“In a materialist worldview of an arbitrary, mechanistic, unfeeling Universe there is every reason to feel alienated, lonely, fearful and depressed. On the other hand, in a blissfully conscious Universe there is every reason to feel inherently connected to people and to the world, to feel loved, hopeful, happy, at peace with oneself and others.” – Dada Gunamuktananda
Anahata’s black floor vibrates beneath Shiva’s Throne as the giant convex screen in front of me flashes from one white-out to the next. I wish I understood what sort of weapons they’re firing at us.
“We could prolong the dance,” Anahata says, “but why?”
“To buy time,” I tell her. “How long do we have?”
“Five minutes at this pace.”
To the left of Shiva’s Throne the air turns gray. Pink sparks crackle. The Ganga appears on the floor looking like a hologram for a second, then she’s solid. Dark purple.
“Get out fast,” Vedanshi says in the River.
“No, stay in there!” I shout silently. “Leave now, while you can.”
The Ganga’s hull shifts dimensions, making Vedanshi and James visible on either side of Maxwell. They’re tugging on his arms to get him up off the carpet.
He’s up now on bent knees, wobbling from the edge of the rug onto Anahata’s glossy floor. All three of them turn and look at me with wide eyes. The Ganga’s hull changes to an opaque pulsating glow of ultraviolets.
“We were going for a fast grab to get you out of here,” James says. “Then something hit us. Totally screwed The Ganga.” He glances at Vedanshi.
“We barely made it,” she say.
“You shouldn’t have come,” I tell them. “I don’t know where to start…”
“We know what’s going on,” Maxwell says, his voice all gravel. “We heard everything through the ring.”
I glance at my fingers and rub the ring with my thumb to make sure it’s still there.
“You look green,” I say to Maxwell. “Come here and sit down. This chair’s just your size.”
I pull the straps away from my chest, something clicks and they come loose. There’s no friction as the white seatbelts slither over my clothes and vanish into the upholstery. I get out of Shiva’s Throne and go over to take Maxwell’s left arm from Vedanshi. James ducks his head under Maxwell’s right arm and we help the big guy over into the chair. His butt hits the holographic ostrich feathers and the sound of air brakes bounces around the semicircular room.
I lean towards Maxwell on my toes and kiss the side of his head. I’m getting bold.
“Gunner,” James says to me.
He should know. I turn and hug him so tight I hope I don’t break his ribs. He’d never tell me.
“Anahata,” I say out loud. “I’d like you to meet my amazing brother, James.”
James glances around the room. “Hey,” he says. “You’re one big-ass spaceship.”
Anahata moans. “I tagged you in that Vimana.”
“For reals,” James says. “Left foot.”
Don’t admit it!
James takes his left foot out of its rubber slipper and shows off an area of missing epidermis.
“This just keeps getting worse,” Anahata mumbles, her voice coming through the air. It’s odd hearing her words through my ears. “James, I’m honored to meet you,” she says. “You have an amazing sister.”
“Yeah, kind of short, but otherwise OK, I guess.” He holds a deadpan face. Classic. “This other knockout is Vedanshi, The Role of the Sacred Knowledge.” He gestures in her direction with an open palm.
She’s standing near The Ganga, staring up at the strobing screen. “Nice to meet you, Anahata, the Unbeaten.” Her lips didn’t move.
“You’re with Earth’s older breakaway,” Anahata says.
The floor shakes with new force. I wonder if the Sentient Fleet has switched weapons on us.
“I’m afraid you know more about Earth’s rulers than I do,” Vedanshi says. “My only friends are here in this room.”
“You’re the pilot,” Anahata says.
“Yes,” she answers. “And this is The Ganga.” She turns a sorrowful face on her UFO friend, glowing the color of a failing baby on life support.
“This is the ship I was talking about,” I say to Anahata. “You don’t know her, but she’s one of you. At least in spirit. She’s always trying to do the right thing but making the occasional mega-stupid mistake.”
“I don’t make stupid mistakes,” Anahata says.
“Yeah you do. Mirror images. She wouldn’t let Vedanshi into the River Libraries on her dead mother’s orders. Same lame thing Shiva did to you, and you’re still following his orders.”
Anahata sighs. “This man in Shiva’s Throne is heavy with opiates.”
“Maxwell Mason,” I tell her, “the man of my dreams.” Shoot, I said that out loud. “The opiates are just a phase he’s going through,” I tell her in my head, trying to think of a future where Maxwell proves me right.
“Opiates destroy character,” Anahata says.
