Desert Orb. [o]
"There is being laid out plans for a work, that, as given, is to change the thought of mankind in general in many directions.“
— Edgar Cayce
"I've lost it.“ Adriana Short jerked out of the dream and took a few moments to remember where she was. What window was that? What door? Oh yeah, she was at her brother's place, a two-bedroom apartment in a ticky-tacky building in sun-baked Bakersfield, where the asphalt got so hot in the summer that it melted. The place with the towering dust storms and the omnipresent threat of Valley Fever. It had been 113° yesterday and was already stinking hot now, at eight in the morning. She didn't have to go to work, thank god, but she did have something to do, something enjoyable. She heaved out of bed, put on knickers—well, she had bought them in London — a brown and white cowboy shirt with pearl snap buttons, jeans, cotton socks and hiking boots. No bra — what was the point? No points to conceal or emphasize. Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Today she intended to hike out into the brown hills to visit her study area.
Breakfast was a not-too-stale toasted bagel with cream cheese and nice smoked salmon that she'd bought. The coffee was also of high quality. Her sister-in-law Jen was horrified. Their idea of great coffee was a to-go cup from McDonald's re-heated in the microwave. They were at work, of course — soulless wage-slave work that left them exhausted, cranky and still broke. Always with some incompetent dick of a supervisor looming over them, no democracy in the 'Murrican workplace, no, sirree, Bob! Well, screw that. She still had a little grant money, and it was enough.
Thankfully the snake-haters had never found it.
The old Ford pickup coughed into life on the third try, making a suspenseful start to the day. She headed east through heavy traffic past the chain stores and strip malls, over 99 crowded with trucks and into the foothills. The heat of the glaring sun rippled the road and made her squint. No traffic here, just winding road, farms, live oaks in the little valleys. She began to relax. After an hour she pulled off into a wide spot, turned the ignition off and took her hat and backpack from the passenger seat. By the top of the first hill, she was already sweating profusely. Too bad to have to do this in the summer, but the den certainly wouldn't be empty in the winter. Two hills later she found the spot, an outcrop of Sierra granite boulders forming a cave. She stopped and took out her snake stick, just in case.
The entrance was low, but not so low that she would have had to crawl. That would have been a little scary. It sure as hell smelled like snake in here. She put on latex gloves to collect a few shed skins among the sharp rocks. By now she knew where to shine her flashlight to cover all the little ledges and nooks where somebody could be snoozing. Nobody home. This rattlesnake den was really only in demand for hibernation, and thankfully the snake-haters had never found it. Bent over and hesitant, moving her feet carefully, she turned the slight bend and shone her light on the back of the cave. And had to sit down suddenly, knees weak, eyes wide, breath gone from surprise.
Robert Olivier knotted a red silk tie and regarded himself in the gilded full-length mirror. He was still young, of course he was, his taut body encased in an immaculate light-weight Italian suit, his strong feet nestled in hand-made shoes. On the weekends he ran ten kilometers and played squash. During the week he worked out at the gym in his office building. And then there was Annette...He smiled at his reflection, already thinking about the visit to his mistress tonight. His dark eyes brightened, and he had to squelch the beginning erection.
As usual, he breakfasted with his wife, a hurried and silent affair. She was silent about his affair as well: All men who could afford it did it, and her indifference was as much necessity as defense. Did Gabrielle have a lover too? The thought disquieted him, for it would reveal his wife to be an accomplished actress and dissembler. Gabrielle turned her face up for the parting peck on the cheek. Robert left the first-floor flat and got into the waiting car. His driver and bodyguard, Giancarlo, whisked him through the thick Brussels traffic to his office near the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle.
Robert worked as a consultant to the EU. Though without official position, his influence far surpassed that of many officials. A word here, a word there, and whatever needed to be done was done. Laws and regulations and changes were made that no one had voted for. Sometimes there was an initial uproar, but it soon quieted down. Generally, there was no way to influence the decision-making body. And Robert was handsomely rewarded. Today there was the usual round of virtual meetings and phone calls on a secure line. He sent emails and wrote some letters. The day passed quickly, and soon Robert was nodding good-bye to his secretary and heading for the big glass revolving door. The Italian was waiting at the curb to hold the door open for him — a man whose impassive face and taciturn demeanor gave nothing away. To Robert, he was like part of the furniture of his life.
Robert had leased a small but elegant apartment in a fashionable part of town. The 19th century building had marble halls and stairs and baroque stucco flourishes. The elevator was new and delivered him soundlessly to the fourth floor. He used his key and stepped into the dark hallway. He frowned. Why wasn't Annette there to greet him? Was she napping? She sometimes did that. The door to the bedroom was ajar, and he stepped through. Her large bed was neatly made, but there was no sign of her. He checked the living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom. She wasn't there. He noticed that her purse was gone from its usual spot. No doubt she'd be back soon, but he was still annoyed. As he stood indecisively in the living room, he heard a strange noise, like a low humming. He checked the appliances in the kitchen. No, that wasn't it. As he moved through the hall to the bedroom, the sound increased slightly. He pushed back the door. His gaze was immediately drawn to a table in the corner which had been bare when he first came in.
Annette arrived five minutes later and found Robert unconscious on the floor.
He picked up his shinai case and bogu sack and left his mother's house in an old part of Osaka. With the draw-cords of the sack looped over the long, narrow case over his shoulder he looked like an old-fashioned wanderer lugging all his worldly goods down a dusty road. The old-fashioned part was true, for here in the modern big city Kenji Shimizu was on his way to practice the old samurai sport of kendo, Japanese fencing. It was another hot, humid day. In the subway he maneuvered skillfully to prevent his gear from impeding any of the other passengers. Fortunately, it wasn't rush hour. The dojo was about 30 minutes away. It was neither excessively strict nor dangerously nationalistic. Sometimes even gaijin trained there. He remembered their tiny old sensei making short work of a gigantic German who had attacked like a wild beast, while the Japanese students hid their smiles.
Kiai and the clash of bamboo swords were audible even from the street. Kenji slipped off his shoes and bowed as he entered the dojo. About 20 barefoot Darth Vader-like figures glided and leapt over the polished wood floor, their yells, stamping feet and the crack of their shinais demonstrating the unity of spirit, body and sword. As he changed into his hakama and jacket, he checked out the other students. Michiko, his secret crush, was there, feinting kote to land a decisive men blow on Tanaka. Kenji felt a small surge of pride. But the beer he'd had at lunch reminded him to empty his bladder before putting on his armor. He bowed out of the practice hall and hurried down the narrow corridor toward the little cubicle. On the way, he glanced into the small room where the sensei sometimes served tea to visiting teachers or senior students. There was something in the tokonomo, the niche that held revered or decorative objects. He slowed down. It wasn't the flower arrangement he'd seen last time. It was...
"What the hell is it?“
It was strictly a rhetorical question expressing an honest bafflement that scientists were wont to reserve for their friends. And Leon Gallegher was a friend, the Cal State biology prof who'd given Adriana her first job after she'd gotten her doctorate. It had only been temporary, but it had launched her on her career, such as it was. Leon was a middle-aged, middle-sized man with inquisitive blue eyes and an admirable full head of hair, now completely white. He was tanned and reasonably fit from his field work of chasing coyotes all over California, his research having to do with the human-coyote interface in urban and suburban areas. There was a lot of interfacing going on.
