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “SGFP isn’t highly toxic.” Moderately toxic in vitro, but hopefully…
“While I think of it,” I say to the Ganga, “we need to get rid of that beacon on James’ wrists. We don’t want more uninvited guests.”
“What beacon?” she asks, but quickly sees what I’m talking about. “The Stretch Head did this?”
I nod without moving my head. Weird. It’s the first time I’ve done that.
“A G-wave this weak shouldn’t be detectable in ambient gravity,” The Ganga says. “And those scalar orbs… They came after her ship’s era.”
Maxwell’s phone rings. I reach for his coat in a heap behind us and find his phone. It’s Vaar.
“Don’t answer it,” Vedanshi says, a touch too late.
“Hello?” I say, then mouth, “sorry” to Vedanshi.
I shift mental gears. “Don’t worry, the cure isn’t primitive tech. You just need to stop eating wheat. The gluten and gliadin molecules aren’t what they were in your day.”
“In my day. You make me sound so old.”
“I don’t want to know…”
“Forty five,” she says, then adds, “thousand… But wheat – seriously?”
“Frameshift spoiled its DNA with sodium azide mutagenesis. Before that it was altered by thousands of years of crossbreeding. Wheat’s a monster now. The flagship disease is gluten encephalopathy, but that’s the tip of an iceberg. Modern wheat is behind the plague of diabetes and a spectrum of autoimmune diseases.”
“My villi are fine.”
“Not sprue.” My throat’s scratchy. “Gluten and gliadin antibodies are causing neurologic diseases these days. Mostly.”
James and Vedanshi lean close to the phone. I put it on speaker, then take one of James’ wrists and hold it up in front of Vedanshi’s face. She nods, opens her purse and pulls out a pinkish granite thimble.
“The fools!” Vaar says. “Henceforth, I shall keep an eye on the evolution of ignorance down there.”
“Archives in Neurology,” I suggest. “We haven’t advanced much from bloodletting, but anyway, three months from now you’ll be sharp as a kitten’s tooth.”
“Do you truly believe that, dear?”
“It’s not belief… at least not blind faith. It’s evidence-based faith.”
“But mere faith none the less,” she says.
“That’s what science is.”
“Faith is blind,” she says. “Science has her eyes wide open.”
“If only.” The acorn print of the carpet shows blades of fabric with minute veins branching out – more alive than a megavirus. “Imagination and intuition are the driving forces of science,” I say to Vaar. “They also drive the spiritual aspects of religion. If there’s underlying truth in either science or religion, practical application and reproducibility are the judges. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ Even the reverence for objectivity has a fundamentalist sort of assumption behind it – that our senses detect reality at all. We can’t know that, only take it on faith.”
Vaar grunts indignation.
I put the phone close to my mouth and whisper coarsely. “You see, you’re just like me. I hope you’re satisfied.”
“Dear, even when you’re babbling nonsense, I’d give anything to be like you.”
Not the response I’d expected. “Anyway, your problem is wheat dementia. Getting you off wheat is critical. But we’re also going to boost the mitotic rate and survival of your hippocampal neurons with blueberries, 90% dark chocolate, vitamin D3, Omega-3’s, grape seed extract, magnesium threonate, and turmeric tea. And here’s the second most important thing in all this. I don’t care if you think it’s killing you, you absolutely will do thirty minutes of hard aerobics every day.”
“What!?” The phone distorts into a squeal.
“Not moon walks, either,” I tell her. “You’re going to run in Earth’s gravity. If you miss a day, you’ll have to feel guilty for not doing your part to save yourself. Assuming you’re capable of guilt.”
I silently tell The Ganga to take us back to Earth, ASAP.
“Switch your non-protein calories from mostly carbs to mostly fat,” I say to Vaar. “Coconut oil, olive oil, and cold water fish oil. We want your brain using ketones instead of glucose. Monitor your breath and urine. Stay on the edge of ketosis. Every third day you’re going to cycle in a few carbs to load glycogen back into your muscles. But no simple sugars, no grains, no potatoes.”
Vedanshi puts her thimble on the tip of her right index finger and points up. The pinkish granite flows down until it looks like the finger of a surgical glove with delicate creases at the joints when she flexes.
“What in Indra’s name am I supposed to eat?” Vaar asks.
