Multiple Grammy-Nominated Trombonist, Composer, Songwriter, Author and Cartoonist
Edwards Instruments Artist. Steve Wiest plays the Custom T302 Excalibur Trombone and Griego-Steve Wiest Mouthpiece Exclusively
To celebrate the completion of THE DOVER STONE Second Edition, I will be releasing each "movement" or story from the book here along with its corresponding track from the CD Concerto For Folded Space. Just click on the titles below as they become available to read, then dig,
and immerse into the sonic spectrum!
Second Edition Forward
Movement I: String Theory
Movement II: EBE Bop
Movement III: The Neither Zone
Movement IV: Fermi or You
For All The Rest of The Movement Releases, Head on Over to My MEDIUM Site: JUST CLICK HERE!
Want to discuss these stories? Easy-Peasy on my MEDIUM site.
second edition forward
In writing The Dover Stone originally back in 2012-2013, it was my desire to put into writing all of my lifelong wonder at the UFO phenomenon while imagining a fantastic back story, and in so doing, generate some fun ideas that could be the programmatic source for my recording project “Concerto For Folded Space.” While the stories did indeed inspire some wonderful compositional textures and fueled the music itself for the CD project, these vignettes started to take on a life of their own. I eventually found myself at the helm of an endeavor far more profound than just a set of “extended liner notes for a record.” The Dover Stone became a full-blown novel and “prose birthing” (as coined by my friend Spider Robinson) became a new passion.
As is often the case with a first novel, I injected much of my own background and life experiences into a number of places in these movements-stories and enjoyed a truly unexpected cathartic release in the process. The Boy Scout plastic tent campout episode in Missouri described in the movement “The Neither Zone” was based on a real Missouri boy scout adventure featuring my friend Freddie’s plastic tent, an actual pack of screaming coyotes, and my feeling as though I would freeze to death that night. Also, my own idyllic childhood in Woodridge, Illinois (Glastonbury in this book) where it was an eleven year-old Steve Wiest who looked through that AstroMaster telescope in the cold Christmas night air on the frozen front porch of our home (in many ways…I was young James Knox!), the traumatic loss of my own beloved dog Lady as told here through the eyes of Air-in-Hart, as well as the hilarious tale of Air-in and Aunt Millie’s initial encounter which comes almost verbatim from my first meeting with my late great cousin, the super-talented and beautiful Ann Grifalconi in Greenwich Village circa 2006. There are many more examples, but I will leave those for another time.
Truly, real life can be stranger than fiction.
With this second edition, I also wanted to give the entire novel a thorough content edit (the jazz trombonist who did the initial editing kinda sucked) as well as changing some of the timeline of the story. The momentous events of the world in the year 2020 (which seemed like a real-life dystopian sci-fi movie–hindsight is after all 20-20) and the ominous beginning of the year 2021 also needed to be folded into this fictional narrative in ways that make sense and help to keep the tale from feeling a bit dated.
What a joy to revisit this work from the not-so-distant past and to tweak it up, wash its clothes, and give it a bath. Who says you can’t go back? And I find that I really do like this collection of snapshots after all.
I hope that you do too.
–Steve Wiest: Chicago, Illinois 2021
Concerto For Folded Space Liner Notes
I have some questions:
How long have we wondered if we are all there is in all of the cosmos? Weren’t there dragons and fairies and all sorts of beasties wandering about in ancient times?
Where did they go?
How is it possible that there are so many stars and so many galaxies in an infinite universe that is so very old and that we here in the suburbs of the Milky Way Galaxy circling a relatively young star are the only people in all of creation?
Because we don’t hear our celestial brothers and sisters does it follow that they aren’t trying to call us?
Because we can’t hear them does that mean they don’t exist?
Have they been here before?
Did they ever leave?
Are we really alone?
Concerto For Folded Space Liner Notes
The first thing that you, the dear reader from the 21st Century, would notice in 1182 would likely be the silence–a total lack of engine nose that is deafening in its completeness. We denizens of the fossil-fuel-addicted league of engines can hardly imagine what a world without combustion-sound would mean. The first thing you would probably hear would be a mad rushing or whooshing sound. This would be your own blood flow, the sound of which was so commonplace in our early history as to not even be acknowledged on a day-to-day basis, but lost to us who have constant mechanical incidental decibels.
The second thing that would come to you with enough power to cause you to weep would be the air itself. The atmosphere of the twelfth century is of a purity and sweetness that we cannot even begin to fathom. There are simply no pollutants except the mercurial remains of wood fires for cooking and warmth. But those momentary zephyrs of man-produced irritants bring their own delicious smells to justify their existence. Even the earth itself fills the air with fertile happy aromas. Each breath produces a riot of sensual delights.
However, the medieval years in England are not all pristine and clean goodness–hardly. There are plentiful signs of the many, many dirty fingerprints of mankind especially as you near a village, hamlet or “city.” The open sewage ditches that line the streets of any gathering place are particularly impressive in their persuasively pungent warnings. The complete and total absence of hygiene of any kind is also evident at a glance. Here is a bittersweet land of quick death and brief but lusty life.
But the observer from the year of our Lord 2021 would also see with great surprise the presence of “others” among the human folk. For the people of the Twelfth Century weren’t superstitious as much as they were worldly beyond our modern grasp, actually “worldly” and cosmopolitan on a galactic level. They were aware of and accepted the presence of beings from other planets in a way that the xenophobic, government-conditioned fragile citizens of modern times simply aren’t capable of. We “superior” people of the Post Information Age scoff at the primitive folk of medieval times and their belief in Fairies, Trolls, Grundylow, Brownies, and Elves. What would we self-righteous people think if we were to find out that these beings of ancient times were not mythical creatures at all, but instead denizens of other worlds–aliens–who carefully used to live among us? But they were here, as they were in the time of Gilgamesh, in the time of the Pharaohs, and in the time of the glory days of Greece, they were present and guiding the house-of-cards that we call the human race. And nowhere was this medieval zone of extremes more evident than in Dover, Kent at the tip of southeast England.
Known as “The Key to England,” Dover has always been a place of significance. Situated at the top of the famous white chalk cliffs there was first an Iron Age hill-fort, followed by the prosperous Roman harbor and village of Dubris that boasted twin Pharos (light houses) and three successive Roman forts, a post Roman-era Saxon fortified settlement with an early wooden castle called Dofras, earthworks and fortifications to the Saxon structures by William the Conqueror and finally, the great Dover Castle built by Henry II, King of England. Placed as it was at the doorway to the kingdom and as a guardian of entry, Dover was also a gathering place for all the various tribes and races of what would eventually become Europe as well as non-humans. Dover was one of the many and perhaps most important galactic melting pots of the medieval world whose membership has been lost in the mists of time and mythology.
By his 25th year, Ethelred was a journeyman member of the Free Mason’s Guild and under the employ of King Henry’s famous architect “Maurice The Builder.” Hard at work on The King’s great effort to atone for the murder of his fallen friend Thomas Becket (as well as a proper hall to show off his superior court to all important visitors), the great keep that would be the centerpiece of Dover Castle and Maurice’s crowning achievement was underway. Part of Ethelred’s duties consisted of daily councils of study with the secret mentor and advisor to the Masonic Guild, Hyp Zoon-ee. Hyp was an Urisk, specifically of the Urisk-Zoon-ee race. Brilliant well beyond all human capacity and a virtuoso raconteur, Hyp was also “afflicted” with the condition that kept his kind forever in the shadows: profound ugliness.
To gaze upon an Urisk-Zoon-ee is to look into the face of everything frightening and repulsive in the collective imaginings of humankind. It is difficult at best to read Urisk emotions due to the huge permanent smile that bristles literally from ear to droopy scar-encrusted ear. Because of the whip-like small appendages that regularly clean their huge teeth, Urisk-Zoon-ee grotesque grins seem to always be alive with writhing worms. The Zoon-ee voice is impossible to describe. The closest humans have come to it is “an army of crabs scuttling across a cold stone slab…in the basso profondo register.” Whenever they do open their cavernous mouths to speak, three black tongues unroll and droop below their long scimitar chins while a tube-like thing twirls straight forward out of the depths of their oral cavity like a New Year’s Eve noisemaker (“part of some kind of monstrously complex vocal mechanism suite” is the current best guess as to this twirling mystery tube’s purpose.)
And their skin! Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Urisk-Zoon-ee visage (to humans anyway) is the texture of their skin. Ever undulating below the surface of their purple and green mottled outer covering is a network of bones and sinew that busily move about on some unknown Uriskian anatomical mission giving the impression that their bodies are thoroughly corrupted with maggots. The eyes of the Urisk-Zoon-ee are large saucer-shaped affairs that are pitch black and weepy with silver flashing orbs that zip about giving the impression of irises looking in all directions. Topping off this nightmare is an explosion of hair-like fingers that are the true repository of Urisk Zoon-ee emotional communication. When irritated, the Zoon-ee’s “hair-fingers” stretch out to full length, fully erect. And when a Zoon-ee laughs (which is quite often) the fingers crumple tight against the top of their heads and then pop rapidly upwards one at a time, creating a perfect “wave” formation.
Weighing in at a substantial 550 sloppy pounds and anywhere between 6’5” and 8 feet tall, with a penchant for flamboyant dress, the Urisk Zoon-ee are singularly impressive–and to humans–frighteningly repulsive beings.
All of this meant very little to Ethelred Mason however. As a young initiate into the rites of Masonry, Ethelred had met Hyp Zoon-ee on the day of his acceptance as an apprentice. Upon being introduced to the alien being that it was said, “could curdle milk with a single glance” Ethelred merely accepted that this was a proper look for a creature from an entirely different world. Hyp could sense this straight away, and was from that day on Ethelred’s greatest benefactor and closest confidant, as well as his Guild Mentor.
“How are you progressing on your masterpiece young Ethelred? asked Hyp. “One would hope that you are not unready!” (For the thousandth time in his young life, Ethelred smiled in stoic acceptance of the humorous reference to his ancient royal namesake, “Æthelred The Unready” while Hyp’s hair fingers exploded rapidly in a frenetic variation of the “mirth-wave.”)
Using words from one of Hyp’s own lectures, Ethelred began “Masters, here now is my advice; render something both artful and practical as your masterpiece.”
“Therefore,” Ethelred continued, “I have chosen to create a scale design of a defensive right-turning helix staircase to be used in the castle.”
“Excellent!” said Hyp as his follicle-like digits waved merrily across his scabby mottled head.
“With such a design, a defender could run down the stairs with his sword arm free to move about while an attacker would be pressed against the newel wall thus restricting his movements and giving the advantage to the castle defenders,” concluded Ethelred.
“Brilliant!” said Hyp as his hair fingers seemed to be trying to form themselves into an ironing board-type of shape while quivering frantically. “I am most confident that the Masters will accept your work and welcome you into their fold.”
“Not everyone will welcome me, I’m afraid,” said Ethelred.
“Oh, and who, pray tell, would not welcome a bright light such as you?”
“That damned Yates Lufeless,” said Ethelred.
“Ah, your beloved fellow Masonic Brother.”
“Not much to love with Lufeless Mr. Zoon-ee,” said Ethelred. “The man is infuriating! He seems to be talented, and I believe he may be brilliant, but a more socially awkward soul has never graced Our Lord’s good Earth. A grunt is all he favors one with as he passes us all by on the worksite each day with his nose high in the air. Yates fancies himself better than we mere mortals and declares himself to be the rightful next addition to the ranks of Master. And if it ended there, all well and good, but the man is out to destroy me! Everything that I can accomplish, he finds a way to either diminish in the eyes of the Masters, or to undermine–he is insufferably jealous of all that I do.”
“Sounds as if young Yates is your Nbynk,” said Hyp.
“My what?” asked Ethelred.
“We are all interconnected young Ethelred,” said Hyp. “All of us are made up of incredibly small particles that themselves consist of even smaller particles. On and on goes these regressions of size until we reach the sentient strings of energy fiber that connect us all. My people have learned to harness this string energy and use it to open the doors between Here-n-Now where our universe exists and That where you and I are now speaking. Indeed, the race we call Urisk-Zest and you call fairies can tap into this infinitesimal world at any time. I firmly believe that one day your people will learn to understand String-Foundation as well.”
“What do strings and fairies have to do with the vile troll that is Mr. Lufeless?” asked Ethelred.
“Ha!” said Hyp as his finger hair performed an extraordinary happy-dance. “Young Yates is hardly an Urisk-Grundy, or as you say: troll.
“How many races of Urisk are there?” marveled Ethelred.
“It is said that there are as many different kinds of Urisk as there are Strings in the Foundation,” said Hyp.
“But what of this Nub-Yunk business?”
“Simply put, young Ethelred, a Nbynk is your mirror-teacher–a soul that we all encounter at important points in our lives who will teach us some of our most important lessons. It is, by nature, extremely difficult to learn from a Nbynk because it is the natural way of things to be repulsed by all that we perceive as evil or abnormal. A soul’s Nbynk is quite often one’s opposite in all subjective life-preferences, and more often than not, a Nbynk can be a real threat to their student’s way of life.”
“You describe Lufeless perfectly Mr. Zoon-ee.”
“Your challenge young one, is to find out why your Nbynk is the way he is, to pity his plight, to understand him fully, and then to love him truthfully and completely. Such a resolution usually takes an extraordinary act of purely honest selflessness to achieve. Anything less than this will waste a great opportunity for growth.”
“Or I could kick him boldly in his meager man parts and follow that up with a knee to his sanctimonious visage,” said Ethelred.
“Or you could do that.” replied Hyp while his hair-fingers seemed to be anxiously discussing something with each other.
As was their tradition, the Masons or as they were called collectively “the lodge” would meet as a group at the end of every workday on the western side of the worksite where the stones of their shelter would be warmed during the daylight hours. As the site of the new castle at Dover was only in the early stages, such a “lodge house” had yet to be built, so for now they all gathered around a cook-fire to take their meals. In truth, Ethelred preferred this. There was something mystical and wonderful about a fire made in the out-of-doors that had always fascinated him. Perhaps it was the way that sap in the logs would pop causing sparks to fly into the air and seemingly mix with the stars themselves that he loved. Or maybe the contemplative state that one achieves staring in reflection at the murmuring shades of red and orange that dance about the coals that form underneath the flames. Sometimes, his fascination would be inspired by the collective music produced when the crackling of the fire harmonized with the intermittent tinkling sounds that the occasional fairy (or Urisk-Zest as Hyp would say) would make as it playfully winked in and out of existence batting the star-sparks out of the air.