Leon and Adriana were staring at a bronze-colored sphere about 30 cm in diameter, which rested on a folded towel on a lab table. It had no visible seams or welds, which seemed impossible. Adriana had used gloves to pick it up and stow it in her backpack, so its surface was unmarred and untouched. At the moment something unspoken kept them from touching it. They looked at the sphere with the bizarre feeling that the sphere was looking at them. But of course they didn't mention such a thing, not even to each other.
"Well, it's not solid—it doesn't weigh enough,“ Adriana ventured.
"Do we even know what kind of material it is? It may only look like metal.“
"But what else could it be?“
"Plastic? Some kind of thick mylar?“
He flicked a finger nail against the surface of the sphere. It rang musically.
"OK, some kind of metal then.“
"I'll have Roy take a look at it. You're sure it wasn't there before?“
"Absolutely. I think I would have noticed,“ she said dryly.
She didn't mention her reaction to the object, the emotional impact it had had on her. Well, of course, it was astonishing...
"Someone must have put it there. It's pretty cool-looking.“
Leon stretched out a hand as if to touch the sphere but stopped about two inches away.
"It feels like it's giving off heat. Maybe it's radioactive.“
Adriana glanced at him. "You don't believe that, do you?“
Leon gave her a strange look. "No.“
He took out his phone to call Roy Patson.
Every night, secret military craft in the shape of silver spheres about 20 feet across took off from US Air Force bases and installations all over the world. They stationed themselves in the sky, pretending to be stars, despite being spotted below the cloud layer. To further the illusion, a bright light shone out of a rectangular window, but the light didn't quite twinkle convincingly. Also unlike stars, they didn't move from their geosynchronous position all night, something observed by amateur astronomers. In the beginning they had had human pilots and even red and green position lights, but now they had no FAA lights and were flown remotely, scurrying back to their bases before first light. Their mission was to monitor consciousness in the population below. Most of the time the military had nothing to worry about.
But one morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Vicky Saunders, a technician downloading the latest readings from one of the spheres, almost gulped her coffee the wrong way. She scanned the data again. And again. She checked the instruments, the computers, the links, everything she could think of. She made phone calls. It took an hour. Finally she took the printouts down the hall to the office of Col. Michael Martinez.
"Sir, there's something I think you should see.“
Martinez picked up the report, prepared to be bored. These things only varied when something big happened in the world—a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an election... But lately there had been nothing of the sort.
Still, the jump in consciousness energy was off the chart. Martinez was startled but didn't show it.
"Is this localized?“
"No, sir, it's the whole surveillance area, but it does have an epicenter.“
"Have you got a GIS fix on it?“
"Yes, sir. Bakersfield, the Cal State campus.“
Martinez stared at her, his bushy eyebrows drawn together in a frown. What in the hell could be going on at Cal State, of all places?
Similar scenes were playing out at USAF bases all over North America. Something had caused a big bump and whatever it was was in Bakersfield.
Physics professor Roy Patson had the sphere only long enough to be completely perplexed by it. He couldn't identify what it was made of, and it resisted all efforts to obtain a sample of its material, whether by physical or chemical means. It couldn't be scratched, dented or drilled. A blowtorch made no impression. Neither did the strongest acid. Worst of all, he felt bad doing these things to it and couldn't explain why he felt bad. Fortunately, it wasn't hot—he'd checked that first. Nor did it give off a thermal signature, only a subjective warmth in the hands, which Leon had drawn his attention to. There were instruments that measured subtle energy like that, but he didn't have any. He'd have to borrow or order something.
He never got the chance. The next day government suits with exactly the instrument he had in mind descended on the campus in black SUV's and came straight to his lab. They flashed some sort of identification and took the sphere away in the name of "national security“. They made Roy sign something and threatened him with fines and prison time if he said anything. Unfortunately some notes they found had Leon's name on them.
Leon looked up as a tall, olive-skinned, dark-haired man with bushy eyebrows strode into his office without knocking. The stranger smiled, sat down in the chair across from the desk and crossed his legs.
"Professor Gallegher, my name is John Cavallo. I'm an agent with the Department of Energy. One of our tasks is to be on the lookout for sources of exotic energy that might pose a threat to the security of the United States. We have detected such a source on this campus, in the lab of your colleague Dr. Patson. I'd like to know what you can tell me about the object you gave him.“
Leon's phone rang while Cavallo was speaking, but he ignored it.
"Well...a student brought it in to me a day or two ago. I didn't get his name—he said he'd come back to check on it. He said he found it on his uncle's farm.“
Cavallo smiled wolfishly.
"No name, huh? Do you know this student, have you seen him around?“
"No, I never saw him before.“
"Why would he come to you with something like this? Why not an archaeologist or a physicist like Dr. Patson? You say it was dug up?“
"I didn't say. It was pretty clean—maybe he washed it.“
In spite of his best efforts, Leon began to sweat.
"And maybe you're dishing up a lot of bullshit,“ Cavallo said We're going to find out exactly what happened, and when we do, you might be facing some charges...“
"I've done nothing illegal!“
In spite of lying to protect Adriana, Leon was genuinely offended.
"How about concealing evidence in a matter of national security and making false statements to a federal agent? We can find something that'll stick, trust me.“
With that, Cavallo rose to his feet and walked out. Through the open door, Leon saw two other men in dark suits join him.
The phone rang again. It was Roy, of course, telling him about what had just happened.
"I know, they were here too. I didn't say a word about, you know.“
"I know what to do next,“ Roy said.
When Adriana got back to her brother's place, hot, sweaty, dusty and tired, all she wanted to do was grab a shower, crack a beer and put her feet up. It was four o'clock, the others weren't home yet.
Instead, a young red-headed guy built like a linebacker lunged at her from the apartment house entryway.
"Shit!“ Adriana jumped back.
"No, no, it's OK! I'm one of Dr. Patson's grad students. He sent me to tell you that the feds grabbed the sphere today—it's gone!“
In spite of herself, Adriana sagged against the wall. "What...?!“
"Yeah. I didn't see it. He just told me to tell you about it. He said they're going to be looking for you. I didn't see you either.“
"Thanks...and thanks for telling me.“
Adriana did what any red-blooded American would do under the circumstances—she ran.
"Houston, we have a problem."
Stitched Up Orb.
Gary Mollison's attempt at humor was lost on Forrest Crittenden, the Director of National Security. Mollison was the kind of plump man who always managed to look disheveled, no matter what he was wearing. His blue suit looked rumpled. He also perspired readily, his sparse dark hair plastered to his head. Mollison's round face and round blue eyes now looked uncomfortable.
The Director's office on a lofty floor of a building located on the new national security campus looked out over the heat haze hanging in the valley of the Potomac and the government buildings beyond. Framed photos of the Director with various presidents, generals and dignitaries hung on the walls. There were no pictures of family on his desk or anywhere else, for Crittenden was a bachelor. Nor was he gay—just a misanthrope. He was a man of medium height with keenly intelligent grey eyes below a mostly bald dome. His thin mouth was set in a firm line.
"Then maybe you'd better tell me about it,“ he said with exaggerated enunciation.
"Well, sir, I've compiled the reports you asked for on the surveillance situation, and the problem isn't just in the West. It's all of North America.“
"Yessir, it originates in one place, but the elevated signal covers all of CONUS and Canada, Mexico and Central America too. At the northern and southern borders it just kind of tapers off.“
"Let me see those reports!“
Crittenden flipped through the pages and quickly saw that what Mollison had said was true.