The Ganga blinks us back into space. I peek down at Japan under woolen clouds, then cock my head to see the Moon and no sign of the ship that lasered us.
“Free-range turkey and chicken, lots of eggs, sardines, wild Alaskan salmon, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, pecans, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, plain goat yogurt. On carb days add boiled yams, carrots, quinoa and lots of blueberries. No potatoes, no grains, no pasta, no sucrose, no jams or jelly, no honey, no power bars, no pastries, no ice cream, no cookies, no chips, no fruit juice, and no natural or artificial sweeteners of any kind – ever. Nothing sweeter than blueberries. And don’t even think about soft drinks or booze.”
“Good heavenly days!”
“You got that right.” I’m enjoying this too much. “There’s no way I can tell if you’ve got early Alzheimer’s on top of the wheat encephalopathy, but we have to assume you do. Think of Alzheimer’s as the CNS analogue of Type 2 diabetes. Glucose spikes and insulin are the enemy now. If you cheat, your goons will have to wire your jaws shut.”
“Charming,” she says.
“Lifestyle changes are tough. Dementia sucks your life out. Your choice.”
“Will this madness bring back math and memory?” she asks.
“Guaranteed. Your mood should improve, too. And your judgment, I hope. Right now you’re the front-runner for a Nobel Prize in Stupidity.”
“How you do sugarcoat things.”
“Listen to me, Vaar, you need to think. Physics is the only place where complexity yields to simplicity. Above that – in psychology and everywhere else – complexity is the starting point. Heuristics and rules of thumb can help, but the main principle to keep in mind is the fact that complex problems rarely if ever have simple solutions. War is a complex psychological problem. You think you can change the human genome, delete the sociopaths and walk away with no side effects. That’s genocide. Genetic diversity is Noah’s Arc. What you’re doing will burn it to the rails.”
“I never would have imagined you’d side with the sociopaths,” she says. “Apparently you haven’t been properly raped by them. In the larger view, the spread of narcissism is far worse than human extinction.”
“Everything’s black-and-white to you, Vaar. Like my brother’s genius friends. Test week? Amphetamines. No jobs? Elect Santa. Hurt feelings? Ban nano-aggressions. With no attempt to shovel a glimpse into the ditch of what each one means.”
James chuckles and shakes his head. “Dylan.”
“I’m struggling not to take offense here,” Vaar says.
“Really? You don’t get out much, do you?”
“Well, you’ve seen me. I can’t very well go traipsing around in public.”
“Sure you can. All you need’s a hat. Google ‘hats for big heads.'”
I raise a cautioning finger at him.
“Really big heads,” he says and bursts out laughing. Vedanshi hides her face in her hands.
“So gluten sensitivity causes dementia,” Vaar says.
“And depression, among other things. Get your blood drawn if you doubt me. But think about it: You’ve got a protruding belly and fairly thin extremities. You’ve got dark rings around your eyes, memory problems, bad posture, adolescent judgment at best.”
“From your perspective.”
“And when I caught your wrist through the cage, your nails turned corpse blue in a few seconds.”
James’ face drops to a grim stare, right through me. Man, I wish he could have seen me keeping my temper with Vaar.
“I hope you’re right about this,” she says.
“Of course I’m right,” I tell her. “It wears me out how right I am. All the time. And people never listen.”
“Well, I wouldn’t…”
“Think of food as medicine,” I tell her. “Take your prescription. I’ll call you in 3 months.”
I start to hang up but there’s this outside chance that someone like her might actually read a book. I’m probably dreaming, but maybe. “Read Grain Brain and google the guy’s video.” I get an image of Vaar’s hands on a keyboard with symbols I don’t recognize. It’s an occipital view from the River. Weird. “Think about the complex side effects of what you’re doing. We’ll talk when your mind is stronger.”
Vedanshi rubs James’ wrists with that melted thimble. Then she goes after his glowing left foot, but it’s not doing anything I can see.
“I don’t believe there’s more to say on the subject,” Vaar tells me. “If you’re right, the sociopaths will destroy us one way or the other. Living in prison isn’t anything I’d consider living.”
“The quarantine, dear. Third stone from the sun?”
“You don’t know?” She laughs.
The shovel of a bulldozer zips through The Ganga, moving through all of us at high velocity.
“You see that?” James asks Vedanshi.