On this particular evening, he noticed a very unusual fairy, however. Usually a bit on the oafish side and quite male looking, this particular Urisk-Zest was undoubtedly female. Her skin was of an iridescent rainbow hue that reflected the fire in an explosion of sparkling colors. As she batted playfully at the star-sparks, her long blond hair followed her movements just a space behind the beat in much the same way as the tail of a kite. Her glances towards Ethelred as he sat hypnotized by the fire seemed personal and captivating in a very pleasing manner.
“What a delight!”
Into the midst of this happy cook fire reverie strode the notorious Yates Lufeless himself, he of recent Nbynk fame. Feeling nothing but irritation at the fairy display, Yates lashed out to swat the female Urisk-Zest as if it were a bothersome insect. Caught completely unaware, the fairy plummeted into the fire itself and instantly flew straight up into the air obviously injured and winked out of existence.
“Mason,” Yates said to Ethelred, “Shouldn’t you be working on your masterpiece rather than staring blankly into the fire as if it will magically take care of your responsibilities for you?”
Sickened by Yates’ heartless and casual attempt at murder with the fairy, Ethelred was instantly plunged into a barely controlled state of rage. “Ah, our good friend Yates,” Ethelred said between clenched teeth. “How nice of you to favor us with a full-blown and intelligently constructed sentence rather than your customary primordial grunt.”
This brought a hardy round of appreciative chuckles from the other masons seated about the fire.
“Such a sharp tongue for such a dull mind,” said Yates. “For your illumination, I am near completion of my masterpiece and will no doubt be a Master myself within the month. I, for one, take my work and this craft seriously. As should you Ethelred.”
Ethelred jumped to his feet at this affront to his dignity and instantly felt himself careening into extreme thoughts of violence.
Seeing the look of anger in Ethelred’s eyes, Yates triumphantly began: “Wouldst Thou strike me Ethelred? Behold the young mason Oh Lodge…not willing to work for advancement, Ethelred is more than willing to incite violence to deter others who are in the midst of honest endeavor. Think twice, all ye present, before inviting such a one as Ethelred Mason to advance to the highest ranks of this fellowship.”
With a grotesque and strangely unnatural smug look on his face, Yates turned around with a flourish and walked away from the fire. Ethelred, realizing the trap he had so boldly walked into, plopped down in defeat.
“Pay him no mind,” said Geoffrey Williams, a fellow journeyman and member of the present cook fire company. “I’ve known Yates since we were both wee lads and he has always been this way. There’s more than meets the eye to young Lufeless.”
Barely noticing the kind and intriguing words of support from Geoffrey, Ethelred was still in a dark place.
“How easy it is,” he mused, “to let one’s basest primal instincts prevail. How effortless it would have been for me to pummel Yates senseless with my bare hands just then.”
In his heart-of-hearts Ethelred knew how wonderful such a primitive course of action would feel, for in the depths of his soul-well lurked the murderous monster that lives in all men’s hearts. Revenge, hate, anger, brutality, the entire repertoire of the original animal forever paces the uneasy gates of every mind.
“Let me lose,” it croons, “for I will make you manly–I will consummate your righteous fury in a celebration of blood that will be put to song and memorialized for generations to come!”
“…how easy…how very easy it is to be evil in the final analysis–and yet…what was it that Master Zoon-ee had said about the Nub-Yunk?”
“Geoffrey,” Ethelred said as he returned to reality, “what was it that you were saying about knowing Lufeless for many years?”
“I grew up in the same village as that unfortunate soul.” said Geoffrey.
“Unfortunate soul!” exclaimed Ethelred. “Rather the rest of us who must suffer his foolishness on a daily basis be thought of as unfortunate.”
“Perhaps, replied Geoffrey, but hear me out. “Yates’ childhood fate is a sad tale that happens all too often these days. His mother died in childbirth and his father blamed him for her death. Raising Yates as his personal slave, Thomas Lufeless beat the boy mercilessly telling him to remain silent at all times in his presence. In truth, I never heard Yates speak at all until our thirteenth year. By that time, I realized that he suffered under some sort of demonic disorder that had been compounded or perhaps even created by his grief-blinded father.”
“Demonic disorder?” asked Ethelred.
“Aye. Yates is as bright and intelligent as the day is long, but simply does not fit in with the human race. He is painfully introverted and has been given the “loving paternal gift” of profound insecurity on top of that. And along with all of this, the demons restrict him to a level of social understanding as is possessed by a toad or a mossy stone.”
“Well said my friend,” commented Ethelred with the beginnings of a smile.
“I’m afraid you misunderstand me Mason,” replied Geoffrey. “To the rest of us in the outside world, Yates seems to be haughty, indifferent, ill-mannered, short-tempered and a generally well-rounded awful sort.”
“Hear, hear!” said many who were still at the fire.
“Be that as it may my friends, Geoffrey continued, “in truth Yates is a pitiful lost soul–a very intelligent and talented person without the ability to relate to the world. Doomed forever to be shunned, hated and reviled; kept in constant befuddlement by a legion of demons. Let us attend to the logs in our own eyes as our Lord and Savior would admonish us to do, and leave the splinter in poor Yates’ eyes alone.”
“You’ve missed your calling!” commented another cook-fire Lodge member. “You would have made a first-rate priest.”
“Alas, replied Geoffrey, I have a deep liking for the female of our kind.”
With this, the discussion fell into the typically bawdy fare of an evening repast, leaving Ethelred alone with his thoughts of all that “Father Geoffrey” had said.
Yates Lufeless was indeed working on his masterpiece. Actually, he had stolen the idea from a discussion he had overheard between Maurice The Builder and King Henry’s son Richard, already known as “The Lionheart.” Young Richard, only seven years from ascending to the throne himself, had just returned from France where the royal family spent most of their time.
“I was recently made aware of a new building technique called the arc-boutant, are you aware of it?” asked Prince Richard.
“I have heard some talk of it My Lord,” replied Maurice. “There is an abbey of the Burgundian order in Cluny that I believe uses something like that as a support innovation.”
“Yes, one and the same,” replied Richard. “I have also heard that the new cathedral in Paris is using the arc-boutant to achieve amazing heights of construction. Do you know how this works? I wonder if we might use it in one of our projects.”
“Alas, I have no working models My Lord,” replied Maurice.
“Perhaps after some more research we can look into it.”
Lufeless was hooked. If he could learn how this arc-boutant technique worked and then fashion a scale model, he would be guaranteed Master status! But how would he learn this new method if even Maurice did not have the knowledge? Hyp Zoon-ee! He would consult the dreadful Urisk beast and learn the secret of this technique.
Spending time with the abomination that the Guild called Chief Mentor or Master was ultimately worth it, because Hyp had given Lufeless the knowledge he needed to get to work, or at least just enough to cause him grief. The Urisk Zoon-ee called this wonder of stone a flying buttress. But how maddening! How could such a spindly, thin structure hold up a wall whose stress points pushed out? Try as he might, Yates could not perfect his model.
The challenge began with his choice of the pointed archway as the heart of the piece. Due to the ingenious placement of stones, the pointed archway sent all of its stress out and down and therefore could be built thinner than the bulky standard rounded arch. This was an advantage in the new so-called “opus Francigenum” (French work) or Gothic art of modern cathedral building, which was just coming into vogue. Allowing an incredible amount of room for glass and therefore stunning amounts of light, the arc-boutant and the pointed arch were the heart and soul of Gothic construction.
However, such arches had a bad habit of stressing their neighboring walls and columns. Lufeless reasoned that this flying buttress concept might alleviate the flaw. But each time he placed his arc-boutant, the standing arch ultimately collapsed. Knowing that the hateful Ethelred was no doubt nearing the completion of his piece, Yates worked feverishly day-after-day in the hopes of solving the stress riddle. How his father would have loved this conundrum!
“You’re wasting your time boy!” the deceased monster would have enjoyed saying. “With a mind as dull as yours, you’d be lucky to keep a job as a dung sweeper rather than indulging the ill-advised farce of Master Mason.”
And so, Yates carried on–if only to spite his damned father whom he pleasantly hoped burned in Hell’s eternal fire.
The day after the cook fire episode, Ethelred had a bad taste about the whole thing in his mouth.
“Perhaps I should go to Yates’ shop in town and speak with him,” he thought.
Being the Sabbath, no work was scheduled, so Ethelred decided to walk over to Yates’ Stone Masonry in Dover.
It was part of being a journeyman to establish one’s own business while belonging to the Guild proper. As Yates’ shop could hardly qualify as anything more than a hopeful wish wrapped up in a optimistic dream, the building itself served not so much as a thriving business as a place to live during the construction of the castle. A dreary little abode lost in a community of equally cheerless small hovels on Market Street (a more proper name would have been “Stench Alley”), Yates’ Stone Masonry was devoid of any occupants when Ethelred arrived that morning.
“Lufeless must be attending Mass,” mused Ethelred with more than a tinge of guilt at sleeping in that day.
Seeing that the door to Yates’ Stone Masonry was not only unbarred, but also standing ajar, Ethelred cautiously leaned in.
“Yates, are you here?” he called.
Hearing no answer after multiple attempts, he stepped inside. The interior of Yates’ shop was cold and spartan to say the least. With an array of stone works in various stages of completion and a few practical sticks of furnishings–all arranged in an obsessively neat pattern on a meticulously swept dirt floor, the antiseptic scene before Ethelred appeared neither inviting nor homey in any way.
Indeed, the sad little display in Yates’ place of business seemed to shout: “Behold, I am lonely, and no manner of lavish orderliness will help me.”
In the midst of this “museum of the forlorn Nbynk” however, one item was conspicuously dominant.
“This must be Lufeless’ masterpiece,” thought Ethelred.
And indeed it was. Standing in the center of the room was a pointed archway some three feet in height with peculiar curved braces on either side. As Ethelred watched, a troupe of fairies winked into existence on the very top of the archway and began moving into a comical formation one on top of the other, as a group of performing athletes would do at a tournament. Laying their wings flat and bending into shapes that were humorous to the extreme in their design, the Urisk-Zest troupe made an arch of their own on the highest point of Yates’ piece. Suddenly, a female fairy winked into existence and stood proudly on the shoulders of her topmost colleague. One of her beautiful legs was wrapped in a glittering cloth of some fantastical Uriskian type, and was obviously a dressing for a wound. Ethelred was sure that he was staring into the eyes of what was no doubt the same hypnotic she-fairy he had seen Lufeless swat into the cook fire!
While he watched in complete fascination, the lovely fairy began to jump up and down on the troupe formation. At each jump, Ethelred noticed that one stone on each side of the archway began to tilt out and away from the arch formation itself. The twin flaws became more and more apparent until the entire piece collapsed gracefully with the outer lengths falling outward and the upper regions collapsing in upon itself. The fairy troupe flew instantly into the air tinkling in delight and then winked out of That and into Here-n-Now. Hanging back from the rest of her company, the female fairy flew straight over to Ethelred and up close to his face.
Keeping completely still, Ethelred looked deep into her eyes and felt…joy? Mischief? Lust? As he thought about it later, he decided that it was all of these emotions all at once, felt in the extreme just as the she-Urisk popped out of our world and into her own.
Shaking off the bewitching stare of the girl-fairy, Ethelred began to consider his situation. “I am standing alone in Yates’ home in front of his collapsed masterpiece…if found, I could say: I am innocent! A group of fairies appeared and their female leader jumped up and down until the whole thing collapsed… and of course not a single soul would believe this story–especially not my Nbynk; Yates Lufeless.”
So right then-and-there, he decided to rebuild the piece…and quickly! Two points worked in his favor: the arch had fallen into a convenient pile that suggested its rebuilding and Ethelred was blessed with a near perfect photographic memory. As he worked, he admired Yates’ level of craftsmanship in spite of himself. Each block fit perfectly against its neighbor and required no mortar or binding agent of any kind. The flaw in his design as Ethelred saw it, was that his remarkable “flying arches” had been placed too high. To remedy this, Ethelred removed a stones from each side of the straight portions of the braces. The resulting placement was amazingly strong and secure. Testing his workmanship himself by pushing on the top of the arch where the fairies had last conducted their successful demolition mission, Ethelred was satisfied that he had not only reconstructed Yates’ model, but also improved upon the original. Setting the now superfluous stones into the corner of the room amongst a tidy pile of unused materials, Ethelred left.
As he walked hurriedly away (Mass would now be nearly over) young Ethelred Mason resolved to wait a while before submitting his defensive right-turning helix staircase.
“I suppose Yates’ could use some good news and glory in his life after all.” he thought.
Yates presented his flying buttress-enhanced pointed arch model to the Master Masons and Maurice The Builder the following week. Celebrated as an “English Genius” Yates was welcomed unanimously as the Guild’s newest Master. Having no idea at all why his piece worked now after all those times where it had mysteriously collapsed, Lufeless chalked it up to an intervention of The Almighty and happily accepted his promotion and newfound fame.
Ethelred spoke about it one last time to Hyp Zoon-ee.
“…and that, Mr. Zoon-ee is my story,” said Ethelred.
“I believe that you Sir, have learned a great lesson from your Nbynk,” replied Hyp, “and have become the true Master while Mr. Lufeless has many more miles yet to go.”
“I must admit, it feels very good at an extremely deep level to have weathered the storm of my own emotions and to have come out at the other end a better person,” said Ethelred.
“You are very wise my friend,” said Hyp as his hair fingers seemed to be marching haughtily across his mottled head. “Of all the humans I have met over the decades, you have impressed me the most. What will you do now?”
“I think I will help build a castle,” said Ethelred as he took one of Hyp Zoon-ee’s undulating eight-finger hands into his and gave it a good shake.
