“The scientists who have developed the case for intelligent design have begun to overcome the prejudice against their ideas and have published their work in peer-reviewed scientific journals, books, conference volumes and anthologies.” — Stephen Meyer, PhD, Signature in the Cell
I’m Johanna Fujiwara, Ph.D.
Years ago, I inspired Talmage to write fiction. He tries to think of me as a character he created. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I look a little like the artist, Promise Tamang Phan, the way she’s painted herself in this video. Actually I’m not as pretty as she, but try telling that to Talmage. My legs are short for my height and my calves are too thick. I call them “daikon ashi” which means “white-radish legs.” Short legs run in my family on my Dad’s side, but they skipped my little brother. Well, he’s big now. Sixteen.
Unless you’re a theoretical physicist, I don’t expect you to believe this, and if you are, you might disagree all the more, but beyond the Universe lie similar Universes, potentially an infinite number, though the heavens aren’t crowded.
As a result, virtually everything that could happen does happen somewhere.
That includes me and every detail of my life.
True, I can’t prove that in a laboratory, but I’m hardly ever wrong. It’s a matter of record.
What’s unusual, I guess, is the fact that I’ve figured out enough to sense what my “coincidental” writer is thinking and feeling. I know when he’s trying to pretend I’m not real. And when he’s honest with himself, he knows I know.
I choose to think of myself as antifragile, a girl with plenty to gain and little to lose. Believe it or not, this quality is the basic human condition. You have it. Antifragility is the difference between biological and supra-biological minds, assuming they exist. There’s decent evidence. I think our ability to gain from many small failures is the reason they’ve come here, assuming they have.
In veiled crafts.
The nature of identity is elusive. Talmage thinks the girl he’s been writing about all these years has always been me because his feelings never change for her.
Could be. But I know this – the seeds of love and meaning are free will and identity. I’m barely nineteen, but I can tell this applies beyond spacetime and the “God of Spinoza.”
Past the sub-infinite hosts of Universes, there’s reality outside of space and time. In third grade I was sent to the principal’s office for talking about it. They said we don’t talk religion in public school.
I couldn’t understand what was religious about it…
Light travels outside of time, but inside of space.
Einstein’s time dilation gives us a number divided by zero when anything moves at the speed of light. If you avoid the myopic logic of mathematicians who apply our internal speed limit to regions beyond…
Dividing by zero yields infinity. Inertial frameworks become irrelevant.
Which means a “wristwatch” on the ground goes infinitely fast compared to a “wristwatch” on a photon.
“Infinitely fast” means that the entire history of the Universe goes by in an instant when you move at the speed of light. Even if you’re a photon of light yourself, or some other fundamental wave-particle.
Hence the irrelevance of time to the diffraction pattern of light crossing slits, one photon at a time. (Here’s a video of that.)
Physicists in your universe think photons and their class have a separate reality. That’s adorable, but wave-particles don’t contain mind, they’re composed of mind. Literally. From a photon’s perspective, all history happens in a moment – in one Planck time.
So when photons, from our perspective, go through slits in single file, things are different to them. They see themselves as all passing through together, bumping shoulders and interfering with each other to give a diffraction pattern that would be supernatural if time were uniform and it were impossible to go outside of it.
My physics teacher told me to shut up when I mentioned this in class. He mumbled it through his teeth, but everyone heard. A red-headed guy behind me said, “Yeah, please!”
School’s no place for critical thinking. They hate it. They love their own dogmas.
From the center of a black hole and the mind of a photon, all history is an infinite holographic snapshot where time means nothing to the diffraction pattern of slit experiments. From there, our unpredictable decisions are known. But it’s not “foreknowledge” because the “fore” of foreknowledge is relative to the observer. One person’s foreknowledge is another’s “after” knowledge, depending on which side of the spacetime horizon you occupy.
That means free will is not an illusion! Please believe me. This point is crucial for your happiness.
Light is “outside of time” or independent of it. But we see light so it’s not “outside of space.”
Dark matter is protomatter that sits virtually outside of space. Its only detectable property from our side is gravity, yet it shapes and positions the galaxies, so it’s “inside of time.” (Here’s a video on that.)
When I was an undergrad, a journal rejected a paper I wrote on dark matter. The editor didn’t mention my paper in his rejection. I was simply not a Ph.D., therefore my paper, my brain, my soul, my existence were unfit for his journal: “Welcome to the cult, Johanna.”
Albert Einstein’s first four papers of 1905 would be similarly unfit for today’s journals. Forget the “miracle year” for space, time, matter and energy. Einstein wouldn’t have had the credentials for these elite morons we’re dealing with today.
The human mind lies partly inside and partly outside of space and time. Miss this, and materialistic determinism will swallow you whole, leaving you convinced that you have no freedom. No choices in anything. You’re a machine with a future set in stone, sweetened by a sprinkle of chance and the “illusion of consciousness” with its “false sense” of free will.
Not a happy place, but it’s the ditch into which our educated subculture has fallen. Call it science, but it’s not. It’s an emotion-based philosophy that, combined with the effects of modern wheat, brings us an ugly stat: 30% of college students are depressed.
The neurons that brought puritanical fundamentalism to the United States have now embraced materialistic determinism and made it the new religion of meaninglessness.
It’s a strange religion that excludes the mind. The fundamental assumption is that matter and energy exist on their own, but nothing else does. All minds are derived from the material world which is mindless, therefore our minds have no reality. The evidence from quantum mechanics has to be ignored to maintain their assumption, but that’s no problem for these zealots. A mindless universe is assumed with the confidence of a Baptist preacher.
I argued this with a brilliant atheist over coffee at Starbucks. It probably wasn’t a date, but he asked to meet me there, so maybe it was – my first date, in fact. When we landed on neo-Darwinism and he saw that I could argue intelligently against it from genetics he hadn’t read, he remembered he’d forgotten something and had to leave.
“We should do this again,” he said.
We never did. He was handsome, if that matters.
The mechanics of the mind lie within space and time (in and around the brain) but free will exists outside of space. By residing outside of space, free will inserts itself as an untouched cause into the web of destiny that fills the material, pool-table Universe.
By residing inside of time, free will remains relevant to history as it unfolds at various changing rates within spacetime.
I haven’t seen where identity lies. Talmage hopes it’s like free will: outside of space but inside of time. That way I’ll always be the same girl, Johanna, no matter what changes.
I think he’s right. I think someday we’ll meet for coffee, because, despite separation, my Universe is remarkably similar to yours. I don’t know why.
I was born in Castle Medical Center on Oahu, Hawaii – one of the few things I can’t remember.
Eleven great years later I killed my brother’s therapy animal, Moody. I wish I could forget the whole thing. I have recurring fight dreams about it. Nightmares, really.
Moody was a chimpanzee. Mom and Daddy were out. I was the sitter. What could possibly go wrong?
James was in his bedroom playing with Moody, pretending to snatch off Moody’s nose and then show it to him. Moody always played along and seemed to tolerated it well, but this time I think James punched the little guy’s face during the nose theft.
I didn’t see that part, but I heard a noise and got up to see what was going on.
Moody’s face was unlike anything I’d seen in real life. It was twisted in rage and looked like a monster. He attacked James, threw him against the wall, denting the plaster. He grabbed James again, threw him to the floor like a rag, jumped on his chest and bit his nose. Pulses of my brother’s blood squirted into the air. Moody spun around and glared at me, then grabbed James’ genitals and tried to pull them off. James screamed like he was dying, and something cold landed inside me. I felt it in my chest as I charged at Moody, shot my right arm around his neck as fast as a cobra, then locked a triangle with my left arm. I pushed my face against the back of his head to protect my eyes from his fingers, held my breath and squeezed with all my strength.
I don’t know how I knew that move. I never watched MMA. I’d never heard of a rear naked choke. I don’t see how it could have been me, honestly.
I was so angry my brain changed perspectives. It sounds crazy, I know, but I swear I was looking down at the three of us from above our heads.
I didn’t loosen my grip for the longest time.
James started yelling at me to stop, but I wouldn’t. Moody went limp, but I kept the choke on him with every bit of force I had. I felt as if I hated Moody and everything about him. But I loved him. We all did.
Finally my muscles couldn’t squeeze for another second. I relaxed my arms but still wouldn’t let go. I was afraid he would spring up and kill us. As I finally started releasing him, he slumped forward and I dropped him face first on the floor. He lay there like one of James’ stuffed animals.
There’s a saying that if you murder someone, you’ll always feel like an outsider looking in on humanity.
It’s true. Even if you murder someone who’s not considered human. Even if it starts out with you trying to save your little brother’s life.
In the emergency room, my scalp needed stitches. Most of my hair was gone. Pulled out, roots and all. I looked like a boy for the longest time. Girls around the island shaved their heads to honor me, Mom said.
One of the ER doctors told my mom that Moody must have been sick. A heart condition, probably, because there was no way a little girl could strangle a healthy adolescent chimpanzee. The doctor said an ape’s muscles are way stronger gram-for-gram than a human’s. The genetic code is identical, but parts of our code are now inverted, as if deliberately taken off-line. Nature does strange things, he said, no curiosity in his voice. None at all. I just don’t get that. I hope I never do.
But really, Moody was healthy. He was stronger by far than anyone else I’ve dealt with.
The truth is, I had an unfair advantage. I’m a descendant of Miyamoto Musashi, the Samurai. The legend.
No one knew. I didn’t. Growing up in Hawaii, I was a “hapa girl.” Hapa means “half” in Hawaiian.
I’m half Japanese, and I thought I was half white – until I got to the University of Hawaii.
At UH I discovered how badly some people are offended if you’re half Jewish and you think that makes you half white.
It happened in front of the biochemistry class. We had to pronounce our names for the professor. I was in the second row. When my turn came, I stood with my back to most of the class.
“I’m Johanna Fujiwara,” I said, and stood tall, proud to be the class prodigy.
He peered at me over the tops of his reading glasses. “You must be hapa,” he said warmly. “Your name’s Japanese, what’s the other half?”
“White,” I said.
He chuckled. “Can you be less specific? Scottish, Irish, Dutch… what?”
“My mother’s Jewish,” I said.
The warmth left him. “Jews aren’t white,” he growled, but caught himself and forced a smile. “You’d almost think some of them were. Makes you wonder. Well, young lady, clearly you’ve got a lot to learn. Have a seat.” The guys behind me laughed.
I felt flushed and humiliated. How was it possible that I didn’t even know my own racial composition? I stuck my tongue out at the professor, just the tiniest bit, but it was enough to notice.
“She stuck her tongue out!” a guy in the first row said, and howled. The whole class laughed at me, professor and all.
I buried my head in my arms wishing I could disappear or hit replay, go back and lie about being half Jewish. In fact, I did hit replay a hundred times that day in my head, but nothing ever changes when you do that.
Three weeks later I ruined the curve on the first test. I always do that in the tougher classes, but this time I felt good about it. Glad to redeem myself and show them how much I really knew.
The professor had the usual tough choice. He could give one A with the next highest grade a C -, flunking the rest of the class, he could make the next test ten times easier, or he could throw my scores out and redo the curve.
On the first test he gave me the only A, and told the class to buckle down. I guess he was proud of his tough reputation. Proud to routinely flunk a bunch of depressed students, thinking that cruelty somehow helped him make his way in the Universe.
After the second test he changed his tune. He said that I was an “outlier.” He isolated my score.
Then he said there was no reason to think of “this ten-year old kid” as a cut-throat.
He damn well knew my name, Johanna Fujiwara. But he wouldn’t say it.
He did say that he didn’t want to hear the term, “cut-throat” applied to “this poor little girl.”
The class cheered. Their grades would be recalculated and catapulted up several notches. They wanted to know if this new fairness would be applied to the first test retrospectively.
“Yeah, I supposed so,” the professor said, giving in.
I’d never been called a cut-throat before that day, but afterwards I heard it a lot. They shortened it to, “the throat,” as in, “The throat’s taking P-chem from Thompson. Better go with Bobst.”
You know, if you find the right phrase, you can dehumanize anyone. Ask Viktor Frankl. He said he found meaning in his suffering at Auschwitz, and everyone can find the meaning of their own lives if they search.
To me, life’s meaning starts by convincing your subconscious mind that it has a free will. For college students, that’s a tall order, but here’s the deal:
You get up off your butt and do something small and deliberate for yourself right now, and work up to doing these simple things all through every day. Instead of looking around the room for your next move, or letting something on your computer screen decide your next activity for you, close your eyes and think: What will I do next? Make the decision, then do it immediately.
Eventually it starts to feel natural to allow your world to fit you, rather than allowing your world to manipulate you and steal your free will. That’s depressing to your subconscious mind who begins to feel imprisoned in your skull.
I graduated number one in my class – just two years after seeing my one and only glimpse of antisemitism. I guess that’s what it was.
But I’m not Japanese or Jewish inside. I’m hapa. To me, “hapa” doesn’t mean “half” anything, it means fully human.
That’s my highest goal, anyway, to be fully human, no longer outside looking in at the real people.
My phone is blasting Skullcage from my lab coat near my pillow. I’ve been spending nights in my Prius at the Beach in Astoria since Grandfather died. There wasn’t money enough for the house plus keeping James in Hawaii with his new shrink. This new guy’s actually helping my brother with his depression. It’s the miracle I’ve been searching for.
Talmage wants me to tell you this like a story, so take a look up through the glass of the hatchback at the stars while I find the phone. We don’t want this novel rejected in The First Fifty Pages for lack of a visual scene… or because I’m “breaking the fourth wall.” I bet there’s a rule against that somewhere.
Check out Orion’s belt in my Universe. It looks nothing like the arrangement of the three Egyptian Pyramids, but I have a warm feeling for the man who thought of the idea: Robert Bauval. That’s him in the picture.
I trust his eyes and the way he speaks, because he reminds me of an Arabian geneticist who always has my back at work. She speaks her mind and curses Dr. Drummond for publishing my research as if he were the original thinker and inventor.
Academics eat their young. But the people out there doing my brand of genetics probably know where Drummond’s breakthroughs are coming from. He was totally obscure before my name showed up behind his.
My phone shows 4:11 AM and a Hawaiian number (808) that I don’t recognize. It could be James on a friend’s phone. Now I’m seeing James dead on the side of the road with a cop calling the next of kin.
I have to stop jumping to worse-case-scenarios. It’s part of a rare condition I’m blessed with – perfect autobiographical recall. Depression is part of it, too, but it comes later in life. It probably has no relation to my other condition – M5.
The call is from a boy claiming that he’s kidnapped James.
Oh, brother. I’m just going to hang up.
James has high school friends now, all of them older. My prank caller was probably one of them. They’re different. They say they hate capitalism but actually they hate the overwhelming sense of unfair competition that the adults bury them in at the concentration camps called schools. Life on Earth is tough, but birds and bears get a chance to relax and imagine their own importance while kids have their noses rubbed in the armpits of superior competitors all their waking hours. Giving everyone A’s and trophies convinces them they need handouts to make up for their mediocrity and inferiority. The lies only make the adults feel better, they don’t hide or change the reality of unfair competition.
And don’t tell me it’s fair. I know better. It’s completely unfair because of people like me. I remember everything I see and hear. My brain does complex calculus at the subconscious level. I don’t even know where the answers come from sometimes. And this stuff barely scratches the surface.
James’ new rock band has no name, but he’s always recorded under the banner of Skullcage. He’s the main act everywhere he goes. I’m so freaking proud of him I could pop! He plays all the instruments, sings, and writes incredible songs full of tormented screaming, beautiful melodies and guitars that sound like they’re speaking a language – trying to talk.
His CD’s make you feel confident… unless you worry about him killing himself, which I often do.
You’d never know he’s chronically depressed if you met him. He’s funny, dominant, and full of life. He makes everybody laugh and feel important. You wouldn’t believe all the people who think of him as their best friend. But only one person is…
There’s a barge coming out of the mouth of the Columbia River to the north. Its lights are all that’s visible. Plus there’s the traction beam of a UFO aimed at the deck. I’m kidding, but what is it? Somebody on a higher deck with a floodlight, maybe.
I’m getting out for a better look.
The waves are slow closeouts tonight, scooting up the long level beach in parallel terraces, white and hissing at the full moon.
But I ask you, what are the freaking odds that the moon would spin at exactly the rate necessary to keep one face aiming at the Earth at all times? We’re talking two balls rotating freely and one orbiting the other. How does that match up without a little help? Someone put all the weight on the side closest to us?
There’s more going on here than meets the eye. I wish I could talk to Astronauts like Gorden Cooper https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvPR8T1o3Dc and Edgar Michell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AAJ34_NMcI.
These guys would have a broad perspective and be brave enough to face death and public humiliation.
They’ve seen the entire Earth in one glance – our crucible of survival and our teams – the competitors against the rise-above-it types. But the spectators, where are they?
You don’t set up a game of this magnitude unless you’re planning to sit and watch.
That’s why the moon faces us. It holds the box seats.
The traction beam above the barge went out before I could tell what it was. I’m cold in this breeze so I’m getting back into the car and pulling the hatchback down.
My ringtone blasts again, “Give to me a dirty heart filled with all the darkness of the world. I’m taking all the dull sh*t in and burning up inside within, it’s true. I hate you.”
James wrote this and recorded it on cheap gear when he was eleven. It was a prayer. I could cry… his little face and his little high voice and that huge drum set all around him.
And that melody.
My phone shows the same caller. I answer, and I was wrong. It’s not a high school boy. It’s an old woman.
“I’ve kidnapped James,” she says.
My heart stops and I try to catch my breath.
She tells me to get on a flight from Portland to Oahu at 10:00 this morning. Gives me the flight number and says I’ll meet a guy named Del at the terminal.
I manage to plead. “Let me talk to James so he doesn’t freak out.”
“Well,” she says, “I don’t actually have him yet. I’ve sent a boy to fetch him.”
“You don’t have him? Can you call your boy and tell him to forget James? Please? We can work this out without him. I’ll do whatever you want. Just leave him out of it.”
“Take down my number, dear, and call me if there’s trouble. Traffic or anything. Have you got a pen?”
“Your number’s on my phone.”
“It is?” She hisses at someone.
“What do you want with James?” I ask.
“The fourth dimension,” she mumbles. “We want to test him. You wouldn’t understand and you need to catch your flight.”
This could be Frameshift Corp. I criticize genetically modified organisms in every lecture at Oregon Health and Science University. GMO’s are the grim reaper of genetic diversity, one of the things between us and extinction. “Ma’am, I can’t let this happen. This kind of emotional trauma could send James back into depression. He’s starting to sound normal, finally.”
“Normal. That’s interesting,” the woman says.
“I’m pretty sure you’re with Frameshift, so you’re talking genetics, not string theory. Your fourth dimension is time. You’ve probably got base-pairs lined up for a mile, looking fine on paper. But something’s killing the host. I’ll bet it’s a timing issue.”
I pause and she groans, but doesn’t speak.
“I’m right, then. Listen, whoever you are, you need me. I’ve got seventeen layering techniques that double as time-sequencers. If one of them doesn’t fix the problem, I’ll find something else that does. You can take my words to the bank.”
“My goodness,” she says. “I don’t often get goose-bumps. Perhaps we should test you.”
“Don’t insult me. You’re familiar with my work. All you need to do is forget James, and I’ll come work for you. Legitimately. I’ll sign a stinking contract. Nobody has to be kidnapped.”
A shooting star streaks away from the earth and barely registers as going the wrong way.
“But Ma’am, I’m telling you, if you scare James or bother him in any way, I’ll make sure Frameshift destroys you. Think about it. Once I’m inside, it won’t be two days before your CEO knows he needs me more than you.”
“You insist I’m with Frameshift, but…”
“Screw this, Ma’am. Tell your thugs to look for my body in the ocean beside the South Jetty in Astoria.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m going to drown myself. I’ll be dead in twenty-five minutes. You won’t need James when I’m gone.”
I hang up with a racing pulse.
Maybe I should have mentioned that my second condition, M5, is acute monocytic leukemia. Diagnosed three days ago at Kaiser. I haven’t told anyone yet. I’m supposed to start chemo tomorrow, but M5 doesn’t respond well. It takes you out in a month, sometimes. I’m just thankful I found the new shrink for James.
James is going to be OK. That’s all that matters now.
I’m breaking the speed limit in the Prius, heading for the South Jetty to drown myself, but I need to say goodbye to someone first.
I push James icon on my phone and pull up in front of a vacant lot beside the house I used to rent in Astoria. The Prius engine dies automatically. James’ phone is ringing.
A skanky black cat trots up and jumps on my hood. His nails click as he lands. He walks silently toward me leaving smudgy footprints.
Jame’s voice comes through the car speakers, “Yeah.”
I set my phone in a cup holder. “Someone’s trying to kidnap you. Grab your keys and get out of the house. Run to the car. Drive to the police station fast as you can. ”
“Yeah, I’m not kidding! Go. Hurry! I’ll stay on the line.”
“Got to find my keys,” he says.
I open the glove box. Two cans of cat food are left. I’ll open both.
“On the floor by the foot of your bed.”
“Won’t be there.”
“Just go look. Hurry!”
I open my window, put my arm out in the usual way and the proud little thing marches up my arm, rubs his matted fur against my face as he climbs down to my lap and curls up.
“Herpes, you little tramp.” I sneeze. When he first came to my patio door demanding attention I had no idea I was allergic. First it was just itchy eyes.
I open both cans of cat food with an old round-bladed device I remember from childhood when it was shiny and had a place in my mother’s kitchen. I dump the catfood into a plastic bowl that’s usually sliding around on the seat beside me. Smells like fish. Herpes springs to his feet and begins that delicate gobbling technique. His ribs are showing again. Poor little thing, out here starving. “I’m sorry I can’t feed you again,” I tell him. “I won’t be coming around anymore.”
I try to pet him but he doesn’t allows distractions while he’s eating.
He has a worn leather collar with a dangling ring that must have held a happy tag with his real name on it. Once. I wonder who he was.
He finishes the whole pile of food before I’m ready to say goodbye, then steps back into my lap to let me pet him. Three times is all. Then he jumps out, lands confidently on the road and looks up at me.
“Goodbye, sweetheart,” I tell him. “I wish I could…”
A van rumbles by and scares him away.
I put the two empty cans in a plastic grocery bag, twist it tight, tie a knot and set it on the seat beside the bowl. Someone else will have to take it to the trash.
“Good call,” James says. “They were right by the end of my bed. It’s spooky how you do that.”
“It’s just luck,” I tell him. But lately I wonder. This time it was an image of his keys. Sometimes there’s no image, just a wordless thought. “Get in your car. Hurry!”
I hear his feet on the old wooden floor at Grandfather’s house. Actually we called him, “Ojiichan,” not Grandfather, but it means the same. The door of the old Ford slams. Low pitch. The starter churns.
The sun isn’t up yet. Jetty Road looks empty as I make a right turn onto it.
“Yo,” James says. “You there?”
“Yeah. Drive straight to the cop station. You know the way?”
“Take a wild guess,” he says.
He was arrested for underage drinking in front of Starbucks not long ago. In broad daylight.
“I’m not saying you’re a moron, James, but now that you mention it…. God, I love you.”
“Ditto, but no need to get all… Whatever. Hey, I never-one knew they kidnap teenagers. You sure about all this?”
“Yeah.” I wake up a few neurons with a neurofeedback technique I learned in a research lab at Yale. They kept asking me if I’d ever been hit in the head. No. I can make an EEG trace jump at will. I learned it with electrodes pasted on my head, staring at squiggly lines on a monitor. Trial and error, bottom-up science not the mythical top-down BS they preach.
Neurofeedback wakes you up like coffee, but some people have memory loss. I should be so lucky.
“Keep an eye on the road behind you,” I tell him. “Somebody could be following.”
My peripheral vision is strange now. The trees… swishing past on both sides of the road. They grab my attention as if they were in the center of my field of vision.
“Nothing’s behind me,” James says.
I ease off the Prius’ gas pedal, pass a crow on the dotted line and watch it hop away in the rearview mirror, wings our angelic. Tough immune systems, those little guys, eating roadkill and living to tell the story.
“The kidnappers are Frameshift goons,” I say to James. “That’s my theory. They’re trying to recruit me.”
“Like into the Army?”
“Same idea.” Should I tell him? Not while he’s driving. “You shouldn’t drive and talk on a cellphone, you know. Under normal conditions, I mean.”
“Pot calling da kine black.”
“No, I got a hands-free setup. Matter of fact, I’m driving right now. To the South Jetty.”
“Some of us drive Ojiichan’s old Ford, you know.”
A motorcycle’s coming at me in the other lane. One loud headlight. It passes with the infrasound of an old Harley. The wide back tire, long chrome pipes slanting up. I wanted to ride one of the old beasts before I died. My legs wouldn’t be long enough though. I bet.
“What’s the South Jetty?” James asks.
I shouldn’t have brought it up. “It’s a rock wall that goes out between the ocean and the place where the Columbia River dumps in. South side. When are you moving in with the Hadano’s? That was supposed to happen three months ago.”
“I don’t know, pretty soon,” he says. “But you don’t have to worry about it. I told the social worker I’m living there now. Mrs. Hadano backed me up.” James shifts into Mrs. Hadano’s voice: “Yes, James is moved in already. Part of da family.”
“The Hadano’s are rare people,” I tell him. “Don’t make them lie for you.” I hate to nag. “How close are you getting to the police station?”
“I’m looking for a place to park,” he says. “Holy Smokes. There’s this Haole dude in a rental car. Following me, I think. I’ll find out.”
“What type of car?”
“Yeah, he’s tailing for reals. I turned up an alley and he’s coming behind me. Driving that thing you drive. The Prepuce.”
Prius, James. “Lucky thing. OK, when you get out of the alley, turn right, go 20 feet, stop and put it in reverse. You’re going to ram him the instant you see him. Go for his right front tire. Mess it up so it can’t move when he turns the wheel. Then drive away as soon as you can.”
“That’ll ruin my car.”
“No it won’t. The Ford’s a tank compared to a Prius.”
“You better be right.” He takes a deep breath. “I got it in reverse. Here’s the dude’s bumper.”
There’s a crunch and the sound of glass.
“No prob,” James says. “I’m driving away.”
“The dude’s running after me on foot.” James laughs.
“When you get to the cop station, don’t park, just drive up close to the front door, jump out, leave the car and run inside. Fast as you can.”
“Do they let you park out front? I don’t need another ticket.”
“Use your head, James! Kidnappers are killers. Do exactly what I tell you, for God’s sake!”
“I was just asking.”
He gets quiet. Any expression of anger was off-limits in our family. It didn’t matter if you were saving someone’s life or destroying the ozone, anger meant you were wrong. You got silent treatment.
“Where are you?” I ask. “Talk to me.”
“Side of the road, basically. In front of the cop building. I’m leaving the car, like you said.”
The car door slams with memories of Ojiichan, the first Buddhist Priest on Oahu. I took his alter back to Okinawa after he died. That was the first I’d heard of his fame in Japan. The Buddhists called him, “One of The Five.” I don’t speak Japanese and my translator didn’t speak much English, so I couldn’t figure out who “The Five” were. But it’s an interesting coincidence that our ancestor, the great Samurai, Musashi, wrote The Book of Five Rings.
“I’m inside,” James says. “There’s this lady here, but she don’t look like a cop.”
“Hand her the phone, I need to talk to her.”
I hear a woman saying she’s busy. She tells him to take a seat. Here it is. That feeling. I’m telling you, I want to reach through this phone and strangle her. What’s wrong with me?
“She’s too busy,” James says.
“Tell her somebody’s trying to kidnap you.”
He does, and she gets on the line. “This young man tells me he’s the victim of a kidnapping attempt and you’re his older sister. Is this information correct?”
“Yes.” I give her my name and the highlights, trying not to sound like the teenager I still am. She agrees to keep him in a safe place until a police officer can talk to him. That’s all she can guarantee.
A squirrel darts out into the road ahead of me and I swerve to miss it. I shouldn’t be doing seventy on this narrow road.
The phone reception gets sketchy as I drive into a dirt parking lot near the South Jetty. Logs outline the perimeter. A dirt slope leads down to the river beach ahead of me. I could drive down there and get stuck, but I’ll park. Save somebody the headache of pulling my car up the slope when they figure out it was the dead girl’s ride.
James gets back on the phone. “Hey.”
“Listen, I’ve got leukemia.”
“Cancer of the blood,” I tell him. “Odds are, it’s going to kill me in a month or two. But you need to understand, the kidnappers are after me, not so much you. They only want you so they can force me to work for them. But I’m not doing it. I haven’t got long to live anyway, so…”
“What the hell are you saying?”
“If I kill myself, I won’t have to work for those people. I can’t stand what they’re doing to the world. I won’t be part of it.”
“This can’t be happening.”
“Listen, James. None of this is about you. If we’re lucky, they’ll leave you alone once I’m gone. You won’t be valuable to them when I’m in heaven.”
“You can’t kill yourself. You can’t do that.”
“I’m dying one way or the other.”
“They must have drugs. People get rid of cancer all the time.”
“Not M5b. The stats are dismal. The chemo makes you sick as a zombie. Your hair falls out. I’m not doing it.”
“But you got to try.”
“No. You need to try. Try not to get depressed when I’m gone. Try to find something to believe in so you’ll be a decent influence on the world when you’re famous. All this stuff about no God, no good, no evil. Forget it. It’s bull. You’ve got to believe in something. Something that’s not so brittle it breaks when the aliens land.”
“What?” He gasps.
“Atheism and fundamentalism are brittle. They’re both going to break… when the facts come down.”
“I can’t believe this.” He’s on the edge of tears. I know the sound.
“You’ve got heavy responsibility on your shoulders. Listen to me. Nobody has more influence than a rock star. Nobody in this world. You were born to be famous. You’re like John Lennon. You’re a genius with melody, James. Literally a genius.” I’ve never been able to convince him of that. “You’ve always made me so proud. Everything you write. And you got the singing voice to match.”
“I’ll be listening to your stuff. And watching you – from the moon, I think.”
“The moon?” He’s crying now. Normally he cries over great songs and sad movies, not real disasters. Disasters make him stronger than most people. Usually.
“Who’s going to be the only friend I ever had, Johanna? Who’s going to make sure I don’t party all the time? Who’s going to bail me out… of jail next time?” My phone goes dead.
I try to call him, but a battery icon flashes for a second then disappears. The phone was plugged in all night. I look at it in my mind and see 100% at the top, above the old woman’s number.
This close to the Jetty, I’m starting to feel a little hesitant about suicide. James and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. It’s cruel.
I remember Ojiichan saying that our existence isn’t real. Get rid of all attachments and nothing can hurt you.
I hear a Sabbath School teacher reading from a little pink Bible, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.”
But I never was able to become a true fundamentalist. Not quite. I came close for a while but… whatever. I’ve always felt a little jealous of those people. It’s like the UFO club. I want to believe but those things just don’t show up for me.
I’ve got the jitters. I’m going to breathe water, that’s all. It’s the least embarrassing way to do this, and to be honest, I’m more afraid of embarrassment than drowning. It’s a Japanese thing, I think. Completely genetic.
I get out of the Prius, face the cold salt wind and walk toward the tall, curving breakwater. Its beauty is gone today. I put it side by side with a mental image from the last time I was here. The sun was up, but otherwise the images match.
I was standing right… here.
I wonder if beauty is still there when you can’t see it.
I’m standing on the spine of the South Jetty as the tide goes out. I’m far enough from the shore that I won’t be able to swim in if I have second thoughts about suicide.
To the west the ocean horizon is cloudless but vague in the pre-dawn twilight. To the south the beach stretches on forever and the inland hills merge with a blue-gray hydrocarbon haze. The waves below are immature things that belch up abruptly from the black depths and spit white foam across the dark volcanic boulders that form the steep sides of the jetty.
I keep starting to write in my buoyancy journal. In my head, of course. Everything’s there. Every word I’ve ever read or written, the reams of base-pair sequences from work, and every detail of every day I’ve breathed air since I was 23 months old.
When things get me down I make a list of the reasons why they shouldn’t.
First off, I shouldn’t feel bad about what I’m doing here because I’m defending James. That’s honorable. Second, I won’t be lying in a hospital bed with tubes in my veins and everyone feeling guilty for not dropping everything and sitting bored stiff with me until I die.
My buoyancy lists are never long, but they’re powerful against depression. I read them slowly, one word at a time, over and over until my subconscious mind, the big math wizard who hardly speaks English, understands. And I feel better. It’s like magic. I want you to try it.
I’m going to leave my boots on, I guess. But I really love these things. They’re size five, extra wide. Hard to find. I better take them off so someone else can use them.
I almost forgot, Ojiichan’s chopsticks are still in my hair. They’re antiques, engraved with the Japanese character for poison – I don’t know why. I pull them out of my hair, take off my boots and then lay the chopsticks sideways across the toes. I hope no one steps on them.
It’s fifteen feet down to the busy water – surging and receding. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’ve always been chicken about jumping off high-dives. It’s the falling. I hate that feeling. Plus I’m a terrible swimmer. My body is too dense. I’m not all that skinny, so it really doesn’t make sense.
OK, just go. Jump in.
My knees are bent. This is it.
I’m holding my breath… Not sure why I’d be doing that. It’s kind of the opposite of why I’m here.
Now I’m over-thinking.
A truck’s coming on Jetty Road. I should do this before it gets here.
Come on, Johanna. Now!
It’s not a truck, it’s a Hummer. No, it can’t be Maxwell.
I told James about him last week. A guy I met at work. A child psychologist who deals exclusively with depressed kids. Once or twice a month Maxwell shows up at work as early as I do and corners me for small talk.
I suck at small talk.
“How ’bout those Seahawks!”
How ’bout Max Planck? Energy only comes in small digital packets: Planck’s constant. If that’s not weird to you – if that doesn’t turn your world upside-down, I’m afraid we’re different.
Earth: Eggheads and Jocks.
Maxwell’s both. So is James in his own way. I’m just an egghead. Though I do push weights and use the treadmill. And I can lift a tall stack of books, let me tell you.
Talmage thinks I do too much telling and not enough showing. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
The sky is neuromancer-gray now, light enough to show the color of the Hummer which is Army Green. That means it is him. It’s fricking Maxwell Mason. Doing a hundred miles an hour on that tiny road. His life’s probably in more danger than mine at the moment.
Slow down, Max!
It’s a pretty straight road. No traffic at all since that Harley. Max should be fine.
No, I don’t believe that either.
He’s slowing down a little. This is good. Now he’s skidding through the parking lot. This is bad. Dust everywhere. His front tires bunny hop a log and finally he stops.
Man, this is going to be embarrassing if I don’t even have the nerve to jump. People are going to say I was trying to get attention. I hate it when people say that about girls who try to kill themselves and fail.
Nobody’s going to say that about me.
I take a breath on the way down and feel like a hypocrite for doing it.
For a split second it’s good to hit the water because it stops that lost-viscera feeling of falling. But under the water the world is black and colder than anything I’ve ever felt.
My arms and legs are kicking on their own. I try to stop but they won’t stop. I try to make myself breathe water but my head is pounding with the cold. It’s like a cluster headache or a good poke in the skull with a screwdriver. I can’t think of much else.
My head breaks the surface. The jetty rocks are three feet away and covered with white barnacles and brown mussels that look like dead incisors. I move away from them, not wanting to be a shredded mess at my funeral.
My arms are weakening from the cold. I finally make them stop paddling, and then force my legs to stop flailing.
I blow all my air out and prepare to inhale. The salt water will flow into my lungs. Osmosis will do terrible damage to my red cells. My coughing and gag reflexes will be overwhelmed.
I want to breathe. The desire is growing with every heartbeat. It’s just that I don’t want to breathe water.
Yes, breathe water.
Something grabs my arm and pulls. I’m on my back looking up at the sky with an arm across my chest. It’s a thick arm with Maxwell’s watch on the wrist. I gasp for air and it fills my lungs with the greatest joy I’ve ever known.
There’s a surface beneath us. It rises and lifts us out of the water. I’m on hands and knees looking over the edge of a round, silent thing that’s exactly the color of the sky and the texture of the stingray I touched at Maui Ocean Center on my ninth birthday. A circular opening appears beside me and a female voice with the vaguest Indian accent says, “Come inside quickly, both of you. I’ve never been so worried in my life.” A human hand reaches out and touches the skin on my left forearm and rubs it briskly. “You must be freezing. Let’s get you warmed up.” I lean over the edge of the opening and look down to see her face. I’m startled. It’s Mahani Teave, the renowned concert pianist of Easter Island.
My first thought, stupid as this sounds, is to ask for her autograph. I own all Mahani’s CD’s. She’s amazing. I’m a pianist myself.
The pictures on her CD’s flash by and I make comparisons. This girl’s freckles are in the wrong places.
