A memoir

ę Evert van Wijk 2006



PROLOGUE AND DISCLAIMER


I will write this only once: STOP READING NOW!

This is not written to be read. No one else but me, the writer, could possibly be interested in and understand the ultimate meaning of the countless strings of words that will be following these. Anybody else might get bored, irritated, disgusted, angry, whatever. Anyone reading on does so at his or her own risk. "Somebody's got to pay for all the unwritten words within me." That's something Henry Miller wrote, in Tropic of Cancer I believe. In days to come, the unwritten words may become written. If you're still reading and go on reading, you will be paying by being bored, irritated, disgusted, angry, whatever. And that's not all. The last words I'll write will make an epilogue. You'll be in for a nasty surprise. When, or if, you read it, don't say I didn't give you fair warning.

EXPLORATIONS

Now don't ask me where all the unwritten words are coming from. They've been hanging around somewhere in my mind for years, trying to get together. Trying to make coherent sentences. Sentences representing thoughts, memories, feelings, plans, descriptions. Don't ask me either why they are coming out now. Maybe it's gotten too crowded up there. Maybe sentences were mixed up. Only a few days ago I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking: "What the drool is drinking gold for a mad puppet?" If that's not a mixed up sentence, I don't know what is.
Maybe I'm getting too old, having too many memories. Who needs them? They are not all that funny. Anyway, no one would believe me if I told my age or the date I was born. I can't even say that I was really born. I just remember that at a certain point in time I became aware of myself. No, there was no one else around. There was nothing to be around in. There was only consciousness: I am. There was no sense of what I later learned to call time and space and matter. There's no way to recollect how long it took, a nanosecond or a million years, before I realized there were other I's. That's what they were then, not he's or she's or them. How was I to know there was anyone else but me, or anything else, for that matter?
I, my consciousness, was aware of images, feelings, thoughts. I use these words now, because I've learned to use them. I didn't know them then, way back. Those images, feelings and thoughts flooded in and flooded out again. Gradually patterns emerged, differences between light and dark. I became aware of globes. Some were very large and fiery, others were small and dark or reflecting the light of large ones. I knew the number of globes exactly. No, I won't tell you. It's beyond your comprehension.
The images, feelings and thoughts were coming from some of those small globes. I focused on one of those small light reflecting globes. The feelings and thoughts coming from it grew stronger and more distinct from one another. The surface of the globe was not completely flat. There was movement, too. The moving things emitted the thoughts and feelings that flooded my awareness. I learned something: things that emitted thoughts and feelings were not things, they were beings. They consisted of matter, mostly, but there was something more than matter. Something drove them. They possessed that rare phenomenon: life.
Apparently life meant strife here. I was aware of ambitions and competition. The beings had feelings about one another. Some of those feelings were negative, some positive. There was a lot of indifference as well. The beings had a common name: gronk. There were more than sixty million of them, scurrying about on the globe's surface. Most of the time they were searching for other beings who also possessed live, but just barely so. I could hardly detect any feelings emitted by them. The gronks caught these beings and devoured them. I was disgusted. This may sound conceited, but I'll write it down anyway: the gronks were not on the same level of thinking I was. They were preoccupied with one thing only: keeping themselves and their species alive. They were pathetic, actually.
I focused my attention on another globe, far away prom the pitiful gronks.

"Leave us alone!"
The thought, if that it was, hit me like a physical blow. The globe's surface was completely smooth and completely devoid of any object or being. I concentrated. I felt resistance. There was life on, maybe in the globe, life of a much higher order than that of the gronks. I knew of course I could overcome the resistance, but I wanted to tread lightly.
It didn't take long to realize that there was life on the surface of the globe. It was life without matter. I won't even try to describe the beings that dwelled on this globe. You wouldn't understand. You are used to beings you can see, hear, smell and touch. These beings could not possibly be detected by you, if ever you could come in their vicinity. They would be aware of you, but they wouldn't give you a second thought. They called themselves ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫, by the way.
"I'm not here to disturb you", I let the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫ know. "Just let me linger for a while. Let me share your thoughts."
They agreed easily enough. They had no way of knowing I prodded them a bit. It was a great pleasure to share their thoughts, for they ranged far and wide. I understood now why their first reaction was so hostile when they felt my presence. Their way of life, the sole purpose of their life, was exchanging thoughts. Anything coming from outside their community might interfere with their subtle reasoning or the formulating of a new thesis. I did not interfere, I just 'listened'. Of course I wasn't really listening, because there were no spoken words. I let their thoughts flow into me to enjoy them. I stayed with the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫ for quite a while, but after some time I felt the urge to go on exploring. There was so much to explore in the overwhelming vastness.

A terrible sense of loss and despair came to me from the red globe. I also discerned memories of a past when life had been abundant on this globe. There had been a wide variety of species of beings on this globe. Only a few species were left and only one of them was capable of thinking and feeling. I counted eighty-seven of these beings on the surface of the globe. They were the last of the Harsani. If you could have heard and understood them, that's how their name would have sounded to you.
The Harsani had been a friendly people. I call them people, but they were not people like you. You would have called them monkeys probably, in one of your friendlier moods. You'd also call them hunter-gatherers. They used to eat the lower unthinking life forms that came out of the soil. Occasionally they killed and ate other life forms. There was hardly anything left for them to hunt or gather now on the surface of the red globe.
Most of the Harsani were huddled together. A few of them were moving towards this group, coming from a nearby hole in the surface. The sense of despair was growing when they halted. I 'heard' what one of them told the group. If you could have understood, you would have heard: "It's empty, completely dry. This is the end." I knew what this meant: the end of the existence of life on this globe, the end of the Harsani. An essential element for the continuation of life was missing, gone forever. I knew too that after a few rotations of this globe the eighty-seven Harsani would be as lifeless as the globe itself.
I scrutinized the globe's surface. I noticed an object that could not have been made or placed there by the simpleminded Harsani. They'd never known of its existence either. It was in a place that offered nothing worth hunting or gathering. It was made of matter that couldn't be found anywhere on this globe. I knew why it was there: to convey a message. The message was: "I've been here."
I had not interfered when being with the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫. I could have interfered now. I could have restored to the globe the element that the Harsani and other life forms needed so desperately. But what would have been the point? I wasn't there to make a point. I was only passing by and nearby was another globe, circling around the same fiery globe, but nearer to it. I sensed an abundance of life far larger than there had ever been on the red globe. I shifted my attention and focused. Yes, that was a good place to be for quite some time. I envisioned a lot of opportunities.

I'M THE LAW AROUND HERE

The people down there would be very much surprised when I came back from the mountain with those two stone tablets inscribed with ten commandments. The thunderstorm around the top of the mountain, a few days before, would make it easy for them to believe me when I told them whom I'd met there. They would as easily believe that he gave me those tablets. Why shouldn't they? Most of them remembered the water of the Nile turning into blood and the other nasty things that happened to the Egyptians. I had told them of course that he, Yahweh, you know, had done all those things to convince the pharaoh that he'd better let us go.
Oh, yes, in case you're wondering: I had decided to be Moses for a while. Mind you, I wasn't playing Moses, I was Moses. It was a good start for my stay on the globe you call planet Earth. That is, if you speak English. If you happen to speak Greek, you call this planet γη, or земля if you speak Russian. Back then most people didn't call it anything, because they didn't have a clue and couldn't care less. The only thing that was important to the people down there lay beyond the horizon. 'The promised land' they called it. Promised by you know who. Apparently he didn't give a damn about the people who were already living there. Maybe he was pissed of because they didn't believe in him or didn't even know him.
Now I was sitting on this rock and looking at the people I was leading through the desert. The desert is a good place to be, if you are a camel. They were just people who remembered that back in Egypt there was a lot of water, but in this desert there was precious little of it. Some of them had even started to grumble and as usual had started to lose faith or to think that another god might be more helpful. I had put my brother Aaron in charge for the time I was being away, but I knew he would never be called a leader of men. He'd probably screw things up. Next time I'd better put my young assistant, Joshua in charge. It might even be a good idea to make him my successor. Getting out of this desert and into that promised land might be the right occasion for a change in leadership.
I picked up the two stone tablets and started to walk down the mountain.
I could have known. I'd been on the mountain for only forty days, but forty days had been enough for them to make a complete mess. As expected Aaron had done nothing to prevent this. Worse still, he had cooperated. The people were worried, he said, because I stayed away that long. They wanted a more visible god, too. So he had asked them to give him their gold and he made a calf out of it. Now don't ask me why a calf should be the proper image of god, of any god. You'd think a fully grown bull would be more appropriate, or a lion. Some of them must have seen the Egyptian sphinxes. Why hadn't they come up with an idol like that? Even a nice geometric object like a pyramid would have been better.
The best thing to do, I decided, was to make it clear to them that I was really angry. That would make them think their god was really angry as well. OK, so I overdid it a bit. That's what Zippora, my wife, said to me later that night in our tent. "Was it really necessary", she asked, "to have three thousand people killed because they made a silly gold idol? And now you have to go up that mountain again to get two new stone tablets inscribed. It wasn't very smart to throw the first two on the ground, you know."
I knew. But going up that mountain wasn't the worst. Up there I had to listen once more to a long list of rules and regulations. I'd had no time yet to tell Zippora and all the other people that those ten commandments were just a summary. If all the laws I had gotten had to be inscribed on stone tablets, we'd have to break down half of the mountain.
And there was more to come, I knew. We were not exactly alone in this desert. Before my people could enjoy all the milk and honey in the promised land, they'd meet some other people, like Moabites, Ammonites and Midianites. Interesting, you might think. Forget it. I had to tell my people that it was forbidden to intermingle with these peoples. Telling the people would be easy enough, piece of matzo, so to speak. There was one small problem, though. How did I explain that to Zippora, who was very much a Midianite woman and very of proud of it, too? My father in law wouldn't be too pleased, either. After all, he'd given me food and shelter after I'd fled from Egypt.
Yeah, I know, I could have stayed in Egypt, if it wasn't for killing that Egyptian. Before that the pharaoh always treated me as his favorite grandson. That didn't mean of course that he was very fond of my people in general. He was a xenophobe if I ever saw one. So what else is new? Anyway, for one reason or another this pharaoh still couldn't stomach that it hadn't been an Egyptian but Joseph who had seen this seven year famine coming. Joseph was a good organizer too, so thanks to him they had a sufficient supply of food to get most people safely through the bad years. Some people said he knew all about the coming famine by interpreting correctly the pharaoh's dreams. Why is it that most people rather believe that success follows a lot of mumbo jumbo instead of sound management? I know the answer to that question, but you don't. Somewhere in this memoir the answer is to be found. You'll be surprised.
Going up the mountain for the second time had one big advantage: I could be alone again for some time. Up there it was much easier to cut of the constant stream of their invading thoughts and feelings. Not much of that was very interesting, you know. Life in a desert isn't very interesting, I'd give them that. On the other hand, they didn't have to worry about a job, or if there would be enough food tomorrow. So they had enough spare time to do something useful, or make something beautiful, a poem for instance. It was a pity, actually, they were not permitted anymore to make any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. There were enough rocks around to make some nice sculptures. Or why weren't they a bit more scientifically minded? They must have noticed that each day the sun came up on one side of them and went down at the other side. Weren't they curious where it came from and where it went to? They had noticed that it took that globe they saw in the sky most nights about thirty days to appear and disappear again. That should be food for thought, shouldn't it? I don't mean to say they were stupid. They were as intelligent as the next Egyptian or Hittite. Oh well, in the days to come a lot of them could be busy making a tabernacle, an arc and some nicely attired clothing for Aaron and his bunch of priests. Forty years to go, then I'd be off.

BEARING A CROSS

"I don't know what you're talking about", I told the man on the other side of the table. I had just finished dinner in the inn I was staying in for a couple of days.
"You don't know what happened today?" he asked.
"I just arrived in this town this afternoon. I noticed it was quite busy, more busy than usual. Wasn't there some kind of procession?"
"Man", he said in astonishment, "where do you come from? HE was coming into town."
"I'm from Cyrene. And who is HE?" I did my best to say HE in capitals like he did.
"Oh, I see, you're a foreigner. I'm Amos, from Berseba."
I told him I was Simon, from Cyrene. Then Amos told me that this HE had come into town that day with some friends. "You know", Amos said, "he claims to be king and many people think he's right. That's why they welcomed him."
"Well, I'm sure the Romans won't like that", I observed.
Amos laughed. "The Romans couldn't care less. He told the people some time ago to render to the Roman emperor what belonged to the emperor and as long as we pay our taxes, Pilate is happy enough. No, he'd better look out for our own priests and the Pharisees. I heard from someone that the whole sanctimonious lot don't like him one bit. He also seems to be claiming to be the son of god."
If you're still reading this, you must have realized I was back with the same people I had once led out of Egypt. Between then and this visit to Jerusalem I had taken care of some business elsewhere. I don't think you'd be interested and if you were you wouldn't understand what I was writing about.
"You know, Amos", I said, "this is going to be an interesting night and I think tomorrow will be even more interesting. Why don't we drink some more wine and after that we go the Sanhedrin and see if something is going to happen there? You too believe he is a king?"
Amos shrugged. "How am I to know? Some people say king David was his ancestor. If he is, he may have a kind of claim."
"What about son of god?"
"Come on, Simon, for crying out loud! How could god have a son? As far as I know you need two people to make a son, a man and a woman. I'm an expert, you know. My wife and me made three sons and four daughters. I didn't learn a lot, I'm a simple shepherd, but I've never heard the rabbi in my village speak about a goddess. So how could god have a son?"
I didn't think that it was a good time to tell him the Greeks and the Romans had male and female gods. These male gods didn't shy away from human females if they were pretty enough.
"But didn't he perform some miracles? Didn't he wake up someone from death?" I asked Amos.
Amos wasn't keen enough at that moment to wonder how I knew that, if I had only arrived in Jerusalem that afternoon.
"I've heard that, too", Amos said, "but I find it a bit hard to believe. I don't know what happens exactly when someone dies. Something leaves your body, I think. But who's to know what it is and where it goes? If it goes anywhere." He finished his wine. "Come on, let's go to the Sanhedrin."
It was still busier than usual in the streets. We were not the only people going to the Sanhedrin. We followed where the crowd was going. They were not going to where the Sanhedrin usually met. It was the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. So it couldn't possibly be the whole Sanhedrin being there.
"That's him", Amos shouted. He pointed at a man who was forcibly led into the building.
The crowd pressed around the building, trying to learn what happened inside.
"Hi, Isaac", Amos said, "meet Simon. He's from Cyrene. Where have you been?"
"Around, you know. I just heard they caught him somewhere in a park, where he was with his friends. Someone told the priests where to find him. Bloody traitor! He was one of his friends, too. Or so he said. If you have friends like that, you don't need an enemy." He spat on the ground, disgusted.
Inside, I knew, the accused man didn't say much. Word came out eventually he was accused of blasphemy. The crowd gasped. Blasphemy was punishable by death. They needed the Romans for that.
Caiaphas came out first. He motioned the people to be silent. "We'll bring this blasphemer before Pilate", he said. 'We'll ask Pilate to execute him in the usual Roman way. Now, you listen to me. You know that this time of year Pilate wants to show that the Romans can be as merciful as they can be brutal. So he will release some criminal. He'll give you, the people, a choice. I tell you, people, god's wrath will come down upon you, and it will come down hard, if you happen to choose this blasphemer. Now, make way."
The crowd parted to let Caiaphas, some Pharisees and the accused man through. I stood in the front row now. The man looked up when he passed me. For just a brief moment I looked straight into his eyes. I didn't see fear. I didn't see pain. What I saw was a kind of amusement. I probed his mind, gently. There was a sense of accomplishment. Things were happening exactly the way they were supposed to happen.
This Pilate had been appointed Procurator of Judea a few years before all this happened. Up till then he hadn't made a very good job of it. He had not been appointed because of his political or administrative skills. He had been just shrewd enough to one day marry the granddaughter of the emperor Augustus. He had expected something more of a career than being a local potentate in the backwaters of the great Roman empire. Now this Caiaphas and his Pharisees wanted him to decide on an issue that wasn't of any interest to the Roman empire. This Sanhedrin had already decided this men should be put to death and wanted him to rubber stamp the decision. (Yes, I know quite well rubber stamps had yet to be invented.)
Soon enough Pilate concluded that the man wasn't any threat to the Roman empire. Sure, he said he was to be a king, but not of this world. Pilate didn't bother to ask which world he was planning to be king of. He just told Caiaphas and the Pharisees, that as far as he was concerned the man had done nothing wrong.
Caiaphas of course persisted and Pilate was weak enough, or enough of a coward, to let the people make a choice between this man and Barabas, a well known thief and murderer. The people of course remembered quite well what Caiaphas had told them just a few hours before and was still telling them, so they all cried: "Release Barabas!"
I didn't want to be a spectator of the flogging that would take place now, if they followed the usual routine. I decided to go back to the inn and get some sleep. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because all of a sudden the alley I was walking in, was filled up by other people that pushed me to the next crossing. I wanted to cross the other alley, but I was held back by some Roman soldiers. "Just wait till that crowd has passed", they said. So I waited. Soon enough a group of other soldiers came walking down the alley, surrounding a man bearing a wooden cross. It was him, of course. A cross like that isn't an easy thing to bear even if you are a healthy young man. Being flogged before bearing the cross didn't make it any easier. So the going was slow. Right in front of me the man stumbled and fell on the ground.
"Hey, you", the soldier in charge of the detail pointed at me, "you take that cross and bear it. We haven't got all day. You guys", he addressed some of his men now, "support that man a bit and let's hurry it up, shall we?"
I carried the cross all the way up the hill. Another detail of soldiers was already putting up two more crosses. When you've been in the Roman empire for some time you have had enough opportunities to witness a crucifixion, so I decided to pass on this one. I went back to the inn and slept till dinnertime.
When I came into the dining room, Amos was sitting there, drinking wine.
"Hey, man, where were you", he asked, "didn't you want to see the crucifixion?"
I told him watching crucifixions wasn't one of my favorite pastimes.
It hadn't taken as much time as it usually did, Amos told me. The man on the cross had spoken a few times but Amos had been too far away to understand. "Strange thing happened", he said. "All of a sudden it was completely dark, like it was night, you know." I knew. "It lasted for about three hours", Amos went on. "There was also a kind of earth quake. I hope the quake didn't hit Berseba." On his way back to the inn Amos met some people who told him that at the same time the curtain of the temple had been torn from top to bottom. He had not heard the even wilder tales yet, tales of tombs opening and people coming out of them, alive and well.
Over dinner I asked Amos if he shouldn't have been at home. It was Pesach after all. He smiled, a bit guiltily. "I came here with this friend of mine to sell sheep. We've been friends since we were kids. So we know a lot about each other. You might say we tell each other everything. He knows my wife and children too, of course. So when I said I wouldn't mind at all to be without my wife and children for a few days, he completely understood. He went home alone and he'd tell my wife I'd fallen ill. Not terribly ill, nothing to worry about, but just too ill to travel. I made good money on those sheep, so I'll stay two more days. You can't say this wasn't an interesting day, can you? Have some more wine, my treat."
That it had been an interesting day was a matter of opinion of course. For someone a bit more astute than this friendly but simple shepherd the next days would be much more interesting. In just a few hours the city would be rife with rumors and speculations about an empty tomb and about what might have happened to the man who was supposed to have died on the cross and had been buried in the tomb.
About eight weeks later a couple arrived in Tyre. They went to an inn where sailors used to meet and asked around till they met the captain of a boat who needed another sailor for his next trip to Rome.
"You've sailed before, I take it", the captain said.
"Well", the man said, "not at a big sea like that", he pointed outside, "but I've been fishing a lot in the sea of Galilee. I can handle a rudder and sails. One more thing: I'd like to take my wife with me. We don't plan on coming back, you know."
"Suits me fine", the captain said. "The cost of her board I'll deduct from your wages. Say, what happened to your hands? You've been in a fight or something?"
"Something like that", the man said. "Not to worry. See you tomorrow at dawn." He stood up and took his wife's hand. "Come on, Mag, let's go to bed early."

SOME TIME FOR REFLECTION

"He must have had lots of fun." I can imagine you'd say that after reading what I've written until this point. You're right, in a way, but I have not written all there is to write about. I've been around, as you may have guessed. I've seen a lot of places and a lot of different life forms. You are the most interesting by far. If you think that's a big compliment, you are dead wrong. It's got nothing to do with admiration. As a species you are still rather backward. Let me say somewhere half way between the gronk and the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫. The latter have still some way to go, they have not reached their full potential yet. I like to be with them, though. They don't mind it anymore when I come along. They're quite happy to be able to communicate with me. I've given them some new ideas to think about. I can't communicate with you in the same way. You might say I'm slumming when I'm with you and that's putting it nicely.
What, then, is so interesting about you? I think it is this feeling of superiority. You have gotten so much accustomed to being the dominant species on that little planet of yours, that you think you can someday dominate everyone and everything. A few of you speculate sometimes about the possibility of higher life forms elsewhere. A lot more are making complete fools of themselves when they tell you that they've met beings from elsewhere. I can safely tell you now that your existence has been noticed, but up till now no other beings have found it worth their while to look twice, let alone to take the trouble to visit you. The Harsani were visited once, because they showed a lot of potential, but things went wrong by causes beyond their control.
You know what one of your biggest problems is? You need sounds and images to communicate. You've only just discovered that smells communicate a lot too. That is, your scientists know this. You're desperately searching for words somewhat more original than 'I like you' or 'I love you', but what your smell says is 'We're the perfect match to make some offspring together'.
You see, on some fundamental level you know quite well when you encounter someone with matching genes. Problem is, you call this level primitive, because animals have the same urge to bring matching genes together. Well, cockroaches don't give a damn about 'primitive'. Now, start counting cockroaches and than count all the human beings. See what I mean?
OK, we're still talking physical laws here. You can't do much about them. You're just following orders from Mother Nature, right? Wrong! You got some not so physical laws to keep those urges under control. There got to be more to life than giving in to this dominant urge to perpetuate your species. That's where I came in, remember? Yes, of course you remember. Your neighbor remembers, too. Or does he? Sure, he has heard or read about Moses. Moses was a great guy, no doubt about that. He had some deep, meaningful things to say, like 'Keep your dirty cotton picking hands off your neighbor's wife'. He didn't mind you took a day off after six days of working hard. But I wasn't only Moses. He took all the fun out of procreating, to make a minor point. So some time and some place else I made someone write this nice manual called the Kama Sutra. Now your neighbor thinks that the Kama Sutra is a much better book than the book you're reading. Yet another neighbor is reading yet another book. I spelled out some laws in that book too. In that book I permitted a male to go on procreating with four females. That gives him a much better chance of leaving a genetic trail, doesn't it?
You must be getting my drift by now, if you're still reading this. You don't like it, do you? Well, why don't you read the first line again? I completely agree with you if you want to state that you are a few levels above the cockroaches. But what makes you so sure that you're also a few levels above dolphins? They haven't written any book yet, I'll give you that, but they haven't made any cruise missile either. They are not in the business of killing off other dolphins. Like you, the dolphins communicate with one another, only without constantly making a mess of it. I have not met a dolphin yet saying: "I think you misunderstood me." Dolphins always understand other dolphins perfectly. Your biologists are studying the dolphins. I will tell you this much: it will take them a long time before they discover what the dolphins are really communicating about, if ever. Have you ever thought about the possibility that, maybe a long time ago, the dolphins have been studying you and that they have come to some conclusions? For instance: "Let them have thirty percent of this globe to live on. We keep the other seventy percent to live in." They are not really worrying about some melting ice.
So you've learned to do as you are told: thou shalt not blindly follow thine instincts. You're even proud of that, as long as you are not a psychopath. You even went one step further: you've learned to suppress your instincts. Your so called spiritual leaders tell you that's a good thing to do. I'm not telling you here that stealing, killing and fucking around are endeavors worthy of the human spirit. But instincts are not the only qualities you have suppressed, with someone's help, of course. What you have not learned yet and most probably will never learn, is how to communicate. There are more ways of communicating than exchanging words, you know. No, I'm not talking about telepathy. If you could communicate with the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫ and you'd tell them about telepathy, they would tell you to come back when you know what you are talking about.

Who wrote all this?

No, this is not the place, nor the time, to give you some explanation. Just wanted you to know what the first line of my epilogue will be.

LOOK WHO'S TALKING

"And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour." Those were the final words. I think I'd done a reasonable job of writing. Somewhere above these words I'd written some nice things like "all Men are created equal" and something about "unalienable Rights" and that among these were "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." You can't find fault with that, can you? I'd even written that it was all "self-evident". Tomorrow the gentlemen from Pensylvania, Rhode-Island, Connecticut and the other ten states will only be too happy to put their signature underneath this text. That would teach the British a lesson! This was something quite different from the Boston Tea Party. This was for real.
Of course I hadn't written all these fine words in one day. Earlier drafts I'd shown to a friend of mine. To be correct I ought to say he is a former friend of mine. I won't tell his name, lest he should earn a certain status in the history of this country. I'll call him Robert here.
It was a nice sunny day in June. We'd just finished lunch on the porch of my mansion. Robert picked up the last draft and read it some more.
"You've written some nice things here, Thomas", he said. "You really mean all of it, don't you?"
"I would not have written them if I didn't", I said. "I believe in them strongly. Why do you ask?"
"Let me ask you another question first. Who discovered America?"
"Columbus of course, in 1492. Everybody knows that."
Robert chuckled. "Indeed he did. And after that he went home to Spain to report to the king of Spain that he had found this enormous land were nobody lived, so wouldn't it be a good idea to send some Spaniards to live there? Some time later the English, the French and the Dutch also thought this was a good idea."
"You know quite well, Robert, people were living here."
"Yes, I know", Robert said. "Now let me ask you again: who discovered America?"
I didn't want him to know he had me a little bit confused, so I called to one of the black maids to bring us some more tea.
"You are nitpicking, Robert." I'd quickly recovered my composure. "What we mean to say is that by Columbus America was discovered for the civilized world."
Now it was Robert's time to think. He didn't take long. "I see what you mean", he said. "Along came this civilized former Spanish swineherd Francisco Pizzarro and met with this totally uncivilized Atahualpa. He made this Atahualpa fill up three rooms with gold and silver and subsequently had him killed. I ask you: where did an uncivilized ruler get all this gold and silver from and how civilized is it to kill him and a lot of his people?"
"We're not responsible for the wrongdoings of the Spanish", I retorted.
"You're right, we're not", Robert said. "We're only responsible for our own actions. Tell me, Thomas: how much wage do you pay your black servants? As much as your white farmhands? You wrote something there about all men being created equal. Are these black servants at liberty to go pursue their happiness elsewhere?"
"What's the matter with you, Robert?" I asked. "I've never seen you in such a churlish mood. You know quite well that those black people, and the Indians, I might add, don't have any education, let alone any culture. Have you ever seen a church built by Indians? Have you ever heard a symphony composed by a black man?"
He stood up. "You are a hypocrite, Thomas. What you mean in that text you've written is that the white people who have chosen to live here in America, are equal to the British people in England and the French people in France. Sure, we are free to pursue our happiness on the lands where the Indians used to hunt. Have you ever asked how happy they have been since they met us? Now, if you'll excuse me. I have some matters to attend to."
That was the last time I saw Robert. I heard later he'd left America for France. I still think it's a pity I let him leave after he'd called me a hypocrite. I think that, given enough time, I could have convinced him of the beauty of the things I'd written. I knew then already that long after I'd gone the piece of paper with all those words and signatures would be considered a national treasure. If, on a nice day, you walk along the Tidal Basin, you can't miss the Memorial that's built there to honor me.
Writing this memoir and even more the rereading of what I've written till now leave me some times with a sense of dissociation. Is it really me writing this? Who, actually, is reading this? Am I writing down something I did already read somewhere? Are you, the reader, me? I know what you think: as long as they keep him locked up he can do no harm to anyone. No one's going to be hurt by what he is writing. Are you sure? You must have read somewhere that the word is mightier than the sword. The words this Thomas wrote down had a lasting impact, hadn't they? If you're so inclined you are still reading from time to time the commandments that Moses chiseled in stones. Maybe you are reading a classic right now.
I'm in control. I know that. I know all the answers. Now I'm looking for the questions to go with them. I'm postponing the inevitable. Consider it to be a game for our amusement. We're in this together. You have never walked alone. Being alone is impossible. Even for a fight you need someone else. When you don't see or hear anybody, you can remember somebody. I'm not talking about being lonely. Being lonely is a state of mind. Just imagine yourself in the midst of a party. You don't know anybody there. You just want to leave and be alone.

You know who. (Just kidding.)

WHAT IF ...

You think history is a thing of the past? Come on, you know better than that. Like the future, history is what you want it to be. Only the present can not be changed. The present is that immeasurable point in time between history and the future.
I'd left my horse in the capable hands of Joseph. I'd met him a few times when I played in Ford's Theatre. "Men at some times are master of their fates." Only a few months ago I had spoken these words on the stage of Ford's. Shakespeare has always been my favorite playwright. It was a bit too early to go in, so I went to a saloon just around the corner. I'd been there before.
"Good evening, Mr. Booth", the bartender welcomed me. "The usual, I presume? First one is on the house."
"Thank you, Mr. Crawford. If you don't mind, I'll have a double."
While he poured the drink he asked me: "Aren't you sorry you're not playing tonight, Mr. Booth?
"Not at all. Our American Cousin is not the play I want to be seen in."
"I know , sir, I know. I can still remember your playing Macbeth. You love to play Shakespeare, don't you?"
"Do you know any other playwright, Mr. Crawford? By the way, do you happen to know the lovely young lady sitting over there all by herself? Her glass is empty. Why don't you ask her if I can offer her another glass?"
Crawford went to her. She looked at me, when he asked her. Then she nodded and said something to him.
"She gladly accepts your offer, Mr. Booth." He poured a glass of red wine and gave it to me. "She'd like you to join her. You may give her the wine yourself."
I took my bourbon and her wine and walked to the table where she sat. I put down the glasses and offered her my hand. "A very good evening to you. I'm John Wilkes Booth. I'm very pleased you let me join you, Miss ..."
"I'm Mrs. Janet Hansen. Please sit down, Mr. Booth. I'm glad to have some company."
Now that I saw her at close quarters she looked still more lovely. I was really surprised she was married. She looked hardly older than twenty years of age. I wondered how a lovely young married woman could be here all alone.
She seemed to have read my thoughts. "I wanted to go to the theatre, you know, but I was too late. It was completely sold out."
"So you like the theatre", I said.
"Not really that much", she said. "I'm staying with my aunt in Washington for a few days. I'd like a chance to see president Lincoln from nearby, you know. So I decided to wait till the play is over. Have you ever seen the president, Mr. Booth?"
"Only a few days ago, I have indeed. I was walking near the White House and saw a crowd gathering there and went over. The president was making a speech. He said voting rights should be granted to certain black people." Thinking back I was infuriated again. After all the bad things he had already done to the South it would even come to that. Being an actor it wasn't hard for me to conceal my feelings.
"Your husband could not come with you to Washington, Mrs. Hansen?" I asked her.
She lowered her head and didn't answer. She took a handkerchief from her purse and put it over her eyes.
"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Hansen. Have I said something wrong?"
She looked at me again. "He was in the Union army. He was killed in the battle of Hatcher's Run in February. I'm so glad this terrible civil war is over. And I'm really glad too that Mr. Lincoln is our president."
Well, I held entirely different views. Less than a week ago I'd almost drowned myself in bourbon after I'd heard that general Lee had surrendered to Grant. The lovely young lady on the other side of the table could scarcely know what plans I had in mind. When a hint of a smile appeared again on her face I almost regretted the fact that I had to leave her in about half an hour. She would be very disappointed when it turned out she wouldn't see the president.
"Do you live in Washington, Mr. Booth?" she asked.
I told her that in fact I lived all over the country, sleeping in boarding houses or hotels. When she asked if I was a traveling salesman I told her I was an actor.
She blushed. It made her even prettier. "Oh, I'm really sorry, Mr. Booth. I should not have said I don't like the theatre that much. I must have offended you. Actually I have never seen a play. Maybe if I saw a good actor, I would like the theatre very much. Are you a good actor, Mr. Booth?"
This was the time to play the modest man. "Some people say so, Mrs. Hansen. If only you could stay in Washington for a few more days. Wednesday next week I will be playing Hamlet in the Ford's."
"Will you really, Mr. Booth? I think my aunt wouldn't mind at all if I stayed a few more days. She tells me constantly I shouldn't stay at home, brooding over things that can not be undone. Jack and I were married for only five weeks when he died, you know."
There were no tears this time. "Do you think I'm a bad girl", she went on, "when I say I'd rather be with my aunt than with my parents right now? They want me to be a proper widow, gloomy and all, grieving all day, wiping away tears. I can't help it I just turned twenty, can I? I think I still have a lot of living to do and I don't want to do that alone." She looked at me, almost defiantly.
"I agree, and you're not a bad girl, Janet." I looked at my watch. "Would you like another glass of wine?"
"I'd like that very much, John." I'd gambled but I'd won.
I took the two glasses and went to the bar. While Mr. Crawford was refilling the glasses, I realized I was enjoying myself very much. Janet was clearly a very resilient young woman. She was a very beautiful young woman as well. Due to what I did for a living I hardly ever had the chance to get to know an attractive woman better after I met her. I never was in one place long enough. When I'd done tonight what I had planned to do, Janet's lovely face would be one in a long line. It was not a pleasant thought. She'd be reminded of another man dying. She would start grieving again. She'd be horrified, knowing that she had accepted drinks from a man that had done something that would make a nation grieve. She would never go to a theatre. She would never hear the bard's immortal words.
I walked back to the table. The two glasses in my hands were good excuses for walking back slowly. I wanted to look at her. She wore a simple dark-blue dress. It covered, but could not completely conceal the forms of a slender body. I wanted to see that body uncovered. I never would see that body, or would I?
"Why are you looking so serious, John, all of a sudden?" Janet asked when I put the glasses on the table.
"For days now I've been thinking of a better way to play Hamlet. Is he really the man that is always doubting? Or is he faking doubt, while planning revenge for the murder of his father?" I told her what happened in the play. She was really interested or she must have been a better actor than I was. She was particularly interested in Ophelia.
"Is it difficult to be an actress?" she asked. "I'd like to play Ophelia." She smiled. "It isn't too bad to go mad and drown if you can go home afterwards, is it?"
I gambled once more. "Not if your lover, who died by a poisoned sword, comes home too."
She didn't just smile, she laughed. "John, you shouldn't say such an improper thing to an innocent young woman."
That did it. Let the bastard Lincoln be president for a few years more. I didn't like the traitor Andrew Jackson much better. I'd began liking Janet Hansen very much. I'd seen a few southern belles. I had to admit the North had at least one belle too.
"You'd better finish your wine now, Janet. You wouldn't like to miss the chance to see the president."
We arrived just in time. General Grant was just leaving the theatre. Lincoln came out behind the general. I felt the derringer in my pocket. I also felt Janet's hand on my arm. Both felt like burning.
"I love you, Mr. president", Janet shouted.
"I hate you, bastard", I thought.
Janet's aunt didn't live far away from the Ford's. I offered to walk her home, of course. I wasn't surprised when she accepted. There were many nights after that when we both died and went back to the boarding house or hotel together. Janet turned out to be a very good actress. Don't be surprised: she had a very good tutor, her husband. She always loved to play Ophelia, but after some time she loved playing Desdemona even more. She told me one night when we'd played Othello in Pittsburgh.
"When I'm lying in that bed and see you come on stage, I am always thrilled, again and again. You are the man I've always loved, but you, consumed by jealousy, have come to kill me. When you're coming to my bed I'm Janet and Desdemona at the same time. I see Othello's hatred and John's love. The audience only sees your killing hands. They don't know that you are stealthily caressing my body. Sometimes I'm almost overwhelmed by desire. I want to pull you against me, forgetting the audience. I can almost smell the desire coming from you. I can see and feel that you are as aroused as I am. When you say 'I will kill thee, and love thee after' I can't stop thinking about the 'love thee after'. I can already feel what you will be doing when we've returned to our hotel room. Let me say now one of my last lines in the play: Will you come to bed, my lord?" She dropped her night gown and smiled enticingly. She didn't have long to wait.

Do you feel any different because Lincoln was not assassinated after all? How many people would have remembered Andrew Jackson if he had succeeded Lincoln? Everybody knows now he was succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant, who defeated Robert E. Lee at Appomatox, only five days before the day that Lincoln was not assassinated. No one remembers the Gettysburg Address anymore, it being overshadowed by far by his Indian Scourge Speech in which he called upon president-elect Ulysses S. Grant to appoint a young cavalry officer, George Armstrong Custer, as his Secretary of War. President Grant knew better than that.
There's no history book in which John Wilkes Booth's name is mentioned. Do you mind?
Are you getting the picture? I was John Wilkes Booth for a reason. I wanted to make a point. I don't leave anything to chance. There is no such thing as chance. What you call life is nothing more than a play. All of you are playing roles. A play is written by someone. The author can change the play any time he likes. That's his prerogative. You can't do anything else but play the role he has written and keeps rewriting. The funny thing is that the author can write about free will at one time and about preordained destiny at another time. Take your pick, whatever suits you best. I don't care.
Yes, I know what you're thinking now. Why did he choose to be John Wilkes Booth and not Lee Harvey Oswald? To be honest, I must say that I gave it some consideration. I even took the time to write a script of sorts. It looks like this if you can find it somewhere.
I should have taken the elevator and not have tried to walk up to the sixth floor. I had to figure out quickly how to get down at least a few stairs. Somebody might come up and find me. When I explained I broke my ankle while going upstairs and asked would he or she please call 911, they would certainly do so. But it wouldn't be very smart to ask the paramedics would they be so kind to take my rifle for me too. I had to put some distance between me and that rifle. Only a minute ago I had heard the crowds cheering when the president's cavalcade passed. It wouldn't take long before the people in this building got back to work again.
I didn't like it. OK, so John was a racist. Let's not forget Lee was a wife beater. What really made me choose John is that Janet was a much more attractive woman than this Marina Prusakova Lee married when he was in Russia, posing as a self-styled communist. Apart from that, you would have missed all the books, TV documentaries and pictures speculating about who was in the conspiracy to assassinate president Kennedy. Here's another nice theory no one has come forward with, yet. With Kennedy in the car was the governor of Texas. He was only shot in the back. The scenario here is that the governor was the real target and Kennedy was killed by accident. Now why would that be improbable? I'm not saying this is what really happened. I'm not denying it either. I can make it happen. I'll throw in a few disgruntled CIA agents for good measure. Would you like that?

The end

Don't think I'm finished yet. Underneath you can see I am not. Those words will be, as you may have guessed, the last words of this memoir. Those words will be the most dangerous words you have ever read. I thought I'd better mention that.

ISN'T IT CONFUSING?

"What river?"
"There ought to be a river down there. Right in front of us should be the ford where we might safely cross the river."
"Are you sure?"
The young man looked at his wife, exasperated. "For you it's the first time you've come up on this hills, Caroline, but I've been here several times before. You know that."
"Maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere."
"Caroline, please! About ten miles back is old Charlie's ranch, right? There isn't much of a road from the ranch till here, but there's a clearly visible track. Between here and there has never been a crossroad. So how could I possibly have taken a wrong turn? And before you ask: I did not fall asleep."
"Don't get cross with me, Andy. I didn't steal your silly river. Let's count our blessings. Aren't things much easier without that river? Why don't we go on?"
"In case you haven't noticed yet, my dear little wife, rivers are not only obstacles. They are also providers of water to drink for us and the horses. If you are lucky you can get some fish out of them. And on a warm day like this I wouldn't mind a dip in it."
"Aha", Caroline laughed, "now I know why you are so annoyed."
Andrew looked puzzled at first. Then he laughed too. "I confess. Coming up the hill I was thinking of stopping for a while by the river, taking of some clothing and having a bath."
"You mean taking of all of your clothing after you'd taken of all of my clothing."
"Guilty as charged", Andrew said, smiling. "Let's be serious, Carrie. I know there was a river. I would have understood if there had been a dry riverbed. But there's only grass, as if there has never been a river. I won't go any further before I know what's going on. Now, you take out the horses and make some coffee. I'll walk down and have a look. I'll get to the bottom of this."
"No river, no bottom", Caroline said, but he didn't hear. He walked downhill thought the tall grass. She took the horses out and filled buckets with water for them. She didn't have to feed them. They ate fresh grass. She started to make coffee. For a few weeks Andrew had been exploring the territory west of Charlie's ranch. Three days ago he had come back almost raving. "Carrie", he had said, "the place is heaven, it's paradise. There's this wood that will provide timber for building a house like a palace. There's this stream for fresh water. There's enough wildlife and there's grass for a herd of thousands of cows."
They'd grown up in a small rural town. They had known each other from childhood, but had hardly ever been together in anything. Until last year's fall. They had both gone to the harvest festival and he'd asked her for a dance. Afterwards they had talked and had discovered they both felt the atmosphere in the town like being strangled. People were supposed to behave in a certain manner and there was a long list of things people were supposed not to do. They also had many other things in common, like their love for wide open spaces, the plains where people and animals could move freely. They were married in April and left town in May.
It took almost an hour before Andrew came back. Caroline didn't question him but poured coffee for him. He drank all of it before saying anything.
"We're staying here tonight, Carrie", Andrew said. "I want to think about this. Rivers don't just disappear. There was no trace of a river down there. You don't think I'm crazy, do you?"
She ruffled his hair. "If I thought you were crazy, I would've taken one of the horses and I'd hightailed it out of here, Andy. I want to build that house with you. I want to take a dip in that stream with you as often as I can. You were talking about paradise. Well, let's be Adam and Eve."
"I haven't seen any fig leaves there."
"Who needs fig leaves? What do we do in the morning?"
"I don't believe in miracles", Andrew said. "I only know I can't explain the complete disappearance of a river. I wouldn't be surprised if the river is back in place tomorrow."
"Come on, Andy, of course you will be surprised and so will I. The question is: what do we do when there still is no river tomorrow?"
"We can't take a real bath. I'll think of other ways to clean you up a bit."
They were a really nice couple and they deserved their place in their own paradise. I didn't want to frustrate them much longer. Carrie was the first one to wake up the next morning. She jumped out of the cart. "Andy", she called, "get up and come out. It's a nice day. Let's take a bath."
His head appeared. "Carrie, don't you know you're naked?"
"I know quite well, stupid. Do you know what a real man does if he sees a naked woman? He runs after her when she runs to the river. Try to catch me."
When he caught her she was already in the water. It was a good moment to turn my attention someplace else. I'm not a peeping Tom.
Oh, I see. You want me to focus on Andrew and Caroline again. Why is that? You're not interested in which president lives or dies, are you? You're interested in the common people only. Good for you! You know what I think? You're especially interested in common people who didn't bother to put some clothes on before running to the river to take a bath. Let's go the river too. You don't have to worry about them seeing you. To them you're invisible. You're not even there. Have a good look.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you are doing now? I'm not talking morals here. I don't give a damn about your looking at people who are doing things they usually do when there's nobody else around. I'm looking too, right? The two young people there know that the nearest person is old Charlie and he is ten miles away. They are enjoying themselves. They are in paradise already. What I am saying is, you do this all the time.
Hold on! I'm not accusing you of sneaking around, trying to get a look through partially split curtains. I know you are going to the beach only to get a nice tan, not because you want to see other people that are mostly or completely undressed. I'm talking about what's going on in your mind. I'm talking about imagination and fantasies. Don't you think Caroline and Andrew make nice images? Are they not behaving exactly the way you would like to behave?
You're clever. You really are. You don't have to stand here and only watch. Imagine yourself sitting on a horse trotting along the river. You hear people talking and giggling. It's been a week since you've last seen anyone else. You wouldn't mind having some company for a change and share some stories.
You don't go on. The young couple might be embarrassed when someone happens upon them while they're doing what they're doing right now. There must be a better way to know what is happening to them in the near future. You want to be one of them, don't you? You have always wanted to ride across the great plains. You hate those crowded cities. Who is it going to be? That's a difficult choice indeed. What do you want to be admired for, those broad muscular shoulders or the gentle curves of your body? I'll do the choosing. You are completely dependant of me, anyway.

Andrew and Caroline walked back hand in hand. They had breakfast before they put their clothes on. It was a bright sunny day. "I'm glad we're here, Andy", Caroline said. "This is what life is supposed to be, I believe. Walking to the river without having to look over your shoulder to see if there is somebody else."
"I'm happy in any place as long as you are there too, Carrie. It's a good thing we stopped here yesterday."
The knowledge of there being no river yesterday had already left their minds. It wasn't part of their memory. As far as they knew, they had crossed the river and had then stopped.
"You know, Carrie", Andrew said, "since we crossed that river, we're no longer in the United States. We are on our own now. Doesn't that frighten you a little bit?"
"Why should that frighten me? We can go wherever we please. We'll see no signs telling us not to trespass. These plains belong to everyone. Nobody is telling us to dress properly before we have breakfast. I feel like Eve before the snake offered her an apple. Even after having eaten an apple, I refuse to feel ashamed of my body. There's nothing to be ashamed of, is there?"
"Nothing at all. You can sit beside me all day as naked as you want to be."
They still had three days to go before they reached their destination. There were no more rivers to be crossed, so they decided to get here a supply of water for the rest of the journey.
In my own way I was fond of this couple. I didn't want anything terrible happening to them. The tornado they saw that afternoon stayed far away from them, far away enough to even admire the funnel touching the ground. It was like a finger from heaven trying to push the Earth down. When a few weeks later a group of Indians came their way, there wasn't even a hint of hostility. The Indians weren't the least surprised to see a naked white couple build a house. They weren't really white any more. Since that morning by the river they had hardly worn clothes at all. I'd taken good care of the weather, agreeable temperatures, and rain came only during some nights. The Indians told them they were very pleased to see some new faces in these parts. They promised to drop by from time to time, just to see if everything was going well.
"I knew it", Andrew said that night. They were lying in he grass along the river. "Back home ... " He stopped, when Caroline put a hand on his mouth.
"Silly man. This is home. Where we grew up is definitely not home. Have you ever felt at home there? You were always thinking of going away to a place like this. You were only postponing your departure to wait for someone to accompany you. The day we were dancing, I saw in your eyes that you had found the one you were waiting for. When we talked later outside I saw you looking at the horizon. I felt the same longing for the places beyond that horizon. I knew right there and then we'd be going together. We've always been told that out here only brute and savage Indians roamed the plains, hunting for white men when they were done hunting buffalo's. Have we been speaking with savages this afternoon?"
"That's exactly what I was going to say when you stopped me talking", Andrew said. "I'd rather live with those Indians than with a lot of so-called friends I grew up with. The funniest thing they could think of was beating up a boy being smaller than they were."
"Or doing worse things to a girl if they knew they could get away with it."
"I can't believe you had problems with boys, Carrie."
"You are perfectly right. Only one of them ever thought he might give it a try. You should have seen his bruises." She laughed. "I think he told his friends to stay away from me. My mother got a little worried when I didn't seem to show any interest in boys. I told her I wasn't waiting for a boy. I wanted to meet a man."
You know where this is going to lead to. Time and again you've read or heard the famous last words: They lived happily ever after. You think it's unbelievable, don't you? Let me tell you, it's quite believable and quite possible too. It's terribly boring as well. Try to imagine a life of perpetual bliss. Every day being as beautiful as the day before and as the next day. Your wife or your husband keeps on loving you and keeps on telling you you're the most beautiful person in the world. In your old age your beautiful children will never fail to visit you, inquiring after your health, which could never be better. Even after you die some day, bliss is going on. You never forgot to say your prayers, so you go straight up to heaven, where ever that place may be. I have not given it much thought, you know. It's just that: a thought. A thought that gives some comfort to people who don't know what living happily is. If they can't do that right here, there will come a time they can do it over there. The only thing they have to do is die.
There is only one catch. I think of everything. There's black and white. There's large and small. There's wet and dry. I like opposites. So there's heaven and hell. There's continuous bliss and continuous damnation. The funny thing about hell is that people are already living in it just by thinking of the possibility that eventually they might end up there. Why is nobody living in heaven already because he or she is sure of ending up there? Because they can never be sure what this judge they call god will decide when they appear before him. "Haven't you coveted your neighbor's wife someday?" Sure you did! You even went upstairs to have a better view from your bedroom window and do some more coveting while she was swimming in her pool. Oh boy, is she really swimming topless there? Get away from that window, man. Before you know it you're adding adultery to coveting. At the same time you were coveting your neighbor's swimming pool, remember? You're lucky there wasn't an ox around, or a maidservant, for that matter. You'd have gone on coveting. And what did you tell your wife when she asked you what you had been doing upstairs? You think the great judge up there doesn't mind a little white lie? Think again!

MAY THE BEST WOMAN WIN

I had just ordered a second cup of coffee when Paul came in. He looked around. I waved. He saw me. His face lit up and he came straight to my table. He took my hands, pulled me up and hugged me almost fiercely. He held my shoulders and looked at me.
"Angie! Where have you been all the time? Nobody knew where you were. I was really worried, you know. I even went to the police to report you as a missing person. Did they find you?"
"No Paul, they didn't. They didn't even look for me. Sit down, Paul. Have a coffee. We'll talk."
A waiter came and he ordered a coffee. "I'd like a brandy to go with that. How about you, Angie?"
I accepted. "Now, Angie, tell me all", Paul said. "Don't you ever disappear like that again, you hear, not without telling me where you are going."
I'd left town, so to speak, two months ago. That is, Paul and other friends thought it was two months ago.
When Paul met me, about six months ago, we were competitors. There was this tall office building to be designed. It was going the be the tallest building in town, seventy floors at least. Paul is a very good architect. Everybody was sure he was going to design the building. Only in the nick of time another design was submitted. Guess who submitted it? Who else but Angela McIntosh, the young architect no one had ever heard about? But no one could overlook the artistic qualities of this design. They could not miss the very efficient use of space. The committee that had to make the final decision wanted to speak with both architects before making that decision.
Paul was first. I briefly met him, when he left the chamber where the committee was meeting. It was my turn to go in. The committee consisted of ten councilmen and was presided by that pompous ass, the mayor.
"Sit down, Miss McIntosh, sit down. We're so pleased to meet you." The man was practically drooling. I was glad I'd dressed quite conservatively. I didn't even want him to see my knees. He did his best to get a peek.
"Why don't you tell us, Miss McIntosh, in a few words, why we would choose your design for the Ratcliff Building?" Yes, the building was going to be called after this insignificant man, who happened to have a lot of inherited money.
"Mr. Mayor, I think the good people of this town are an intelligent lot. They know who they want to be their councilmen and mayor when they're walking up to the ballot box. They are looking for men who are intelligent enough to make difficult decisions. But intelligence is not the only quality they ought to have. They also have to know about culture, about beauty. Think about it, gentlemen. The Ratcliff won't be just another office building. Picture yourself a few years from now, walking along this block with your grandson. 'Isn't that the most beautiful building in town, grandpa?' your grandson will say. You will be proud to say 'Yes son, it sure is. Have I ever told you I was one of the men who wanted that building to be erected there?' I'm not telling you, gentlemen, that Paul Finch designed a bad building. It certainly isn't. I'm not saying it would be a disgrace to this beautiful town. It has a lot of qualities. I just want you to look once again at the two models over there. Don't look at them as business opportunities, look at them as works of art. You recognize a beautiful painting when you see one, don't you? You also know a beautiful building when you see one. Then look at the blueprints once more. Have you ever noticed the beauty of blue prints?" They hadn't, of course. They wouldn't know a blueprint from yesterday's newspaper.
Now they were all practically drooling. I knew what they were thinking: If we choose her design we'll be able to see more of this very attractive young woman.
"You make a good case for yourself, Miss McIntosh", the mayor said, "but you know we're being held responsible by the citizens of this fine town. They are, let's say, a bit on the traditional side, not as farsighted as the members of this committee are. They are not used to important buildings being designed by a young woman, even is she is attractive as you are, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I do mind, you dumb witted fool!" That's what I'd like to say, but of course I didn't. I crossed my legs, pulling my skirt a little higher. So let them have a peek. I couldn't care less after all. I put on my most charming smile.
"I understand your difficult position completely, Mr. Mayor. There's this well know architect Finch and there's this nobody McIntosh. Nobody would blame you, if you choose Finch's design. But how do you want to be remembered, gentlemen? As the men who always followed the same safe course, as the men who competently watched the store? Or do you want to be remembered as the men who were committed to leave the beaten track and follow a new course, the men who had erected the symbol of the great aspirations of this town?"
I didn't have to say anything more. I knew I'd won. I almost felt sorry for poor Paul Finch.
"Thank you, Miss McIntosh". The mayor came around the table and shook my hand. His hand felt clammy and he held mine too long. "If you'll just wait outside, I promise you, we'll come to a decision as fast as we can."
"You're back, quickly", Paul said, "I've been there over an hour."
We introduced ourselves. I told him where I'd studied and that this could be my first commission. I knew what he thought: "Forget it, lady!"
I took the committee no more than fifteen minutes. One of the councilman opened the door to ask us to come in again. Paul, the perfect gentleman, let me lead the way. The councilman didn't open the door very wide. My breasts brushed his arm when I went in. When Paul and I were seated the mayor spoke.
"Mr. Finch, I speak on behalf of all the committee when I say that you have designed a building worthy of this town." Paul beamed.
"However", the mayor continued and I saw the lines of Paul's face sagged, "the councilmen and I think that now is the time for this town to take the first step into a new direction." I looked at Paul. He nodded almost imperceptibly.
The mayor went on and on about this great town, this great future, this great Ratcliff Building. What it all boiled down to was what a great mayor this modest Mr. Ratcliff was. "Miss McIntosh I'm looking forward to seeing more of you." Those were his last words. After that Paul and I had to shake eleven sweaty hands.
Paul was a good sport. In the hall outside the chamber he said: "Congratulations, Miss McIntosh. I'm not trying to flatter you when I'm saying that it is my honest opinion that you have designed a magnificent building. I can not even feel defeated. You're in another league. May I buy you a drink? Wait, let's have dinner together."
Over drinks we dropped the Mr. and Miss. Paul could talk about his profession enthusiastically and interestingly, so I let him do most of the talking. He pointed out correctly the fine points of my design and knew exactly what the technical novelties were. "I can hardly believe, Angie, that this is your first commission."
"It may be my first commission, Paul, but is isn't my first design. I have some more designs at home. I just wanted to wait for the right occasion to start my career."
When he wanted to know where I held office, I told him my home doubled as an office. "I don't need assistants, you know. I do all the work myself. I don't need that many commissions. Let's say I'm a woman of independent means. My father was a rich man and I'm on only child." That's as good an explanation as any, don't you think?
After that day we dated several times. He didn't have to tell me that he was not only a gentleman, but just a man, sometimes. Well, many times. Just before I left for some time I invited him to my apartment cum office.
Over coffees after dinner he said: "Angie, you are not playing with me, are you? You must have realized by now, that to me you are much more than a very good architect. You are a very bright woman, too. But most of the time I'm thinking of you as a very beautiful woman. You are a lovely woman, Angie. I love you."
I put my hand on his. "I know, Paul. I'm not playing with you. I knew you wanted to say that, but that you'd never say it in a bar or in a restaurant. For you it's something to say in a private place. I'm very grateful that you feel about me this way. It's always a pleasure to be with you, talk with you."
He put his other hand on mine. "But you don't love me."
"I'm very fond of you, Paul, you're my best friend, but no, I do not love you."
That was two moths before we met by a kind of accident again.
"I wanted to be alone for a while", I told Paul. "Get away from it all. An acquaintance of mine owns this cabin in the Adirondacks. He let me rent it for two months. It is quite near a lake, so I swam a lot. I walked a lot too, to think things over." I couldn't possibly tell him what I'd really been doing. He wouldn't have believed me when I'd told him that you have a nice view of Saturn when you are on Titan. What I did on Titan is none of your business.
"Did this thinking over have anything to do with what I said the last time we met?"
"I'm sorry, Paul. My mind has always been very clear about that. Now that I'm back, I wouldn't mind at all to see of more of you again."
"You bet you will, Angie."
He drove me home in his new car. I invited him in for coffee. He accepted and we talked some more, about inconsequential things mostly. He hugged me and kissed my cheeks when he left. He was still every inch a gentleman.

Are you disappointed now? I should have made Paul's meeting me into a racy story, right? Why had this Paul to be a such a gentleman? Only a sissy wouldn't do more than place his hand over the lady's hand. Holding hands is for kids. Grown ups know better than that. They know where to put their hands. What has love got to do with it? OK, let's go back to that night in my apartment. Remember what I said then?
"I'm very grateful that you feel about me this way. It's always a pleasure to be with you."
"You mean that?"
"Why do you think I invited you? I can show you my designs, if you want to see them, but I'd rather show you the way I designed my bedroom."
Before I reached the bedroom door, I felt his hand pulling the zipper on the back of my dress. His other hand was what you might call up front.
And so forth and so on, you get my drift. This memoir is not about the birds and the bees, interesting beings as they are. This memoir is about you and me.
Among other things, I wanted to make it crystal clear that I'm not a male chauvinist pig. For me there's no difference between male and female. It's just a matter of design. And, as I wrote earlier, I like opposites. That doesn't go for all the places I visit. There's this cute little planet in the neighborhood of Alpha Centauri. The beings there are divided into five sexes. Three of them live on land, two of them can be out of the sea for only a short time, you would say for an hour. The intervals between coming out of the water are about six months. Suppose life went on the same way on Earth: males on land, females in the sea, like mermaids. Now your boss comes to tell you, you can't take the day off tomorrow, because of some emergency. "Uh, boss, I uh ... I had planned to go the beach tomorrow, you know, the missus is coming out of the water, so ..."
You are a lucky guy. You have an understanding boss. He winks. He slaps you on the shoulder. "I didn't know that, Joe. Take the day off. Make the most of it."

In a way I'm sorry it has come to this. You feel it too, don't you?

If you suspect now I've already written the epilogue, you are right. All of this memoir has been written already. Maybe 'written' is not the correct word. The memoir has been conceived. I know it is not really necessary to write it all down. There are so many ways to share this memoir with you. But you are used to only believe words when they're printed. You want to see them right in front of you. That gives you the opportunity to look for inconsistencies. Go back to what you have read before. Do you see any inconsistencies? Come on, there's no need to spare me. What I've written so far is crawling with inconsistencies. I know that better than you do. Look back on your own life. How consistent has it been? Do you remember the day when you pledged to love you partner forever, till death do you part? Then you must remember also the days you pledged the same thing to your second and third partner. You call that being consistent?
Did you read any good book lately or see a movie? It's like being in another life, isn't it? For some time you believe you are the protagonist of the book or the movie. Think about this: what is the difference between a novel and a history book? I can still remember my time with Captain Nemo in the Nautilus

KNOCK KNOCK

Before putting down my ship on the lawn of the White House, I had considered a few options. We could have stayed in orbit for a few days. The result would have been a lot of international tension down here.
"What's that ship of yours doing up there?"
"You know damn well it's not our ship."
"Then whose is it? Little green men from Mars?" It could have gone on for weeks, with threats and counter threats. There could even be a war and that's not what I wanted
Of course I could have put my ship down in Red Square or Tien An Min Square, but then the impact would have been less. Leave a turd on the White House's lawn and five seconds later the whole word knows. I knew it would take longer than that if I came down in one of those squares.
I did not come down actually. One moment there was just a lawn, the next moment there was a lawn with my ship in it. It was only four o'clock in the morning so it took some time before we were noticed. It was 4.17 precisely when one of the guards made one of his rounds.
"What the ... " That's all he said before he ran back to alert his boss.
"Have you been drinking, Dick? Sit down and tell me exactly what you saw."
"I have not been drinking, sir. There's a space ship on the lawn."
"OK, Dick, I'll humor you. Let's both go outside and have a look at this spaceship of yours."
"What the fuck is that?" the chief of security exclaimed. "How long has that thing been there? Who put it there? Is there anyone in it?"
The guard of course couldn't supply satisfactory answers. "Sir", he said, "shouldn't we alert the president? He would like to know this, I think."
Both men ran back. The chief shouted some orders and than went up to the president's private quarters.
By six a.m. the White House was completely surrounded by the army, the police, the FBI and the CIA. Inside the president was conferring with all the chiefs of these services.
"Mr. president", the vice-president said, "wouldn't it be better for you to leave while still you can? We don't know who is inside, what they want and what means they have to enforce their wishes." An army colonel came in. "Mr. president, sir, we have an incoming phone call. Somebody wants to speak with you."
"Who is it, colonel?"
"He says he's speaking from inside that ship, sir."
"OK, put him through."
After a few seconds the red phone in front of the president rang. He picked it up. The White House chief of staff, sitting beside him, pushed a button, so everyone could hear what was said on the other side.
"This is the president of the United States. Who are you?"
"Just a friend passing by, Mr. president. Let me assure you, we have no hostile intentions at all."
"Where do you come from?"
All of the people in the room heard a distinct chuckle. "Would you believe me, Mr. president, when I tell you that our last stop was somewhere in the Sirius sector?"
"Sirius as in Dog Star?"
"On the dot, Mr. president."
"No, I don't believe you."
"I didn't think you would. Let me ask you a question then: How come my ship was in your lawn at 4.10, while at 4.09 there was nothing in your lawn, except a few beetles? Now, if one of your men could turn that TV screen on, we could talk face to face."
The president pointed at the chief of police, who pushed a button. Everybody gasped. They'd expected to see something like the inside of their own space ships, control panels, monitors, buttons to be pushed all over the place, men in space suits. They saw nothing like that. It looked like a domestic scene. There were three men and one woman, sitting in easy chairs, low tables in front of them. On the tables were what looked like glasses of wine.
"Is this some kind of a joke, Mr. ... ", the president asked.
"We don't like formalities, sir. Call me Jack. These are Claire, Bob and Bill, my associates." They were al dressed casually and seemed to be about the same age, around forty.
The president and his men were just staring at the screen trying to make sense out of what they were seeing. I didn't interrupt their staring. I took a sip of my wine.
"Mr. president, may I ask Jack a question?" It was the CIA chief.
"Go ahead." The president wanted some time to think.
"It's hard for us to believe you are from outer space, while you are looking quite human."
It wasn't Jack but Claire who answered. "Suppose you are on Sirius, Ronald. You have a nice job there, wife and kids. You're sitting on your front porch. It is dark already and you look up at the stars. What are you looking at, Ronald? Outer space, that's what you're looking at. Outer space just depends on your point of view, don't you think so? Why is Asia called the Far East? When you happen to be a Chinese America is the Far East."
"I don't see anything that makes your ship fly." That was the commander of the Air Force.
Bob smiled. "There are many ways to make ship fly, general. Would it be very difficult for you to accept that we are more advanced in knowledge and skills than you are?"
You better believe is was difficult. It was an intolerable thought. They were in a position, they thought, to tell the whole world what they wanted to be done. Now they were talking to four ordinarily looking people, telling them things might be a bit different.
The president was a politician first and a human being when he could find some time for that. He wasn't stupid either.
"OK, Jack. Are you and your associates staying in that craft of yours, or do you plan on coming out and meet us in the flesh? Maybe we can come to an understanding."
I told him that was exactly what we had come here for. He told me he'd switch off the TV screen, because he wanted to consult with his advisers in private. How was he to know that I knew exactly what was going on? I knew it would take them an hour to come to a decision. The president let the army and police units know that he was coming outside. Not an offensive movement was to be made. When he came near to my ship he even told his secret service men to stand back. I made an opening in the side of the ship and jumped out. So did my associates. We shook hands and started to go back into the White House. The press secretary said: "Mr. president, I don't think you can go in yet. The whole press corps is there and TV networks from all over the world."
The president turned to me. "He is right, Jack. I have to say something. You want to say something, too?"
"Maybe later, after we've talked."
The president went to the press and motioned for silence. "I will only make a brief statement now. I won't answers questions yet. Let me first tell you there's nothing to worry about. We always suspected that it might come to this: meeting people that come from outside this planet. You've seen they're not different form us. I assure you they are peaceful. We are going to talk with them now. You'll get more details later, I'm sure. Thank you."
He turned around resolutely and we all went in. Inside he led the way to the Oval Office. His chief of staff came after him. "Mr. president, what do I tell the men out there?" He meant all the advisers of course.
"Tell them to do what they usually do in situations they did not expect and don't have plans for. You know what I mean."
I knew what he meant, too. I knew what the men were going to do. They would start with the worst case scenario, an alien invasion. What kind of weapons would they have? How many of them would there be? Could the United States face this alone or should they ask help from NATO, Russia, China?
"Not so fast, gentlemen", the man from the CIA said. "Suppose they are really friendly. Suppose we can learn some things from them. Is it really necessary the others learn too? Why do you think they came here first? Can't they be just businessmen?"
In the Oval Office the president ordered coffee. He didn't sit behind his desk, but on the same couch as Claire. "OK, Jack, what's your proposition?"
I wrote already he wasn't stupid. He was in the second year of his second term. He had won his re-election by a landslide. If he could have a third term, he'd be certainly re-elected again. He was a member of the Democratic party, but he'd never thought of himself as a Democrat. He was a dedicated pragmatist. The first man he saw each day was his press secretary. The man had a staff that knew everything about polls there was to know. Tell the people what they want to hear. Tell them you are doing exactly what they want. Only forty percent of the people bothered to vote. Keep that forty percent happy.
"Why do you think we have a proposition to make, Mr. president?"
"Since you don't like formalities, Jack, call me Mike. May I say we're among friends?"
"I wouldn't mind at all being your friend, Mike", Claire said. She had a very charming smile. Mike knew he was very popular with women. This was what he expected a woman to say.
Bill took over. "We have not been thinking about propositions yet, Mike. We consider this to be a reconnaissance trip. I'll be honest about it. We've been studying this planet for some time now. You've come a long way in a short time. About ten thousand years ago you were no more than a bunch of highly developed apes and look at where you are now. You've got your telescopes in space to look further and learn more. You even have this SETI project. You can stop putting up money for it now."
"Have we been looking in the wrong direction all the time?" Mike wanted to know.
"You've looked every which way, Mike, only you couldn't possibly know what you were looking for. You were looking for patterns, patterns you could recognize as coming from intelligent beings, mathematical patterns. Mathematics is a fine science, you've done a lot with it, achieved a few goals. This Albert Einstein was a clever guy, no doubt about that. E=mc2 was quite an achievement, but it has a flaw: it is not a universal law. It's just one law in a long line."
Mike nodded, looking thoughtful. "What you're telling me is, you are way ahead of us. I can't deny it, of course. You put your ship in my lawn without anybody noticing. That's quite a feat, our security being what it is. How did you do that? Can you make it invisible, even to radar?"
I decided it was time for Bob to throw in a few words. "We didn't want to show off, Mike", he said. "We could have come here without any spaceship. You could have come to this office this morning and found us here. Your Secret Service men would have had a lot of explaining to do, but why should we embarrass them? Putting a ship on the lawn was a faster way to show you, and the world at large, that we have come from someplace else. For the time being we'll keep on using it."
Mike called his secretary to cancel all his appointments for that day. People would understand he had something more important to do. We agreed of course when he offered us to stay that night. Bill said he would fly the ship to Ronald Reagan Airport. "Why don't I do that right now? You can fill me in later." Mike couldn't know that filling Bill in later was not necessary at all. Mike had a platoon of Marines accompany Bill to the lawn. We went to the window to see him fly away, without any sound or signs of exhaust. There was a big crowd in front of the White House, and it was growing still.
"Let's see what the people think about this all", Mike said. "You must be curious too." We weren't curious at all, but why not indulge him?
There was hardly a network that was not speaking about our unexpected arrival. Mike switched channels a few times. On one of them a senator, an astrophysicist and the leader of a fundamentalist Christian organization were giving their opinions. The latter was speaking. "You know I've never been a great admirer of this president's politics. How can a man having a divorce when he is in the White House be an example to the people of this great nation? I tell you, he's just playing another trick. He wants us to believe that those people came from another planet. The Bible teaches us that God created Adam and Eve to live on this planet Earth. If he had created other people He would have told us. He would want us to praise Him together. You must have noticed there was a woman among the people who came out of that supposed spaceship. I will not be surprised at all if in a few weeks this president will announce there will be a First Lady in the White House again. It's wicked, gentleman. I will pray such a thing will never happen."
Mike laughed, putting off the TV. "You're an attractive woman, Claire, but I'm afraid I'm not ready for a proposal yet."
"I understand, Mr. president. I don't want to be seen as a wicked woman. Where I come from I'm a lady of some standing. When you go public again, just tell the people I'm Jack's wife. To make it more believable, we'll share a bedroom tonight, if that's alright with you, Jack?"
"Always a pleasure, Claire." What else could I say?
Mike watched us amusedly. "I see you are not only living by different physical laws, but by different moral laws as well. Religious leaders like the one you just heard are a real pain in the ass, believe me. If I hadn't been a damn good president, I wouldn't have gotten away with a divorce. Maybe one of my successors will say that I've also made a damn good precedent."
The rest of the day we talked about serious things, serious to Mike, that is. He'd had it announced that at prime time, in the United States, he would make a statement right from the Oval Office. We were going to be there with him. The proceedings were going to be televised the world over. I was also to say a few words.
We told Mike we came from our planet Juna, that circled a minor star in the Sirius sector. Our day was forty-three minutes longer than the Earth day, our year shorter by about four months. There was no noticeable difference in average temperatures and the climate was agreeable everywhere. There was no racial difference. Marriage was un unknown institution. We lived together in groups of about one hundred people. We ate and slept together in groups of about ten people. Nobody ever stayed longer in one particular group than about fourteen days.
"But, uh ...", Mike said.
"You mean: what about making little Junites?" Claire said. "Privacy is not a big thing on Juna. It's nonexistent, actually. When I get in the mood for some physical pleasure I look around for a man who is in the same mood. We have a way of noticing that, you know. We only have to look for a comfortable place to do what we want to do. We're not looking for a place to be alone. Are you fascinated by a man and a woman having a drink together? Are you opening a bottle right away? Think about it, Mike. Oh, yes, the little Junites, they're taken care of by anyone who happens to be around. Let me assure you, we don't have juvenile delinquency on Juna. We have no delinquency at all."
Mike was really astonished when we told him there was no economy on Juna. We were vegetarians and all we needed to stay alive was provided by nature. To keep it this way we only had to keep the population level constant.
"Just a second", Mike said. He picked up the phone and asked his secretary to tell the kitchen to prepare a vegetarian dinner.
I told Mike there were no jobs on Juna. Everybody had certain skills. When a special skill was needed somewhere, somebody would come along to apply it. It was as simple as that. We needed no time for thinking up strategies and tactics to be victorious in competition.
"So you have a lot of time for making works of art", Mike observed.
"We don't have art", Bob said. "Sure, there are people who make paintings, or sculptures. Other people make buildings, streetlamps, appliances. What's the difference? For a lot of people here, I believe, there's nothing more beautiful than a car."
Mike got more interested when we were talking about minerals and energy supply. When we told him we had this very large supplies of titanium and that we had developed easy methods for obtaining solar energy, he almost jumped up: "Gentlemen, ma'am, I think we are in business." He didn't stop to ask himself what he had to offer us.
About four o'clock we finished our talks. Mike needed some time to prepare his statement, he said. He also, I knew, needed some time to speak with his advisers, who had of course heard all our conversations. Bill had already returned from the airport in a government limousine. He brought some suitcases with things we pretended to need.
Half an hour before six we returned to the Oval Office. We were dressed more formally this time. The TV crew told us where to sit, where to look and how to behave in general. I had some time to suggest Mike to call us the Juna ambassadors. He agreed.
At six o'clock sharp the camera's were focused on Mike behind his desk.
"My fellow Americans, we are not alone." Two camera's were pointed at us. We looked admiringly in Mike's direction.
"Today I've met with four admirable people, the ambassadors of Juna. This, I believe, is the greatest opportunity mankind has ever had. I know that people all over the world are listening to me now. For them I repeat: this is an opportunity not for the people of the United States alone but for mankind. I say to leaders of other countries: in just a few hours these ambassadors have become my friends. I would like nothing better then them becoming your friends as well."
He needed another twenty minutes to tell them what we told them that day about Juna. Wisely he left out what Claire had told him about making little Junites.
"Fellow Americans, fellow citizens of the world, I've spoken long enough. Listen now to what the Junites have to say themselves."
I knew I was on screen now, but I hadn't failed to notice that one camera was constantly pointing in Claire's direction. She knew it too, of course, and looked at me as if I were the great love of her life.
"Friends", I began, "this is the beginning of a new era. We're glad we came here. I'm convinced we can learn a lot from each other. I know this meeting can only result in mutual benefit. I'm sure that other countries will show the same hospitality we've been shown today. We are looking forward to meet with all the different cultures on Earth. We are not used to such diversity. We believe this can only enrich our lives. We hope we can enrich your lives too. Bless you all." I didn't want to mention anyone who was going to do the blessing.
When the TV crew had left, Mike ordered coffee. He asked his chief of staff to stay as well. There were some practicalities to discuss, like how long were we going to stay on Earth and where would we be staying? We told Tony, the chief of staff, that we didn't need much: a small down town office, a mansion somewhere, some staff. Next morning we would move to a hotel. The coming days we would make plans for visiting other countries. Tony promised to take care of everything and left. We had on more drink with Mike and went to our own rooms. Well, that's we said. We accepted Mike's offer to have breakfast with him.

Mike was drinking tea when the four of us came in the next morning. We waited till the maids had poured tea for us as well and had left.
"I won't mince words, Mike", I said. "We don't think that trying to break into our ship is the best way to start a warm relationship. Suppose you had caught us red-handed inspecting some of your missile silo's. Wouldn't that make you somewhat suspicious, question our intentions?"
He was stunned. "How ...?" He didn't go on, realizing he had already confessed.
"How do we know, Mike? Because," Claire said, "we don't have to be somewhere to know exactly what's going on there. You want to know where the Russian and Chinese presidents are right now? They are in Astana, that's the capital of Kazakhstan. You know what they are discussing? What kind of secret deals is the president of the United States making with these Junites? What are these Junites capable of, anyway? In the Pentagon your Joint Chiefs, your Director of Central Intelligence, your director of the FBI, your director of the NSA, are asking themselves the same question at this moment, are they not? Because you want some answers by noon, at the latest. Here's your answer, Mike: they don't have a clue. If you want some real answers, why don't you ask us?"
He took a bite from his ham sandwich and chewed, so he didn't have to answer at once. "OK, so tell me. What ARE you capable of?"
"You name it, we do it, Mike", I said. "You want a booming economy? Read tomorrow's Wall Street Journal. You want the ozone layer repaired? Consider it done. You want to get rid of a some political opponents? They're gone. You want to be president for two more terms? We'll change the Constitution for you. No sweat. Piece of cake. We can also do something else. We can take over here. I don't mean the White House and I don't mean the United States. I'm talking the whole world here. I'm not kidding, believe me."
"You are not human", is all he could say. "I've got to think about this." He picked up his phone and told his secretary once again to cancel all his appointments for the day.
"You are right, Mike", Bill said. "We are not human, but that doesn't mean we are inhuman. We don't want to rule this silly world. We've got better things to do. Why don't you call the president of Kazakhstan? He can connect you to the other presidents. Maybe you can reach an understanding. Tell them that if you don't clean up the mess around here yourselves, we'll do it for you. Now, if you would be so kind to order one of your limousines to bring us to the Willard InterContinental, we'll be waiting there for the results of your conference."
Less than an hour later we arrived in the hotel and went to our suites. Two hours later Air Force One left Washington DC.
The world press was kept far away from the presidential palace in Astana. No more was said than: "The presidents are negotiating in a cordial and constructive manner." No one knew about the fourth participant in the negotiations: Claire. No one but the three presidents saw her. She knew exactly how to coax the three men. No, I'm not implying she used her specific feminine qualities, though none of the men would have objected. After four days it was Claire who devised 'The Ten Propositions'. The president of Kazakhstan was given the honor to present them to the world on behalf of his three colleagues.

Now I've gotten you confused, haven't I? Moses you'd heard about. Simon, Pilate, Booth, Lincoln, Oswald, Kennedy, no problem. Of course you knew nothing about Andy and Carrie, but you can't expect to know all the billions of people that have roamed the Earth up till now. I wrote about them to show that the geography of this planet is not as constant as you think it is and I'm not talking about erosion here. Think about a fantasy writer. He makes a drawing of his imaginary world, a mountain range here, a plain there, a river running through the plain, a village here, a castle there. No, wait! If the river runs that way, nobody would build a castle there. So he changes the course of the river. The next day the thinks it would be better to put the castle in another place and let the river run his old course again. A lake might be nice too. See what I mean?
But you've never heard about Juna and Junites visiting Earth. You go to Google and type in 'Juna': 389.000 pages in English only. Don't waste your time, none of these entries says anything about a planet in the Sirius sector. If you happen to be in Dubai, you might consider to visit the Juna Lounge Bar. "It's so popular they've been know to turn away the odd oil sheik - but only because he was odd." (That's a pun, in case you didn't notice.)
Have you ever thought about parallel realities? Then think about it now. In your own miserable reality you are this lowly clerk, pushing papers in this humongous insurance firm. When you go home to your apartment, you know what the expression on your wife's face will be when she sees you: Loser is home again. In the parallel reality you are the firm's CEO. You take your beautiful, loving wife to the golf course, where you are going to play with the chairman of the board. Your wife hugs and kisses the old man. "Hi, daddy. Are you OK?" In a third parallel reality you might not even exist.
You understand now: the Junites came to Earth in one of those parallel realities. Let me rephrase that. Some people came to Earth who said they came from Juna. There is no planet called Juna, let alone people like Junites. I had to tell the people of Earth, that parallel Earth, something they could understand. I had to show them intelligent beings they could identify with. You've seen 'Alien', the movie, and all the sequels? Suppose I and my associate Junites would have looked like that. Do you think it would have been instant friendship? Not likely.
You want to know what happened on this parallel Earth where these so-called Junites arrived, don't you? Let me tell you first what Proposition Ten was: The people of Earth will accept the energy system the Junites apply on Juna. As soon as they understood what this meant, they loved it. Free energy for all! At last everyone could drive a car now without being accused of polluting the environment. Come on, sweetie, let's buy ourselves a car, too. The kids can have their own. Well, you can imagine what happened. Every solution creates its own problems. Read Hegel on dialectic again and you know what I mean.
The other nine Propositions were actually elaborations of only one: Let's love our neighbors. Claire thought she'd better not state it that way, because it would look like favoring one particular ideology.

If you had only had the opportunity once ...

Then what? You could have made a better job of it? What makes you think so? Oh, I see. One reality is enough. If you have lived in one, you have lived in them all, right? You don't know what you're talking about. You don't even know what living is. What makes you so sure you are living now? Just wait till you've read all of the epilogue.

IT'S OUR TURN NOW

Sirens wailed across the city. Nine p.m., start of curfew. It would end at 6 a.m. My patrols went out. How many people would they bring in tonight? What kind of stupid excuses were they going to tell this time? I'd heard them all. Why was no one doing some original thinking?
"My mother felt terribly sick. She lives all by herself. She is eighty-one. I had to help her. Please, officer."
"My kid had this terrible headache, officer. I was on my way to the pharmacy. That's allowed, isn't it?"
"I was on my way home, sir. I was almost there. My boss wanted the job finished today. I could lose my job if I didn't. I didn't think of the time. I was thinking of my wife and kids. We need the money."
I know, some of them are probably telling the truth, maybe most of them. But we might still pick up a few of those who can't stop believing they can do something about it, about us. They can't bear being not superior anymore. They never thought it was possible that someone could teach them a lesson. They were the masters. They even believed they were good masters. Their way of life was the best way of life, for everybody. They'd proven it, hadn't they? So if some stupid people didn't want to believe theirs was the best way of life, they would make those people believe it.
It had been a big blow to their inflated ego's when those planes crashed into their buildings. They didn't know yet what was in store for them. They just followed procedures: if you're hit, you hit back, as simple as that. They'd never done anything else since grade school.
Yes, I'm writing about your reality again. You were among the first to shout: "Show them!" You can't have forgotten that. How do you like somebody showing it to you?
I'd been in Tora Bora for some time already when it all happened. I was there in a minor role. I don't have to be boss always to let things happen my way. Let's say I was around when all the planning was done. The hitting back was expected. They pounded the front door and we left the premises through the back door. They thought that somebody else was watching that back door. That somebody must have had something else on his mind. What followed was as predictable as what happened before. Planes were watched. Accounts were frozen. Phones were tapped. E-mails were read. The usual suspects were arrested. So they had to bend a few of their holy rules in the process. I was all in a good cause, wasn't it? What else could they do? Look, even their friends were hurt, not as bad as they were, but still.
Once they were firmly settled in their quagmires, it was our turn. I was one of the men who went to the FBI office in Washington DC. We told the man behind the desk we'd like to speak with the officer in charge.
"What's it all about, gentlemen?"
"It's about this nuclear device, sir", Ethan, my companion, said. "It's somewhere in this city and somebody might set it off."
The officer in charge came soon enough and after we were searched and no concealed weapons were found, he led us to his office.
"Now, gentlemen, how do you know about this nuclear device?"
"Simple, sir", I said. "We put it there."
He frowned. "OK, you've had your laughs. Let me tell you, this is not the right time to make jokes like that. If you leave now, I'll forget about it. I've more important things to do." He got up.
"Sir, there's this deserted quarry in Virginia." Ethan told him the exact location. "The moment we entered this building there was an explosion. Not a big one, nothing to worry about. You send some of your forensic experts there. Tell them to wear protective suits. There will be some radiation, not much, but some. The device here in Washington will cause much, much more radiation, and some damage of course."
"A lot of damage", I added.
He punched his keyboard several times, looked at the monitor, picked up his phone and punched a few numbers. After half a minute he told someone who he was and said he wanted to speak with the sheriff.
"Sheriff, has something happened some minutes ago?"
...
"How big a bang?"
...
"Listen carefully, sheriff. Get as many men together as you can. See to it that no one gets near that quarry. My men will be there in less than two hours. They'll take over."
...
"Don't tell me about jurisdiction, sheriff. I'm talking national security here. Get it done."
He slammed down the phone and looked at us. "Bastards", he said. "I'll get you for this."
"No, you don't", Ethan said. "Let's go", he said to me and to the FBI man he said: "We'll be back at three p.m. We'll tell you more then."
As expected we were brought straight up tot the director when we arrived at three p.m. sharp. There were more stern looking faces. There were uniforms too.
"You will not leave this building", the director said, "before you've told us where this device is."
"You're wrong, director", I said. "If we haven't left this building, walking alone, no police around, there will be another explosion. This one will be a little bit bigger than the previous one, with more radiation. There will still not be casualties and no actual damage. The operative words here are still not, director."
"Whom are you working for?"
"You're not daft, director", Ethan said. "We don't have to tell you who your number one national enemy is, do we?"
"You're no bloody Arabs!" That was one of the uniforms.
"Let me explain, general", Ethan said. "You're right. We are no Arabs, we are male white Caucasians. Why do you think only the Arabs have a beef with you? There are millions of people in the so-called free world that have had it with you. You can't fool all people all of the time, you know. We've been talking with these Arabs for some years now. We don't always agree with them. We don't condone all of their methods, neither all of their actions. We agree on one thing, however: your actions have killed much more people than they have killed so far. We have a common goal: to end your domination. We want you to learn what it means to be told what to do and how to behave."
"But we only want to ... ", the FBI director said.
"Shut up, director", I went on. "We're not finished yet. I'll be frank, gentlemen. We don't have armed forces. We only have a group of very dedicated men, from all walks of life. They believe that when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Do these words ring a bell, gentlemen? I know, they don't apply one hundred percent, but they apply enough as long as you consider yourself to be some kind of world government, a world police force and a world court of justice all rolled in to one. Among the men I just mentioned are scientists, technicians, miners, carpenters, farmers and all are experts. They can design a nuclear device, they can make it and they can hide it. They can and they did. Last but not least, they know how to make it explode. We've shown once already. We are now in a position, gentlemen, to let such devices explode in fifty major cities of your country. With devastating results, I might add. There is a way to avoid all that. We talk with your president and he meets our demands. Have I made myself clear?"
One of the man introduced himself as the national security advisor. "Now, gentlemen, I think it must be possible to come to some sort of understanding. You've made your point and you can be sure I'll convey your words to the president. I'm convinced his answer will be satisfactory to you."
"You don't know what our demands are."
"Why don't you tell me?"
"We tell your president."
The national security advisor did his utmost to look offended. "Don't you believe I can tell the president precisely what you want?"
"I don't give a damn", Ethan said, "what you can or can not do. When we are not speaking with the president tomorrow morning at nine a.m., the second device goes boom. Explain that to your president. Tell him also that we are not here to negotiate. We are here to tell him what to do. Once again, gentlemen: have I made myself clear?"
They were clearly at their wit's end. Their policy had always been: never give in to extortion, don't negotiate under pressure. But this wasn't about a hijacked plane. This wasn't about an occupied embassy. This was about fifty major cities with millions of inhabitants. They knew that in the quarry in Virginia a real nuclear device had been exploded. They could only assume that a second explosion was possible, and a third, and a forth, and so on.
The director of the FBI looked at us, as if he was trying to look straight into our minds. "Would you mind to step outside, gentlemen. We need some time to discuss this."
"Take your time. Remember that we are supposed to leave this building before five p.m."
It was four-thirty p.m. when we were invited to come in again.
The national security advisor spoke. "The president will see you tomorrow at nine a.m."
"We'll be there. Have a nice evening, gentlemen."

Was I cooperating with terrorists? Had I gone mad? You know better than that. I'd talked with them, sure. I'd told them to back off. I had resources they couldn't even dream of. I could accomplish, for them, in years, what they couldn't possibly hope to accomplish in decades. I suggested them to make an appearance on TV occasionally. I didn't mind at all their speaking of terrible things to come. Sticks and stones ... you see what I mean. It helped to keep the people in the United States in a vigilant mood. They were getting used to losing, little by little, some of their personal freedom. What if the police broke into your house at five o'clock in the morning? Probable cause? What about it? Nobody's going to bother you, as long as you stop behaving suspiciously. If you think reading a Persian monthly is your prerogative, fine, go ahead, read it. Oh, yes, we know you're a professor of Middle-East literature. What else are you? Do you mind if we check from time to time? If you think five o'clock in the morning is an inconvenient time for an unannounced police visit, why don't you come to the precinct house every morning at five? You can tell us all about your latest visit to Qom. Which molla did you visit? What have you been talking about?

"That's impossible!" That was the president's spontaneous reaction when we told him what the United States would look like in the next four years.
Ethan and I were not surprised. We had expected that, actually.
"We'd look like some backward people's republic", the president went on. "That's the way people live in African countries. You can't expect decent Americans to live like that."
"Of course we can, Mr. president", I said. "Consider: if the Africans, most of them at least, can survive while living under those circumstances, the Americans certainly can. They have enough food, they have decent medical care. What more do they want? Lots of people in Africa and Asia would be only too pleased to live that way. They might even be grateful to you. They've grown accustomed to working for you. Being on the receiving end would be a nice change for them. It's only for four years, Mr. president. The people in Africa and Asia are used to live worse than that for their whole life."
Our directives were very simple. For four years the United States could not import any food and oil. The surpluses they still had were to be exported to countries where they were most needed. All American armed forces were to be called back from countries that didn't want them on their soil. American companies were going to underdeveloped countries to develop decent infrastructures. They would receive local prices and local wages. They would eat local food. They could bring their own medical services, as long as they provided the same services to the local population, for free. They would behave according to local laws and customs.
Within the United States the arms industry would stop production immediately, a lot of swords were going to be changed to ploughshares.
There were some changes in social life as well. I already mentioned the curfew. It wasn't really necessary, of course. I knew who were going to break the rules on principle. They were prevented to do so. Accidental transgressors usually got away with a small fine. This way a lot of fuel was saved and people learned to know their neighbors better. Isn't that nice?
I won't go on here with the list of all the things the president had to comply with. Or else. You've lived with it and it wasn't too bad, was it?
The president didn't think so, at first. "I can't decide this all by myself. I have to speak with the Congressional leaders, the members of the Supreme Court."
"We understand your position, Mr. president", Ethan said. "You do all the talking you think is necessary. You've got three days for that. When we meet again we expect to hear one word: Yes."
"Where can I reach you?" he wanted to know.
"You can't", I said.
Three days later he said "Yes". He didn't look happy, when he said it. That night he was on TV for over an hour.
Where did I hide all those nuclear devices? Are you crazy? There had been only one small nuclear device in that lonely abandoned quarry in Virginia. That was enough to convince three hundred million people.
So for four years I was a captain of police. Looking somewhat different I visited the White House once in a while. The last thing he said to me was: "We owe you one."


EARTH IS NOT ENOUGH

The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, he said.
"What's that?" the captain asked.
"It's from an old song, captain", Henry, the man at the controls said. Outside the ship a big part of their view was filled by the red disk of Mars. Another four hours and they were going into orbit.
"The chances of our going to Mars were not much bigger", the captain said, "but here we are."
They were not the first people to set foot on Mars. Three expeditions had been there before. The last one had found what was needed for a longer stay: water. The cave was found by accident. About two hundred meter below the surface there was a lake. There was no time to look for possible rivers, but it was estimated there was enough pure water to last six months for about a hundred men.
There were ninety-five men and women in the ship. Ten of them, the captain included, were crew. Their job was to bring the other eighty-five there. On Mars they could do all the jobs the scientists had no time for.
Chief of the scientists was Mary, a forty-six year old geologist. She came into the control room when the captain and Henry were admiring Mars.
"What's ETA, Dan?" she asked. She had always refused to call him captain, like most people did. "Back on Earth I don't call a bus driver captain either. His duty is to bring me from point A to point B. He is being paid for that. I'm not impressed by uniforms."
"You're looking as beautiful as ever, Mary."
"Fuck off, Dan. I asked you a question."
Henry kept looking at Mars. He knew what was going on behind his back. The captain leering at Mary, who must have come straight from the gym. Mary looking at the captain the same way she would look at a maggot. He knew why. A week after they left Earth he had entered the control room. He just heard Mary say: "You touch me once again, creep, and you wish you'd never had balls." Then she ran past him.
"Four hours till orbit. Twelve hours after that, you can kiss the bloody surface."
Mary didn't bother to say 'Thank you'. She just left the control room and went to one of the conference rooms, where her staff had assembled. She sat down.
"Sixteen hours, guys. When you've done what I told you to do, you have all gone over our plans once again. Questions?" She looked around. "Derek?"
Derek smiled. "You all know I'm the one who knows everything about something we don't even know if it exists: extra terrestrial intelligence. I still don't know why I had to come, though I don't mind the opportunity to be on Mars. Maybe my name will also be mentioned in future encyclopedias."
Mary thought that in the night to come she'd let him feel once more why she'd insisted on making him part of the expedition. But it wasn't just personal. Besides being a geologist, she was also an amateur archeologist. Digging in rocks, she had found things that were not only of geological interest. She was eager to dig in the rocks of Mars. She wanted to search for the origins of the lake that was to be their water supply. In her mind there couldn't be a lake without a river that fed it. And water was one of the prime sources of life. If there ever had been life on Mars, and if that lake was one of the last places on Mars where water could be found, then the last remnants of life were to be found there. That's were Derek came in.
"Kyle", Mary asked, "your team knows where to begin?"
"You know we are, Mary." Kyle headed the team of three speleologists. They'd studied every picture the third Mars team had made of the cave where the lake was. "If there's a way out of that cave other than the one to the planet surface, it must be under the surface of that lake. That's no problem. The three of us like scuba diving too."

The ship had landed without problems on the plains at the foot of the mountain range. The distance to the cave with the lake was about twenty kilometers. That distance could be covered by their ground cars in less than half an hour. The cars were already outside, loaded with the equipment that was expected to be needed. Everybody was sleeping now, so there was nobody to notice that strange phenomenon: ninety-five people sleeping, without one of them waking up for even a few minutes, until the general alarm sounded to awake them all. Half an hour later they were all having breakfast. Derek was the first one to ask the doctor for an aspirin. He had a slight headache. "Give me one, too, while you're at it", the captain said. Soon it became clear that everyone had a headache.
"No one is going out", the doctor said. "I want to know what's going on. I want to scan all of you."
The scans showed nothing out of the ordinary. Gradually the headaches disappeared, with or without aspirin.
Next morning after breakfast the first ground car left with three geologists and the three speleologists. They had to walk the last five hundred meters to the cave. They had four hours for their first examination. Then they had to return for new oxygen tanks. The other four men in the ground car had their own task: bringing oxygen tanks to the cave, a supply for several weeks.
Inside the cave Mary and her team started with walking around, looking, making pictures. Kyle and his team walked slowly into the water until they disappeared and only their lights could be seen.
"Stephen, Brian, come here! Now!" Mary was standing near the lake, looking at the surface intently.
"What's the matter?" Brian asked, when he and Stephen stood beside her.
"Look at the water. What do you see?"
"Nothing", Stephen said.
"Precisely! We should see bubbles coming up from Kyle and the other two. What's happening down there? What's happening to them? I can't believe all their gear is malfunctioning. I don't know how long this has been going on. I've been standing here now for five minutes. Think!"
"Do we see the whole surface here?" Stephen asked. "Let's walk around the lake. Maybe the bubbles are coming up someplace else."
They walked off in different directions, Brian going with Mary. About every ten meters they stopped to let their lights shine across the lake's surface. Nothing!
They were almost opposite Stephen on the other side of the lake, when his shout made their ears ring. "Here! I can see their lights. They are coming up."
A few minutes later Kyle and his men came swimming to them. "Kyle", Mary too was shouting, "what happened? Where have you been?"
"We're alright, Mary. Let us come out first, OK?"
When the three men were out of the water, Mary and the other two geologist saw Kyle was carrying something.
"What have you got there, Kyle?" Mary asked.
Kyle showed them. It was a perfect disk, with a diameter of about thirty centimeters, about one centimeter thick. The disk was silvery, reflecting their lights. It was covered with signs.

Image of a disk with engraved signs
"What ... where ...?"
"Later, Mary", Kyle said. "I'm not going to tell things twice. Let's get back to the ship."
Before Kyle went into the ship, the disk was radiated heavily outside. Not a chance was being taken of bringing in anything that might be harmful. All the scientific section chiefs gathered in the main conference room. For this time the captain was allowed to attend too. The disked was handed around. It wasn't as heavy as it appeared to be. It seemed to be made of some kind of metal. The archeologist was the last one to hold it. He was studying it for minutes.
"It can not be true", he muttered, as if speaking to himself.
"What are you saying?" Mary asked. "Speak up, man!"
"I said: this can not be true."
"What can not be true?"
"These signs. They're not random drawings. This is a language."
"How do you know?" Kyle asked.
"Because I've seen signs like these before. This is Linear A."
"So what is Linear A?" the captain wanted to know.
"Signs like these were found on Crete. They are thousands of years old. Problem is, nobody has ever been able to decipher these signs, because we don't know the underlying language."
"Aw, come on now, Mr. archeologist. You are not telling us the Greeks were here before us", the captain sneered.
"Shut the fuck up, Dan", Mary said, "or go push some buttons somewhere. This is what we came here for. Kyle, where did you find it? How did you find it?"
Kyle told them that about fifty meters below the lake's surface they had found a sort of tunnel, about ten meters wide. They followed it. It went slightly upwards for about two hundred meters. There was another lake, maybe four times as large as the one they came from. Near the tunnel's exit was a rock, but not just a rock. It was a perfect cube, with a perfectly smooth surface, like it was sandpapered. On the rock was the disk.
"But that's not all we found there." He paused for effect. "What we also found may be more important than this disk." He looked around. "The space above that second lake is filled with air. We took some measures: twenty-three percent oxygen, seventy-six percent nitrogen and some other stuff. We could breathe there. We could live there."
"So could others", Derek observed dryly. "And so have others", he continued. "Somebody put that disk there. People have been here, that's for sure. Now the question is: are they still here?"
"And if they are", Mary said, "do they know we are here? Do they like our being here? Derek, can people, well, other sentient beings, live underground, without sun?"
"On Earth there are a lot of species who live without sun. So why not?"
They took their time to discuss the possibility of making contact with sentient beings. The disk was proof beyond doubt that at least there had been sentient life. The same kind of sentient life had been on Earth. What other explanation could there be for the engravings on the disk? Since there was no evidence of Minoans going to Mars, people coming from Mars had been visiting Earth thousands of years ago. It was a sobering thought.
"Wait a second", Brian, the geologist said. "What about Thera?"
"What about it?" Mary asked.
"Are we sure it was a volcanic eruption? I mean, there was a volcanic eruption about 1500 BCE, but could it have been caused by something else than just volcanic activity?"
"You mean something going wrong by trying to push something into space?"
"I mean something going wrong by trying to touch down on Earth."
The remainder of the meeting was used to make plans for the next day.
That night Derek didn't jump in bed right after Mary. He lit a screen and punched a keyboard.
"Hey, I'm lonely here", Mary said.
"I wasn't just joking, sweetie, when I said this afternoon I know everything about something we don't even know if it exists. Now we know it does, at least we know that other beings have been here. I want to know what to expect."
"That computers holds no more than educated guesses and speculations. Most of them were made up by you. Stop dealing with probabilities and start dealing with the reality in your bed. How about skinny dipping in that second lake tomorrow?"

Next morning two ground cars left with people to explore other parts of the mountain range. The speleologists, Mary, Brian and Derek went to the lake. All had suits and gear for diving. When they stood near the second lake, Mary said: "Let's do it." They unscrewed their helmets and closed down their oxygen tanks. Temperature was about five degrees above zero. They put their helmets on the cubic rock. They split up into two groups of three. They'd meet each other on the other side of the lake. That's where they found the corridor. They went in and soon discovered it was intersected at regular intervals by smaller corridors. They decided to follow the main corridor first, to see where it lead to. It lead not to a cave, but to a chamber. It was about 10 meters long, eight meters wide and three meters high. There was a circle of ten stones that looked like places to sit on. That was indeed what they were meant for. I thought this was the perfect place for them to meet me.
I stood up from the stone I was sitting on. I had dressed in clothing that made it look like I'd just left a desert.
"Welcome", I said. "I'm sorry I have nothing to offer you by way of refreshment, but do sit down. Let's talk."
They sat and didn't say anything for minutes. They were just staring at me.
Derek was the first to speak. "I'm sorry. We must seem rude. This is beyond all our expectations."
"Of course it is. It is only your second day of exploring your sister planet and already you meet a living being. The same living being speaks English and looks as human as the next guy. Now you ask yourselves: Is he alone? Where are all those other corridors leading? More chambers? More people?"
"Those are indeed some of the questions we have", Mary said. "By the way, my name is Mary and these are ..."
"Don't bother, I know your names. You may call me Steve. It's not my real name, but it will do."
"OK, Steve, what's the set up here?"
I told them that ages ago there had been life on the surface of Mars, a simple people called the Harsani. They couldn't survive the lack of water.
"What about your people", Brian asked. "You were not here yet, then?"
I told him that we were explorers, like them.
Derek wanted to know for how long we had been on Mars. Did we make this corridors or did we find them? Had I seen this disk near the lake?
"Ah, the disk", I said. "I put it there, just before you came." He pointed at Kyle.
Kyle was flabbergasted. "You put it there, for our benefit? You mean you made it, too?"
"I did indeed. I could have put hieroglyphs on them, but then one of your archeologists could have read it. I wanted it to be a bit more mysterious, so I choose Linear A."
"Does it mean anything?" Derek asked. "Is there any message?"
"The same message can be found on a tablet that was found on Crete. The short version of this message is: Try to catch me."
"We are hallucinating", Brian said. "Must be something in the air. We should have kept our helmets on. This man, this person, is not here."
"Good thinking, Brian. Are you sure you are in a cave on Mars? Let Mary pinch your nose. Maybe you wake up beside your wife. Your little girl is crying. She needs clean diapers. OK, folks, I'll be serious. Let me give you some advice. Go home! There's so much left on Earth to explore."
"Who are you, Steve?"
"Who do you want me to be, Mary?"
"Dammit, Steve! I think you know everything that's going on on this planet. I think you know everything that can be known about it. Are you going to tell us, or do we have to ask your permission to explore for ourselves?"
"You're free to explore, Mary, but I tell you: there's nothing to be found. The corridors you've passed lead to nothing. Nowhere you'll find remnants of an extinct civilization. They're long gone. You already know everything you need to know about Mars."
Mary thought for some time. She got up from her rock. "We are going back to our ship, Steve. I don't think we'll meet again. I don't believe you are going to tell us who you are. I don't believe either you will tell us where you're coming from or where you are going to. Come on, guys."
They didn't speak on their way back to the ship. None of them looked happy. Before they stepped out of the ground car Mary said: "Don't say anything to anyone yet. There will be a general meeting after dinner. Kyle, Brian, Derek, be in my room in fifteen minutes."
The men were in her room in ten minutes. They waited for Mary to speak first. She did.
"This isn't the last thing we expected. We never expected this. No one back on Earth expected this. Personally I think we should go back home. I'll say that tonight. It's not my decision, yet. I want input from everybody. You tell me first."
The three men didn't need much time to think. They agreed. The four of them looked defeated. They had reached the most important goal in their life. Not only had they set foot on Mars, they had met life that did not come from Earth. And that was not all. They had the distinct feeling that they were outclassed. This Steve, whoever or whatever he was, was in another league.
"We didn't ask this Steve how he got here", Derek said. "Why not?"
Mary shrugged. "I don't think he would have told us. I don't think this is his usual stomping ground. Derek, this is your specialty. What do you think about him?"
Derek took some time before answering. "He was too human. Brian said we were hallucinating. He had a point there. Maybe we were hypnotized. Maybe this Steve is some kind of telepath. When we go back now, maybe we'll find a woman there, or a group of people. Yesterday all of us had a headache. Could he have caused that? He knew we were coming. He was waiting for us. He made that disk."

That night Mary told all the people what had happened in the second cave. She did not tell them yet what in her opinion the next step should be: go back to Earth.
As expected Dan wanted to show that he was captain. "This is great!" he said. "Think about it. We've discovered there's extraterrestrial life. We'll go back heroes!"
"You don't know what you're talking about, Dan", Derek said. "You don't know whom or what we are dealing with here. We only know this Steve is way ahead of us. We are convinced he knows all about this planet. He doesn't care if we go on exploring. But I believe him when he says there's nothing more we can learn here."
"What do you mean by that?" Dan was almost shouting. "You mean we are finished here after only two days? Don't you want to know who this guy is? Why don't you bring him here so we can question him?"
"Good idea, Dan", Kyle said. "Why don't you borrow my suit and hand him a subpoena? Tell him he's got to be here tomorrow at ten a.m. Tell him too that he can't leave Mars until we say so."
"That's not my job."
"Right. Your job is to do what this expedition's leader tells you to do. Your job is to keep this ship in good flying order. Mary will tell you when and where to fly it. Now, has anybody something sensible to say or to ask?"
There were a lot of questions and as much opinions. Sandra, the chief meteorologist, made a suggestion. "Mary, you know I don't doubt what you told us about your experiences this afternoon. But there were only four of you. You mentioned the possibility of telepathy. I say, let's have a second opinion. Send a completely different group tomorrow and let's see what happens. I'm volunteering."
Mary nodded. "That's really a good idea, Sandra. You pick the people to go with you. Kyle will go with you as far as the first lake. After that you will be on your own." She looked at the assembled people. "Dismissed." She turned around and went to her room. A few minutes later Derek was there too.
"Do you really think that was a good idea?" he asked.
"I do. I don't think they will learn anything new. But after they have told their story, people will understand when I tell them we are going back. Now, Derek, until they come back from that cave I don't want to think or talk about Mars. I want you to show me all you know about terrestrial beings."

Sandra and her group left next morning after breakfast. They were back before noon. Kyle told their story, though he had not much to tell. "There's no lake anymore. The cave is there, but no lake. I think we should get the hell out of here."


That's what you are thinking. That's what you think you are thinking. You still don't see the whole picture.


I saw them leave four days later. Back on Earth they were kept incommunicado. The press and the world at large were told some cockamamie story about a disease that might possibly be contagious. The powers that be knew that manned space travel had come to an end for the time being. Not till they had learned a way to bypass the speed of light could they hope to travel into space. Meanwhile there was the devastating certainty that somewhere else in that vast universe there was an intelligence that could go to Mars and had even visited Earth itself. Maybe there were many more of them.
The story about Mars could of course not be suppressed for a long time. Mary and Derek were the first to go public. It didn't make them popular. It made people feel inferior. They had lost their last big challenge: leaving the gravitational pull of the sun behind them. They suspected now that someone was watching them all the time.
I felt really sorry for them. How could I make them happy again?

LET'S GET TOGETHER

He was not a preacher. He did not believe in any god. He was just this regular guy with a vision. A vision that had come to him in a dream. People less modest than him would have called it a revelation, or a divine inspiration.
He wasn't a prophet either. He knew nothing about the future. He didn't care about the future. He was living today and today is a beautiful day, isn't it? What where people so gloomy about? Because they couldn't travel into space? They were traveling in space all the time. Earth had been hurtling through space since it was formed. It was circling this beautiful sun, that gave them warmth and energy and a nice tan to boot. You could find him at his private beach most of the time, between his sumptuous villa and the surf on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, Ca. He was never alone. He was always surrounded by women, all of them young, most of them topless. Once he had told a newspaper reporter why he liked those women around him: "It's to keep the TV networks away."
"You're kidding", the reporter said.
"No, I'm not. In the beginning, when I had my book published, there was hardly a day when there was no network who wanted to speak with me. They asked me to come over to their studio. I told them to come over to my place. So they came. I met them at the beach the first time. There were about ten women around. They didn't start filming yet. We went inside. I sat on the couch, between two women, both topless, I remember. The director, or the producer or someone asked me to sit alone. The audience might object, you know, to seeing half naked women on their screen. I told him that if the ladies wanted to leave they were free to do so. The ladies decided otherwise." A few more networks had tried. The result was the same.

We are not alone
. You must have read the book. It was the #1 New York Times bestseller for more than three years. It was translated into more than fifty languages. It was published one year after the last Mars expedition came home. Dylan T. Cook had given his book a subtitle: The Quest for Togetherness. In the first chapter he describes his dream.
I left home after dinner for a walk. I had always wanted to live like that: far away from the city in a simple cabin in the woods. I was going to the little lake. There was a wooden bench there. It was my favorite place for reading a book or just sit and contemplate. A man was sitting there, smoking a pipe. It was a pleasant smell. I sat beside him. I waited for him to speak first. Somehow I knew he had a message for me, an important message.
"You are not alone." Those were the first words the man said.
I knew he didn't mean my living alone in the cabin. 'You' meant mankind.
"Space is large, you know", he went on. "There are so many species. They've been there so long, they've seen you coming. They've watched you, when you were growing up. They didn't understand when they saw you kill each other. Those were growing pains, they thought. You would outgrow them. But you didn't. You have perfected the means to kill each other. The sword was not enough for you. You needed gunpowder to kill from a distance. You needed nuclear power to kill thousands of people in one stroke. You invented ideologies to give you a reason for killing. You invented gods and told other people the gods had commanded you to spread their words, to the exclusion of all other gods and their false words. You have ravaged this planet. You are polluting the very air you breathe. You are polluting the water you swim in and have to drink from. The people out there - he pointed at the stars - want you to join their community. But they can't let you join them yet. You have got to change. I want you, Dylan, to tell the people of Earth they have to change."
"Why me?" I asked him. "I'm a bookseller. Why would anybody listen to me?"
"You can do more then sell books, Dylan. You are going to write a book."
"How do I know what to write about?"
"I'll tell you, Dylan. Meet me here again tomorrow. This is a nice place." Then he was gone.
He didn't get up and walk away. One moment he was there, the next moment he was gone.
The next day - in my dream - I went to the lake an hour earlier than the day before. I wanted to be there when he arrived. I wanted him to feel welcome. He was already sitting there, smiling benevolently at me.
"How good of you to come again, Dylan", he said. He lit his pipe and smiled. "Smoking is not bad for me, Dylan. There's no tobacco in this pipe. It's a herb that can't be found here. It is homegrown and quite harmless."
"I'm very pleased too, Master, to meet you again. I believe you can teach me much."
Calling him Master came spontaneously. His bearing exuded wisdom. It was clear he wanted nothing for himself. He wanted nothing more than our own efforts to erase from this world all that prevented us to be happy.
He seemed to read my thoughts. "That's right, Dylan, I'm not here to tell your people what to do. I'm only a guide. I can show you a map. You choose which roads to follow in which direction."
"But how can we know what the right direction is? How can I know? Why would other people follow me along the roads I'm taking? There are so many roads."
He didn't answer. He just looked at me. He wanted me to think further. I had said something that must have been the right thing to say. He kept puffing on his pipe. In my mind I imagined a map, looking at the roads I could take to go from my cabin to the city. Then I saw what he meant.
"Is it really that simple, Master? There's one goal, but there are many roads to go there?"
"That's step one, Dylan. Now, what might the next step be? We'll meet again tomorrow." He was gone.
I was confused. Why would anybody listen to me? So there were more roads to a common goal. We didn't have to fight over which road to follow. We didn't have to fight over the time to arrive. If we all agreed on that, what more was there to do? I still didn't understand why he had chosen me. I had questions only, no answers.
I was walking in the woods next day - still in my dream. I studied an ant heap for some time. It looked like chaos, thousands of crawling ants, but I knew they had a common purpose. I pictured the world, crawling with billions of people without a common purpose. What could that common purpose be? What might unite people, regardless of differences? Becoming members of a community spanning the universe was too far a goal, too vague a goal. Who would believe a simple bookseller there even were such a goal?
"You're on the right track, Dylan." The Master was walking beside me now. It didn't surprise me anymore. "The moment you think you are sure, start doubting again. Why haven't you asked me who I am or what I am?"
"Who are you, Master?"
"I am a person with many facets, Dylan. I'm knowledge. I'm wisdom. But most of all I am energy. When you think of energy, you think of gas for your car. You think of electricity powering your machines. You think of the sun warming the Earth. That's not the energy I'm talking about. That energy is no more than converting matter. The kind of energy I am talking about consists of wisdom, knowledge, love, compassion, friendship and of hate, anger, competition, greed and so many other things that have nothing to do with matter. You can find it everywhere, Dylan, in every living being. You know it's within you. You feel glimpses of it sometime. You know now what to write. Write it. We'll meet again."
I woke up. I'd never felt so refreshed before. The first rays of sun came into my cabin. I went out and lay down in the grass that was moist with cool dew. The memories that came back again didn't make me sad anymore. I knew now what the glimpses were the Master had talked about. Many of those glimpses I had felt when I was lying in the cool wet grass with her.


Dylan T. Cook had never dreamt a dream like that. He wasn't a bookseller either. His parents had been and still were avid readers, which showed in his name. When he was a kid his parents gave him books to read, but apparently they had pushed too hard. He'd read less books than he was years of age now, thirty-five. He had a way with words, though. He had been, before his book was published, a copywriter for a big advertising firm. He knew a catchy phrase when he heard one. He knew what people wanted to hear. A few years ago a senator had asked him to join his speech writing staff. He could be the one to make the sound bites people could remember easily. He had refused. He didn't like politics in the first place and hated politicians in the second place. Apart from that, the senator could not him pay him half as much as the advertising firm paid him. Money was his first priority. He liked to be surrounded by his second priority, young women, scantily dressed preferably.
Only a few days after Dylan had heard Mary and Derek talk about their meeting on Mars, he had seen the possibilities. He saw defeatism all around him. No more dawning of a new age. No more heading out into space. Let's make the best of it, that's what people said. We're stuck, that's what people really thought.
The Man of Mars was the name Dylan privately gave to the person the members of the expedition had met. The Man of Mars hadn't said very much else but "Stay away from Mars." He'd made an underground lake disappear overnight. The Man had sold a product, the product being a clear message: "Stay where you are. I am running things here." Here being the universe. The Man of Mars was the Master of the universe. That's what made Dylan think.
Master meant a lot of things: an employer, a boss, the captain of a ship, the victor in a fight, an owner. It could also mean: someone whose teachings or doctrines are accepted by followers. This Master, Dylan believed, had no intention of coming to Earth, to teach the people. Someone else could do the job for him.
The Master studied the people of Earth. His all seeing eyes eventually rested on his humble servant Dylan Thomas Cook. Dylan was sleeping after a day of hard work and his usual frugal dinner. The Master made him dream: he was living in this cabin in the woods.

So far, so good. People were used to other people receiving visions in their dreams. In those dreams they were told exactly what to write down. Their books became Holy Books. Dylan T. Cook was not going to write a holy book. People were not eagerly awaiting another book with new rules. They were fed up with being told what to do and not to do. People today wanted practical guidelines like: Insert knob A into hole B.

"Where are you going, Dylan?" the luscious blonde had asked, when he had gotten up from his beach chair. "Are you alright? You haven't said a word to me."
"Why don't you go for a swim, baby? I'd like to go with you, but I've got some work to do. Tell you what: bring me a bourbon around five. I'll be in my study."
Sitting behind his desk he didn't touch his keyboard yet. He always started in the traditional way, with a piece of paper and a pencil, just writing words:

Handwritten piece of paper

He put down his pencil and touched his keyboard. His monitor lit up. ENERGY he typed. Why had that word come up? Wait! The woman he'd met in a single's bar one night. She'd probably had one drink too many. Her words were slurred. She kept talking about energy, universal energy and wisdom coming from the sun. When she stopped talking altogether, he'd asked the bartender if he knew her. The man told him she lived just around the corner. He'd found a key in her purse and had brought her home. He'd undressed her and put her in her bed. Looking at her, he was tempted to stay. He didn't. Just before he closed the bedroom door she said: "We are not alone."
Energy: everybody knew what that word meant. It was a word people could relate to. Now make them think about it differently. Make them think about universal energy, whatever it was. Universal energy was what you wanted it to be. Universal energy was not material, it was spiritual. That energy wasn't subjected to physical laws. It was this great common bond between people. He typed: "Energy is the source of all great visions. Sun = wisdom."
"NOTE:", he typed, "also source of bad visions."
 

We Are Not Alone

The Quest for Togetherness

Dylan T. Cook


Chapter 1 Dreaming is a private thing

He googled. Shit! Asimov had used the same words for the title of one of his short stories. Master's dream could mean the Master was dreaming. How about Dreams Come True? No, too much like a story for kids.
The blonde came in with his bourbon. She put it on his desk and stood behind him, leaning over him, her breasts touching his shoulders.
"What's a quest, honey?" she asked.
"Take a dictionary", he said. "When you've found it, try to find out what distraction means. I'm trying to get some work done, don't you see? I'm writing. That's what I do for a living, remember? That's what pays for the trinkets in your ears and on your arms. Do you know what kitchens are for? Make a salad, cook potatoes, fry some steaks."
"I'm not your cook, Dylan. I've got other qualities. I'll be on the beach, dreaming of company." She went to the door.
"Hey, come back, baby. You are great! Look at what I'm typing". He waited till she was leaning over him again, then he typed: "Chapter 1 Dreaming of company".
"
Are you going to write a book? That's what it means, right?"
"You're right, baby. Watch me. I'm going to be famous. You can tell your grandchildren later you have known this famous author Dylan T. Cook."
She was a blonde but not too dumb not to know the difference between 'your grandchildren' and 'our grandchildren'. She also knew which side her bread was buttered on that time, so she let it go. She knew what her strong points were and how to use them.
When she brought him breakfast next morning, he was looking at his monitor. He'd been sitting there for over an hour, but not a word was written beneath the title of chapter 1. She had not bothered yet to put on part one of her bikini. Part two was missing continuously, anyway. She looked at the monitor too.
"What are you going to write about, Dylan? Is it going to be a novel?"
How could he explain? "No, it's not going to be a novel. Only the first chapter looks like a novel. The rest is about ideas. Are you happy, Charlene?"
"Most of the time I am. When you are not in one of your sulky moods."
"Don't you think something is missing in your life? I mean, apart from me being sulky. Before you met me, was something missing? And don't tell me you were missing me."
She sat on his desk. He couldn't see the monitor anymore. "I don't know what you mean, honey. I missed a lot, money for instance. But that's not what you mean, is it?"
"What I mean is, did you miss something in other people, like colleagues, neighbors, people you meet when you're shopping or when you go to a bar?"
"Of course I did. It seems like people don't care any more. Not about me. Not about me as a person, anyway. To most men I'm just a pair of tits, a pair of legs and something in between. To most women I'm just a nobody. Yes, Dylan, I miss something. I read it on your monitor yesterday: togetherness. Life must be more than what it is now. Is that what you are going to write about?"
"That's what I want to write about." He didn't tell her why he wanted to write about that. He couldn't care less about togetherness. "Only I don't know how to begin. I want to begin with a dream, but how does a dream start?"
"What happens in the dream?"
"I meet this man who's telling me things. I meet him near a lake in the wood."
"So start walking in the wood."
That's how the book got started. The next day he told Charlene he had to be alone for some time. He had to concentrate on writing. "I like you to be with me, baby, you know that, but when I see you, I want to stop writing. You are too attractive. We'll keep in touch." He hadn't touched her since. She was just another ship that had passed in the night.
Energy was the key word for his book. Energy had always been mankind's biggest mystery. The Master had come to him in his dream to point the way to unravel this mystery. The sun had always been not only the source of one kind of energy, but also the symbol of the real energy. The Egyptians had known. Tuth Ank Amon had not been the sun god. He had not been a god. He had not been a man. He was the representative of THEM. There had been more representatives.
Look at Egypt. What is it's most powerful symbol? Who built those pyramids and, more important, why were they built? What was the connection with those other pyramids, thousands of miles away, in Mexico? What was the connection between Tuth Ank Amon and Lord Pacal, the Mayan ruler? What was the connection between them and the man that died on a cross and disappeared mysteriously after being entombed? The latter had been the most outspoken. He had clearly stated that he came from heaven, meaning the universe of course. In his time people believed in gods, so why not tell them he was the son of one of those gods?
The first days of writing had been difficult. One afternoon, when he was stuck again, he realized why: he was trying to be logical. Again he was reminded of the woman he had put in her bed. What she told him in that bar had no rhyme or reason at all. People did not want logic. People were fed up with reason. The mystery of Atlantis was more realistic than the horrors of Dresden and Hiroshima. Excalibur was more powerful than a Kalashnikov. A Space Odyssey was far more interesting than Ulysses' travels. Area 51 was more than an Air Force base in Nevada, it was the place where the representatives of the Master bided their time.
"Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I." That's what this son of god had said.
It was that simple. Are crime rates rising? Get together! Are whites suppressing the blacks? Get together! Are Christians suppressing the Muslims? Get together!
Get together and hold hands! Concentrate! Meditate! Don't think! Feel! Feel the energy rising! Let energy flow into you! It's coming from the brethren and sisters around you. It's coming from the Aboriginal following his song line. It's coming from the dancing girl high on ecstasy. It's coming from the crowd in St. Peter's Square. It's coming from all directions now. It's coming from the sun. You can feel it's presence. You can feel HIS presence. You can hear his voice. "Unite. Get together. Get together with ME. Get together wit US."
The reviews of the book were not favorable, to put it mildly. "Another crackpot theory" is what one of the critics wrote. "Compared to this book, The Celestine Prophecy is a masterpiece." The public at large didn't care about critical reason. They read the book and recognized the message they'd been waiting for.
Even Dylan himself was surprised. He had expected success, but not this huge a success. He made only one appearance on national TV. When the anchor man called him 'the leader of the movement', he strongly objected. "There is no movement. I'm not a leader. I have only been a messenger. I'm not telling people what to do. The message speaks for itself." He objected again in a letter to the editor of a weekly magazine that had called him 'The Prophet'. "Prophets predict the future", he wrote. "I don't care about the future. I'm living today. Let the devil take tomorrow."
There were groups now all over the country. Chicago had it's 'Bankers for the slums'. Los Angeles had it's 'Policeman for the junkies'. Washington DC had it's 'Senators for the people'. Recently the chairman of the UN Security Council had asked the members to take each other's hands before debating the issue they had gathered for. "We are in this together, my friends", he had said. "We can no longer let the people out there suffer and die."

Six months after the book was published, Charlene had called and asked if she might come along one more time, for old time's sake. "Sure", he'd said. "Come tonight. We'll be alone."
"There's a problem, Dylan. I've got no wheels at the moment. I just got out of the bus." He told her one of his men would come and get her.
Charlene looked tired. Her dress didn't fit, it was too wide. Her feet were in a pair of old sneakers, no socks or stockings. There was no sign of the jewelry he had once given her.
He made coffee. She gulped it down. "Have you eaten, Charlene?" he asked. She hadn't.
While he was making a chicken salad, she told him she'd been a dancer for some time in a bar just outside San Francisco. "You know what dancing means in a bar like that, don't you, Dylan? Have you ever been in a bar like that? Can you imagine what it means to see all those leering faces when you pull a zipper down? Do you know how whistling sounds when you lower your dress? When I came home I didn't want to look in a mirror anymore. I didn't want to be disgusted by a body that any dirty man with a dollar to spare could touch."
She ate the salad without speaking. Then she cried, uncontrollably. He saw no way to comfort her. He didn't know how she might react when he touched her.
"You don't have to leave tonight, Charlene", he said. "Why don't you go to bed? Sleep as long as you like. I'll make breakfast for you tomorrow."
She let him take her hand when he led her to one of the spare bedrooms. He left her before she undressed.
He took a glass of bourbon with him and sat on the terrace. He didn't believe what he'd done. He'd never done anything without expecting something in return. He wasn't going to believe what he'd written, was he? Compassion was just a word to him. He had never told Charlene he loved her. He had never asked what her feelings were towards him. She had shared his villa and his bed for some time. He didn't regret that, but neither did he regret telling her he had to be alone for a while.
Next morning he was drinking his first coffee on the terrace, looking at the sea. There were hardly any waves. He finished his coffee, got up and put his bathrobe over a chair.
"Good morning." Charlene looked rested. There was even a smile on her face. Her hair was wet, so she must have taken a shower. She was wearing a white bathrobe, that she'd found in the closet. He reached for his bathrobe.
"Don't bother, Dylan. Let me look at a naked man for a change." She took off her own bathrobe. "I don't mind your looking at me. You've done that before. I did it myself this morning. You know what? I liked what I saw. I lost a few pounds. Not bad. How about that breakfast?"
After breakfast Charlene told him about leaving the bar and looking for another job. That was two months ago. "I should've finished college. I could only get some cleaning jobs. They didn't pay enough to pay the rent for my apartment. I had to live in a boarding house. Even there I could only pay the rent if I skipped dinner some times. Yesterday I was desperate. I was out of a job again. There were only a few dollars left I could call my own. I walked along this bus station. On an impulse I bought a ticket to Santa Cruz. I was not thinking of you. I was thinking of the beach. I was thinking of swimming as far away from that beach as I could. I didn't. I called you. Now here I am. Thank you. Let's swim. You tell me when to turn back. After that I'll walk back to town. A friend of mine used to live there. Maybe she still does. I'll look for a job here."
He studied her. "You've changed overnight, Charlene. Last night you were a bundle of misery. Now you're looking hopeful."
"Didn't someone write a book about that? We are not alone, remember?"
He couldn't possibly tell her the whole book was nothing more than a charade. "Yes, I remember." He got an idea. "I remember something else. I remember the author sitting at his desk. He's thinking about a title for the first chapter of his book. Then this gorgeous blonde comes in with a bourbon. He annoys her. No, he insults her. She walks away. He'll find her on the beach, dreaming of company. Bingo! He's got his title. Some time later she gives him some more good advice."
"What did she say?"
"Start walking in the wood. Charlene, you've started me on the way to success. I've made a lot of money. I think you deserve part of that money."
"That's not what I came here for, Dylan. I wasn't looking for charity. I don't really know why I came here. I know that you liked me, but I also know you didn't love me. I was too easy on myself when I lived here with you. I've been thinking about that, you know. Shall I be frank? I wasn't anything better than a whore. I let you fuck me in exchange for shelter, food, drinks, clothing and what you call trinkets. I know, you didn't treat me like a whore. You can be nice enough, if you want to. I liked sex with you, to be honest. I was a bit surprised when I woke up and realized I'd slept alone."
He didn't know what to say. Once again he'd surprised himself, telling her she deserved part of the money. He meant it nonetheless. She'd come to him with no more than the clothes she was wearing and a purse. That meant at least that she trusted him, one way or another. The only thing she was looking for last night was company.
"You were dreaming of company", he said. "You were coming back not to me, but to the last company you had. You don't have to leave today. You can stay for a few days. Give yourself some time to think of what you want to do with your life. You don't have to share a bed with me. I won't come sneaking into your bedroom, I promise. Boy scout's honor."
"I can be a member of your topless entourage? I read a paper somewhere", she explained.
"They left three weeks ago. They'd served their purpose. If another network shows up, I'll very kindly ask you to stand beside me. Come as you are."
She laughed. "I'll come as I am now. OK, Dylan, I'll take you up on that offer, on one condition."
"Granted. What is it?"
"Never call me baby, or honey."
"Easy, Charlene. Maybe I'll think of an endearment that's more to your taste. Shall we swim now?"
After swimming they went to town. He made her accept him buying some new clothes for her. When he pointed at a bikini she smiled. "Who needs it?"
They had lunch in town. Over coffees Charlene said: "You've changed, too, Dylan. You are less distant. You're not looking through me, like you used to do. How come?"
"Have you read my book?"
"I did. You know what I thought? I thought: this isn't Dylan. It's not like him. Do you really believe that people out there are waiting for us to grow up?"
He didn't answer at once. He called the waiter and asked for two more coffees. Why didn't he want to lie to her now? Lying was second nature to him.
"I know nothing about people out there, Charlene. I know nothing more than you or any body else. I heard about the person they met on Mars. It made me think. I wanted to know if I could make people believe in something they knew nothing about. People don't want to read about reality. They can see it everyday on their TV screens. People want to read about mystery. They don't want to hear they are bad. They want to hear that they are essentially good. Tell them they have untapped resources and they lap it up. Well, that's what they did, didn't they? They made me a millionaire."
"It sounds so cynical. And still so many people believe it and it made them better people. Don't you think so?"
"I see it and I don't understand. Let's go. You're not as tanned as you used to be."
There were a few people walking along the sea. They stayed on the terrace where they couldn't be seen. Charlene slept most of the time. The ice cubes tinkling in his glass woke her up. "Shouldn't we dress before cook comes?"
"Cook's gone too", Dylan said. "I'm economizing."
Charlene pulled up her eyebrows, questioning.
"Just kidding. I've discovered I like cooking. Yesterday night I was very disappointed when you didn't say you liked my chicken salad very much." He waited a few seconds. "Just kidding, again. What would you like to drink?"
Charlene wanted a glass of wine. "You're spoiling me, Dylan. If you go on like this, you may have to kick me out."
"I've done some thinking while you were sleeping, Charlene. I think you are right. I have changed indeed, only very recently. I think it happened when you were crying. I offered you to stay without asking, even without thinking of asking something in return. I want you to understand that, Charlene. There's no quid pro quo. You are free to stay and you are as free to go."
"You are not telling me you fell in love with me all of a sudden, are you? Or that you are pitying me?"
"Neither of them, believe me. I don't know what happened, or still is happening."
While Dylan was busy cooking, Charlene watched a talk show. The host was talking to a woman who looked to be about seventy years old. "I've been a professor of philosophy for more than twenty years", she said. "Some critics, even some colleagues of mine, called this book rather shallow. I disagree. I've read a lot about all those New Age philosophies. What do I think about them? They are pure, undiluted rubbish. They want you to believe in something intangible like karma. They tell you there's a super science, coming from the sun. Can you believe that Mayans lived in Peru and wrote a manuscript in Aramaic? One thing we are sure of now: We, mankind, are not alone in this universe. I don't know what other kind of people are living out there. But I would not be surprised if they considered us to be the scum of the universe. That book made people think about themselves. Many of them changed their ways because of what they read. Is that shallow? OK, let me be shallow."
"Dinner is ready", Dylan called. "Come and get it."
It was a warm night, so they ate dinner outside, on the terrace. They took their time finishing a second bottle of whine. They didn't speak much, but is was not an uncomfortable silence. Dylan took Charlene's hand. "Would you do me a favor?" he asked. "Don't think of going away yet. Help me think about myself. I want to know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know I don't just want people around. I want company."
"I'll tell you in the morning, Dylan. I'm going to bed now." She kissed his cheek lightly and went to her bedroom.
He cleared the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. He went to his own bedroom.
He woke up when Charlene came into his bedroom and lay beside him. "You are not alone", she said.

Did Dylan T. Cook really write that book, or had I been ghostwriting it? Does it really matter? Do you care who pumped up the gas you put into your car? Not likely. Do you want to know the cow before you grill a steak? Can't you enjoy a symphony if you have never heard of the composer? The important thing is, many people read Cook's book and felt better people having read it. How many people can say their lives have been changed radically by Kritik der reinen Vernunft? Or by L'ŕtre et le nÚant? Or by An Essay Concerning Human Understanding?
Not only personal lives had changed. In big cities crime rates were dropping. Where soldiers were opposing other soldiers or rebels or insurgents, it seemed they were less trigger happy. Official and less official leaders spoke more of political solutions then they had ever done before. The Secretary General of the United Nations remarked that tolerance and together started the same way. The pope followed suit. "A condom", he said, "doesn't have to be contrary to the concept of life as we see it."
Do you think I was still on Mars, watching what was happening on Earth? I was not. I kept myself amused in another way.

Go back to beginning of this memoir.

FACT FINDING MISSION

"My wife will be here shortly", I told the man behind the Concierge desk of the Waldorf Towers. "Tell her I'm in the bar."
"Will do, senator. Always a pleasure to have you here, sir."
I ordered a single malt Scotch. The bartender didn't recognize me, nor did other people, in the subdued light of the bar.
All heads turned in the same direction when the striking redhead came in. She knew it and she was used to it. The populace knew her as Alyssa. I knew her real name was Fla're. She was recognized immediately. Her face had been in all the newspapers. She had been in all the major talk shows. She had told her story over and over again.
She had been found wandering in the Serbian woods, hardly dressed in rags, wearing nothing on her feet. The only sound she made were whimperings no one understood. She was skinny and dirty. After three weeks in hospital she was a beautiful woman of about thirty years. She was very intelligent too. She was able to tell the nurses in their language that she appreciated all they did for her. She could tell the doctors that she didn't know where she came from or where she been before. She had taken the name Alyssa, when she heard that was the name of the daughter of one of the doctors. No one came forward to tell she was a relative, a friend or an acquaintance. She choose Kasina for her last name. When a reporter asked her what it meant, she said: "I don't know. It is the name of a hotel I once passed. I liked the sound of it." The date she was found in the woods she now called her birthday. She had decided that was her thirtieth birthday.
I met her during my tour of refugee camps in Europe. She had been in the camp for only six weeks but was already running the library. In the first week she had found an English grammar. I could talk with her and did. Her face brightened when I told her that maybe in the United States we could do more for her. As a senator I could find my way through all the red tape. Three months later I met her again on Ronald Reagan Airport. Four months after that we were married. The vice-president was my best man.
That was the public story everyone took for granted. Fla're appeared in that wood only minutes before she was found. She knew exactly where she was coming from. I won't tell you the name. You wouldn't recognize it. Let it suffice that the planet she came from is many light years away. I won't even try to describe the sentient beings there. They knew of course what kind op people lived on Earth. They wanted to know more. They decided to send Fla're, giving her the shape of the winner of the Miss Universe Contest. The required intelligence she already possessed in abundance.
"You shouldn't be wearing such a revealing dress, my dear", I said with mock disapproval when we sat in a booth.
"Don't you know it is de rigueur now? It's one of the fascinating things on this world. As soon as a woman gets popular and is seen enough in papers or on TV, other socialite women want to be dressed the same way. They want the same perfume, the same brand of purse. When I go to Milan to buy new shoes, they go to Milan. When I say the best rye bread can be bought in Wichita, Kansas, people flock to Wichita, Kansas. At the party yesterday one of the men asked me if he might call his new perfume Alyssa. I said I knew of a much better name, Fla're. "Get Flair With Fla're." I wrote it down for him on a paper napkin. He looked at it said "Great!" and then went back to looking at you know what."
"Well, I can't blame him. You were not exactly playing hide and seek, were you? Only your being a senator's wife prevents them to ask you if you will be next month's Playmate. If I were a real man and you were a real woman, we wouldn't be here but in our room, playing doctor."
"Let me get you another drink", she said and walked to the bar. She walked like she was born wearing high heels. Like no woman could she walk through a male crowd, looking like she didn't notice the men staring at her long legs, giving her the once over. She noticed of course, measuring degrees of attentiveness and arousal.
"There are thirty-three men in this bar", she said. "Four of them are not interested in women. Five of them will tell their wife or girlfriend that they've seen Alyssa Kasina in person and that she is even more beautiful than she is on TV. Nineteen want to sit where you are sitting now, drag me up to a room and rip my clothes off. Five are now telling their wife or girlfriend to go to their room with them. Men!"
She had learned soon enough what was one of the basic flaws in mankind. "Strange thing is", she had said, "they know it, when they stop to think about it. They've studied animals in heat and know that they are basically the same. And what have they done about it so far? They literally covered it up, starting with fig leaves."
You understand that Fla're was a senator's wife only part-time. Whenever people expected her to be home alone, she was somewhere and sometime else. She roamed the plains with the tribe of Young Man Afraid Of His Horses. She had watched the massacre of Wounded Knee. She had lived in an ashram in India. After listening to the guru for some days she could barely refrain from telling him a few things. Recently she had been in a monastery.
"There's another thing all these people have in common", she had said. "They can't live with the idea that death is the end. They believe there must be more than that. They believe they have something they call a soul. When their body stops functioning, this soul lives on somehow. I asked where this soul was located, but up till now no one has been able to really explain."
One of the hotel's bellhops came to our booth. "The mayor and his wife are at the front desk, senator. He says he has an appointment."
"Sure, son. Tell the mayor we're here and tell the restaurant we'll be there in about an hour. Table for four."
The mayor's wife was not one of the socialites Fla're had been talking about. She was not able to completely hide her disapproval of Fla're's clothing. She still was a strong believer in covering up. The mayor had no problem at all. He held Fla're's hand much longer than I held his wife's.
The mayor had used some pretext for meeting me. He was campaigning for re-election and being seen with a well-known senator could only be a plus. Being seen in a picture with the senator's wife would be an even bigger plus. It wouldn't take long for the photographers to arrive. When they did the mayor made as much as he could of looking surprised. "Come on, guys! This is just a private meeting with my friend the senator. This has nothing to do with politics. The senator and his charming wife can not even vote here."
The photographers made it very clear they were not going to leave without a picture of the mayor beside Fla're. Fla're made a decision. "Mr. Mayor, if we don't do something together, they're going to be here all night. Let's make a deal with them: ten minutes to make pictures, then they leave."
The crowd cheered. The photographers roared. Fla're walked to the bar, beckoning the mayor to follow her. She sat on a stool and patted the one beside her, leaning over more than was necessary. The bartender gave both of them a glass of wine and they toasted. Walking back to the booth the mayor put an arm around Fla're's bare shoulders.
For the next half hour there was nothing but small talk, the mayor doing most of the talking.
Under the table Fla're's foot kicked mine. I looked at her. She looked back and her message was clear: "Please, get rid of this boring couple."
I nodded. Now, what would be a good distraction? Another world war? A meteorite crashing down? Explosion in a nuclear power plant? The mayor having a heart attack? The mayor's wife confessing she was actually Dracula's wife? Fla're heaving a slight headache? I had to keep in mind that Fla're was here to study Earth's people. She had to report back. How long would it take before Earth could join the universal community?

The mayor's cell phone beeped. He took it out of his pocket, looked at the small screen and pushed a button.
"Yes!" ... "What?" ... "Where?" ... "What do they want?" ... "Impossible!" ... "Yeah, right, a SWAT team." ... "I'll be there." He pushed a button.
"That was the police", he said. "Someone called to say he's going to blow up the Chrysler Building. They want me to quit running for mayor again. I'm sorry. We've got to go."
When the boring couple had left, Fla're looked at me, questioningly. "This is too much of a coincidence", she said. "Explain." I told you she was intelligent. But I'm not stupid either.
"Have you heard me calling someone about blowing up the Chrysler Building? Have you seen me putting explosives there? I've been with you all day."
"You were not with me when I bought this dress."
"Come on, Fla're, get real. It took you less than an hour to buy that dress and then you came straight here. Let's go to our suite and watch some TV. Don't you want to see what's going on near that building?"
As expected there were a lot of police. A reporter was interviewing the commissioner. He said there wasn't much to tell yet. There had been only one phone call. it was not known how many people were involved, nor if these people were inside the building. The police were not to enter the building. When the reporter asked if there were any demands, the commissioner lied. He said no demands had been made yet. He was scarcely finished when there was a sudden change of scene.
We saw what looked like the cellar in a basement. In it were only a small table and a chair behind it. Then there was a voice.
"The Big Apple is rotting at the core. A worm has been gnawing it for years now. The worm must go."
The commissioner and the reporter must have seen the same scene. "Any comments, commissioner?" the reporter asked.
The commissioner looked around. "The mayor's over there. You'd better ask him."
Fla're looked disgusted when the mayor's face filled the screen. He started by telling about all the great things he had done for the city, but of course there were always some malcontent people. Apparently some of these people wanted him out of office. They'd threatened to blow up the Chrysler building if he didn't stop running for a second term.
Change of scene again. Now a man was sitting behind the table. His face was covered with a balaclava. Even his eyes could hardly be seen.
"Ask that worm who is the real owner of the company that's going to build the new city hall. Back to you."
The mayor said nothing. He was stricken. That much was obvious. "Are you alright, mayor?" the reporter asked.
"I don't know what that man is talking about." That was the moment, I knew, his lawyer started worrying. The people of New York started guessing.
The mayor excused himself. He had to go to city hall to consult with staff about the situation.
The camera now showed a number of policeman slowly crossing the street towards the main entrance. There was a small explosion on the tenth floor of the building. Shattered glass fell on the street.
The man with the balaclava was on screen for a few moments. "I'm not kidding." The policeman ran back.
Nothing further happened. The network went back to its scheduled program, telling they would go back to the scene as soon as there were any breaking news.
"I still don't know if these people are getting worse or getting better", Fla're said. "I liked being with the Indians. Life was simple then. One had enough food or one had not. They tried to live with that. They never killed more buffaloes than they needed. The crazy Europeans thought killing buffaloes was a sport. They also seemed to think this country was some kind of promised land. Why do they make such a big thing of ownership? Why do men think a woman is theirs? As we speak people are killing each other, stealing from each other, cheating each other. It's fascinating in its own way, but don't they realize there are better ways?"
I told her that many people knew better ways. That was another problem. They wanted other people to recognize their better way as the best way, the only way even to eternal bliss or something like it. They wanted progress and they wanted to go back to paradise, a paradise without a snake. They wanted a heaven without a hell. They wanted great leaders as long as those leaders did not tell them what to do. They wanted security and sought adventure in their spare time.
I don't know if she heard the last words I said. I saw that she was somewhere else. She lay on the couch.
Her eyes were closed, like she was sleeping. In a way she was, but she was wide awake where she was now. I could see what she was doing if I wanted, but I wanted her to tell me, in her own words.
To kill time I took a look in the conference room in city hall. The mayor was there with only one other man, his lawyer.
"You're an asshole", the lawyer said. "How could you ever think you could get away with it? You want my last advice? It's free. Go the police first thing in the morning and tell them everything. If you do the jury and the judge might show some leniency. Find a good trial lawyer. You'll need one."
Fla're moved and sat up. She opened her eyes. "I'd like some mineral water." I got it for her and waited.
"It was dawn. The sun must be just above the horizon, but I couldn't see it. It was still behind the dunes. I was walking along a beach, you see. I don't know where it was. I was naked, but I didn't care. It wasn't cold and there was nobody else. It was too early for that, maybe four thirty. I walked in the water. I came just around my ankles. It felt good. Then behind me somebody called 'Hey, lady, wait for me.' I stopped and turned around. It was a girl, maybe twelve years old. She was pretty and smiling. She asked me if it felt good to be naked. I said it did. She got out of her dress, the only thing she was wearing and took my hand. We walked on. She didn't take her dress with her. It was the first time ever, she said, she met someone on the beach that early in the morning. She was there every day to look for shells. She made them into strings. The strings she gave to people she liked. Somehow I knew I shouldn't ask where she came from, if she lived in the neighborhood, if her parents knew she was walking along the beach that early in the morning. She wasn't going to tell me. Like me, she just was there, only for a longer time. She told me she was there to help people who felt sad. She talked with people who felt lonely. She made small presents for them sometimes. She could feel, she said, I was not unhappy or sad. She also felt I was not going to stay for a long time. In a few hours a lot of people were coming to the beach. We'd have to make ourselves invisible again, she said. The other people were not used to seeing people without any cloths. The way she said 'other people' made it clear that she knew we were both outsiders. She didn't ask me where I came from. I think she knew, in a way. In the distance two men came over the dunes and walked to the sea. They went for a swim. The girl stopped me. Come again, she said, I want you to be my friend. Then I was on this couch again."
She got up from the couch and pulled off her dress. "I know why I was naked on that beach. One of the things I don't like here is clothing. If it wasn't for those men I could have stayed with that girl for some more time. I would have liked that. She isn't just observing like I am. In her own modest way she is trying to make a difference for some people. Maybe I go back there one of these days, with some clothing."
I said she was free to go and do as she pleased. "You know I don't care if you're fully clothed or stark naked. If you want to know what it really means to live with a real man, go ahead. Tell me all about it."
"I've been giving it some thought already", she said. "I know exactly what most men think when they see me in a dress like that. I told you what happened in that bar. I also know what a lot of women think. They want me to leave as soon as possible. Am I a real woman, I mean, physically? Can I feel what they feel?"
"As real as they come."
She lay down again and closed her eyes. It took only five minutes. Time isn't that relevant. She could have lived a whole human life in those five minutes.
"Very interesting", was the first thing she said. "Live on this Earth isn't all that bad. I had four boyfriends before I met what they call Mr. Right."
The first boyfriend was quite satisfied when they held hands. The second one thought the back seat of a car was the best place to find out what a girl looked like without a bra. His friend was driving. She told him she wanted at least one pair of eyes focused on the road instead of on the rear view mirror all the time. The third one was decent enough when it started. He took her to the movies. They went for walks. They kissed, not too heavily. He wanted to unhook her bra and didn't find it. He was astonished. She was a bad girl. Good girls apparently wore bras for good guys to unhook them. Only sluts and feminists didn't wear bras. Feminists, in his opinion, were worse than sluts. They didn't respect men. The fourth one only lasted for a week. He brought her home after they'd been to a bar. She made coffee for him. He told her to undress. She asked why. He didn't answer her. He hit her. She kicked him where it hurt most. He left.
"And then Mr. Right came along", I said.
"We were colleagues. We were both lawyers in the same firm. The moment we met I knew he fell in love with me."
"But you didn't fall in love with him, did you?"
"Of course I didn't. I know what these people mean when they talk about love, but that's all. I can't feel it. I lived with him for five years. We had a good time together. It all ended with a car crash. The people in the firm understood when I told them I wanted to continue my life someplace else."
She didn't say more.
"You have not told me all yet, Fla're. You went there for a reason. You asked me if you are a woman physically. If that man lived with you for five years, I can't believe he was satisfied with just being soul mates."
She didn't answer immediately. She got up, standing straight, hands behind her back. "Look at me. This is what he saw every night. This is what he saw every morning, when we took a shower together. This is what he saw when we went hiking in the mountains, far from the madding crowd. Yes, we were soul mates." She was thinking for a few moments, then she smiled. "And we mated, you bet we did. He called it making love. They call it a lot of other things: be intimate, hump, breed, fuck, copulate, fool around, fornicate, go all the way, have coition, go to bed with, have sexual intercourse, have sexual relations, lay, make out, procreate, screw, sleep together, bang, cohabit. Shall I go on?"
"Only if you want to. You still haven't told me everything."
She sat down again. "I'm not going to tell you everything. It's none of your damned business. I don't know who you are exactly, but I do know you're not a woman, not a human woman, that is. I can tell you this: it felt great. You couldn't possibly understand."
Little did she know.

The next morning we watched TV. All the networks started with the same item: the mayor had resigned. He was shown coming out of the police station, crying. The commissioner told the press the mayor was allowed to go home for a few ours. He would come back in the afternoon to make a final statement. His lawyer was talking with the DA. His wife was staying with her mother.
The Chrysler Building had been searched thoroughly. No explosives were found, only the remnants of the one in the room on the tenth floor. There was little damage. The police were investigating where the images of the man with the balaclava had come from. No one knew who the man was.
When we left the hotel for lunch there were a few reporters outside.
"Senator, would you comment on your friend's resignation?"
"None of my friends has told me he resigned recently."
"But the mayor, sir. You were having drinks with him yesterday."
"Guilty as charged, gentlemen. Is every man you have a drink with a friend of yours? You must have seen the picture where he has his arm around my wife's shoulders. I can assure you they are not engaged to be married. She is planning on being the First Lady."
It came totally unexpected and they were totally unprepared. I'd been a junior senator for only four years then. When my name was mentioned in the papers, it was never on the front page. I was quoted a few times when I had said something liberal about an unimportant topic.
"Are you going to run for president, senator?" one of the reporters finally asked. "Is that what you are saying?"
"I'm saying, quote, I am the next president of the United States of America, unquote. Now, if you'll excuse us, we will have lunch now."
"You really can surprise a woman", Fla're said. "I didn't know I was going to be the next First Lady. Does it mean I'll have to dress more conservatively?" She didn't doubt for a second she was indeed going to be the First lady in two years time.
"You and the way you dress are going to be the most important assets in my campaign, my dear. They don't want to see me, they'll want to see you."
Our lunch wasn't disturbed, but when we came back to the hotel it was clear from a distance that the press was out in force. Park Avenue was closed off between 49th and 50th street. The police made way for us when our driver told them who were in the limousine.
We needed the police again to get into the lobby. Once there I went up the stairs a few steps and motioned for silence. It took a while before men and women of the press stopped shouting questions. I looked around until I saw a familiar face, a female reporter of one of the major networks, who had once asked me a few questions outside the Capitol. Joan Hayes she was.
"Ladies and gentlemen", I said, "I think I understand why you have all gathered here." Laughter all around. "I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm not making a statement right now." Questions were shouted again. I waited till they stopped shouting. "I don't play favorites, but today I will speak with only one of you. Ms. Hayes", I looked at her, "I'd like to meet you at four o'clock in our suite." Fla're and I turned around, went up the stairs to the first floor and there took the elevator.
Joan Hays arrived at four o'clock sharp, accompanied by a camera man and a sound man. "I assumed you wanted to keep things a bit informal, senator." It was partly a question.
"You assumed correctly, Ms. Hayes. Do you want my wife and me to sit together on the couch or in different chairs?"
"I think the public would like as much to see your wife as hear you, senator, if you don't mind my saying so. By the way, sir, thank you very much for choosing me for you first interview as a presidential candidate."
"You're perfectly right about my wife, Ms. Hayes. Believe me, I can't get my eyes off of her, either."
The interview lasted about an hour. Joan said that about ten minutes would be aired on prime time. All the key words and phrases would be in it, like 'peace', 'end to poverty', 'together', 'mutual understanding', 'budget control', 'reducing the armed forces', 'health care', 'community', 'family', 'great country' and other things voters liked to hear.
"Senator, may I ask you and your wife a private question?"
We knew of course this question was coming. "Ask away, Joan."
"May we expect baby's in the White House once again, senator?"
I looked at Fla're to indicate she would answer that question. "We can never be sure, of course, but is there any woman who, deep down, does not want to hold a baby that she can call her own? My husband feels the same."
We started my campaign in Santa Cruz. Dylan T. Cook and Charlene were grandparents now. From the terrace we could see the children play in the sand. Cook's book was still widely read. He was very proud when I told him I would quote from it extensively during my campaign.
The president was seeking re-election but soon enough it was clear he didn't have a chance. Try as much as they did, his staffers couldn't find anything to smear me with. Joan Hayes proved to be an excellent press secretary. I won the presidency by the biggest landslide the country had ever seen.

I realized there were other I's.

SUMMIT

"The best battle is the battle that is won without being fought." With that quote from Sun Tzu I started my first State of the Union. I also said that 'battle' ought to be a word of the past. Too many young men and women had died in battles. I was not going to be a Commander in Chief who, sitting safely behind a desk, sent the sons and daughters of our country all over the world to kill or be killed, to teach other people our version of freedom and democracy. Too many innocent civilians had died or were starving far away from the place they used to call home. Opponents prayed to the same god to grant them victory. "We spend billions of dollars or euros or whatever currency we use, to get still more sophisticated arms and each year we let two million little children die that can be saved with a simple mixture of water, salt and sugar. We are worrying about the consequences of too much fast food, while other people don't know if there will be any food the next day." I told Congress I would not appoint a National Security Adviser. The nation, in my opinion, was secure.
My vice-president wasn't only a former professor of Foreign Relations, she was also a former Secretary of State. She was going on a world tour, not visiting the capitals of all the important, rich countries, but visiting the countryside of the unimportant, poor countries. She wasn't going to tell them what to do, she was going to ask them how we could help them develop their potentials.
Fla're had not accompanied me to Capitol Hill, feigning a touch of flu. It was my excuse to go back to the White House as soon as I had finished my speech. I told my staff to go home.
I knew Fla're had not been listening to my speech. She'd been 'traveling' as we now called it. I asked her where and when she'd been.
"I've been paving the way for your vice-president. She is going to visit the people. I've been visiting heads of states, under appropriate guises of course. Not all of them are equally happy she is coming. You know that. It's amazing what a little blackmail can do in this world. They know they can suppress their own press, but not the press in Europe and America. They also know that European and American papers can be read on the internet. They wouldn't like their poor population to learn somehow what Swiss bank accounts are."
"You didn't accomplish all that just by small talk, did you, Fla're?
"You know better than that. They are all men. To all of them I'm the most attractive woman they've ever met, whatever shape or color they like. When they've proven they are not little boys anymore, but real men, they go on telling you about all the clever things they've done. When they read the e-mail I send them when I've gone, they know they'd better follow instructions."
I had not made a definite decision yet about the near future. The next day I would meet the ambassadors of the richest countries in the world and of some of the powerful but not so rich countries. The message I wanted them to convey to the leaders of their governments was simple: Fourteen days from now, meet me in Camp David. Let's talk for three days about making this world a better place for everyone. Come alone, without advisers. Let's speak freely, no minutes will be kept.
I looked at Fla're. She appeared to be sleeping, but I knew she was 'traveling' and I knew where she was. I went there too.
I arrived at the beach in the early morning dawn. Fla're was walking about fifty meters ahead of me, in the ankle deep water. I wasn't a young girl anymore. I was a young woman now.
Fla're stopped and faced the sea. She walked further into the water. She went on until only her head and shoulders were above the water. Like the first time we met she was naked. So was I now. When she turned around to walk back, she saw me. She waved and beckoned me to come. We embraced like old friends.
"Where were you, all the times I came her?" she asked. "I wanted to meet you again, but you were never here."
I didn't answer. I took her hand and led her from the water to the dunes. We climbed up. On the other side we sat down in the sand. The sun was in our faces.
"I always knew when you were here, Fla're", I said.
She didn't seem surprised I knew her name. She didn't ask for mine. "I wanted to know why you were doing what you were doing. I know you were trying to make a difference in people's lives. Not in a big way, but ... I wanted to know if you really made them any happier."
"You don't know what happiness is, Fla're. Where you come from happiness and unhappiness don't exist."
I went on telling her she was in a funny little country in a funny world. She could look wherever she wanted, on any planet she wanted. Nowhere else would she find people that let their lives be dominated by morals. Their happiness depended on morals. They couldn't be happy without being good. They wanted everybody to be good and happy. They couldn't understand other people being good and happy in a totally different way. They tried to convince other people theirs was the best way. If people couldn't be convinced a bit of coercion might be in order, or a lot of coercion. If the cause was good even violence might be used.
"In a few ours the beach will be crowded", I said. "People will be lying in the sun, trying to get a tan. But they will all cover certain parts of their bodies, because it is shameful to uncover them in public. Now, if you walk along the beach not too far to the north or the south, you'll find small stretches of beach where it is permitted to remove the last pieces of clothing. Do you think the people there are happier?"
"They must be", Fla're thought. "They are more open minded."
"Are they? Many of them look with scorn upon the people on this beach. They call them old-fashioned, they call them prudes, because they are not following the rules they are following: people shouldn't hide their bodies, they should show them proudly. Tell you what: when we're going among them, they won't feel proud anymore. They will be jealous, because they will be comparing our bodied to theirs. Believe me, Fla're, we are standard beauties here."
We didn't speak for a long time. We enjoyed the sun and watched people coming to the beach. Fla're even dozed off of for some time. When she woke up she did not remark on the fact that no longer she was in the company of a young woman but of a man her age. I proposed to have a walk along the beach and have lunch somewhere. "There have been some changes here", Fla're said. "A few years ago, I met a girl here. She was wearing a dress, but she put that off, when she saw I was naked. We couldn't stay long then, because other people came and they weren't used to naked people walking among them. I wonder if that girl caused the change. She was so young." Nobody looked twice when we passed them. If there was clothing to be seen, it was in a heap beside them.
We went to one of the pavilions where food and drinks were served. I was greeted like an old acquaintance.
"I'm sorry, Bob", I said to the waiter. "I'm afraid I've forgotten my wallet. Meet Alyssa. You're going to see more of her."
"Pleased to meet you, Alyssa. Don't worry about the bill, sir. It will be still here tomorrow."
While we were having lunch, Fla're studied the people around us. "They are more relaxed then they used to be", she said. "They are not unhappy, but I can't tell if they are happy. I wonder if that girl has something to do with. She made some people happy with small gifts. Maybe she took away something as well."
I decided it was time for a change of scenery. Back to the White House.
Fla're opened her eyes and asked for a glass wine. I brought it her and took a bourbon myself. "I was on that beach with a man", Fla're said. "Somehow that man made me think of you. He looked familiar."
I didn't comment.
The next morning it took some time to convince the ambassadors I was very serious. Some said their leaders were too busy to come to Camp David on such short notice. Others said their leaders needed time to get prepared. I asked them why talking about peace and progress needed preparation. There was not one of them who didn't always declare that they were committed to peace and progress. What the ambassadors really meant, was that progress for many of them meant personal progress and peace was something for a next generation. "This afternoon, gentlemen", I said, "my press secretary will tell the world what I've asked you to today. They will tell what my message to your leaders is. I tell you: the people will not really understand if your leaders decide not to come."
Two weeks later all the twenty-seven leaders I had invited arrived in Camp David. The Secretary General of the United States was there too.

The conference was a disaster, as I had expected. From the beginning all of them were thinking about one thing only: how do I tell the people of my country that I fought to protect their best interests? The only one present there who was completely at my side was the Secretary General. He was the last one to leave.
"I'm so sorry your initiative failed, Mr. president. It was such a worthy goal."
"On the contrary", I retorted. "Once again I've given proof to my own nation and to the world that this is the only country that is really committed to world peace and progress for everyone on this world."
Two weeks later I announced that I would speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations the following day. Many leaders of governments suddenly had the time to go there on short notice.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I began, "as of tomorrow all American troops will start to withdraw from all the foreign countries where they are now."
The silence that fell over the Assembly was almost palpable.
"Tomorrow all financial aid to all countries that receive it, will end."
Some gasps were audible.
"We've been accused of playing the world's police man. Ladies and gentlemen, the policeman has resigned. From now on this country is concentrating on one thing and one thing only: to be a home to people who want freedom and progress. You want to trade with us? Fine, come along and we'll talk trade conditions. You want to be friends with us? Come and tell us why we should want to be your friends. You want your own form of government? We couldn't care less. You want to fight us? Think again. That will be all."
I stepped down from the rostrum, left the hall and went straight back to the White House.
For days after my short speech the world was in uproar. Our State Department was flooded with ambassadors, phone calls, letters, e-mails. Our own ambassadors worked overtime to explain our position to other governments. People watched our troops leaving their country. They realized we were really going to do what I told them.
When the dust had settled, new messages came in from a lot of countries. They all amounted to one thing: "Can we talk?"
Once again I invited twenty-seven ambassadors to come to the White House. Once again I asked them to convey a message to their leaders: Come to Camp David fourteen days from now. Let's talk about peace and progress for all the people in the world.
The first morning I met them all in a conference room after breakfast. I'd made it clear that dress could be informal. Now they looked like a class of school children waiting for the headmaster to speak. This was not the way their peoples knew them. There were no photographers to smile to. There were no babies to kiss. There were no advisers to ask what they were expected to say. There were no spin doctors to teach them to say it more effectively.
"Ladies and gentlemen I have not invited you here to tell you what to do. I have not invited you here to negotiate. I've invited you here to talk. Don't talk with me. Talk first and foremost with your other colleagues. Take a walk with them. Go the gym together. Talk about energy. I don't mean fuel, I mean release the energy that's within you. Discover the energy that's within your colleagues. Acknowledge the energy that's within your peoples. Receive the energy that's in this world and everywhere around this world. We are not alone. You are not alone. You don't have to lead your country alone. You are only one of many leaders in your country. In a few years I have to ask my people if they will elect me once again, pretty please. For two days there will be no formal get-togethers. The third day we'll meet again in this room and see what results have been made. I hope you'll enjoy your stay here."
I left for two days. The Secretary General was there to act as a go-between, if necessary. Two times a day he called me. They were talking, he said, all of them, in constantly changing groups or in pairs. They asked him to sound out ideas. The Chinese president told him what a charming lady the French president was. Personally he admitted she cut a fine figure in blue jeans and a T-shirt. He'd seen the presidents of Pakistan and India arm wrestling in the bar.
When I arrived the third day at ten a.m., the first two people I met were the French and Chinese presidents. They were just returning from a walk. They walked hand in hand. She was giggling. "You really shouldn't say such naughty things, Liu", I heard her say.
When we met in the conference room, the Secretary General said they'd asked him to speak for them all.
"Mr. president, let me first say we are all grateful. We are all used to shaking each others hands for minutes when camera's are pointed our way. But now we know that we have never met before we came here. Not we were meeting, but preconceived opinions. We were no more than mouthpieces. We were like puppets on a string, dancing to old tunes, tunes that everybody knows by heart and doesn't want to hear anymore. No treaties were drafted, Mr. president, no deals were made. All the notes we made the last two days we have burnt ceremoniously last night. But we won't forget what we have experienced. I suspect, Mr. president, you expected this outcome." He smiled and so did the others. "We also suspect that you have invited the press to be here." The last words sounded like a question.
"Friends", I said, "the press will be here at two p.m. I see you are all still dressed informal. Let's keep it that way. I am also grateful. I could only hope it would come to this. Do today what you did the last two days, walk with whom you like. Take a swim. Read a book, whatever. If someone of the press wants to talk you, do so if you want to, don't if you don't want to. I will not make a statement. There will be no gathering of us all for the press. The press will be told to leave at four p.m. Let's have dinner together at six."

Think about that. What did you mean when you wrote that down?

Are you still with me? Why? Do you really think it's that interesting? I don't. The more I write, the more bored I become and that's not all. I'm not only bored, I'm getting tired in a way. You only know part of the story, a very small part. Are you wondering what the naughty thing was the Chinese president said to the French president? Why don't you read what the paparazzi wrote about them after they saw them walking hand in hand? You want a question to think about? OK, here goes: is planet Earth the biggest success or the biggest failure in the universe? If you have an answer, don't tell me, because it's bloody nonsense. What have you been comparing it with? Venus? Do you know who or what is living on Venus? How many planets have you been able to study outside the solar system? I don't mean you personally. You wouldn't know a planet from a basketball. I mean your astrophysicists. They get all exited when they can tell some far away star might have a planet orbiting it. That's all. They can only theorize about life on that planet.
I started writing with a title. Then came the subtitle. The subtitle is: a memoir. Did you read any memoir lately? I guess you didn't. You know what kind of people writes a memoir? People who are coming to their end. They want to leave their memories behind. No, I'm not suffering from a deadly disease and I won't leave this memoir behind. Another correct subtitle could have been: a sneak preview.
Wait! I know what you are thinking! You're thinking I am a time traveler, right? Wrong! H.G. Wells's 'The Time Machine' is fiction, you know. It's got nothing to do with science. Isaac Asimov's 'The End of Eternity' is fiction too. Nice fiction, no doubt about that, but it didn't happen. There's no such thing as time travel. It has not been invented and it will not be invented. Period.
By the way: Fla're has left. I thought you'd like to know. She has reported back, that the best thing to do is leave Earth well alone.
Not only the country, the whole world, was grieving, when I'd told them that Alyssa, the First Lady, had died so unexpectedly. The second blow came when I told them I wasn't seeking re-election. I was incapable of going on without Alyssa's support.

WHODUNIT

Being sheriff in Santa Cruz wasn't a difficult job. Crime rates had fallen spectacularly anywhere in the country and even more so in Dylan T. Cook's hometown. When I showed the sheriff the daily crime report, he hardly looked at it. He could guess what it read: some traffic violations, a brawl in a bar, some boys picking oranges where they shouldn't pick them, a girl suspected of soliciting at the beach.
"It's your office for tonight, Nick", the sheriff said. "If necessary, you'll find me in the Hindquarter. I'm having dinner with the mayor." The mayor was Dylan T. Cook II. He lived in the villa now where his parents used to live. His parents had moved to a small house in town.
It was as usual a quiet night. A few times Larry, my colleague, called in to tell nothing untoward was happening.
It was almost eleven p.m. when he called again. "Where's the sheriff, Nick?"
"The Hindquarter, with the mayor. Why? What's up?"
"A body, a dead body, near the mayor's villa. I'm off to the sheriff."
I called the hospital. One of the doctors there was supposed to act as a coroner. I also called a photographer. I told both of them to go the mayor's villa immediately and wait there for the sheriff, if he wasn't already there. After that I could only wait, watching a TV show and an old movie.
it was past three a.m. when the sheriff and Larry came in.
"This can't be true", the sheriff said when he sat behind his desk. "Not in my county." He looked at me. "It's a murder, Nick. Can you imagine that? The first murder in the United States in over four years."
Larry told me he'd found her when he'd made a stroll along the beach. He first thought somebody might have fallen asleep. He went there to wake her up. She was lying on her belly. There was a wound in her back, clearly a bullet wound. She was dead. She was about thirty years old. There was nothing to identify her with. She had nothing more with her than the bikini she was wearing and the towel she'd been lying on. According to the doctor she'd been dead for about an hour when Larry found her. There were no visible tracks around the body. The body was in the hospital's morgue now. The doctor would do an autopsy that morning but nobody expected anything else than instant death by a bullet. And a bullet in the back could mean only one thing: murder.
"I don't want the national and international press all over my county", the sheriff said. "Up till now only a few people know what happened: the doctor, the photographer, two paramedics and the doctor's assistant. They've promised me to tell no one, not even their wives. Both of you are ordered to tell no one. The mayor and I had to tell our wives of course."
Next morning the sheriff said that a picture of the young woman would be given to the papers and TV networks. They were told she was a woman who had drowned and could have been drowned far away from Santa Cruz. A few days later the body was buried.
The murder was a cold case from the beginning. No one came forward to tell who the woman was. There were no witnesses. The only evidence was a single bullet. Life went on in Santa Cruz. There was nothing for the sheriff to go on.
Nine months later I was sitting behind the desk when a man walked in. He put a paper on the desk. It was an old paper. I saw the picture of the woman.
"I found this paper in a hotel in LA", the man said. "I don't know her name, but I'm sure I've seen her once."
I called the sheriff. He'd want to hear the man's story himself. While we were waiting I wrote down his name and some other data. He was Harry Dalton, a sales representative. He traveled all over the country. Somehow he'd missed the picture when it was published.
"I've seen her in a club in Las Vegas", Harry told the sheriff. "She was a dancer. You know what I mean."
The sheriff and I knew. Much had changed, but some primeval urges changed very slowly. Men still liked to watch other women than their own, especially when those woman dropped their clothes piece by piece. Jane Doe had not been a dancer, she had been a stripper.
"How come you are so sure you have seen here, Mr. Dalton?" the sheriff wanted to know. "Why has no one from Las Vegas come forward to tell he or she had seen her? She must have been living there if she was working there."
"I only know what I saw, sheriff. I never forget a face when it is pretty." He checked his notebook for the date he'd been in Las Vegas
There was noting more to discuss. Dalton and the sheriff left. I filed a report.
Exactly a week later the sheriff himself received a call from a sheriff somewhere in Wyoming. A man had come in with an old newspaper and had told the same story of having seen Jane Doe as a stripper in Las Vegas. It had not been Harry Dalton, telling the same story twice.
In the next eight weeks the same story come from eight different places all over the country. All the reports came by mail as well. Ten different names, ten different descriptions of the men telling their stories. They had one thing in common: they traveled extensively.
Larry and I sat together with the sheriff to discuss the case, a few weeks after the last report came in.
"This isn't a cold case anymore, guys", the sheriff said. "Something must be done with this information. We can't just file these reports and leave it at that. I've talked about it with the mayor and he agrees."
Sometimes I wondered if he asked the mayor if it was a good idea to take a leek.
"There's only three of us, sheriff", Larry said. "We don't have the ways and means to follow up on this."
"That's exactly right. I think the only thing we can do is to ask help from the federal boys. What do you say?"
What could we say? We said "Yes".
Two days later the FBI arrived, a man and a woman, both in their forties. The woman introduced herself as Anne Ridgeway. Her assistant was Dan Mayers.
They didn't need much time to read copies of the file Larry had made for them.
"We'll see what we can do for you, sheriff", Ms. Ridgeway said. "We'll contact you as soon as we know more."
The sheriff told her he had put me in charge on our side. I had not known that yet, but didn't show any surprise.
When I walked them to their car, Ms. Ridgeway asked me to go with them to the place at the beach where the body was found. When I started to say something, she said: "I know, there's nothing to be found there. Humor me."
It was a cloudy day, so there were hardly any people to be seen. Ms. Ridgeway stood at the spot where the body had lain when Jane Doe was found. She looked in all directions, as if she wanted to see what Jane Doe had seen in the moments before she died.
"Who is living there?" She pointed at the villa.
I told her the mayor was living there, Dylan T. Cook II.
"Aha", she said, "the son of the man who wrote that book. Is Number One still alive?"
I told her he was. I had the impression it was more to her than just an interesting fact.
I walked back with them to their car and said I'd come to their office in San Francisco a week from then. They drove off and I walked back to the station.

Only Dan was there when I came to the FBI office in San Francisco. Over coffees we'd decided to drop the Mr. "Don't ask Ms. Ridgeway to call you Nick", Dan said. No one may call her Anne, not even the boss."
When we came to business Dan was really serious. "You're not going to believe this, Nick. Those ten men who have seen Jane Doe as a stripper in Las Vegas don't exist."
I must have looked dumbfounded. "The first thing we wanted to do of course", Dan went on, "was check with those men again. It was all too much of a coincidence. Ten men who had not seen her picture when it was first published. Ten men who found an old newspaper in a hotel room. All ten old newspapers had a picture of the face of a stripper they had seen in club in Las Vegas. I think, Nick, that you have not read the ten reports very closely. If you did, you should have noted that all ten men claimed to have been in that club on exactly the same date."
He was right. Neither me, nor the sheriff or Larry had noticed.
"I'm sorry, Dan. We've been sloppy. We're not used to cases like this. Who is these days? But what do you mean with 'those men don't exist'? They were there. They showed ID's, didn't they?"
"They did indeed. But none of their names can be found in any hotel register in the towns in which they went to the police. None of them lives in the town or city they said they lived in. Payments with credit cards in their names have nowhere been traced. So, a dead Jane Doe who no one seems to know and ten men who saw her strip but don't seem to exist. What do you make of that, Nick?"
I didn't make anything of it. "I'm just a hick policeman, Dan. I'm fining people for speeding. I tell people to stop fighting and most of the time they do. I lock up drunks and let them go when they're sober. I'm not a detective. None of us is, least of all the sheriff, but he got the best connections. Don't tell him I said so."
"Trust me, I won't. Anyway, this case is becoming more interesting by the day. We don't know how long we can keep this under wraps. You tell your sheriff that. There may come a moment we have to go public. Ms. Ridgeway is a cool one, you know. The other day she said to me that if the lady didn't mind to show her body for everyone to admire, why should we? Maybe someone remembers her when he sees the whole body."
When I came back to the station, the mayor was there too. I told them what Dan had told me. The only thing they understood was that the FBI might go public. For them it was like old times. The mayor didn't seem to remember the book his father had written. They were weighing the pros and cons. Would it be good or bad for the town if it got publicly known that a woman was murdered here? A lot of press would come, that was for sure. But what would tourists do? Would the murder be an attraction or a reason to avoid the town? When the mayor noticed I was still there he said: "Let's have dinner in the Hindquarter, sheriff. Nick here will cover for you, won't you Nick?"
"Sure will, mayor", I said. "Asshole", I thought.
When Larry came to take over I told him also what I'd heard. He was utterly confused. "How do we know the Feds are telling the truth? Maybe they are hiding something. I saw the body, dammit! She had parents. She must have had neighbors. She wasn't underfed, so she must have done some shopping. Maybe she wasn't a stripper in Las Vegas. Maybe she was killed in Mexico and her body was dropped at our beach. Who knows?"
I didn't have answers to give him. I left. I didn't go home yet. I went to my favorite hangout first.
"Hi, Nick", the bartender said. "The usual? Some body asked me, if you were around." He pointed at a booth. Ms. Ridgeway was sitting there. She nodded.
I took my bourbon and went to the booth.
"Good evening, Nick", she said. "Why don't you sit down?"
I sat down opposite her. "What brings you here, Ms. Ridgeway? We could have talked this afternoon in San Francisco. Or have you been talking with my superiors?"
"Call me Anne." She smiled. It made her look almost human. "I know, Dan must have told you nobody calls me Anne. It's just a joke of mine. And no, I've not been talking with those two assholes."
"Go on, Anne, go on. I might even begin to like you." We both laughed.
"Dan has told you all we've discovered so far", Anne said. "The only thing we know for sure is that we don't know a thing. Well, that's not quite true: we know one thing. A young woman was murdered here. That made me think."
I told her what Larry thought: maybe she was murdered someplace else.
"I've thought about that too", Anne said. "But that's not all. Fact: her body was here. Fact: for nine months nobody came forward to tell who she was. Fact: a man was here to tell you he'd seen her. Nine facts: nine other men told the police they'd seen her. Fact: those ten men can't be traced. Question: can the body be traced?"
"Go the cemetery and start digging", I suggested.
She nodded. "For a hick policeman, you're pretty smart, Nick. That's exactly what I came here for. You may buy me another drink."
I went to the bar for a bourbon and a red wine. Back at the table I said she might be in for a disappointment. Several people had seen Jane Doe's body. Several people witnessed her body being put in a coffin. The coroner and the sheriff accompanied the coffin to the cemetery and watched it being put into a hole in the ground and being covered with sand.
"I'm sure everybody saw what they saw. Has your brilliant sheriff thought of storing her belongings somewhere?"
I told her Jane Doe's bikini and towel were in a box somewhere in the police station. The bullet that killed her was there too. "Four more facts", I said.
When we'd finished our drinks, I walked her to the Santa Cruz Beach Inn, where she was staying. I told her the sheriff would be behind his desk at nine a.m.
"Be there too", she said. "Good night."

"Good morning, Nick", the sheriff said, when I came in next morning. "Ms. Ridgeway told me she'd met you by accident last night. She wants us to disinter the body of that murdered woman. Since there are no next of kin we can keep it simple, I think, but I want to consult with the mayor first. He'll be here in a few minutes."
Speak o' the devil, I thought when the mayor came in. The pompous ass made as much of it as he could about this being a grave decision, not even noticing the pun he made.
Anne did. "I know, mayor, you can't make such a decision about a grave lightly, but I think that in the interest of the investigation we have to do this. There are too many very loose threads. And sheriff, before we go to the cemetery, may I have a look at the box with the woman's belongings?"
It took a while before the mayor returned, empty handed. "I don't understand", he said. "I remember exactly on which shelf I put that box. It's not there. Nick, did you or Larry put it somewhere else?"
I explained that we never had much evidence to store away, so if the box wasn't there, it wasn't there. If he wanted an easy way out of the mess, he had to look for it himself. He almost cringed under the disapproving looks the mayor and Anne cast his way.
The mayor himself called the cemetery to tell them to start digging. "They'll be ready by one p.m.", he said. "Shall we meet there?"
We all went our separate ways. At one p.m. we stood around the coffin. Two of the cemetery's men lifted the lid.
The coffin was not completely empty. There were no bones or any other remains. On the bottom lay a perfect disk, with a diameter of about thirty centimeters, about one centimeter thick. The disk was silvery, reflecting the light of the sun. It was covered with signs.
Anne kneeled beside the coffin and stared at the disk. Then she picked it up. She got up and put the disk in her bag. "Let's go", she said.
Back in the police station Anne took charge completely. The sheriff didn't even think of protesting when she took the seat behind his desk. She took the disk out of her bag and held it in front of the mayor, the sheriff and me. "Does this ring a bell, gentlemen?"
No one answered.
"Mayor", Anne said, "why don't you call your father?"
"My father? Why should I call my father?"
"Ask him if he still has a book called 'Mars, a journey's end'. It was written by the leader of the last Mars expedition, remember? There's a picture in it, a picture of a disk they were given on Mars. I don't think I have to compare the two disks to know they are exactly the same and I'm sure they both contain the same message."
"What message?" the sheriff asked.
"Sheriff, you can't have forgotten that some members of that expedition met someone in a cave. That someone told them what the short version of that message is: Try to catch me. I'll send you a written report in a few days, gentlemen. Here's the short version: it is this agent's opinion that it is no longer any use to look for one woman and ten men. Maybe we should look for one person only, maybe we should look for thousands of persons. The FBI will not be looking for them, for we will only find them if they want to be found. Have a nice day, gentlemen." Before she turned around, she looked at me. I understood and followed her to her car.
"You were the only one that didn't seem surprised at all, Nick", she said. "Why weren't you?"
"The sheriff will tell you I hardly ever show any emotions, Anne."
"Bullshit! I was a federal agent in the time when there was still real crime. I've studied a lot of suspects. I didn't always know what they were hiding, but I always knew when they were hiding something. You're not hiding anything and you're not showing anything either. Have a nice time, Nick."
She got into her car and drove off.

I'd never let someone come as close as that. I mean, not someone of this world and on this world. Mars was different. Fla're was different. With Anne I had started a new game. Chess players might call this the endgame. You know what the secret of a good endgame is? Someone wrote this about it: "The secret is knowing the result of an endgame without having to calculate all the moves." I knew the result when I started this. The result is inevitable.

No, no, no! I did not make a mistake.

Now you're only more confused. Let's get back to the other confused men in the police station. They're looking bewildered. They're not weighing possibilities now. They don't know what the possibilities are. They have questions without answers. They want me to supply the answers.
"Did Ms. Ridgeway tell you something more, Nick?" the mayor asked.
"I'm sorry, mayor, she didn't. I think the case is closed now. What did you tell the men of the cemetery, sheriff?"
"Oh my God!" the sheriff exclaimed. "I should have told them not to say anything. I must call them."
The telephone rang. He picked it up. "Sheriff's office." ... "This is the sheriff." ... His other hand went to his head. "Yes. The mayor is here too." ... "I'll ask him".
He looked at the mayor. "That's the press. Would you like to make statement?"
The mayor was thinking very hard. "OK, tell them to be in my office at five p.m. I'm going there now."
The sheriff did what he was told and put down the phone. The mayor left in a hurry.
"They are here, Nick", the sheriff said. "What are they going to do? What are we going to do?"
"If, as you say, they are here, sheriff, you can't know what they are going to do. You see them, but you don't recognize them. You saw the woman. You saw the man. Did you see anything unhuman about them? You are going to do nothing but wait and see. When you really see, you know what to do."
"Maybe you're right, Nick. Maybe you're right. I wonder what the mayor is going to say."
He didn't stop to think why I didn't say 'we' but 'you'.
What the mayor said wasn't much different from what the sheriff had said to me. He only used many more words.
The president was brief, as always, that night. She wasn't worried at all. "We do not know if any sentient being from outside Earth is presently here. We know now they have been here and maybe they will return. I also know they are powerful. But power doesn't have to be used only to subdue. We have learned that the hard way. I've spoken before this with all Congressional leaders and I speak for all of them as well, when I say that we are eager to welcome any visitor from outside planet Earth."
Only one network had sense enough to speak with Dylan T. Cook I.
He said that he wasn't surprised at all. He was only glad it happened while he was still alive. He had been inspired by the man on Mars to write his book. "Perhaps", he said, "inspired is not the right word. I now begin to think my writing was guided. Without knowing or feeling it, I was pushed in a certain direction. Many people think it was the right direction. Why wouldn't they, whoever they are, think the same? I think their scouts are here to see for themselves how far we've come."

INVESTIGATION

"Yes, master! As you say, master. Anything else, master?"
"Quit being funny, Wanda. I'll rephrase that: would you please be so kind as to get me a cup of coffee? I've had a hell of night. I've hardly slept."
"Is it really that long ago that you said you'd had a wonderful night, because you'd hardly slept at all?"
"Ha, ha! OK? I'm the number one investigative journalist of this country, right? I've been investigating now for six weeks. I've to appear before Mr. editor in chief in fifteen minutes to tell him what I've found out so far. You know what I've found out so far? Nothing! Nada! Zip! Now, how about that coffee?"
Jayson almost looked guilty when he told me that he'd found nothing so far. Time for some pep talk.
"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? That's a quote remember?"
"Yes, sir. I know. Sherlock Holmes, well, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actually. How does this apply?"
"So far", I said, "you are in the process of eliminating, not only the impossible, but also a lot of possibilities, I guess. When you are eliminating, there's nothing left, is there? So you have nothing to show me. You think I'm angry? Do I ask myself why I pay you so much? I don't. I'd be very disappointed if you had a story for me now. I'd put it in the shredder without reading it, because it would have been utter rubbish. No more than some wild theories. This magazine does not publish rubbish and neither does it publish wild theories. Now I want you to stay away from this office for at least six months. If you come here before that, I want to hear you say: Sorry, boss, after eliminating the impossible there was nothing improbable left. Go home now. You need to sleep."
Jayson went back to his office. Wanda was relieved, when she saw he was relieved. "So he hasn't fired you, after all. You want a doughnut with your coffee?"
"Just a coffee, please."
When she came back with two coffees, he told her to sit down.
"You won't see much of me the next months, Wanda. But you must expect to be bombarded by e-mails. If I forgo niceties, please consider them to be inserted. Orders are to be read as requests. You know what I mean. I wouldn't be here if you were not here. I mean that. Probably every second or third day Abbie will be here to cry on your shoulders, because I don't love her any more. I'm hardly at home anymore and why I am I'm neglecting her."
"What's your plan?"
"I don't have a plan yet. That's the first thing on my to-do list."

Suppose you are in Jayson's place. You are making a plan. What do you know? What are the facts? You know that once an alien spaceship landed on the White House lawn. Scratch that. Jayson lived in a reality in which no alien spaceship ever landed on Earth. In Jayson's reality the last Mars expedition had met the first alien. In Jayson's reality Dylan T. Cook had written an influential book and for the first time one, maybe eleven aliens had visited earth for a short time. And of course there was the challenge: Try to catch me.
The challenge was the base for Jayson's plan. So far there was only one clue: the disk with a copy of an as yet undecipherable text that was also found on a clay tablet. He made a list of all the people that had seen the disk, or one of two identical disks. The first disk was already written about extensively. What about he second one?
He made an appointment with federal agent Anne Ridgeway and met her in her office in San Francisco. She came directly to the point. "Forget about the disk. It's a diversion. It's a thing. In the last instance, things are only circumstantial. You're not after things, you're after people. In Santa Cruz I met the mayor, the sheriff and a deputy. The deputy's name is Nick. I forgot his last name. He was there when the coffin was opened and the disk was found. He was watching it all like he was seeing precisely what he expected to see. Go to Santa Cruz and talk with that deputy."
The next day Jayson introduced himself to the sheriff and said he liked to talk with Nick.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't", the sheriff said.
"Why not?"
"He left a week ago."
"Did he leave a forwarding address?"
"He left nothing but a handwritten note. Larry, the other deputy, found it on this desk when came to take over from Nick. He must have left a few minutes before. There was a half full cup of coffee that was still warm."
The sheriff opened a drawer an took out a piece of paper. He let Jayson read it.

Handwritten note from Nick. He writes he's leaving.

"We don't understand why he left all of sudden. He even had some salary coming to him."
"Was he a local man?" Jason asked.
"No, he came from someplace north. I can look it up in his file."
The sheriff went to a chest of drawers and rummaged in one of the drawers. "Now where is that damned file?" he muttered. He turned to Jayson. "That file seems to be missing." The last word seemed to stir his memory. "Wait! The box with that lady's belongings was also missing. You don't think Nick was one of those ..." He didn't finish his sentence, but went to the phone. The last thing Jayson heard him say before he closed the door was: "Mayor, you are not going to believe this."

Back in the Santa Cruz Beach Inn Jayson first called Abbie, his wife, to tell her he wouldn't come home next day. He would use that day, and maybe more days, to gather all the information he could get about Nick. He had no doubt that Nick was or had been one of 'them'. Many people must have met him. He must have had neighbors, some kind of social life, maybe a girlfriend.
The first person Jayson talked with was Larry. "He was a good colleague", Larry said. "He performed his duties letter-perfect, nothing more, nothing less. I've never seen him angry or exited. We never met socially. We never went to a bar together. I've been in his apartment once, for a few minutes. I've seen nothing personal there, like pictures of loved ones, you know. I saw no books, no papers lying around. He never talked about women."
The more people Jayson talked with, the more the picture of Nick became clearer. He was always there where he was supposed to be, behaving the way he was expected to behave. He was nobody's friend and nobody's enemy. One of his neighbors said: "When I didn't see him, I didn't think of him." He had never visited a local doctor or a local pharmacy. A postman couldn't remember ever having put something in his mailbox.
That night Jayson wrote: "If every American citizen were like Nick, we'd be living in the most boring society in the world."
He sat staring at the screen of his laptop, thinking, random thoughts going through his mind. He'd better put them down.
"Is Nick typical for his kind? If they are here, what kind of positions are they in? For almost nine years Nick's position hadn't been one with great influence. When you're not remembered, you are not influential. Do they want influence? Do they want to change our society and the way we live together?"
Together! The Quest for Togetherness! We Are Not Alone! That book had changed society. He was now in the author's hometown. Nick had been in the author's hometown. The author's son was now mayor of this town. Coincidence? He picked up the phone and asked the hotel's switchboard to call Dylan T. Cook I for him. Mr. Cook was quite willing to meet him the next day at eleven a.m.
After Jayson had explained the reason for his visit, the old man said: "I think I know what you suspect, Jayson. You suspect I know more about them than you or anybody else. You must have heard or read that I have said that perhaps my writing was guided, that without knowing or feeling it, I was pushed in a certain direction. If you've read my book, you know that it begins with a dream in which I meet a man. I'll be honest, Jayson. I never had such a dream. When I wrote that book, I didn't believe for a minute in what I was writing. I only wanted to make a fast buck. Somehow I felt people were ready for a message like that and you know what? Even I was ready for that message. But I can assure you I've never met Nick, nor anyone like him, as far as I know. I don't know for sure if I've been guided or pushed. It's a possibility. I don't know what they are capable of. I am sure of one thing, though: they don't mean us any harm. The other day I said to Charlene, she's my wife, that to them we are like mice in a laboratory. They make us follow mazes, teach us tricks and meanwhile they take good care of us. We amuse them. They've shown a few glimpses of themselves and they've made you into an inquisitive mouse. Are you up to that task, Jayson?"
That night in his hotel room he wasn't sure he was. Did all of them disappear like Nick? He googled for 'disappeared people': 53.800 results. He googled again for 'missing people': 913.000 results. That was something for Wanda to take a closer look at. He sent her an e-mail and watched the late news on TV. The president said the economy was booming. She was almost as popular now as her predecessor.
Her predecessor! Where had he gone? Jayson googled again. After leaving office the president had retired to his home town. A few weeks later he had left for a extensive tour of the Brazilian rainforests. The last thing that was known was that he had left the town of TefÚ in a small boat with only native guides. Why had there never been a search for the former president? Jayson thought he knew now. Had the former First Lady really been a woman that had been found wandering in Serbian woods? It was anybody's guess, but Jayson thought he didn't have to guess anymore.
His next stop was the former president's home town, where he wanted to look at some records. He was not surprised when he was told that no records could be found concerning the former president and his family.

PRESIDENT WAS AN ALIEN!

On his laptop's screen it looked impressive enough. People would believe his story. Then what? If aliens made such good presidents, let's have more of them! That's what people would say. Aliens for senator! Aliens for governor! How many members of the Supreme Court were closet aliens? Jayson felt like Wile E. Coyote: "Back to the old drawing board." Think of a new plan, a new strategy of chasing these elusive aliens. Very good, Jayson, he said to himself, but you've got to find them before you can chase them. Before he went to bed he looked at himself in the mirror. He almost laughed out loud: the Lone Ranger chasing alien ghosts. But the Lone Ranger never was alone. There was always Tonto to help him. He needed a Tonto with more resources than the internet and newspaper files, a Tonto with a nationwide network of colleagues, a Tonto who could go to the bowels of the IRS. "Hi-yo Silver, away!" Jayson, the Lone Ranger, rode away to San Francisco again to meet with Anne 'Tonto' Ridgeway.
Anne had said, when he called her, she would meet him in a bar. As long as this wasn't official, she'd better not meet him in her office during working hours. Over drinks Jayson told her what he'd found out so far.
"That's not much and you know it, Jayson", Anne said. "Fifteen people so far: a man on Mars, a president and his First Lady, Jane Doe, a sheriff's deputy and ten traveling salesmen. The records there were of some of them have disappeared into thin air and they were fakes before they disappeared. You can't believe I can find real records of real aliens, can you?"
"What else can we do, Anne? I'm stuck. You know it, I know it."
Anne was staring in her glass of whine for a long time, then she looked up. "Who gave you this assignment?"
"Nobody did. I don't wait for assignments. I look for an interesting subject to investigate and then I ask my editor in chief if he likes it."
"Did your editor like this one?"
"He loved it! He completely understood when I had nothing to show for after six weeks. He told me to go on for six months."
"For how long has he been your editor in chief? What did he do before that?"
"He's been with the magazine for about a year now. The chairman of the board had met him in Europe, where he was working for a European magazine. What are you getting at?"
"Call him", Anne said. It sounded like an order.
Jayson called his editor's cell phone. A metallic voice asked him to leave a message after the beep. He didn't. He decided to call Wanda.
"Jayson, good you called. You'd better get back as soon as you can."
"Why? What's the matter?"
That morning the editor in chief had called in sick. If necessary he could be reached at home. When someone called him indeed, there was no answer, not even an answering machine. People were worried. The CEO and his secretary went to his apartment. The door was open. The apartment was completely empty.
"Thanks, Wanda. I'll be back tomorrow."
Jayson told Anne what he'd heard.
"I rest my case", Anna said. "You see it now too, don't you? They, whoever they are, know exactly what we are doing. I believe now that this Nick wanted me to know who he was. Only then I had only a vague kind of suspicion. He planted that suspicion. Your editor didn't give you an assignment, he planted an idea inside your mind. They're playing with us."
Jayson told her what Cook had said about mice in a laboratory.
"Score one for Dylan T. Cook I", Anne said. "Your assignment is finished now, Jayson. Tell the people the aliens are among us. Tell them they don't mean us any harm."
Jayson looked shocked. "Those are exactly the same words Cook used. How did you know that?"
"I didn't. It's obvious. If they want to harm us they can do that any time they like and there's nothing we can do about it. Why frighten anyone? There are more than enough things that go bump in the night. Let's have a refill and talk sports, cars, sex, whatever you like."
Over their refills they talked books.

Now you think I chickened out, don't you? Because this Ridgeway lady came too close. Do you think the lady made some kind of inspired guess, when she told Jayson to call his editor? If you do, you're partly right: it was not a guess, but it was inspired. Guess who did all the inspiring? I could inspire Jayson. It would look like this.

THE ALIENS ARE AMONG US!

By JAYSON BARNES

Did you ever want to be a sheriff's deputy? Go to Santa Cruz, Ca. There's a vacancy. The sheriff of Santa Cruz County showed me a hand written note. His deputy had quit. His file had disappeared. You must remember that not that long ago the body of a murdered young woman was to be exhumed in Santa Cruz, only there was no body. There was a disk, a perfect copy of a disk that was found on Mars. The few belongings of the woman had disappeared.
Does anybody remember where that wonderful First Lady Alyssa was born? Nobody does, she didn't even know herself. Or did she?
Are we suffering from amnesia collectively? Nobody seems to remember that First Lady Alyssa had a husband, who was president of the United States. He was the best president this country ever had. Does anybody know where he is now? Does anybody care? I cared enough to go to his home town to see his and his family's records. THERE ARE NO RECORDS!


Jayson could have gone on in that vein, if he had written it, if I had inspired him. I did not. Why would I? It wouldn't have made any difference.
Difference is a key word. Change is another keyword. Where would you be without difference and change? What would you be without them? Oh, sure, you don't like all the changes. You hardly dare to look at the pictures your first boyfriend made when you were a cheerleader. Such an exiting young body you had then. There's nothing exiting about your body anymore. Look at the man lying on the couch. He wasn't bald when you met him. He has changed in many ways, not only physically. How many times have you thought he'd be better of in a nursing home? So be a cheerleader again! Show your legs! Oh no! The boys are looking more at Suzy's legs than at yours. Roberta's boobies get much more attention than yours. Were you happy then? Happier than you are now?
Don't tell me I'm rambling. I know. I'm putting off, postponing, delaying. I don't want to do what I'm going to do. I don't have to do it.
I can go to the ₣ℓ∂∑Џ∫ for a change. They, their thoughts, are ever changing. They are as complex as they are simple. I don't have to be with you while playing the endgame. You will know when it is check mate.

THE VALLEY OF TRUTH

Donald stopped, put off his backpack and sat down on a rock. Small rivulets came trickling down the slope everywhere around him. He took a cup and filled it. He drank and filled the cup again, keeping it ready for Stephanie, who sat beside him a few minutes later. From his backpack he took a small plastic bag with salted cashew nuts. "I'll have some raisins", Stephanie said, when she had drunk the water. "This is the fifth consecutive day we haven't met anyone."
"That's what we came here for, isn't it?" Donald said. "We're going to put up our tent there." He pointed at the bottom of the valley where a small stream meandered. "Meandering streams make the best camping places. The stream will be easy to cross if we have to. There may even be a good place to have a bath."
"A very cold bath", Stephanie couldn't refrain from saying. "This would be the perfect place to be if it weren't for the cold water and the backpack."
A bus had brought them to the village where the road and civilization ended. From there on they would be on their own until they reached the lake fourteen days later. On the other side of the lake a bus would bring them back to warm showers, cans of beer, real meals and people in suits and dresses, hurrying from one place to another, a cell phone glued to their ears. That was what people generally called normal life.
For them real life had started seven days ago, when from the bus they saw the snowy peaks in the distance. It became more real when the bus had to stop, because a small herd of reindeer crossed the road. Along the track they followed north of the village they met a few walkers returning to the hotel. They were carrying small backpack, with no more in it than some extra clothing to keep them warm and dry in case the weather turned and perhaps a thermos, empty now.
The next day they had left the track. Ahead of them there was an undulating plain, to the left a mountain with a snow covered peak. A glacier fed several of the small rivers they had to cross. The water was as cold as Donald remembered it to be. For Stephanie it was the first time to cross a river without the help of a bridge. "You bastard", she had exclaimed, "you never told me it would be this cold."
Donald only whistled. She recognized the tune: I never promised you a rose garden. On the other side she kissed his cheek. "OK, Don, I know, along with the sunshine, there's got to be a little rain sometimes. I think I'm going to fall in love with this place." She did, as he had done a few years before.
The night before they'd sat before the tent after eating their warmed up freeze dried meals and drinking instant coffee. Stephanie was doing crosswords. Donald was reading and waiting for Stephanie. She didn't wear a watch.
"What time is it, Don?"
"Almost twelve."
"What? Oh, yes, of course." Unconsciously she been waiting for the dusk that didn't come that far north of the Arctic circle.
 
"You ready, Steph?", Donald asked. "Let's go down to the bath."
"Ready when you are."
Two hours later they had descended the seven hundred meters. They found an almost perfectly level piece of land with nothing more than grass growing on it. They threw off their backpacks and followed the daily routine: Donald putting up the tent, Stephanie unpacking the things they needed, like sleeping bags, self inflating mattresses, small inflatable chairs, towels, food, coffee, dry socks. There were hardly any clouds. Temperature must be well above 20 degrees.
They undressed, took towels and shampoo and walked to a bend in the stream. The water was less than a meter deep. The river floor was smooth and sandy.
"You go first", Stephanie said. "I won't follow unless only your head is above water and you're still smiling."
Donald went in lowered himself. He smiled.
Stephanie smiled too. "Tell me you love me, Don."
"I love you, Steph." He rose up and threw water at her. She screamed first and then joined him. They washed each others hairs as quickly as possible, fooled around some and went out of the water.
Stephanie put dry towels on the mattresses and lay down on one. When Donald wanted to lie down on the other one she said: "Don't you dare. I'm over here, stupid. I want to make love with you in the open air at least once in my life." Donald was only too happy to oblige.
Afterwards they permitted themselves a few sips of whisky. They lay close together.
"Do we have to walk tomorrow?" Stephanie asked. "If the weather is as beautiful as it is now, I'd like to stay here for a day. I've never felt so completely at ease, so carefree. Is this what being happy is all about? Is this all you need to be happy? Are you happy, Don?"
"I believe I've told you once that when I see the first mountain peaks in the distance again, I know I'm coming home. This is the best time ever, Steph. You know why?"
"Yes, I know why. You can't keep your hands off the why and I want you to keep them there. You don't have to tell me you're happy, Don. I know you are. I can see it in your eyes when you're standing on the summit of a pass, panting, and look at the next mountain range and the valley in between. You are looking at the river down there, trying to find the best place to cross it. I see it when you stop reading and look around you, when you listen to the sound of water running between the rocks. I see it in the way you walk, stepping from one stone on another, never hesitating. I see it the moment you step into a river."
He kissed her. "You are right, Steph. If I believed in reincarnation, I would have believed that in a former life I'd been living here. We'll stay here tomorrow. Our schedule allows two days of rest."

When Stephanie woke up next morning, she was alone in the tent. It was hot inside. She crept out and stood up, looking around. A few hundred meters away Donald stood, his back to her, looking up at the mountain top. "Don", she called, "you want coffee?"
He turned around and waved. The water was just boiling when he sat beside her and kissed her. He didn't say anything but kept looking around.
"Are you looking for something?" Stephanie asked.
"I don't know. I woke up about two hours ago. I felt something. I don't know what. Something like we are not alone here. I know it sounds stupid, but still I went out and looked around. Of course there was nobody. It's not impossible, though. We are not the first people to walk through this valley and we won't be the last. But it didn't feel like other people. It felt like nothing more than a presence of something incorporeal. You know what I mean?"
"No, I don't. You're not going transcendental on me all of sudden, are you? I thought I loved a rationalist. Rationalists believe only in what they see. Look at me, Don. There's nothing incorporeal about me. I'm a very clear presence, don't you think? You can touch that presence, caress it if you want to. I don't need breakfast before making love. If people are watching, I hope they enjoy the show."
As intended, they made a quiet day of it. Stephanie did her crosswords, Donald did some reading and walked along the stream. When he returned, Stephanie was sleeping. He touched her shoulder with a toe to wake her up. "Two people are coming this way. Do we dress?"
"I don't", Stephanie said. "If they can't stand naked people, they can walk along."
The couple that walked up to them didn't seem to mind naked people. They came from the direction Donald and Stephanie were going, so the usual small talk followed. Maps were taken and places were indicated, to show the best way to avoid a swamp or the best place to cross a river. Ten minutes later the couple was on it's way again. That night they had a lot of company, when a large herd of reindeer passed.

This time Stephanie woke up first. She felt at once what Donald had tried to explain the day before. She looked at his watch: five-twenty a.m. Trying as much as she could not to disturb Donald, she crept out of the tent. The sun was still behind the mountains, but it was warm enough. She sat on the grass and looked around. She didn't feel scared. She was curious. She was certain now that she was being watched, but not by human eyes. She was as much a rationalist as Donald was. She respected facts. Her feelings were facts too. Difficult facts to describe, difficult to analyze, but nonetheless facts. Many feelings were repeated over and over again, like joy and sadness, happiness and sorrow. This was a completely new feeling, that begged description and analysis.
"Are you there, Steph?"
"I'm here, Don."
Don crept out of the tent and sat beside her. He kissed her and put an arm around her shoulder. "You feel it too now, don't you?"
She nodded. "He, she, they, it, whatever, is trying to tell us something. It's searching for a way to communicate. We have to find a way to open up."
"OK", Don said, "meanwhile I'll make coffee." He walked to the stream to get water. Suddenly he stopped and turned around. "Why do I think 'The last of the Mohicans'? I never even read the damned book." He laughed. "Don't tell me you thought 'Into the valley of death rode the two'." He turned again and stooped to get water.
Stephanie didn't answer him. She didn't speak until he put a cup of coffee in her hands. "I feel a kind of emptiness and it is growing." When she saw his face she smiled and said: "It's not an emptiness inside me, Don. I feel like you're more inside me than you ever were." Now she laughed. "I'm not trying to talk dirty. I mean mentally, like our minds are beginning to merge. Do you feel it too?"
"Yes and something else. I feel like it is no use to go on, nor to go back. I don't say someone or something will try to stop us. We are free to leave and go wherever we want to go. But we might as well stay here and wait. It doesn't make any difference anymore. We don't have to try to be open. We are open books. Our pasts are there for anyone to read, the present is being written as we speak and sit or walk. Let's walk."
They walked along the stream. They did not expect someone meeting them or coming up behind them. They came to a place where the stream widened into a small lake. Without speaking they walked into the lake and let themselves float. The water didn't feel cold at all. Two birds circled above the lake. Some small fish swam around them.
They walked back leisurely, holding hands, not talking, the sun drying their wet bodies. They spread out their sleeping bags on the grass and lay on them, close together.
"This morning, before you woke up", Stephanie said, "I thought I should analyze my feeling, our feelings. I don't think so anymore."
"We're past analyzing. Ours is not to reason why any longer, ours is but to be. Well, I am."
"I am", Stephanie acknowledged. "But I'm still not quite sure what I am. I feel the answer is just beyond some kind of mental horizon. I want to go to that horizon."
"Perhaps", Donald said, "the horizon will come to us. Perhaps it or they are just waiting for us to become one. Perhaps we have felt only glimpses of that until now. We've always burdened ourselves by looking back to the past. We burden ourselves even more by trying to make intricate plans for our future. We constantly forget that we are now. Let's do our best to be one now."

What did YOU mean when YOU wrote that down?

Donald and Stephanie were right all the time of course in their simple limited way. They were watched, but in a way they could never comprehend as long as I didn't let them. Already I had given them a lot of leeway. They couldn't possibly know and didn't need to know what was happening around them. In their way they were still struggling to get to the top of the pass. They were getting nearer the watershed, where fiction went one way and fact another. For them it was a very enjoyable way. If you were watching them you'd be jealous. You wouldn't understand what you were seeing. You would think you saw two people trying to be happy, trying to make the other one happy. Let me tell you: they were beyond happiness. Happiness didn't mean a thing to them. They were trying to be. Being one was no more than a step in the direction of the ultimate goal.
Meanwhile I was taking stock. I was reviewing memories. Let me tell it in a modern way, that almost anyone these days can understand.
Power up your pc. Look at the capacity of your hard disk. Look at all the gigabytes you have filled your hard disk with. Bytes representing letters, digits, signs, images, sounds. That was what I was doing, a mental hand hovering above a mental delete button, sometimes pushing that button.
Do you remember I wrote "I can't even say that I was really born"? If I wasn't really born, I can't really die, either, can I? Can you see the fun of that? Neither can I. Now, be smart for a change. I wasn't really born. I can't really die. Am I living? That's a really good question.
Hey, I didn't ask you to be funny, did I? OK! Ha, ha. So I made you think of Nosferatu. I'm trying to be serious here. Go play hide without seek. Come back when you've got something serious to contribute. Don't wait too long. You haven't got much time left.
"Maybe I'm having too many memories." That is also something I wrote in the beginning. It isn't true of course. I don't have memories. I wrote that to make things comprehensible for you. If I hadn't you would have stopped reading then and there.
You've got pictures stored away on your hard disk, haven't you? Pictures of your loved ones. Pictures of the day you got your Ph.D. Congratulations, doctor. The pictures depict history. Are the bytes on your hard disk history? Don't you believe it. They are the present. In that present the e-mail you sent to your wife while on a business trip in the Cayman Islands, coexists peacefully with the e-mail you sent your mistress six months later while on a business trip in Miami. On my virtual hard disk the assassination of Abraham Lincoln coexists peacefully with John Wilkes Booth meeting a charming young lady in a bar the night he had planned to assassinate Lincoln. Now you tell me which one is history. Depends on your point of view, doesn't it? Better yet, it depends on the reality you are living in.

Let's go back to that valley, where we left Stephanie and Donald, when they started making love. Come on, I know you are no Peeping Tom. I'm not inviting you to voyeurism. They are lying on their backs now, their hips and shoulders touching. They are talking, but you can't hear them. Maybe they are not talking, only their lips are moving. Old habits die slowly. They are communicating. They are used to move their lips and tongue and facial muscles when they are communicating. They are communicating on a fundamental level. No more "What do you mean by that?" No more "Can you explain that?" No more "Give me a for instance."
Are you looking closely? Don't look at the couple only. What happened to the stream? It's still here, but do you see the water flowing? Let's take a little walk to the lake they were swimming in only yesterday, small fish swimming around them. Do you see any fish now? Do you see any birds circling above? Where have all the reindeer gone?
OK, we go back to Donald and Stephanie. They are lying in the grass, no towels underneath them anymore. Was the small tent still there when we left for the lake? Did you notice they have changed places? Why did they do that? Think!
You're getting closer. Good for you! They are interchangeable now. Go on, now. What more has changed? I know, it's a very subtle change. Right, it's got something to do with the light. It's slowly, very slowly dimming. Is that only happening here, in this valley? Why don't we have look elsewhere? Take a last look at Stephanie and Donald. Isn't (s)he lovely?

That's the Hudson River, right? That's Staten Island and that's Manhattan Island. But where's the Empire State Building, where's the Chrysler Building? Where is New York, for that matter? Who needs New York? Do you see any New Yorkers? No, this is not just another reality. This is here and now. Flagstaff, Arizona, is still teeming with activity. So is Dunedin, New Zealand, and Breda, The Netherlands. Don't they know what happened to New York? When you close the door behind you, leaving for your job, do you know what's happening that exact moment in Moscow, or Lhasa, or Ouagadugu? No you don't. You've got other things to worry about. Let someone else take care about what's happening there. Someone in Ulan Bator is looking up into the sky this very moment. He is wondering if something is happening to the sun. Is it less fierce than it used to be? How is he to know? He is only a simple butcher.

You are getting a little bit worried now, aren't you? If millions of New Yorkers are missing, why won't you be missing shortly? Will there be people left who are missing you? Are you missing when nobody misses you? Why don't you start reading this memoir all over again? Don't mind what you read in the first sentence this time, but do read the title. This memoir is full of hints, suggestions, warnings, clues.

Why don't you read something by T.S. Eliot when there's still time? I mention him, because he wrote a few lines that seem appropriate now:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The same T.S. Eliot once said that W.B. Yeats was "the greatest poet of our time, certainly the greatest in this language, and as far as I am able to judge, in any language." So let me quote Yeats's most quoted line, which is also appropriate:
Things fall apart, the centre does not hold.
Eliot didn't know all of course. He wasn't a scientist. He was a poet. Poets make things up. They arrange words in such a way that they sound pleasing, regardless of the truth. Poets are lying their own truth. (This is not a quote, I am paraphrasing a Dutch author, S. Carmiggelt, who once said: "I'm lying the truth.")
I want to take the last line of the Eliot quote and rearrange the words: "Not with a whimper but a bang." I think that it is the way it is going to be.
That's where Yeats comes in. He supplied the reason for what is going to happen: The centre does not hold. But Yeats too knew only a part of the truth. He didn't know about what centre he was writing. Things are material, so the centre must be material as well. What if the centre is not material?

We are getting closer still. You are getting closer still. Think about the centre. I know it's hard. You are no longer worrying. You are afraid. You can't think straight when you are afraid. Adrenaline is flooding your body. You want to run away, but where can you run to? Will your home still be there? Is the town where you grew up still there or has it disappeared like New York? It's really getting darker now! The sun is like a red dwarf. Now you can't run away anymore, because you can't see anymore where you're running to.

Tadaaaaa! Can I have your attention, please? This is the centre speaking! The centre CAN hold, but the centre DOES NOT WANT to hold any longer. The centre is fed up with holding things together. The centre is tired of making things up. Yes, I am tired of making things up. I can't make myself believe there is more than one reality. I don't need any more realities. One reality is quite enough, thank you! One reality is getting too much already.

I don't need companions, for in the end all companions are one and the same, all chips of the same old block. There were never other I's. You see that now, don't you? No, you don't see that now, not just yet. I'm only words, a few sentences, away from revealing it. I will reveal it all in the Epilogue. Until then you will be my last companion, in a way. When you've read the last word, you will cease to exist. I'm sorry, that's the way it is. But here is a last word of comfort. You never were alone. You won't be alone, either, until that final moment, the moment when you will see that you have always known the truth. The truth is that there is only one single fact and there is only one last action I can take.

Are you ready? Go to the Epilogue.

EPILOGUE

Who wrote all this?
You know who.
In a way I'm sorry it has come to this. You feel it too, don't you? If you had only had the opportunity once ...
That's what you are thinking. That's what you think you are thinking. You still don't see the whole picture.
Go back to beginning of this memoir. "I realized there were other I's." Think about that. What did you mean when you wrote that down?
No, no, no! I did not make a mistake. What did YOU mean when YOU wrote that down?
Are you getting it now? You are me! I am you! I am I.
There's nothing else but I. The rest is make-believe. So many make-believes that believed themselves. I made them believe.
I am not writing this. I am not reading this. I am back at the beginning. There was only consciousness: I am. I still am.
There is no beginning, so there can not be an end. Time does not exist. It's an illusion I made up. I'm still making it up, as long as I exist. 'Long' doesn't mean a thing.
I am this multitude of personalities in this multitude of realities. I made them all up. I am history, present and future, all together. I am and I don't want to be. I don't have to be.
"There was nothing to be around in." There still is nothing to be around in. The universe does not exist. Space and planets do not exist. They are as much an illusion as time is.
I am nothing within nothing.
No, that's not true. I'm consciousness within nothing.
I am consciousness with a question: What am I? I have to search the same consciousness for the answer to that question.
What happens when question and answer meet? Why are they avoiding each other? Am I keeping them apart?
Will question and answer cancel each other out? Are they like matter and anti-matter? They can't be. There's no matter, so there's no anti-matter.
Can question and answer coexist peacefully?
There's no beginning and no end. There's no history and no future. There's NOW. There's I.

I AM NOW. I! AM! NOW!
I! DO! NOT! WANT! TO! BE!
THE END
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER 1
THE END OF MAKE-BELIEVE
THE END OF INFINITY
DELETE!