As evening fell on the day of Yates’ ceremony, there came a ground fog across the glen that led to the famous cliffs of Dover. It was Ethelred’s habit of an evening to stroll over to the edge of the cliffs and ruminate upon the amazing view of the Channel. Tonight was especially stunning as the ground fog made it seem as though one was walking upon the clouds themselves. There was also a nip in the air as a slight breeze carried the first crisp hints of autumn into play. As he gazed out over the vast waters between England and Normandy far below, Ethelred was captivated by the fragile beauty of the stars, all the more brighter because of the chilly air, and the moon itself which spilled its light out onto the Channel like paint from a brush that touches a watercolor wash.
At the edge of the cliff something that gave off a light of its own was dancing about in the night air. Intrigued, Ethelred walked over to get a closer look. It was the she-fairy! Just out of reach, darting through the air and giving off a phosphorus-like glow like some kind of multi-colored firefly. All at once, she turned her back to him and seemed to be undoing the front of her gown! As he watched, she coyly looked over her shoulder, then buttoned it back up spun around and flew closer to him, only to repeat the lusty dance again. Wanting to get a closer look at this strangely intoxicating carnal display Ethelred, with ground fog up to his ankles, walked even closer. The fairy turned her back to him again and dropped her gown off completely revealing a very shapely rainbow-hued naked back. As she looked over her shoulder once again, she slowly began to turn, her arms innocently covering her breasts and seemed to be beckoning to Ethelred to come even closer. As he happily obliged and took one more step, Ethelred realized too late that he had actually stepped off the edge of the cliff itself and was thrown forward into the abyss one hundred and six meters above the sharp rocks below. As he began to fall, he looked up and saw the Urisk-Zest laughing at him and making crystal-like tinkling sounds.
As the old joke goes, the easy part is the fall itself. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for him to cover the distance to the rocky shore below.
As he was falling, he found himself thinking of silly things:
“Who will feed my dog?”
“I haven’t eaten dinner yet! “
He also thought of tragically sad things:
“I have yet to really fall in love.”
“I will never have children.”
And he also thought of his entire life:
“My brother John, I loved him so. I miss my mother and father, I shouldn’t have shot our neighbor’s cat with that crossbow…did William cheat at our last game of knucklebones…”
Suddenly, in mid-thought, there was a split second of searing pain as Ethelred’s body smashed onto the rocks and his head exploded against a tall boulder. Light flashed everywhere and sound suddenly took on other characteristics such as length and width and depth. A tunnel appeared with a fantastic bright light at the end. Ethelred could sense the presence of his long-lost family, his Nana and Grand Da, his parents, brother John! And also present and somehow known were an enormous army of Masons from time immemorial. His vision was becoming something… else. He sensed rather than saw with his eyes. He could tell that he was still falling, and he could feel himself getting smaller, infinitely smaller, passing through all understanding of size, becoming so very small that he soon began to feel huge! Ethelred could sense himself expanding as he neared the light. The illumination itself was joy as pure and right as anything he had ever known. Suddenly, Ethelred passed through the end of the tunnel and spread out among the strings that connect everything that is.
He had given up his opportunity to reach the highest levels of his craft but that day, Ethelred Mason became one with the threads that make up the tapestry of all. Heaven—life after death; the energy that would one day fuel Earth’s entire civilization.
Ethelred knew this was good and was well pleased.
Upon learning of the sad news of his friend’s death, Hyp Zoon-ee announced to the Lodge that Ethelred had himself been working on a masterpiece as well. Hyp presented it to the Master Masons and deemed it worthy of acceptance. Not only did Ethelred receive a unanimous vote as Posthumous Master Mason (In the ledger of the unanimous was the vote of one Master Lufeless.), but his defensive right-turning helix staircase was adopted into the construction of Dover castle, proved itself to be an ingenious defense mechanism time-and-time-again throughout the years, and remains a popular part of the castle to this very day.
How could Ethelred know that Yates Lufeless was living with a condition that hundreds of years later would be called Asperger Syndrome? He could not know such a thing. Hyp Zoon-ee knew, (although he used the Uriskian term Tymswat Gwee to describe this disorder) but realized that letting Ethelred think of it as being caused by “demons” would suffice for the times in which they lived.
And so, the universe is at it should be. People learn from their Nbynks if they keep their minds open and their hearts receptive to growth. The human race progresses, and somewhere deep down in the center of us all, Ethelred Mason waits happily for his time to power a stringer ship into the very cosmos itself.
Concerto For Folded Space Liner Notes
At exactly 82:15:35.7 on Kpypsday: 5578, the long range Ibeyan explorer mini-stringer Discon lost contact with Rahston somewhere over the dessert zone of New Rahston that the local aborigines call “Roswell.” The loss of signal with the home planet was of course devastating as all of their onboard bio-tech suite was completely reliant on the Ibeyan mother world’s umbilical beam.
“Byrp Fllyk!” shouted Kryd Sln. “We just lost our connection with Rahston.
“Impossible!” answered Krndyk Fllyk. “Do you hear what the bio-tech suite is thinking?”
“The suite is….dead Byrp Fllyk.” said Evlyn Glyb.
“That too is impossible.” cried Krndyk (Byrp) Fllyk. “No bio-tech suite has expired in the history of the Modern Era! Please re-establish bio-tech communications.” Even as he relayed this order Krndyk Fllyk could feel deep in his soul that what Evlyn had said was true. There was a great sadness and emptiness present now in the Discon that had never been there before.
“I’m….I’m sorry Byrp.” said Evlyn as she choked back tears of shock. “The suite is really and truly dead.”
As Science Coordinator of the Discon, Krndyk Fllyk contemplated this totally unprecedented event, the ship suddenly lurched forward at an impossible angle sending the three of them flying through the air. Kryd Sln died instantly as his forehead burst when it was impaled against the now useless bio-tech access cone, while Evlyn was thrown directly into the command console chair as Krndyk Fllyk slammed against the hull.
“I can’t correct our descent Byrp Fllyk!” shouted Evlyn. “I estimate contact with New Rahston in seventeen bromee…”
As the Discon slammed into the hard earth of Roswell, New Mexico, the entire top front of the hull ripped open throwing Krndyk Fllyk clear of the ship as it began to roll uncontrollably across the ground. A trail of fire from the rapid fall through the atmosphere blackened the desert for the full seven hundred yards of the crash path as pieces of the interior of the vessel littered the landscape. When the ship finally came to rest, it’s stringer nucleus exploded in a directional release of energy that shot straight into the sky with a ferocious sonic boom that cut a huge hole in a cloud overhead.
Fllyk struggled to his feet and staggered over to the wreckage hoping against hope that Evlyn Glyb had somehow survived. The Discon’s final position was upside down, with Kryd Sln hanging gruesomely from the bio-tech access cone and the charred remains of Evlyn Glyb lying next to the ship in the full brightness of the harsh New Rahston sun.
Fllyk fell to his knees next to the blackened body of Evlyn. His last thought before losing consciousness was:
“Evlyn, my love. Only one Cyrdsday before our Joining and this heinous ball of rock has claimed your Soul. My love, how am I to continue life, my dear…dear…”
The lone survivor of the Discon awoke to a nightmare finding himself wrapped in irritating material of some primitive make and strapped in a tight painfully restricted manner to a flat surface while being carried very quickly across the ground by New Rahston aborigines. Staring at him with their ghoulish tiny fur-covered heads mounted atop the floppy stalks on the crests of their frail bodies, the aborigines looked like Blue-Madwrglrs more than true sentient beings. And the sounds that issued forth from their access ports were hideous! Until this moment, Fllyk had written off the descriptions of the aboriginal “languages” of New Rahston as xenophobic hyperbole–no longer! Such grunts, chirps, belches and other assorted offensive noises as he had never heard! What vile creatures. It was a relief to once again lose consciousness.
This time upon returning to the land of the living, Fllyk was greeted by impossibly bright lights that exploded into his eyes. As his inner lids snapped shut to fend off the worst of the effects, he noticed two aborigines sitting on metallic chairs on either side of him. They were both chirping and belching at him wildly making it very difficult to hear what they were thinking. All he was able to pick up was that the male was named approximately “Man Tmm” and the female was “Woman Krsty.” The aboriginal mind was totally chaotic and virtually impossible to understand. Each thought was riddled with extreme emotion piled upon layers of insecurity and guilt mixed with what only can be described as a “lonely” feeling of universal superiority. What audacious creatures! Even at their profound level of primitive ignorance and in the midst of their belief at being alone in the universe, they were convinced at an almost instinctive level that they were created in the image of The Love Supreme! This was the closest that Krndyk Fllyk had ever come to a personal experience with blasphemy. He did not like it and instantly shut down, stopped listening and drew within himself falling into Plyk-Str–the deepest state of inner peace.
When Fllyk returned to consciousness, the lights had happily been turned off and he was alone in the room. The area was completely stark, no furnishings but the two metal chairs, and a flat low structure covered by the same irritating material he had been wrapped in as he was brought to this strange place. “Evlyn” he thought with great, almost unbearable pain. The unshakeable image of her once perfect body now soulless, burned and peeling in the horrid New Rahston sunlight simply broke his hearts.
Looking to his right, Krndyk Fllyk saw that the aborigines had inserted a primitive metal tube into his arm, essentially turning his vein into a crude access port. Connected to the tube via an artificial hose of some sort was a vile of clear fluid, timed to drip the liquid slowly into his body. Experiencing a momentary twinge of respect at the primitive’s ingenuity, he carefully removed the contraption and began a healing Plyk-Plyd stretch.
In the corner of the simple room that made up the extent of his surroundings, there was one other item. A small square device of some primeval nature, most likely a rudimentary communication node. Fllyk had heard that the aborigines had fashioned basic amplification devices that converted their offensive sounds into simple radio waves. These same signals had first been received as they intersected with an umbilical beam from Rahston, alerting them all of the aboriginal existence on their chosen colony world.
The little Ibeyan pondered all of these things in his hearts as he went back to his lone piece of furnishings and began his second rest-cycle of the day.
When Krndyk Fllyk left his second sleep-cycle and began to move into the waking Plyk-Phoon contemplations that fuel each new day, he was once again greeted by outrageously bright and physically invasive artificial lights. He could not only see the primitive artificial illumination, but could hear it as well as the heated filaments spat and sputtered their wasteful electric current.
Suddenly, Man Tmm and a new aborigine that Krndyk Fllyk heard was called Dktr Mks, appeared out of the painful lighting and began burping, chirping, screeching, and scratching at a painful level within one bromeen of his face!
“Croak, blat, splat, simmer, tweet, scream, wail, belch!” they seemed to be saying loudly.
“I cannot hear what you are thinking because of the hideous sounds issuing from your access ports!” Krndyk Fllyk thought as loudly as he could. “Please, terminate your sonic expulsions and think with me!”
To this, Man Tmm and Dktr Mks seemed to redouble their sickening efforts:
“Skwall, hurl, flack, hack, belch, snort, hock, wheeze, sling, moan, kree, squawk, burp, rattle!”
Fllyk could feel himself falling into Plyk-Str but resisted as too much Plyk-Str can cause one to become addled and light headed.
“Are you somehow trying to communicate with me with your horrid noises?” he asked. “Is this the “language” of New Rahston aborigines that I have heard of? Please try to think instead….please...please discontinue your sonic expulsions!”
“BRAP?…PAKKA BURP?” Man Tmm appeared to be asking Dktr Mkks.
“Yes, this was most assuredly a language!” Fllyk thought. “Fantastic! Using some kind of resonant internal organ to produce sounds that are used as communication! How wasteful.”
Returning their attention to Krndyk Fllyk, the aboriginal duo resumed their virtuoso display of nonsense at an even more fevered pitch:
“Pop, sizzle, scrape, scrape, retch, hurl, vomit, sneeze, explode, cough, belch, belch, BELCH!”
Plyk-Str could no longer be denied.
The horror of these interviews continued for many more sleep cycles, with no improvement at all. The aborigines squawked and belched and refused to think. Krndyk Fllyk had no success whatsoever in getting to the whirlwind of mental flotsam that lay hidden behind the audible barrage of filth that these primitive people used for communication.
Occasionally Dktr Mkks, assisted by variations of other aboriginals, would conduct physical examinations. Reminding him of the child fright-stories of his youth, these primitive medical explorations at his expense were tantamount to torture. As the Grand Tdd once said:
“What does not rob us of life only strengthens our will to live.”
During one particularly grueling session of primeval medicinal buffoonery, Krndyk Fllyk went into a fit of such pain that he screamed a pure bolt of shove-thought into the little room. A thing normally under the complete control of all Ibeyan as they mature, shove-thought can cause great damage if unleashed, as well as embarrassment and even disgrace to the unfortunate Ibeyan releasing it. In this case, the shove sent Dktr Mkks and his assistants flying across the room and into the wall on the other side destroying their brutish equipment in the process (the destruction of said instruments of torture were not mourned by Krndyk Fllyk) After a spectacular round of belches, burps, wheezing, and generally ill-mannered audio-babble, the aborigines left the room for another sleep cycle.
Rising form his cycle pleasantly this time to a darkened room, Krndyk Fllyk was able to go through the complete waking Plyk-Phoon contemplations as well as the celebrations for The Love Supreme. Feeling moderately Ibeyan for the first time in quite a while, he stood up from his one piece of furniture and performed the five healing Plyk-Plyd stretches known as Tyd-pa, Slyd-ko, Mnk-ra, Tyd-po and Ryd-ga.
As the alien dawn light from the New Rahston sun began to illuminate his small space, Fllyk was once again intrigued by the only other thing in the room (besides the harsh aborigine chairs), the communication node. A quaint construction that showed some level of craftsmanship, the device was made of New Rahston vegetable matter, stained with some kind of natural pigment and boasted a front covered by a fine weave of some other kind of natural filament. At its base in the front were a series of control nubs that seemed to adjust by rotation. Comically primitive in design, but not completely lacking in aesthetic pleasure.
In the midst of his consideration of the aboriginal communication node, an entrance to his room opened to reveal Woman Krsty. She began to chirp and whistle in a very high staccato manner that was somewhat less offensive than any other aboriginal sound Krndyk Fllyk had yet heard, but even so it tended to bring him to a point of near-nausea.
“If these creatures would just open their minds and listen!” He thought with great frustration.
