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A Look at Time, Space and Nathaniel Harvey

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  • In_Loos_Ptokai
    Abrogate all rituals
    • Apr 2007
    • 802

    A Look at Time, Space and Nathaniel Harvey

    Nathaniel Harvey was bored. Bored and angry. He'd just been laid off and he could tell why. The new boss had taken a dislike to him it seemed, and he couldn't understand why. He'd never even so much as looked twice at her, let alone leered, yet she had been as frosty as any woman who he might've. He didn't like it one bit, and it was in his mind to approach the Employment Tribunal to see about it. In his mind; but he had never liked the idea of complaining.

    So he sat and surfed the Net, looking at the job sites and sneering at the stupidity of some of them. What else is a laid-off programmer to do?

    He wandered off to the local for a drink and stopped and bought the local paper, and sat and read it while enjoying his drink. On a whim he turned to the public notices columns and browsed them for a while before coming on one that piqued his interest.

    "Adventurous people", it read, "wanted for experiment in exploring reality."

    An POBox number was given and a phone number and some other details. Not a lot, so he would need to call them, but he supposed he was adventurous, not having anything to do with his days except ... imagine a job out there just waiting for him, just like the mythical woman of his dreams ... so he got out his mobile phone and rang them.

    * * *

    Rene Johnson was, surprisingly, annoyed with herself. She'd just bought this company, and one of the first things she'd done was fire a man, for no better reason than she found herself powerfully attracted to him. He'd managed a perfect indifference to her; she had not thought she'd be able to maintain any sort of indifference to him. And while he'd left the company without complaining or making a fuss, he hadn't left her mind, and she was getting annoyed with herself and with him, and in desperate need of a good long talk with at least one of her girlfriends.

    And some retail therapy, of course, and a good hot coffee, make that Irish Coffee while we're at it, and a good dash of whiskey, of course together with a chocolate cake the sort her Mum used to make, the sort that'd put a ginormous grin on her Dad's face ....

    No point thinking about her parents, particularly when she was trying to forget the man she'd fallen for at first sight, the way she'd always despised - and the way her Dad'd hug her and her Mum, and boast he'd got the two most gorgeous girls in the world.

    This was not the way a hard-headed businesswoman was supposed to act. His indifferent smile, the lazy clarity of his line of thought, his cute bum ...

    Stop it! Desperately she picked up her cellphone and rang one of her friends. "I need to talk to you," she said, "Are you okay for lunch?"

    * * *

    He dialed and got ... Engaged. He hung up and then dialed again. It buzzed and buzzed and buzzed until, just on the point of him hanging up, it stopped and a female voice said, "Hello?"

    "Hi. I'm interested in exploring reality. I don't understand it at all."

    "You're replying to the ad in the paper?"

    "Yes." How thick are some people? Just get to the point!

    "So you're willing to come out to our, ummm, lab some time this week?"

    "Yes." To that too. I'm getting annoyed, girl, come to the point.

    "You've got a pen and paper. Okay, the lab is at ..." Such and such a rural delivery on such and such a road, not too far out of Katikati, so he'd be able to sneak in for a pint if the "exploration" got too rough.

    Some times these "explanations" held common sense: at other times they were rip-offs even a new born calf could see.

    "What time?"

    "Tomorrow, if it suits you?" No point in wasting time. Where's a good punching bag when you need it?

    "Okay, I'll just check with Dad."

    A few minutes, a low discussion, then a heavy male voice on the phone: "Hi, yes, tomorrow'll be fine. What's your name?"

    He gave his name and was in turn given a time: "Ten o'clock sharp. I don't like waiting around. The machinery's not at all forgiving."

    Well, time to finish his pint, then go home and vegetate, as usual. And look for work elsewhere, though as usual the Bosses were all over the show in their estimations of employability and skill and the like ... he would not be surprised if they smoked dope in their spare time, they made so little sense!