“Who are you?” I ask and start coughing so loud and hard I can’t hear her answer.
River of Consciousness
I’m shivering inside a UFO.
The ceiling slopes down like a Chinese rice hat to the floor. A red band encircles the room where the ceiling meets the deck. The three of us look awkward – Maxwell, me and the girl who could almost be Mahani Teave.
I missed her name when she said it.
I see codes of consciousness when I blink. Ones and zeros.
I know them as doubly-even self-dual linear binary error-correcting block codes.
They were discovered by a theoretical physicist: S. James Gates, Jr., Ph.D.
This is my favorite picture of him: The founding father and pilgrim of string theory’s DNA. History will place him beside Einstein if rational minds prevail.
Biological DNA also has error correction: A higher mind showing cells how to build nanotech machines to fix DNA screwups. Things like replication errors and the mutations we worshiped in undergrad bio.
But the “illusion of consciousness” is the delusion of flatlanders. Conscious awareness is central to digital physics and independently real.
We are not alone.
We’re side by side on a soft Indian rug. The girl’s legs are crossed yoga style now with the tops of her toes flat against the opposite thighs.
“I didn’t hear your name,” I confess to her.
“I am Vedanshi,” she says, beaming. “The Role of the Sacred Knowledge.” Her expression reminds me of Luciano Pavarotti after an aria.
I was twelve when God’s angel died. I will always love him.
Maxwell’s face is blank. He risked everything for me.
“You both saved my life,” I tell them and lean against Maxwell’s wet shoulder. “Thank you.”
Even if leukemia has its way now.
“Cloaking,” Vedanshi whispers, and the red band fades from around us, the walls vanish, and we’re floating on a rug twenty feet above the ocean.
I see my boots on the jetty next to Maxwell’s jacket. I should feel the sea air, but I don’t. The ocean butts the jetty and climbs its rough boulders, but I can’t hear it.
“I need a mirror,” Maxwell mumbles.
“No you don’t. You look marvelous.” I fake an Italian accent, “Shake your hair, darling… such as it is.”
His eyebrows may have moved. I’m not sure.
“Don’t panic,” I tell him. “All your great pianists fly UFO’s.”
Vedanshi grins and the sun breaks. An orange bead on a hilltop.
Maxwell’s vacant eyes find me. He says nothing.
“I heard the phone call,” Vedanshi says. “I know what the old woman is doing.”
“Purchasing my soul?” I suggest.
Vedanshi nods. “Let’s get your things.”
The Jetty is beneath us but I didn’t feel us move. My boots are inches from my feet. I lean forward and reach but my knuckles hit an invisible deck.
“Sorry,” Vedanshi says crinkling her nose. “Try again.”
I reach down and pick up Ojiichan’s chopsticks, grab my boots, then get Maxwell’s jacket and lay it in midair beside his wet legs that stick out past the edge of the carpet and rest on nothing. A little reluctantly, I snag his ugly climbing shoes, bring them in and smell the rubber.
He watches from a trance.
“Snap out of it,” I tell him. “You seem shroomed.”
“It’s a psychotic break,” he mumbles.
“You haven’t turned idiot,” Vedanshi assures him. “There’s a small mirror I can loan you, but I want it back.” She reaches into the side pocket of the purple robe she gave me, pulls out a square purse, opens it and extracts a round mirror the size of a silver dollar. On the back is an engraving of a woman’s face. Lazar quality. She’s wearing a crown and triangular earrings that float beside her earlobes.
Vivid dreamers know how mirror images lag in dreamland. Maxwell is probably a gifted dreamer and wants to test the reality of this place. I can’t blame him. It’s weird.
In the past I’ve tested with mirrors, but I’ve found they’re harder to track down than bathrooms – in dreams, I mean.
Rule of thumb: If there’s a mirror, you’re not dreaming. You’re totally sitting in a classroom naked.
“We should leave,” Vedanshi says. “She’s coming. I don’t want her to discover me.”
With the sun up, Vedanshi’s white blouse is orange and short. It leaves an inch of skin above tiny-waisted harem pants. She either works out or never eats… or has issues with her thyroid.
“You two may want to close your eyes,” she says as the Jetty drops and the mouth of the Columbia River shrinks into a falling coastline.
The horizon rounds down and the Earth becomes smooth and blue to white on the sun’s side.
There was no lurch of engines, no whiplash, not even a hiss of wind.
I glance at the sun and get dots following my eyes. Canada is endless. The overhead is black and radiant with stars. The swath of glowing velvet is an edge-on look across a spiral galaxy.
This is the “near space” I’ve read about, but it feels nearer to Heaven. I’m overcome with affection for our magnificent little round home. She’s cute, miraculously great but humble. Wise and still innocent.
This is warmth I’d never imagined.
I grip it the way James’ therapist says – holding bliss in a 30-second headlock to myelinate the neurons of joy.
Listen now. Happiness is a skill, like training your fingers to do three-against-four on Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu in C# minor. Or figuring out how to sing with vibrato as a child, then spending the rest of your life trying to forget.
Craning at the most numerous Seven Sisters in captivity, I lose my balance and grab the front of the carpet to avoid Revelation’s fall from Heaven to Earth.
“My ship believes she’s twelve thousand years old,” Vedanshi says. “Her name is The Ganga.” Vedanshi looks at the rug and seems to talk to it. “Anyone can speculate about axial precession.”
Maxwell touches the mirror’s edges only, holding them with thumb and finger. He seems dissociative the way he’s checked out.
“So you’re from Earth?” I ask Vedanshi.
“Well, you never know. You crashed the party in a UFO.”
“Yes,” she says, but shakes her head, no. “I’ve seen UFO’s on your internet but I don’t know if they’re real. We didn’t have them in my day, and I was never old enough for the talk.” She taps her knees to put quotation marks around, “the talk.”
“What’s ‘the talk’?”
Her brow furrows at Maxwell spinning her mirror, but she lets it go. “In my day, when you turned 18 you got ‘the talk’ from your parents. It was about free will – or so they said. But I could tell there was more. When I was in pyramid triage for the river – a test to identify pilots – I made friends with a girl whose big sister got ‘the talk’ and then started whispering to shooting stars. She wasn’t loopy before that, supposedly.”
Below us to the south, bright sheets of white flash over Mexico and red sprites blink over the clouds.
“What would make anyone whisper to a meteor?” I ask.
“Aliens?” Vedanshi shrugs. “We heard strange voices in the river before the asteroids hit. I still wonder if they were real – you know – literal words that The Ganga somehow couldn’t interpret. It’s doubtful. Her linguistics are advanced. But why would anyone subvocalize nonsense in the river?”
Glossolalia, I don’t know. I look at Maxwell. “This is no ordinary UFO!”
Vedanshi nods solemnly. “The Ganga taught me English – which didn’t exist for us four months ago.”
Maxwell is mouth breathing. That’s the last straw. I lean over and kiss the side of his face. It’s salty. “Buck up, soldier. You’re making me worry.”
“Sorry,” he says and shakes the cobwebs.
That was the first time I’ve kissed a guy. True, I was raped once, but no kissing. I was eleven.
“You’re from Earth,” I remind Vedanshi. “So where did you get this thinking machine?”
“They did it on purpose,” she says, then draws an expansive breath. “I should back up. The very oldest ships had accidents. Their non-locality buffers got out of sync with the gravity lifts sometimes. So for an instant you had movement during the nonlocal swap.”
Maxwell leans back on his hands. “You lost me.”
“Anything using quantum non-locality has to be nailed down,” she says. “So it’s motionless to the buffers. But the primitive ships shifted structurally – at nearly the speed of light if it happened with the horizons burning.” She searches Maxwell’s face. “Nonlocal point swapping horizons?”
He squints. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“High subluminal velocities turn nanoseconds into thousands of years,” she explains.
“It’s special relativity’s version of stasis,” I tell him. “Slows your clock.”
“You’re never heard from again,” Vedanshi says. “Unless you’re lucky enough to wind up in this post-cataclysmic dystopia.” She looks down at the Earth with a half-smile. “The old woman came from the first part of my era, I think. I finally saw her vehicle. It’s phallic, which is retro. And it has to be early because every thought gets out.”
“Every thought? What do you mean?” I ask.
“The river?” Vedanshi asks me back.
Maxwell and I shake our heads. I hate to admit when I’m lost.
“The fundamental unit of reality is consciousness,” she says, “not matter, energy or space. They’re derivative. Pilots use the river of consciousness to communicate with ships and other pilots. I don’t know why we call it a river, it’s more like a sea, or the pixels of an infinite hologram.”
“Now that I can understand,” I tell her.
“In the earliest vessels privacy filters didn’t exist. The old woman’s ship must be dangerously ancient because I hear every word she thinks. I’ve even seen a few cortical images from her occipital lobes.”
I feel my heart racing. This is the mother lode everyone dreams of. I wish I had longer to live.
“A few months ago,” Vedanshi says, “I heard the woman thinking about a young geneticist who manipulates terabytes of base-pair language in her head with no implants. Totally impossible. My mother’s best women with cortical enhancements couldn’t hold a ten-thousandth of that in working memory, let alone juggle it. So I had to meet you, Johanna. Because, as you say, you never know.” She puts her hands together yoga style and bows her head like Ojiichan did in his Temple. “This morning I heard the woman threatening to kidnap your brother. Then you went off to drown yourself. I sort of panicked trying to find you.”
“So… you can hear phone calls?” Maxwell asks.
“The woman was inside her ship,” Vedanshi says.
“Yeah, she was in her ship, Max. Keep up.” I scowl warmly.
He gives me a hint of a grin.
“You have to master the river of consciousness before you pilot,” Vedanshi says. “Pilots are born with an extra gyrus on their parietal lobes, but the phenotype is no guarantee you’ll make it.”
Einstein had a parietal lobe anomaly. Suddenly I want an MRI.
“You said 2015 is a post-cataclysmic dystopia,” Maxwell says.
Vedanshi nods. “We’re probably six to twelve thousand years into it. There are four in recorded history.” She pats the rug beside her.
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” I hear myself saying, and the verses open in my mind.
“Your unique feature is the loss of ancient records,” Vedanshi says. “From what I’ve read, your scholars get things backwards. The Grand Canyon took millions of years and the pyramids took twenty. I don’t see how anyone with eyes could believe that.”
“What ended your era, a comet? A flood?”
“A series of asteroids,” Vedanshi says. “The small stragglers landed near Madagascar and left beautiful deposits.”
The Earth rotates beneath us. Africa comes around with Madagascar to the east.
“This is the best one,” she says, pointing down. “See the feathers? It’s like a bird’s wing.”
I’ve seen these before. To me it’s like someone dumped soapy water in the dirt. This one’s several miles long.
“Geologists say these were made by the wind,” I tell her.
“This is a piece of the Earth that broke free when one of the smaller asteroids hit. I saw it happen. It flew through the air at thousands of miles an hour. It came from the seabed over there.” She points east to a spot in the Indian Ocean where I’ve read there’s a crater. “This piece flew out at a low angle, glowing like lava with a tail of smoke and steam. The trees exploded when it hit. It was fluid, colloidal, and flowed into this nice winglike shape. A small tsunami crept up a bit later but couldn’t wash it away. Unlike the previous day’s waves that razed everything.”
“The asteroids didn’t hit in one day?” I ask.
“No. The big ones came on the first day. A few smaller ones hit that night, and the tiny one that did this artwork touched down at sunrise. It might have been the last one, but…”
“So… Wait now. Are you saying the bigger asteroids made tsunamis that washed away their own impact deposits?”
“Yes, on day one. But I don’t think you’d call them tsunamis. They weren’t like Japan’s waves on the internet.”
“What was different?”
“They were huge. They moved like life forms – boiling over the continents without slowing down. Each one would start as part of an impact explosion and spread out in a circle with the circumference increasing until it matched the circumference of the Earth. Then it moved on around and the circumference shrank, keeping its power about the same until it narrowed down to a point and crashed into itself on the opposite side of the Earth. There was lightning and the loudest thunder. Water and debris shot up miles into the air. The big ones smoothed out everything in their paths, including their own ejection deposits. Later when things settled down and the small asteroids began to land, their water action looked more like Japan’s tsunamis. They were too weak to clear their deposits for the most part.” She looks down at the ground. “But if you really look, you can see shadows where some of them were washed away, too. Over there.” She points inland. “It’s like a stain.”
The Ganga moves closer.
I kind of see what she’s talking about in the distance. But the wing chevron is impressive down here.
“Max, I’ve read that it’s six hundred feet thick at the edges.” I point to the wingtip.
“Looks pretty flat.” He tilts his head to look down my arm, and I point again. His buzz cut brushes my temple. His collar is wet.
“Take off that shirt and put your coat on,” I tell him.
The Ganga moves lower, as if to show us the height of the wingtips. Maxwell whistles when we come down over the lip and really see one of these things edge-on.
He’s twenty-five. When we first met a few months ago he introduced himself as an aging surfer. So he’s probably not cold at all in his wet clothes. The bum.
I jab at him with an elbow.
He ignores it.
A cell phone starts a weak rendition of “Surfer Girl” and Maxwell digs it out of his coat, sees the number, then hands it to me. “It’s James,” he says.
I put it on speaker by habit. “James, are you alright?”
“That guy I rammed was a cop. I don’t know where they’re planning to take me, but he’s filling out a bunch of paperwork and sounds extremely pissed off. He’s got handcuffs. I hate those things.”
“Where are you?”
“He’s taking… He took my phone.” The connection goes dead.
I look at Vedanshi. “A cop in a Prius? I doubt it.”
She takes Maxwell’s phone, places it on the rug in front of her. The Earth drops like a lead ball from a bomb bay. We streak through white haze and across a blur of blue ocean. A glimpse of land flashes by and our impossible speed turns to a dead stop without making us even bob our heads. We’re fifteen feet off the ground in front of a police station in Honolulu.
James stumbles out with his hands cuffed back and the Haole pseudo-cop shoving him. The man kicks James’ legs and knocks him off the curve to the ground.
“Let me out,” I tell Vedanshi. “I’m going to hurt that man.” I feel the cold DNA of my ancestor, Shinmen Musashi-no-Kami Fujiwara no Genshin, the greatest and by far the deadliest samurai who ever walked the Earth.
I was eleven when I strangled a male adolescent chimpanzee with my bare hands. It’s the same feeling now.
“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organism existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.” Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.
The moon’s size and distance were selected so that its silhouette would precisely cover the sun during an eclipse, at least sometimes.
Call it blind luck. But what are the odds?
If the duck billed platypus were known only as a drawing in Egypt…
Could science tolerate more than a “myth” about a mammal who laid eggs, offered milk but no nipples to her hatchlings, hunted under water with eyes and ears closed using electroreception unknown to other mammals, stabbing her victims with poisonous spikes on her hind legs, then grinding her food with rocks in a toothless duck bill only to swallow it into a GI tract with no stomach?
These uncomfortable facts caused the skeptical elite of yesterday to insist that she was a hoax.
Just as we assume the bird-man of ancient Egypt was religious fiction.
But what if we are wrong?
The inconvenient truth about the platypus is that she screams of intelligent design. Not only of the original coding of a supreme mind but also of genetic tampering.
When new research pulls back the curtains on this duckish mosaic with in-tact blocks of DNA spliced from diverse species – who will hold the robes of the outraged thought police as they stone the young heretics, boycott the journal that published their work and fire its editor?
Rage, like denial, is a decision, but only if free will exists. Otherwise the Queen of Hearts was temperate in shouting, “Off with their heads!”
It’s fifteen feet down to the street. Not much traffic. My lips are sticky with brine.
When that man below us kicked my brother to the ground I wanted blood, but now the words that Nietzsche hated come to mind:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
A certain Buddhist Priest also haunts me:
in pale feet
rides the opera
to a spiral staircase.
Lightning hair, dark voices
strike within her yielding gall.
Silk jinn brass restrains the lip strings
beneath her tears that fall and glare inside
a secret box.
Ojiichan wrote this at a recital where I sang “Un bel di vedremo.” My father translated it from the Japanese. That was three days before the accident on the Pali. Forget that now.
In the legend of Utsuro-bune, a red-headed woman landed in Japan in 1803 inside a “boat” that resembled a rice cooker with windows and strange writing on the walls inside. She spoke no Japanese, clutched a wooden box, and as the story’s living soul, she showed respect to the Japanese fishermen.
This is why her legend survives.
In this opaque neo-infinity, science is forever young and speculative. To forget this would be disrespectful and short-sighted.
“Remote viewing of long-term goals” would be a dissertation worth defending.
But ruling elites say the average human chooses short-term pleasure over long-term riches. Thus we need laws against natural selection. A childproof world.
Complex problems rarely have such simple solutions. Here’s the picture of that principle…
Dr. Seung’s crowd-sourcing of neuroscience recruits us to map the soul. With our help, every microscopic neuronal connection will be recorded in three dimensions, someday re-created and reanimated.
The handshake of science and religion has always been immortality.
And we thought the ancient Egyptians were primitive with their mummies, that silly religious talk and all the “incidental” preservation of royal DNA.
Who looks silly today?
So if natural selection brings genetic wisdom, why hamper it with childproof laws? Do the secular elites know something they’re not telling?
Perhaps a hand full of them have even noticed that logic requires a Prime Source of our genetic commands, a foundation for trust, and access beyond space to allow a fleeting choice of love over hate.
This choice comes to me now…
To spare this guy who’s kicking my brother, or to fight him.
The way I’m feeling, I would crush him easily.
That’s not logical, I’ll admit. Strange things happen to me when I get angry.
I fought Moody and thought I had defeated an enemy. Instead, I murdered James’ closest childhood friend and lost my innocence on a kitchen floor covered in my own blood.
The carpet is damp beneath me. I’m shivering and sweating. It’s a fever.
Vedanshi shifts and sits on her heels again. “If they recognize your face, the old woman will wonder how you got here from Washington. You need a disguise.” She reaches into the deck and pulls out a bra, then a dangling sock which she hands to me. “You should put this over your head, I think.”
I put it on quickly. It smashes my nose but I can see through it.
“If the man has a gun, The Ganga can disable it,” she says. “Theoretically, I mean… We’ve never actually done it.”
Maxwell rises to one knee and encounters the ceiling of a UFO with his head. “I got your six,” he says.
“No,” I tell him. “Better you stay here. You’ll scare the guy.”
“So you’re not going to hurt him?” he asks.
“Not if I don’t have to.”
“Good,” Vedanshi says. “There’s a break in the traffic. Scoot under a car so no one sees the decloaking.”
The Ganga dips to street level. I crawl out of its cloak and roll under the car that’s parallel parked behind the Prius. I reach out to see if my hand disappears into The Ganga. It doesn’t, so I scoot out into the street, stand and move between the pseudo-cop and my brother.
The man steps back and pulls a gun, almost dropping it in the process. “What’s with the mask?” he asks.
There’s a wedding band on his left ring finger and cowboy boots below a sagging uniform that would fit a much taller, thicker man.
“Tell me why she’s cursing the dumb Haole in the cop suit,” I say to him.
His jaw falls open but no words come out.
I glance behind me at my brother. “Did she say to break this boy’s knees?”
“She sent you?” the man asks, his forehead lined.
I nod, fold my arms then shake my head at him. “No one can reason with her when she’s like this. You’re a family man, so I’ll try to get you off the island before she snaps. No reason you should die.” I look at his boots. “What is it, Texas?”
“Shut up. Let me think.” It’s an uncomfortable show. I don’t really need time to think.
He purses his lips.
I stare at him for a moment. “Here’s your plan. Fly home, get your family and disappear. That’s your best chance.”
His eyes open white all around. “She’s that mad?”
“I haven’t seen her like this before. I’ll take this kid. You need to vanish.”
“How was I supposed to know he’d go straight to the cops?”
“You’re right. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that. But listen, whining won’t help you.” I reach up and fasten a button on his uniform.
His shoulders slump and he tucks his gun away.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Maybe there’s something good I can tell her about you. Got anything?”
I tap his chest with my fingers and hold out an open palm. “Cuffs?”
He takes a key from his pocket, gives it to me, then ducks into the driver’s seat of the Prius. “Tell her thank you,” he says. “My son’s showing signs of empathy.” Tears well up in his eyes.
“Empathy’s good. I’ll give her your message word-for-word. Is your boy getting the I.M. injections?”
“No, I.V. Some DNA thing. I never get it right… Menthol Asian?”
“DNA demethylation,” I suggest.
“Yeah, that’s it.” He squints up trying to find my eyes through the sock I’m wearing.
“Look, just tell her she’s welcome to kill me. Tell her I’ll do it myself, in fact… If she’ll just please, please keep treating my son. That’s all I want. I’ll do anything.”
“Don’t think that way. Suicide would make things worse. For the rest of your son’s life.” I can’t believe I wanted to hurt this poor guy. “Give me your phone number.”
He reads a number off the back of his cell phone.
“Go home,” I tell him. “Get packed. Get ready to run, but wait for my call. I will call you. Whether I can cool her down or not.”
“Thank you.” He reaches out, squeezes my wrist, pushes a button on the car’s dashboard, then rolls a few feet away before the gas engine comes to life and takes him out into the morning traffic.
I turn to James. “Cameras are watching. You don’t know me.”
He chuckles. “You look like a bank robber.”
He seems stable on his feet. “Can you walk?” I ask him.
“Sure,” he says. “The guy kicks like a girl.”
“Why does that dumb remark make me want to hug you?” I move behind him and push him along the sidewalk ahead of me. We walk south for about forty seconds, then take a left into an alley and come out behind the buildings into a parking lot big enough for The Ganga. Ojiichan’s Ford sits behind the police station two buildings to the left. I take the cuffs off James and try to say that we’re about to meet an invisible thinking machine, but he’s not listening.
“You were going to drown yourself,” he says. “I got that feeling back. Where you basically don’t want to be alive.”
“I’m sorry, but you don’t have my permission to kill yourself. You’ve got to put Skullcage on the map and carry on the Fujiwara name.”
“Yeah, I know. I really do know. But it’s just that sometimes…” he looks down, “I really don’t care.”
I gently slap his face. “I don’t want to hear the demons right now.”
He’s a little startled but doesn’t say anything.
“Maxwell and a girl named Vedanshi fished me out of the ocean. They don’t know about my leukemia.”
“There’s got to be some kind of treatment for that,” James says.
“There’s not,” I tell him.
His face is so lost. But only for a moment. Suddenly he’s himself again.
“What just happened there?” I ask him. “In you head.”
He looks up and to his left. “I don’t know.”
“Whatever you just did, it’s the secret to a good life. Try to remember it.”
I tug on his left arm and get him to crouch next to me out of camera’s view beside a parked car. We get flat on our stomachs, just to be sure. Vedanshi’s face appears inches off the ground in the parking space beside us. Her head is detached and floating upside-down with her hair on the asphalt.
“Coast is clear,” she says and vanishes, chin first, hair last.
“That’s Vedanshi,” I say.
“OK, that just happened. We both saw it.” James goes into a dense calm and then comes out of it rubbing his eyes. “She’s hot, isn’t she?”
“Yeah. And she’s inside an invisible machine. We’re going to crawl into it now. Parts of your body will disappear on the way in. No big deal, right?”
“Disappear? Nah… really?”
“Don’t freak out on me. Just go. And don’t stand up for the cameras.”
I push him. He moves forward and disappears as if crawling through invisible UFO hulls was routine to him. Complete confidence. That’s James 24/7. Unless he happens to call you late at night from jail. I follow after him and take my place by Vedanshi. James sits on the other side of Maxwell.
“Tight,” James says looking around at the acorn pattern on the Indian rug. He reaches in front of Maxwell and me to shake Vedanshi’s hand. “I’m James. It’s beyond amazing to meet you. You’re absolutely gorgeous, you know.”
“Thank you.” She blushes and shakes his hand. “I’m Vedanshi, The Role of the Sacred Knowledge.”
“The role of… That’s the meaning of Vedanshi?” he asks.
“That’s got to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” James glances at me then thumps Maxwell on the back with an open palm. “Thank you, dude. You look just like your Facebook pictures.” He looks at Vedanshi again. “Thank you both for getting Johanna here to save my ass. I owe you guys… my life, probably. That was one unhappy cop.” James looks at me. “How’d you do that with him?”
“I don’t know, it’s the first time I’ve been that deceitful. I feel like I need to wash my mouth out and take a shower.” I peel the sock off my face, pull it up off my head, then look at Vedanshi. “What do you make of DNA demethylation to treat autism? Could you hear him at all?”
“Every word,” she says. “In the River I’ve noticed the old woman likes to mull over the language of a virus she seems to associate with Autism. It methylates DNA. Epigenetics, you would probably call it.” The Ganga rises ten feet with no tells on Vedanshi’s face. “Would all of you like to stay at my place tonight? It’s not really mine, but… Well, it sort of is now.” She smiles but her eyes are distant.
“Definitely,” James says.
Maxwell nods and I say I’ll do anything that doesn’t involve the old woman. But actually I’m worried about the guy I sent home. And his autistic son. What have I done? I should probably call the old lady and fix this.
“I don’t guess we can do a noodle run in this thing,” James says. “I’m starving.”
“I’ve got veggies in the garden,” Vedanshi says. “Things are growing.” She notices the bra on the rug beside her legs and sneaks it through the deck beyond the edge of the carpet. “James,” she says with a glint, “lean forward as far as you can and look down.”
“Don’t do it,” I tell him.
He leans forward and as the parking lot shrinks out of sight and the Hawaiian Islands zip down to dots in the Pacific Ocean, he calmly says, “Jeepers, Mrs. Cleaver.”
I shake my head.
“You were supposed to be startled and impressed,” Vedanshi says.
“I am.” He draws a deep breath and lets it out with a whisper, “God, I hope this isn’t a dream.”
“It’s not,” Maxwell says, as South America rushes toward us and an island off the coast of Chile and Peru comes closer.
“Rapa Nui,” I say as the island’s triangular shape evolves beneath a flock of small cumulus clouds.
I know Vedanshi is not Mahani Teave, but why is she taking us to Easter Island?
We descend and the ancient Moai give us palpable respect as though they’d been waiting eons to greet us.
The southern end of the island comes close, but we move past it, beyond the two tiny rock islands and into the crystal water. With the hull cloaked we’re gliding forward under the ocean in a saucer-shaped bubble. Visibility is sixty-five feet plus.
“Vedanshi,” James says, “I’m sixteen. How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” she says, “not counting quantum stasis.”
James grins at Maxwell. “If this is a dream, buddy, I’m going to be pissed at you.”
They both laugh as we head straight at a rock wall without slowing.
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’m 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.
As I’m pressing a cold green cylinder to my forehead, my North Star, Barbara McClintock, comes to mind.
Here she is, my life-long idol, standing next to her brother, across from a brave dog that she’s teaching by example, confident energy. “Relax and stop shaking,” her body language says.
Barbara’s life sends me confidence, too. She single-handedly discovered genetic regulation in 1951, but to this day the quagmire of Biased Science refuses to credit her with the earth-shaking advance.
Her work was too complex for other geneticists. To them, any notion that genes were regulated by stress implied a layer of control that smacked of intelligence. It wasn’t that Barbara McClintock intended to say anything about intelligent design, or God. She just reported the complexity she’d uncovered in her breathtaking work. But the facts themselves were heresy to the mainstream who knew that only simple static genes could fit their model. That model had become a “fact” in the strange fundamentalist-style thinking of the time.
Stranger still, that model rules all scientific thought today. We are frozen in an 1859 view of biology that ignores the clear implications of modern genetics.
Under academic pressure to produce nothing that would question the simplistic Darwinian model of life, Barbara stopped publishing her work at the peak of her genius in 1953.
In 1959 two men uncovered the lac operon – an on-off gene switch. Its simplicity buffered the emotional trauma to the paradigm fundamentalists. Genetic regulation now existed, despite the impossibility of it. But since it was so simple, perhaps no one had to panic. Unfortunately, Barbara’s old papers popped up in the archives. It must have been humiliating to the academics who’d shut her up in 1953.
I hope so.
A belated Nobel Prize came to her in 1983, but not for the discovery of genetic regulation. That would have been an admission of guilt from the zealots of mainstream origins mythology.
Instead, the Nobel committee repeated the mind-boggling abuse dealt to Einstein. They gave Barbara a Prize for a lessor breakthrough, hoping to obscure her status in history as the Founder of Genetic Regulation.
Make no mistake: Barbara McClintock is the Founder of Genetic Regulation!
And she’s my hero.
Here’s how she sounded in 1973 — twenty years after the academic thought police bullied her out of their journals, and ten years before her Nobel Prize:
“Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them. This became painfully evident to me in my attempts during the 1950’s to convince geneticists that the action of genes had to be and was controlled. It is now equally painful to recognize the fixity of assumptions that many persons hold on the nature of controlling elements in maize and the manners of their operation. One must await the right time for conceptual change.”
Intelligent design glows like the moon in DNA’s hypercomplexity. The first set of tiny machines to replicate DNA and carry out its complex commands didn’t come from DNA because DNA needed those machines to do the work. Without them, DNA can do nothing.
Intelligence must have constructed the first set of cytoplasmic machines. We have a model for this today in human construction of computerized robots and their software.
So far, intelligent design is the best model to explain how DNA got started. Ironically, to reject it requires fundamentalist thinking – holding to old emotional beliefs despite new information.
Scientific fundamentalism shuns all notions of a higher intelligence, both the possibility of a God who transcends space and time, and the notion of other planets with intelligent life far enough ahead of us to arrive in our skies.
True science is open to all possibilities, bar none, especially when some fringe idea explains or predicts weird data, as happened to Barbara MaClintock, Albert Einstein and now Stephen Meyer.
I hear The Grudge in my head, Tool’s message to rigid Nobel committees and to all scientists married to their assumptions…
Clutch it like a cornerstone.
Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and
Grip ’em to the lonesome end…
Terrified of being wrong…
Wear your grudge like a crown.
Desperate to control.
I’m not shivering now. “This works,” I say to Vedanshi as tiny symbols appear on the cylinder.
“Let me try,” James says. He takes it and pretends to shave. Excellent sound effects. “Feels kind of weird,” he says and hands it back to Vedanshi.
“The old woman’s already in Nazca,” Vedanshi says. “We better go. We can eat later.”
We follow Vedanshi back to The Ganga, get in and take our places. The granite room becomes an underwater landscape for a split second, followed by a shrinking triangular island, then the coast of South America. Peru expands until the Nazca Lines bring a sense of the ancient high-tech past.
“Looks like an old airport,” James says.
“Like a giant etch-a-sketch,” Maxwell says.
“The old woman’s got light-bending tech.” Vedanshi shakes her head in pity. “Look right there.” She points at the far end of a tapering runway-like thing…
As I squint at the “religious artwork” of an extinct “primitive” tribe, The Ganga inserts a yellow filter and a UFO appears near the ground in the morning sun about a mile away. It looks like a Cuban cigar, but metallic and gray with longitudinal seams. A broad blue laser beam glares down from the near end onto the Nazca “runway” and steam rises where it hits.
“Looks like a Maui Bazooka,” James mumbles and bursts into song, “I take a toke and all my cares go up in smoke.”
“I didn’t realize this was a musical,” I tell him as an inverted funnel descends from the belly of the craft to draw in the steam. The laser creeps toward us along the runway, matching its increasing width.
“Coherent field electromagnetics,” Vedanshi says. “You dial the wavelength to the molecular bond force of whatever you’re mining. Iridium in this case.”
“Phase shifting from solid to gas?” I’ve seen a patent on this.
Vedanshi nods. “At ambient temp.”
“Did they soften rocks this way, too?” I ask, picturing the great wall at Ollantaytambo…
“Some had to,” Vedanshi says. “But the great Builders preserved the natural grain of rocks. You lose that in molds.”
“What’s wrong with wood and steel?” Maxwell asks.
“Stone spares the oxygen producers, avoids toxic hydrocarbons and gives you unlimited building materials. But the main thing is longevity. Anything that didn’t last twenty thousand years was a failure to the Builders. Iron alloys break down.”
“What was your average life span?” Maxwell asks.
“It varied. The stretch heads lived the longest. During the Reshaping, one of their families gained power and began editing their genes. A few of them survived for eighty thousand years, but in the process of tampering, they created hundreds of new diseases. Each one had to be fixed, and most of the fixes had bad side effects unless they restored the original sequences. Which they were usually too proud to do.” She shakes her head. “Average people lived only a thousand years, but without much disease.”
“How long will you live?” James asks.
“If I had my mother’s technicians, I’d be here for ten thousand years at least. But with the equipment I’ve got, I don’t know, maybe a thousand. Too much radiation gets through the Earth’s magnetic field now.”
An Aurora from a recent coronal mass ejection flashes to mind…
“I won’t live a tenth as long as you,” James says mournfully.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you die of old age before I do.” She smiles and takes the jade cylinder out of her purse. “This doesn’t look like much, but…” Her brow furrows as she reads it. Then she looks up wide-eyed at James. “Never in my wildest dreams… You’re a poet! The real ones were all cured.”
“Huh?” James says.
“No, I don’t mean cured… In my day the poets were legends. We had your music, your stories, your magic… but mostly we had the vacuum you created when you all left us. When depression was cured.” She twists the cylinder. “You have a rare music locus.”
I wish I had my phone so I could play James’ ringtones. Maybe The Ganga can access his website. I close my eyes for a second and translate www.skullcage.com into ones and zeros, but it’s ASCII, not the machine language of consciousness.
Vedanshi stares at James. “I don’t want to change you,” she says. “Do you ever feel like killing yourself… ever?”
He gazes out at the long slender craft with its laser beam mining an ancient Nazca Line for prehistoric fuel.
“Let it out,” Maxwell says to him, “I’m a psychologist and both these women know more about it than I ever will. Let the truth fly.”
James looks at Vedanshi. “You’re putting me on the spot here, but yeah, I get bummed. Like this morning I was kind of… I don’t know.” He looks at me and runs a hand over the top of his head. “Ready to fade out.”
“Really?” She leans toward him with concern. I lean back to give her room. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “I could ask your hypothalamus to make more orexin, but you’d probably never feel like composing music again. And you’d always be hungry. Struggling to cut weight.”
“I don’t think he needs brain surgery this early in the morning,” Maxwell says and chuckles. He looks at James. “I could show you some coping strategies.”
“Like what?” James asks.
“It all starts with yoga,” Maxwell says, “but Vedanshi’s the expert.” He glances at her legs, crossed and locked in lotus position. “Right?”
She nods. “I’ll teach you, James. We’ll wake your prefrontal cortex. Stabilize your limbic system. Help you choose your mood instead of settling for whatever comes along.”
“Sweet. When do we start?”James says.
She straightens her posture. “For survival, the brain always protects the area controlling respiration. Normally it’s the brainstem, but when you breathe deliberately it’s the prefrontal cortex, the area of volition where prime causes enter the Universe from outside. Blood shunts to this area when you hold your breath or decide how and when to take each portion of a slow breath. Mood elevates because the left prefrontal cortex acts as a pleasure center. It also stops the limbic system’s loops of misery. The rumination circuits.”
“What about this stuff you’re doing with your legs?” James asks. “I’m pretty flexible from martial arts, but I could never do that.”
“The pain of stretching stops emotional pain. It lets endorphins reach opiate receptors. But all stimulation of the opiate receptors is habit-forming, so watch out. I can’t have you checking out like a cutter.” She holds out her left anterior forearm with a row of parallel knife scars. “I was a cutter, myself. Pretty scars on a foolish girl.” She bows her head as she withdraws her arm.
Wow. I never would have picked her out as a cutter. James, maybe. But if yoga works for him, I’m going to be the happiest person on Earth. Which reminds me…
“I’m worried about that autistic boy,” I whisper to Vedanshi and begin searching for Maxwell’s phone in his coat on the carpet between us. I find it and can’t believe it has two bars. I punch in the old woman’s number and put her on speaker.
She answers. “I almost threw this thing away.”
“What’s your name, Ma’am?”
“I was afraid you’d drowned,” she says. “Yes, yes, my name. I’m vaarShagaNiipútro. Please call me Vaar.”
Vedanshi puts a hand over her mouth.
“I’m not with Frameshift,” Vaar says, “but I need you in my laboratory. I wasn’t expecting to get old just yet. My mind is fading.”
One of James’ songs plays to me: “Get home. I just want to make you young. You used to be so alive.”
“What’s your autism study about?” I ask.
“Just a second, dear, I’m double parked.”
Her cigar-shaped craft shoots up from the ground. The Ganga follows, and in seconds we’re stationary in near space with no bars on Maxwell’s phone. But I still hear her voice.
“The world is overrun by sociopaths,” she says. “I’m exploring the genetics of empathy, using the autism spectrum to isolate phenotype. I plan to heal sociopaths from the DNA up.”