During this display of upper register primitive cacophony, Woman Krsty walked over to the communication node and began to manipulate the nubs on its exterior. Suddenly, an artificial male aboriginal cascade of belches, blurps and animalistic expulsions issued forth in a particularly irritating manner.
“This madness is too much to bear” Fllyk thought as he considered a return to Plyk-Str.
In the midst of this deepening despair however, Krndyk Fllyk was given a respite in the form of a miraculous event. As Woman Krsty sat on her metallic chair chirping, wailing and belching–recognizable words began to come from the communication node! At first, he thought he was imagining it, but then…yes! Understandable words!
“To all brown run blue blue snap fit conglomerate”
This phrase repeated and was followed by:
“Bring bring bring flop from there bring bring bring.”
Springing to his feet, Fllyk ran to the communication node to listen more closely. Woman Krsty instantly stopped her nonsensical chatter and stared.
“To all brown run blue blue snap fit conglomerate”
Krndyk Fllyk looked at Woman Krsty and then back at the communication node and then back at Woman Krsty frantically trying to let the aborigine know that this was special.
“Bring bring bring flop from there bring bring bring.”
“To all brown run blue blue snap fit conglomerate”
“Can you not hear?” Can you not tell that your communication node is speaking?”
Woman Krsty rose to her feet as well and approached Krndyk Fllyk. Making aboriginal noises that were a little less harsh than usual, she knelt down by the node and looked into his eyes with what he felt must have been compassion.
Suddenly, Man Tmm burst into the room waving his arms in the air spewing forth a spectacular array of New Rahston aboriginal projectile gibberish! Krndyk Fllyk put his hands over his ear ports and dropped to the floor, curled into a fetal position and instantly went into Plyk-Str.
Returning from the state of inner peace, Krndyk Fllyk found himself on the flat surface once again swaddled in the scratchy, rough-hewn fabric of the primitives. Sitting up slowly, he noticed that there were three figures in the room with him: Woman Krsty, Man Tmm and a new aborigine with dark flesh tone who carried some kind of curved implement. Not knowing what else to do, Fllyk listened and hoped.
After some seemingly cursory opening belches and nasty clipped spittle-noises from Man Tmm, the dark flesh aborigine put one end of the curved implement into his facial access port. What happened next changed Krndyk Fllyk forever and opened the floodgates towards Ibeyan-aborigine communications. The dark-flesh creature began to speak with the implement! Here was the random phrase again:
“To all brown run blue blue snap fit conglomerate” followed by something new: “My feet passeth all undertanding with pellets of gold, Oh yay Oh yay Oh yay meet me in St. Louis.”
Krndyk Fllyk was mesmerized!
The day that the dark-flesh aboriginie (whom Fllyk later learned was named Man Brd) began speaking through his curvy implement, communications between Krndyk Fllyk and the New Rahston aborigines grew exponentially. In the multiple sleep cycles that came to pass, Fllyk was able to speak with Man Brd first via his curved speaking device and then ultimately through his mind. He was fascinated with the mind of Man Brd! Here was an aborigine whose soul was perfect, a being who was directly connected to the humor and truth that is The Love Supreme. So very different from the befuddled and cluttered maelstroms of conflicting emotions that make up the thought patterns of typical New Rahston aborigines. And yet, Man Brd seemed to be completely subservient to the belching, spitting, coughing lesser beings that intruded upon Krndyk Fllyk’s room with such regularity.
It would take many, many brommesans to understand this muddled backwards society.
With the help of Man Brd and his amazing curved communication device, Fllyk was able to teach Woman Krsty and even Man Tmm how to speak with their minds. He taught them much about the ways of the Ibeyan as well as life on his mother world of Rahston. As the Ibeyan were unfamiliar with the aboriginal trait of telling falsehoods, Krndyk Fllyk also taught Woman Krsty and Man Tmm about the Ibeyan plan to colonize New Rahston and to educate the aborigines while giving them the honor of becoming Ibeyan worker-drudges.
Krndyk Fllyk never discovered why the umbilical beam with Rahston was cut off that critical day over New Mexico. Even now, in 5633, the beam has not resumed. Krndyk Fllyk’s soul passed on to the string life on Spyksday, 5624. Surely he is now finally joined with his beloved Evlyn Glyb.
Fllyk was replaced as an Ibeyan ambassador to the council of aborigines known as MJ-12 by Brp Krn who has continued an exchange of concepts, ideas and technology. True, the tech exchange is heavily weighted towards the Ibeyan giving rather than receiving, but they have learned a bit about the craft of working New Rahston vegetable fiber into quaint furnishings.
The majority of the Ibeyan who were in the vicinity of New Rahston when the Discon went down were trapped at the aboriginal observation base on Luna. They have been quietly observing aborigine advancements ever since. A small group of other Ibeyan ships were thankfully on the ground when the beam went out and their crews have gone into hiding in the deep woods of the area in New Rahston known as “The Ozark Mountains.” The new ambassador, Brp Krn comes from their number.
At present, plans have been terminated to colonize New Rahston, but if productive communications with the aborigines can continue, perhaps the two races will work together to find a way to restore communications with Rahston so that the surviving Ibeyan can reunite with the mother world. And who knows? Under the guidance of Brp Krn and other Ibeyan, perhaps the aborigines will learn to live in peace and share New Rahston–from a distance preferably…the primitive folk of this world still insist on communicating mostly with their sonic expulsions …which can only be described as disgusting!
How could Krndyk Fllyk know that the dark-fleshed aborigine who spoke with the curved implement was Earth’s jazz legend Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, and that the device was actually a musical instrument called the alto saxophone? Of course, he could not know this. MJ-12 Communications Director Christy Wilson had brought the great artist to Area 51 once she realized that the captured extraterrestrial was responding positively to the radio show “After Hours Swing Session with Symphony Sid” and specifically to Charlie Parker’s alto sax solos. Parker and John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie were in Los Angeles for a limited engagement and Wilson was able to convince Parker to stay behind when the band left to return to New York.
Once it was discovered that the human musical art known as “bebop” could be taught to others and used as a platform to communicate with Krndyk Fllyk, Parker stayed for a few more weeks, and then was told to leave. He was sworn to secrecy and ordered to never tell anyone of his experiences playing bebop for an EBE (Extraterrestrial Biological Entity). He was also told that if he did tell anyone, that his wife and daughter would “disappear.” Dealing with this threat along with the trauma of coming to grips with an EBE rattled Parker’s already fragile drug-devastated psyche. Charlie checked himself into Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California for a six month period, but to no avail. His secret became too great a burden and he tried to wash it away with alcohol upon his return to New York. Charlie “Bird” Parker died at the age of thirty-five in 1955.
How could Krndyk Fllyk have known this? Of course he could not. If he did, indeed he would have grieved.
But a select group of humans did learn just how much of a universal language bebop really is.
the neither zone
Dax Myerson was the happiest Tenderfoot-level Boy Scout in Skruggsville Missouri. At Monday’s meeting of Scout Troop 75.1 Dax had learned that all Tenderfoots get to join the rest of the troop for campouts in spite of their lowly rank. Such a deal! What need did Dax have for all that badge-earning crap if he could go on real-life adventures in the wilderness with his pals and fellow Tenderfoots Buddy Leafhopper and Phyl Everkleer? In fact, after Monday’s epiphany meeting, Dax, Buddy and Phyl had founded the “Good Foot Tribe.” Membership in said august organization was based solely on the fact that one held the rank of Tenderfoot and was totally cool with going no further in the hierarchy of Boy Scout badgery.
Troop 75.1 got their unusual numeric designation from the fact that Skruggsville was so small that it was currently unincorporated and therefore did not have its own school or church. 75.1 (fifteen scouts in all) was a satellite organization of Troop 75 from the teeming metropolis of Ozark (18,300 souls as of July, 2013). What troop 75.1 lacked in size however, they more than made up for in spirit, ingenuity and work ethic. But for all the awards they had won, Skruggsville’s finest were most renowned for their annual “James River Jamboree.” The Jamboree was the ultimate campout experience and was held each year on the shores of the picturesque James River in the wondrous Ozark Mountain wilderness of nearby Hootentown.
Being on one the lowest rungs of the socio-economic barometer, Dax was concerned by the fact that his family couldn’t afford a real tent. How could he join the greatest Scout troop in the world on their most famous campout day of the year without a tent! He wasn’t sure, but he suspected that Buddy and Phyl were in the same situation. So on the Wednesday before the big Friday night Jamboree, with his tent-less concern at the top of his agenda, Dax went to visit Buddy at the Leafhopper abode on the outskirts of town.
The “Happy Trails” trailer park where the Leafhoppers lived was anything but happy. A dismal collection of worn out mobile home relics from the 1960s, Happy Trails was a sad and forlorn place. Made up of mostly Native Americans of the Osage tribe, the little group of aluminum homes was a separate zone unto itself. Even the trees didn’t seem to like the place. The woods that covered virtually the entire area took a little break when it came to Happy Trails, leaving the small community alone in a dusty bowl of five acres or so dissected by rutty gravel roads. In fact, you could see the clouds of dust that the cars kicked up from about one hundred yards in any direction as they made their own less-than-happy trails through the settlement.
Buddy’s father was Tom Leafhopper, the unofficial leader of his trailer-tribe, spending his days as a salesman at Honest Bob’s Toyota and his nights as Elder Tribal Mystic. Tom had been very careful to teach his oldest son Edward “Buddy” Leafhopper to be proud of his Osage heritage and it had worked–profoundly so. Surely, Buddy was the most energetic, imaginative, and proud Native American twelve year-old on the planet.
As Dax arrived at Casa de Leafhopper, coughing up what he imagined was at least two pounds of gravel dust, he was met by a very unusual sight. Out front of the old white rusty trailer just next to the flower garden, which was doing its best to spruce up the place, was Buddy setting up what looked like an invisible tent!
“Buddy Leafhopper, DAMN what the HELL is that!” shouted Dax (The Good Foot Tribe also enjoyed curse words)
“It’s a tent SHIT-FOR-BRAINS!” answered Buddy (Buddy Leafhopper had a limited, but effective swear-word vocabulary).
It seems that Tom Leafhopper had brought home a huge roll of sheet plastic from Honest Bob’s and told his son that he should use it as material for a plastic tent. Being the ingenious offspring of the Happy Trails Tribal Mystic, Buddy went to work immediately, the results of which greeted Dax.
“For real?” asked Dax. “Naw, that won’t work dummy.” (The Good Foot Tribe still had some leftover little kid curse words as well.)
“Sure it will SHIT BRAINS,” insisted Buddy. “Check it out.”
Buddy and Dax crawled into the see-through tent-like structure and sure enough: it felt like a tent inside.
“Man, this is DAMN cool Buddy! You’re a FREAKING genius!” proclaimed Dax. (As fascinated by curse words as they were, The Good Foot Tribe had yet to gather the courage to use a full-fledged “F-Bomb.”)
“Told ya DUMB ASS,” agreed Buddy.
With this successful plastic tent innovation, and happy rapid-fire exchange of taboo word-enhanced wit, The Good Foots were officially ready for the James River Jamboree.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Leafhopper dropped off Phyl, Buddy and Dax at the James River Bridge in Hootentown. Troop 75.1 gathered with moms, pops, grampys and grammys, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters–an entire army of Skruggsville well-wishers. The plan was to put the whole Troop into flat bottom Jon boats and float on down to the site of historic Jamesville to set up camp in Smokey Valley about five hundred yards from the river itself.
“Now you boys take care and be safe,” said Tom Leafhopper. “And remember, don’t let ol’ Mossback get you in the dark of the night.”
“Aw come on’ pops,” complained Buddy. “You’re talkin’ to The Good Foot Tribe here. We ain’t afraid o’ no old squaw tales.”
“Ain’t no squaw tale son,” countered Mr. Leafhopper. “You watch out or ol’ Mossback will take you to the Neither Zone and we may never see you again!”
This playful family story never failed to piss off Buddy, but it was news to Dax and Phyl.
“The Neither Zone?” asked Phyl.
“Don’t worry about it man,” said Buddy. “Just an old story told to scare kids.”
“Be safe fellas.” said Mr. Leafhopper.
And with that, The Good Foots packed up their Jon boat that they shared with seventeen year-old Eagle Scout Robert Grundy and joined the festive flotilla of Troop 75.1 as they bobbled down the dark estuary to Smokey Valley.
The James River cuts through some of the most beautiful country in the U.S. The rolling ancient hills of the Ozark Mountain range swaddled in their mighty white oak and short leaf pine blankets make for a virtual paradise for young adventurers. At the end of October on a late afternoon such as this, the river even sent up a fog that shrouded everything in a monster movie motif that set the perfect vibe and fairly screamed adventure!
Once the Troop made landfall at the Smokey Valley lagoon the work of setting up camp began in earnest. As The Good Foots were holders of the lowliest of rank, their job was to collect firewood, dig a latrine and then pitch their tent, all of which seemed like epic fodder for adventure–young explorers carry very little jade, after all. What is menial labor to older folk is just another opportunity to discover the ever-expanding delights of the world to a twelve year old.
As night approached and the Troop got set for dinner, Eagle Scout Robert Grundy came upon Dax, Buddy and Phyl hard at work.
“You boys call that a tent?” said Robert as the Good Foots unveiled Buddy’s plastic invention. “You’re gonna freeze your ASSES off tonight!”
Looking first at the tent, and then at the patches of snow left behind by an unusual late October blizzard, Dax considered Grundy’s assessment.
“Hey JERKOFF, we know what we’re doin’,” offered Buddy. “This is a first-rate dwelling man.”
“Suit yourself STUPID,” said Robert. “You can sleep in our tent tonight when your eyeballs start to freeze. See you Tenders then.”
Dismissing such talk as jealousy, Dax Phyl and Buddy prepared for the night.
Their supplies were meticulously prepared and clandestinely acquired. Along with the perfunctory Boy Scout paraphernalia necessary to pass an inspection if needed, The Good Foots had also brought a precious cache of candy bars, chips, soda, chocolate syrup (Phyl had included the syrup for reasons known only to Phyl) and the Holy Grail for all twelve year-olds: an assortment of porn magazines. Dax really, really hoped that nobody noticed that a choice few mags from his dad’s extensive collection were missing. The boys planned to conduct a great deal of biological research in the dead of night. In a way, it was an educationally enriching course of study practically medicinal in its scope, or so The Good Foots would say if caught.