"Vandenberg secured the source of this signal?“ he barked.
"Yessir, they're working on it now.“
"Keep me updated!“
When Kenji saw the bronze sphere in the niche, his eyes widened in surprise, but he continued down the little corridor to the toilet. After practice he headed home, sweaty and pleasantly tired. As he took his bogu out to dry it, he was astonished to find the bronze-colored sphere in his bag. It was impossible—the sack was only big enough for his armor! Yet somehow, someone must have smuggled it into his bag, perhaps as a prank. Although yearning for a bath, he tucked the bag under his arm and took the subway back to the dojo. What if the sensei thought he had stolen it? He couldn't bear the shame. Fortunately, the sensei's assistent Ito-san was still there going over some papers.
"Ito-san,“ Kenji said, bowing in embarrassment, "something terrible has happened and I am strangely in possession of an object belonging to the sensei. I wish to return it.“
He opened the bag and showed the man the sphere. Ito shook his head. "No, that does not belong to the sensei.“
"But it was in the niche in his room...“
"No, I am quite certain. Come with me.“
They went into the room, and Kenji saw at once that the space in the niche was occupied by a flower arrangement that hadn't been there earlier.
"Please excuse me, but was this flower arrangement here before, at the start of practice?“
"It has been here since this afternoon, as I placed it there myself.“
"Then I have made a mistake. Please forgive me!“
Kenji bowed and rode back home in a daze, the sphere in the bag on his lap.
At home he left the bag on the floor, undressed and washed himself, then sank gratefully into the bath.
No craftsman would have recognized any of the tools there, though there were many.
Wrapped in a clean yukata, Kenji returned to his room and found the sphere floating in mid-air. After all that had happened, he was more relieved than stunned, for now he knew exactly what he was dealing with. He formally knelt and bowed to the kami.
Annette brought Robert around with some improvised smelling salts of vinegar and a towel dipped in cold water. She was indeed a beautiful woman, tall, high-cheekboned and dark-haired, not yet 30 but already with a little moue of world-weariness about her mouth. Robert's eyelids fluttered. He raised himself on an elbow and immediately looked at the table where he'd seen the sphere.
It wasn't there.
"I'm sorry, chérie, I must have suffered a...hallucination and blacked out.“
Privately he was angry with himself over his show of weakness. The evening proceeded as planned, and Robert was driven home in post-coital bliss around midnight. He never showered right away, for it was his habit to savor the delicious scents of sex until he got home.
Gabrielle was already asleep, burrowed under the summer duvet, her dark- blond hair spread out on the pillow. At one time, he had so loved that hair... Robert stripped off his clothes, hung the suit up, and showered. Naked, he stepped into his office to organize some papers for the morning.
The sphere was sitting on his desk.
Adriana left a note for her brother Rafe saying that she had to go up to Berkeley and would be back in a few days. Then she packed her bag, threw it into the truck and drove over the pass to the Mojave. Approaching evening had done nothing to cool the furnace-like heat, and she groaned inwardly at the thought of hours of this. The truck had no A/C. She stopped at a gas station and changed into shorts and a T-shirt, poured water from her water bottle on a bandanna and wrapped it around her neck. It helped a little. Thus she hacked her way over the desert heading north toward Vegas and then to I-40, stopping briefly in Seligman for a burger. In Arizona she made good time, climbing into the mountains, speeding past Flagstaff, then descending into the flats with their Route 66 collection of rock shops and Indian trading posts. By the time she got to Albuquerque, she was exhausted. She checked into a cheap-ish motel she knew on Central.
That's where they arrested her five hours later.
Robert immediately dressed and made a phone call to his superior, then packed the sphere into a pillowcase. He took a taxi to the Watermael district and told the driver to wait. Anything that could appear and disappear and cause him to faint was obviously very dangerous. Mr. Collins would know what to do about it.
The front door of the villa was unlocked, and he made his way through the darkened rooms to the office, where a light glowed.
Jeremy Collins was not thrilled to be jarred out of bed by Robert's wild story. Seated behind his desk in a silk dressing gown over his pajamas, his grey hair neatly combed, he stared skeptically at the sphere, while Robert patiently repeated his story. Collins' large dark eyes were devoid of warmth, devoid indeed of any human emotion. He was tall, close to two meters, and his smooth skin hid the fact that he was much older than he appeared. He owed his longevity and fine physical condition to a well-chosen meatless diet, daily exercise and medical care at least 100 years in advance of what was available to the common man. He drummed his manicured fingers on the desk.
"You say this thing first appeared at your girlfriend's place?“
"Yes, and I left it there.“
"Why did you do that?“
"Because it disappeared again.“
"You're sure of that? She didn't conceal it?“
Robert shifted uncomfortably in the chair. Had Annette hidden it while he was out cold?
"She could have...but it was definitely in my office when I got home.“
"Did you see it right away?“
"No, I showered first.“
"Then your girlfriend could have put it there, perhaps with help from your wife.“
Robert was floored by this suggestion. His mistress and his wife conspiring against him? Well, it was possible...
"It's called gaslighting, a very effective technique,“ Collins continud. Slowly drives you mad, makes you doubt your own reality. The bigger question is, why did you lose consciousness? What happened just before?“
"I...I heard a humming, but it wasn't from the kitchen. And the sphere wasn't on the table when I first walked in...I know it wasn't!“
Was it just the surprise that had caused him to faint? Was he that weak? The thought was terrifying.
Hesitantly he continued, "Perhaps there was some kind of gas present...maybe something on the door handle...“
Collins nodded. "And the humming? How do you explain that?“
"I can't explain it.“
Collins made a mental note to ask his electromagnetics man if there was some kind of humming weapon he wasn't aware of yet.
"Keep an eye out for anything else of the sort, Olivier. We can have either or both of the women eliminated, if you wish.“
Robert felt a chill as the blood left his face. He hoped it didn't show.
"I'll pay attention. Thank you.“
"Then we're through here. Good night.“
Robert got up and let himself out of the elegant old villa. He was glad it was too dark to see some of the artwork on the walls.
Kenji was deeply shocked when Japanese Defense Intelligence agents called at his home. His mother rushed out in consternation and was told to stay in her room. Everyone was very polite. The agents told Kenji what they were looking for. Bowing obsequiously, Kenji led the way into his room, where the sphere was ensconced in a place of honor. He had offered it flowers, a cup of sake and a bowl of rice. He bowed to the sphere — he couldn't help himself. He decided not to lie to the authorities, but hoped he wouldn't have to tell the whole truth either.
"You say you first saw it at your dojo?“ one of the agents asked.
"But then you brought it home?“
"Somehow it got into my bogu bag. I didn't put it there.“
The men's faces didn't change, but Kenji knew they didn't believe him.
He continued, "I took it back, but the sensei's assistant told me it didn't belong there.“
"So you brought it back home?“
"You are honoring it? Why?“
Kenji drew himself up and said very sincerely, "Because it has a sacred aura.“Which was nothing but the truth.
The men put the sphere into a box which they had brought, and left.