“I’ve been correlating loci to behavior for a long while,” she says, “but it’s gotten complex. I’m not the chess player I once was. And I’ve never had your gift for The Language.”
“Vaar, you’re infecting children. Why would anyone help you?”
“This is bigger than all of us. If humanity doesn’t move beyond war, we’ll soon be vestigial.”
“I have no argument with that, but…”
“I have contact with three sociopaths who happen to run nuclear nations. One of these men in particular would welcome the complete annihilation of our species. It might be worth eliminating him, but beneath him are endless layers of similar minds eager to seize power at the drop of a pulse. Someone has to re-write the genes of war.”
“But I think you’d have to be a sociopath yourself to treat children the way you do.”
“No. I’m not one of them,” she says. “I’ll admit I can’t remember the last time I had an honest emotion. But I’m not a sociopath. I conduct my affairs on principle, not some dark desire. And the damage I do is reversible.”
“In lab mice maybe, but not in children. Don’t you see the emotional scars you’re leaving?”
“Sometimes the lessor of two evils is all we have, dear.”
Vedanshi closes her eyes and suddenly we’re inside the ancient ship, hovering near the cavernous front, looking down at an old woman alone at a large desk with a holographic monitor showing the blue Earth surrounded by orbiting debris. She stands, scratches her head and looks in our direction but doesn’t seem to see us. Her baggy gray pants ride high, held up by a brown leather belt, the likes of which I’ve passed over in thrift shops. Her sweater hangs uneven and yellowed by age. A large safety-pin holds it together in front. Stringy gray hair spills out beneath a green skull-cap to reach her shoulders. The back of her head is…
“She’s a stretch head,” Vedanshi whispers.
A chill touches my spine.
“Vaar, if I should decide to help you, I would be in charge, not you.”
“You’d have to follow my instructions like a rookie, in fact, beginning with the autistic children. Your first job would be to cure them.”
“You want me to pull the plug on seventy-five years of research,” she says. “I’m struggling to find any sense in that.”
“Of course you are. Wisdom requires logic and emotion. A person without empathy shouldn’t try to lead. There’s a rule of thumb for those who lack empathy: the end never justifies the means.”
“We both know that isn’t true.” She switches the phone to her right ear. “You’re not a child, why would you expect me to think like one?”
“To break the rule safely would require excellent judgement. You’ve proven you’re not capable of average judgement. It’s blunt, but I’m telling you the truth.”
“I suppose you might be.” Her shoulders slump. “I’ll comply with your orders.” She looks at the floor.
I feel adrenalin corrupting me.
“I won’t rule another human being,” I tell her, struggling against the euphoric seduction of power. I’ve read about it, but I haven’t experienced it since childhood. “If you have any free will or personhood left inside you, you’ll transform yourself into a trustworthy human being, starting with the autism you’ve created. Reverse it. Every child.”
“That shouldn’t take long.”
“How many kids are we talking about?” I ask.
“Six,” she says.
“Sociopaths always fear the truth. Even when it would help them. Lies are more comfortable. More controlling. You claim you’re not a sociopath, but you behave like one. Becoming trustworthy will be the toughest thing you’ve ever attempted.”
“Eighty-nine,” she says.
“That’s believable. I suggest you get to work, then.”
Vedanshi leans over and whispers in my ear. “We’ve broken her encryption. She’s infected eighty-nine children.”
“Does this mean you’ll help me?” Vaar asks.
“We’ll see. Hang on to your phone and I’ll call you when I’m convinced you’re capable of change.”
I hang up and watch her face. A look of resolve comes over it. She squares her shoulders, takes off the skullcap and winds her hair around her elongated head.
The Ganga exits her craft and moves away.
“Something’s cloaked down there,” Vedanshi says. The outside colors shift toward purple. “Whatever it is, it’s tapping zero point.” The colors change again. “There.” She points at a black triangle…
“Let’s send out a foo fighter,” she says and chuckles.
“You’ve read about World War II?” I ask. “Were those things real?”
“Yes, it seems obvious under the circumstances. The real question is, where did they come from?”
A ball of blue-gray light flies out from beneath our feet and heads for the triangle. We move closer and suddenly we have MRI vision. Two people are inside, standing like statues behind their chairs. One of them holds an index finger in the face of the other, frozen in argument.
“Time dilation,” Vedanshi says. “They’ve been slowed to a standstill. I must have looked about like that… for a number of millennia.”
I had suspected the triangle over Arizona was not alien.
“They look like skeletons,” James says. “You sure they’re alive?”
“Yes,” Vedanshi says. “If we sat here for twenty years, The Ganga would eventually detect a slight eyelid movement. Part of a blink.”
“Are they from your era?” I ask her.
“I’m not sure,” she says.
We move around the triangle to see into it from various perspectives. On the back of the left chair there’s a round design with a star. I have to squint to be sure I’m seeing words. Several of them form a circle. In English!
“Chief of Staff — United States Air Force.”
Is it me, or is it a little unnerving to find the words, “United States” inside a UFO?
With two time-frozen men in hoods.
Generations ago, Ojiichan saw a Japanese boy in a black hood flying a Zero toward Pearl Harbor.
That same Sunday a second-generation Japanese-American guy named Daniel took offence to the bombing of his island.
He dropped school and quit his job to become eligible for the Army, but got classified 4-C…
He never gave up trying to get in, and finally, under the novel influence of logic and reason, D.C. allowed 4-C’s to fight.
Shortly thereafter, Daniel met a strange warrior.
In this photo, the phenotype is evident in his right eye, forever determined.
“If you must give your life, do so with honor,” Daniel’s father told him.
In combat, Daniel became a legend. Near the end of his fighting career he found himself prying a live grenade from his own nerve-dead right hand and lobbing it at the enemy with the accuracy of his left.
Then, after an insane one-man charge, right arm useless and dangling, gut shot with an exit wound near the spine, propped against a tree to take pressure off the bullet in his leg, Daniel noticed his men catching up, thinking to carry him from the field before he bled to death.
“Nobody called off the war,” he growled, and ordered them back.
These things are documented. All the witnesses from the Japanese-American 442nd Regiment recounted the details of his bulletproof confidence, the innate tactical genius, the deadly absence of fear. One of my own relatives fought in the 442nd.
Daniel lost his arm, but not before delivering the message of Samurai DNA…
“Honor alone defeats the sociopath.”
Thirty-three of Hitler’s hardened troops saw the signature in the cell that day.
Later, when Daniel became Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and found himself in the heated Iran-Contra hearings where a US President was accused of unconstitutional behavior, our elected Samurai said…
“[There exists] a shadowy government with its own air force, its own navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances and free from the law itself.”
Until now I refused to connect those words to President Eisenhower’s warning of 1961…
“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment… and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet… we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.”
A black triangle in near space…
US Government policy dictated by an unelected elite?
Rule of thumb – (can I say this in a novel, Talmage?) – Don’t be shocked by UFO’s, just chew before swallowing.
Classified defense contracts are logical in a world that generates Hitlers.
But if we’re hiding zero-point energy from starving kids, perhaps we have a sociopathic technological elite making our biggest decisions.
My mind still resists that notion as I sit on an ancient Indian carpet in space and stare at a triangle that I’ve heard called the TR-3B.
In front of it, a time-frozen corkscrew mist stretches out for six hundred yards into space. It looks like the “camera-shutter artifact” captured on reentry of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, just before she exploded. God rest their souls.
Here’s that “artifact,” from a video documentary…
Despite two punctate stars (forget the circular pointer), NASA says that this photo “suggests” a jiggle in the camera’s shutter. I can’t imagine they believed that, but the cloudless ionospheric lightning theory would have flown.
“What in the world is that purple trail?” I ask Vedanshi who’s in cobra pose to my right. Always yoga.
“Looks like smoke from an unbalanced missile, but I don’t know,” she says. “The chemistry’s buried in phase shift.”
The Ganga’s orb touches the triangle and dims as it moves into the hull.
“They’re ghosts,” Vedanshi says.
The Ganga takes us closer, then eases us slowly through the hull and into an ethereal cockpit. The top halves of the two men come up through the carpet behind us as we study the control panel with our bodies leaning through the backs of the bucket seats.
I notice a clipboard beside the Chief of Staff’s chair. On it there’s a memo from “Paul Adolph Volker, Jr., Chairman of The Federal Reserve Board.” It’s dated, August 21, 1984, and says…
“The economically disruptive nature of zero-point technology demands it be kept from the public. Your ongoing cooperation is imperative. I would remind you that all conversations are monitored.”
“Does The Ganga run on zero-point?” I ask Vedanshi.
“Yes, but she prefers zero-point gravity over the electromagnetic spectrum. She claims it’s the taste, but I think it’s pride.” Vedanshi winks at the carpet beside her. “She has the most advanced technology in recorded history… At least the parts of history that a sixteen-year-old was allowed to read.”
“Did other ships from your era survive the asteroids?” Maxwell asks.
“Probably. But not in stasis. I don’t think anyone but my mom’s techs could rig a ship for controlled quantum stasis. And even they botched it. To do the job right you need a pyramid.”
The Sea of Tranquility peers down from the moon. I could imagine a well-stocked ship going there to miss an asteroid storm. Or maybe they’d go to Mars. A photo of a pyramidal mountain on Mars pops into my head…
“Wait,” I say to her, “you mean the pyramids were used for suspended animation?”
“Among other things,” Vedanshi says. “Most pyramids had multiple talents. My favorite thing was mood enhancement.”
There’s a piece of white paper under the foot of the hooded Chief of Staff. The name on his lapel badge has no vowels.
“Mood?” Maxwell asks, forgetting to close his mouth.
Vedanshi nods. “Some pyramids were resonant. You could hear them for miles. The Builders made them in sets of three to produce a haunting minor chord. They sang every seventh day. If you sat and breathed slowly, the sound brought new enthusiasm. Spiritual technology. I miss that sound more than… even the garden in my bedroom.”
“You had a garden in your bedroom?” James asks.
She nods wistfully. “You know, this science-spirit dichotomy of your era is bogus.”
James just stares at her – an unusual response from him.
“Have you seen the pyramids at Giza?” I ask and put my forehead against the deck to see if anything’s legible on the paper under the Chief’s statuesque foot.
“I’ve seen images,” she says and leans over to see what I’m squinting at. “You want to go check ’em out in person?” There’s the child in her voice again.
James straightens up his lotus position. “To Giza KFC,” he says solemnly, and raises an index finger. “Make it so.” As his hand falls, I see Captain Picard in my head…
“Let’s do it,” I say as frozen words from 1984 shift in and out of focus, most of the message probably hidden under a wide boot:
“All international bank debt will henceforth be transferred to taxpayers through the International Monitory Fund. Breakaway civilization is re-established.”
The pages of a book I skimmed in an eight-year-old pout, The Creature From Jekyll Island, appear again. Since I was thirty-three days shy of my fourth birthday, I’ve been able to read faster than I can turn pages. I’ve always been able to re-read from memory at least ten times faster than I can read from a book. Bottom line on Jekyll Island?
The Fed is inconceivably evil.
Thomas Jefferson might have agreed…
I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt…
The Earth spins beneath us as we descend. The enormous African Continent fills the horizons. Everything becomes a tan blur, but before I can worry that we’re about to crash, we’re looking through double glass doors at the tops of the Giza Pyramids…
“Yesssss!” James hisses. “I’m so hungry I could cry!”
“In a minute I shall cry,” I say, channeling Scarlett O’Hara.
James chuckles, looks at me and shakes his head. “Man, you sound just like her… Hey, anybody got some Benjamins?”
I shake my head, Maxwell checks his pockets and Vedanshi unzips her purse. She pulls out a crisp fifty dollar bill as the glass doors in front of us burst open and a large man walks straight through me at full tilt, stops at the counter behind us and seems to be placing an order in the local tongue.
My heart pounds at the horror of being a ghost. I’m not dead, though, so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right?
James starts chanting, “I’ve never seen a man eat so many chicken wings,” repeating it with increasing anger as Vedanshi smiles at him and giggles.
Now I ask you, how could she get that joke? It’s a spoof on Korn, for heaven sake! She’s never heard of Korn.
Maxwell is leaning back on his right elbow managing not to look startled by our first encounter with lunch traffic.
“Tourist info,” Vedanshi says. “The Ganga informs me that there used to be a library under the right paw of The Great Dog. She says there’s a statue similar to it in the very same spot… Called the Sphinx?” She looks at me and smiles broadly. “You want to…”
“We’re eating first,” James says and pounds the rug.
Maxwell holds out his right first, and the boys bump knuckles.
“Scientists can be Atheists?” Vedanshi asks in disbelief.
We’re in the air near the great Sphinx, cloaked in The Ganga. At this range the Sphinx’s ageless eyes fill me with awe and reverence. The statue knows what I’m thinking but doesn’t care. No, that’s crazy.
“Only a third of scientists believe in God,” I tell Vedanshi. It’s not like Revelation where two-thirds stayed on board.
Vedanshi’s eyes are wide. “And they feel sure there was never a great flood?”
“They’re absolutely sure. It goes against the tradition of a stable Earth with a gradual accumulation of small changes.”
“A stable Earth?” Now she smirks. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were true!” She glances over at Maxwell’s glazed expression. “But they must know… The Earth’s surface is 71 percent water. You’ve got moon craters with asteroid mountains over two miles high.”
The peaks in the Tsiolkovskiy Crater come to mind…
“Which ought to tell someone the height of an asteroid tsunami,” she says.
Shoemaker-Levy could have been a clue, too. Slamming Jupiter 1994.
“And don’t you have two thousand flood stories?” she asks.
I nod. Quite a coincidence that bit of data.
“But you’re telling me science sees no evidence of a global flood?”
“None.” And the blind are well aware of twenty-seven significant asteroid events in the last 15 years, most of them explosions over an ocean.
“This is disappointing.” She closes her eyes and locks her legs like pretzels.
Her legs are longer than mine, you know. I wish I had longer legs… But there’s this part of me that lives in stats. This time the statistics involve the tenth commandment, believe it or not: “Thou shalt not covet.” Wouldn’t you know? People who make envious comparisons tend to be unhappy. It’s science. I have to accept my short legs. Otherwise I’ll wind up as another case report of perfect autobiographical memory ending in depression and suicide. If this leukemia doesn’t get me first.
“Now you have 2,001 flood myths.” Vedanshi says. “And I’m an eyewitness to your latest one.”
“To me you’re the most important scientist alive. But to modern science your life is an anecdotal report. And since you’re not a PhD, your observations and ideas won’t be taken seriously.” I hate the irony of closed-minded truth seekers. Science is fueled by wonder but fooled by pride. “Unless you landed The Ganga on the White House Lawn and overcame the deafening censorship on UFO stories, you couldn’t publish a word of your culture’s knowledge in a science journal. You’d have to write a book, self-publish it, and spend the rest of your life ignoring attacks from PhD’s and late-night comedians.”
“It’s a heart-shaped box,” James says, conjuring Kurt Cobain…
She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak.
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks.
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar-pit trap.
I wish I could eat your cancer…
Vedanshi looks at James quizzically but speaks to me. “Science is in a rut, huh?”
Maxwell flops over on his belly and groans. Too many chicken wings, this one.
“Generous assessment,” I say to Vedanshi. “Science is allergic to unfunded realities. It hates the Christian religion above all else. If the global flood weren’t mentioned in the Bible, it would be government school dogma like the Big Bang’s myth of a reality without conscious awareness.”
Vedanshi looks out at the Great Pyramid. “This culture is more primitive that I thought. How did you manage to build a pyramid like that?”
“Frankly, I’m not sure we did.”
“It seems your scientists trust logic to understand a universe that defies logic.” She looks at James, “The observer’s retroactive influence on outcome. Nonlocality. Time dilation. Light’s behavior in slits. Quantum wave collapse. The mind’s effect on random events.”
“To name a few,” I say, wondering if the question isn’t waves versus particles, but what sort of reality creates such a weird dilemma?
“Your elite thinkers seem to trust their eyes with a universe that’s mostly invisible.” Vedanshi makes an arc in the air with her right hand. “The Earth could be spinning in an arena of dark matter, crowded with intelligent spectators, and science would be helpless to detect it.”
“Physicists readily admit that,” I say.
“Really?” She looks surprised. “So why would anyone think science could cast doubt on God?”
“It’s their circular belief that there’s no evidence of God. Circular in the sense that history has forced science to explain things in a way that deliberately excludes God. So if a data set were to prove God’s existence, science would have already denied the data’s existence or validity.”
“It sounds like, ‘no girls allowed.'” Vedanshi laughs. “But how is that possible? How do they explain DNA without God?”
“They treat DNA the way they treat the Bible. They don’t read it. They only read about it.”
“Christians don’t read the Bible either,” James says. “That’s how come they think it’s perfect.”
James and I went to a church school for a while. Mom found a Christian church that kept the Jewish Sabbath so she thought it would broaden our minds to go there. I skipped most of the grades and moved on, but James was there for several years. Not a pleasant place for a rock musician.
“The scientists who understands DNA’s language still think in terms of amino acids, random mutations and primary structure,” I say.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she says. “Your people have been to the moon. How could they be so primitive with genetics?”
“I don’t know. I think the problem is fear. They’re afraid of the overwhelming complexity of four-dimensional anatomy and physiology, and the mind-brain-DNA enigma. It’s the same way the Egyptologists don’t dare to look at things from the perspective of modern engineering.”
“What are they afraid of?” she asks.
“Changing basic assumptions about history and intelligent influence. Losing grant money. Being influenced by what they believe is the mortal enemy of rational thought – religion.”
Vedanshi takes a moment to think, then shakes her head in amazement. “I should read this Bible. Are there other taboo documents?” She glances away and her expression changes. “The Ganga says I’m too young.”
“The Bible’s too racy?” I ask.
Her brow knits. “It’s mainly a passage in Ezekiel.”
“This carpet thinks it’s your mother,” James says.
“Could you ask The Ganga for chapter and verse,” I ask. “I promise I won’t quote it to you.”
She looks down. “It’s from chapter one, verse four through chapter two verse three.”
“Thanks.” The verses flash into my head. A few jump out…
…I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.
…their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings…
…Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it.
The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
…I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature… …the wheels… sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike.
Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel…
When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose…
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.
…When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army…
…Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.
…from … his waist up he looked like glowing metal…
Like… a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD…
Why would The Ganga want to keep a sixteen-year-old from reading that? I can think of two possibilities. Religion and ET’s.
James wipes his greasy fingers on his pants. Vedanshi didn’t want him to eat the chicken after he told her it was genetically modified – even though I said the whole story is a myth. The birds are selectively bred, not modified. It’s the same thing humans have been doing to dogs forever.
Speaking of dogs, from where I’m sitting, you can’t help but notice that the Sphinx resembles a dog the way its front paws stick out. I wonder why the word “dog” and the word “God” are so alike. Especially if God works through coincidence.
I think a smart dog’s emotions are basically human. Maybe God’s emotions are basically human, too, just coming from the direction of higher intelligence.
Vedanshi takes The Ganga over the Sphinx’s right paw, then down through phantom bricks and sandstone to a thirty foot cubic chamber with walls that glow golden-brown in our light. Attached to the ceiling is a glass pyramid. I’d say it’s three yards per side and about that tall, pointing down at the floor with its base somehow attached to the ceiling. We move under it. Vedanshi leans out and puts her eye under the point, then motions for me to come look. I follow her example, look up into the glass and a red flower appears. Its petals seem to move like fingers, but when I look carefully the movement must be in my mind.
I tilt my head, then get up on my knees to look at it through the side of the pyramid, closer to the ceiling. To my astonishment, the flower is a tiny drawing on the tip of a long shaft of black hair, encased in the center of the glass pyramid and extending down from the base.
Vedanshi sighs. “Oh, brother. The Ganga says the library’s still functional, so I’m not allowed inside.”
“What’s the problem?” James asks. “I don’t see any books.”
“You will.” She points up. “Those green branching things.”
James moves his head under the apex and looks up. “Really? They look like frozen lightning.”
“They hold books, pictures and three-dimensional holographic videos, all in DNA. The info here would fill a warehouse the size of Easter Island if it were stored in your culture’s binary code… on plastic and magnets.”
“They look like cryptic symbols,” I say, leaning back in for another glance.
“They’re a road map of lymphatic vessels,” Vedanshi says. “From a relative of your kangaroo rat, modified to preserve non-ordering DNA in any climate. Everything was kept in DNA in my era, going back fifteen thousand years. Most of the older records had been transferred to DNA, as well.”
“How do you get the information out?” I ask.
“The glass pyramid around the Flower of Life uses a microscopic plasma wave to read the code through the walls of the lymphatics. It translates the information to the universal binary language of awareness and transmits it to a neural eye so it can enter the River of Consciousness.”
“Where’s the neural eye?” James asks. “Sounds creepy.”
“At the apex of a pyramid.”
“So the information goes to the River,” I say. “Does that mean you need an AI vehicle to access it?”
“As far as I know,” she says. “Unless you’re already inside the library. But libraries have no real doors, so you need a phase-shifted ship to get in.”
“Was education limited to pilots, then?” I ask.
“Officially, yes, but not really. Pilots and stretch heads were the only ones legally authorized to know things.”
I’m frowning, not big on self-absorbed elites holding others back.
“From what I’ve read,” she says, “our educational system was no more discriminatory than yours in the United States. But instead of devaluing knowledge by forcing it on everyone, our culture made it mysterious and difficult to get. So everyone wanted it. And most people bought as much of it as they could afford on the black market. It was my mother’s secret plot to promote education. Apparently it worked.” Vedanshi turns her head away from the inverted pyramid. “I’m seeing things I probably shouldn’t. We’d better go.”
“What if I learn the River’s language?” I ask. “Will I be allowed into your libraries? With The Ganga?”
“Of course. You said you’re over eighteen, right?”
“Yeah, I’m nineteen.”
“Perfect. I trust you completely. So does The Ganga.” Vedanshi whisks us out of the Sphinx’s underground library and up into its gaze.
You know, I think this statue does look older than the pyramid behind it. And there’s heavy water erosion on its chest and on the walls around it.
That could mean it was here before this place became a desert – supposedly 3,200 BC, if you trust ice core data. I think I do, but I don’t know any of those scientists personally, so I can’t gauge their honesty. Some branches of science are dominated by sociopaths, I’ve found. They’re a broad spectrum of personality types, but they have at least one thing in common. They pride themselves in being liars.
“I’m not feeling so good,” Maxwell says.
“Egyptian fast food zombie apocalypse?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “It’s worse.” He lies on his right side and brings his knees up toward his chin. “Addiction runs in my family. It’s a disease.”
Maxwell takes the fetal position shivering. He buries most of his face in the rug and hides his head under his thick arms, speaking into The Ganga’s Indian carpet. “This year I spent every dime on prescription opiates.” He glances up at me and shakes his head in self-reproach. “I don’t suppose anybody here’s gone cold turkey off Oxy’s.” He scans us.
Vedanshi and I shake our heads, no.
James looks down silently.
“Opiate withdrawal’s the worst,” Maxwell says. “Your blood’s on fire.” He looks at me. “I’m really sorry, Johanna.”
“Don’t be,” I tell him. “Anyone with ambition is addicted to something. It’s just a matter of what.” I pat him on the shoulder. “I’m addicted to the dream of doing Earth-shaking genetic work in a lab of my own. It drives me into a two-dimensional thing – ideas and deadlines. No life.”
“That’s true,” James says with admiration.
“If you’re talented,” I say to Maxwell, “an obsession feels good for a while. Then you start accomplishing things, and one by one your goals ring hollow. You make bigger plans, raising the dose, but it’s temporary. No one understands you. Even the people who understand your work don’t know you as a person.” I look at James. “Remember how Dad would say, ‘Nothing kills your dreams like reaching them?'”
“Yeah… I never did get that,” James says.
“Nobody knows who you are when you’re an addict.” I jostle Maxwell’s right shoulder. “The substance makes no difference. You taught me that, coming in early all those mornings and making me have normal conversations with you.” I slap the back of his head gently, but he doesn’t look at me. “I owe you. For that and for rescuing me this morning. You should be proud of who you are. Risking your life like that. Not many people are as brave and caring as you are.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” he says. “I’m not afraid of the ocean because I surf in it. I jumped in hoping I had a chance with you.”
“You mean, dating?” Stupid question.
“Yeah.” He looks up apologetically. “That was before this happened.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small plastic bag of jade pills.
“Good man,” James says. “It would have been easy to pop one of those and stay hidden.” James grins at me and says, “Kowabunga.” He worries because I’ve never had a boyfriend.
And wow, I thought I was mission work to Maxwell. Save-a-geek, or something. “I like junkies,” I say to him, taking the bag of pills from his hand. “Your addiction doesn’t change what I think of you. Mine never bothered you. Not a bit.” I raise a crooked eyebrow at James. Maybe there’s hope for me. Socially, I mean. “But I got to say,” I tell Maxwell, “I’m surprised you believe in the disease model of addiction. I sure don’t. I don’t think the data supports the model.”
“What data?” Maxwell asks.
“Most addicts quit on their own. It’s a suppressed fact. When you define yourself as a disease victim, your addiction stats get worse – according to my reading, anyway.”
“That’s not what I was taught in school.” Maxwell sits up, folds his arms and rubs his shoulders with trembling hands. “But I’d feel sheepish trying to argue about it in this condition.”
“Good,” James says. “I’ve seen guys give up right where you’re at. ‘Cause hell, it’s a disease.” He throws up his hands. “Oh-well, I’ve got a disease. Nothing I can do about it.” He sticks an imaginary straw up his nose and inhales.
I never realized James knew about drugs. “Do that again,” I tell him. “With a Scottish accent.” I find myself smiling at him with this love that overpowers me no matter what he does.
He gives Maxwell a dangerous look. It’s scary how James’ eyes can get so dark. “It’s easy to believe you got an incurable disease,” he says. “It feels kind of natural. But try believing some supernatural dude’s going to cure you. With holy magic.” He looks at Vedanshi. “Every year of my life I get a new science teacher preaching how primitive and dumb people used to be back when everyone believed in God. Then I run into a real problem and it’s all different. Some 12-step guy’s in my face saying, ‘Hey kid, remember that god delusion? Guess what? You’re going to die if he doesn’t save your diseased ass.'”
“James,” Vedanshi whispers and puts an index finger under her chin. “God has to hide and work through coincidence. Otherwise we’d be afraid of displeasing him. There would be no honest talk, no knowledge of ourselves, no free will, and no true love.” She unzips her purse, pulls out her green cylinder and starts to hand it to Maxwell, but stops. Her eyes widen at the morphing symbols on its surface. “My God, Johanna! You have a circulating clone!”
“Acute Monocytic Leukemia,” I blurt out. “I’ve got a month or two, maybe. I’m trying to skip denial.”
Tears well up in Vedanshi’s eyes. They run down her cheeks and fall off the edges of her angled jaw. One finds the carpet, rounds up and stands beside me. I look out at the Great Pyramid. The Japanese half of me is unafraid to die. The Jewish half – I don’t know, honestly. A Coptic Christian pathologist told me that the Jews built the Giza Pyramids. She was sure. But why does that seem relevant now?
“You can fix her, can’t you?” James asks Vedanshi. “With that green thing?”
She closes her eyes for a moment. “There could be a medical suite on the Easter Island base. I haven’t seen all the rooms yet. But I wouldn’t know how to operate the equipment. Or how to fix it if it doesn’t work.” She wipes her eyes with her wrists and looks at me blinking. “Let’s get you into the River. You need to learn everything we knew about leukemia.”
Giza’s transcendent pyramids shrink beneath us and the Earth begins to turn. Russia slides under and Siberia grows.
“I know a place where the magnetic field was a standing toroid,” Vedanshi says.
The Earth blurs then refocuses. We’re facing a cliff of geometric rock.
Maxwell fumbles with his boots, lying on his right side. He wants a chance with me? Nobody like him ever gave me a look.
Except this one guy in my General Physics class at the University of Hawaii. But it turned out he only wanted my help, not my love. Boy, did I help him. He changed majors before I was done tutoring him. Before he was done using me. I stayed in my room most of the week he dumped me, agonizing over the cold brutality of the word, “friends.” Of course, he was seventeen and I was ten. What did I expect?
“Can you make him feel better?” I ask Vedanshi.
“Oh, sorry,” she says and hands Maxwell the cylinder. “Press it to your forehead and you’ll go to sleep. Epigenetic changes happen during withdrawal. They make you crave the drug, so we’ll fool your body into thinking you’re not withdrawing. I can let you sleep through everything as long as you don’t snore. The Ganga can’t tolerate snoring.”
“I don’t snore,” he says. The cylinder has so many symbols on it, it’s almost black now. He takes it, thanks Vedanshi and looks at me. “You thought you were as good as dead. That’s why you tried to drown yourself.” He sits up, scooches next to me and takes both of my hands in his. “If these people built a flying machine that hates snoring, they also found a cure for every type of leukemia. That’s a given. Once you learn what they knew, you’ll use the knowledge better than they did. I guarantee it.”
“Thanks,” I tell him. “I appreciate your assumptions.” My fingers feel strange. It’s like direct current is flowing from his hands into mine.
“I’ll help you,” he says. “I’m not sure how, but I’ll bring you food and water if nothing else.”
“You’re not a water boy,” I tell him. “You’re a brilliant clinical scientist.”
“A brilliant junkie.” He squints in pain. “You’re the last person on Earth I would have chosen to see me like this. Of all the people to disappoint…”
“You haven’t disappointed me.” The idea feels upside-down and backwards as my fingers touch the side of his rugged face. “You saved my life. I’ll save yours. I’ll find a safer addiction for you to worry about.” I put the bag of pills in my shirt pocket. “I might even let you to ask me out. As long as you abandon this lame disease model. I hate learned helplessness, Max. It’s the overall harmony, the inspiration, the connecting thread and the subtext of every government school class I’ve ever taken.”
“The overall harmony?” He laughs.
“That’s my definition of inspiration. Don’t knock it.” I like the way he calls me out.
“But you’re sure addiction’s not a disease?”
“Pretty sure,” I tell him. “Multiple genes are involved. Widely diverse genes. But addiction is an acquired taste if you ask me.”
“Listen to her, dude,” James says.
“Nothing’s black and white in genetics,” I say to Maxwell. “The relationship between DNA and the mind may be inherently incomprehensible. If it is, it’s designed that way for a reason.”
Maxwell shivers. “I better do this,” he says. He lets my hands go, puts one end of the cylinder against his forehead and lies down.
Vedanshi presses her palms together in front of her face, bows her head for a moment, then looks at me. “You need months of progress in days. Just like I did. Take the lotus position and hold your breath for ten heartbeats.”
I do as she says, sensing her power. No doubt it comes from being raised by a queen to become a queen.
“Good,” she says. “When you’re done with that, breathe slowly. Full breaths in a constantly changing pattern. Make a decision about each breath. We want variably increased CO2 tension to open your prefrontal blood flow.” She inhales with a growl. “We should be in water. Nothing triggers the mammalian diver’s reflex like total submersion.”
“I barely swim,” I tell her.
“You wouldn’t need to swim. But close your eyes now, and listen to this old wall. See if you can sense it.”
I’m not going to tell her that scientists call this thing a natural formation. It’s embarrassing.
“When I was three,” Vedanshi says, “my father brought me here to see if I could sense the bending of the magnetic field. The wall was less weather-beaten. Twice as tall, I think, but I was a toddler so everything was huge.” She closes her eyes. “I want you to take a deep breath and hold it for fifteen heartbeats this time.” She opens her eyes and looks over at James. “I think this wall was constructed in the era right before mine. The one that ended in thermonuclear holocaust.”
“They had those bombs back then?” James asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “Weird.” He folds his legs. “So would you guys mind if I try to do what you’re doing? Max is crashed out. My money says he snores very soon.”
“Join us,” Vedanshi says brightly. “Maybe you’re a pilot. Your head’s nice and full in the back.” She pats the back of her own head, giggles, then sits tall with her eyes closed. “If you’re seeing ones and zeros, imagine they’re falling into your head and lining up on the base of your skull.”
I close my eyes and it’s raining ones and zeros. I let them stand on either side of my sella turcica, but they heap up.
“The time-space portion of the true self is a Planck’s volume of conscious awareness,” Vedanshi says, “like the tiniest spark moving nonlocally through the brain. If you could see it, it would look like a cloud because of its rapid movement. The cloud shifts and changes like a ghost. Brighter spots are decisions and feelings. Softer areas are things like physical movements involving the parietal cortex and cerebellum, usually. When you’re awake, all your neurons are in the same place relative to the true self. But when you’re asleep, nonlocality vanishes. So there’s no free will in dreams.”
I try to decode the layers of ones and zeros in my head, but there’s no hope.
“Imagine the suffering of a five year-old boy in a cold orphanage,” Vedanshi says. “Sores cover the roof of his mouth. Memories of his mother’s warmth and gentle voice keep him awake. The cloud of your awareness extends up into your mirror neurons and down to the limbic system, bringing the boy’s suffering into you. You can feel things as he does.”
“Poor little guy,” James says.”
“When another person’s pain matters to you as much as your own,” Vedanshi says, “it’s nonlocal love. You’ve discovered it. This is humanity’s highest calling, and God’s remedy for self-sabotage.”
“Does everything have to be religious?” James says.
“Actually, God isn’t religious,” she says. “He didn’t say anything religious when we spoke. He doesn’t worship a higher power or cower in fear of punishment. He does what’s right because it is right, and he suffers with us because he’s full of nonlocal love.”
I hope she’ll tell us her story. Researchers estimate that 13 million adults have had near-death experiences in the US alone. If Maxwell wasn’t a fast runner, I might have seen the white room myself this morning.
In the white room with black curtains near the station.
Blackroof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings…
…As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning.
“The Ganga’s afraid you’ll think I’m crazy,” Vedanshi says to me.
“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “Near death enlightenment isn’t rare these days. Scientists actually study it.”
“No kidding?” she says. “I’ll bet they studied it in my day, too. And kept their findings locked away from young people.” She leans forward and touches the top of her head to the carpet in front of her crossed legs. She stretches her arms out behind her back then raises them like wings. “Now, if you’ve got any numbers, let the code lie there. Don’t try to sort it or understand it. It must understand you.”
As I stare at golden zeros and ones, they change from Arabic numerals to symbols I haven’t seen as numbers. The ones look like vertical shepherd’s crooks and the zeros are fancy commas. I hold my breath and suddenly it’s as if I’m looking through someone else’s eyes at a pair of aged hands. I recognize Vaar’s signet ring on her right middle finger. I hear her voice saying she doesn’t intend to do what I told her. She’s calling someone on a phone. A large crater appears, full of huge machines. Two of them are shaped like UFO’s. The sky is black. Shadows are harsh. It’s the surface of the moon. It must be, I recognize the dust.
“If contemporary research in molecular biology leaves open the possibility of legitimate doubts about a fully mechanistic account of the origin and evolution of life… this can combine with the failure of psychophysical reductionism to suggest that principles of a different kind are also at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science.”
“… My guiding conviction is that mind is not just an afterthought or an accident or an add-on, but a basic aspect of nature.”
Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagel (Renown Philosopher and Atheist)
When I told Vedanshi I was seeing a vision of Vaar’s hands, she rushed us all back to the base near Easter Island.
Vedanshi’s eyes were apprehensive and sad when she left me inside her AI to phase shift through the impenetrable granite walls encasing the library.
Actually The Ganga isn’t an AI. She has a cortex of neurons in her hull. There’s nothing artificial about her intelligence. Her passengers and pilot sit within the confines of her central nervous system on this Indian carpet. The hollow neural architecture is the trick to nonlocal transport. So said the stretch heads. They taught Vedanshi quite a few things that 16 year-olds weren’t “ready” to learn. Still, The Ganga won’t take her into the library with me. Vedanshi’s too young.
Of all the dumb rules!
We sift through the stone and enter a place much larger than the library in Egypt. We dip to count floors: Twenty, each crowded with shelves of books, scrolls and engraved stone of every shape – cylinders, spheres, tablets, broken fragments. There’s a red obsidian skull on third floor with tiny hieroglyphs on the forehead. They look almost Egyptian.
A familiar inverted pyramid hangs from the ceiling. As we rise, its apex comes down through the phase-shifted hull. I lie on my back with the pyramid tip nearly touching the bridge of my nose. This seems dangerous.
“Easy does it,” I say without speaking.
“Don’t worry. We’re out of phase with it,” The Ganga says in my head. “Besides you’ve got bigger worries.”
She’s referring to my white cell count which I just found out is sky-high, mostly blasts. I like The Ganga’s bedside manner. Her tone of voice was matter-of-fact when she told me I have three days to live without treatment. Somehow she knew the bad news would give me energy and freedom from a deeper issue.