After the traditional Jamboree first supper of franks and beans (“There’ll be no sleeping tonight, unless you brought your gasmasks!” said Phyl, who was an acknowledged expert on methane expulsions.) they went into the Leafhopper invisible tent. Dax and Phyl had brought blankets (do you know how expensive sleeping bags are?) while Buddy had brought his father’s army issue down-lined bag. After the stories, gossip, biological readings and twelve year-old boy chatter (punctuated with said bean-inspired humor), sleep time arrived. Phyl, who it seemed could sleep anywhere-anytime was out instantly. Buddy, who was wrapped in the loving arms of Uncle Sam’s warmth followed quickly. Dax however, who was already starting to shiver under his all-too-thin blankets, realized that there was a problem.
During the day, their invisible tent seemed very cool indeed. After all, they could see everything outside from the inside! How neat was that? But at night, Dax realized that plastic doesn’t retain heat at all. The temperature dropped to around 25 degrees “Faren-FREAKING-heit.” Dax was beyond shivering, in his mind he imagined that Hyp othermia was starting to set in.
“I wonder if my skin is starting to darken around the edges as I slowly lose circulation,” he thought.
In Dax’s all-too-fertile imagination, tales began to form of him being found in the morning frozen solid. His family would be heartbroken to learn of his agonizing death. His mother weeping as she planned his expensive funeral, his father beside himself with anger upon finding the magazines in their tent–oh the pain sadness and shame of it all.
For what seemed like hours, Dax lay under his meager frost-tinged blankets staring up at the stars.
“Unusual how the stars become brighter the colder it gets,” he considered.
As he lay staring up into the night, hoping against hope for the first pink glimmers of dawn, a meteor streaked across the sky, seeming to thread the Milky Way. Even in his near-death from frostbite-imagined condition, Dax felt a profound sense of numinosity as he stared up at the incredibly rich celestial tapestry. In the Ozarks, especially in late fall, the stars on a clear night are heartbreakingly clear and brilliant. Tonight was such a night. Not for the first time, Dax wondered if there was such a thing as aliens.
“So many stars!” he thought, “Surely there must be aliens out there somewhere.”
As he pondered this most universal of all questions, Dax began to think, “What if on some far planet there is an alien 12 year old boy looking back at me and wondering the same thing?”
Starting to get seriously creeped out as the final shivers of Hyp othermic “death” started to set in, Dax decided he’d had enough.
“Buddy, Phyl: I’m going to Robert’s tent, I can’t take this anymore!” Instantly Phyl was awake: “Yeah man, I’m freezing, let’s go.”
As Phyl and Dax collected their meager blankets, Buddy started to wake up. “Hey, where you SHITHEADS going?”
“Too cold man, we’re going to Robert’s tent”
“It’s totally comfortable here you SHITBRAINS” said Buddy
“Maybe for you “Mr. U.S. Army WARM-ASS Sleeping Bag”, said Dax. “We’re outta here. Say hello to Mossback for us.”
With that, Buddy leaped out of his warm bag and The Frozen Foots made their way to the no doubt gloating tent of Robert Grundy, located at the corner of “I told you so” and “Hello, cold lost LOSERS”.
As the trio had pitched their failed plastic innovation on the outskirts of camp, they were about seventy yards from Robert’s abode when they heard a noise never to be forgotten. A scream that sounded like the collective wail of all the legions of the damned came flying down the pitch black north slope of the valley and was headed directly for camp. Not knowing that this was the death cry of a coyote pack as it chased down a deer, The Good Foots reasoned that Mossback himself had indeed found them and was approaching fast.
“Back to the tent!” screamed Buddy.
Dax turned and ran right into a tree stump sending him ass-over-teapot in midair. As he hit the ground with the banshee screams getting closer, part of his brain noticed that the wood chips shattered off of the stump were glowing. “What the HELL?”
Realizing that he had no time to investigate what he would later learn was phosphorus in the wood, Dax started to get back to his feet. As he did so, he became aware of a strong smell of sulfur. Thinking logically that Phyl had literally had the SHIT scared out of him (he was a methane expert after all) he thought nothing of it and prepared to resume his frantic running.
But before he could get moving again, somebody grabbed his arm, somebody really big and strong. Somebody that smelled extremely bad (like cow crap on a hot, wet muggy day in August) and was so tall that Dax couldn’t get a good look at his face before he was suddenly pulled into…well a place he had never seen before.
The scene shifted from nighttime pastoral James River valley camp to an even darker place that seemed wrong in all of the most basic primal ways. Along with the virtuoso sulfur aura that the very tall and extremely strong abductor brought with him, there was an uneasy feeling that many creatures were watching just out of range of his vision, like peripheral demons.
“Where am I” said a small frightened voice that Dax suspected was his own.
“You are neither here, nor there,” answered the sulfur giant. “Walk with me.”
In the distance, Dax could just make out Buddy and Phyl, their arms being held by similar tall creatures. Feeling his heart start to beat much too fast, Dax tried to make sense of what was happening. Have you ever stayed under Nitrous Oxide at the dentist longer than you should? Has that caused you to tumble upwards through layers of hallucinogenic pretzel logic as you tried to remember how to be alive? This comes close to what Dax felt like as he walked through this nightmare world.
“What happened to the campground, and what were those noises?” the same small voice asked. “Did I say that?”
In the far distance of the swirling blackness (or was it purple?) Dax could just make out shapes that seemed to be running, or flying. Everything seemed so wrong. Occasionally, the ground seemed to tremble and something would touch his ankle with bony fingers that seemed to have worms or hairs that wiggled on them. Looking down at his feet Dax saw what looked like black water flowing rapidly where he walked, but it felt like solid ground.
“This is some seriously weird shit,” he thought while congratulating himself for finding a way to curse in the midst of his nightmare.
After what seemed like a minute or five hours his sulfur-host said:
“What are your plans in life little one?”
Bewildered, but in a strange way starting to accept his current situation, Dax answered: “You mean, what do I want to be when I grow up?”
“Yes, essentially, that is the query,” the huge smelly fellow said. “What will you do with your life?”
“I uh, well I suppose I’d like to have a family, be a good person, and uh, well you know, maybe be President of the United States or something.”
“What would you do if you were the leader of this land?”
“I would make sure that everyone was safe, well fed, and never too cold (no one should ever be too cold, he thought with the passionate certainty of recent experience), suddenly inspired, Dax continued: “And I would stop all of the wars and insist that everyone be happy and live in peace. Plus, I would get rid of all the money, just like they did in my favorite TV show “Journey to The Stars.”
“You have a good heart Dax. We brought you and your friends here to save you from the danger you were in.”
“Had you and the other young ones stayed by the trees of light, you would have encountered the wood dogs and perished. We observe, we care and we love. Go now and be at peace with the universe.”
Then, followed by something that sounded very much like a huge balloon popping, Dax, Buddy and Phyl exploded into the light of day at the Happy Trails trailer park standing in front of Tom Leafhopper.
“So, just as I thought,” said Mr. Leafhopper. “You boys weren’t lost. You just had a visit with ol’ Mossback.”
“What the HELL!” said Buddy. “We were at the Jamboree when suddenly we heard this horrible noise, and then these things grabbed us and…”
“And everything changed and you found yourself in a strange world that made no sense, and smelled really bad. Right?”
“How do you know that Mr. Leafhopper?” asked Phyl. “What’s going on!!? How did we get here?” With that, The Good Foots all talked at once and came very close to breaking down and crying.
“Settle down boys.” said Tom. “You are safe and sound and back on old Terra Firma. You will soon find that you’ve been missing for a day and a half. Everyone’s been looking for you, but I knew you were safe. You were taken to the Neither Zone by the people we call The Ananaki, or “The Mossy Ones.”
“This can’t be happening,” said Buddy.
“It is happening son, believe it,” said Tom. “Far from an old squaw-tale as you say, these Ananaki beings have befriended our people for as long as anyone can remember. We tell the funny stories to our children to condition them for the truth when they reach maturity. I would have told you later this year son, but it seems Mossback beat me to it.”
As the boys stood dumbfounded, Tom continued, “They live in what we call The Neither Zone and befriend us humans and teach about Mother Earth, The Great Spirit, and The Way of Things. Welcome to manhood my son. Dax and Phyl, you are now honorary Osage tribal members.”
Staring at all three of the boys with a look of dramatic seriousness on his face Tom Leafhopper then said, “All I ask is that you not speak of this to anyone. The Ananaki are jealous of their privacy and wish to remain apart from humanity.”
After a tearful reunion with their families, and the telling of their cover story (that the Tenderfoots had run into the woods after being frightened by the coyote pack and become lost…and of course that Robert Grundy had stolen the magazines and planted them in their tent to get them into trouble…) The Good Foots swore to keep their adventure with Mossback and The Neither Zone a secret for life.
Dax never went on a campout again.
Neither Dax nor Tom Leafhopper could have known the true extent of the peoples called The Ananaki by the Osage tribe. A truly ancient civilization, the Ananaki had no name for themselves and had adopted the Osage description in honor of their chosen Earth people. Their original home world was somewhere deep in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and also has no known name.
The original space-faring Ananaki left their home world as it drifted into the huge black hole at the center of the galaxy. Spreading out into the far reaches of space, their ancestors colonized many planets. Over the millennia, the Ananaki have developed to the highest level of what is described by physicist Michio Kaku as a “Level III” Civilization, or a race of beings that have advanced as high as possible while remaining corporal. After years of being a restless colonizing people, the Ananaki decided to settle on various planets within their “Neither Zone” as observers. Their occasional forays into Earth “real time” account for what we call “ghosts” “poltergeists” and a large number of “abduction” episodes. They are also responsible for the legends of Sasquatch, Bigfoot and the Yeti. The ultimate in the art of neutral observations, the Ananaki would not become a major part of human daily life until the formation of The Collective in 2115.
No one understands the Neither Zone, perhaps not even the Ananaki. It is a place that only they know how to enter, and as Dax learned–it is neither here nor there.
fermi or you (2027)
James Fitzroy Knox had the coolest job in the world. Without a doubt, the coolest job in the world.
Growing up in Williams Bay, Wisconsin little Jimmy wanted to do only one thing for as long as he could remember: be an astronomer and work in the legendary Yerkes Observatory that overlooked Lake Geneva. Could anything be more fun? A job where it was your business to use the famous Alvan Clark 40-inch “Great Refractor” telescope housed in the classic dome of Yerkes itself? Are you kidding?
Jimmy Knox dreamed of sitting in the huge classic dome of the legendary observatory with the top open to the frigid Wisconsin winter night air, bundled up in an official University of Chicago parka while gazing upon the farthest reaches of the heavens in real time! Who knows what he would see? Nebulae? Galaxies? An approaching fleet of alien starships? The dream had become more and more real with every field trip to the big dome, every ride of the huge elevator that was the floor of the dome (designed to lift an observer up to the great refractor) and perhaps crystalized completely with the arrival on his twelfth Christmas of his first telescope.
With his small, primitive-yet-rugged beginner-level AstroMaster refractor housed in a cheap metal tube on a tripod, Jimmy Knox spent most of that wonderfully crisp-cold clear Christmas night lying flat on his house’s frigid concrete front steps on a slick of ice making observations of the moon and planets. With every puff of vapor he exhaled into the frozen moonlight, Jimmy became more intoxicated with the stars–they almost seemed to be singing to him–so clear, shimmering with a blue-white luminescence that was like electric current. That night, with that specific telescope, was one of those perfect moments to be replayed over and over again throughout his life. Jimmy knew this in a very deep part of his soul and cherished it.
Young Knox’s research and prep for this dream over the years also included reading every hard science book and science fiction novel he could find (Williams Bay has the best used book stores in the world!) and to become an expert on every sci-fi film franchise in existence. (In the beginning of the Twenty First Century, expertise with sci-fi movie empires was a major field of endeavor unto itself!) With this mix of science fact and science fiction, young Knox developed what became the real focus of his passion for the cosmos: the existence of alien life.
Jimmy had no time for learning the intimate details and stats of current Green Bay Packers or Milwaukee Brewers players, his heroes were Lew Hobbs, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (along with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Harrison Ford…well, he had lots of heroes.) One would think that such a lineup of role models would lead to a lonely social life, but Jimmy Knox was also gifted with an electric charisma that was devastating. By the fifth grade he had twelve girlfriends who had actually founded the “JFK Astronomy Club.”
In Williams Bay, Wisconsin in the shadow of Yerkes Observatory, on the shores of Lake Geneva, life was very good indeed.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the teenaged Jim Knox was practically a genius in mathematics. Numbers had always presented a special kind of joy to Jim–the entire workings of the universe could be put down in an ordered fashion using an infinite combination of numbers. In many of his favorite sci-fi stories, whenever alien contact was made with the human race, it was done through the universal language of numbers and math. The sublime symmetry and the unchanging sacred consistency of the world of mathematics was young Knox’s religion, his libation and his fist true love. Jim was simply infatuated with the idea of math, physics, science, and science fiction. The girls in the Astronomy club were nice and he had even developed a crush-like appreciation of one or two of them, but they couldn’t hold a candle to a good Fibonacci sequence or The Golden Ratio. There was never any doubt where James Fitzroy Knox’s life would lead. And in the midst of his grand understanding of numbers was one prime and unshakable thought: mathematically speaking, we simply cannot be alone in this infinite universe! There must be alien life, and I must find a way to prove it.
But alas, it would not begin at Yerkes Observatory. Once the world reopened after the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2022, James accepted a full ride scholarship to The University of Chicago. But he discovered early on that Yerkes, while still associated with the University, had become more of an educational outreach center rather than a truly active cutting-edge observatory. When one had access to state of the art monster observational telescopes that circled the Earth in permanent orbit, a nearly one hundred-year-old ground-based forty-inch refracting lens that took pictures paled in comparison. True, a major amount of good research was continuing at Yerkes including near-Earth objects and interstellar medium, along with the formation of globular clusters and even some infrared astronomy. Interesting stuff to be sure, but James Knox wanted to ride on the blade of the cutting-edge. Educational outreach and inspiring the next generation of scientists was important, but Knox was the current generation of scientists, and he wanted to make a difference. Yerkes would have to wait.
