“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.'”
“It reminds me of nirvana – the blown-out candle,” Vedanshi says. “Waking up the awareness of your unconscious mind to the collective unconscious. Making it your perspective and identity. I can teach you, Johanna. But there are side effects.”
“Such as?” My heart swells with gratitude to God for sending Vedanshi our way. She knows so much about the important things.
“Memory problems are almost guaranteed,” Vedanshi says. “Loss of interest in people’s stories and the details of their lives. Some people who take it far enough lose all their emotions, even love.”
“Screw that,” James says. “So, Anahata, will you help Max with his patients?”
“Sure. I’m fascinated with children. They always seem like some wild theoretical concept until I actually see one of them up close again.”
“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 know 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 gets tough hanging where 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 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 its infancy?” It’s Vaar in the River. “Shiva lost patience with them, but he didn’t have your chromosomes, did he?”
M. Talmage Moorehead
Thank you for your amazingly inspirational, insightful and generous comments. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’m doing a meditation course that’s become much more time-consuming than I’d anticipated. It helped me miss my deadline (Aug 27th, 2016) for finishing this “first draft.” I’ve still got 2 hours of meditation to do tonight. The course goes on for 17 weeks!
Now for the second draft.
I’m thinking I’ll make this blog-story more traditional with some or all of this…
- Change to past tense.
- Create an “inciting incident” that happens in the context of Johanna’s normal world and points to the plot theme (protecting James from all the things that go wrong for him), and points to the “B” theme (forgiving herself for killing Moody so she can feel worthy of Maxwell’s love).
- Bring in Scrotumer sooner, maybe at the beginning somehow.
- Get rid of almost all the pictures and links.
- Get rid of 50-80% of the times where Johanna goes off thinking about complex non-fictional stuff.
- Get rid of most or all of the non-fictional quotes at the beginnings of chapters.
- Get rid of most of the references, lyrics and links to songs.
- Focus on creating more conflict in most of the chapters.
- Focus on expanding the visual scenery in most scenes.
Your insight and brilliant ideas on these things would be appreciated. Thank you so much for your emotional support and guidance!
Thank you for inspiring me with your bold life and art. Thank you for letting me use the pictures of your great artwork and the ones you took in Egypt and India.
We’ve both left the traditional healing professions to find our callings. It means so much to journey with you in this realm of creativity. Give your wife a hug from me. 🙂
Thank you, all my readers for hanging in there with me through this weird story. If anyone who’s made it through most of this thing – gasp – would like to be a beta reader or help me in some other way, please let me know. Here’s my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All my best,