I’d taken the afternoon off for a quick trip to the Oort Cloud. The wife wanted me to nudge a comet that was on a 98% for-sure collision course with Earth, destined to torment us in 371 years. No mad rush, of course, but when the Missis say jump, I’ve learned that you’re doing yourself a big favor if you jump. Immediately.
And don’t make any faces about it.
I took the King’s smallest Vemana and kept a leisurely pace humming towards the periphery of the solar system. Made it through several rounds of Jnana yoga before the AI sensors jarred me loose, yammering about how we’d passed all the usual potholes and planets, and reached the Cloud.
After a look around and some measurements to make sure I was targeting the right rock, I opened a scalar gun and sent a feather-like puff into the comet’s starboard flank. The AI’s calculations said our gentle nudge should be enough to keep the mindless predator several million miles from Earth on its way through our neighborhood.
I’ll also remember to take out the trash tonight. Smart men do these things without being reminded, and I’m flat-out brilliant if I say so myself.
On the way back to Earth, I happened to spot one of those little pink orbs, the cute ones you see over Baga Beach in the mornings. The Blonds stay in some phase-shifted netherworld when they travel, so their orbs are all you’re apt to see of them.
Since there are always forty thousand people on the beach humming om to get the Blond’s attention, I’d never spoken to one. Now seemed like the perfect time to give it a go.
Dumb men do these things, it turned out.
I looked out at the pink sphere floating beneath one of the longer teeth hanging from Saturn’s rings and said, “Hi there,” on every frequency, including blinking the cabin lights in binary code.
The orb came closer.
“I’d like to ask you a few things if I could.”
The screen glowed pink with the orb and distant stars behind, but somehow floating in front of me now was a blond-headed woman, visible from the chest up. She looked about 19, but Tall Blonds live quite a while, we’re told, so she could have been twice my age.
“You got a pair,” she said and smiled. “Cruising out here all by yourself in that rickety little thing.”
I looked at my gauges. All flat, which meant she was in my head. We’ve all heard of such things, of course, but you can’t really believe it until it happens to you.
“How are you doing this?” I asked. “I mean, how can I see you when my instruments can’t?”
“You’re going to want to speak up, Indie. Saturn’s churning and I can barely hear you.”
I felt pleased that someone so advanced would recognize my nationality. I smiled politely and raised my voice. “Is this any better, Ma’am?”
“Yes, much.” Her eyes went from the top of my head down to my navel and back up again to rest on my forehead. She didn’t say it, but I could tell she thought I looked old. “What’s on your mind?”
I was feeling bold, so I didn’t speak the words, I slowed my breathing, crossed my legs and silently thought my words to her at high volume. “It’s my understanding that you people have brought several religions into existence on Earth. Can you…”
“Whoa, you’re going to do that?” Her face lit up with delight. “I’ve never heard an Earthling project his thoughts. I’ll concentrate.” She closed her eyes and knitted her brow. “OK, bring it, India.”
“Can you tell me why the Tall Blond people have brought these various religions into my world? They’re contradictory and seem to cause division.”
She opened her eyes. “Oh, my spleen, you’ve been messing with the Oort Cloud.” She shook her head at me. “Tell me what you did out there.”
“I nudged a comet, Ma’am. My wife said it was going to hit…”
“What comet? Give me some coordinates, I need to get there fast.” Her eyes were steaming but she hadn’t raised her voice.
“Why are you upset? I was only protecting the human race, and the other life down there as well.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m actually a brilliant man. I can understand anything you’re capable of telling me.”
“Really? Check this out, then.”
Her image faded behind a scrolling dark gray sheet that glowed with bright green numbers and symbols. The gist involved gravity and electricity, but it was moving too fast for me to keep up.
“OK, you’ve humbled me. I can’t keep pace with your electromagnetism and gravity theory. Would it be possible to give me the broad concepts in my native tongue?”
She grinned smugly as the sheet with the scrolling green symbols faded.
“The Universe is both electric and sentient. We believe she makes the big decisions, such as when it’s time for a species to experience a genetic pinch or when its time to ratchet up their code for intelligence.”
“And no one’s allowed to protect themselves from the Universe, I suppose.”
“Don’t be flippant. You’ll have to find another way. None of us can move heavenly bodies without making matters worse. The balance is complex beyond anything imaginable, let alone calculable. The Mind has her reasons.”
“If I tell you how to find the comet, will you answer my question?”