At the university, James made it his business to study the road to success followed by beloved alum Carl Sagan and especially Sagan’s work with the Viking and Voyager missions as a visiting scientist at The Jet Propulsion Lab in La Cañada Flintridge, California (often associated with Pasadena, all of the JPL facilities are actually on the edge of La Cañada Flintridge on the boarder of Pasadena. The “Chamber of Commerce Wars” try to sort this out every time JPL is in the news, to no avail.) At The Jet Propulsion Lab, one could travel the cosmos via remote control vehicles, and have direct access to super telescopes in space that were free of the atmospheric haze of Earth. Deciding that this was the “cutting edge” that he was looking for, James set his sights.
Accumulating a decidedly “Saganistic” academic career (Bachelor and Master’s of Science in Physics, and a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics, all at The University of Chicago) the twenty six year old James F. Knox began looking into a path that would take him to the legendary space lab in California. However, in less than one year James would find out once again how to make God laugh: “just tell Her your plans.”
By the time James Knox graduated in 2027 with a PhD, a new research and development entity was up and running and starting to make big news around the world. The George Malone Institute of Technology located in Greystone, Illinois was fast becoming a new destination for the world’s “best and brightest” of the early 21st Century. “GMIT” was a private institution, founded and funded by the mercurial and mysterious George Millhouse Malone, inventor of the ubiquitous “Apal-Pi” infinite battery that had revolutionized the electric vehicle, cell phone, tablet, watch, MP3 player and laptop computer world in 2024. GMIT was George Malone’s personal passion, and it had a single agenda: to prove the existence of and to find evidence for intelligent life beyond our own planet.
Malone had originally made billions as an investor whose fortuitous moves in the early days of the computer industry had become the stuff of legend. In a giddy festival of spending, George poured his entire fortune into establishing GMIT. George Millhouse Malone wanted nothing to do with the strings that came attached with involving donors. Beneficent benefactors (or the “masters of unsolicited advice” as he referred to them) were the last thing he wanted. With his big money George went his own way. What he ended up with was a spectacularly successful state-of-the-art research facility and a seriously depleted pocket book. Therefore, George Malone began yet another financial adventure to reboot his fiscal empire.
As an avid amateur historian, Malone was particularly interested in the works of the eccentric original genius of electricity, Nikola Tesla. In the early days of establishing GMIT, George was able to buy up multitudes of papers and artifacts associated with Tesla’s works, especially material concerning Tesla’s enigmatic “Lost Invention.” After much sleuthing with the hiring of the best minds possible, Malone found the specs and schematics for a Tesla generator that was for all intents and purposes a “perpetual motion machine” that could generate basic, but limited electrical power without using fuel. George adapted the principles of this device and applied them to lithium-ion batteries, with the resulting symbiotic invention being a battery that recharged itself just by being used. The new infinite battery revolutionized cell, tablet, and laptop usage overnight and was a spectacular success.
In a none-too-subtle, albeit impossible-to-sue-for reference to the top technology company of the early 2010s, George named his new invention the “Apal-Pi.” Apal, in reference to said company, (although George once famously quipped: “What “a-pal” to the human race this handy device is!”) and Pi for the famous infinite symbol in math that itself referred to the unlimited power of his product. The fact that phonetically “Apal-Pi” is about as U.S.-American as one can get was just a brilliant marketing byproduct.
In 2027, GMIT was in full swing and thanks to the Apal-Pi infinite battery, very well-funded indeed. As James Knox was looking into Cal Tech and JPL, George Malone was looking into acquiring James Knox…
It was on one of those impossibly perfect winter days in Williams Bay, where the sky was of such a robin’s egg blue that you could almost hear it, and the sun was strong enough to render the air happy and pure–while leaving the pristine white snow intact and sparkly. Into this perfect day James took a leisurely walk to his mailbox. Now living at his childhood home again with his parents (a temporary set up until the next phase of his life began…he hoped) James was in full job-search mode. The very top of his list was full of dreams of a professorship at Cal Tech so that he could be assigned to work at “Sagan-Central” (The JPL). In truth, there was nothing on his list after that.
Approaching the mailbox, James was struck by a twinge of nostalgia. Had he ever really noticed this mailbox? How, after all these years, had it not completely registered on him that the Knox family mailbox was in the unusual shape of a Norman English castle, complete with a drawbridge for a front door? At some subconscious level, James had always known this, but today was the first time that he had really considered it. On the side of the castle in bold “old English” font was written: The House of Knox. Not for the first time, James marveled at the whimsy of his mother. Her family’s lineage was a straight shot back to Mary Boleyn (which in turn went back to William the Conqueror), and Doris Throckmorton-Knox took that royal ancestry seriously.
“What ho?” said “Prince James” in his best faux-English accent, “May haps there be some pleasant word from court this day?” Reaching into the castle, Knox pulled out a stack of junk mail, a few bills, the annual late Christmas gift from Uncle Wally (a yearly subscription to “Olaf’s Fine Meats” mail-order butcher…James still didn’t understand the value of such a thing…) and an official-looking light green envelope addressed to “Dr. James Knox.” My father is an insurance salesman, not a doctor, thought James until he realized that the letter was for him! (It takes a while for a newly minted PhD to get used to seeing his name with the official salutation.)
The return address was from The George Malone Institute of Technology. Knox had of course heard of GMIT and along with many of his colleagues was impressed by the level of accomplishment that the new private institution had already achieved. But what James read in the letter itself was a revelation indeed:
15, January 2027
Dear Dr. Knox,
It is with great pleasure that I write to you today to announce that GMIT will be establishing a partnership with NASA in establishing the Universal Research Laboratory. The mission of the URL is to find evidence for and to ultimately prove the existence of extraterrestrial life. Our resources are vast, fully funded and with our new association with NASA; government-supported.
Your high-level of postgraduate work in the area of astrophysics has come to my attention, specifically your dissertation “A Practical Application for Frank Drake’s Probabilistic Argument for Communicative Extraterrestrial Civilizations.” I am heartened by your combined passions for mathematics, astrophysics, and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. You are exactly the type of young scholar that I am looking for to staff and advise our endeavors.
In short, I am offering you today a Full Professorship of Research at GMIT where your charge will be to advise the team of engineers being overseen by Dr. Markus Weat as they pursue various tasks at my behest.
I hope that you will accept this offer and contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss salary and logistics.
George Malone, President: GMIT, CEO; Malone Enterprises Inc.
To say that James Knox was stunned would be putting it lightly. “No search committee or hoop jumping necessary when you own the place I suppose” he thought happily. After giving the good news to his equally stunned, but proud parents James contacted Malone that very afternoon, accepted the offer and two days later left for Greystone Illinois and the farthest reaches of the universe.
The Arroway Mars Rover-Drone Mission was the brainchild of Dr. Markus Weat, Director of Engineering at GMIT. In the late 20th and early Twenty First Centuries, it was popular to name various space missions after aspects of Carl Sagan’s career (such as the Mars Pathfinder base being named Carl Sagan Memorial Station). The choice of “Arroway” was subtle and effective in that it referred to the main character in Sagan’s classic sci-fi novel “Contact.” Devised as the “once and for all truth finder,” Arroway’s charge was to land in the infamous Cydonia region of Mars and have a look at the enigmatic “Face” that had been so controversial for so long.
Spotted originally by the early Viking missions, “The Face on Mars” had supposedly been debunked by subsequent observations. Over the years however, the conspiracy crowd had put forward some pretty compelling alternative analysis that had finally become a financial point of contention for NASA. As the furor for a mission to properly investigate the Face grew, the Junior Senator from Illinois Phyllis Foolhardy (a real name, to the delight of comedians, pundits, and politicians everywhere) made it her goal in life to either get NASA defunded, or “To have a serious mission to Mars that explores the Cydonia region with all of its potentially artificial structures to the satisfaction of all.”
When the new “Barons of Space” Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson had passed on her initial proposal, GMIT was ready and waiting to answer the call of the Foolhardy. Approaching the good Senator and letting her know about The Arroway Project and GMIT, George Malone saved NASA by bringing the Senator on board with him. Thus, the Senate found itself supporting a new era for space exploration while picking up a deep pocket campaign contributor in George Malone–the founder of GMIT knew how to play the game in Washington D.C.
The perfect storm of support for a new expansion of NASA into the private sector gained even more strength with the addition of the EBEC. The organization known as The Extraterrestrial Biological Entity Community had been organized in 2024 by the long-suffering UFOlogy network of researchers, faithful believers, government conspiracy fringe-folk, and mildly committed agnostic-yet-interested scientists. Headed up by the made-for-the-internet persona-deluxe Brad Mickelstan,
The EBEC had found a friend in Senator Foolhardy, fiscal support in George Malone and was making some serious waves in D.C. The stage was set for Arroway.
“You are no doubt aware of Fermi’s Paradox?” said James.
“I am embarrassed to admit, that I am only vaguely aware of it, said Markus Weat, something to do with the probability of extraterrestrial life, correct?”
“Yes, but it has come to define the absence of any evidence at all, especially by the debunking crowd, and most of the established scientific community, for extraterrestrial life, answered Knox. The story goes that Enrico Fermi, during a lunch with a group of his atomic colleagues suddenly blurted out “Where is everybody?” When asked what he meant by this, Fermi went on to say essentially: “The Sun is a young star. We on Earth are investigating interstellar travel, and there are billions of stars far older than ours. It is reasonable to assume that intelligent civilizations much older than ours came into being on planets around many of those stars and have already developed interstellar travel. There are eighty billion observable galaxies, each teaming with billions of stars. By any reasonable mathematical odds, we should have been colonized already, and at least visited. But there is absolutely zero evidence anywhere for intelligent life beyond our planet.” Thus: “Where is everybody?”
“Pretty difficult to argue with on a purely scientific level,” said Weat.
“That’s the maddening part Markus!” said Knox. “And yet, I have no trouble believing in the basic premise of alien life. It is a true leap of faith. We men of science are by definition more religious than we wish to admit.”
“A bit of a stretch in my opinion Your Holiness, but I will follow your train of thought for a moment and repay your educational beneficence by offering you another paradox that you can add to your conspiracy brew of faith-science and Fermi-inspired dichotomies,” said Weat. “Another area of research here at URL is the “Loss of Light Enigma,” are you aware of it?”
“No, please en-light-en me,” quipped Knox.
“Nice! Religious and humorous, I can see why Old Man Malone likes you so much!” said Weat. “The Loss of Light Enigma” is the study of the subtle decreasing of observable light discerned by our deep space observations. When compared to historical photographic plates from Yerkes Observatory, we have extrapolated that beginning in approximately 1947 there has been a negligible, but measurable loss of observable light from the universe at the rate of .03 lumens per year, or approximately 2.3 lumens since 1947.”
“So when my father used to tell me that the stars aren’t as bright as they were when he was a kid, it was more than nostalgia,” said James. “But can’t we just chalk that up to pollution?”
“We could if all of our observations were Earth-bound, but the old Earth bound observations from Yerkes are of a better clarity that any of our modern orbiting telescopes,” said Weat. “Thus the mystery.”
“Having grown up in the shadow of that wonderful facility, I must admit no surprise in the superior quality of their craftsmanship,” said Knox proudly, “but I am troubled by this problem.”
“Then the delightfully named LOL Enigma project will be our next area of research once we prove the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life via Arroway on Cydonia, deal?”
“Deal!” agreed Knox.
The successful landing of Arroway was an interstellar triumph for URL and a real boost for NASA’s latest partnership with the private sector. While the initial images from Cydonia were inconclusive, the drone footage was bound to be historic, and a “who’s who” of network celebrities along with high and mighty movers-and-shakers were in attendance at the URL Command Center. The fist images from the Arroway drone were scheduled for 7:00PM on February 22, 2028: prime time. A major broadcast featuring the fledgling People’s News Network and their go-to celebrity anchorman Fox Blitzkrieg (another real name… stranger than fiction) was set and the entire world had tuned in.
The panel for the PNN The Fox Speaks special broadcast was George Malone, Doctors Weat and Knox, Senator Foolhardy, The EBEC’s Brad Mickelstan, and the lone buzz-kill of the bunch: Abby Westminster.
A network celebrity in her own right, Westminster was the leading figure in the world regarding the debunking of all things paranormal, UFO related, urban legends, and bad science in general. A tireless warrior for the truth, Abby had made a fortune with her bestsellers No Such Thing, Chariots of The Clods and the current number one New York Times Bestseller: UF-Faux: The Real Story, along with her own PBS syndicated program Westminster’s Abby: In Search of the Truth. By adding Abby to the panel, PNN had prepared an oratorical powder keg to prime the already stratospheric ratings.
“What can we expect from tonight’s imagery George Malone?” began Fox Blitzkrieg.
“I’d like to leave the scientific details to Doctors Weat and Knox,” said Malone, “but I will say this: what we will see this evening will at last put to rest the long-running controversy of the Cydonia region on Mars, particularly the infamous “Face.”
“Meaning,” added Abby, “that we will see once and for all that the “Face” and all of the other alleged “artificial” features of Cydonia are nothing more than natural geological formations. End of story.”
“And just as likely Dr. Westminster,” added Brad Mickelstan, “we will learn that the “Face” is artificial and part of an enormous treasure-trove of alien artifacts, forever rewriting the history of the human race.”
“There you have it folks, interrupted Fox, either way; history is about to be made here on The Fox Speaks, we’ll be right back.”
As the world took a break to learn about the newest large gas-guzzling truck that they needed to buy and why it was the best machine ever for riding through uneven bumpy surfaces while being pummeled with sloppy gallons of mud… the crew members at URL broke out the honey-roasted cashews. A direct superstitious steal from the JPL tradition of eating peanuts for good luck, all of the URL members had begun this bizarre ritual when it was noticed that one of their number was eating the tasty sugar-encrusted treats during the successful Arroway landing.
“And we are back at the Universal Research Laboratory in beautiful Greystone, Illinois,” said Fox as the graphics proclaiming “History in The Making” faded from the screen.