Before going back to bed, Jeremy Collins decided to meditate on Robert's peculiar story. One could never be too careful. He took the sphere through a secret door in the library and down into a cellar room he thought of as his workshop. No craftsman would have recognized any of the tools there, though there were many. Collins parted a pair of black velvet curtains and sat down in a straight-backed chair in front of his altar. He placed the sphere on a cushion on the floor in front of him, centered himself, and went within.
Ten minutes later he rose and stared at the sphere. Unusually, there was now an emotion in his dark shark eyes: fear.
A week later, there was an emergency meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Reports from surveillance vehicles had poured in from Asia, Africa, Australia, South America. Sources had been located in Osaka, Alice Springs, Cochabamba, Swakopmund...
"It's in Namibia.“
"Why the hell in Namibia?“
"Why the hell anywhere? We need to know what's going on!“
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, if you please...“
General Heinz Bammelmann used his outstretched hands to calm the excited voices around the table. He was an imposing figure in
his Bundeswehr uniform, tall, trim, broad-shouldered, and entirely in command.
"At this time, we would like to hear from Mr. Mollison, who has been entrusted to brief us on this situation. Mr. Mollison, please!“
Gary climbed to his feet and cleared his throat.
"General, officers, gentlemen. As far as we know these objects showed up simultaneously on every continent—yes, even Antarctica. They appear to reveal themselves first to one individual, seemingly a random choice. We haven't been able to find any link between them. All the objects have been secured and are being studied. Unfortunately every kind of insulation and isolation we've tried has failed to stop them from broadcasting...“
A murmur arose.
"...but we've increased the frequency jamming from cell towers and the power grid to compensate.“
He didn't mention that cell towers and satellites could only do so much. For the moment.
"Mr. Mollison, what are these things?“ This from a harried-looking Belgian officer.
"Colonel, we don't know. They are impregnable and indestructible. Diamond saws, lasers, acids, explosives, conventional ammo, DU, even, uh, other kinds of weapons—nothing has an effect on them. Our best guess is that they have an exotic origin.“
"What do you mean by 'exotic'?“
Unhappily, Gary cleared his throat. "It means they come from somewhere other than Earth.“
In his lab at DARPA, Ajeet Shivalingam unpacked the lunch his wife had made and the courier had delivered. Each dish steamed gently in its own round stainless steel container nested tidily, one atop the other, and topped with a tight-fitting lid. He sighed with pleasure as he spooned the rice onto a plate and added the dal, vegetables, condiments and a toasty warm chapati. Ajeet was a vegetarian and proud of it. Maybe he wouldn't become a sage after he was through being a householder, but this much he could do to honor his tradition. He began to eat slowly, savoring each bite.
"Svadist khana!,“ said a voice in his head.
"Please don't let me disturb you. You're enjoying it so much!,“ the cheerful female voice continued in Hindi.
His meal and pleasure forgotten, Ajeet slowly turned his head. He scanned the door, the long counters covered with equipment, the fume hood, the clean room. His co-workers were at lunch. No one was there.
Ajeet knew about V2K and all the other ways of using microwaves to transmit voices to unsuspecting souls, condemned by the powerful to a lifetime of torture and ridicule. But for him too? Was this their way of making him redundant? But why in Hindi? Why would they bother?
"Oh, don't be afraid. I'm a friend.“
"Who are you? he said shakily.
"My name's Ramala.“
"Where are you?“
"I'm right here!“
Ajeet looked around again, and this time he detected a faint humming sound.
It was coming from the bronze-colored sphere on the lab counter.
They took Adriana into a stereotypical interrogation room in the FBI office in Albuquerque: a table, uncomfortable chairs and a two-way mirror in the wall. It was cold in there, and she shivered. They let her wait a long time — undoubtedly to wear me down, she thought. She got up from the table and walked around, looking at each wall and corner. She didn't see any concealed cameras or microphones. Of course not, dummy, they're concealed! She rubbed her arms and did a tai chi exercise to warm up, swinging her arms and bending her knees rhythmically. It worked great to break up long car trips too.
Martinez studied her through the mirror. A thirty-ish girl with shoulder-length dark brown hair, a nice face with no make-up and an athletic figure. He liked the way she moved, her tan arms and legs and swaying hips. Should he drug her and have sex with her? No, no tits.
The door opened abruptly, and a man in a plain dark suit walked in. He looked like one of the local Hispanos, people who had lived in New Mexico for four hundred years. "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!“ they liked to say.
Adriana sat down again, and the man seated himself across from her. He leaned forward slightly and rested his arms on the table.
"Miss Short, I'm Special Agent Rodriguez. How do you do?“ He didn't offer to shake hands or wait for an answer. "I'll get straight to the point. I want you to tell me everything you know about the object you found on August 13.“
The brown eyes under the bushy brows bored into her. Cop eye.
"Doctor Short to you, Special Agent Rodriguez, and just for the record, I've done nothing to warrant being arrested and brought here.“
"You're not under arrest. You've been brought in for questioning, Doctor Short. Now just answer the question.“
"I found the object in the Sierra foothills northeast of Bakersfield. I can give you the GPS coordinates. It was in the back of a rattlesnake den.“
Martinez' eyes widened slightly in spite of himself.
"There were no rattlesnakes there at the time. I put the object in my backpack and took it to...“
She stopped, realizing she was going to implicate Leon.
"To Professor Gallegher, I know. He lied to protect you. How long have you known each other?“
"About 15 years.“
"Anything more than professional going on?“
"I had to ask, you seem to be pretty good friends. Did you know he could get in trouble for lying to me?“
Adriana felt something cold clench in her gut. These bastards!
"No, I didn't know that friendship was against the law.“
Martinez laughed. She was ridiculously easy to break.
"Crooks lie to protect their friends all the time. Doesn't mean it's not illegal. So you took it to Gallegher, then what?“
"I left it with him, and he gave it to Dr. Patson to analyze.“
This time she remembered to stop talking.
"And that's it?“
"Did you notice anything strange about the object?“
"Other than that we had no idea what it was? No.“
She was damned if she was going to admit to any of the woo-woo stuff that they'd both felt.
"Why did you run?“
"I didn't run. I was on my way to Colorado to see my folks.“
"Why did you lie to your brother?“
She managed to roll her eyes convincingly. "He didn't need to know I was going to see our parents. There's family stuff going on.“
"Am I free to go?“
She'd read in a little pamphlet aimed at illegal immigrants that if you weren't under arrest, you could ask that question and be able to leave. She hoped it worked.
Martinez sighed. He knew she was holding back information, but it probably didn't matter at this point. They had the sphere.
"Yes, we can't hold you. But we know where to find you if we need you.“
Psychics, shamans and spiritually inclined people all over the world had sensed that something was up. In the grand old phrase, there was a disturbance in the Force.
Somehow, instead of feeling weighed down by the state of the world, the seemingly endless bloodshed, oppression and suffering, the slow spiritual progress of mankind, the intractable pushback from the dark side, and the endless wait for better days, they felt a new buoyancy, a lightening of the load. Something had changed, but what was it? Message boards, social media, the lecture circuit, even magazine articles were buzzing with speculation. Astrologers could find no obvious trigger and were as puzzled as everyone else.
Well, not quite everyone. Those who could tune in saw the spheres' arrival and what had happened to them, namely their disappearance into secret labs and installations, where astral guards and cunningly constructed psychic barriers and defenses protected them from even remote prying eyes. So much was clear, but how much should they reveal? Who or what would be helped or hindered by telling what they knew? So most of them elected to keep quiet until receiving further guidance.