    * * *

    "I've got a problem, Florrie," Rene told her friend Florence. They were sitting down to an afternoon tea of latte and chocolate cake. "I've got a man on my mind."

    Florence's response was one of open-mouthed surprise. "Well, finally! I'm delighted for you, Rene. Spill the beans, who is he? Do I know him? How long along the track are you?"

    She sipped her latte carefully. "I wish I was a way along that track, Florrie. He worked for the firm I bought. I fell for him the moment I saw him. Then fired him because ... I didn't know what to do about it," she finished slowly, looking down into her cup, not wishing to meet her friend's eyes.

    "Well, this takes the biscuit! I thought you had more guts, girl. If he's so good you fell for him right away, why didn't you snag him immediately? Surely you're not the only girl with eyes: I'm sure he'll find someone else if you don't get onto him right away."

    She had expected this tirade, though she had wished Florrie would calm down at times. "I fired him because I didn't want to be tempted. I've been worried he'd set the Employment Court people onto me, but he doesn't seem to have, yet. Now he's gone I find I want him. I can't stop thinking about him. But how, now I've kicked him off work?"

    She smiled sadly, seeing Florrie's face screwing up trying to follow her logic. "In many ways it would be easier if the Employment Court people took a hand in this and made me re-hire him. I'd have to talk with him then, and maybe things would work out."

    Another pause, and Florrie still hadn't found anything to say.

    "So I had to talk to you. You've been through how many break-ups with your man and you've made getting back together a fine art, so I see."

    Florrie lifted her cup to her mouth and drained it in one single gulp. After a few strangled gasps, she came out with: "You're impossible. But, if he's on your mind, and you need to get it sorted out, and so ... you're a worry, girl. But I'll think about it, and you still haven't told me his name."

    "Nathaniel Harvey."

    "Nathaniel! The Prince of Geeks! He lives in these parts. I wondered why his car was still in his driveway. I've often thought it was about time he got hitched - most of the kids around here are friends of his. He'd scrub up well, so I don't blame you at all."

    After a massive slice of chocolate cake - no, it had been two - Rene felt things were a little bit better. She had finally aired it, talked about it with Florrie, who seemed delighted at the prospect of playing matchmaker, and hopefully the outcome might not be too embarrassing.

    She was late back to work, and things had piled up in her absence, but she tackled them with the speed and skill she had shown while studying, and her new sense of hope, and got most of the contacts sorted out by half-past five. A little later than usual, even. But the chance of a resolution put wings on her feet and she felt she could dance out the door.

    Even the winter chill didn't upset her.
    Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-13-2014, 06:23 PM. Reason: missed vital piece of info on Rene-Florrie friendship
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    by Peter Cape
  • In_Loos_Ptokai
    Abrogate all rituals
    • Apr 2007
    • 802

    Nathaniel spent most of the morning checking his car was working. He was off early to the local garage to get the tires pumped up. He filled the gas tank, "just in case". He washed the windscreen.

    Then he sat down and had breakfast.

    One of his neighbours was also up early. She waved at him when he took the car out, so he gave a friendly blast of the horn.

    * * *

    "I think your prospective ummm, man, is up to something, dear," Florence said on her phone to Rene. "He's up early this morning, and has just returned from wherever he took his car."

    Rene stopped and considered her schedule. At least three of her meetings would not be harmed if she postponed them; they were all in the morning. "I'll be right there," she said, then hung up.

    After ringing up the people she was about to have meetings with and postponing them, she put her secretary in charge and dashed over to Florrie's place.

    Nathaniel's car was still parked out in the front yard of his place: he hadn't left. So she hurried over to Florrie's, and knocked.

    * * *

    Nathaniel checked his various email and social media accounts carefully. He suspected he might be away for a while from them, and he didn't want to find a lot of stuff banked up when next he was able to access them.

    Then he checked his bank account. A second phone call had assured him that the fees were reasonable, and he would not be billed anything if the attempt was unsuccessful. But he would need to sign some forms, so ... in the mean time he had arranged with his attorney to take care of his property ... the only other option was to do as the guy on the other end of the phone had suggested, and grant him powers of attorney.