“Drone launch in 10, 9, 8…” began a faceless robotic voice.
“Here we go folks,” said Malone.
“Successful Drone launch, Drone underway, said the robotic voice as the folks in URL went wild.
“What are we going to see next?” asked Fox.
“Lots of red rocks” said Abby.
“The Drone is programmed to make a flyover of the “Face” anomaly first,” said Knox, “followed by a pass over the D&M Pyramid. We should have an image at any moment.”
As the world watched, a scene flickered and began to take shape on the screen. The Drone was gracefully executing a wonderful flyover of the “Face” with spectacular high definition imagery flooding back to Greystone, Illinois and instantly being routed to the rest of the world. The first few moments of natural red rock formation was to be expected as the viewers started to adjust to the alien perspective. What wasn’t expected however was the boring vista of a magnificent mesa that was decidedly natural looking and devoid of any facial characteristics whatsoever.
“These are the initial superficial flyovers of course,” said Senator Foolhardy. “I expect that we still have much to analyze in the coming months as the rover and drone meticulously cover the area, am I correct Dr. Knox?”
“Yes, of course,” said James as his eyes remained glued to the screen. “The drone is now making a flyover of the D&M Pyramid.”
As they all watched, Abby supplied the obvious narration:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, what you are seeing of course is a miracle of technology. Mankind has once again landed an object of science and research on another planet and is continuing its heroic adventure of exploration. And what have we learned this time? We have learned that the “images” that have been seen on the plains of Cydonia for years are the result what is known as apophenia, or the tendency that we humans have of seeing a pattern in chaos. Just like finding animals or cartoon characters in the clouds, the “Face” and as we can now see, the “Pyramids” of Cydonia are apophenia-inspired mirages. Nothing more–end of story. Nothing more to see here citizens, please return to your lives.”
And with that famous sign-off line from her popular PBS program, Abby Westminster attempted to squash the hopes and dreams of legions of believers including the constituency of Brad Mickelstan who spoke up right away:
“Dr. Westminster, this is much too early to make such pronouncements! We are too close to the formations to see what was created millennia ago to be viewed from space. Why… if we were this close to the Nazca Lines in Southern Peru, it would seem as though we were looking at…”
“…arbitrary and artificial lines drawn in the ground by removing red pebbles and exposing the white ground beneath, in an orderly and decidedly artificial manner,” interrupted Abby. “No such marks or evidence of artificiality at all from anything the Drone is sending back from Mars. Behold the truth with your own eyes Mr. Mickelstan.”
“Dr. Westminster, added James Knox, “I propose that your basic science suffers from a fatal flaw. Mr. Mickelstan is making a valid point. While this initial imagery is disappointing to we who had hoped for unarguable proof of artificiality, there is simply not enough data collected at this early juncture to make such a conclusion.”
“Really, Dr. Knox?” sneered Westminster, “then I challenge you here tonight in front of millions of viewers, indeed I challenge you, GMIT, URL, NASA, EBEC, Senator Foolhardy, everyone to a public debate. I defy any of you to give me any proof of extraterrestrial life of any kind.”
Sensing yet another ratings bonanza, Fox pounced: “Dr. Westminster, we here at PNN will provide the forum one week from now on The Fox Speaks for you to conduct your debate. I’m sure by then that the good folks at URL will have even more amazing information…”
“…about red rocks…” interrupted Abby.
“And I will provide the venue: the floor of the Senate itself!” said Foolhardy, “This subject matter is on the order of international importance and I will make sure that this debate gets a proper hearing.”
As the panel sat stunned and slack jawed watching the night slip away into grandstanding buffoonery, for reasons he could not later explain, James Knox spoke up:
“On behalf of those of us that believe in the laws of physics, math and the eventual proof of extraterrestrial life, I accept your challenge.”
As the hours dragged on and turned into the first day followed by the next with nothing but Westminsterian “red rocks,” the mood at URL became more and more depressed and forlorn. Yes, they had accomplished a great thing by landing the rover and successfully launching and utilizing a light air drone on another planet, but the real agenda, the ultimate elephant in the room was denied. No evidence at all of anything artificial.
“And, you are going to take on the Queen of UFO Buzz-Kills, the Empress of EBEC Emasculating, The Matriarch of Malicious Mockery, the…”
“I get your drift Weat,” said Knox.
“…without any way to prove your point?” continued Markus unperturbed. “How, may I ask, are you going to find evidence in one week for what has eluded the best-and-brightest since, well at least since Roswell.”
“Well, yes…I mean, I hope to and…why did you say Roswell?”
“Seems as good a place to start as any for the beginning of modern UFOlogy, I mean, the Roswell incident in 1947 is still the Holy Grail of…”
“1947! 1947…of course! Weat! We might have something here!” said Knox.
“I’m listening,” said Weat.
“What if a multitude of advanced civilizations have been sending us signals, but they have been blocked somehow?”
“And the same thing that is blocking their signals is slowly blocking other wavelengths such as viewable light.”
“The LOL Enigma!” said Weat.
“Exactly!” said Knox, “some kind of wall…no it would need to be a sphere…an impossibly HUGE sphere that encloses the entire solar system.”
“Is it? said Knox, let’s see if we can rule it out. Is there enough extra mass in the solar system that can be used to make such a thing?”
“Dark matter?” offered Weat.
“Too convenient, too theoretical,” said Knox.
“The asteroid belt?”
“Not enough mass, plus we would notice the loss of that and we have no reports of missing planetoids.”
“The Oort Cloud!” they both said simultaneously.
“Jan Oort’s famous cloud of matter does have enough mass for the job and is already a sphere made up of potential comets,” said Weat, “…but it is 50,000 AU from Earth, nearly a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri!”
“Our Hyp othetical super-advanced aliens could use the cloud as a “quarry” and bring the material wherever they want to build the sphere,” suggested Knox. “Given such technology, the wall-sphere that is blocking alien transmission would theoretically be possible.”
“I suppose at this point, Sherlock Holmes would say: Once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” said Markus.
“Elementary my dear Weat!” Said Knox as he gave the Research Director a big hug. “I don’t know what we have discovered, but I have a feeling that we are on to something.”
Suddenly, the URL robotic computer voice interrupted the duo with an announcement: “…loss of signal, loss of signal. Repeat, loss of signal, loss of signal, loss of signal.”
As every professional in the URL went into work mode instantly, Markus Weat shouted to his lead communication director:
“What have we got Marcia, Arroway or The Drone, where is the problem?”
“Neither one Sir, the message is coming from our symbiotic hook up with The Jet Propulsion Lab in California, they are reporting a loss of signal from The Voyager Deep Space Probe.”
“Voyager? Are you sure?”
“Yes Sir, follow up communication now on screen.”
“Markus, can you hear me?”
“Yes, John, this is Markus Weat, what is going on over there?”
“Markus, we have just lost our signal with Voyager, do you have any deep space telescopes looking in that quadrant?”
“John, even if we did, Voyager is too small to see.”
“I think you better check it out. Coordinates and time of impact coming to you now via Symbiotic-Net Text.”
“Time of …impact?”
“See what you think and get back to me, Miller out.”
Digesting the non sequitur of the demise of Voyager, on the heels of their tantalizing LOL Enigma idea, in the midst of the on-going Arroway-Drone disappointment, Weat and Knox tried to tie everything together.
The report from The Spitzer Infrared space telescope was amazing unto itself. In the last reported position of Voyager, a plume of infrared light had ballooned up from a pinpoint to the size of a large asteroid, only to dissipate in less than three minutes’ time.
“It really does look like some kind of impact that caused a reaction, but what can do that?” asked Knox.
“Reminds me of the signature wave that happens when you strike a gong, or throw a stone into a calm body of water,” offered Weat.
“Markus, this could be our proof! Let’s go back to my Oort Cloud Shell theory, suppose such a thing existed? After some initial calculating, I estimate that it would need to be a fraction of a millimeter thick, taking into consideration the entire theorized mass of The Oort Cloud.”
“But if that were true, Voyager would punch through that wall like paper because it was moving at such an extremely high rate of speed at the point it lost its signal.”
“Can we find out how fast it was going?”
“I’ll bring it up on the sym-net right now.”
“Regardless of the rate of speed, something held that wall together when Voyager hit it,” mused Knox.
“Ok, this is very strange, said Weat, I am getting multiple readings from JPL. As of two years ago, Voyager was moving at 17.46 kilometers per second, then steadily began to increase until reaching near light speed before termination.”
“What? That is incredible! JPL must have known about the fantastic speed increase, we will need to confirm that with John Miller.”
“Almost like a black hole grabbed it,” said Weat.
“Well, let’s put together what we’ve got and splice in some “gimmes” if we need to,” offered Knox. “If there is an Oort Wall out there blocking alien signals and slowly diminishing visible light, then it has also been strengthened by something that has a gravity well as a by-product that is strong enough to grab objects the size of Voyager two years away from it. And it was strengthened enough by something to keep it intact after a near light speed collision by a 733 kilogram space probe. What could do such a thing–perhaps a stasis field of some type? With the “gimme” of alien technology at the level of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction…”
“Technology when sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic…”
“Bravo, Markus! I didn’t know you were up on your sci-fi!”
“I get around.”
“Well, if our wall did have such a magic stasis field-supported gravity well, it could be collecting interstellar dust and matter and getting just “dirty” enough to diminish visible light in the process.”
“Brilliant! Like a windshield in a sloppy Chicago snowstorm during heavy traffic.”
“A marvelous metaphor my friend, you are a poet as well as a science fiction master!” said Knox. “Markus, I think that we have just enough information and data here to put together a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Not in the Court of Westminster we don’t,” said Weat
“Perhaps in the Court of Public Opinion, we do. With less than a week until an impossible debate… that might have to be enough,” said Knox.
As the special theme song put together for the great debate by Hans Zimmer rose to a heroic pitch, PNN’s Fox Blitzkrieg’s voice-over began while the picture bled into a beautiful double screen image of the famous Abby Westminster and her brave sacrificial contender du jour: James Knox.
“Welcome to the historic Great EBE Debate on the floor of the United States Senate in the famous Capitol Building itself,” intoned Blitzkreig. “After a disappointing failure to find evidence of life on Mars, the Universal Research Lab and NASA find themselves with extraterrestrial egg on their face, while the self-appointed “Warrior for Truth” Abby Westminster claims the latest “UF-Uh-Oh” as proof positive for her stand that we are alone in the great galactic neighborhood. Tonight, the two views meet and battle it out for the cameras and for history itself. It’s “little green men” verses “the truth from Mars.” …I am Fox Blitzkrieg and YOU …are witnessing The Fox Speaks!”
(fade out to graphic, cue Hans Zimmer theme: Hard Knox for Abby.)
–Once again, the world takes a break from the scene of the action to explore why they must still make plans to purchase a huge work truck so that they can spend their weekends bouncing through endless mud holes in slow motion while their hard working diesel-beast flops and buckles as if it were made of rubber–
“And we’re back!” said the prematurely white haired, spectacular blue-eyed zero percent body fat vision of corporate perfection known as Fox Blitzkrieg. “The rules for tonight’s debate are simple: each person will have ten minutes to make their case, using every means at their disposal. This will be followed (after a commercial break) by a ten-minute back-and-forth where each person is allowed to ask questions of the other. Finally (after a commercial break) each person will have three minutes to make their final point, assisted by any audio-visual aids they choose. Tonight’s great debate will be judged by an impartial panel of professors chosen from the world’s most prestigious institutes of learning. In attendance, are the Senate of the United States and a full gallery of lucky observers chosen at random as a cross section of opinion from around the world. As audience members, you are allowed and encouraged to make your approval or disapproval known as the debate is underway.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our debate participants!”
As the Senate Gallery crowd roared, James Knox walked in the door to the left of the massive desk of the Senate President, while Abby Westminster came in through the twin door on the right. Special permission (unprecedented in modern times) for the night’s event had been granted via the unstoppable lobbying of Senator Foolhardy, her partner from the EBEC Brad Mickelstan, and the Foolhardy constituency itself of Illinois (the press never tired of that colorful designation) as they all insisted that the content and the results of this particular debate warranted such a hallowed venue. Plus, it certainly played right into Senator Foolhardy’s desire for increased public awareness in the EBEC cause itself.
The two participants were stationed behind the party tables in front of the massive ornate dais surrounding the Senate presiding officer’s desk, Knox on the left and Westminster on the right. The full complement of one hundred U.S. senators were in attendance seated at their respective desks. Whether they had agreed or disagreed with the evening in principle, neglecting free publicity had never been a part of their election campaigns, and not a single senator was going to miss out on this promotional mother lode. The presiding officer’s desk itself was empty with the blue curtain on the wall tastefully lit for the evening with a world globe on the desk in front of the large empty chair as if to symbolize the importance of the debate subject matter to the entire Earth.
For this event only, the Senate carpenters had created a new desk and placed it in the aisle itself directly in front of and between the party tables. Seated at this temporary, and by location, bipartisan piece of furniture was the evening’s host Fox Blitzkrieg.
“By a drawing held earlier, it has been determined that Abby Westminster will begin tonight’s debate with her ten-minute overview,” announced Fox, “Ladies and Gentlemen: Dr. Abby Westminster!”
After the standing room-only crowd in the gallery settled down, the debate began.
“Ladies and Gentleman of the U.S. Senate, everyone in attendance in the gallery, and all of you watching this program across the globe, I stand before you tonight with one mission only: to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There is no need to stretch what is innately true, and certainly no need to add to what is unarguable theory-tested, incontrovertible absolute scientific fact.