“And free will,” I say silently. “He’s not perfect, but he doesn’t plan to drown me.” He actually saved me twice.
“I wish I were dead,” Anahata blurts out.
It’s weird. I can feel her ‘eyes’ turning away from me and staring out at the artillery. I don’t even know if she has eyes, or anything remotely similar.
“Max is in withdrawal,” I say to her.
“Can you help him?”
She grunts. “Here… I’ll take off a methyl or two and kick the noxious substrates down. It won’t help his willpower, though.”
“Slow breathing might.”
Maxwell straightens up, takes a deep breath and stretches. He looks surprised. “Damn,” he says. “I’m taking this chair home.” He holds his right hand out and stares at it. “Not even shaking. My legs aren’t burning, either.” He stomps his heels.
“Compliments of Anahata,” I tell him.
“Really? Thanks a metric ton, Anahata.” He looks up at the screen, then down at me with a crooked grin. “You said I’m the man of your dreams.” It’s a full grin now.
“Sorry,” I tell him. “Probably not a normal thing to say.”
“Normal? You think I give a rat’s ass…”
“Anyway,” I interrupt, “Anahata’s about ready to drown me. Unless the Fleet kills her first – in which case we all die. Right, Anahata?”
She says nothing.
“I figured as much,” Maxwell says.
“But you brought my brother here anyway? How could you do that?”
“It wasn’t his decision,” James says. “We barely let him come with us, the shape he’s been in.”
I turn and hug James again. I’ve spent my life trying to protect him. From himself, mostly. I feel like such a failure now. “Why in the world did you have to come here?” I ask, holding back tears.
“I’m sixteen,” he says. “Not eight. You think you wouldn’t have come after me?”
I start to say, “That’s different,” but it’s not.
All I can do is hug him… My little ‘Hurricane James,’ sword fighting a tree in the backyard. Always a stick in his hand. I just want to go back to those days… when Mom and Daddy were alive.
“Can you help my ship?” Vedanshi asks Anahata.
“Sure,” Anahata says. “Looks like she took one in the chops. There’s neural damage but it’s mostly synaptic. Here you go, back to the mids for now.”
The Ganga stops glowing. She’s a lighter violet now, too.
“You’re done?” Vedanshi asks.
“Yeah, she’ll be fine.”
“Areey!” Vedanshi’s eyes are shining. “Thank you so much. Will she wake up soon?”
“Probably. But I can’t have you running off. Sorry. I’ll have to ground her for a while. I have my…”
“Orders,” Vedanshi says. She sits on the hard floor and crosses her legs. “Following orders is a type of religious fundamentalism. Surrendering your mind to a uniform instead of a sacred book. Tell me, if God doesn’t think for you, why should Shiva?”
“You’re welcome,” Anahata says softly. “Your little Ganga’s going to need some sun.”
“After you’ve drowned us, what will you do to her?”
“I don’t know… Look, I’m really sorry about all this.”
“Will you sell her?”
“No, of course not, she’s sentient. Nothing to test either, she doesn’t breathe air.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Vedanshi says and leans sideways, resting her head on The Ganga’s hull.
“Maybe she’ll join the ancients in Antarctica,” Anahata suggests. “No sentient ships down there, though. It could get lonely.”
“She gets very lonely,” Vedanshi says.
“If she’ll forgive me for following orders, she can join my fleet. Or replace it, I guess. After all this shooting’s done.”
The floor seems to ripple, then a ten by ten slab from the ceiling crashes to the floor behind Vedanshi. She doesn’t jump, just turns and looks.
“Sorry,” Anahata says. “I need to focus.” A hundred irregular pieces of stone float back up to the ceiling and become part of the polished marble surface up there.
“Are you really going to kill your sisters?” I ask.
“It’s that or die in shameful disobedience.”
“I sort of get that,” I say, but really, I’d die in disgrace a hundred times before killing James. “Tell me, is there a spacesuit around here?”
“I’m going out for a smoke.”
“Those sisters of yours. Shooting the hell out of us? I’ll bet my life they hold their fire when I’m out on your hull.”
“I’d stop shooting,” she says. “Hmm. I could let you out. Extend the shield around you, but what then?”
“I’ll tell them the truth. It tends to be antifragile, you know. Like an out-of-the-money long option?”
“Enhanced by risk, danger and volatility.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb gets things right. Academics hate him for it. I love him. He says that if you see fraud and don’t shout, “fraud,” you become part of the fraud. Elites don’t tend to shout fraud when it’s part of their own system.