She nods, eyebrows up a bit.
Impossible space junk. I didn’t feel a thing, but I can’t imagine being out here in something NASA built. Some lifeless contraption with no phase shifting.
“Interesting,” Vaar says. “You’re always right, but you know nothing of the power structure.”
I look at Vedanshi. She shakes her head slowly.
“What power structure?” I ask.
“You’ve noticed we’re not alone?”
“ET’s, ghosts, or what?” I ask.
“Goodness, am I really to follow a diet prescription from someone as innocent as you?”
“Unless you’re as big a fool as you seem, yes, you will. But who’s quarantining us?”
“You’ve heard of dark matter?”
“Well, then,” she says. “Five beings have arrived from that realm, it would seem. They consist of minds without physical attributes. The concept of demons is inaccurate, but perhaps not by much. The mythical demon is pure evil, whereas The Five… I haven’t written them all off as yet. One in particular has a redeeming quality. I’ve been told he rules the cosmic thread harboring our supercluster of galaxies. His name is Shiva, most recently Shiva Nataraj.”
“Destroyer and transformer,” Vaar says. “It’s a relief to hear you sounding intelligent again.”
“If Shiva has no physical form, how can he quarantine us?” I ask.
“Possession was the model displacing symbiosis. That theory lost traction among reductionists, so out it went. But we all have a fencing match within us, don’t we? Two individuals striving, one for immediate rewards, the other for the long-term view. Why think of it as possession? Shiva’s interaction is an extension of a natural state.”
“Too weird,” James says.
“But I think she’s right,” Vedanshi whispers to him.
“Ninety thousand years ago,” Vaar says, “a rather hulking particle accelerator caught Shiva’s eye. We’d built a doomsday machine, unwittingly. He saw the problem and fixed it from the comfort of a sentient fleet. Quite a sight it was! Needles of zero-point lightning etched the largest canyon in the solar system, Valles Marineris. The asteroid belt was formed from the debris.”
That spectacle was mere calibration. Next he aimed his thunderbolts at the linear accelerator itself and vaporized it, raising Olympus Mons from the planes and rendering the planet a wasteland.”
Finally, he left his signature: Orien’s Belt from the distant side…”
“with Valles Marineris as the sword… on the right, naturally.”
“It sounds evil, I know,” Vaar says. “And not particularly artistic, but he prevented us from creating an artificial black hole that would have digested this leg of the galaxy. Such behavior suggests he has an attachment to the Milky Way. Think of it. Our galaxy, less than a speck of dust to him, yet he comes here to rescue us from ourselves. Not as gently as one might have hoped, but it gives the impression that he knows someone here and cares about them. The mythical demon cares only for himself.”
“This guy’s a badass,” James says.
My head is spinning.
Tesla’s words come whizzing past…
“The day science begins to study nonphysical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”
“Why did Shiva quarantine us?” I ask.
“He knows us,” Vaar says. “He understands how narcissism begets cruelty in our DNA. And he happens to command the most formidable fleet of sentient space vehicles anyone can imagine.”
“So what happens if someone breaks the quarantine?” I ask.
“One of his ships will tag you. You’ll have six hours to turn yourself in.”
I look at James’ glowing foot. “Is the tag a purple circle?”
“You pretend to be ignorant when you’re not.”
“Oh my,” she says. “You’ve been tagged, haven’t you? You must hurry. Go to the rendezvous point at the hexagonal pole of Saturn.”
Vedanshi’s cylinder falls out of Maxwell’s limp hand, rolls my direction and bumps against my left thigh. He’s fast asleep.
“What if I run?”
“You mustn’t. They track things nonlocally. There’s literally no place to hide.”
I wonder if The Ganga can make it to Saturn.
“Did you ever get tagged?” I ask Vaar.
“Why not? Your ship’s in plain sight.”
“It’s a courtesy, I suppose. I was a person of consequence once.”
M. Talmage Moorehead
Page one of this story starts here.
I just added a chapter on plotting to my free e-book, “Writing Meaningful Page-Turners.” The book is for beginners, but it has a perspective that might interest writers with more experience and talent than I have. It’s brief (~19,000 words). If you’re curious about heresy, download it here.
Please bookmark my blog, tell someone beautiful and intelligent about it and come back to see how Johanna’s doing. I’ll try to finish this story before the aliens land.