One of those waiting was Rosario Mendez. As the most invisible person in US society, an old woman, and on top of that a Mexican old woman with Indian blood, Rosario truly flew under the radar. Yet she had an immense, usually unremarked, effect on the land, people, plants and animals around her. The invisibles, with whom she had daily conversations, were her friends, and when she asked it nicely, the weather obeyed her. For these reasons she had a flourishing garden in a miraculously moist valley in northern New Mexico. Her little adobe house was filled with shelves loaded with pots of remedies, crystal friends, artifacts and bones she'd found on her rambles in forest and hills. Dried herbs and roots hung from the vigas. She had a table, a chair, a bed, a wood stove and a weathered wooden bench by the front door on which she sat in the summer. The outhouse was nearby. She shared her home with Luis, a grey tomcat.
Rosario may have been invisible in normal US society, but this was northern New Mexico, and Doña Rosario was very visible to her neighbors. From all the villages, even as far away as Taos and Santa Fe, people came to ask for her help. Few Anglos had any clue that there was an authentic witch in their midst. She hadn't left home in many years.
But now, Rosario frowned and asked the spirits if someone else couldn't do it. No, they said. Only you.
For the sake of appearances, Adriana went on up I-25, past the southern end of the Rockies, past Las Vegas (the original one), the Great Plains opening before her. Antelope. When she saw antelope by the road, it always reminded her of home. From Trinidad she went up 350 to La Junta and spent a few days with her parents. They were glad to see her — she actually enjoyed the visit — then she chose nighttime for the drive back through the desert to Bakersfield.
The next day, Adriana met with Leon and Roy in Roy's lab. The light from the setting sun flashed on Roy's round designer glasses that with his brown skin made him look rather owlish. Thanks to the Air Force, Roy had gone to college, but military life hadn't agreed with him. He left as soon as he could and came back home to California. Since he'd quit smoking he had taken up the habit of compulsively cracking and munching pistachios. He pushed the bowl of nuts across the table.
Adriana and Leon demurred, knowing they would soon give in anyway.
"How did they find me so fast?“ Adriana asked.
"Well, campus surveillance cameras...,“ Leon offered.
Roy snorted. "The satellites they have now can find anything or anyone, day or night. They can key in your personal electromagnetic signature and track you anywhere.“
"I had no idea it was that bad...,“ Leon murmured.
"Oh, it's a lot worse,“ Roy said, shaking his head. "You can't imagine the stuff they have now. I just try not to think about it.“ He cracked another pistachio.
Adriana cleared her throat. "What do you guys think this thing is? And why are they so interested?“
Leon grimaced. "Well, it's made of some very unusual material...Maybe it's from a secret project.“
"In that case, who put it in the den? And why?“
Roy grinned. "So that you would find it, obviously.“
Adriana felt a cascade of goosebumps on her arm. "But why me?“
Roy ignored her question. "I don't think it's their secret project. They're afraid of it, I could tell. The military's afraid of everything it can't control.“
"Then whose secret project is it? Some foreign power's?“
"Guys, I repeat, why me?“
She never got an answer.
The woods and roads around a certain castle in Alsace-Lorraine seethed with bodyguards and private security forces. Roadblocks kept out the hoi polloi as sleek black limousines and big SUV's began to arrive and clog the porte-cochere with their passengers. In all, about 30 extremely well-dressed men and women alighted and made their way into the castle. Their host, a count from an old, a very old aristocratic family, greeted them one by one, after which they were directed to a lavish buffet. Waiters bearing silver trays dispensed flutes of champagne. Soon a lively chatter arose, as the guests all knew each other. They were a cross-section of their class and station: top businessmen, royals, politicians, military men, entertainment figures, religious leaders.
After an hour of visiting and fortifying, the guests made their way to the conference room, where the count addressed them all.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I think we all know why we're here tonight. You've received a personal briefing from our messengers, and you know that the situation is serious.“ The Count paused to look at each face, some of allies, some of deadly rivals. "We must take counsel on what is to be done, after which we will take active steps to remedy the situation.“
Some of the faces brightened in anticipation.
Peasants, the Count thought to himself. No self-control.
He continued, "So far, all efforts to destroy or stop these devices have failed. I emphasize, all efforts.“
A surprised murmur went up. These people knew what kind of efforts were available.
A blond, red-faced British TV personality enquired, "My lord, what exactly are these things doing?“
The Count considered him an idiot. Only genes had given him access to this group.
"They are emitting a frequency calculated to raise the consciousness of the masses on this planet.“
"And is it working?,“ asked one of Wall Street's leading bankers.
"So far, only on the small segment of the population capable of receiving it.“
"Then surely we can contain it...“
"We have been informed that none of these objects is operating at full power,“ the Count said. "Not only are they unstoppable, but they are capable of much more.“
He paused to let that information sink in.
"How effective can jamming be made?“ the head of a western European nation asked.
"We have increased it, of course, but it may not be sufficient. With the new satellites we are launching, we could raise the microwave frequencies to the point of lethality, if necessary. But the time for that is not yet ripe. We still require trained workers until they can be replaced with robots.“
"What about aerosols?“ This from the CEO of a transnational corporation.
"Most definitely, but over time. Compounds have already been added to existing spray programs to reduce consciousness even further.“
"Increasing distraction would be useful,“ said a media mogul. "Wars, riots, shootings, earthquakes, storms, wildfires, even economic collapse...“
"Yes, but even that may not prevail. This situation...“
"We must ask the help of the Principalities and Powers,“ a clergyman said reverently.
"Precisely. It will take our strongest united effort. There is no reason to think that we won't be successful. We have always been successful before.“
The discussion surged on for several hours, each participant speaking and sometimes arguing vehemently. As midnight approached, they retired to robe themselves for the ceremony. The Count led the procession to the spacious cellar room, a remodeled dungeon whose walls were hung with luxurious draperies of brocaded black, white and red velvet. A number of wide couches lined the walls, and there were a few mattresses on the floor. The red-robed High Priestess stood by the altar. Knives lay on a black satin cushion.
After the circle had been cast and the first invocations made, servants led a selection of well-scrubbed children of both sexes and different ages and races, as well as ragged women in chains, some clutching babies to their chests, into the room.
It was Equinox, which meant that all over the planet similar ceremonies were taking place with the same aim.
What happened next no decent person would enjoy knowing.
Ajeet and Ramala had quite a long conversation. The Indian's eyes widened as Ramala explained her mission and filled him in on some of the factors he may not have been aware of. Knowing as much as he did, he was still astonished. He also realized that his employers had massively misled and lied to him. "Need to know“ indeed! Anger welled up inside him.
"Anger is poison,“ Ramala said sweetly. "You had a meditation practice once, why did you stop?“
"I...it seemed incompatible with the work I was doing...“
At dawn she prayed the Beauty Way with them, then set out again.
In fact, being aware of the implications of his work had made it impossible to maintain even the facade of spiritual caring. The hypocrisy had been too much for him.
"I see. You knew you were doing wrong, but you continued.“
He felt ashamed. "There was the money — so much money! — for my family...I love my family!“
"I know you do. I wish you well, Ajeet. I love you, you know.“
Ajeet's eyes filled with tears.