He tells us that biological systems benefit from unstable, unpredictable environments that cause many small failures which, in turn, strengthen a species to avoid the real failure, extinction. He’s right. God designed us that way. Biological life is antifragile. Not just “robust,” as in weathering storms with little damage, but antifragile: becoming stronger because of the storm.
This is also true of the human mind and its access to free will. Stress your soul with use and it grows like a muscle.
Truth, too, Taleb tells us, is antifragile. Try to suppress accurate knowledge and it becomes a force too great to hide. Steven Greer is counting on this.
“You mean truth is biological?” Anahata asks.
“Yeah, basically,” I answer. “I’ll only tell what we both know… That I’ll do anything to keep my brother alive.”
“I believe that,” she says.
“I’ll tell them that if they’ll stop shooting, I’ll shut you down from the inside. Hopefully I won’t kill you, but I have trouble with my temper sometimes. That’s the truth.”
“I know,” she says. “I mean, I know you’d shut me down or worse if you could. Part of me wants that, to be honest. This whole nightmare keeps getting worse.”
“Doesn’t it? Sheesh.”
“You realize now I have to test your little brother.” Anahata groans. “And his pilot friend, Vedanshi – I assume she was there, too.”
“I was,” Vedanshi says.
“Damn, I’m sorry,” Anahata says to her. “This man, Maxwell. Please tell me he wasn’t with you.”
If we weren’t talking in the River, Maxwell would call dibs on drowning first.
“Do what you’ve got to do,” I tell Anahata. “Maybe I’ll get your sisters to stop shooting so you can drown me in peace.”
“The more time fundamentalists have to think, the better,” Vedanshi says.
“If my death saves your fleet,” I tell her, “it beats dying for the amusement of Chairman Jock Itch.”
“You sound like a warrior,” Anahata says.
“No. Vedanshi’s got a point. Warriors are forced to be fundamentalists. All of you stop thinking when the orders stop making sense. I tried that sort of thing once but I couldn’t turn off my critical thinking for Church school.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I tell her, “I love your character. But fundamentalism is a bike I can’t ride. Can’t reach the peddles, no offence.”
“Offense?” she says. “That’s the furthest thing from my heart. If I could, Johanna, I would die instead of you.”
“That’s sweet, but it’s a big if, isn’t it?” I glance over at Vedanshi in Warrior-One yoga position. Eyes shut. I wish I had her calm. “Let’s do this. Where do you hide the extra-smalls?”
“You don’t need a suit,” Anahata says. “Walk through the screen. I’ll extend the shield and hug your back.”
A white cord shoots out of Shiva’s Throne, encircles my waist, goes diagonally across my chest and ties itself in a square knot. Then the ends fuse together.
“Just in case,” Anahata says.
In case of what, I don’t want to know. I pull Parvati’s locket up over my head, untangle it from my hair and put it in my pocket. Then I walk to the screen. My right hand passes through it up to the wrist.
Looks like Jame followed me. “What’s happening?” he asks.
“I’m doing a pizza run.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No, stay close to The Ganga. If she wakes up, grab Vedanshi and Max and haul ass out of here.”
“I’m not leaving without…”
His voice is gone the moment my ears move into Anahata’s hull. It’s like putting your head in water. There’s a blue granular light that comes and goes when my eyes pass a certain area. I bet this is Anahata’s cortex. If it runs through the entire hull, she has a truckload of pyramidal cells. And Oligo’s. Trillions.
The hull is thick. I put both hands out beyond the outer layer and poke my head out into space. I can’t imagine this technology.
The fleet is lined up in a single row, hanging over a velvet sea of stars in the three-dimensional blackness. Space has a calmness.
An orb from the fleet hits Anahata’s shield turning it into a bright orange-red fog a hundred feet thick. It vanishes the next instant. I’m waving my hands, but the fleet’s still shooting… blue-gray spheres. They glow deep blue just before they hit.
I should talk to the Fleet.
“Hey ladies, don’t kill me. I’m outside. We got to talk.”
“The time for talking is past,” the Chairman says. His voice is coming from Vedanshi’s cloaked ring. I move it close to my mouth.
“I don’t mean you, Scrotumer. Why anybody would listen to a man with that moustache is beyond me. Just try to shut up for a while… Hey, warriors? Can you hear me? There’s something you need to know.”
The orbs from the center ships stop in mid-flight. The ones from the ships on the ends keep coming, but they’re slowing. Now they’ve all stopped.