While I applaud the romantic notion that we are not alone in this vast universe and personally enjoy science fiction and fantasy of all stripes, as a scientist I abhor bad science. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were a member of a massive galactic club of beings who could travel from one autonomous culture to another, all the while sharing the best of what we have all experienced of life and progress? Of course it would! In the same breath I can also say, wouldn’t it be lovely if there really were a Santa Claus? I know it would make my holiday shopping much easier every December 23rd.” (constituting the first ice-breaker of the evening, this line received a very generous spate of laughter that turned into a round of applause that could be described as “Hey, why not? I can relate to that!” )
Let’s take it a step further, I have and always will be a fan of the old Superman comic book hero. Wouldn’t it be great if such a protector actually existed? Unless of course he really did stand for truth, justice and the American way…such a belief system would derail most of the politicians in our country, not to mention the terror that it would strike into the hearts of the rest of the world… but I digress. (This was met by thunderous applause from the gallery and official glum looks from the senators. As far as those watching around the world…)
But, ladies and gentlemen, I hate to live up to my designation in some of the press as “Our Official Adult Buzz Killer” (more laughter) but there is no Santa Claus, Superman is a fictional character, and we are quite alone in this universe.
How can I stand here and say this? Because there is simply no proof–not one shred of evidence. For something to be proven scientifically, there must be a precise method of inquiry. This precise method must be based on empirical and measurable evidence that is subjected to specific principles of reasoning. He said, she said, they said, I have a feeling, or I believe are all wonderful conversation starters and perfectly acceptable methodologies for religion, business and politics (nervous laughter from the senators)…but it is not science!”
“Ever since the high altitude experimental weather balloon from Project Mogul was recovered in a desert in Roswell New Mexico in 1947, there have been thousands, perhaps millions of good, hard working people who have seen objects in the sky that they could not identify. There are many objects walking the streets of Washington D.C. that I cannot identify either, and this does not make them extraterrestrial! (big laughter from the gallery and the Senate!) It just means that I cannot identify them. I’m sure that others can, say…perhaps their families?”
“Recently, we were all treated to another miracle of science and a triumph of engineering as the fine people at URL landed another rover on Mars. This one was equipped with a first-of-its-type light air drone capable of flying in the sparse Martian atmosphere. As we all watched in anticipation of one alien revelation after another from the storied plains of Cydonia, what we received in abundance was actually the truth–a verification of the scientific method. Not the realization of a dream, not the justification of a hunch, not the embodiment of a gut feeling, but the empirically verifiable observation of geological formations.”
“As Enrico Fermi put it so eloquently during the cold war years, “Where is everybody?” (This drew a smile of approval from James Knox, one that was instantly picked up by the camera trained on his face throughout the duration of the debate looking for just such an emotional glimmer) “Fermi postulated that given the vast size of the universe, and the fact that there are billions of suns older than our own, and we as a young race are already considering the mechanics of interstellar travel, then it should follow that we would have been visited numerous times by far superior races. So I repeat: “Where is everybody?”
“My friends, there is no “everybody.” There is only us. And what a wonderful thing that is. Does life end when we realize that there is no Tooth Fairy, no Santa Claus, and no Superhero Protector? –of course not. We learn the joys of being grownups and taking control of our own lives, learning to live in the great big world and make a difference with the time and talents we are given.”
“There is no evidence at all for life on other planets; the speed of light is absolute. Interstellar flight is impossible. I would cheer the loudest if Dr. Knox could prove scientifically that I am wrong about this, but I am certain he cannot. Not this evening or any other time. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for all of us to grow up.”
(the audience knew what was coming next and even said it with her)
“End of story–nothing more to see here citizens, please return to your lives.”
At the conclusion of her overview, the halls of the Senate resounded in thunderous applause. To everyone watching at that moment, it seemed as if Abby’s case was airtight and unarguable.
“And now, please welcome Dr. James Knox from The George Malone Institute of Technology and The Universal Research Laboratory!” said Fox Blitzkrieg. His announcement was met by tepid, polite applause that seemed to be saying “Good luck, kind and good-looking scientist, but your mission now is a hopeless waste of time.”
“Members of The Senate of The United States of America, and fellow members of the Human Race,” began Knox dramatically, “I stand before you here tonight with the most incredible news that has ever graced these hallowed halls. Ladies and Gentlemen… we are not alone in the universe!” (Instant and thunderous applause from the gallery as well as from the Foolhardy section of the Senate) “I stand before you with one mission only: to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There is no need to stretch what is innately true, and certainly no need to add to what is unarguable theory-tested, incontrovertible absolute scientific fact.”
(As it became clear that Knox had memorized Westminster’s opening lines and was now using them himself, the crowd began to chuckle.)
“While I applaud the romantic albeit it sad notion that we are alone in this vast universe and personally enjoy science fiction and fantasy of all stripes, as a scientist I abhor bad science.”
(From the gallery: a very large round of applause while the Foolhardy-folk leapt to their feet in hearty approval. The camera trained on Westminster for emotional responses captured a wonderful moment where the “Official Adult Buzz Killer” herself smiled and applauded graciously.)
“All well and good, and I appreciate your kind applause, but now the rubber meets the road as they say. It is time for the empirical and measurable evidence that my esteemed colleague has called for this evening (The “Abby-Cam” records another smile, along with an odd twinkling of her eyes to be endlessly analyzed post-debate)
“To answer the great question of “Where is everybody” posed by the famous Fermi Paradox, I say this: they are trapped behind a great wall that surrounds our solar system exactly one hundred and fifty astronomical units from Earth.” (Gasps could be heard clearly from the audience as “The Abby-Cam” records a beauty from Dr. Westminster herself.)
“First, here is my theory, then we shall test and prove it. A superior alien race using technology on such an advanced level that it seems to us like magic (someone from the gallery shouts “Hurray for Arthur C. Clarke!” which is met by first gasps, then applause) “Yes, Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction, well done my friend! This incredibly advanced race of beings, for reasons beyond our comprehension, has taken all of the mass available in the comet nursery known as the Oort Cloud at the very farthest reaches of our solar neighborhood and fashioned an incredibly thin, but indestructible sphere around us at the 150 AU point in space. This shell lets light and signals of all wavelengths out, but does not allow radio signals in. Ladies and gentlemen, since 1947 all advanced races that have been trying to get in touch with us have received a busy signal!”
“This is incredible!” shouts Abby, “absolutely impossible and fantastic! You have absolutely no proof for this wild idea!”
The entire Senate Chamber breaks into pandemonium as the senators move into heated discussions and the gallery erupts into cheers, boos, and all manner of vocal hysteria.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will return after we sort all of this out and restore order,” Promises Fox. The scene on network television shifts to the graphic for “The Great EBE Debate!” while Hans Zimmer’s theme goes into the troubling middle section. Amazingly, the world outside of the Senate must now set aside all thoughts of extraterrestrial life while once again considering the purchase of an obscenely large-bed work horse diesel truck capable of withstanding brutal mud-slinging adventures so that they can take the kids to soccer and pick up groceries.
Returning to a Senate Chamber that had resumed a bit of its former setting of control and maturity, Fox announced to the audience: “Ok everyone, we knew that this was going to be an emotional debate filled with exciting revelations, so let’s all gather up our powers of control, put on our adult clothing and continue. Dr. Knox, you have five minutes remaining according to our esteemed panel of judges.”
“Thank you Mr. Blitzkrieg,” said Knox as he continued. “I now direct your attention to the screens set up on either side of the dais for imagery that will illustrate the proof I am about to offer.” As the screens lit up with a map of the solar system, Knox dropped another bombshell. “At exactly 9:35PM five days ago, the famous deep space probe Voyager was destroyed as it made contact with the Oort Wall.” As the audience once again began to ratchet up into a frenzy, Fox shouted “Order, I will have order in the Senate Chamber! –while secretly relishing the fantasy of being in charge of said legislative body. “If you do not return to order, I will break once again for commercial.” The crowd quieted down instantly.
“Dr. Knox, you still have 4 minutes and 40 seconds. Please continue.”
As James continued describing the known parameters of the demise of Voyager, the screen showed the coordinates, timing, and finally shifted to a recording of the infrared impact cloud and wave itself.
“This Oort Wall accounts for a great many things. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI has not received signals because of it. I offer up my theory here and now that the Roswell craft crashed in 1947 because of an interruption to its guidance system caused by the initiation of the Oort Wall.”
“And finally Ladies and Gentlemen, another research program underway at URL is called the Loss of Light Enigma. Beginning also in 1947, there is a history of a small but measurable loss of observable light in the universe. I theorize that this is due to the Oort Wall gathering cosmic dust and matter and clouding our view like a dirty windshield.”
“With the sad demise of the Voyager probe, I submit to you that we now have proof of the Oort Wall and therefore reasonable doubt to the supposed fact of our universal solitude–science fact, my friends, not fiction. Thank you all very much.”
Most of the gallery and a larger portion of the Senate surrounding Senator Foolhardy stood to applaud Knox’s speech. Those who did not stand applauded as well with the entire thing lasting at least three minutes as both the James and Abby-Cams displayed a range of emotions from their subjects in split screen as other cameras took in the spectacle of the Chamber audience itself.
During yet another mud-laden sixty second truck break, complete with exclusive copyrighted graphics and music, the audience worked its way slowly back into listening mode. Scribbling furiously on a legal pad, Abby had the first turn in the “questioning round.”
“Dr. Knox, I’m sure we are all very impressed with your creativity and wonderfully whimsical flights of fancy. However, please answer me this: can’t the demise of Voyager also be explained away by a number of other things such as a collision with anything from a planetoid to a micrometeoroid? A cursory search of the Internet tells me that Voyager was travelling at 17.46 kilometers per second and weighed 733 kilograms. At that speed and at that weight, a collision with anything would result in a spectacular destruction like the infrared plume we all saw. Doesn’t Occam’s Razor demand a simpler solution than your fantastic Oort Wall?”
“Dr. Knox, you have three minutes for your answer,” said Fox.
“Dr. Westminster, I believe you have offered me multiple questions, but I will be glad to answer every one of them. First of all, Occam’s Razor essentially states that “the simplest solution is quite often the correct one.” In this case, I believe that the built-in room for nuance in William Ockham’s famous principle of parsimony must lean towards a more complex solution to uncover the truth. Indeed, a collision of a less exotic sort could account for the loss of signal, and perhaps even for the infrared plume, although I’m not sure how. Let me end by asking you a question. What time is it?”
“What time is it?” asked Abby
“I asked you first!” replied Knox playfully.
“It is 8:40PM Eastern Standard Time, but I don’t see how that…”
“All of your questions, Dr. Westminster, and indeed many of the questions of the entire human race will be answered at 8:50PM. Until that point, I rest my case.”
As the audience began to once again crescendo, Abby said: “James Knox, you are a natural showman.”
“Why thank you Abby Westminster.”
The James and Abby Cams had a field day.
“Folks, we’ll be right back with, it seems, the answer to all of our questions right after these words, YOU …are witnessing a special broadcast of… The Fox Speaks.”
Large heavy weight hard working diesel trucks are what every medium income family should own, especially if they love riding with abandon through fields rife with mud–this apparent law of the universe was learned once again along with everything else that was revealed at The Great EBE Debate.
“Welcome back to the Senate Chamber of The United States of America here in the historic Temple of Democracy in Washington D.C.” began Fox Blitzkrieg. “If you’re just joining us, man you missed out! Suffice to say that the fireworks have been going off and there have been thrills aplenty as this Great Debate has more than lived up to its billing. As it is now 8:48PM Eastern Standard Time, I would like to offer up a question of my own to Dr. Knox. Sir, just what can we expect to see at 8:50PM?”
“Proof positive for the existence of the Oort Wall,” said Knox.
“If you can produce such evidence Dr. Knox, I will publicly refute my position on extraterrestrial life and allow the possibility that I was wrong.” (Giant gasps from everyone…)
“Out of my great respect for you and for science, Dr. Westminster, I will not hold you to that statement, I will let the truth speak for itself. Ladies and Gentlemen, at exactly 8:50PM, there will be another catastrophic event that will prove the existence of The Oort Wall. My colleague Dr. Markus Weat and I have calculated that, due to the incredible gravity well effect produced by the Wall, anything within range will accelerate to fantastic speeds, near light speed in fact. We have therefore been able to plot the destruction of another object that will impact the wall at exactly the 150 AU mark in another quadrant of space.”
“What object are you talking about James? Asked Abby”
As the crowd began to ratchet up into near panic mode, Knox asked everyone to give their full attention to the screen.
“What you are seeing now is a real time relay from the deep space infrared Spitzer telescope. We are looking at the calculated spot in the sky where Voyager II will come into contact with the wall. Voyager II was moving more slowly than Voyager I and should have taken many years to reach the 150 AU spot, but the gravity well has increased its speed exponentially therefore…”
“Dr. Knox,” interrupted Fox, “It is now 8:53PM EST.”
“Dr. James Knox, you even had me going on this one,” said Abby, “but once again real science has triumphed proving once and for all…”
“Loss of signal, repeat loss of signal, loss of signal…” said a faceless robotic voice. “This is John Miller, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we have just lost contact with Voyager II.”
As they all watched, dumbfounded, a red pinpoint appeared on the screen that blossomed out into a flower-like pattern and then almost instantly began to fade.
“Loss of signal, loss of signal, loss of signal…repeat, loss of signal, loss of signal, loss of signal…”
“People of the Earth, we are NOT alone!” said Dr. James Knox triumphantly.
As the chamber of the U.S. Senate finally broke into thunderous applause that showed absolutely no sign of slowing down in the foreseeable future, Dr. Abby Westminster walked over to Dr. James Knox and shook his hand…then gave him a big hug. The Abby-James Cams went into a state of bliss.
“Stay tuned for full post-debate analysis and coverage! But first, these words from our sponsor…”
Yep, James Knox has the coolest job in the world. After weathering a full month of network interviews and panel discussions, James decided that the celebrity scientist life was not for him after all. Instead, he accepted a newly vacant position as director of educational outreach at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay Wisconsin.
Dr. James Fitzroy Knox had finally made it to the world’s most famous observatory and could now help other young Jimmy Knoxs with their numinous love of the cosmos. Having publicly beaten Dr. Westminster in a refereed argument, James happily took up his quixotic lance and went tilting, knowing that he would never again win a dispute with this particular opponent–a small price to pay for marrying the most brilliant woman in the world. And no matter what awaited humanity on the other side of what everyone was now calling “The Fort Knox Wall,” James knew that there was really nothing better in the entire galaxy than donning his University of Chicago parka and ushering in a swarm of elementary school kids to stand in awe of the Alvan Clark 40-inch Great Refractor while he looked into the emerald eyes of Abby Westminster-Knox.