"Now please call your supervisor and tell him to come here.“
"Please do as I say.“
Ajeet punched the intercom and asked Dr. Muller to come to the lab. Muller was not pleased. Ajeet's lab ran so smoothly that he almost never had to concern himself with it.
A large, beefy white man with a military buzz cut, Muller lumbered down the hall and paused outside the lab door. He peered through the small window but saw nothing out of order. He opened the door and walked in. Ajeet was sitting on a lab stool next to the bronze-colored sphere.
"Good-bye, Ajeet,“ Ramala said.
London in the 21st century was fast reverting back to the 19th, only this time with more rigorous and efficient methods. The poor were being cleared out — who cared where they went? The rich, frustrated in their desire to expand laterally in the crowded metropolis, were building deep underground, adding swimming pools, gyms, squash courts and party rooms to their Georgian mansions. Whole neighborhoods were sterile and devoid of the vibrant street life that had once characterized the capital. The smug middle class, feeling no pinch, no pain — yet — tacitly consented to being tracked and surveilled by the muscular police state.
The London Eye, the name deliberately chosen to invoke one of the dark ones' favorite symbols, the All-Seeing Eye, towered over the skyline. Perhaps they should have called it the Eye of Sauron and seen if anyone noticed? The masses were so blind, so stupid, how could anyone think they were capable of ruling? They were cattle, fit only for consumption.
Even after centuries, the City was still one of the centers of global rule. The City gents, with their manners and bowlers and furled umbrellas, had long since been supplanted by an army of entitled young men with filthy mouths and eyes shining with greed, who hacked and clawed and backstabbed their way to ever more power and riches. In the center of this financial district was a cold, ugly, gleaming bank building that had been deliberately built atop a pagan temple whose walls and floors had been brown and stinking with shed blood. The modern temple in the basement was more hygienic — there were gutters and flushing systems now — but no less blood had been shed there. The Secret Societies and Brotherhoods, direct descendents of the Old Religion, saw to that. They were as sincere in their worship as the followers of any other religion and suffered silently and resignedly from their outcast status—for now.
In this room, one of the darkest places on the planet, imbued with thousands of years of magic and swirling with spirits, both conjured and enslaved, Robert's sphere sat on a pedestal in front of the main altar. Even in the darkness its bronze-colored skin gave off a faint glow, as if a light were striking a burnished surface. The glow was visible through a net of forged iron chains that gripped the sphere and locked it to the pedestal. The mightiest binding spells that the combined covens of the world could produce had gone into the forging of these chains. The elemental that had been conjured into the iron was proud to carry out its purpose of restraining the sphere.
"Forgive me, brother,“ said the sphere.
The chains clattered loose and clanged against the steel pedestal.
It was early morning and Adriana was in the field again, this time tracking some of the denizens of the now notorious den. The military had sealed off the area and was talking about burying the cave in riprap. Fucking idiots. A complaint was being handled by the state EPA, but "national security“ would probably trump common sense. She didn't know that the US military had the ambition to control every inter-dimensional portal on the planet, and that they suspected her humble rattlesnake den of being one of them.
Two seasons before, Adriana had implanted some of the snakes with micro-transmitters so she could track their movements. Now they would all be out and warming up in the sun. Hopefully, they wouldn't be too lively yet. She swung the antenna slowly and picked up a signal, then crunched her way over the dry grass and around a rock, picking up a cow trail. A few meters ahead on the trail, a big rattler was basking. Crotalus oreganus, Adriana automatically thought, probably one of her den denizens. It must have felt the vibration of her footsteps, but it didn't react to her presence. Probably sound asleep. Adriana squatted down and allowed herself the luxury of really studying the snake. It was magnificent. Easily eight feet long and thick-bodied (well-fed! she noted), the sunlight shone on the rich earthen colors and patterns of its shiny back. Slowly it raised its large triangular head, flicked its forked tongue in the air and calmly looked right at her.
"Sister, look and see,“ said a sibilant voice in her head.
My god, the snake just talked to her! No, that couldn't be right—she just imagined it, yes. Yes. But what did it mean about seeing? said a nagging little voice in her head, her own voice this time. Adriana straightened up and looked around. And everything changed.
The grass sparkled with light, and light streamed from the distant trees. The ground vibrated with light, and light enveloped the body of a turkey vulture soaring overhead. The big rattlesnake glowed with light. Light filled the sky and bathed the mountains. The great valley to the west was filled with light, even the cities of man glittered in purity. All was light. It really was. Adriana stood rooted to the hillside and knew beyond any doubt that everything was sacred. She was sacred. All that she saw and did was sacred. The world was sacred.
With new respect she thanked the snake and walked back to her truck in a daze. The extraordinary light was fading, getting back to "normal“. But for Adriana there would be no more normal. She knew what she knew.
And so she was only mildly surprised to get back to her truck and see the sphere sitting on the passenger seat.
Robert was shocked to see the sphere back on his desk, humming gently. He had the absurd impression it was glad to see him again. He wasn't glad to see it. How had it gotten here? Was Gabrielle really gaslighting him? And with Collins' help?! Why? It didn't make sense. Well, he wasn't about to have the thing sitting around on his desk. He opened his capacious wall safe and locked the sphere in it.
Kenji, on the other hand, was pleased to see the sphere once again ensconced in his tokonomo. Knowing its capabilities, he wasn't surprised that the kami had escaped its captors. He placed offerings in front of it and went about his life. His frugal father had used his savings to invest in real estate. As Osaka continued to grow, more and more neighborhoods became desirable, even fashionable, and the Shimizu family prospered. After his father's death, Kenji helped his mother manage the properties. The renters were so conscientious that there was rarely anything to do. Oh, the aging plumbing sometimes caused problems, and a hard winter occasionally froze a pipe, but Kenji was a skilled handyman. His mother urged him to marry, but well...she wasn't in the best of health and Kenji felt that his first duty was to her.
As Kenji picked up his kendo gear and prepared to leave the house, his gaze fell on his grandfather's sword, resting on a stand on a chest of drawers against the wall. Normally, the sight filled him with pride. Though not of a samurai family, his grandfather had become a Japanese officer and served his country in the war against the British and Americans. Many times the old man had proudly recounted how he had used this very sword to...
Kenji's breath caught in his throat. He saw the kneeling, bound captives, some of them prisoners of war. He saw the flash of the blade, the blood spouting, as his grandfather moved along the line of men, his face exultant as he decapitated each man. The bodies fell forward and soldiers kicked them into a mass grave, the heads tossed in afterwards. Like a reverse zoom shot, the scene receded and a panorama of the whole war opened up — the bitter naval battles, the thousands of men incinerated at their posts or drowned in the sea, the kamikaze planes with their idealistic young pilots smashing into the ships or crashing senselessly into the water. He saw the land battles, whole islands turned into blood-soaked wastelands, one after the other, the suffering, the massive waste of lives, men fighting on and on, and for what? And then there were the dozens of cities destroyed by firebombing, women and children running, their hair on fire, their burning clothes welded to their backs — and the ultimate obscenity, the bombs that destroyed tens of thousands in an instant and ripped holes in the space-time continuum of the universe itself...
Kenji didn't know how he knew that, but he did. He looked at his shinai case. What was a shinai but a sword, and what were the blows they used but symbolic attempts to cut a human being in half? Playing kendo was fighting, fighting, nothing but fighting.
He sat down and burst into tears.