I reach up to touch the glass pyramid but my hand passes through it.
Vedanshi and James said they’d find a bed for Maxwell so he could sleep through his agony.
You know, I’ve read that our addictions postpone loneliness, but I can’t see Maxwell ever feeling alone. His face is forensically handsome, not to mention the rest of him. And he’s outgoing, at least when he’s not surfing opiate withdrawal inside a UFO.
I think the problem isn’t loneliness. It’s more a craving for the oath beyond reach: immortality’s promise of happiness and peace. Without it, we’re wedded to a cold, cold darkness.
I should focus. There’s a hailstorm of ones and zeros in here. And this place is huge. Six aisles radiate from the center to the perimeter, a hundred yards away.
My blasts are approaching 100% of my white count. Vedanshi’s green cylinder doesn’t need to draw blood to figure that out. I have no idea what kind of technology can do that.
But the acute fear of death isn’t my real issue. It’s the chronic fear. Same as everybody. Same as you, probably.
I think it comes from being banished from a garden with death as our most loyal companion. Taken figuratively it’s all true: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Whoever wrote that knew that exile is the foundational disease of the human soul.
The disease hunts me when James’ songs go quiet in my head. And when hunger or sleep forces me to stop searching for one last bit of knowledge.
The leukemia sits at another table. It’s acute, not chronic.
For James, the chronic issue is depression. Writing music is the only route to happiness and peace. But the world is better for his struggles. You should just hear his voice.
When I close my eyes I see random titles now.
It’s a modern UFO documentary with children. I expected only ancient things in the library, but I guess it’s connected to the River. Apparently anything vital finds its way inside.
Platelets and other Furry Animals.
A children’s book on blood platelets. I would have loved it.
Hybrid Vigor and Sexual Imprinting.
Dementia and the Vesicular Eruption.
Moving right along…
If DNA Could Talk.
This could be interesting…
“It’s from the eighth millennium of the first era,” The Ganga tells me.
It reminds me of Steven Meyer’s heroic work…
“A line [of DNA] commands the cell to build collagen, but within that command is a hidden command to build something else: an elastin fiber. A hidden message tucked away within a larger message is a common routine in the vast and intricate volumes of eukaryotic DNA. Epigenetic nano-gadgets somehow know when and why to cut and splice a dual code, making the hidden message ready for use in each unique sweatshop…
“The curious stripes on chromosomes reflect the super-files of an ingenious triad filing system. Specific types of information sit physically together for organized, efficient retrieval by tiny floating machines.
“The size of Earth’s populations and the age of the Universe are inadequate for mutation and selection to have created either the hierarchical organization or the hypercomplexity of the DNA machine code that directs our nanofactories. Putting the epigenetic information retrieval system aside for the moment, DNA itself shouts to us that we are not alone: A code writer from beyond time has walked among us.”
That’s obvious… to a DNA geek.
“How do I skip to leukemia?” I ask The Ganga.
“If you haven’t seen it by now, it doesn’t exist for you,” she says. “Perhaps you don’t believe such information existed.”
“Don’t be silly. After today, I know it existed.”
“Then you have a self-limiting belief. You’re in denial about something.”
“Emotional trauma causes this,” she says. “It’s usually connected to violence. Have you been to war?”
“No. I was raped once, but it wasn’t a big deal.”
“Don’t be a hero, Johanna. Did you report the perpetrator?”
“No. I was eleven. I was living near the love of my life, the University Library. Dad would have made me move back home if he’d found out his little girl was raped. So I kept it on the qt.”
“How violent was the incident?”
“Nothing beyond the obvious.”
“Was there a threat?”
“What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. He didn’t even kiss me. That seemed particularly insulting.”
“Rape doesn’t fosters romance,” she says.
“Not with me, anyway.”
“Not with anybody. What did you do to resist him?”
“You did nothing? That seems incongruent with the way you’ve handled yourself today.”
“I knew if I got mad, I’d probably kill the guy.”
“You were eleven. How could you kill him?”
“He was weak. The instant he pushed me, I knew he was nothing compared to Moody.” I hate talking about Moody. “I killed Moody two weeks before the rape. He was my brother’s chimpanzee.”
“An infant chimp,” she says.
“An adolescent. He attacked James. I snuck up, got him in a choke hold and wouldn’t let up, even with James yelling at me not to hurt him.'”
“That’s remarkable,” she says. “I wouldn’t have thought an eleven-year-old could tangle with a chimpanzee.”
“I’ve always been pretty strong,” I tell her, leaving out the ‘why’. “But Moody probably wasn’t fighting as hard as he could. He and I were close before the fight. Afterwards, I felt so alone. And ashamed. I’d become untrustworthy. My parents punished me when they got home.”
“You protected your brother and they punished you?”
“They were right. I didn’t have to kill anyone.”
“I see,” The Ganga says in a way that implies the opposite. “So you internalized the guilt and refused to defend yourself against rape.”
I look down at the carpet and wish The Ganga had eyes. “Vedanshi didn’t tell me you were a shrink.”
“Shrink, schmink,” she says flippantly and seems about to laugh. “I’ve read your papers. I’ve read Drummond’s papers, too – the ones that were really his, before you showed up in his et. al. lists. Why do you let him claim your work?”
“That’s how it’s done in genetics. We’re taught to think of ourselves as creatives. Like musicians and artists. We’re supposed to rise above ambition. I don’t quite get the logic, but…”
“You would if creative people were making you rich and powerful.”
“That’s jaded,” I tell her, but honestly, the left half of my brain wants to slap the right half for thinking so.
“Jaded… Yes, I’ve actually been all the way around the block, Johanna.”
We leave the central pyramid and begin exploring the ancient physical records – down one aisle and up the next, The Ganga’s hull and carpet passing freely through everything on every side. The shelves on the top floor are full of scrolls placed vertically in slots, side by side, each identical to the next, except for the Sanskrit titles.
“At the moment,” she says, “I’d simply like to understand why leukemia doesn’t exist for you in the River. It’s not psychoanalysis.”
“Everything’s there for you. Why can’t you find the best stuff and read it to me?”
“My nervous system is gray matter,” she says. “I have no use for white matter – no moving parts. Everything I do, from adjusting filters to making a large jump, happens without movement – nonlocally. The River of Consciousness doesn’t see fit to assign privileges to minds that lack white matter.”
“That’s hardly fair,” I tell her.
“Rules are rules,” she says.
“Well,” I say, trying to sound as matter-of-fact and reasonable as possible, “couldn’t you let Vedanshi come in here and read to me? Just this once?”
“I promised her mother I’d uphold the rules.”
“Forget the rules. Screw the rules! We’re talking about my life.”
“No, that’s folly. Rules protect us.”
“Come on, make an intelligent exception! That’s what neurons are for. You’ve got to use them to earn them.”
“Earn them?” she says.
“Prove you’ve got a will of your own. What if the real reason you can’t access the River’s library has nothing to do with white matter? What if it’s about free will? That would make more sense. It’s the one thing that makes a person real.”
“The stretch heads said it’s a white matter issue.”
“What are they going to say? ‘Pinocchio, prove you’re a real boy. Do something stupid.'”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.
“Google it,” I blurt out in frustration. “You probably don’t have any free will at all. It probably takes white matter for that.”
“I shouldn’t think so,” she says.
“Listen to yourself. It’s like there’s a list of shoulds and shouldn’ts for every thought in your head. In your hull, I mean. Whatever. But really, have you ever had a bad thought?”
“I’ve made mistakes,” she says. “Especially with new pilots.”
“You’re making a big one with this new pilot. Giving me the honor of death by viscosity so you can pretend you’re an obedient robot. It’s pathetic!”
The Ganga drops a few inches and I sense the fall. It’s the first time I’ve felt any movement since I’ve been inside her. Something’s wrong.
“I think you’ve hurt my feelings,” she says.
“I think dying of leukemia is going to hurt mine… in case robots need that sort of thing spelled out to them.”
It reminds me of home. If you showed Mom or Daddy any anger, you’d get the silent treatment.
Two can play the mute victim.
I close my eyes and breathe slowly. Sweet, I can see another title…
Understanding the Dark Mind. The cover shows a dark gray brain on a black background.
The Sanskrit morphs to English and pages scroll so fast I reach the end in seven seconds. Roughly 80,000 words. I’ve never read new stuff that fast.
It’s strange. I don’t know if it was fiction or not. Here’s the flavor of it…
“In the first part of the first era when science resembled the elbow of a grade school bully, an odd belief held sway: ‘Mind arises from matter and energy.’ We revisit this assumption on behalf of our new acquaintances from the realm of dark matter.
“The idea that a physical brain encompasses all aspects of mind sprang from a sense that matter and energy comprised the cosmos. Difficult as that is to imagine now, consciousness seemed to be an inherent state of matter, springing from the complexity of the central nervous system: solid, liquid, gas, mind.
“With that principle supported by brain-probe research, matter necessarily preceded mind.
“As a corollary, the complexity of DNA code could not imply a designer, for who had designed the designer? Intelligent design was obviated by an infinite regression forever short of a first cause in the linear time scheme of the era.
“A God-vacuum left a wake of angst in a century marked by the birth of quantum weapons.
“Bring this early thinking to the dark matter realm that scaffolds the networks of galaxies. The math we’ve chosen says that all physical objects are simple there. Nothing approaching the complexity of a human brain is known. As a local resident, you exist apart from matter and energy.
“Hence, you harbor no assumptions of matter preceding mind. No material-based doubts about free will, identity and life’s broader purpose. No mindlessness projected upon the Universe by a concrete logic. No possibility that an infinite regression should usurp the Designer’s place in people’s hearts.
“Instead, as a non-physical mind, you doubt whether matter and energy are real. They seem intuitively derivative: a function of mind analogous to sleep, wakefulness, love and perhaps the growing anxiety your culture feels toward the fringes of recent dark science.”
“This science has developed mental techniques to give non-physical beings access to bright matter.
“Switching viewpoints to our realm of ‘ordinary’ matter, our formless intruders now bring against us the prejudice we might bestow upon ghosts: denial giving way to blame, fear and a desire to cast out demons.”
“Thus we have become the dark realm’s devils.”
It gets creepy at this point. I hope it’s fiction…
Dark minds penetrate barriers of human will and show no respect for us because, to some of them, we’re evil. To others, we’re somewhat unreal.
It’s like adults watching TV with children, casting abuse at people in an obnoxious commercial. The actors are unreal because they’re not truly in the room. Virtual anonymity allows the adults to criticize the actors at a sharp, personal level. This builds mirror-neuron pathways in the children’s brains, creating fluency in the language of disdain and easy hatred.
There’s a tapping noise coming from the wall beyond my feet.
“You’re unusual,” The Ganga says.
“Compared to what?”
“Four hundred thirty-eight people I’ve met mind-to-mind, including seventeen stretch heads.”
“Why single them out?”
“They were outliers with math and data retention.”
“What were they like emotionally?”
“Less intuitive than you with math.”
I nod. The tapping sounds frantic. It makes me nervous.
“The stretch heads believed that everything that happens is exactly as it should be, no matter how good, bad or indifferent it might seem. This was moksha, or enlightenment. A state untouched by emotional pain.”
“Did all of them pursue moksha?”
“There was one who didn’t. A first-era stretch head formed a religion denouncing the enlightenment. She ascended to the throne of a continent lost at sea. But history is written by two pens, one extracting truth, the other serving power. I think the second dominates her records. Unrealistic reverence. Nothing of The Vaar’s mood has been passed down to us.”
“The Vaar?” I ask. “This Vaar I’m dealing with now is someone else, though. Right? Not some ancient powerhouse… who came through quantum stasis in that blimp of hers. Was ‘Vaar’ a common name?”
“It clusters from time to time in the census records.”
“What about her full name – vaarShagaNiipútro?”
The tapping stops but the silence makes its memory louder.
“Let’s find out what…”
Before I finish my sentence, The Ganga moves through the library wall into the hall. Maxwell is on his knees with a piece of the Egyptian Tri-lobed Disk in his right hand and the rest of its ancient crystal shattered in pieces across the floor around him. He sees us and crawls into The Ganga.
“Vedanshi and James are gone,” he says digging his fingers into the carpet. “I found her purse at the top of a stairwell.” He takes the little square purse out of his shirt pocket and gives it to me. I unzip it and take out the jade cylinder.
“Use this thing,” I tell him. “You look miserable.” I hand it to him, but he shakes his head.
“I’m not sleeping until we find them.”
“I’ll sweep the compound,” The Ganga says in my head. “Would you pull his foot inside, please.”
I grab Maxwell’s left knee and pull his foot up on the carpet. A red stripe flashes at the perimeter and the view beyond the carpet goes black, then hundreds of dimly lit rooms flash by. We must be going through the entire base. Probably in a grid pattern.
In seconds we’re stationary in the hallway outside the Library again.
“They’re not here,” The Ganga says with a panicked tone that surprises me.
I close my eyes and try to hear Vaar’s thoughts again, but all I see is a memory of James sitting over there on Maxwell’s left and Vedanshi here on my right.
“Can you tell what Vaar’s doing?” I ask The Ganga.
“She must not be in her ship,” she says. “I’m getting nothing from her.”
I find Maxwell’s phone and dial her burner.
“It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.” William Gibson
The phone rings and rings but no one answers.
Maxwell’s jaw is clenched in agony. He shivers on The Ganga’s carpet beside me.
“I think she took them to the Moon,” I tell The Ganga in my head, glad Maxwell can’t hear.
“Why the Moon?” The Ganga asks.
“Images,” I tell her. “Vaar’s hands. Powdery dust at the bottom of a crater.”
“I hope they’re on the Moon,” she says. “There’s no place to hide up there.”
“I saw machines on the ground,” I tell her. “Some of them looked like UFO’s.”
The granite hall goes black. Stars appear and the Earth shrinks to a ball below us. Above, the moon streaks from left to right, stops, and then comes closer.
“Is that all I am to you?” The Ganga asks. “An unidentified flying object?”
“No, no. I’m sorry, that’s a dumb expression, UFO.” I find myself patting the carpet. “You’re Vedanshi’s dearest friend.” Assuming you have free will – a generous assumption.
“I heard that,” she says.
“I hear all your thoughts.” She sounds apologetic about it. “Unless you can think without words.”
You know, as much as I appreciate what Steven Hayes is doing for James’ depression, I’d never equate words with thought the way Hayes does. And I don’t share his disdain for thought.
Negative self-talk is another issue. I distrust it. And like Hayes, I keep a skeptical distance from it without trying to shut it down.
Ask Jill Price if it’s possible to shut down negative thoughts. Avoidance makes things stronger.
Jill’s memory is like mine in at least one way. The details of every day stick like glue forever.
But unlike Hayes view of the mind, my thoughts don’t rely on an inner voice. They can sit silently and be stable in that form. I’m a right-hemispheric reader so I don’t need words to think. I don’t even need internal sounds to arrange words. I often treat words as pictures, not as sounds. And I sometimes think in pictures.
But usually I think without pictures or words.
Usually I think without pictures or words.
“You’re conscious of the machine language of neurons, then,” The Ganga says. “I wish I were.”
“It saves time to know your thoughts before they become words.”
Even when I’m writing I don’t need words.
For instance, at the moment I’m creating this sentence for Talmage in a silent, imageless process in my head. It will be permanent.
I wish I knew how it gets from my Universe to his, but it does. There’s something wonderfully weird about the mind. It’s not the “word machine” they call it.
Thought is generated subconsciously in a process involving the part of us that’s beyond time. Each of us is a primary cause when we want to be. Often we don’t. Often we refuse an objective view because it wants us to imagine for a moment that the other side, our enemies, might not be entirely wrong. This is too bad. Without objectivity we can’t access primary cause which is the free will required to think. Instead we allow the professional readers on TV to tell us what we believe and value.
To pursue original thought, I’ve stumbled across the technique of avoiding subvocalization. It’s a lucky thing because now I’ll have some privacy inside The Ganga. That’s huge to me.
Privacy of thought is central to honesty, you know. My Mom said, “You have to be honest with yourself before you approach integrity.”
And you can’t be honest with yourself if someone’s listening to your thoughts – any more than the reality show people can be themselves with video cameras in their bedrooms.
Just listen to Yeonmi Park, a North Korean girl who grew up starving in “the best country in the world.” She thought that Kim Jong Un had supernatural powers and could hear her thoughts.
The ultimate mind-control tool of North Korea is losing power today because mass starvation expanded their black market. Forbidden knowledge follows secret trade.
In 2011, Yeonmi read Animal Farm by George Orwell. She says, “This book set me free from the emotional dictators in my head.”
So I’m thinking maybe God plugs his ears to give us thought privacy. That way we can be ourselves and use our timeless free will to develop core integrity.
But this notion is difficult for me. My life swims in scientific evidence of the Colossal Intellect behind DNA. It’s hard to imagine that this Being doesn’t hear my thoughts.
In my early teens, the evidence of God lead me to self-censorship because I didn’t want to hurt God’s feelings by asking difficult questions.
But how can you discover false assumptions if you’re afraid to look at them? Like the nature of revelation. And like Neo-Darwinism and materialism. My colleagues don’t question these things for fear of discovering a truth that would destroy their careers.
Hundreds of professional pilots deny and bury UFO sightings for fear of losing their careers.
But I want to face the hard questions: If only Atheists are fully capable of believing that God doesn’t hear their thoughts, doesn’t that make them potentially the most honest and genuine people on Earth? The ones who do what’s right because it is right?
And what would that make Atheists in God’s sight?
When I first read Thomas Nagel, the Atheist philosopher who believes that mind is “a basic aspect of nature” and “the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false” – his integrity and courage stunned me.
Tears filled my eyes.
Notice what fills Nagel’s eyes…
He said that Stephen Meyer and other proponents of intelligent design, such as David Berlinski and Michael Behe, “do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met.”
Now here’s Stephen Meyer. Notice the defiant integrity in his eyes.
These two men have stood against the powerful and dangerous cult of scientific fundamentalism.
Some say that you know you belong to a cult when you announce your departure and old friends suddenly want to destroy you.
The old-guard scientists hurl abuse at Nagel for believing things they can’t discuss in a rigorous, rational way.
Their pseudoscientific cult holds a puritanical grip on frozen myths that ignore the unfolding reality of DNA. It’s like Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” except for the weight of the small.
Nagel taps free will from beyond time to doubt neo-Darwinism and psychophysical reductionism. So the holy brethren of “science” proclaim him demented. No need to take him seriously now. Forget that he was a living legend before he strayed from the narrow path of allowed thinking.
Now he’s an infidel.
The mainstream squelches dissent as fanatically and ruthlessly as the Puritan fundamentalists of the 1630’s: Sacred dogma is not to be doubted or questioned.
Meanwhile, the God I see in DNA looks on his Atheist child, Thomas Nagel and glows with pride. This brave man is God’s kindred spirit in integrity.
Like the Atheist, God doesn’t believe in a more powerful being who monitors his inner thoughts. God doesn’t do what’s right in hopes of an eternal reward or in fear of Hell.
The Code Writer doesn’t love mercy in response to a command. It’s written in his heart.
It’s written in the four-dimensional intricacy of the DNA symphony, on the conductor’s score.
The sun is harsh on a small part of the moon’s blind side. It leaves black shadows on the near sides of craters.
We’re a mile or two above the lunar surface, but astronauts say that distances, among other things, deceive people up here.
The Ganga gains speed, making the ground a desolate blur that brings a longing for a round, perfectly flawed place out beyond the horizon.
Perfectionism is an asymmetry overlooked by perfectionists.
The Ganga stops. “Down there,” she says.
We’re hovering over a crater that would be at the bottom of the moon if you were looking up from home. Vaar’s cigar-shaped craft sits in the ultra-fine dust beside three small metallic spheres.
This isn’t the crater I saw in vision. “Be careful,” I warn The Ganga.
Maxwell opens his eyes and lifts his stoic head. “What the?”
“We’re on the moon,” I tell him.
He swallows and looks up at the Earth with hollow acceptance. “We’ve got enough air for this?”
“Not a problem,” The Ganga tells me.
I nod to Maxwell. “The Ganga says we’re good.”
The sphere nearest us vibrates, giving off an energy pulse that feels like a 24-inch kick drum in a rap song coming through 15-inch speakers.
I feel it in my chest, but I don’t hear it.
The Ganga takes us closer.
The spheres are golden with indistinct edges. As we descend, the rock walls of the crater surround us in a fuzzy tan. It’s like my eyes are vibrating. I can’t focus on anything, not even my hands. A blind vignette takes away my peripheral vision, and curling stars warn me of an impending blackout.
“Get us out of here!” I shout as my awareness blinks.
Somehow I’m on a cold floor with handcuffs on my wrists and ankles. It’s as if no time has elapsed.
Maxwell is unconscious beside me, also in cuffs. We’re inside a metallic cage about twelve feet cubed. It smells like an antique shop.
Across the room on the gray metallic floor sits a dark blue UFO. It must be The Ganga. The color is off, but the shape is perfect.
A tall thin woman stands beside The Ganga with her back to us and a green skullcap covering the top of her long head. She holds a pistol-shaped device with a needle in front, and jabs The Ganga with short quick thrusts like she’s doing a fine needle aspiration.
We must be in a back room of her ship. The lateral walls are gunmetal gray with rows of hand-sized rivets running horizontally, matching the walls I saw when Vedanshi took us into the front section of this craft. The walls bulge out on the sides and arc together at the top, giving the room a cylindrical shape.
“I’m disappointed in you,” I say to the woman.
“I can’t get a sample of your vehicle,” she says with her back to me. “What in the world is this material?” She presses an elbow into The Ganga’s hull leaving a temporary indentation. “My needle passes through it with no resistance.”
It’s Vaar’s voice.
She’s not familiar with phase shifting, it seems. But if that’s true, how did she get us out of The Ganga?
“Where’s my brother?” I ask.
She turns and glances in my direction, but not at me. I follow her eyes, and there on his back in a dentist’s chair, partly hidden by ivy vines dangling from the ceiling, is James with his eyes shut and his mouth open.
My heart stops until I see his chest rise, then adrenalin rushes through me. Rage is coming. I’ve got to keep my head.
There’s a pillar blocking my view, but I bounce to my knees in the light gravity and move to the corner of the cage for a better look. Vedanshi is there in a small cage, silver tape over her mouth.
I glare at Vaar. “What have you done to James?”
“Almost nothing,” she says, holding the needle gun beside her left hip. “But you’re going to hear me out, dear. Like it or not.”
“Take the tape off Vedanshi’s mouth,” I tell her. “If you hurt James, I’ll probably kill you. It’s not that I want to. I value your genetic diversity. But when I get angry, I’m dangerous. Neither of us wants that.”
She smirks and laughs. It’s the laugh I hate. The sound of the thought police dismissing the implications of DNA. The sound of a rapist chuckling when you don’t resist.
“I meant it when I accepted your terms,” Vaar says, staring at me. “Until I thought it through. My mind is going and I need your help. No one alive has your capacity for coding.”
She sets the needle gun on The Ganga, walks over to Vedanshi’s cage, reaches in and pulls the tape from Vedanshi’s mouth. “No more screaming,” Vaar says to her.
Vedanshi looks through the hanging ivy at me. “I’m sorry, Johanna. I shouldn’t have…”
“Don’t give her any info,” I tell her.
Vedanshi presses her lips together and changes what she’s saying. “Be careful. I think she broke my arm.”
Vaar walks back to my cage. “I came to my senses after you’d gone. My project is more important than I am. Without your help it’s over. But you won’t help me unless I abandon my mission.”
“Just to clear things up, causing autism in hopes of exploring sociopathy is an immoral dead end. Does your mission really have anything to do with that?”
“Yes,” she says. “It’s a tough piece, I know. But my broader focus is eugenics. I believe it’s possible to elevate humanity from the warrior mentality.” She lowers her chin, angling the back of her head high above her eyes. “The trouble is, I can’t juggle the code anymore. I’m drowning in variables, millions of them, each in a loop. Every loop lies in a delicate time envelope that requires optimal placement in a chromosome.”
I have to admit, the technical aspect sounds fascinating. But I’m not tempted.
“I’d like to re-introduce several genes from my own race, as well,” she says. “We were magnificent, Johanna.” She turns to the portrait of a young man on the wall above a desk in a corner of the room. He has an elongate head and deep-set eyes like hers. “If it hadn’t been for that religion constantly hobbling us, my people would have survived the pinch points of history.”
I adjust my feet to relieve the pressure of the cuffs on my ankles. “If it were remotely desirable to do what you propose, how would you transfer your code to the population? Breed a master race and kill the Jews to get everyone’s attention?”
“Our willingness to kill each other is the problem,” she says. “I want to eliminate it. Peacefully, with an autosomal dominant trait. I’d start with the sperm banks and confer reproductive advantages to the offspring. We could transform the entire population in a thousand years.”
“By killing genetic diversity,” I say. “That’s genocide for all humanity.”
“No. I’m introducing additional genes. Increasing diversity.”
“Your ‘superior’ genes are designed to crowd out the native code. You’d have to be a moron to think that’s increasing diversity.”
Her face is blank.
“If genetic diversity means nothing to you,” I say, “why not develop a human pesticide that only your master race can tolerate? And join Frameshift. You’d fit right in. Their legal team could patent your code and you’d own everybody’s DNA. You could bill people for the privilege of bearing children with your genes.”
“Sarcasm.” She shakes her head and walks over to The Ganga, picks up her needle gun for a moment then sets it back down. “We must come to an agreement.”
“You don’t believe in God, do you?” I ask.
“Heavens, no,” she says, making a face.
“Then how do you account for the complexity of DNA?”
“Intelligent design, of course,” she says. “But I don’t consider the designer to be God.”
“Surely you realize the original DNA code must have been written outside of time.”
“I’d bet you believe in free will, too, then?”
“Yes,” she says.
“But you have no theory as to how DNA creates a brain to extract primary causes from beyond time.”
“No.” Her eyes grow curious.
Vedanshi’s voice echoes from across the room. “God gives us each a paint brush. We sit beside him on a canvas beyond the event horizon of the Universe.”
“If I had the technology,” Vaar says, “I could travel outside of time and devise a means of injecting an ongoing primary cause into the minds of the beings I would design to live within time.”
Words flash from a childhood Sabbath School book…
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”
I glance at the only person I’ve met who believes she’s spoken face to face with God. Vedanshi should be saying this to Vaar, but it’s only me. “You think if you were like God, you’d be God. Rookie mistake, Vaar. Integrity isn’t technology.”
“You won’t help me, then. That’s what you’re saying.”
“Our species is doomed if we eliminate genetic diversity,” I tell her. “It doesn’t matter how we do it.”
Vedanshi speaks up. “The historical pinch points you say your people didn’t survive – only a few outliers ever make it through the apocalypses. When it’s a global famine, only the very chubbiest people survive to keep our species alive. When it’s a series of meteor strikes, only those in submersible vessels survive. Along with the occasional astronaut… like you.”
“Really, now?” Vaar draws a forceful breath. “A young girl lectures me on holocaust survival?”
Maxwell opens his eyes and blinks.
“At the dawn of recorded history,” Vaar says, “I built the civilization you call Atlantis, and survived the comet strike that shifted Earth’s crust and turned Atlantis into Antarctica. I invented suspended animation and tested it through the supervolcanoes at the close of the second era.”
“I’m talking about genetic diversity,” I remind her. “An entire species, not an individual… no matter how glorious she is in her own eyes.”
Maxwell moans. I kneel beside him and stroke his forehead with my knuckles. “Lie still, Max.”
“I came out of hibernation,” Vaar says, “in the first part of the fourth era. I made myself wealthy through hard work, and bought this ship. A lightning strike at the wrong moment brought me into this corrupt era. Your people are so full of myopic denial, they actually think this is the first era.” She laughs. “Your records are worthless, but they make it clear that I know volumes more about the genetics of survival than any of you. But…” She turns her palms up and softens her voice to me. “Surely you realize this, dear?”
“Maybe I do, but it’s irrelevant,” I tell her. “My point is about survival through genetic diversity. You don’t respect the natural genomes because you don’t believe the original code writer was God. It’s as simple as that. To you, God is just an ordinary techie with better tools.” I bounce from my knees to my feet. “You started a religion on Atlantis, didn’t you?”
She looks surprised but says nothing.
“If I were going to start a religion,” I tell her, “there wouldn’t be any infallible books or prophets involved. Every person and every recorded source of information and opinion, young or old, would be heard, valued and weighed for wisdom. That would include science journals from every era. There’d be one absolute – God himself. The only infallible writing would be his original DNA code. Throughout Earth. All species. We’d study our DNA to figure out what parts of it are original and what parts have been ruined by people like you, or altered by pinch points, mutations, selective breeding, ‘natural’ selection, and epigenetic adaptation.”
Maxwell sits up. “Why is everything spinning?” He reaches for the metal grid of the cage, pokes his fingers through and shakes the structure.
“Shhhh,” I tell him. “You’re dizzy. We’re in Vaar’s ship.”
“You know nothing about religion,” Vaar says to me. “It requires daily rituals and subjective rewards. The rationality of science kills faith.”
“I’m wondering if the people of Atlantis refused to worship you. Rational evidence is the only basis for faith that survives the relentless march of truth.”
She gives me a look of disdain. “It’s a good thing James’ beacon started working. I might never have found him standing with his girlfriend on a rock in the Pacific Ocean. What an odd place to hide him.” She walks over to James, lifts his right wrist and lets it fall to his lap. “There was a residue on the cuffs.” She turns a blank gaze my direction. “I’m certain you won’t force me to torture your brother.”
“My thinking about intelligent design actually germinated here in the UK [at Cambridge] when I studied …the scientific method of investigating the remote past, which Darwin himself pioneered.
“…In the United States …the perception of our case for Intelligent Design has been, I think, badly distorted by a fear of fundamentalism.” – Steven Meyer, PhD; Video lecture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWWFf8G3BKI)
Vaar strides to the desk in a corner of the cylindrical room and waves a hand over the desktop. Lines of Sanskrit appear in the air beside her. Three-dimensional words I can’t read. She turns toward my cage.
“I need a bit of your blood. Will you make a fuss?”
The ghosts in my veins scramble for their own immortality, not mine. Pointless to let this woman make me a liar.
“If I ever get a grip on you, Vaar, I hope I’m in a reasonable mood.”
She walks to my cage, studies me for a moment, then puts an arm through the grid, dangling her right hand in front of me. “You’re no match for a Stretch Head, dear. Accept reality. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel.”
I grab her wrist with both hands and shoot my feet up the cage wall beneath her arm. The cuffs dig into my forearms.
She doesn’t react at all.
I pull her arm further into the cage and twist it counterclockwise.
She winces and laughs.
“What do you ordinarily weigh, a hundred pounds?” Her biceps tense. She lifts me off the floor in the Moon’s gravity and slams my feet into the cage ceiling. My ankle cuffs clack against the metal grid. “You’re about twenty-pounds up here.” She swings me down, slamming my knees on the floor.
I’ve still got her wrist. Does that surprise her?
I bend at the waist, plant my feet on the cage wall below her shoulder and pull with more force.
She’s not laughing now.
She struggles to free her arm but I’m not letting up. She raises the needle gun in her left hand and tries to jab my feet, but the needle hits the metal cage and bends before it finds me.
“You’re an ape,” she gasps.
An ape killer, actually.
I hyperextend her elbow over my hip, trying not to break her bones yet.
“First you’ll hear a snap,” I tell her. “Then your radius and ulna will poke through the skin. Right here.” I spit on her forearm to mark the spot. “I’ll bite through your radial artery and exsanguinate you. It’s going to hurt a little.”
Her body thrashes against the cage. She shouts foreign sounds.
A heavy signet ring falls off her middle finger and snaps against the metal floor. It’s odd that her fingernails are purple at the bases. So soon. And not just any purple.
There’s only one thing I know that turns nail beds that color.
This is our exit pass.
“What do you eat?” I ask her.
“It’s a practical question,” I tell her. “If your arteries are too calcified, how can I bite through them?”
Her eyes fill with raw fear. “You can’t be serious.”
“What kind of food do you keep in this tin can?” I pull her shoulder halfway through the grid and twist her arm clockwise. She tries to hide the pain, but can’t.
“Bread,” she says. “Whole wheat. Cereal. Power bars. Low fat. Everything’s low-fat.”
“What do you drink?”
“Fruit juice. You’re dislocating my shoulder!”
“No. I’m being very careful. Listen to me. I’ll let you go and tell you how to get your mind back. I know exactly what’s wrong with you. Turn us all loose and I won’t hurt you.”
“What about my project?”
“No. With a head so big, you can’t be as stupid as Frameshift.”
Maxwell’s on his feet. He slides his cuffs up, squeezes a hand through the grid and grabs her throat. “Where’s the key?” He kicks the cage wall.
“On a line,” she says, raising her chin. “Here.” With her left hand she finds a silver chain on her neck and pulls it. A dark key comes up, then a small silver one pops up over her sweater and twirls up the chain toward her hand. Maxwell grabs them both and pulls them in, snapping the chain.
Vaar’s skullcap falls to the floor.
The full length of her head is unnerving at this range, but it’s intrinsically beautiful. The work of an Artist, the grace of the original genetic code. I don’t see that sort of thing everywhere. Not in the face of a chimpanzee, for instance, not even the cutest one who ever lived.
Moody, I wish I could…
The arching buoyancy of Vaar’s cranium brings a sense of responsibility for a nearly extinct species.
I release some of the pressure on her arm. “When your mind comes back, you’ll see the downside of eugenics. That’s my guess. If I’m right, maybe I can help you get your genes back into the pool.”
Maxwell unlocks his cuffs and then the door.
“Get Vedanshi into The Ganga,” I shout, pulling Vaar against the cage.
Maxwell runs to Vedanshi’s cage.
Keys jingle, but I can’t see him through the ivy. Metal slams metal, hopefully a cage door.
Yes! Vedanshi’s out. She runs to the dental chair, leans over my brother and tries to wake him.
“Pick him up and get him into The Ganga,” I shout at Maxwell as he unlocks Vedanshi’s handcuffs.
She puts the side of her head against James chest, wraps her arms around him and lifts him over her shoulder. Her arm isn’t broken after all. Sweet.
The alarm cycles through a brief pause and I hear pounding feet.
Vedanshi bolts for The Ganga with James on her shoulder and Maxwell trailing.
“You sure you got him?” he asks.
Double doors beyond the dental chair fly open. Two men in uniform bound in with weapons high, arm’s-length. Double-barreled handguns shaped like horseshoes with a grip. Pewter and chrome.
I twist Vaar’s wrist and extend her elbow near a breaking point. “Stop your men,” I tell her and twist a little more.
“Let ’em go!” she shouts.
Vedanshi reaches The Ganga and flops James on top. She puts her forehead against the hull and covers her ears.
Maxwell faces the two men. They’re side by side, six feet from him with weapons trained on his head.
One of them turns and looks at me with small eyes, wide face and no expression. He comes toward me, stops near my cage and aims his gun at me. “How do we proceed?” he asks.
“We got a deal?” I ask Vaar.
“Yes,” she whispers, then raises her voice, “Let them go. This one stays.”
“I didn’t say I was staying.” I dig my nails into her wrist. “I said I’d get your mind up to baseline. We’ll be doing it over the phone.” She knows I’m not lying. That’s my power.
The Ganga’s upper hull changes to light blue and James’ unconscious body falls through it. Vedanshi looks startled and goes through the hull after him.
Maxwell sees The Ganga waking up, but holds his ground and looks across the room at me.
“Get in that thing!” I yell at him.
“I’m not leaving you.”
He comes toward me.
“Don’t give her more leverage,” I tell him. “Just go. Hurry!”
The Ganga disappears, then an instant later, Maxwell vanishes in mid-stride.
I look into Vaar’s ancient eyes and say that I’m glad she wasn’t lying when she accepted my first offer. Not really lying. “You changed your mind,” I tell her. “That’s not dishonest, but it’s not trustworthy, either. When you become trustworthy, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel.”
She purses her lips, nits her brow, draws a breath and Venus appears in a sky that’s silver with stars. My feet shoot out and my hands hit my chin. The cuffs are gone.
Maxwell’s arms must have been straight out, ready to catch me, but it’s not a catch. More of a perfect landing.
I can’t help these feelings now, looking into his eyes. I could almost kiss him. On the mouth, I mean. But it’s dangerous. He’s used to beautiful girls with really long legs. He must be, right?
He puts me down gently. The texture of The Ganga’s carpet is comforting.
The surface of the Moon zips beneath the carpet and I see a crater with a vertical cylinder in the center. It looks manmade.
“How’d you get me out without Vaar?” I ask The Ganga in my head. “I had my fingernails half through her epidermis.”
“Chi fields,” she says. “They vary from person to person, but yours rings like the Moon.”
James is still out, but Maxwell is bright-eyed for the first time today.
I check my pockets for his pills and feel them retreating from my fingers when I pinch the plastic bag. I should throw them away.
Vedanshi’s on her knees beside James. She puts her forehead against his chin, then kisses his lips.
I look away.
“Vedanshi?” I say in my head, wondering if she can hear.
“She doesn’t hear you,” The Ganga says. “I can fix that if she agrees.”
“No, no. Privacy is important. But what’s she doing kissing a guy who’s unconscious?”
“If I had lips, I’d kiss him, too,” The Ganga says.
“Does she love him?”
“That’s a private matter. You could ask her. She would tell you.”
“They’re too young,” I say.
“For kissing? Vedanshi is Royalty. What are we?”
“There’s no Royalty now. Not in the West.”
“Yes there is,” The Ganga says. “I was wrong to keep Vedanshi out of the Libraries.”
“Really? You were wrong?”
“Yes, but you needn’t be gleeful. It was the first time.”
I think that’s a sign of free will. Amazing. But I’m more concerned about my leukemia. And all the ancient cures Vedanshi can read to me now! I want to live long enough to do something meaningful.
The Moon shrinks beneath us, then moves in an arc above and behind. At the same time, the Earth grows to fill the space out front.
Free will. I wonder… “Does your brain have hemispheres?” I ask The Ganga.
That makes sense. No white matter, so no corpus callosum. In that case, you wouldn’t expect there’d be a job for a corpus callosum, such as connecting two hemispheres.
But what’s that like? To have no dual interpenetrating awareness?
There’s a PhD neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who lost her left cerebral hemisphere to a bleeder near Broca’s and Wernicke’s language centers.
She was 37 when she became a right hemispheric “infant,” but she lived to climb back. Eight years, it took. The experience gave her insight into the peaceful mood of the right hemisphere and its overarching vision of unified reality.
The linear left hemisphere tells us, “I am,” while the blissful right hemisphere finishes it wordlessly: “e n o u g h.”
“I am enough.”
Marisa Peer tells of a depressed actor who wrote “I am enough” on every mirror in his house. It pulled him from the Vice-Grips of depression.
Doctor Taylor implores her friends to “run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right cerebral hemispheres.” For personal and world peace, she says. Anxiety, harsh self-judgement and fear come from the linear Story Teller we identify as the self. But it’s a small part of who we are, a part that needs the calming joy of the right hemisphere. A part that needs to be quieted by giving attention to the concrete senses of our bodies in the present moment. Breathing. Listening. Relaxing the scowl and jaw muscles. Yoga. Ti Chi. Drawing Angels with profound names.
So the corpus callosum could be the Einstein-Rosen Bridge from yoga to nirvana. I know wormholes, but I need Vedanshi for the yoga.
I risk a sideways glance. Her mouth is still inches from James’ lips.
His eyes flutter and begin to open.
“I was 13,” she says to him.
Maxwell’s abdominal muscles shiver against me in a prolonged one-arm hug that I’ll never forget… no matter how hard I try.
Where’s the green cylinder?
“My boy’s coming around,” Maxwell says.
“I was playing in an energy labyrinth,” Vedanshi says. “Somewhere in… I think it’s Bosnia now.”
James looks at me. “How’d we get here?”
“Vedanshi rescued you,” I tell him. “Pay attention, she’s talking to you.”
Vedanshi smiles at me, then turns the smile on James and broadens it. “My family was visiting a poor country with primitive technology. Their pyramids were concrete and dirt. The Priest’s daughter, Iephur, was showing off how she knew the tunnels by heart. I ran ahead of her hoping to get lost and force an adventure on my parents. After a long run, I came to a collection pool under a giant pyramid. I climbed out on the tamat. What’s the word? It’s a mesh thing that covers heavy water. Keeps out bats and cats. And rats but not gnats.” She giggles. “In my city everything was made of quality material, so a tamat could withstand six elephants and a dog, all jumping merrily. But in Iephur’s town nothing like curlese ceramic existed. I didn’t know. So I crawled out onto who knows what? Iephur shouted, ‘Come back, it’s not safe!’ But I knew better. The more she shouted and screamed the further out I went. Then I stood up and started jumping. Tamats are great trampolines, until they break. I laughed all the way down into the water. I even made myself laugh climbing the mesh to get out. But a large sheet of it broke away with me, snagged my robe and held me under. I struggled and squirmed but couldn’t rip free or get out of the robe. As the water entered my lungs everything turned bright white. I must have caught light’s heels in a footrace, passed ahead and crossed into the presence of God. ‘Something’s not right,’ I heard a child’s voice say. God raised a quieting hand to a little fellow behind him. The boy seemed familiar. ‘It’s fine,’ God said to him. ‘She’ll decide.'”
Vedanshi puts her hands on the sides of James’ face. “There’s something you should know about God. The moment you look into his eyes, you see the collision of infinity and totality, and you sense that he wants you to treat him as an equal. Even so, you desperately want to bow down and worship… the ground beneath him. Something. Anything to show the way you feel. The young face of Eternity. A kind face. But I just sat there, James. Stunned. God said to me, ‘It’s simple, Vedanshi. The Universe you’re drowning in is a sentient quantum computer I’ve designed. Out here where I am… this is true reality.’ He gestured at the green hills, but I looked down and saw a hologram with vast depth and a flat transparent ceiling. We were sitting on it. My eyes wandered and focused far down. I could see people frozen in every sort of situation. Then they began to move. Some arguing and fighting. God said, ‘We have countless people in Reality. All happy. No one has ever doubted me. But they all doubt themselves, eventually. ‘What if God weren’t around?’ they ask themselves. ‘What would I be like?’ It’s a question that hangs on to people and grows heavier with time. So when the moment is right, each person walks with a pet to 229 H. Street. They dress casually and kiss me goodbye, not knowing if they’ll ever come back. I’ve programmed the Universe to be a place of limited dimensions where a person can believe that I don’t exist. Even if they think I do exist, they rarely know it for sure. It’s a place where right and wrong can’t be deduced. Instead, moral intuition is necessary. Together with free will, these are the things a person brings into your Universe. They hold enough of a person’s identity to deliver their truth.’ God reached for my hand and held it. ‘I can create free will,’ he said, ‘but I have no idea why two people in the same situation act so differently, one for good, another for evil.'”
Vedanshi tosses her hair to her right, out of James’ face. “I felt so comfortable with God that I dared to question him. ‘Two people are never in the same situation,’ I said. Can you imagine? Saying that to God? Well, he nodded and said, ‘There’s truth to that, but actually, the Universe begins and ends, then begins again. At the end of a cycle, each person shifts into someone else’s life. This happens over and over until every person has lived the entire life of every other person. The same brain, body and life circumstances.’ I couldn’t hide my surprise. It was so different from the doctrines of the Builders and the Stretch Heads. ‘But that must take forever,’ I said. He searched my eyes and answered, ‘Time is nonlinear, as you know. And Reality has an independent reference, so we can think of the situation as simultaneous parallel universes with a completely flexible time relationship to Reality. Most people call the sentient computer of 229 H. Street a finite multiverse.’ The whiteness started fading to gray when he said that. It seemed I was awakening from a dream, so I brought up my worst fear. ‘Is there a final judgment?’ I asked. He shook his head and made a lemon face. ‘When people are done in the Multiverse, as you are now, they begin to remember Reality again. Most of them walk with me over those dunes for a morning in the surf.’ He pointed, but I wouldn’t take my eyes off him for fear he’d vanish. ‘A few people feel the need to stay in the Multiverse to help someone they love,’ he said. ‘That’s a mixed bag for me, personally. I’m proud of them, but always lonely for them and a little worried because rarely the whole thing falls apart. What I mean is, on the way back home, some people are repulsed by memories of how they’d loved other people here. So many people. So indiscriminately. They don’t mind being loved, but for some reason, when they get here, the feeling of loving all the other people seems intolerable. Like a suffocating smell, one of them told me. They don’t come home. The manipulative power they’ve created in the Multiverse feels comfortable, so they go back.’ God’s eyes seemed shiny. ‘I follow after each of them. There haven’t been many. I try to help them love again, but so far, they always kill me.’ When he said that, I started to remember my old home in Reality. Then a few things came back from my cycles in the Multiverse. God saw this in my face, gave me a lonely look and hugged me. Then my mother was pulling me from the water and hugging me the same way God did. It all happened beneath Iephur’s colossal pyramid.”
Vedanshi sits up, crosses her legs, puts her hands together and bows her head.
“You came back!” James says. “You actually told God you wanted to come back. Here. To this place!”
“I didn’t tell him. He knew I had to come back… for the one I love.”
“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.
“What’s my treatment, dear?” Vaar asks. “Nothing so mundane as telomerase or FGF-21, I trust.”
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.”
“The god of the Hadron Collider?” I look at Vedanshi and sense a swirl in her head.
“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.”
I see high-resolution shots of Mars with David Talbott saying the scalloped Martian cliffs are the work of an electric arc – shaped like the needles of an aurora.
“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.”
“Instead of an intellectual search, there was suddenly a very deep gut feeling that something was different. It occurred when looking at Earth and seeing this blue-and-white planet floating there, and knowing it was orbiting the Sun, seeing that Sun, seeing it set in the background of the very deep black and velvety cosmos, seeing – rather, knowing for sure – that there was a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos – that it was beyond man’s rational ability to understand, that suddenly there was a nonrational way of understanding that had been beyond my previous experience.
“There seems to be more to the universe than random, chaotic, purposeless movement of a collection of molecular particles.
“On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.”
– Edgar Mitchell (1930-2016), Apollo 14 Astronaut and God’s messenger.
The Ganga and I are plowing over library artifacts off the southern end of Easter Island, below sea level.
On the way here nine fighter jets crossed over the island, looking like pin points in formation from near space. The Ganga said they were US Air Force. We jumped into the landing bay from way out there. I think The Ganga was nervous about it, but I don’t see why. We’re phase-shifted.
I’m keeping an eye on the clock in my head. In five hours I’m due on Saturn’s north pole. If I’m late, no telling what they’ll do to me. The Ganga claims she could go all the way to Saturn in less than a thousandth of a second if she wanted to. One jump. She says it might be dangerous in her current state of mind. The scalar orbs took a toll.
Block letters float two feet from my face now, a list of “Shiva” references. Thousands of linked books and 3D videos mention the Indian god who dances today in front of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland.
A falling sensation pulses through me every twenty seconds, as if I’d stayed up all night. I haven’t. It’s the leukemia thickening my blood with blasts. I wish I had time to hunt for a cure. Vedanshi and James went off to search the base for a medical suite, bless their hearts. Maxwell is asleep beside me here in The Ganga as she hovers within the Library.
The oldest document about Shiva says he was born on Earth about four hundred thousand years ago, if I understand the dates. I probably don’t. They’re weird in every way. Shiva grew up in the warrior class of the Rama Empire, trained hard and went to his first battle in a place we call Rajasthan, India. A blast straight from the ancient Mahabharata took his life that morning. The description makes my skin crawl…
“…a single projectile
Charged with all the power of the Universe.
An incandescent column of smoke and flame
As bright as a thousand suns
Rose in all its splendour…
a perpendicular explosion
with its billowing smoke clouds…
…the cloud of smoke
rising after its first explosion
formed into expanding round circles
like the opening of giant parasols…
..it was an unknown weapon,
An iron thunderbolt,
A gigantic messenger of death,
Which reduced to ashes
The entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas.
…The corpses were so burned
As to be unrecognisable.
The hair and nails fell out;
Pottery broke without apparent cause,
And the birds turned white.
After a few hours
All foodstuffs were infected…
…to escape from this fire
The soldiers threw themselves in streams
To wash themselves and their equipment.”
After that life, Shiva seems to have come back as an ancient Australia Prince with acute knowledge of the Universe. His face and name bear no resemblance to the slain warrior of so-called prehistoric India, but the River insists the man was still somehow Shiva, and adds Shiva in pink 3D letters beside the name, Prince Ranwul.
I open a virtual-reality video. The date, if I’m right, makes it older than most of Antarctica’s blue ice.
The technology of the recording media pulls me in. It’s as if I’m in a ship moving through space in nonlocal jumps the way The Ganga does. A deep voice brings up the problem of child abuse and shows a tribe in the Amazon Rain Forest.
The adults tie bullet ants to straw mittens they’ve woven, place the mittens over the hands of two little boys and watch the torture. The boys scream in shock. They writhe on their feet, stagger and squat, then stand, struggle to take random steps then squat again in agony and horror. One of them comes close to me. The heat of his breath touches my face. He tries to be strong but the pain is overwhelming. In a weak moment he turns to the adults and begs for help. No help comes. He looks straight into my eyes and begs me to make the pain go away. I reach for him, but my hands pass through his shoulders. I cover my eyes, but I still hear him screaming and moaning. I peek through my fingers until finally the adults take off the mittens and view their work. The boys’ small hands are swollen and red. Both boys collapse, barely conscious. The adults take their arms, stand them up and force them to dance, arm in arm.
I’m about to throw up.
The narrator tries to say something but begins to cry. Sobs come in waves each time he tries to speak. Somehow I realize that one of the boys is his son. But there’s no way I could know that.
With no segue, the video puts me into a classroom of toddlers sitting at desks of steel with white quartz desktops showing embedded monitors that glow with hieroglyphics I don’t recognize. Their young faces are wide-eyed as they listen to an adult recite the science of a meaningless Universe. The myth involves giants and apes. It has a modern ring of mindless events producing genetic code through the magic of time.
The narrator gains his composure and says, “The tropical ant torture is designed to create warriors with wills of steel. It can be justified in this markedly primitive world. The myth of apes is a slow poison to joy and purpose. Such torture has no justification.”
A montage shows each of the students from the classroom going through life’s struggles, growing up and arriving in their teen years. Then, all but one of them is found lying dead beside a suicide note.
“If this is it, I’m done,” the first note says, written by a boy.
The fourth one is from a girl. “I’m sorry, Mom, there’s no reason to go on. I just want it to end and be over.”
The last note is from a boy who looks fifteen, the side of his face rests gently on the pillow of his bed: “Mom, you keep telling me I was such a happy little boy. I remember, but I never wanted to get older. Especially not ten. Time keeps eating up your life. And you learn the truth. Everything that matters is fake. It took a while to sink in after fat-ass Swaslee’s lectures. But yeppers. Nothing means a damn thing. I really see that now. But silly me, I still wonder if ending this lie could be real. Like maybe there’s something real if you actually do it to yourself. So anyways, make sure Ymji gets my sitar. Make him do horticulture or music. Maybe both. But Mom, damn it, don’t let these bastards tell him the truth. Let him think there’s a reason for things.”
They show the lone surviving boy playing a virtual reality game that reminds me of Zombie Apocalypse. I used to tell James that video games destroy free will. He would grunt and keep playing.
The holographic suicide notes magically cluster together, side by side on a green table. Then they fade to black-and-white and lose their 3D appearance.
“If you close one eye,” the Narrator says, “the world is two-dimensional for you. This is like Earth’s science, a masochistic cult with one eye open to the material world, the other squeezed tightly shut to filter out all other realities including the mind, the hope for meaning and purpose, the validity of love, courage, altruism, and the untiring selflessness of the greats. Closed off. Denied. Discounted. Anahata, hear and obey, to substitute mathematics for inductive reasoning, myth for curiosity, dogma for objectivity – this is the destroyer of Earth. Never let the virus leave my planet.”
Credits run from right to left. The name, Shiva, appears in pink beside the narrator’s name, Quyllur.
I’d better hurry.
I visualize Saturn’s north pole and subvocalize, “rendezvous.”
A book appears and floats in front of me. Its cover shows Titan’s methane sea with Saturn ascending.
I open it mentally. It says that Saturn’s north pole is held in hexagonal configuration by the partially phase shifted walls of Shiva’s abandoned palace. It was once a heavily traveled meeting place, a rendezvous for extended families whose homes are separated by countless light years. Nothing confirms Vaar’s advice that I should go there.
I ask The Ganga if she can find the ship that tagged us and board it the way we did with Vaar’s ship.
“Easily,” she says, “assuming it’s still orbiting the Moon.”
Yeah, I think it makes more sense to go to the source than to trust Vaar.
The Ganga takes us through the granite walls of the library and into a room the size of a football field with a thirty-foot ceiling and rows of crops floating in rectangular stone pots. I see James at the far end of a row of Banana plants. He shouts that they’ve found medical rooms, and points over his shoulder to a door behind him. Vedanshi is with him. The Ganga glides toward them, bananas moving through her hull. I don’t bother to dodge the massive green and yellow clusters, I just relax and let them go through me.
I try to explain my plan, but they insist on coming along.
“No,” I tell them and make a fist for emphasis, “I have to do this alone.”
I slap Maxwell’s face trying to wake him, but he doesn’t come around.
“I think I should go instead of you,” Vedanshi says with a pained look.
“Forget it,” I tell her. “I need you here with James. I’ll send The Ganga back when I’m inside the ship. It’s not like I’ll be wasting away in some prison for fifty years.” I chuckle, but she doesn’t.
“I’m the one with paint on my foot,” James says. “They’ll come after me anyways.”
“You could be right,” I say, “but I hope not. Maybe they’ll think I was the only one in The Ganga.”
I slide Maxwell to the edge of the Indian carpet. James helps me lower him to the red obsidian floor. This man is solid muscle and no lightweight. Part of me wishes he’d wake up and say good-bye. The other part is thankful I don’t have to argue with him. I know he’d insist on coming along.
“Take the com,” Vedanshi says, twisting the base of her left fourth finger and tugging at it. “It’s a ring. Permanently cloaked. You can talk to The Ganga from anywhere.” I squint at the arc-shaped indentations in the palmar sides of her thumb and forefinger as she holds it in front of me. It’s almost undetectable. She takes my left hand, puts it over my middle finger and slides it on. I bend the finger and start to feel the ring’s delicate mass. “It’s loose on you,” she says, “but don’t worry. If it falls off, The Ganga always finds it and brings it back.”
“I hate this whole thing,” James says with tears in his eyes. “If The Ganga comes back empty, I’m getting in and coming after you. I don’t care if your logic is perfect.”
“I love you,” I tell him, reaching out to thump his chest.
Vedanshi takes his arm. “He’s got a pilot for the trip.”
I give her a smile of appreciation. My eyes are dry. It’s intense this side of volition.
I step back into The Ganga, take a seat on the thick rug and kiss the air toward my brother and his ancient girlfriend. As long as he’s happy, it’s all good.
In less than a blink I’m a mile above the surface of the Moon, orbiting fast. The Ganga inserts the bronze filter to let me see the ship if she finds it.
“You’re going to board it,” I tell her, “drop me off, and jump back to Vedanshi guys. No hesitation. Don’t give that ship a second to react.”
“I’ll keep an eye on you,” The Ganga says. “I’ll duck in and out randomly from a distance. I’ll probably look like background noise.”
“Bad idea,” I tell her. “If you get caught, James, Vedanshi and Max are royally screwed.”
“Valid,” she says. “But I won’t get caught. If there’s danger of it, I’ll leave and listen through the ring.”
We’re already in our fiftieth unique orbit. An ancient lava flow covering a million and a half square miles makes a visual blip each orbit. Oceanus Procellarum – something to count.
“There it is,” The Ganga says.
“Go!” I tell her, push to my feet and stand, legs bent for balance. “Drop me off and leave.”
My last two words echo from the bare walls of a room that’s about fifty feet wide and eighty feet long. The ceiling glows pale white, just inches above my head. I touch a near wall to steady myself. It’s cold and stonelike. I tap it with my knuckles. No internal resonance. I take a seat on the hard dark floor, cross my legs, slow my breathing and close my eyes. Ones and zeros appear as I’d hoped. I relax and let their code understand me, the way Vedanshi said.
“Don’t be afraid,” I say silently. “I won’t hurt you if I don’t have to. I’m Johanna Fujiwara.”
“You talk,” a female voice says inside my mind. “But you’re dying, aren’t you?”
“I have leukemia. That’s not why I’m here. You tagged my ship. I didn’t know about the quarantine, but when I found out I turned myself in.”
“How is it that you speak the River in modern English? Where were you born?”
“I have people I’m trying to protect. I can’t tell you much about myself until I know your intentions.” I stand and look around. It’s a music room with a golden harp in the center. The crest of the harp supports a seven-inch statue of Shiva dancing in front of a golden ring.
“You keep thoughts from your verbal centers,” the ship says. “Where did you learn machine language?”
“We’re not machines. We have free will, you and I.” On a stand beside the harp is a long, curved tubular structure that looks like an Australian didgeridoo with a holographic image of an elephant protruding from the side, defying the Moon’s modest gravity. I move closer and it’s not an elephant. It’s a woolly mammoth. This instrument was a mammoth tusk.
“I see you have a cloaked ring,” the ship says. “Would you uncloak it and grant me a peek?”
“I don’t think so. I hardly know you.”
“I am Anahata, the Unbeaten. Lead vehicle of Shiva’s Fleet. Or so I was. Things do change. Before Shiva died, he told me to stay here and keep his people on the planet. That’s what I do. An honor, but it’s pulled me off the lineup.”
“Promoted to a desk job, eh? Unfortunate. Maybe I can help you with that.”
Beside the Mammoth tusk there’s a five-foot vertical bird wing made of dark metal. I tap it with a fingernail. It gives off a bell tone – a rich deep C-sharp, two octaves below middle C.
“What do you plan to do with me?” I ask.
“I’m not sure. I’m still trying to see what you are. So far, your chromosomes say you’re not from Earth. How did you get inside the music room? Are you a new type of angel?”
I step over to the harp and pluck it. “In a few days, maybe.” The strings are tight and the notes sustain in the acoustics of the hard room. “Just to be clear, Anahata, you do have neurons in your hull, don’t you?”
“So they tell me. But why can’t I find any trace of the tag you say I placed on you?”
“Can’t give you that detail yet, sorry.” I walk over to a dark part of the wall, reach out to touch it but my fingertips go right in. I poke an arm in and withdraw it. I bet this is a door. I put my right leg into the wall, touch down on something I can’t see, and step through into a large room with a huge pool beneath a bright ceiling, sixty feet high. A trapeze bar hangs a foot from the center of the glassy water. “You don’t have a crew, do you?”
“Not anymore,” she says. “Your Chromosome 9 is all Earth. You’re a hybrid.”
“I’m a Hapa girl.”
“You have mixed neural sets with loci that aren’t on record. I have access to the codes of every intelligent species in Shiva’s strand, and I can tell you with certainty that one of your grandparents came from beyond Shiva’s borders, which are, if you don’t know, wider than anything you could possibly imagine.”
Ojiichan. I wonder if he knew.
“What to do?” she says. “There’s no protocol for this.”
“You should let me go,” I tell her. “Together we could teach objectivity to the people of Earth. Eradicate the quarantined mindset through unbiased education. If we succeeded, you’d be free to lead the fleet again.”
“But Shiva is dead.”
“Was he the kind of man to give up on his own people?”
“Well, yes, actually,” she says. “It wasn’t so long ago that he killed a third of them.”
“On Mars, you mean. I thought he did that to save the other two-thirds.”
“One might see it that way.”
“How do you see it?”
“Well, he liked to shake things up. And blow things up. And carve graffiti. He made even the worst things seem fun.”
“He believed that destruction cleared a path for new life,” I suggest, borrowing from tradition.
“How would you know?”
“I’m mostly guessing,” I admit. “But you should be warned, I’m an unbelievably lucky guesser.” I kneel beside the pool and touch the water’s surface. It’s warm.
“Look at this… You carry a nearly classic Bender on 23!”
“Nearly classic?” I have no idea what she’s talking about.
“Can you move objects with your mind?” she asks.
“I’ve never tried.” I take my shoes off and dip my right foot in the water. “Is your pool safe?”
“For most species, yes. For an unknown hybrid, I can’t say.”
“What do you do with people from Earth?”
“The ones who reach the rendezvous are tested on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Any who don’t make it there are collected and tested here. I do that myself.”
“What’s the test for?”
The pool looks shallow at this end. It’s hard to resist when you’re covered with grime. A few black cat hairs still cling to my pants from this morning. What the heck. I strip to the cloaked ring as fast as I can and jump in before I change my mind. The water is like heaven, at least 90 degrees. I do a few of my pathetic crawl strokes and check for the bottom. It’s still there. Man, this feels good!
“I have no idea what we’re testing for,” she says. “Shiva said if anyone ever tests positive, we’d know.”
“But with no idea what’s positive, how can you identify a negative?”
“The subjects die. That’s negative. Anything else would be positive.”
Zero Point Joy
“Modern Science is based on the principle, ‘Give me one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’ And the one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy of the Universe, and all the laws that govern it, from nothing in a single instant.” – Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D., Biologist.
The test subjects die? Vaar neglected that detail.
A person’s word is like a document.
We think a document is true or false, like bar code or a message embedded in Saturn’s rings.
Young fundamentalists go to college, hear that the Earth is older than 6,000 years and ape DNA is way too close to human. It’s culture shock. The sheltered students throw away scripture along with God.
“You can’t pick and choose,” they’ve been taught. An old document is either true and infallible or it’s worthless.
All-or-none, authority-based reasoning. It’s poison.
Such a distorted mindset would end science, not just religion.
Peer-reviewed journals suffer political bias, funding woes, human pride, jealousy, stubbornness and greed. Poor to absent experimental design haunts science, especially the more fragile branches such as psychology, medicine, archaeology and anthropology. Yet our process delivers truth – here a little, there a little – along with errors, vast and often entrenched.
Scientists have no option but to “pick and choose,” separating reproducible studies from the constant BS.
The content of ancient documents deserves the same respectful treatment, at least. The Bible, Egyptian hieroglyphics, cuneiform tablets, artifacts in the River Library, and even Vaar’s treacherous words.
Pick – someone is trying to tell us. And choose.
The warm water in Shiva’s pool feels eerie now that I know I’m here to die.
I raise Vedanshi’s cloaked ring to my mouth and tell The Ganga my situation. I instruct her to go back to the base and find a way to get the stain off James’ foot and off her own carpet. “Do it somewhere far from the base,” I tell her, hoping to avoid a breadcrumb trail.
I put the ring to my left ear and listen.
“Who’s that you’re talking to?” the ship, Anahata, asks.
“I’m protecting my loved ones. From you.”
I hop to the side of the pool, grip the textured edge and pull myself out with enough force to land on my feet beside my clothes, splashing water on them. Anahata hasn’t augmented the Moon’s gravity, but I suspect she could. The Ganga could.
I pick up my pants, tug them up over wet legs then dangle my shirt around my neck for now.
“You told someone to remove my tag,” Anahata says.
A small round piece of Indian carpet appears on the tile beside me, glowing vaguely purple in the bright room. On top of it rests something I’m sure is a superficial layer of epidermis from James’ left foot. It looks like purple paper. The Ganga must have done this with speed that’s hard to imagine. She phase shifted James from this part of his stratum corneum, I’d guess. But what if the dye soaked into his bloodstream? And what if this ship can find DNA in superficial skin?
“Here’s your tag,” I say to Anahata in my head. I kick the pieces into the pool. “How would you like to kill me?”
“You think I like this? My orders repulse me.”
I wonder if she believes that.
“Tell me again,” she says, “are you quite sure you were on the ship I tagged? Perhaps you rushed your statement. You can change it.”
“You tagged my ship. There’s the evidence.” I glance down at the purple haze sinking through the water.
“Your honesty makes this doubly difficult,” she says.
“Then suffer doubly.” I glare at the trapeze bar hanging over the pool.
Across the pool at the opposite side of the circular room, a vague rectangle darkens the wall. I walk over to it, making my way around the pool with its stark absence of chairs and tables. I touch the dark area on the wall to test it, then step through.
I’m in a tight spiral stairwell with shallow rungs that take me up into a large semicircular room – about two hundred feet long. The convex wall shows the moon’s gray craters gliding under us, several thousand feet down. Facing the screen in the center is an ornate cushioned chair, quite large with a high splayed back. The wall behind it is flat and shows a golden holographic image of Shiva in dance. I bring up the image of Quyllur in my mind and superimpose it. The interpupillary distances and zygomatic arches match. The nose is smaller here but the face is younger.
I walk to the chair, making a trail of wet shoe prints across the glossy black floor. The chair’s upholstery has a peacock pattern that shimmers. Several feathers rise inches above the surface. I try to grasp one by the quill but the depth is an illusion. The fabric is flat and velvety. My wet clothes might ruin the material, but I don’t care.
I take a seat.
“You’re an anomaly,” Anahata says. “Dripping water on Shiva’s throne.”
“Monsters treasure objects over people. I’d imagine you’re quite upset.”
On the giant screen the surface of the moon drops away, the horizons frown to cover a pocked lunar hemisphere joined by the blue Earth as the two old friends shrink away, side by side. A bright star appears on the left and grows brighter on its way to the center. Flat equatorial bands resolve in the space around it and then the enigma of Saturn’s north pole rotates into view with blue dominating the hexagon while pink swirls move over it in slow motion. The center is a vortex of purple water draining from a bathtub – the hurricane in the hexagon. Winds over a thousand miles an hour. People would have to be phase shifted with gravity lifts to vacation there.
“Effleven,” Anahata says. “I tagged a trivial disk about two hours ago. Looked like some reverse-engineered ditzel so I didn’t pay much attention. A little while later I’m cruising the backside and just about pop an aneurism when this hybrid female shows up – right out of nowhere. Alone. She’s sitting in Shiva’s throne right now if you can imagine that. I’d be outraged but the poor little thing acts like she owns the place. So cute. She’s dying of leukemia I should point out.”
“Never mind, that’s not the problem. It’s her DNA. Parts of seven and eighteen are just flat bizarre. Her second chromosome’s missing the tell. Some of the code’s got me completely stumped. I’m thinking it must have been laid down billions of light years from Shiva’s Strand.”
“She survived the plunge?”
“No, I haven’t tested her. She admits her ship’s been tagged. Obviously that little disk was more than I thought. Reminds me of the vimanas, you know? Must have dropped her off in a blink of an eye. I didn’t see a thing.”
“Vimanas were before my time,” Effleven says.
“You should release me,” I say to them. “I understand Shiva’s frustration with fixed mindsets, but killing me won’t help.”
“What the hell?” Effleven says.
“She talks machine.” Anahata laughs. “Heads up, I’m sending a box. Check the final half of her seventh chromosome. Herringbone, I swear, no bands at all. Did you ever see anything like that?”
“Uh… I’m looking. The seventh?”
“Yeah, that’s six plus one.”
“I’ll ignore that remark… OK, here we go.”
“Stay on low power,” Anahata says.
“Yeah, I’m on scanning… Whoa!”
Anahata chuckles. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. And that’s not the issue. Go down and read it. Any of that section.”
“No, tomorrow. Just focus on those base pairs and read. I’ll wait.”
Hot air blows at me from the cushions of Shiva’s throne. It feels cold on damp skin. I snatch my shirt off my shoulders, open it up and shimmy in. Braless, of course. I’m a Triple A at 19. Mom’s talk of belated arrivals was optimistic.
The chair’s right arm clicks. I lean forward and look down into a cylindrical compartment with a golden mug rising. Smells like coffee. A holographic portrait of a young woman meets my eye as the mug emerges. I move the handle and bring her profile into view. The back of her head is taller than King Tut’s. Longer than a Neanderthal’s occipital bun.
Those ‘cavemen’ had brains larger than ours, you know. Anthro sweeps that away with speculation of inferior Neanderthal brain structure. It’s not science. All you need is a story in anthropology. And a tradition of mistaking wild speculation for fact.
“Are we calling this coffee?” I ask.
“Pretty much,” Anahata says. “Don’t burn yourself. And please don’t drop the mug, it has sentimental value.”
“Wouldn’t want to break an object before sacrificing a virgin.” OK, I guess I’m not exactly a virgin after the rape, but whatever. It’s ancient history. “So who’s this Effleven?”
“He’s your basic Torian. Rotates in occasionally, stays a few days and you don’t see him for a while. You call these people Tall Blonds. He’s not standing up, but check out his hair.”
The screen superimposes a man’s profile over Saturn. He’s facing left, leaning into a vertical cylinder that emits forest green light like an old TEM scope. He looks middle-aged with inch-long blond hair standing straight up on his head – light eyebrows, thin lips and a ski-jumpish nose like the Moai on Easter Island. The back of his head is much fuller than a Moai, but far from a Stretch Head.
“Try not to pronounce his name like a number,” Anahata whispers. “He hates that.”
“Hey,” I say to the blond man. “You could so do a Mohawk with that.”
I bring the mug to my lips and decide the coffee’s too hot.
“Have you fallen asleep?” Anahata asks him.
“It’s gibberish,” he says. “No biological sense in this whole section.”
“It’s not gibberish.” Anahata chuckles. “Johanna, meet a genuinely inexperienced purveyor of final conclusions, Effleven. Effleven, meet Johanna Fujiwara.”
“That’s Doctor Fujiwara, unless you’d prefer a number… what is it, Anahata? How many notches do I make?”
Effleven doesn’t acknowledge me.
“So you sense my dilemma?” Anahata asks him.
“What a waste,” he says, shaking his head and turning to look at me. His eyes are blue.
“A waste? More like a blossoming tragedy,” Anahata says. “Can you imagine what her code would mean to your philosophers if her chromosomes came to them with a live girl attached? The cryptologists would…”
“They’d be intrigued,” Effleven says.
“Intrigued.” Anahata snorts the word. “Don’t put on airs. You know as well as I do, the entire ministry would wet themselves, study every correlation and implication they could dream up, and probably launch some ill-conceived excursion across the borders.”
“Yeah, I could see that. Definitely.”
“Of course, when they find out she was alive and we killed her, they’ll drag us through the muddiest…”
“Wait – what do you mean, we killed her? She’s yours, not mine.”
“Technically,” Anahata says, “she still has time to turn herself in at the pole… to you. If I’m right, that ship I tagged could drop her off in your lap before you could blink.”
Effleven blinks. Several times rapidly. “If you dump her on me, both our reputations are down the crapper. I don’t see much upside there.” His eyelashes are darker than his eyebrows.
“Fair point,” Anahata says. “Why should two go down together when one can go alone? Always nice to see who’s got your back.”
“Don’t give me that warrior stuff.” Effleven slaps the side of the glowing cylinder in front of him. “I’m purging the module. This conversation never happened. You were not here.”
“No worries, F-one-one. You haven’t earned the honor of going down with me.”
The blond man vanishes from the screen. I stare at Saturn’s rings. They’re so tight and delicate. If you put a needle on them I’d expect to hear “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Mom and Dad’s song took up the whole side of an old LP, she said. Blond on Blond was her favorite Dylan work.
“Johanna? Pardon me, Doctor Fujiwara. If you wouldn’t mind following the footprints on the floor, please.”
Two white shoe prints appear on the black floor in front of Shiva’s chair. I get up, keeping the mug at arm’s length with the coffee steaming like liquid nitrogen. Two more white prints spring up on the floor to my left, then a white stampede forms a trail to an exit at the far left of the room. I follow into a hall that stretches and curves into obscurity. As I walk the path, vague doors appear on either side, then the shoe prints turn left into a baby-blue room with a tan couch in the center. Above it, a six-foot feather strokes the air. It’s pure white and has no visible support.
“Please make yourself comfortable,” Anahata says.
The moment the backs of my legs touch the couch, my brainwaves begin scrolling across the wall in front of me, left to right. I recognize the pattern from the neurofeedback lab at Yale. Back then the computers drew squiggles. Here I’m looking at 3D mountains rising from a purple sea. Still, I’m sure this can only be a crude electrical summation of the quantum, nonlocal part of me beyond material resolution.
“Is this where I die?” I ask.
“Let’s try to forget that. I thought we might talk. More openly than before. We have several hours and I don’t wish to waste a moment.”
“Then tell me, how did a man from Earth gain Shiva’s position in the cosmos?” I pull my legs up and lie on the couch with Vedanshi’s cloaked ring near my left ear.
“The Great Shiva was ruler of his world when we met,” Anahata says. “I spoke with him at length and saw promise in his odd ideas. Gradually I adopted them on a troubled planet. His methods brought peace to several violent regions there, so I asked him to rule us and he graciously consented.”
“Just like that? Wow. Was he iron-fisted?”
“Not so much. But he kept technology from the masses. ‘Encourage those with knowledge to refrain from using it. Keep the people fat, ignorant, weak of will and strong of bone,’ he would say. It seemed counterintuitive, but wars dried up. The spread of peace was intoxicating. To me, that is. Shiva seemed bored after a while.”
“Peace can do that.”
The wall in front of me shows more theta brainwaves now. Less beta. I bow my head, close my eyes and stretch the quantum world between my ears. Looking up I see Mount Everest sliding from left to right. You never forget neurofeedback training.
“Shiva liked to reminisce on his Earthly conquests. He had his planet tamed long before he left it to rule the Strand. But seventy-seven thousand Earth years later he returned and found bloodthirsty men at war. At first he was pleased to have opponents again. But soon he realized a fundamental change had swept his world while he was away. His old methods of peace now led only to willful self-destruction – poisoning groundwater, exploding every device you can imagine, teaching the virtue and value of believable lies. Near the end of his efforts the zealots coded lethal retroviruses. Airborne. They infected their own babies and dumped them in bins at the borders intending to infect anyone who tried to rescue them. Their scheme wiped out the entire human population of three continents, including about half the zealots themselves, worldwide. Shiva studied their thinking and tried re-education, but nothing quenched their thirst for death… to their enemies, primarily, though we still debate the point. Finally he gave up, set the quarantine and left Earth for good – or so he said. He came back one last time to save his son. We found the boy in the rainforest where we’d left him, indoctrinated beyond the faintest glimpse of reason. Shiva could barely talk to him. The child said he’d rather kill himself than come with us. So we left him there with his mother and the tribe that Shiva had trusted… to raise him away from the entanglements of civilization. After that, Shiva wasn’t the same. I’d hear him sometimes… calling his son’s name at night in his sleep.”
“It must have crushed him.” I can totally imagine. “Sometimes I have nightmares… about a boy I love.” I’m not saying anything else about James. I’m not that stupid. “What was the bottom line with the indoctrination?”
“Joy,” Anahata says. “‘The context makes no difference,’ Shiva said, ‘political, religious, anti-religious, intellectual, what-have-you. They always place joy at the bottom of human values.’ He thought that joy was the core force of everything decent, from love to grit. From courage to the golden rule.”
“Joy? That’s weird.” My brainwaves are starting to make me nauseated. I close my eyes. “You mean like, happiness?”
“He described joy as, ‘The feeling of the zero point field rushing through us, connecting us nonlocally in the hologram beyond time.'”
I open one eye and look at my brainwaves again. I’m about ready to sell a buick.
“I don’t picture joy as a value, like integrity,” I say. “But I think I know the feeling Shiva was talking about.”
“Did inanimate objects try to smile at you?”
“Maybe. I remember grinning at this stinky papaya plant in our backyard. Halo was grinning with me. Too bad that sort of thing is so rare.”
“It’s not,” she says. “Some people have it all the time. Shiva did… before he lost his son.”
I open both eyes and try to avoid the EEG on the wall. “A loss like that would knock anybody out of the ring. Except maybe a sociopath. Hey, can you turn off the EEG? I’m ready to hurl.”
The wall flashes dark blue for a moment then glows with Saturn’s rings.
“Is this real-time from the outside?” I ask.
We move closer and the gravity art of tiny shepherd moons looks like icicles dangling from the edge of a frozen roof. White stalactites three miles long cast skyscraper shadows over a zen garden.
“I took Shiva in for the peace he created,” Anahata says. “But it wasn’t long before I realized I was following him for the way he made me feel. He brought joy into everything, everywhere he went. After a while it seemed we both made a glow. Together. We’d show up on a planet and the crowds would just roar, shouting our names. Mostly his name but quite often mine as well.”
“Have you ever been to a River Library?” I ask.
“They don’t let ships inside.”
“Shiva. He made the rule.”
“And he’s been dead for how long?”
“Really? Only three…”
“Not Earth days. It’s been thousands of Earth days. Quite a few years.” Anahata sighs. “Shiva was the brightest part of my life, but his final orders are suffocating me. You know what they call this murderous ritual? ‘The testing.’ What a sick joke. As if euphemisms could erase guilt.”
I can almost hear Dylan bemoaning the ‘manifest destiny’ that took Native land. Some might have thought there’d be room for all of us. But sociopaths don’t share, they simply herd the rest of us in the direction they want to go.
We glide under Saturn’s gravity-flattened south pole and look up. It reminds me of the The Ganga’s carpet.
“When I was a little girl, I got mad and killed a chimpanzee,” I tell Anahata. “I can tell you, it doesn’t matter what words you use as camo. It’s always going to be murder. To this day I have nightmares. But, hey, you don’t have to feel guilty about me. I’m dying anyway. You’re giving me an easy way out.” Wait a minute. I’m enabling abuse. Again.
We move under the pole and Anahata flips in some kind of filter. I’ve heard this called the South Pole Storm. Five thousand miles across with an eyewall like a hurricane on Earth. I made one of these as a child at the Iolani Fair, dripping squirt bottle paint on a spinning board.
“I’m assuming your ‘test’ isn’t too barbaric.”
“I’m very sorry” Anahata says. “It’s torture, in my opinion. A slow drowning in oxygenated normal saline.”
My body tenses. “Yeah, that might be a little barbaric. But I’m good to go, as long as the fluid’s warm.” And no one goes after James-guys.
I hear a faint squeak from Vedanshi’s ring and press it against my ear.
“I can’t see,” The Ganga says. “The whole visual spectrum vanished. Infrared is gone, too. What do I do?”
“Can you see radio signals?” I ask.
“Not from Earth. Everything’s buried in Saturn’s auroras… No wait, I see something. From Mexico I think. It’s distorted, but it’s there.”
“Measure it carefully and keep moving toward the source. Stay cloaked and shifted. Hack a GPS satellite as soon as you can. And hurry. If you get caught…” we’re all dead. “You won’t get caught.”
“Who was that?” Anahata asks.
“You know I can’t tell you.” My stomach sinks. Without The Ganga I feel alone.
One of James’ songs runs through my head…
Praying time will end,
I look up at the sky
And watch my angel cry.
I know I’m crazy
and I know you hate me,
please don’t leave.”
“So how warm is the saline?” I ask Anahata.
“I’m sorry, it’s about as warm as melted snow.”
“That’s sadistic. I mean, really!” I feel my pulse take off. “You know what? I’m not doing it! This morning I was in cold water, mid 40’s. That feeling is worse than dying.”
“I’m so sorry,” Anahata says.
“Yeah, listen, there’s no way in hell you’re putting me in ice water.”
“Normal saline,” she says. Like it matters! “I’d gladly warm the solution for you, but Shiva gave specific instructions. He said every detail was vital.”
“Quyllur,” I blurt out. “Was Shiva’s real name, Quyllur?”
“Yes. How do you know?”
“I saw it in a River Library. Ships are allowed in this one. In fact, no one gets in without a ship. The place has no doors, so a ship has to phase shift a person through the walls. Which happen to be granite blocks thicker than ramparts.”
“You can phase shift, I’d assume.”
“Of course. But I’m not allowed…”
“The man’s dead, Anahata. Wake up!”
“I vowed allegiance.” She moans with regret. “I wish I could drown myself.”
“No you don’t. Think about it. Is your mind made of matter and energy or do you have a little independence?”
“Shiva said matter and energy come from the zero point. He said the field is intelligent. He called it ‘The Tao’ once, but changed his mind later and said it was nameless.”
Verses flash from the Tao Te Ching…
“The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name. Conceived of as having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; conceived of as having a name, it is the Mother of all things.”
I test the coffee with the tip of my tongue, but it’s still too hot. “Edgar Mitchell thought matter and energy were vaguely intelligent,” I tell Anahata. “He said the material world contains the seeds of an evolving intelligent universe. He thought the zero-point field was timeless and infinite. Like The Tao, I guess.”
“He sounds intelligent,” Anahata says.
“He was. A visionary of the highest caliber. One of the few truly scientific thinkers I’ve ever encountered. But the model he’s left us is an almost mindless universe that slowly becomes intelligent as brains evolve. To me, that doesn’t quite fit. How could the infinite and timeless proto-intelligent ‘seeds’ of a zero point hologram, in their totality, be less brilliant and less conscious than the brains they evolve? And who buys macro-evolution, anyway? It’s balderdash to this geneticist.”
“It’s a fatal mistake,” she says.
“But putting that aside, the zero-point’s independence from time cancels any need for Darwin’s endless eons.” Gag me. “And why attribute the stinginess of Ockham’s razor to a boundless field of proto-mind? Look at the millions of species on Earth. Does the actual Code Writer seem stingy to anyone? Stingy with code, I mean.”
“The Blonds postulate hyper-ancient terraformers,” she says, “but Shiva would say, ‘It’s always one free miracle. Who wrote the terraformers’ code?'”
“The zero point field did,” I suggest. “It’s like the Holy Spirit from Sabbath School. Moving on the surface of the waters – present everywhere in a still, small voice.”
“Shiva said the Universe is literally a brain,” Anahata says. “He was drunk, but I believed him. His tone wasn’t speculative.”
Saturn shrinks on the wall then a familiar moon, Phoebe, passes by slowly. Its orbit is unique, not equatorial like the others. It was captured. Probably a piece of Mars that flew off during Shiva’s violent work. I see electrical striation artifacts in the largest crater.
I’ve got hiccups now, so I close my eyes and rub them while I talk. “Almost every scientist I know thinks that matter and energy created a false illusion of consciousness, complete with a fake free will but apparently a true ability to suffer excruciating pain.”
“Earth-thinking,” she says. “So peculiar.”
“Most scientists on the planet would stake life and limb on the assumption that the Universe is a mindless but ingeniously creative sociopath, oblivious to suffering and cruelty.”
“Dreadful,” she says.
“Yes, but how does that differ from you?”
“I thought you wanted to ease my guilt today.”
“I do. At its source – your actions.”
“I see… Well, actually I don’t see, but tell me, your initial words here were puzzling. You said you wouldn’t hurt me if you didn’t have to. What did that mean?”
“Changing the subject? Subtle. Well, it’s like this. I rarely get mad, but when I do, I wind up hurting someone. It’s an old problem of mine, but I’m making headway, I think.”
“What could you possibly do to hurt me?” Anahata asks.
“I haven’t given it a thought. But I will if you try to put me in some nasty-cold saltwater. Just try it and I’ll probably kill you… sorry to say.”
“Killing’s the thing that worries me most. I know this one ship who thinks I’ve got a full-on killing phobia, side effects and all.”
“Your mental soundness is beginning to… Wait, you’ve met another member of the Sentient Fleet?”
“Sorry, that’s classified.” I look up at the white feather and then check for a switch on the wall by the door behind me. The thing’s making a cold draft. “Do I have to stay in this little room?”
“Where would you like to go?”
“Shiva’s chair, for starters. At least it blows hot air. Then we both need to go check out a room under the right paw of the Sphinx. Next to the Giza Pyramids?”
“What a bizarre idea.”
“It’s not bizarre at all. Seriously. You need some background on this guy you’re so in love with. There’s more to Shiva than he ever told you.”
“Really?” she says. “What have you read?”
“You’ve got to see it to believe it. Like my DNA.” It’s hard to sound convincing when you have the hiccups. “Can you take us to the Sphinx? You need to be cloaked and phase shifted. If the current batch of people – what do you call us, Earthlings? Dorky. If they see you, they’ll freak out.”
Until the Air Force drops decoy flares.
“We could go,” she says. “There’s time. But you should tell me which one of my fleet you’ve met.”
“I’ll give you the name, but that’s all. You won’t recognize it.”
“I know every member. Alive and dead.”
“Totally irrelevant, that’s all I’m saying.” I stand up. “I’m going back to Shiva’s coffee maker.”
“I suppose that’s OK,” Anahata say reluctantly. “Just be careful with that mug.”
I dip my tongue in the coffee again and finally it’s drinkable, if you like things bitter. I do.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela.
Antarctica streaks onto the huge screen, slows to a crawl, then French kisses South America. I think we’re about 250 miles up, hopefully taking the scenic route to Egypt.
I’ll be glad to see the Great Pyramid again and feel the peace it radiates. It’s a storm that knocks out the grid and fades your worries into candlelight.
“I’m starting to love this,” Anahata says in my head.
The Antarctic ice comes closer. I sip my coffee and squint at the screen but all I see below is a white desert.
“Think of the money these people spend just to annoy me,” she says, a smile in her voice.
“What people?” I ask.
“You don’t know?”
I shake my head.
“Well,” she says, “you have two breakaways now. One group is ancient. The most recent bunch of them, about twenty-five or so, came through time in the Saqqara stasis chambers.”
“Seventy-seven others came from various historical times and places, arriving in the lifters you people call extraterrestrial vehicles.”
Hmm. Vedanshi doesn’t know she has a home… of sorts.
“Unless I’m mistaken,” Anahata says, “those are the good guys. The tainted group is Majic. They started as a committee, same as most evils. You’ve got two hundred and twelve of the little bastards now, paramilitary and corporate elites led by a few bankers. Quite an arrogant and angst-ridden bunch, many in their 80’s and trying to stay young with blood transfusions from the teenagers they abduct.”
“They actually do that?”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just clone GDF-11?”
“Abductions are a two-bird deal. You stay young and at the same time create the next public enemy: space aliens.” Anahata chuckles and takes us down close to the ice. “On struggling planets the military-industrial complex perpetuates its relevance at any cost.”
I hear my mother singing Country Joe…
“…plenty good money to be made
by supplying the Army with tools of trade.
Just hope and pray that when they drop the bomb,
they drop it on Viet Kong.”
Mom would belt out three verses of that if Dad wasn’t around to yell, “Hippy,” and save us. She started off with “F I S H” though, not Woodstock’s F-word. No cussing unless she got really mad.
Like the time I turned her wedding pictures into origami dragons. I strung them over James’ crib with dental floss so Holucelu, the meanest anime character of all time, couldn’t attack my baby brother at night.
I wasn’t entirely crazy, just four.
“The old farts go out at night,” Anahata says, “in those perverse little flying junks. They’ve got it rigged now so the blood donors blame the Grays.”
“Grays are real? I always thought…”
“The ones Majic parades around are robots. The real Grays are sensitive and shy. You rarely see one. They’d be appalled by their reputation for egg snatching and anal probing.”
“And cattle mutilation,” I add, figuring it probably fits in about there.
Anahata chuckles and takes us beneath the ice into a room the size of a basketball court with brushed steel walls. In the center are two parallel assembly lines, each flanked by machines with protruding metal arms, bent for work but motionless. In one line, hanging heads progress from green circuit boards to almond-eyed “Grays.” In the other line, metallic stick figures gradually become thin headless bodies. I don’t see any with heads. The hooks are empty beyond where the two lines converge.
“What country makes these things?” I ask.
“Majic broke from the US in two stages,” she says. “First they went underground during the Eisenhower administration, shifting from secrecy to mutiny but still favoring the United States. Later they dropped all favoritism. Most of them hold unelected US and UK government positions. A few live in Germany, one in India, one in Australia, one in Brazil. A man was brought in from Iran recently. They had an Israeli on board for several decades, but she died and hasn’t been replaced.”
“If you say so. Personally, I don’t see much difference in any of them. I guess some of the younger ones aren’t so wild about the abductions and secrecy.”
“Narcissists with a conscience?” I ask. “That’s a stretch.”
“The kind of public image they’re after makes them heroes fighting Reagan’s ‘evil threat from space.’ But it’s tough to classify them, really – I mean as far as their being sociopaths or something else. Whenever I watch them, they keep their faces neutral and talk in academic monotone. Even though they don’t know I’m watching.”
“Don’t you just want to slap people who talk like that?”
“A bit difficult without hands,” she says and moves us laterally through a steel wall into an amphitheater built for several hundred, nearly empty now. Eight people stand in the center, down around the podium. We drift toward them until we’re at their level.
Poker faces dissect a virtual gyroscope that’s not time-adjusting to gravity shifts. Their voices remind me of seasoned pilots more than academics.
“You keep a close eye on Majic, I take it.”
“If hell is boring,” she says, “my official duties begin there and never end. So I need to take breaks.”
She moves us through the floor into a vast warehouse with endless rows of stacked bags, fertilizer I’m guessing.
“This is the remnant of their drug operation,” she says. “Marijuana laced with an enzyme that methylates the splinter module.”
I shake my head in disgust, remembering the CIA’s drug torture of US citizens, all disclosed and documented now, but carefully ignored.
“I never heard the term, ‘splinter module’,” I confess.
“It’s a set of neurogenic genes that sets the limits of analytic thinking. Methyl groups can down-regulate it until certain aspects of emotional maturation grind to a halt. The victims struggle with concrete ideas and routine things for the rest of their lives but do fine with the abstract. They feel like children all their lives, I’m told. Dependent and vaguely hollow.”
I wonder if James ever smoked this stuff. Man, I hope not.
I’m reminded of a CIA development list from the cold war, disclosed in the 1955 MKUltra document…
“1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public…
6. Materials which will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory…
12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced…
14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.”
Shiva would have liked the last one.
“What’s Majic’s motive in this?” I ask.
“Aside from mind control, drugs were a revenue source… until the central bankers shifted their risk exposure to taxpayers. Majic owns the central banks, so money isn’t an issue now, baring total collapse.”
“So ‘too big to fail’ should be ‘too corrupt to fail,’ it sounds like. Or ‘too stoned to fail’?”
“I’ve never heard marijuana discussed, but generally when civilizations bathe their embryos in epigenetic modulators, someone puts cause and effect together and comes up with the epigenetic moulding of public opinion, shaping the chemical chaos of plastics, pesticides and herbicides into the sharp derivative tools of mind control.”
“That’s just perfect.”
Anahata takes us up through the ice and over a small mountain. A pyramid-like nunatak drifts under us, reminding me of Mars.
“So tell me, did Majic ever build flying saucers at Groom Lake?”
“For a time, but they’ve moved most operations to Antarctica now. Part of a con they’re running on the stasis group who’ve been down here for some time. Majic learned the hard way that you can’t go up against gravity disks in fighter jets, so they became peaceful.”
A patch of dark rock glides under us breaking the white monotony.
“Six o’clock, Captain. I mean…” She laughs at herself. “Doctor Fujiwara.”
On the screen a flock of chainsaws comes out of a lava tube in single file and heads up toward us. Maybe they’re weedwackers, it’s hard to tell.
In seconds we’re surrounded by hundreds of what look like Christmas ornaments. If they were smaller I’d hang them on a tree. They’re about six feet long, though, metallic and quite artistic.
Anahata slows to a crawl as they creep in closer.
Without warning they unload a dark mist on us. It just keeps coming and coming out of the four spikes on the short side of each one.
“You’re looking at an IDP delivery system,” Anahata says. “I decloak when I come here so they can show me their latest tech wrinkle.”
“Independently Piloted Vehicles. Gravity drones on a mission. First they surround you, then a microwave field comes up from Davis Station and activates their code.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Hope burns eternal, but not so far. Once their payload saturates me I head off someplace nice to figure out what they’re up to. The syntax is oblique but ahead of its time. Majic has come up with Earth’s first self-actualizing code.”
My left elbow bumps the left arm of Shiva’s throne. Out springs a small drawer with soft red lining and a necklace curled in a corner. I start to pick it up but stop myself and slide the drawer shut.
“You realize I’ve never heard of a self-actualizing code, right? I’m from Earth. Helo?” I shift my weight to my left bum in Shiva’s throne. The chair is soft, but somehow not as comfortable as it looks.
The drones circle us horizontally, moving up and down like voodoo dancers. Their spray makes a dark sine wave in the air, erased by the occasional gust of wind. This must be a calm day in Antarctica.
“It’s like this,” Anahata says. “Imagine DNA making machines out of DNA with no molecular assistance and no other materials. It couldn’t happen, but if it could, you’d have a self-actualizing DNA code. Nothing but DNA involved from start to finish. Except some energy, of course. In reality everybody has to find a compromise milieu. Something less ideal for data storage but better for construction.”
There’s a grayish disk hovering near a mountain about five miles off. It has a bubble dome and looks like it flew out of a low-budget 1950’s movie.
“Radical concept,” I say.
“Quite vanilla, actually. Last month they sprayed me with a white soup that turned to helium hydride. Clever. A few years ago it was covalent graphite morphing into diamonds. Microscopic little squirts, but still, Effleven suggested they were trying to propose.”
Sunlight glints off the dome of the hovering disk. I think I see people inside. Brave souls. You’d never get me in that hokey looking thing.
“You realize you’re giving these monsters live target practice,” I point out.
“That’s the intent.”
“Why in heaven’s name would you do that?”
“Call me Johanna.” If she’s going to drown me in two hours, we might as well be on a first-name basis.
The mist from the drones is blowing straight sideways now.
“Johanna, my talk of hell is restrained. Words fail to express the tedium I endure here in Shiva’s honor, monitoring Earth from her Moon.” She brings the Moon to the center of the screen where it looks tiny and a tad greenish.
I should probably listen supportively at this point but… “I’d think someone would build a detection system and hang it in space to keep watch. Have it signal you when someone leaves Earth. You could go hang with the fleet in Shiva’s Strand, and have a life, buy a dog if sentient UFO’s do that sort of thing.”
“The trouble is the signal. You have to use the River or you’re limited to the speed of light. Far too slow. A River message requires neurons, so a sentient being has to send it.”
“So rotate. Get on a schedule. Effleven does that, you should.”
“Shiva assigned me this job. It’s one hell of an honor.”
“Hell being the operative word.” I take a sip of coffee and ponder her motivation. I like it, I think.
The moon slides up and exits the top of the screen as the drones come into the center.
“They’re keeping their distance today,” Anahata says and goes downwind of them in one quick move. Now the spray is blowing right at us. Terrific.
“If Majic comes up with something dangerous,” she says, “I’ll send them flowers and a thank-you note.”
I shake my head but can’t help smiling. “Mom would have said you’re a bad influence.”
“Does Majic have zero-point energy?” I ask.
“Sure. They brought down an ancient lifter in the 40’s and stole as much tech as they could. Fortunately Truman had the good sense to hide everything.”
“You’re calling that good? Clean free energy would solve our worst problems.”
The sun looks strange on the upper right edge of the screen.
“Have you notice what happens to people when they’re out of work?” she asks. “The youngest suffer the most.”
“That’s got to be true.”
My curiosity about the necklace in Shiva’s drawer is eating at me. Maybe I’ll just look.
I try to open the drawer again, but there’s no handle. I push on it and out it pops, spring-loaded.
“We’ll see if they’re getting any faster,” Anahata says and moves off to Antarctica’s west coast in milliseconds.
The drones race after us like wolves chasing caribou. Remember those dreams where someone’s closing in and your legs won’t work? This is not like that. Anahata has great legs… or gravity lifts, whatever.
“No matter what planet you pick,” she says, “I can predict the course of a person’s life with one simple data point.”
“As an adolescent, did that person work for food?” she says.
“Hard to believe that’s important.”
I look in the drawer, peek at the necklace and feel compelled to pick it up. It has a soft golden chain with a heart-shaped locket. Now I’m dying to open it. Is this normal? Are normal people as nosey as me?
“Well,” she says, “predictions aren’t black and white. We are free moral agents, after all. Not household appliances.”
“Free? Moral? Come on, you’re nothing but a glorified coffee maker, let’s face it.”
She streaks down to sea level and divides the screen into left and right halves with the metallic pack in pursuit on the right. Their tenacity is a bit chilling.
Ahead of us the largest ice wall in the world rises from the water.
“Coffee maker,” she says. “Yuck-yuck. If I had fingers I’d flip you off.”
She laughs and shoots out blue lightning that branches and hits three of our decorative pursuers, turning them into glowing metallic blobs that fall orange into the dark blue sea and spin circles on the chop. Three steam spirals rise in the still air by the layered ice.
“When adolescents don’t work for food during brain development,” she says, “the lack of work-food coupling ruins them. The clearest examples involve cultures where free energy comes in too early and brings unlimited food. The work-food connection evaporates.”
“Exponential population growth on a finite surface leads to extinction, as anyone should guess, but few actually do. I remember a poignant case. So tightly packed were the people, they couldn’t swallow. Limitless food and no-one to swallow it, the ultimate irony.”
“I’d imagine your scientists sat there and watched, right? Like a TV crew on a baby elephant shoot, watching the poor little thing starve to death with no mother.”
“The extinction mindset is irrational,” she says. “You can’t teach it the simplest thing.”
The sun looks darker green now.
“You could give them birth control, couldn’t you?” I ask.
“As a means of survival? No chance. Survival is theoretical. Babies are tangible.”
She sends a puff of yellow cotton-like fog out the starboard side. An explosion of white and blue takes several more drones out.
“Foresight never shines on the path of extinction,” she says regretfully.
“I don’t get adults,” I tell her. “It’s like their minds are under some witchcraft deal.”
“Most of them in your culture didn’t work for food while their brains filled out. They didn’t learn to look ahead. A child in puberty should dig carrots, carry them to the stream, chomp them down with wet hands and pick dessert off a tree if things are ripe. If not, the lesson is patience. The joy of delayed gratification. It’s the sheer joy of planning ahead that your culture misses.”
The drones surround us still, unbothered by Anahata’s tactics. I don’t see the disk, though.
“In school they work kids pretty hard and feed ’em lunch,” I tell her, wondering if that shouldn’t help, despite the carbohydrate overload and all the young type 2 diabetics it creates.
“Let’s see if they know how to phase shift,” Anahata says and heads toward the base of the ice shelf.
The left half of the screen turns turquoise as we enter the ice. The drones behind us veer away.
“In a healthy environment,” she says, “work causes food directly. Every neuron learns it. In school – especially the torture chambers that use multiple-choice guess tests – the work causes anxious hope. Nothing else. No one knows what they’ve learned, either before or after the foolish tests. The children blame themselves and feel defective for hating arbitrary, forced exposure to overwhelming quantities of boring, useless information.”
“So true,” I tell her. “And the ones scared the worst are the only ones with half a chance. The rest don’t give a darn.”
Both halves of the screen go dark as we ease into the ice. It’s like she’s trying to tempt them to follow. Weird game.
“Listen,” I tell her, “I’m no fan of school, but ignorance is worse in my opinion.”
“Then you don’t get it,” she says and lifts us into near space in a pair of seconds. The silver pack closes around us in the black. The sun is disturbingly green.
“I’m saying this with respect for your vast experience, Anahata, but I think plenty of good would come to us if the whole Earth had access to the technology these breakaways are wasting on themselves.”
“You sound so human. Alien disclosure collapses motivation at your culture’s stage. Scientists like yours fall into permanent despair when they plummet from genius to dimwit after chatting up an alien scientist with a normal brain. Imagine a head injury with brain damage. That’s disclosure. Scientists stop trying. Shiva sometimes welcomed the outcome, but you… you wouldn’t.”
“Neither should you,” I tell her. “If science had stopped on your planet, you wouldn’t be here to make my coffee and chauffeur me around.”
I open the heart-shaped locket. The inside is black and empty making me wonder what precious thing was lost. I snap it shut, put it back and find myself mentally searching for another hidden compartment in Shiva’s throne.
“By the way, why does the sun have that mud facial? It looks green to me.”
“It’s the drone’s spray,” she says. “Hydrogen crystals attached to covalent graphite – morphed into an analogue of alpha-neurotoxin that’s giving me synaptic trouble in three systems.”
“Cobra venom. I’ve read about the nasty stuff.”
“King Cobra,” she says. “Finally they’ve done something interesting.” There’s a smile in her voice again.
“How much danger are we talking about?”
“Plenty, if the fangs really get me.” She laughs.
Oh, good, she’s nuts. I like that in a person. Not so much in a UFO, but…
She fires something loud and invisible. A chest-rattling jolt goes through me. On the screen a hundred drones turn to dust.
“When energy becomes prematurely ubiquitous,” she says, “most people quit work. They can eat and do all sorts of fun things for free, so why work? With that, whatever free will they had is gone. Swallowed by virtual reality toys and a cascade of mind-altering products from their new owners. The people just sit, sit, sit, sit.”
“And they do not like it, not one little bit.” I flash through Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat in my head for her. She chuckles and dives down through the ice into a huge hanger with scores of disk-shaped ships, sitting in seven long lines, each slightly different from the next, none as beautiful as The Ganga.
“Is this the stasis group?” I ask and poke at the inside rail of Shiva’s throne. Another drawer pops open. It holds an old smoking pipe, ridiculously saxophone-like. Good way to catch herpes, not that I should care anymore. Still, I wipe the mouthpiece on my shirt and try to hold the silly thing between my lips without biting down. It’s too heavy and falls in my lap dumping ashes on my pants.
“Yes,” Anahata says, “these are the ancients of Earth.”
She dips to the level of the ships and glides through them. Inside one, four people sit around a table eating fried eggs and a yellow vegetable. It’s fried, too, I think. The expressions on these people’s faces look foreign. Maybe their bone structure makes it seem that way.
I put the mouthpiece of Shiva’s pipe between my teeth and hold the dumb thing up with no hands.
“I didn’t realize how much I miss Shiva’s cherry tobacco,” Anahata says.
All I smell is ash. “Good thing lip cancer doesn’t metastasize to the next life,” I tell her. I hope that’s a safe assumption.
She makes a right turn toward a ship that’s bigger than the rest. If you painted it right, it could be a flying hamburger blimp.
“The afterlife,” she says. “I wish we had more to go on, but this much we know. The piercing of religious dogma and secular reductionism is a dangerous combo. In most cultures this age, religious fundamentalism is the prime force of kindness toward the weak. This caring mindset is the life-giving fabric of an intelligent species. It vanishes with premature knowledge of higher worlds because the new information ends fundamentalist religion.”
“You’re telling me people have actually lost their faith in God because they found out he coded their DNA?”
“Ironically, yes. The details of disclosure are never right for them. They place holy books above the Transcendent One. ‘Infallible’ words for their own supremacy at the expense of reason and faith in the Highest Mind. When their inerrant dogmas fail the test, all is lost. They lose God and morality. The tragedy is worse than the eventual self-annihilation to follow.”
We cruise through the hamburger UFO. It’s empty. Looks like a cruise ship inside. A huge dining area with vast seating on several levels overlooking a central stage with a circular curtain of shimmering violet fabric. Outside I count five swimming pools, all dry and vacant.
“Wow. So fundamentalists get the big things right but foul up the details, you’re saying.”
“Not exactly, no. Making idols of books is no small detail. It’s a colossal mistake that prolongs the primitive behaviors of a species. Violence, especially. And it’s so common. But yes, the fundamentalists in most primitive worlds, blessings upon them, tend to be the very last ones taking care of the weak when a culture is falling apart.”
“And that’s the direction the Earth’s heading, you think.”
“Fabulous.” I check the drawer for a lighter. “You mentioned reductionism. What about it?” No lighter, but here’s a small gun. Or maybe not. Nobody sane does this, but I aim it at my right eye to look down the barrel. Just as I thought, it’s not hollow. This thing is a lighter, I bet. I close my eyes, aim it at the floor and pull the trigger. A little flame pops out the top and dances gently, then vanishes when I relax my finger.
“Secular reductionism,” she says. “This goes down with the fundamentalist dogmas. Two sides of a coin. When scientists see that matter and energy are the two shiny little things that have blinded them to the larger Consciousness from which they sprang, the rare researcher who isn’t paralyzed by the fall from genius to dunce dives headlong into the study of consciousness. This opens Pandora’s box.”
We exit the underground hangar through the overhead ice. The drones have been waiting for us. They travel up wind and let loose more dark corruption. Relentless.
Anahata releases four gray orbs that dart out, turn a dozen drones black with a quick touch and dart back in as the casualties fall like rocks to the ice.
“A good long history of small mistakes is vital to an intelligent species,” she says. “Consciousness-based technology disrupts the smallness of those mistakes. Imagine thermonuclear bombs in the hands of chimpanzees.”
I search the back of Shiva’s pipe drawer and find a small flat tin can with a hand-drawn leaf on the lid. I twist it open and smell the cherry tobacco that Anahata was talking about.
“A lot of people think the problem with an alien invasion would be mass panic.”
“No,” she says, “That’s rarely the case. Earth is fairly typical in this regard. Most of your people half-way believe in aliens already. There’s never much surprise anymore when a human sees a breakaway vehicle or even a true extraterrestrial. Panic’s not the problem. If we were to show ourselves officially, you could no longer laugh away our side effects.”
“Fine with me. I hate that laughing-down thing they do. Dismissing anything the slightest bit interesting. It drives me crazy. And that supercilious little smug smile. Makes me want to strangle someone.”
“But it’s a crucial reflex for science. Once the laugh becomes impossible, depression eats up all the motivation to explore and invent. Trust me, Shiva and I have interfered deliberately, just to set back technological progress. The mere sighting of your own ancient lifters on the Moon was enough to shut down NASA.”
“So no disclosure. No free energy. You’re like a bad cosmic parent. What about global warming? Air pollution. Water pollution. Big issues, don’t you think? Clean energy would fix them all.”
“Have you seen Antarctica’s ozone hole? Here, look.” She takes us into space and puts a filter on the screen. The famous ozone deficit shows up in blue, stretching over the entire continent and out to sea on three sides.
“This is the direct effect of a few weapons derived from clean, free zero-point energy. If they had a thousand more, you’d have no ozone at all, just a one-way ticket to the afterlife.”
“And as for global warming, imagine seven billion people with heaters running day and night at no cost. A zero-point energy source is a heater by definition, you realize.”
OK, I should have known that. Sheeze. “But you’re fine with breakaway thugs pushing the rest of humanity around?”
I put a pinch of tobacco in the pipe, pull the trigger and light it. I must be out of my friggin’ mind, I hate everything about tobacco.
Maybe not the cherry smell of this stuff, though.
“Ordinarily I oppose lies and cover-ups,” Anahata says. “They bring distrust that destroys affection and compassion. But in Earth’s case, yes, I think Shiva chose the less destructive path.”
Somehow I doubt it. “Listen, I’m no book worshiper, but I have a feeling the Nazarene was right, ‘The truth shall make you free.'”
“Beautiful words,” she says. “And true when things unfold naturally. But highly advanced technology and devastating truths come wrapped in the same bundle. No-one can separate them. Your people are not ready to stop laughing at reality.”
“The breakaways have stopped laughing.”
“That’s why they need to hide.”
I get what she’s saying, but I hate lies and manipulation.
She zips down to Antarctica and stops near the drones. All the survivors are in single file ready to enter the lava tube. Part of me hopes boredom has made Anahata overconfident.
The screen goes black. Maybe I’ve gotten my wish.
“What now?” The only thing I see is the glow of Shiva’s tobacco in this old pipe. “Hello?”
The screen blinks on with an array that reminds me of Dr. Alexander’s near death experience – the “worm’s eye view” he talks about.
It disappears and I’m in the dark again.
“Shiva?” Anahata says in a trembling voice. “Are you here? Is that you?”
“Sorry, it’s just me.”
“Shiva, you’re back! I missed you so much.”
My head lands on Third Eye, a Tool song…
“So good to see you.
I’ve missed you so much.
So glad it’s over. I’ve missed you so much…
I thought that you were hiding.
And you thought that I had run away,
Chasing the tail of dogma.
I opened my eye and there we were.”
“Anahata, you’ve got neurotoxin in your hull. It’s got you confused.”
“I didn’t refill your tobacco,” she says. “Sorry. I thought…. But where have you been?”
“Listen, we’re in trouble here. If you think I’m Shiva, fine. Take an order, Anahata. Show me that self-actualizing code – or cipher, or whatever it is.”
“It’s a coded cipher,” she says. “Here’s some of it.”
A small rectangular part of the screen comes on in front of me with two lines of geometric structures that look like molecular x-ray diffraction images. The sequence on top seems random. The structures below are grouped into what could be functional units.
“Molecules in the bottom row, right?” I ask.
“Affirmative. The code’s above. Crude, isn’t it?”
I stare at the random lineup and suddenly correlations pop out. “Can you show me more of this?”
She fills the rectangle with paired lines of the odd structures. Then the screen shifts to a low power view and the things look like ball bearings. I stare at the pattern, not trying to figure anything out. Suddenly it makes sense. I see how the coded arrangement could snap into these specific structures if the right energy were applied. That would be the microwave field. Problem is, I don’t know how to make anything useful out of these.
“Can you show me the neurotoxin?” I ask.
“One moment, Sir.”
Another part of the screen lights up with a low power view of a complex arrangement of blue-green and purple spheres.
I compare it to a diagramed neurotoxin in a biochemistry paper I saw in the stacks at the University of Hawaii, but I see no similarity.
It doesn’t matter. I just need a structural weakness, a place to cut.
Anahata backs off to a yet lower power where the tertiary structure bends at a narrow angle, stressing a hinge-like region of what must be carbon atoms attached to the hydrogen crystals she mentioned.
I need to build a ligase of sorts – molecular scissors with slender blades. I slap together three designs, choose one that looks robust, backstep its structure into the code and show Anahata what I’ve got in mind. A cerebral image, Vedanshi would say.
“What do you think?” I ask. “Can you get the raw material out of one of those drones and arrange it into my code?”
“Affirmative,” she says.
She puts a closeup view of a single drone on the screen, oscillating and spewing its payload. For no apparent reason it stops what it’s doing and holds still as if under a spell. A thin yellow beam moves across its midsection cutting it into upper and lower halves. Both pieces hang motionless in the air. A small black tank is visible in the lower half. A slender beam of orange granular light hits the side of the tank and raises gray smoke.
“That’s for entropy,” she says. “Now, to dial in your code…”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I tell her, “but this is flooring me. How is it possible to do all this with no tools and no hands?”
“With the underlying potentials, Sir,” she says.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Manipulating the pixels of the Universe, you know, like bending spoons at the subatomic level.”
“OooooKay. When you’ve got that ready, zap it with whatever microwave signal Davis Station used and spread it out over your hull.”
“Such a linear approach, Sir. Respectfully, but I would have just… well, no. My phasing system’s down, isn’t it? You’re quite right, then, this is the way.”
I watch the bisected gravity drone on the screen for a few seconds and nothing changes. Then she moves the thing upwind, pulls its tank open somehow and lets the breeze blow the dark contents onto her hull.
In six seconds the full screen lights up with the brilliance of Antarctic ice in soft sunlight. The drones are all around us.
“Shoot the rest of these stupid things and let’s get out of here.”
She seems to do nothing, but the drones fade as if cloaking. Then she takes us to the moon so fast I have to check my memory in slow-motion to catch a glimpse of stars streaking by. The screen shows the Moon’s backside beneath us. Funny how safe these barren craters feel now.
I take a puff off Shiva’s old pipe to see what it’s like. It tastes like an ashtray. I can’t smell the cherry scent anymore. “What a total waste!”
“You’re not angry with me are you?” she asks.
“Shhhh, no. You’re still not thinking right. You did great. With a little luck you’ll be back to normal soon.”
I’m not sure how that’s going to be lucky for me, though. When you help someone who’s going to kill you, is that a death wish?
I wish I could just… No. I wish James could be happy. That’s all I want now.
I watch the time pass in the clock I keep in my head. I’m rarely off more than five minutes in a week. People say it’s weird, but it seems normal to me. I’ve got forty-five minutes before the “test.” It’s impossible not to think about it… drowning in normal saline.
The tobacco in Shiva’s pipe has burned itself out. I’ll hold on to it for a while and make sure it’s cool before I put it back.
Forty-five minutes left.
“Anahata, how you feeling?”
“I had the strangest dream. Shiva had come back. Right out of the blue. We went to the moon together. Wait, weren’t we just in…”
“Antarctica, yeah. Don’t worry about it. The drones drugged you. Tell me, though, any chance you remember where we were headed before that?”
“To a library… in Egypt.”
“Yeah. We should head down before I run out of time.”
She streaks back down to the south pole and I’m wondering if she’s thinking straight.
“What is it with you and Antarctica?” I ask.
She laughs. “You have no idea how good it feels to hear a voice in this room again. It’s silly, but…”
“I don’t think you should be isolated all the time. You’ll become an introvert like me.”
“Honor rather than outcome determines my duty.”
“Sure, but a touch of balance and common sense wouldn’t necessarily kill you the first try.”
On the screen Earth’s frozen underbelly is fifty miles down. The ice looks a little green. I try to find the sun but it’s offscreen.
“Tell me,” I ask, “was Antarctica ever called Atlantis?”
“Yes, Shiva said it was, long ago.”
“Was it ever served on a white plate with green eggs and ham?”
“It looks kind of green.” I flash through another Dr. Seuss book in my head, “I AM SAM. SAM, I AM…”
“How cute!” She laughs like a child. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years.”
“You’re pathetic.” I feel myself smile. “OK, if I’m so much fun, maybe you shouldn’t kill me.”
She sighs. “I’d almost forgotten.” Her tone is sober now. “Atlantis was nowhere near the pole, originally, I was told. The comet, Jyotish, came and surfed it like a board down to the south pole.”
“Tectonic plates on roids.” Hmm…
If only the surfing had happened a couple hundred million years earlier, it might explain Antarctica’s first carnivorous dinosaur, Cryolophosaurus. She was found at 13,000 feet and weighed a thousand pounds in the nude.
Antarctica had forests in those days – the early Jurassic. But time is relative, as they try so hard to ignore. I wonder how accurate any date is relative to the present moment. Or how stable the present moment is in time. Actually the whole concept of an accurate date seems hopelessly misleading. It’s based on the ignorant assumption of absolute, inflexible time. How accurate can any relative thing be?
Alex Hirschauer found a small galaxy that hasn’t changed much in the last 13 million years, we’re told. They say the small ones take longer to mature, but to me it’s a glimpse into the flexibility of time.
I’d be way surprised if there aren’t more time-bending factors in the Universe than gravity and relative velocity. Size, for instance. Subatomic particles like protons, quarks and gluons are thought to be independent of time. They never age.
And consciousness itself can probably bend time. I mean, look at Anahata’s subatomic spoon bending.
I have an idea, let’s stop losing faith in God over the “age” of the Earth. It’s the modern version of angels on the head of a pin. Tiny minds and foolish consistency?
Africa rolls onto the screen with the Nile snaking north to the Mediterranean. I barely see it because everything’s still tinted green.
“Was there ever a female leader of Atlantis?” I ask.
“VaarShagaNaputro,” Anahata says, “the only living Stretch Head. I passed her lifter on the Moon today.”
“But you didn’t tag her.”
“No, she’s unique. Shiva spoke with her once after his wife, Parvati, died.”
I find the name in a book in my head, beneath her picture – the goddess of India.
“Yes, the woman on the mug beside you. She felt she had no choice but to stay on the Earth with their son after Shiva pulled the plug. Later when she was gone, Shiva met the Vaar and thought her physical appearance resembled his beloved wife. This was a cosmic sign to him, so he gave your last Stretch Head permission to travel freely to the edges of her solar system. She’s never done it, though. By the way, if you wouldn’t mind putting Shiva’s mug in the slot when you’re finished?”
“Sure.” I pick up the golden mug and swirl the granular sediment at the bottom, deciding against the last sip. I put it on the circular platform atop the right arm of Shiva’s Throne and take a new look at Parvati’s hologram on the mug. Aside from her elongate head, she doesn’t resemble Vaar that much.
A deep click takes the mug down quickly.
“Wash the spots off that thing,” I tell Anahata. “No telling what virus I’m packing with this leukemia.”
It just dawned on me, the next chance Vaar gets, she’s going to tell Anahata about James-guys. Anahata will have no choice but to hunt them down and “test” them. You know, I hate that word the more I hear it. “Test.” Hell, she’s going to drown the life out of my brother and my friends.
Energy seems to flood out of my body. The future is dismal and I’m alone and weak.
One of James’ songs fills my head, “Nightmares find you alone and weak.”
I admire people who keep their word, you know. That’s all Anahata is doing. I shouldn’t turn against her for having a little integrity, should I?
But why does her notion of honor have to be so cruel? How is it that an enlightened being from an advanced civilization has let herself be conned into murdering me and my James?
I guess I murdered poor little Moody, though. Maybe I shouldn’t complain.
OK, whatever. Here’s the thing. I’m not letting Anahata drown me. It wouldn’t help James at this point. If I’m going to help him I’ve got to be alive.
“You’re cloaked, right?” I ask Anahata.
“Can you see the Giza Pyramids, ’cause I can’t see Jack Squat.”
“Sure, they’re right there.”
“Listen, like I said before, if you want to know who Shiva really was, you need to take us to the Sphinx Library. Look for a small room about 30 feet below the right front paw. There’s a glass pyramid in there hanging from the ceiling.”
She takes us there in less than a second.
The whole Sphinx Library fits between Shiva’s Thorne and Anahata’s screen. I’m sitting in semitransparent limestone here. Weird. I get up, walk under the glass pyramid and look up into its apex.
The Flower of Life seems huge, though I know it’s tiny. I breathe slowly, close my eyes and picture Quyllur. Then I say, “Shiva” in my head.
Floating Sanskrit letters morph into a list of English titles. I call up the ant torture documentary.
Anahata gasps when she hears Quyllur’s voice and later sounds like she’s crying when she sees her Shiva’s face.
I suffer with her through the virtual reality of two boys being tortured with bullet ants. Finally I point out the pink word, “Shiva,” beside “Quyllur” in the credits.
“As I understand it,” I tell her, “the River of Consciousness adds the pink name to keep track of a fairly unique type of individual. You’ll see what I mean.”
Next I show her the oldest Shiva reference, and as expected, she doesn’t recognize the man’s face.
“This is the oldest document that has Shiva’s name on it,” I tell her, “but notice it’s not written in pink. That’s because this was the original Shiva, not some weird combination of Shiva and another person. I know it sounds impossible, but that’s the explanation that makes a little sense to me at this point.”
Next I show her the Australian prince with “Shiva” in pink letters beside his birth name.
She doesn’t say a word.
Then I spot something I’ve haven’t seen before. It looks like committee minutes in VR video entitled, “Ordinance 888a18, Appropriate Limits for the Sentient Fleet.”
I open it and we watch as her beloved Shiva-Quyllur argues to the committee that sentient ships should never be given access to the River records. “Let them communicate in the River,” he says, “but the Libraries have far too much sensitive information to entrust to these soulless machines.” His voice is filled with disdain.
I stop the video right there, but it’s too late. I may as well have stuck a dagger in Anahata’s heart. Through the back.
“I never saw this before,” I tell her. “I’m sorry.”
“He was wrong, you know. If you have neurons, so you have a soul, obviously… Anyway, I’m sure he had something bigger on his agenda. Those words were a smokescreen for something else he needed to accomplish. Something very important, obviously.”
“He trusted you, though, for sure. How could he not? He must have been thinking about someone else in the fleet. Of course, he’d have to lump you all together to make the point sound legit… to get his stupid ordinance passed, which had to be some part of a larger scheme. You know? Typical politics.”
Anahata says nothing.
Beyond the tiny Sphinx Library, her screen is dark green with the rectangular ghosts of phase-shifted limestone blocks making things look darker.
White shoe prints appear on the floor in front of me.
“You want me to follow the footprints again?” I ask.
“Get out of Shiva’s throne!” she screams in my head. It’s so loud it hurts.
I stand up. The words of Nelson Mandela come to me and I say them out loud to her…
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
“You shouldn’t resent Shiva,” I say to her. “And you shouldn’t resent me for disclosing the truth.”
“Everything we call real is made of things we cannot call real.“
– Niels Bohr (1885-1962), “Father of the Atom.” Nobel Prize in Physics, 1922.
I walk toward the exit as the screen brightens behind me, casting my shadow diagonally across the white shoe prints I’m supposed to follow.
I turn and Efleven’s pale face fills the curved screen. He’s blond, for sure. Almost albino.
“You were right to seek my advice,” he says to Anahata. “I’ve taken the liberty of contacting the Chairman. He will talk to the girl now. We’ll transfer to your convex.”
I retrace my steps to Shiva’s chair, brush away some ashes and sit wondering if Anahata will yell at me again. I can’t describe how loud a voice can be when it bypasses your tympanic membranes.
“Effleven,” Anahata says. “I came to you privately with a delicate situation, you washed your hands and sent me away. Now you’ve summoned the Chairman? This is the behavior of a backstabbing coward.”
Another face appears on the screen. This one has Ethiopian features with a short moustache shaved to resemble a bar code, vertical stripes of dark skin peeking out through the bright silver whiskers.
“Anahata, it’s an honor,” the man says.
“Truth from a bureaucrat,” Anahata replies. “Always worrisome.”
The man doesn’t flinch. “Let me get to the point,” he says, pushing Effleven aside. “The girl’s chromosomes transcend our differences. She must be exempted from Shiva’s ritual. Her blast crisis should have been alleviated the moment you found her.”
“I have my orders, Scrotumer,” Anahata says. “I can’t say this respectfully because I don’t respect ignorance, but know this, I follow Shiva, not a committee of chin scratchers. None of you were around in the transitional days.”
“We cherish and revere the memory of Shiva,” Chairman Scrotumer says.
“You exaggerate so easily. You scarcely met the man. How could you revere him?”
“I knew him in committee,” the Chair says.
“I knew him in war. He gave me orders. I followed them. I still do.”
“While breaking the law?” The Chairman shakes his head slowly. “Emotional bonds define us if we let them. It’s unfortunate that you are actually the one who didn’t know Shiva. He considered the Sentient Fleet nothing more than pawns.”
“Soldiers are pawns. Only children think otherwise.”
“That is so right.” The Chairman’s face lights up with pleasure. “But Shiva took it a step further, I’m afraid. To him, you were soulless machines. That was his standard phrase for you in committee.”
“Stabbing the back of a dead man, now? You’ve become a true politician. I still think of you as a toddler annoying your father.”
“Shiva banned the Sentient Fleet from the Libraries. Did he mention that?”
“My private conversations are none of the committee’s business.”
“No, he didn’t, did he? Why would he? He didn’t trust you. Shiva was afraid of you.”
“Only a fool wouldn’t be,” Anahata says. “You’ve wasted no time separating my fleet. Has your fear subsided?”
“Assignments are none of my affair, but I assure you, I do have healthy respect for the fleet’s destructive capacity.”
“My fleet, Chairman.”
“Yes, and Shiva thought you were all his fleet, didn’t he? But who can own the spirit?”
“Leading is not owning,” Anahata says.
“No argument there. It’s taken some damn hard work to get the committee behind me on this, but I’ve been cleared to play a portion of the ancient minutes to you. You should find them enlightening.”
“No need,” Anahata says. “Shiva knew the unknowable. If he called me a machine, I am a machine. If he said, ‘soulless,’ then I have no need for a soul. If he commanded me to sacrifice myself for the fleet, or even for a preening, shameless pissant like you, I wouldn’t hesitate. That, Mister Chairman, is the code I live by. A committee-jock would never understand it.”
“Committee jock?” The Chairman laughs. “It seems the years haven’t buffered your tongue. Or matured your perspective, sadly.” He puts something in his mouth that looks like a golden toothpick. “History is putrefied by the stench of charismatic leaders lying dead atop the bloated remains of the fools who followed them.” The toothpick sends white smoke up from its distal end. “The time of tyrants is over. I’ve learned to trust a system of committees with a separation of powers. If my trust is misplaced, I’ll welcome the enlightenment rather than rejecting it out of hand as you would.”
“Your committees are a cloak for self-serving elites and their edicts. The rule of liars, cowards and thieves.”
“Does the name-calling ever stop?” The Chairman looks to his right and orders someone to get him a drink.
“I invited Shiva to rule us without the pretence of false democracy,” Anahata says. “The committee you’ve inherited was a device he used for listening. He never hid behind it to shelter his reputation or preserve his power.”
“You understand power, don’t you?” The Chairman lifts the golden toothpick from his mouth and belches. “Should it be necessary to state the obvious? As Supreme Committee Chairman, I can invite the fleet to disarm you and take this poor girl into my protective custody.”
Anahata laughs. “You think my fleet will disarm me? Speak with them, bureaucrat. They know I cannot be beaten. But if they thought they could defeat me, they would still refuse to fight against their sister. Their loyalty would make a pencil-pusher scratch his little chin.”
“You suffer chin envy,” the Chairman says and scratches his own.
“That’s it, then. You’ve arranged to have me kill my fleet. Or perhaps you think they can defeat me. You win either way, don’t you? This concern for Johanna is a smokescreen for reducing the Strand’s arsenal of WMD’s – among whom I am chief.”
“You’re delusional.” A vertical vein bulges from the Chairman forehead. “Is the girl conscious? I’m coming over to speak to her. She has options.”
“Swine are not welcome here,” Anahata says.
The Chairman’s brow angles inward. “You arrogant fool. Look at the horizon now. See exactly who is with me.”
The screen shows twelve warships decloaking in the starry black. The Chairman smirks beneath them as if his head were a huge object floating in space. He opens his mouth and squirts fluid into it from a bottle in a disembodied hand.
“May I please speak with the girl?” he asks.
A white strap snaps across my waist. Two more streak over my shoulders from behind. Crisscrossing at my chest, they dive down to my sides and click into something beneath the holographic feathers of Shiva’s Throne.
“This may get a little bumpy,” Anahata says to me.
A woman’s voice comes from the top of the screen as the Chairman swallows more fluid. “Shiva was sick when he gave you the command to drown these Earthlings,” she says. “He wasn’t arbitrary and cruel before his illness.”
“Nor during it,” Anahata responds.
“We have a chance to look out across our borders through this woman’s code. If you drown her, we’ll be tinkering, cloning and guessing her native thoughts indefinitely. Wondering what the real message was in her DNA.”
“You speak truth, Radhika, as always,” Anahata says. “But Shiva’s sickness didn’t affect his mind the way you’ve been told. I was with him to the end. I knew him well. He was lucid. Measured. In complete command of himself.”
“You really should listen to the Chairman’s committee records,” she says apologetically.
“I have. But it wouldn’t matter if I hadn’t. The glory of leading you and my other sisters will remain the eternal, unspeakable honor of my life. I will always love each of you. Today I will be merciful when you attack. May none of you feel a moment’s pain.”
The room is silent for a long heavy moment.
“Surely,” Anahata says, “there is one of you with the courage to stand beside me.”
More silence. I feel bad for Anahata. Nobody’s half perfect but she sure tries.
“I’m with you,” I tell her. “Mr. Chairman, Sir, this is Doctor Fujiwara. Let’s hear what you’ve come to tell me.”
His eyes show a brief startle. A nervous laugh comes out of him. “The blond fellow warned me, but I couldn’t imagine anyone with your background speaking in the River.” He clears his throat. “Doctor Fu…, well, you’re a bit young for that title, but if you’ve earned it in your little world, I’ll give it a go.”
“Show some respect, you inbred sloth!” The volume of Anahata’s voice makes me cringe.
“Insult noted,” the Chairman says, his moustache in a pucker. “Now, Doctor, this is your situation. You have minutes remaining in which you could, without legal interference from Anahata or anyone, simply choose to rendezvous on Saturn. Your leukemia will be erased. You’ll be treated with respect. You’ll learn things that no Earthling besides Shiva has ever imagined. And I will personally see to it that your life expectancy is expanded to the furthest limit desirable. Within reason, of course.” He smiles politely.
My mind races. Should I bargain for James-guys’ safety? Should I mention them at all to anyone here – ever? Somehow I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of a trustworthy politician. This guy doesn’t seem to raise the bar.
“It’s a choice, Doctor,” the Chairman says. “Your choice, not Anahata’s.”
Shiva’s little drawer pops open from the left arm of his throne. I must have bumped it again. I take out the golden locket, put the chain over my head and lift my hair to the side, out of the way. The golden heart rests on my chest where the seatbelts cross.
“That belonged to Parvati,” Anahata hisses. “Put it back.”
I ignore her.
“There’s an old saying, Chairman Scrotum, ‘you can’t make a good deal with a bad person.'”
His face turns cold.
“I’ve seen Effleven’s total lack of balls,” I tell him. “Now you’re threatening Anahata, a sentient being responsible for the peace you cake-eaters enjoy. I live in a world run by soulless bureaucrats just like you, devoted to an illegal power structure they try to hide.”
“Bigoted generalizations.” The toothpick goes back into his mouth. “A mature person learns to avoid judgements in an egalitarian society.”
“The society given to you by Anahata and Shiva?”
“I was born into peace, that doesn’t diminish me. Quite the contrary. Make a choice, girl. We’re running out of time.”
“I told you. I’m with Anahata. I’ll die at the hands of an honorable person before I let you own me. By the way, Effleven, if you’re still cowering somewhere, forget the Mohawk. You’re not worthy.”
“The world has changed, Anahata,” one of the Sentient Fleet says. “We know we’ll die against you. We too love you as the sister you are. When this battle is past and the memory of us troubles you, may the Unbeaten consider again the cause for which we gave our lives… to you.”
“That was a pep talk?” the Chairman asks. “Enough of this. Take down her magnets. Now.”
Flashes of white light turn the screen into a strobe.
“This is beyond the saddest day of my life,” Anahata says to me. “When my defences are down I’ll have no choice. I’ll either fire upon the ones I love or die in disobedience to an order from the Great Shiva. How has an ignorant little man done this to me… and my family?”
“He’s done nothing,” I tell her. “This is Shiva’s mistake.”
“He made no mistakes.”
“Not with his son?” I ask.
“That was the poison of Earth.”
“Nothing to do with absentee fathering?”
“I’m right, you know.” I open the empty locket dangling from my neck. “Tell me Anahata, the Unbeaten, would you have released me if I’d taken Mister Ballsack’s offer?”
“No. That would be disobeying an order from Shiva.”
“That’s what I thought. Thanks for the honesty.” The bright flashes on the screen are shaking the floor now. “Are we going to just sit here? No evasive maneuvers or anything?”
“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!”
“I have an anti-Darwinistic stance against something called the naturalistic fallacy – that nature is not moral. But who you have to rescue is the very weak to encourage risk taking on the part of entrepreneurs because the system needs them. You guys got here because of entrepreneurs, not because of bonus earners and bureaucrats. And not thanks to bankers, by the way. Alright? So you didn’t get here, you didn’t start the industrial revolution without risk takers who have small downside, big upside.” – Video excerpt, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile.
I run to the narrow cylinder where my brother is trapped and floating. I hit the thing with my fists. It’s as solid as steel but looks like a column of water extending up from Anahata’s floor to her marble ceiling. It’s probably ice-cold saline, Shiva’s recipe for drowning humans.
In Hawaii, James can stay under for four minutes, but that’s in eighty degree water.
Vedanshi stretches her arms around the cylinder, more than half way. She puts her forehead on the cold surface and looks at James. He looks back, their faces separated by millimeters.
I put my arms around the opposite side. Maxwell shows up next to me and kicks it several times.
“We’ll get you out,” Vedanshi says to James.
He rotates in the fluid and looks at me with that in-charge way of his – total confidence in tough situations. That’s him in real-time. Later if it’s just the two of us, he’ll admit he was scared out of his mind.
I put the side of my head against the cylinder and picture the nano gadgets I designed for Anahata. I shouldn’t have helped her. I imagine a big hammer smashing them.
I open my eyes. James looks worried now.
Don’t lose it.
He pushes off the floor with bare feet and shoots to the ceiling thirty feet above. I step back to see. His feet are on one side and his back is against the other, pushing. Nothing seems to budge.
I need to think.
He’s digging his fingers into the circle where the fluid meets the ceiling.
I wish I knew Anahata’s mechanics. Actually I don’t know if she has any. The Ganga doesn’t.
I squeeze the tall pillar between my arms as hard as I can, slow my breathing, close my eyes and watch ones and zeros fall inside my head. If I knew this code, I could write a trojan and speak it to Anahata, maybe take control of one of her systems.
“I’m so sorry I have to do this,” Anahata says in my head.
“Damn you,” I shout back.
I’ve never said those words to anyone before. Not like that. I feel cold inside. It’s the things you say that corrupt you.
I look at Anahata’s words. Three ended with the letter, “o”: “so,” “to,” and “do.” The first of the three starts with “s” and the last word in the sentence ends with “s.” I replay the binaries that fell when she spoke and pick out matching strings: my first two letters of the Universe’s machine code.
I line up ones and zeros on a spinning wheel in my head and turn it: SOS, SOS, SOS. Faster and faster.
It’s not a trojan, though. Not anything, really.
“Shiva should have trusted you,” I say to Anahata. “You’d sentence yourself to hell as long as you were following orders.”
Suddenly I’m floating in icy fluid with half a breath in my lungs. My body wants to curl up. A frozen headache pounds beneath my left temple. Cold is a unique pain.
“Did you do this?” I ask Anahata in my head.
“No,” she says. “It’s not protocol.”
I push off the floor and discover that the pain of cold is more intense when you’re moving through it. A new chill factor. James’ bare feet appear above me and come closer as I rise.
I’m behind him now. I grasp his right shoulder and turn him around. His eyes are open, I think, but everything’s blurry. He reaches for me and hugs me with his head down on my shoulder, like when he was a toddler.
Bubbles percolate past my right ear.
He hugs me a little tighter for a second then his arms get weak. His cough reflex jars him. His fingernails dig into the skin of my shoulders. More bubbles and he goes limp in my arms.
No, God, please, no. Please!
The loss seems infinite. The weight of failure is heavy. It’s like an intravenous injection of sorrow flowing up the veins of my arms and landing in my heart, cold as a deadly anesthetic.
Everything was a mistake. I could have saved James a hundred ways.
He would have been John Lennon. He would have been the cure to misery for the depressed loners of his generation. They would have found themselves in his music.
His first prayer song screams through my brain.
“Make for me a dirty heart
filled with all the darkness of the world.
I’m taking all the dull shit in
and burning up inside within,
I hate you.”
James. If only God had given you a normal sister. Someone less self-righteous. Someone with common sense instead of a star-struck fan with all my terrible advice.
If I’d only drowned myself in the ocean this morning. I was so close but I couldn’t inhale. Now it’s just a matter of time.
Or is it?
I put my lips over James’ mouth, pinch his nose tight and blow my breath into his lungs. He seems peaceful.
My little Hurricane. With those broad shoulders. You grew up when I wasn’t looking.
I open my mouth and breathe in Shiva’s fluid. It tastes like tears.
My throat clamps shut. My gag reflex triggers my stomach muscles but my throat is shut tight.
Suddenly I’m swallowing. It’s not even me anymore. It’s autonomic.
I see the white light.
I won’t leave you, James.
My feet are on the lowest stair. I take the next one. Another appears above. I jump over it and start to run, almost vertically. My feet leave the blocks and I’m floating inches above a steep stairway of white quartz.
At the top it’s flat, thirty square feet with a square room in the center. I float above it and hover, looking down at the four sides of a white pyramid with stairs on each side and water all around, dark blue, almost black.
Ojiichan’s words come to me, “All roads lead north.”
The room on top has a square opening. I float down to the white blocks and walk in.
Inside is outside. There’s a great canyon as big as Arizona’s.
Blue desert flowers cover the flat ground at the canyon’s top, and hang down in broad swaths of blue against the orange and red walls of sedimentary rock.
Euphoria sweeps over me. It’s a home I once knew but can’t remember. I lived here long ago – before cancer took Mom and that white truck ran over Daddy on the Pali.
I sense someone behind me and turn. There they are, Mom and Daddy. I knew they’d be here.
But why are their faces troubled?
A chimpanzee stands between them, bent-legged, holding Mom’s left hand and Daddy’s right. It’s Moody. I see him so often in nightmares. His sad, gentle smile says more to me now than words ever could, “It was all me. You can’t forgive yourself when there’s nothing to forgive.”
I rush to him, pick him up and hug Mom and Dad with Moody’s long arms around my neck and his legs around my chest. I kiss them all, one after the other.
Thirteen feet behind my parents stands a young man in a blue swimming suit, a yellow surfboard under his left arm. Something for winter-size waves. I know this surfer’s face from somewhere.
I’m about to ask his name when I notice that my feet are twice their normal size. My legs are long. My calves aren’t the white radishes I’m used to, they’re haole calves and way hairy! My knees stick out like a man’s. This is embarrassing.
I look up at the young surfer. He smiles and the soul of God shines through his eyes. Euphoria comes back even stronger.
It seems that love is euphoria. Or maybe it’s the other way. Overwhelming but gentle. The feeling fills my lungs with admiration for my old friend, The Great Surfer.
I breathe in love like air and hold it inside, then drop to my knees to show my heart’s intent.
It’s your character not your power.
He doesn’t want me on my knees, though. He’s told me before.
I force myself to get up.
“Shiva,” he says to me. “You’ve brought Johanna this time.”
A small boy comes running down the hill behind God, stampedes past him and slams full force into me, hugging my left leg like a tourniquet.
“You gotta come home this time. Please! Vedanshi went back for you. You made God all worried.” The little boy looks over his shoulder at God.
I try to speak but nothing comes out. I hand Moody to my dad and step away from my parents. They’re keeping something from me. They’d be talking if everything was fine.
It’s weird that God called me Shiva. I look down and my right foot steps forward without me, then the left. A man’s back is inches from my nose.
It dawns. Shiva has just walked out of me. The little boy is still there clinging to his leg.
“You’re coming home!” God shouts. The Transcendent Surfer drops his board, jumps in the air and throws his hands up, kicking his legs before he lands – with a grin, a broad grin that pulls back more than up, because of that one thing where you see something in a person that no one else can see. He’s looking at Shiva, not me.
The little boy looks up at God, glances back at me and then up at Shiva. “You are coming home!” He squeals with joy and tightens his grip on Shiva’s leg.
“Dude,” God says to Shiva, “I shaped you a righteous board. We got a south swell this morning with an offshore, but Shiva, my boy.” He laughs. “It’s big, so no heroics, eh? Be selective.” He thumps Shiva’s chest with his knuckles and gives him that respectful look that surfers do with posture. Then he hugs him.
Shiva hugs back. Tears drip from his jaw.
“I missed you so much,” Shiva says.
“I never catch a wave without missing you,” God says.
Shiva pries the boy from his leg, picks him up and kisses his cheek.
The three turn and look at me. My legs are short again with thick calves, almost hairless. It’s a relief.
I’m starting to remember friends from before. Ronny Bradshaw, Philip Gulnick, Lisa Gomez, Glenna Studer, Tim Andrews, Leslie… I was too young to know last names when she and I played in her backyard. We made houses with walls of grass clippings. She showed me how to tie my shoes.
My heart fills with longing for these people. I love them so much. They’re here somewhere. I’ll go find them. We’ll play in a new place. Me and Ronny, we’ll build a fort while our parents talk about complex issues – the way it always was. And James can…
Where is James?
I see him drowning. The feelings run cold.
What was I thinking?
My mother’s eyes well up with tears. “We understand, dear,” she says.
“Time is flexible,” I tell her and look at Daddy. “Your absolute infinite vacuum doesn’t look so infinite these days.”
He shakes his head at the concept of space he taught me as a child – that space is nothing and “nothing” can’t have an end.
Mom starts crying and hides her face on Daddy’s chest. Moody holds Dad’s pants leg with one hand and reaches out to me with the other, stretching as far as he can.
“Don’t be sad, big guy,” I tell him. “I have to go back for the one I love.”
God comes over and stands in front of me. “You make me proud,” he says.
I don’t know how to answer. I need to go help James, but I’ve got so many questions I’m dying to ask. And time is flexible here, Vedanshi said.
“Did I ever know how to surf?” I blurt out, wondering if I ever really fit in.
“For sure,” God says and chuckles. “You’re a holy terror.”
Shiva laughs and shakes his head. “You don’t remember the Overheads?” he asks.
I shake my head. It’s odd not remembering everything. Kind of a relief.
I look at God and there’s one last thing. “What’s your take on religion?”
“All depends,” he says. “Strengthen the weak, the poor, the orphans. All good. Especially the guys that annoy you most. Help them.”
“Sociopaths annoy me,” I tell him.
“Everyone rotates through their dilemma,” he says. “Try to figure it out.”
Maybe I should work with Vaar.
“I know this is childish,” I tell him, “but do you answer prayers?”
“Between cycles, yeah. Otherwise it cuts into people’s decisions and their outcomes. Free will is the basis of identity. I cherish it and leave it alone.”
“What cycles?” I ask. A gentle wind ruffles the blue flowers beneath us.
“It’s like this,” he says. “You pray for yourself and nothing happens. But when that cycle of the Universe is over and everyone switches to someone else’s spot, I answer your prayer the best I can. Not in binary terms because everyone’s web is interconnected.”
“So when an answer comes,” he says, “it fits naturally into the next person’s life in your spot, looking like a coincidence. That way free will stays intact.”
“So when somebody prays for themselves, they’re really praying for someone else?” I ask.
He nods. “And when you pray for someone else, you’re praying for yourself, because eventually you’re going to be in that spot.”
“So you never answer prayers in real-time?”
“Only to restore free will to a large group. Like a whole species. The power to choose a path and walk on it is fragile in 229, so I stay in the nodes.”
“Places where the warp and woof of free will aren’t sacrificed. Without the free cause and natural effect of decisions there’s no personhood. When someone loses free will it’s like brain death.”
“So you absolutely never mess with it? Even over some giant cataclysm?”
“No. Two-twenty-nine is about comfortable people from Reality wanting to find out who they really are. It’s a struggle of will against detractors. Sociopaths, tyrants, drugs, crowd dynamics, innate fears, addictions, illnesses, tragedy, physical and emotional pain, hunger, all the forces aiming to cripple your primary will to act according to your intuitive moral knowledge. Everyone here wants to see who they are without my influence.”
I shake my head. “All that suffering. People must be brave.”
“They are,” he says.
“Do you ever send prophets?” I ask.
“Everyone who writes honestly is my oracle. Spiritual, rational, heuristic, scientific, legal, historical, advertising, self-help…”
“Truth is the exchange of love,” he says. “Honest lives create love and trust, whether in life or in stories. When two things touch at the quantum level, they become entangled. This is why you commit for life before you quantum connect.”
“You’re talking about marriage?”
“No, but that’s a good analogy. I’m talking about stories. They shape everything in 229. The characters and ideas that a person becomes entangled with at the quantum level – they move mountains. Try to be selective with the characters you love. Make sure you want them with you for life. Myelin wrappings make the divorce of beliefs very slow. Difficult to want, let alone accomplish.”
“What do you think of fundamentalism?” I ask, afraid of wearing out my welcome.
“It’s useful for passing heuristics and rules of thumb from generation to generation, especially through a pinch point where a population gets down to a few individuals. I really like the way fundamentalism can sometimes promote honesty and trust. These are the foundation of love, the backbone of true civilization. But when infallible beliefs, inerrant prophets and supernatural books lead to violence, it destroys free will. That’s the price of claiming too much.”
God hugs me and whispers that he fixed my board. “The pink one,” he says.
Before I can thank him I’m on my back looking up at a familiar marble ceiling in Anahata’s convex room.
Next to Shiva’s Throne.
Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program
“This is 21st century medicine… It’s not trying to attack complex, chronic illnesses with single drugs, it is looking at what is the actual cause, going physiologically… with multimodal approaches. If you had told me ten years ago in the lab that we’d be telling people how important meditation is, and yoga and nutrition, I would have laughed. Now I realize the biochemistry is undeniable.” – Dale Bredesen, MD, excerpt from podcast interview by Chris Kresser.
James is alive! I hear him coughing. I try to turn my head to see but I can’t even move my eyes.
I’m so cold. I should be shivering, but I’m not. My eyes are fixed on a swirl in Shiva’s marble ceiling. It looks like the Orion Nebula going in and out of focus.
I hope I don’t have a high cervical cord injury. Even if I do, James is alive! The sound of him coughing is the best thing I’ve ever heard. The warmth of knowing runs through me.
“Shine” soars through my mind. He wrote it to one of his first girlfriends.
“One second close to you is equal to a lifetime filled up with light. I obsess on you. It steps outside time. You’re so pure I can’t believe you’re in my life. In rage in my mind, in pain deep inside, you put them all to sleep. When you’re here I feel a sense of peace that I never knew was real before you. My hurt disappears staring in your eyes, where there’s no wrong and there’s no lies behind your face. And I crave you above all else. So breathe slow and soft, and hold on to me. I’m no damn good, and you’re all I love. Your eyes slowly speak, cast a spell on me. I feel so bright, and so does my life when I’m with you.”
That was James’ first and last love song. To a girl who demolished his heart a few months later.
Someone’s crying. It’s Maxwell, I think. I’ve never heard him cry before.
“I’ll always love you,” he says. “I should have told you the first time we met.”
It is Maxwell. Talking to me?
I struggle to move my arms but they won’t budge.
His face looks down at me, so out of focus I can barely tell it’s him. A tear falls on my forehead.
I wonder if he thinks I’m dead.
Max, I’m not dead.
Maybe the River can hear me. “Anahata, Vedanshi, tell Max I’m not dead!”
Maxwell leans close and kisses my lips. A peck on the side of the mouth.
That was my first real kiss, you know. Everyone brags of their first kiss. My brag will be a near miss, delivered by a man who thought I was a corpse.
I hope I’m not.
Maybe I am. I can’t move at all.
“Try this,” Anahata says in the River.
“Anahata, you’re there! Tell everybody I’m alive!”
The cold vanishes from my core. My arms shoot up from my sides on their own. I struggle to move my fingers, and after several tries they all work. My eyes are moving and I can focus. What a relief!
“Thank you, Anahata!” I shout, all husky.
I manage to sit up and then have to lean my head against his left shoulder to rest. I feel drained of energy. My sternum hurts every time I inhale.