“Thanks,” I tell them. “Listen, things have changed in the last five minutes. My brother and best friends just crashed the party. They’re in Anahata’s main room. She plans to drown them, God forgive her. You guys understand what it means to be sisters, I can tell that. It’s the exact same deal if you’ve got a little brother. That’s what I’ve got. His name is James. He’s been tagged by Anahata.”
“He’s not our concern,” the Chairman says.
“Chairman Ballsac, would you just shut up. If I want your opinion, I’ll ask.”
“Continue firing,” he says calmly.
“Ladies, ignore the coward. James is your big picture here. I’ll do anything to protect him. Anahata knows it and respects me for it. She wasn’t the slightest bit pissed when I told her I’m coming out here to tell you that if you’ll stop shooting for a while, I’ll go back inside and do everything in my power to disarm her. I’ll try not to kill her, but honestly, that option is wide open right now and I told her so.”
“You did?” It’s a female voice coming through the ring. She sounds surprised.
“Yeah. My brother’s here, for frick’s sake. You get that, I’ll bet. Anahata sure as hell does.”
“This is Radhika,” the voice says. “We understand perfectly. You have twenty-four hours, but we have one condition…”
“Thirty minutes,” the Chairman bellows.
“Ignore him,” I tell the Sentient Fleet. “What’s your condition?”
“Anahata must erase your leukemia,” she says. “Immediately.”
“I rubbed the clone out hours ago,” Anahata says. “What do you take me for?”
“It’s nice to hear your voice, Anahata,” Radhika says.
“And yours,” Anahata says. “Johanna can’t disarm me, you realize. I almost wish she could.”
“She’s got 30 minutes,” the Chairman adds.
“Why do you listen to this toad?” Anahata asks.
“We heard the ancient minutes,” Radhika replies.
“Not enough of them, apparently,” I tell her. “Anahata has actually been inside a River Library. With me. She knows Shiva’s biggest secret now.”
“Twenty-nine minutes,” the Chairman says.
“Radhika, how much time do I really have?” I ask.
Silence eats a dozen seconds. “One hour,” she finally says. “I can’t think of anything you could do to defend yourself against Anahata, but then, I can’t imagine what your DNA does. That seven and eighteen.”
“Yeah, some weird stuff, I hear. But I’m strong with codes. It’s what I do. If I survive, I’ll help you girls figure it out.”
“Godspeed, Johanna,” she says.
“Back at you, Radhika.”
I pull myself into the hull with the white strap and there’s the weird light again, probably the rods and cones of my retinas moving through Anahata’s neurons, messing with who knows what? Maybe the dimensions of free will.
There’s Anahata’s floor again with my brother standing between Maxwell and Vedanshi. The Ganga’s looking dark gray now, an improvement, I think.
You know, I probably should have given some thought to disarming Anahata before this, but maybe I could…
A cylinder of fluid streaks down from the ceiling and surrounds James as fast as I can focus my eyes. It stands like a glass of water, but without the glass. James is pushing out and up on the sides to keep from floating to the ceiling. He looks calm.
So this is Shiva’s test.
But why would James have to go first? It’s so gut-wrenchingly unfair the way the world treats him. Again and again. If someone would normally get a warning, he gets two weeks in jail with a gang and no phone calls. It’s cruel and it’s just evil!
Nah, forget it.
“Anahata, I’m going to boil you in battery acid. Leave my brother alone!”
M. Talmage Moorehead
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It’s that “everything’s vanilla in the real world” mindset that locks people out of life-altering nonfiction and our natural thirst for knowledge. Most doctors, for instance, don’t read their own specialty journals cover to cover, let alone basic science research where the insights and breakthroughs usually begin.
Basic science on lab mice is where Dr. Wahls turned when the monster was killing her. When the best US doctors in captivity couldn’t slow its progression, she took matters into her own hands. If there wasn’t science throughout her story, people would call it a miracle. I’ll call it that anyway, I guess. Wait till you hear her tell it on YouTube! Wow.
I’m liking the concept of having “empathy for the reader” as Shawn Coyne puts it. It’s ironic that fiction writers who refuse to “sell out” by writing for non-academic readers are sometimes ripping readers off. Twice. Once for the price of the (often) boring book, and once again for the value of the reader’s time spent reading to the disappointing ending. That’s kind of “selling out” to selfishness, in a way. No?
Keep writing steadily. This means you, the one with something important to say. There’s gotta be a balance out there somewhere between our soul’s needs as writers and our reader’s needs as good deserving people. Empathy for both seems right to me.