After her experience on the hillside, Adriana was prepared for just about anything. She looked back over her own life. Certain incidents now filled her with shame: the shark she had vivisected in comparative anatomy class, its rough body writhing in pain; the rats thrown away after some meaningless lower division biology experiment; the family dog cowering and blinking as her parents beat him with a rolled up newspaper... She knew now that they all forgave her, the animals so generous, waiting for us humans to see the light, literally, it seemed.
"Don't reproach yourself, Adriana. Now is all that matters. It is all that ever matters,“ Ramala said gently.
Robert read the newspaper in the car on his way to the office. Poverty was increasing in Germany as more and more workers were squeezed out of the labor market by an influx of cheap labor from the former Eastern Bloc countries. It was a common enough article to find in the financial section, but for some reason it called to mind other issues: the immiseration of Greece, women there selling themselves for five Euros; subsidized European produce destroying markets in Africa, forcing farmers into city slums and undertaking desperate, lethal treks to Europe; the booming export of weapons used to foment wars, oppression and slaughter, leading to more refugees...Robert had had a hand in all of these. For the first time in his life he thought, really thought, about how he had spent his life and his life's energy, and about where his livelihood came from.
Once at his office, he wrote a formal letter of resignation and had it delivered by courier.
Rosario left Luis enough kibble and water to last a few days, hefted her rucksack and trudged into the village. It was a cool, blustery fall day, the dry leaves scudding along the road, the sky an immaculate cobalt blue. It had become an unusual sight due to the spraying the white people were doing. She took the Blue Bus to Farmington and another bus to Teec Nos Pos. From there she would have to walk. She was headed for the true Center of the World, a place only approximated by the Anglo Four Corners.
She spent the night as the guest of a Diné chapter house where she knew some people. At dawn she prayed the Beauty Way with them, then set out again. It had rained in the night, and the desert smelled wonderful, spicy and clean. Now she was far from any road, following her inner knowing over brushy hills and across arroyos still running with a little water. She saw a coyote asleep under a chamisa bush and considered it a good omen. The coyote raised its head and looked at her. Recognizing a friend, it went back to sleep. In the distance a sacred mountain loomed up. Rosario knew she was near. She rested and ate some tortillas and chile that she had packed. Hawk, the far-seeing one, circled over her head. Another few hours brought her to a certain canyon, its walls enclosing an almost circular space.
She felt a surge of joy. This was the place.
Adriana also felt sad about science. Capital-S Science. How many times had she swallowed her anger when a colleague's research was discarded, because it contradicted the findings of some old honcho? How many times had she seen data bent or thrown away because it didn't fit a theory? Wasn't science supposed to follow the data, no matter where it led? That didn't always happen, not even usually. Too many politics, too much money stood against free inquiry. Her education had taught her what to think and where the boundaries of acceptable thought were. Those who ventured outside the box were punished. Why? What was so dangerous about the truth? She had received grant money to research rattlesnakes, a pretty safe thing to do, though others might disagree. But what if she were an archaeologist who found something "too old“? What if she were a physicist who discovered that the textbooks were wrong? Who was keeping a lid on things? Was it really just tradition and peer pressure? She resolved to find out.
Robert was surprised when Giancarlo took an unexpected route that led them out of town and into a forest south of the city. He protested, but Giancarlo drove on. The car left the paved road and moved along a forestry track. After a few minutes, it stopped.
"Get out,“ Giancarlo said. He used the contemptuous, familiar form of address.
"What are you allowing yourself...?“
The driver's hand moved, and Robert saw the gun. A cold chill settled over his chest.
He opened the door, stepped out, his legs shaking. He knew.
"They'll know who did it, you know...“
"No they won't. I'm covered. There will be witnesses who swear they saw you take a taxi out here. We have the taxi driver. Now come over here.“
Robert was fit. He considered running, fighting. But he knew it was no good. This way or another way, his life was over. He had so many regrets. But he felt clear within himself, almost clean, which gave him the strength to walk calmly over to his executioner. Without hesitation, Giancarlo stepped up close and carefully shot Robert in the right temple, holding up his left hand to protect himself from the spatter. Robert's body spun to the ground. Giancarlo pressed the gun into Robert's hand, checked the ground for footprints, then got in the car and drove away.
Robert's sphere, grieving for him, vanished from his safe and returned whence it had come.
A cool wind picked up suddenly and blew down the canyon, and Rosario knew that the spirits were with her. She offered prayers and tobacco, thanking them for their help. She used her hands to find the exact spot, easily feeling the increased energy. She knelt on the sand and opened her backpack, removing a bundle wrapped in deerskin. It had been in her family for many generations, this sacred thing, passed down and down to be kept safe until the time came for it to be used.
That time had now come.
Rosario unwrapped the large quartz crystal, a small pillar of light with rainbows in its depths. She held it in her hands, feeling its power and strangeness. Strange, because it had not originated on Earth. Some other hands she couldn't imagine had eased it from its lode on a far planet and brought it here to become the hallowed trust of humanity.
Rosario raised the crystal over her head, praying as she had never prayed before, for all her relations, for everything. She lowered the crystal onto the spot, imagining an energetic clicking together, like a key in a lock or a positive to a negative. With her inner eye she saw the gigantic wave of white light, almost like a ripple in reality itself, move out rapidly from the Center of the World in all directions. She stood quietly, the wind playing in her hair, tears running down her seamed face, savoring the changed energy of...everything.
On a playground in the Midwest, seven little girls played with a big rubber ball, squealing and laughing as they threw it at each other, catching or batting it with their hands, faster and faster.
At 30,000 feet, a grey, unmarked military plane began spraying a thick white aerosol stripe in the sky directly over their heads. Instead of dissipating, as water vapor would, the white trail began to droop and drip, spreading out in the air. The little girls stopped playing and stood silently in a circle, each one using her third eye to emit a blue beam of light, the beams uniting above their heads into one and speeding toward the aerosol trail, erasing it like a chalk mark on a blackboard. The blue sky was once more unsullied. The girls went back to their game.
After remotely landing the grey plane at Offutt Air Force Base, Valerie Chu stood up from her computer console in a crowded grey room in a drab grey building and walked out the door, suddenly acutely aware of the impact of what she had been doing all these years: the children with asthma, the soil poisoned with aluminum, the once blue skies reduced to a dirty pale smear, the dead trees, the rain sucked out of the sky, the wildfires made fiercer by the heavy metals coating the forests, the god-knows-what biologicals raining down on innocent, unsuspecting people...She walked out of the building into the cool autumn day and breathed deeply of the fresh air. She walked around back, got into her car and left the base.
She never went back.
Before he turned off his chain saw, Matt Franklin heard a tree scream. He watched as the ancient fir crashed through the smaller trees and felt the earth shake as it landed in a cloud of sunlit dust. The high-pitched wail of agony and despair continued to echo in his head. One of his buddies had heard it a year ago and had quit the same day and gone to work at Walmart. "Pussy!“ the other men had called after him. Was Matt a pussy? He didn't think so.
Alone in this part of the forest, Matt listened to the sudden stillness, and the hairs on the back of his neck rose. He knew what it meant—they were here.
Every logger knew of the existence of the forest giants, Sasquatch, Bigfoot. Memos from the logging companies threatened instant termination if anyone said anything about them. The spotted owl had given them enough grief, and they weren't about to let their profits be jeopardized by having to protect the habitat of yet another species. But Matt knew the forest was their home. They didn't have another one. Sometimes the men saw shadowy figures watching as the logs were hauled away, another parcel clear-cut, leaving just a fringe of trees along the highway to give travelers the illusion of an intact forest. Millions of living beings destroyed, a whole ecosystem that wouldn't recover in a thousand years...Matt felt suddenly sick. Turning slowly, he saw a whole family of the creatures standing about fifty feet away. A stocky female held a hairy big-eyed baby against her pendulous breasts while a hairy child hung onto the long fur of her side. Matt thought of his own two kids. A huge, bullet-headed male, easily a ten-footer, leaned against a tree slightly in front of them, strong enough to tear a human to pieces. But they didn't do that. They just watched.
"I'm sorry,“ Matt whispered. "I'm really, really sorry!“ The forest giants turned slowly and melted back into the woods.
Kenji was only mildly surprised to read in the paper that Japan was abolishing its military. Like everyone else he had noticed the wave of harmony sweeping the land. The necessary politeness of a crowded country gave way to genuine concern and compassion. Prominent politicians and businessmen appeared on TV, bowing deeply, tears streaming down their faces, confessing to lies and misdeeds and begging for forgiveness. All over the world it was the same, as though people had awakened from a dream.
Jeremy Collins, feeling sick, moved like a sleepwalker through his villa. A few days earlier, the EU had announced sweeping changes to its economic policy. There would be more equitable dealings between rich and poor countries, and wealthy Europe would begin to share its largesse with the global South that it had exploited for so long. Jeremy had gotten up late, truly wishing he could stay in bed. His life's work was ruined, the work of generations.
On his way to the breakfast room, where the maid always left a fresh pot of tea on a hotplate, he heard a murmuring outside. He pushed aside a curtain to look out the window. A crowd of people were by the gate in the wrought-iron fence, and as he watched, they all turrned their heads to stare—at him! They were the typical rabble of this city: housewives, gawky teenagers, laborers in dirty clothes, office workers, shopkeepers...Well, he always suspected this day could come and wondered if they had brought along a stout hemp rope. He would show them that someone of his bloodline would not be cowed. He unlatched the window and leaned out, his face strained with anger.
"Go away this instant or I will call the police!“
A man in the crowd gave him a thin smile and adjusted the police cap on his head.
A woman in an apron and starched blouse stepped forward.
"Please, sir, won't you come speak with us? We've been praying for you for so long...“ She held up a bouquet of colorful fall flowers.
With a grimace of horror, Jeremy threw the window closed and stumbled, almost retching, into his study. He jerked the top desk drawer open and frumbled for a small, sealed glass vial he knew was there. He knocked the top off on the edge of the desk and poured the contents down his throat.
Gary Mollison looked out at the mob of chattering reporters crowding the briefing room. In spite of looking his usual slovenly self — “like a sack of shit tied around the middle,“ as one English friend had put it—Gary felt strangely composed, almost buoyant. As he walked to the podium, he glanced at the sheaf of notes in his hand. Without breaking stride, he dropped them in a convenient waste basket, ascended the dais and took hold of the worn wood of the podium with both hands, letting his eyes move over the upturned faces. The crowd hushed.
He felt a sudden affection for the men and women he saw there, young and old, veterans and newbies, different-colored faces, all with the same bright eyes and expectant faces. God, they were so human! Gary cleared his throat.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today. As you know, Director Crittenden is no longer with us, and the Deputy has been missing for a week now. The officers in charge have asked me to talk to you about what's going on.
"Since 1947 this country has been subject to the National Security Act. All of a sudden, everything and anything could be concealed under the guise of national security. Certain people took the bit in their teeth and ran roughshod over our system of checks and balances, over the competence of the professional military, over our democratic republic itself. It was what Eisenhower warned us about: the military-industrial complex. The military-industrial-intelligence complex. President John F. Kennedy was the last president who tried to do something about it, and that's why they took him out.“
There were gasps in the crowd.
"Yes, these people had him killed, and all the documentation we have on the assassination will be made available to you. But that was only the beginning. The United States descended into a cesspool of corruption and iniquity of truly unimaginable dimensions. Wars and the stifling of democracy in other countries for profit. Widespread mind control, pedophile rings, human trafficking, global drug dealing, the wholesale blackmail of our elected leaders—no crime was too heinous for those who took control of our country. The truth in all areas of human knowledge was suppressed, tightly controlled or distorted out of all recognition. The cures for cancer and all other diseases have been known for decades. The truth of unlimited free energy from the cosmos has been deliberately kept from you, so that the few could profit. The reality of other intelligences in the universe, of so-called UFO's, of the contact between humans and extraterrestrial beings, yes, of our government's collusion with these beings...“
Now there were shouts and exclamations from the audience.
"The US directed-energy secret weapon that turned the Twin Towers into dust—yes, it was an inside job — has been used to create 'wildfires'—he used the air quotes—that have brought so much suffering and loss of life in the western United States. All extreme weather events of the last few years have been caused by deliberate manipulation using ionization of the atmosphere and atmospheric heating provided by antenna arrays. That's one of the reasons for the aerosol spraying program—yes, chemtrails are real. Again, all of this has been in the service of profit and power.“
Now the reaction was stunned silence: wide eyes, pale faces, hands to mouths...
"All documentation of these crimes will be made available to you. There is so much more that will seem unbelievable to you, but I promise you that it is the truth. Our agencies are working right now to compile and collate this information, leaving nothing out.“
Gary smiled broadly at the assembled, now stunned, reporters.
"We all sense that a new day has dawned. May our country become that which it was destined to be—a light unto the world. And not a blight. God bless America. That's all I have to say.“
Gary stepped down from the dais into a swarm of shouting, screaming, thronging press people. But he was a big man, an ex-football player, and had little difficulty patiently pushing his way through the crush, his mouth clamped shut. OK, once or twice he had to gently straight-arm a couple of insistent ones...He knew there was absolutely no way he could even begin to answer any of their questions.
It was the happiest day of his life.
Adriana watched the press conference on TV, her brother and sister-in-law on the couch beside her. They were amazingly calm about the whole thing, and Adriana felt a swell of love for them.
"Wow,“ said Jen.
"It's all true, huh?“ Rafe said.
She didn't tell them that she had spent hours in meditation, seeing the truth laid out before her inner eye, unrolling like a movie, more suspenseful, more vivid than any fiction. All she had to do was ask to be shown something, and it appeared. The true story of evolution on the Earth. The true history of mankind. The origin of the conspiracy—yes, conspiracy! — to enslave and control human beings. What was really going on in space and under the Earth. . . It was fascinating, but also exhausting. She yawned and reached for her beer. Suddenly she knew what she had lost—and now it was found.
She leaned back against the couch and smiled. ≈ç
DIANA THATCHER was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduated from UC Berkeley and has been wondering and wandering about the world ever since. She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
BRAD HARLEY is a Toronto theatre designer, the co-artistic director of Shadowland Theatre, and the Journal of Wild Culture's dessinateur de maison. He has worked extensively as a theatre designer with VideoCabaret (Canada), Peter Minshall's Callaloo productions (Trinidad), Horse and Bambo (UK), and Bread and Puppet Theater (US). Brad's hand-bound book of drawings, Reasons for Happiness, is available for purchase at the Wild Culture Store here.