She put a flat rectangular piece of something pink into her mouth and chewed it several times, staring at me blankly. Then she looked down. “Yeah, Manish. I’ll come clean if you will.”
I felt myself blushing. She’d reached into my head and found my name. No telling what else.
I told my AI to send her the coordinates with the video and the readouts from the scalars.
The Tall Blond girl vanished along with her pink orb.
I’d been played. I felt much more let down than seemed reasonable. I didn’t know her. She shouldn’t mean anything to me, really.
But when someone’s been in your head, it feels as if your souls have touched. And when they leave without saying goodbye, it hurts as though they’ve judged you worthless having seen you clearly.
How would I ever explain any of this to Jai?
I was about to put my tail between my legs and go home when the pink orb showed up on the screen again and the Tall Blond girl reappeared before me.
My heart beat a little too happily.
“I think I saved us both a lot of grief,” she said.
“But not my great grandchildren’s children.”
“Listen, you can be around to help them. This chunk of rock hits your planet in just 371 years. With some mesenchymal stem cells and astragalus, you can be alive and strong when it touches down. Get your people underwater, build a geopolymer dome at the bottom of a trench. The deeper the better. Or use the underground hideouts on the Moon. The deep ones that block solar winds. Hoard all the original DNA you can find, especially plants. Put as many seeds in stasis as you possibly can.”
That’s all easy for her to say. I’ll be lucky to avoid sleeping on the port with my dog, Giggles.
“I don’t suppose you could help me with any of this, could you?” I asked, trying not to whine.
Her eyebrows went up. “Oh my goodness.” She put a hand over her heart. “I was just putting things back the way they were. I never expected to feel responsible for you.” Her eyes went wide in the distance behind my head.
“Will you help me, then?” I whispered silently.
She filled her chest with air, and her eyes snapped into focus. “Yes, of course I’ll help you.”
“That’s wonderful.” I felt a warm affection as if we were old friends. “The most important thing is simple, Ma’am… What’s your name, if I may ask?”
“Why do you ask my name? You couldn’t comprehend it if I told you.”
“For what?” She seemed genuinely perplexed.
“Nothing, I guess. But I do really, really need you to talk to my wife, Jai. She knows how to get teams organized on big projects. She’s influential with the King. But without you, she’ll never believe a word of my story.”
One of the Tall Blond’s eyebrows went up sharply. “We’ll have to check your testosterone.”
I’d almost forgotten my big question. It seemed small now. “So why did your people–”
“Promote conflicting fundamentalist religions on Earth,” she said in an impatient monotone. “It’s because you’re so limited in your ability to see into one another’s minds. You don’t communicate in the usual manner of intelligent beings… Without the possibility of lying. That’s why we brought you conflicting religions. Diversity keeps anything alive. The big point, though, was to promote honesty among you. It’s impossible to make humans honest without dogmatic religions promoting the idea.” She blew a pink bubble, took it from her mouth and popped it with her teeth.
“What’s so great about honesty?”
“Lies destroy trust. Trust is the foundation of every civilization that’s ever survived its technological advances. The stage of early artificial intelligence is a treacherous one.”
“AI’s are dangerous?” A fruit fly had stowed away in the cabin and chose this moment to divebomb my nose. I snatched it from the air and held it tightly in the hollow of my hand.
The Tall Blond flinched. “If AI’s can’t trust you, yes, they’re deadly. And that’s a minor consideration. Lies themselves are more destructive than dishonest AI’s and far worse than that comet you’re so worried about.”
“Not to argue, but I see lies in a less black-and-white light. Some prevarications are downright helpful, in fact, especially when it comes to self-defense and war.”
She crinkled her nose the way you’d react to a bad smell. “Your thinking is so bizarre.” She looked at my hand with the gnat inside. “If you could only experience a culture where everyone hears everyone’s thoughts. There is no distrust. No call for self-defense or war. It’s virtually impossible to hide the truth in my world.”
“So what happens when you ask a guy if you look fat?”
“What?” She glanced down at herself. “I’m not fat.”
“No, but don’t you sometimes feel fat? And want reassurance that you’re not?”
“No. Don’t be ridiculous.”
The look on her face made me afraid that she might fly off and leave again. “Sorry.” I released the fruit fly in a gesture of goodwill. “I’m sorry. You’re actually incredibly beautiful, but don’t tell my wife I said so.”
She tilted her head to the side and stared intently as if I’d said something hard to comprehend. Then she shook her head and smiled weakly. “Lies are the whole problem, Earthling.”
Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD