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.
M. Talmage Moorehead
If you want, please read this story from page one (beginning with Johanna’s unorthodox prologue). It starts here.
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