    Which wasn't going to happen.

    * * *

    "So you're going to go over to Nathaniel's and apologize for the summary dismissal," Florrie had said, "and I'll be there to hold your hand. Is that understood?"

    Which was why Rene had agreed to being sat down and "polished up" as Florrie would put it, for the occasion. Florrie was full of anecdotes about the times she had fought and split with her man: Rene lost count of the times that had happened.

    "But making up was always worth the effort," Florrie would add, with a broad smile breaking out. "I never let him get away with a simple apology. He had to put it on for me. Night out on the town, restaurant meal, dancing till late, and what went on after-hours isn't publishable!"

    Just then a car came out of a driveway, and sped away.

    "Damn, that's him!"

    "Well, what do we do? Go after him?"

    "We won't catch him sitting here powdering our noses, will we?"

    "I've got to put this stuff away. It cost me quite a bit, and I've been planning to do my oldest daughter up for her end-of-year school social. Help me, Rene, please?"

    "You know his number plate?"

    "Of course! Hurry, please!"

    * * *

    If Nathaniel had been guilty of the guilty pleasure of reading spy novels, he would've noticed the car that pulled out of the driveway opposite his house and to the left shortly after he had left. It backed out onto the road just after he stopped at the intersection, then sped in his general direction.

    Nathaniel was not, however, a fan of spy novels. A copy of Neuromancer a friend had shoplifted one day out of sheer boredom, had got him hooked on a rather different genre.

    Florrie would not have approved, either of the shoplifting or of Neuromancer. No romance in Neuromancer, she would've snorted scornfully. Rene liked adventure combined with romance, both conspicuously absent in her life.

    But Neuromancer had also gotten Nathaniel hooked on programming and general computer stuff. He had tried reading Olaf Stapeldon, since another of his computer idols, Arthur C. Clarke, had spoken so highly of him, but he didn't have the patience.

    Be that as it may, the team of Florrie and Rene managed to keep his car within view all the way through Mt Maunganui, through the estuary road system, all the way out the other side of Bethlehem: Florrie driving, of course, and Rene keeping watch.

    "Damn it," Rene swore. "He's still going. I didn't know he knew anyone outside Tauranga."

    "A lot you didn't know about him, dear. You should've come and seen me a lot earlier."

    * * *

    On the passenger side he had a print-out of the latest comet, Comet Husseini-Levy, to brush the sun, as taken by several major observatories.

    If he was going to learn anything about this universe, that was high in his priorities.

    * * *

    __ Road between Apata and Aongatete is easy to miss. It nestles in between two flanks of a cutting on a blind corner, then rises to the top of that cutting. People go past it without noticing it's there.

    Certainly, if Rene had not had her eyes glued to the car up ahead, she would've missed it.

    With a screech of brakes and the beginnings of a slide, Florrie wrenched the car onto the new course. "Not even Hubby can do that," she said with quite some satisfaction. "I should've been a rally driver."

    "Apologizing to Nathaniel from my hospital bed would be a first for me, too!"

    "Sorry. But, we did keep him in sight, didn't we?!?"

    "True. Do you know anyone from around here?"

    "Well, Mum's family lived in Katikati for a while, until they moved to Auckland. I've still got rellies in Waihi - when you've got started with your Nathaniel, I'll go and visit them. You can go back with him."

    Butterflies fluttering in her belly ... "If we can come to an arrangement, then ... of course."

    * * *

    RD __ was a lifestyle block on a slope below the road. Down at the bottom of the slope there were some earthworks - something Works had been working on for quite some time. He drove down the driveway and waved to the big man waiting for him at the bottom.

    "Back up there, fella," he said, pointing to some free space next to a large water tank.

    "So, name's John, John Thomas." He smiled. "Mum had a sense of humour. Dad did too, which is why I got saddled with this name. And you're Nathaniel Harvey?"

    "Fraid so. I'm here to learn all about the universe, of course."

    If there was a derisive tone in his voice, Mr Thomas was not phased in the least by it.

    "I think we all do, son. All I can say is that my method does work, at least for me, and I'd like to find out if it does for others as well."

    He gestured to his little house, a simple A-Frame nestled underneath the overhand of the slope. "Come on in. There's some papers to be signed, of course, and some things I've got to say first, then we'll get you started."
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    by Peter Cape


    • In_Loos_Ptokai
      Abrogate all rituals
      • Apr 2007
      • 802

      He had disappeared. Nathaniel Harvey had just vanished. Rene couldn't believe her eyes. His car had been on the road when they entered this set of winding bends, and she had been absolutely sure that it would still be on it when they exited it and entered this long straight.

      No dice. The car was nowhere to be seen.

      "Perhaps he's parked up ... somewhere ... behind that bend up there?"

      Nope. "He can't have just vanished into thin air!"

      Florrie slowed the car a bit, took a look around. "Let's see if his car's at the end of this road. There's a bush-walking track there: Hubby and I used to go there before we were married. It's nice and cool and quiet ..." She sighed, and Rene averted her eyes.

      "Okay. We'll take a look there."

      * * *

      "The key is concentration," Mr Thomas said. "Somehow you've got to break through the barrier that keeps you from accessing the other seven dimensions of the Universe."

      Nathaniel sat in a small room behind Mr Thomas' garage, a converted carport, and drafty as well. A box sat on a table, nicely made, with gleaming electric boxes every few centimetres apart. Its top was either glass or perspex: he couldn't tell.

      He wished it didn't look so much like a coffin.

      A headpiece hung out of it. It looked heavy, with several large cables leading from it to a small box at its head and another at its feet.

      But he was a geek. Concentration was nothing to him. With a suitable target, he found it hard to break free and not concentrate. So he'd better concentrate on what Mr Thomas was saying ...

      "Humans have found it hard to reach that point in concentration. It's because we either lose concentration, fall asleep or have to eat."

      He picked up the headpiece. "I think I've found the key. This is wired up to create a resonance in the brain of the circuits that focus concentration. And once you're through that barrier, you don't stop. You keep that internal focus even while you're talking with someone else."

      He smiled at Nathaniel, then faded, appearing a short while later standing a little closer to the window. "Sorry. I keep forgetting to adjust for orbit and rotation."

      * * *

      Rene sat on the bench. Florrie sat in the car. The car was parked under a tree while the sun beat down on her.

      Being out in the sun in an almost cloudless day was preferable to being cooped up in an office all day, but Rene wasn't thinking about that. The breeze was nice, only it wasn't on her mind, and she briefly wondered how much chance she had of thumping Florrie hard enough to grab the keys and take the car. Not much: Florrie was a very hard woman, and very strong. And she had told her, Rene thought sourly, to sit and think about it and cool down.

      Nathaniel's car was nowhere to be seen anywhere in this little carpark at the Kaimai end of the road. Which meant she would not need to go chasing him up the bush track that led under the trees and over the Kaimai Ranges.

      So she sat and stared and thought and puzzled and thought and wondered when she'd get another cup of latte.

      * * *

      If someone could fade out like that ... Nathaniel was convinced. "So you're saying I can do the same thing?"

      "Well, I did it, and I'm not anybody special, just a laid-off freezing works fella without any qualifications, so if I can do it, anyone can."

      "How did you work this out?"

      "It's a story, told by some of the kaumatua at our marae, that some kaumatua once had to go on a journey over the Kaimais, and some of their mokopuna wanted to come along. They disagreed on the way they should go, so the mokopuna went the shorter way, running like youngsters do, and the kaumatua went the longer way, walking slowly, as elders tend to do. The mokopuna caught up with the kaumatua, not the other way around, and when asked, said, "We went directly."