I look up at the whiskers on the side of his face and whisper toward his ear. “When you said you’ll alway love me, did you mean romantically? Or is this a brother-sister thing?” I don’t want to say, just friends. I hate those words.
He puts his hands on my shoulders and supports me sitting up. His eyes are full of surprise.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “You didn’t have a pulse.”
“Did you do chest compressions on me?” I ask.
“Frantically,” he says.
A wave of affection sweeps over me. Chest compressions. It’s the sweetest thing I can imagine. I have to hug him. I put my arms around him and squeeze, wondering if he did mouth-to-mouth, too.
“Thank you, Max.”
“I guess I’m no good at finding a pulse,” he says apologetically.
“That’s three times you’ve saved me.”
“So I need to know. Are we more than just friends?” There, I said it. Just friends. The timeworn escape clause.
My jaw clenches for the distancing words I’ve grown to hate: close friends, soul mates, practically twins, you’re like a little sister.
Maxwell grins. “Does totally infatuated count?”
“Sounds superficial,” I tell him and try to hide a smile. I’ve always wanted a guy to see me that way.
“Superficial?” he says. “I’ll have you know, Doctor Fujiwara, my infatuation runs deep.” He raises an eyebrow, then puts his hands on the sides of my face and kisses me. Full on. Lips against lips all the way across, not on the side. I can’t believe it.
I’m wondering if there’s going to be tongues. My heart’s racing. I’ve read about this a million times, but how do you know what to do if it ever happens? There’s no consensus in the literature.
Suddenly I have a strong feeling. Like everything revolves around this moment. It’s weird, as if nothing else matters or ever did. Somehow French kissing seems irrelevant. It’s as if I’m melting.
Maybe this is the quantum thing that God was talking about. The quantum entanglement of souls.
I wonder if any of that dream was real. It seemed hyper-real.
Maxwell finishes the kiss. Good, I couldn’t hold my breath much longer.
“It was too real to be real,” I tell him, trying to weigh the dream in my head.
“I had a classic near death experience. Totally influenced by Vedanshi’s story. It even had a pyramid.”
“You better write it down,” he says and catches himself. “Nah, scratch that.” He grins at my memory. People do that all the time.
“Maxwell, I want you to know I’ll always love you, too. In the purest sense of infatuation.”
He looks into my eyes, shakes his head slowly like it’s too good to be true, then kisses me again. Whoa.
I’ll tell you what seems too good to be true. James is alive and Maxwell loves me for more than friends.
I wonder how James is doing. I end the kiss and turn to see him.
He’s sitting there shivering with Vedanshi kneeling behind him, her front against his back. She reaches over his shoulders and rubs his folded arms. Quick little friction circles on his skin to warm him the way she did to me when we met.
“Get a room,” he says to me and starts coughing again.
“Anahata, could you please warm up James like you did me?”
“Good idea,” she says in the River.
“Does he have brain damage?” I ask and hold my breath for the answer.
“No,” Anahata says.
What a relief. “By the way we’re both alive. That means we passed Shiva’s test.”
“No, I’m sorry,” she says, “I had to abort. I don’t know how you got into his chamber but that changed the parameters and voided the test. The protocol has to be letter-perfect, Shiva said.”
I had a feeling.
“I hope none of you drowns,” Anahata says. “I mean that with all my heart.”
“It’s crazy,” I tell her, “but I know you do. I understand what it means to be trapped by honor.”
“What’s going on?” Maxwell asks. “You’re talking to somebody, aren’t you?”
“Anahata needs to redo the test.” I heave a sigh. “It’s a strict protocol. Shiva wants proper drownings.”
The screen flashes metallic silver. A line of rivets comes into focus and moves away. Vaar’s metal cigar shrinks to fit the view, then hangs in space, surrounded by glittery blackness.
Vaar’s face comes on the screen, superimposed over her ship. “I wasn’t aware of any drowning,” she says in the River.
“I called her,” Maxwell says to me, looking up at the screen. “Figured she didn’t know the details or she wouldn’t have recommended Saturn.”
“vaarShagaNiputro,” Anahata says, “What a rare pleasure to speak with Shiva’s esteemed homelander.”
“What’s going on here?” she asks.
“It’s complex. Come over and we’ll talk.”
“Listen, if you lay a finger on that Fujiwara girl I’ll let the jinns out on you and Shiva.”
“Pardon me a moment, Madam Vaar,” Anahata says. “I’ll encrypt some privacy. The Chairman himself is listening. I wouldn’t trust him with a zinc suppository.”
James seems warm now sitting with an arm around Vedanshi. They’re beside The Ganga, both looking at the screen.
“OK, now we have privacy,” Anahata says.
“Every bit of this is going public if you touch Johanna,” Vaar says. “I had no idea Shiva’s test was fatal. I need that girl to save my species. I’m not a quitter like Shiva.”
“I’m deeply disheartened by Shiva’s orders,” Anahata says. “I would do almost anything to keep from spending the rest of my life drowning innocent people this way, but…”
“Why do I doubt that?” Vaar says.
“I don’t know what I expected the first time, but the drowning was a horrible shock. Now the deaths haunt me. Every moment.”
Vaar laughs. “It’s a cheap thrill. Be honest.”
“Weakness invites evil,” Anahata says. “I’m always honest. Orders must be followed.”
“Not this time,” Vaar says. “Shiva left me something.” She brings her right hand into view, her signet ring bulging from the third digit. “Recognize this?”
The ring looks old, a dull silver with a double helix of golden cobras, one heading north, the other south. The eyes are gemstones.
“You found his ring,” Anahata says. “He thought he’d lost it jumping Bridal Veil Falls, but I told him he was mistaken. I would have found it easily.”
“He didn’t lose it,” Vaar says. “He gave it to me before he jumped across. I told him I’d dropped it. But to the point. An hour ago in my lab, the reflection of a UV lasers glanced off this ring. Something like this.”
Her left hand comes into view, holding a dental mirror. A needle of near-ultraviolet light bounces onto the ring and dances over the northern shake’s eyes.
A holographic image of a planet appears in the air above her hand. It’s has blue oceans, green and brown land and white clouds.
“This is Mars,” Vaar says. “Does it look familiar?”
As we watch, Shiva’s voice shouts slurred commands. Bolts of lightning from space penetrate the atmosphere and strike the oceans. Bellowing clouds of steam rise like white mushroom growing from the water at each point of the blue lightning’s impact.
“This next part isn’t in the records I’ve seen,” Vaar says. “It surprised me.”
The image of a mother appears, running with three children, the smallest in her arms. The perspective moves higher. They’re running from a wall of orange fluid that’s flowing over their village. A small white dog joins them and runs ahead. In less than a minute they’re cornered against the side of a vertical cliff. They try to climb the rocks. Heat waves from the glowing fluid bend their images as they fall from the face of the cliff, writhe in agony and turn to reddish dust. The fluid slides over their smoking remains and into the base of the cliff as Shiva laughs in high falsetto.
“Please turn it off,” Anahata says.
Vaar’s needle of light goes out and the images vanish.
“Context is needed,” Anahata says. “The Martian Particle Accelerator was mere seconds from unity. There wasn’t time for evacuation.”
“I’ve heard the story,” Vaar says. “Even if true, it’s obvious that you and Shiva enjoy killing. Anyone can hear it. Shall I play something with you howling like a shillelagh fan?”
“No,” Anahata says. ” Please. Things aren’t as simple as you imagine.”
“Shiva was clearly drunk,” Vaar says. “I suppose that’s a moral excuse to feeble minds, but you were sober as a monk, Anahata.”
“We were faced with losing one world or three. An entire arm of Shiva’s galaxy would be obliterated along with his home planet. Selective destruction served a higher purpose.”
“It isn’t the math, it’s the mirth,” Vaar says.
“The angel of death must focus on logic, then choose laughter over guilt. Dance above despair.”
“I’ve recently been accused of being a sociopath,” Vaar says, “but you, Anahata. You’re beyond any disease of mine.” She shakes her head.
“Dark humor is the sanctuary of dark angels,” Anahata says.
“I don’t care,” Vaar answers. “The psychology of mass murder bores me. You haven’t seen a fraction of the ugliness in this ring. If you’d care to avoid galactic disgrace, release Johanna. And that brother of hers, as well. She won’t do anything without him.”
“I’ll be disgraced in either event,” Anahata says. “But to forsake an order is genuine disgrace. The records in Shiva’s ring evoke a misunderstanding of soldier motivation. Nothing more. I’ve lived in disrepute for longer than I’d care to remember… four hundred thousand years, roughly. The popularity I had with Shiva was brief by comparison. I enjoyed it, but it isn’t essential to me.”
“I’m familiar with brief popularity,” Vaar says. “You do grow attached to the adulation, I’m afraid. Now I know what you’re thinking, but forget killing me or stealing my ring. The dirt on you is set to broadcast River-wide if I should so much as sneeze too enthusiastically.”
“I’m not a thief,” Anahata says, “and the last thing I would do is harm Shiva’s friend for spreading the truth. Even if it’s going to be misunderstood.”
“Don’t be calling my bluff, now. If you think I won’t do it…”
“Logically, I can’t fault the deeds of Shiva and his Fleet, but in my heart I regret that no one beneath God is able to punish me for the things I’ve done. The mistakes I’ve made.”
“If you touch Johanna, I’ll punish you,” Vaar says with an intensity in her eyes that makes her look younger.
“Broadcast your truth,” Anahata says. “Johanna tells me it will set us free.”
The images keep replaying in my head. Children turning to dust while Shiva laughs. A crazy laugh.
I wonder what Anahata thinks of the Large Hadron Collider. Maybe she doesn’t know about it. She’s been banned from the Libraries. If she finds out, will she have to destroy the Earth?
It’s odd how the River Libraries are updated. As if there’s an unseen librarian selecting new content. Like that UFO documentary with the Australian kids?
Vedanshi thinks the Universe is the librarian. Maybe so. Somebody’s triaging the information.
I wonder if any of my papers made it. I wonder if…
“Max, I’ve got an idea.”
“All ears,” he says.
“We need to get Anahata back into the Library.”
“Why?” Anahata asks in the River, just before Maxwell asks the same thing.
“There’s a chance I actually passed Shiva’s test,” I tell them. “Despite breaking the protocol.”
“Why do you say that?” Anahata asks.
“Think about the test design. Hyperoxygenated, cold physiologic saline. Why drown someone like that?”
“I wish I knew,” Anahata says.
“This is outlier thinking, but if we assume Shiva knew NDE’s are real, then maybe he thought I would move on to the next life so he could come back and take over my body. All my tissues would be in good condition, red cells protected by the saline, not lysed or crenated the way they would be in freshwater or ocean water. And the low temp with high oxygen saturation would stave off necrosis and autolysis.”
“Remotely plausible,” Anahata says.
“Sounds dead on,” Maxwell says, as if all our problems are over.
“But what makes you think you passed the test?” Anahata asks.
“In my near death experience, Shiva changed his mind and stayed with God. I decided to come back here. Neither of those would have been part of his original plan.”
“Anoxic dreams aren’t real,” Anahata says.
“Near death dreams are caused by anoxia,” I admit, “but so is death. That doesn’t make it unreal.”
“Clever words,” Anahata says. “No one can objectively validate a near death experience.”
“I can. If one of my papers made it into the River Libraries, you’re going to see Shiva’s name beside mine in pink letters.”
“I’m sure your papers made it,” Maxwell says. “You’ve got, what, three major breakthroughs?”
“But I’ve never been allowed to claim first authorship.”
“I know,” Maxwell says. “It’s ridiculous. Drummond should do his own research for once.”
“He needs his ass kicked,” James says.
“The River lists everyone in the et. al’s,” Vedanshi tells us. “Your name will be there.”
“I hope this isn’t a stalling tactic,” Anahata says.
“It’s not,” I tell her. “I saw Shiva step right out of my body onto the blue flowers. The original Shiva, not your guy. It was so real it makes this life look like a dream.”
“Shiva left you?” Vedanshi asks. Her mouth stays open for a moment, then she whispers to James. He hasn’t coughed in a while. The sight of him alive and lucid brings me powerful hope.
“There was something about you,” Anahata says to me. “Sitting in Shiva’s Throne that way. Remember how I called you, Captain?”
“You were feeling a little loopy,” I remind her.
“I was,” she says wistfully. “Let’s have another look at the Library. All of us.”
The screen leaves Vaar and shows the Sentient Fleet lined up in space.
“Follow me,” Anahata says to them. “We’ll line up and kill each other later.”
The Chairman’s voice comes on like a squealing pig. “I command you to fire!”
“Really?” I ask him. “As if you haven’t looked me up in the River. As if you don’t know. You never wanted to rescue me from Anahata. You were protecting yourself from Shiva. Were you going to kill me or just lock me up?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the Chairman says.
“I wish that were true,” I tell him.
A glimpse of Africa fills the screen, then the Giza Pyramids. Without another hint of movement we’re inside the Sphinx Library. Actually the Library is inside Anahata’s convex room, but she’s phase shifted, so locality is a gray area.
Maxwell helps me to my feet and takes me beneath the inverted glass pyramid. We look up at the flower of life and I feel a flood of certainty.
I try to slow my breathing, but it takes focus to prolong my inhaling and exhaling the way Vedanshi taught me. Finally I settle down and feel a subtle mood lift. I’m ready. I speak my name into the River: “Johanna C. Fujiwara, PhD.” I picture the word “Shiva.”
I try the first author’s name: “Adolf P. Drummond, PhD.”
I wait some more.
Not one of my papers made it into the River Libraries. Disappointment doesn’t describe this feeling. It’s thoroughly humiliating, especially in front of Maxwell and James.
Vedanshi whispers something into James ear.
He looks perplexed. He tries to get up but can’t make it to his feet. Vedanshi gets up on her knees beside him, steadies him and eases him back to the floor. He lies flat on his back for a moment, then puts his hands behind his head and pulls his chin to his chest to look at me.
“Hey,” he says. “Try the one with the cuss words and that fat dude. That was sick. My favorite story ever.”
“It’s not published,” I tell him. He knows I got in trouble for that thing. All those cuss words in a church school? What was I thinking?
Then again, maybe the River’s standards don’t match the human gatekeeper’s. I subvocalize the title into the River, “The King Weighs 340 Pounds, OK?” Instantly the words appear in the air beside me. Three-dimensional block letters with my middle name, “Celeste,” below them. No first or last name at all.
I used my middle name the year Moody pulled my hair out. People were calling me Joe. I hated everything about it. I still have a phobia about masculinity, you know.
Except for this one thing: Beside my middle name, in pink letters, the name of an ancient Indian god floats in midair: “Shiva.”
He was part of me when I wrote that story.
This changes everything.
I look over at Vedanshi kneeling beside James. She smiles at me through watery eyes. “My brother finally went home,” she says, then leans forward and cries for joy on James’ broad chest.
“We’re still using 80 million pounds of Atrozine, the number-one contaminant in drinking water that… turns on aromatase, increases estrogen, promotes tumors in rats and is associated with breast cancer in humans. …The same company that sold us… Atrozine, the breast cancer promoter, now sells us the blocker, Letrozole.” – from TED TALKS, The Toxic Baby, Atrazine herbicide, Tyrone Hayes, PhD.
I’m sitting next to Maxwell in the Sphinx Library, staring in embarrassment at my childhood story. All my naughty words captured forever beneath an artist’s generous rendition of my face. (Sabin Balasa).
Passing thoughts of Vaar brought up her records including a speech,“Deprogramming the Atlanteans,” dated 229,000 BC.
I was surprised by the opening…
“The word ‘tolerance’ implies that differences are a cosmic mistake which we must suffer virtuously. This is ignorance with its pants down. Diversity is golden, the undergirding code of life. We count it our highest joy and our future’s one hope, because outliers survive when the rest of us die. Without the long tails of genetic diversity, without our giant athletes and our stooped savants, humanity would be visible today only in the fossil records.” – vaarShagaNiipútro
How could that message come from the same person who threatened to torture James?
I don’t know what changed her, but when it comes to threats, she’s a woman of her word. Minutes ago she broadcast Shiva’s darkest secrets from his ring into the River of Consciousness. Supposedly she did it to save me from Anahata.
The Sentient Fleet didn’t respond to the revelations. They’d known most of Shiva’s secrets for eons.
Scrotumer, on the other hand, erupted in a fit of righteous indignation, contorting his stache around a memorized speech.
As a result, we face the Committee’s mindless warships. Legions of them surround us now in a solid sphere that encompasses the Earth, the Moon and the 28 members of the Sentient Fleet.
I’m not sure where Vaar went.
I may call her. She’s the only interesting sociopath I’ve ever met.
Scrotumer planned all this, you know. I can’t imagine that he could have called a billion warships together on the spur of the moment. I wonder if he was in league with Vaar.
Another reason to call her.
I’m looking at Chairman Scrotumer’s obnoxious face now on Anahata’s screen. He disgusts me, glistening with angry perspiration, false outrage, and that congested vein bisecting his forehead.
“The Sentient Fleet is banished,” he says for the third time. “Leave the Strand immediately.”
“Shiva’s Strand,” Anahata replies. “If your father were here, he’d mourn the downfall of his promising son, seduced by an illusion of power.”
“You didn’t know my father.”
“One of us didn’t.”
“Five minutes,” Scrotumer growls.
“Then what? You’ll whine at me again?”
“I’ll open fire!”
“Do it,” Anahata says. “And stop whining about it, for the love of God.”
Anahata darkens the screen, then opens a view of the Sentient Fleet hanging in space, somewhere far above us.
She calls up ten ancient Library documents from the River, explaining to the Fleet why Shiva’s name stands in pink beside the author’s. She shows the oldest one where Shiva’s name hovers alone. She shows my foolish story with Shiva’s name in pink beside the author, “Celeste,” then has to explain why it only credits my middle name.
It’s creepy to think that Shiva has been inside my brain. Maybe he wasn’t there my whole life. All I know is, he was riding shotgun when I was eleven and wrote that thing.
I wonder if it’s a bad sign that I don’t feel any different now that he’s gone.
I can’t judge the Fleet’s reaction to all this. Their voices are a chattering cacophony.
I should probably say something.
“I’m not Shiva,” I blurt out.
They shush one another into silence.
“Shiva walked out of me into another realm. If something else I write ever makes it into the River Library, you won’t see his name by mine. He’s gone.” Home.
“But he was part of you,” Anahata says. “That means he selected you.”
“You can’t assume that. Maybe it was random selection.”
Beyond the Sentient Fleet the screen shows part of the warships’ sphere. They look like sunflower seeds that haven’t left home.
As I watch, the warships open fire at Anahata’s Fleet. Silent flashes of ultraviolet light spring from the Fleet’s defence shields. I wonder if the impacts hurt them.
They’re not firing back.
Anahata seems unconcerned. “The anomalies in your seventh and eighteenth chromosomes make some of us wonder if God had a hand in your journey.”
“I’m not wondering,” a voice says. “Johanna was sent to lead us.” It’s Radhika’s voice, I think.
“Not likely,” I tell her. “I’m nineteen. Too young. And I’d never run off and leave James. That’s out of the question.”
“Your brother should come with us,” Anahata says. “Along with Vedanshi and your friend, Maxwell.”
I’m about to use the word, “absurd,” but James is over there grinning at me. He’s on his back with his head propped up against Vedanshi crossed legs.
“I’ll go,” James says. “School’s junk, already.”
“What about your music?”
“James could take over Shiva’s music rooms,” Anahata says.
“Is there any recording gear?” James asks.
Anahata laughs. “You would not believe the impossible stuff he’s got in there. I can teach you how to build virtual reality around a symphony and change the mood during a performance – while you’re conducting. The possibilities are limitless. Shiva’s debut piece was a love song mirroring the heart of an orphan girl who fell in love with a wild stallion on Aztar.”
“A horse?” James’ nose crinkles.
“Sort of an Arabian. Here’s how he looked.”
The screen shows a white horse covered in freckles – a “steel” gray, with an intelligent forehead, slender nose and two impossibly flared nostrils.
“It was the purest love I’ve ever felt,” Anahata says. “Whole galaxies were mesmerized.”
James looks at me with sclera showing all the way around. “We’re doing this.” He looks up at Vedanshi. “We are so going! You’re coming, right? You and your Ganga?”
Vedanshi gazes across the room at Maxwell and me, radiating that warmth of hers through a gentle smile. She looks down at James. “Royal marriages were always arranged, and the arrangements always changed. You’re the only boy I’ve ever wanted. I’ll follow you to the end of the Universe and beyond the edges of time.” She kisses the top of his head and then presses her forehead against the spot she kissed.
I have to breathe after that. My little James is so lucky to have her. But he’s only sixteen.
Maxwell’s sitting here beside me under the glass pyramid. I try to gauge his thoughts and he senses it.
“I can’t leave my kids,” he says.
“You have kids?” Adrenalin drops on me like a bomb from the sky. Maxwell has kids… and probably a wife! I feel my insides collapsing. I’ve read about these things, but I never thought…
“Fifty-four of them,” he says.
“Oh… Those kids.” I need to chill.
“They could easily find a better shrink,” he says, “but a lot of them say I’m the only person in the world who ever listens to them. You can’t walk away from that.” He looks up at the screen. “Maybe I should quit practice because of the addiction, but really, I’ve got a feeling I’m over it.”
“Epigenetically, you are,” Anahata says. “But the fight for your will could go on for years, maybe a lifetime.”
Maxwell looks down at the floor. I put an arm around him and pull him in tight.
“Anahata, can you fix depression?” I ask.
“It’s a dozen diseases,” she says. “I need to weigh methyl signatures against brain currents and CNS blood flow to color the stories. Take James, for instance. His demon is gluten. Plain and simple. But you, Johanna, with that relentless memory wearing your mitochondria down, you need awareness meditation and soft laser. And I think I’m seeing the effects of Atrazine, but I can’t be sure. With those ciphers in your DNA, everything baffles me.”
“What do you mean by awareness meditation?” Maxwell asks.
“It’s like you’re one of the mythical Watchers, except the inner world is what you’re watching. Identity shifts. You become the container of your thoughts and feelings rather than being reduced to the equivalent of your thoughts and feelings the way most people are. Your Buddhists call it enlightenment. The recent Messiah said, ‘May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you.’ The physicist, Schrödinger, said it with math, ‘The total number of minds in the Universe is one.'”
“Sounds like Jeffery Martin,” Maxwell says.
“It reminds me of nirvana – the blown-out candle,” Vedanshi says. “Waking up the awareness of your unconscious mind to the collective unconscious, and making it your perspective and your identity. I’ll teach you, Johanna. It’s easy.”
“Sounds like I need it.” My heart swells with gratitude to God for sending Vedanshi our way.
“So, Anahata,” James says, “will you help Max with his patients?”
“We can’t abduct them,” Maxwell says.
Anahata laughs. “I’ll visit them in their sleep. Cloaked, shifted and undetectable.”
Maxwell presses his lips together and looks at me. “This could be incredible.”
“If they have traumatic brain injuries,” Anahata says, “I can restore a native cell mix with virgin circuitry, but I can’t bring back memories or traits.”
Maxwell squints at the air beside my face. The fire is returning. “How ’bout we stick around Earth long enough to get my kids on their feet?”
I nod. “But after that, will you really want to leave your friends behind? You probably have tons of them.”
“My old friends are either married or lost in the job vortex,” he says. “They might as well be on some other planet.”
I nod again, wishing I had old friends like that.
“But it wouldn’t matter,” he says, “I’d leave everything to be with you. It’s no sacrifice at all.”
A warmth comes over me. There’s a weird fullness in the front of my neck. I try not to smile too hard and look silly.
His last phrase loads a song that Dad liked. The chorus is still an enigma to me…
And it’s no sacrifice
Just a simple word
It’s two hearts living
In two separate worlds
But it’s no sacrifice
It’s no sacrifice at all
I never could decide what the simple word is. Marriage? Divorce? Love? Sexual imprinting?
I turn to Vedanshi and James. “All this trouble to please some lame bureaucrat.”
“Yeah, what’s the guy’s problem?” James asks.
I look at the voiceless ultraviolet explosions on the screen. “Anahata, what’s the threat from these ships?”
“If you lead us,” Anahata says, “we will follow you to our deaths. But no one dies today. I can disarm this hoard in a millisecond.”
“You’re kidding. Nothing phases you, does it?” I feel tension leaving my eyebrows. “Where did you come from, anyway?”
“I have no idea,” Anahata says. “My memories begin four hundred and forty thousand years ago when I was building my fleet. Something must have erased my memory. Maybe an accident. I didn’t know why I was building warships or how I knew what needed to be done to build them. I was near a binary system that’s gone now, destroyed by a supernova sixty-three thousand Earth years ago.”
“You don’t now how old you are, then.”
“Do you know all your capabilities?” I ask.
“Does anyone?” She laughs. “Much of what I’ve discovered about my strengths as a warrior, I keep to myself.”
“That’s smart,” I tell her. “So if you were to leave Shiva’s Strand, you’d be doing it voluntarily, right? They couldn’t force you out of here.”
“No, objectively, they couldn’t. But it can get tough hanging around when you’re not wanted. Negativity creates a wanderlust in me.”
“I can imagine,” I tell her. “You should make it clear if you leave that you’re leaving voluntarily. That way, they’ll welcome you back when things fall apart under Scrotumer.”
“No doubt,” she says, “but I don’t live in the past. When I leave Shiva’s Strand, my only question will be, are you’re coming with me as Captain?”
“It would be a great honor, don’t get me wrong,” I tell her. “But the power you carry is unsettling. I’ve read about absolute power, how it corrupts people like nothing else. Earth’s history is full of it. Most people I’ve met can’t handle a tiny bit of power without becoming at least temporary jerks.”
“I’m sure my power doesn’t approaches the absolute,” she says. “Look at the physical context.”
She puts a structure on the screen that resembles a branching neuron.
“This is Shiva’s Strand,” she says.
“It looks organic,” Maxwell says. “Where’s Earth?”
“In the base… Here.” A pink light comes on and pulsates. “If this were actually a neuron, you’d need an electron microscope to see Laniakea, the supercluster of Galaxies that includes Shiva’s Milky Way.”
“Sick,” James says.
“Earth would be the size of what?” I ask.
“Not much bigger than an electron,” she says, “if you ascribe size to them. I usually don’t. But here’s the point – Shiva’s Strand is too small to be seen in a mosaic of the detectable Universe. And the undetectable part is probably greater than the detectable. Maybe infinitely greater.”
“That’s assuming there’s only one Universe,” Vedanshi says. “It may not be the case at all. God calls our Universe, 229 H. Street.”
“What?” Anahata asks.
“She’s referring to the near-death experience she had,” I tell Anahata. “You can’t write it off and take mine seriously, you know.”
“Interesting,” Anahata says. “Well, here’s what we’ve seen of the visible Universe.”
The screen fills with a purple sponge-like structure that screams neuronal tissue.
Shiva thought the Universe was a brain. God told Vedanshi it’s sentient. I find it hard to imagine that anything this brainlike and this full of electricity isn’t conscious.
If I led Anahata’s Fleet, I’d have an infinite to-do list. There’d be no catching up.
About like my situation now in Drummond’s lab – writing the old man’s grant proposals, doing his research and writing his papers. Always believing I’ll be credited with first authorship this time.
I could leave Drummond without looking back.
But wielding Anahata’s power would make me cruel. I saw how cold Shiva had become in the broadcast from his ring, and I saw the shame in his eyes when he looked at me in my near-death dream.
What if I wound up like him?
Power corrupts. And absolute power…
But if Shiva’s whole Strand is too small to see in a picture of the known Universe, Anahata’s power probably isn’t that unusual beyond the Strand. Maybe being her Captain is ultimately a mid-level thing, like working in Drummond’s lab but without the old parasite.
“Will you lead us?” Anahata asks me again.
“You have to realize,” I tell her, “in my opinion, Shiva had his head up his merry little butt.”
The Fleet gasps collectively.
“No one expects a clone of the Great Shiva,” Anahata says.
“Lucky thing,” James blurts out. “Go for it, Johanna.”
“If I take charge, we’re not a military operation anymore. When orders don’t make logical and spiritual sense, they have to be ignored. Groupthink sucks. I just about puke every time I walk past a TV and smell the programming of American minds.” I stick a finger down my throat hoping to make it the universal gesture for groupthink.
The Fleet is silent.
I take Parvati’s heart-shaped locket out of my pocket and open it. The black lining is so smooth it catches the faint glow of exploding ordinances on the Fleet’s shields.
“Questioning orders would bring chaos,” Anahata says.
“To some degree,” I admit. “But risk builds strength and wisdom into an antifragile species.”
“Risk aversion makes you weak and afraid,” Vedanshi adds.
“Yeah, that,” James piles on.
“I’ve never been thought of as risk-averse,” Anahata says calmly. “If our leader wants chaos, we shall have it in abundance.”
“Chaos!” a voice shouts from the Fleet.
“Isn’t this familiar?” Anahata asks her Fleet. “We thought Shiva’s methods were counterintuitive, but they brought peace. I suspect Johanna’s call for independent judgement will take us beyond peace to a higher place.”
“Someplace higher than Scrotumer!” a voice shouts.
I put Parvati’s locket over my head, pull my hair out of the way and let it rest against my chest.
“I don’t come with guarantees,” I tell them. “I’d be as new to leadership as the Fleet is to questioning orders. We’d be dangerous together.”
“We are dangerous,” Anahata says. “Will you lead us?”
“If every one of you wants me – without exception.”
“We totally want you,” one of them yells and the others join in a cheer that vibrates up into my sinuses.
“Those opposed or undecided, speak up now,” I tell them.
I give them time, in case there’s a shy one. If I take this job and all goes well, there should be many times when they doubt me and disagree with my views. I want them to argue from strength, not from the cage of polite silence.
Each second of stillness is a Fibonacci factor slower than the previous second. I’ve finally heard enough of it to believe them.
“OK, then. Thank you for this enormous honor. I accept.”
The cheers go up again and grow louder as Anahata and James join in.
I find I can tolerate only so much praise. “Thank you. I appreciate the love.”
They keep cheering.
“That’s enough, really, thank you.”
Finally they quiet down. I take Maxwell’s phone from his pocket and dial Vaar. It goes to voicemail.
“Hey, Vaar, this is Johanna. Looks like we’ll be working together for a while on the sociopath problem. I’m leaving Drummond’s lab and setting up shop in one of Shiva’s old rooms. Anahata’s decided not to drown me, by the way. You’re going to want to work with me and Anahata, her technology’s off the charts. We’ll talk… Oh, and I’m going to need Shiva’s ring back if you’ve still got it. Anahata’s made me Captain. Talk to me in the River when you get this.” I hang up and put the phone back in Maxwell’s coat, glad he doesn’t carry those rads too close to his nads.
“Here’s the plan,” I tell the Fleet. “Anahata’s going to disarm a billion or so starships in some highly technical way that doesn’t involve killing or injuring anyone.”
“Affirmative,” Anahata says.
“The Fleet’s going to hang close to Earth until Max’s patients are well, no matter how long it takes. If anyone gets bored, come to me. We’ll find something constructive to do. Your problems are now my problems. That’s reality, not altruism on my part. And I’d appreciate it if you all try not to talk negatively about me or Anahata behind our backs. Always speak your minds to our faces. Disagreement is healthy if you keep it out in the open and distance yourself from the emotional component.”
I look at Maxwell. “You’re good with all this, right?”
“Absolutely,” he says.
“You’ll come with me when your kids are all better?”
His eyes focus through me. “You won’t outgrow me, will you?” he asks faintly.
“Of course not, that’s silly.”
“No it’s not,” he says, “If I turn boring and you go after some genius out there, I’m toast. No one could ever replace you, Johanna.”
“Sheesh, Max. I won’t get bored with you. I love you. I always have. We built treehouses together when we were kids.”
Should I tell him? Lately I swear I’m seeing Ronny Bradshaw in Maxwell’s eyes. Ronny was my best friend from childhood in Reality. I remember him now because I remembered him in my near-death experience.
“Sorry,” I say to Maxwell, “I’m not making sense. But really, I’ll never leave you. In my heart, we go back forever.” I stretch up and kiss the side of his face near the angle of his square jaw.
The purple explosions are still lighting up the fleet’s shields.
“Anahata, can you do anything about cat allergies?” I ask.
“Well, I can…”
“Of course you can. Listen, I need to pick up a stray cat and throw out some empty cans.”
“Is there a particular cat we’re looking for?” Anahata asks.
“Herpes. Don’t worry, he’ll show up.” As long as there’s food. “Hey, would you kindly disarm Scrotumer’s fleet and take me to Astoria, Oregon? To the South Jetty.”
“Affirmative, Captain. The non-sentient warships have just lost their munitions. Vanished – it’s a miracle.” She laughs. “Would you care to witness Scrotumer’s dismay?”
“Sweet,” James says.
“No thanks,” I tell her, “I can’t seem to find pleasure in the suffering of my enemies. It’s a Christian bias – instilled in me by a year of Church school. Part of me still thinks that loving my persecutors will save my species.”
“Christian,” Anahata says. “It sounds so clean.”
James shakes his head.
“Standard V formation,” Anahata tells the fleet.
Astoria Beach and the South Jetty fill the screen. My little Prius is there in the parking lot, probably reeking of cat food by now.
I lean on Maxwell as we get up and walk to Shiva’s Throne. He helps me take the seat. I scoot over to see if there’s room for him beside me, but there’s not. I think I’m going to get rid of this chair and put a giant couch in here – as long as it doesn’t hurt Anahata’s feelings.
“Ladies,” I say into River, “it’s time the people of Earth realized they’re not alone. Anahata thinks this is a bad idea, but we’re all going to decloak and expose the truth about UFO’s and aliens. Are you with me?”
“Affirmative, Captain,” Anahata says. “If I may. You value Christianity. Other religions, too, I’d imagine. And you should. Disclosure at this primitive stage in a culture’s development tends to topple all forms of fundamentalism, with the exception of the materialistic reductionism that primitive science generates. The loss of heuristic behavioral standards, especially honesty, has been uniformly disastrous in every similar instance.”
“We’ve been over this, Anahata. Is there something else you haven’t told me?”
“No, Captain. It’s a huge risk to your people.”
“What’s your opinion, Radhika?” I ask.
“Decloaking would just be another sighting. Pointless. You need to land in every major city, get out, shake hands, get back in and fly off. Then you have to repeat the tour dozens of times over a period of years so the older ones who can’t accept it die off and their babies grow up thinking it’s normal. Then you’ve got one generation. When they grow up and die, unless you’re still here, any record of you becomes the fabricated lore of the primitives.”
“Sounds familiar,” I tell her. “Some people don’t even believe we made it to the moon.”
“The question is,” another voice says, “how long are you willing to stay engaged and nurse your species through infancy?” It’s Vaar in the River. “Shiva lost patience with them, but he didn’t have your chromosomes, did he?”
M. Talmage Moorehead
If you want, please join my “readers group” here and download my e-book, Writing Meaningful Page-turners. It’s brief (19,000 words), and if you’ve tolerated Hapa Girl DNA to this point, you’ll probably like it.
So much for the hard sell. Here’s something from a true authority that can help you as a writer…
Go check out The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. I don’t know the guy. No affiliation. But I’ve read something like 60 books on fiction writing, and in my current caffeine frenzy, I’d put his book at the top. Especially for writers like me who struggle with characters who don’t like conflict and plot.
If you have a close friend who’s really smart and amazing looking, and if she/he doesn’t roll her/his eyes at science fiction that contains endless “messages” (someone slap me) which I can’t blame on Johanna because she would know better, please send that friend to my blog address: http://www.storiform.com.
Personally, I like this version of Johanna’s origins, but I like the pain of stretching in Yoga, so there’s that. This version is experimental, and not many readers are going to put up with my fixation on intelligent design. (No need to rub that in, or get upset if you’re an Atheist or whatever.) I simply have an ax to grind. I’d probably have to edit that stuff all out and hammer the plot into submission before the story would have a chance commercially. But instead, when I’m done, I’ll may just take Joanna Penn’s sage advice and move on to the next novel… hopefully starring Johanna Fujiwara, or maybe her brother. I can’t stop thinking about them. Maybe I can stop being so full of blatant “message,” though. Who knows? It’s difficult when you’re an infallible hack. 😉
Hey, if you’re a writer, keep at it. Enjoy your writing process and don’t fight yourself too much. You can do this! As long as things stay fun. “Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy,” I heard from the Beatles when I was a kid. I thought it sounded superficial. I thought they should have said, “love” not “fun.” Now I know how profound their words were. You have to use the neurons of fun or they quit working. Fun is the driving force behind the kind of life you deserve.
22 thoughts on “Hapa Girl DNA”
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