      "So I get to thinking, with all this time on my hands, and a pile of Scientific Americans my nephew keeps sending me, that perhaps they're right. Maybe I can go directly to whereever I want to go. And I think I've finally found the way."

      Nathaniel scratched his chin. "I ... okay, I'll bite. How much?"

      "Just a thousand dollars, reimbursed if you can't make it work."

      Fine. Just fine. At least he'd got that amount spare this month. Maybe he wouldn't need anything more after this.

      "Okay. Do you take cheques?"
      sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

      Gold is the power of a man with a man
      And incense the power of man with God
      But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
      And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

      by Peter Cape


      • In_Loos_Ptokai
        Abrogate all rituals
        • Apr 2007
        • 802

        "I'd take my boots off if I were you," Mr Thomas said. His wife held the cheque Nathaniel had just signed, and was scribbling something into a little book.

        Nathaniel frowned. "Why?"

        "Well, if you're going to be taking an up-close look at this comet," waving the printouts vigorously, "You're not going to be doing any tramping, are you?"

        "I like these boots. They cost me a pretty penny, and they're so comfortable I wear them everywhere."

        "Well, additionally, I think they might not allow the lid to be closed properly."

        "That's hardly my problem."

        "The lid keeps bugs out of your nose."

        This was an unexpected thought. "But you'll keep them out of the room, won't you?"

        "When we're here. If you're gone for a long, long time, as you might be with this comet of yours, there's no telling what'll happen."

        "I'll try to keep that in mind, okay."

        He lifted the lid.

        "Ahh, boots, please!"

        It was easier to follow instructions. He took his tramping boots off. If he did get to this comet, as Mr Thomas said, there wasn't likely to be much tramping for him to do.

        He lay down in the box - rather coffin-like except for the clear perspex "Sleeping Beauty" lid - and let the headpiece be placed on his head. Someone clicked a switch below him and something else started humming softly; someone clicked a switch on the headpiece, and ...

        it was as if light filled the room, was solid, and he moved on it like a snail on a leaf ... below him the ground was strangely hollow, an echoing void that held nothing; above him the planes and solids of light stretching from the voids to the Sun ... where was this comet?

        Comet Huseini-Levy had rounded the Sun, Discover had said. National Geographic had included some gorgeous photos sent back from one of the NASA and ESA probes as it rounded the Sun. By now it should be nearing one AU, but sufficiently far from Earth to avoid any risk of collision.

        He raised himself off the void and looked around. A void filled the lines of gravity followed by this gigantic void he called Earth; it was moving away from the planes of energy released by that other void called the Sun. If he stretched far enough ... the leaf tipped and he flipped off, onto the minor void moving away; then his perception shifted yet again.

        Huseini-Levy flared up beneath him as the surface sloughed away from a patch of volatiles and the sun struck them. The comet trembled and shook a little, but it didn't alter its orbit much. It must've been several billion tonnes mass, he realized. Did he have any mass? Or was he just a patch of organized energy?

        Organized energy would have its own mass, he answered himself. It just wouldn't be as visible.

        Far, far away, over his "shoulder" was a tiny blue dot, shepherded by an even tinier grey dot ...

        * * *

        "Hello," Florrie said. "What have we here?"

        She hauled on the anchors and the car stopped with an ungrateful screech. "What we have is Nathaniel's car, down that bank a little, parked next to that water tank. I think we've found your fugitive, dear."

        "About time. He owes me an explanation."

        "You owe him an explanation for firing him, dear. And an apology. I'll shout you two a night on the town if he take your bait, comes back to work for you, and wants to go out with you, but you've still got to persuade him first."

        "Let's get down there, shall we?"

        Florrie raised an eyebrow and snorted. "Changing the subject?" But she turned the car down the driveway, then backed it up in front of Nathaniel's car. "So he can't make any sneaky getaways. So he has to meet you."

        Rene laughed.

        She got out and went over to his car. A non-descript late-model Toyota ... just a pair of furry dice hanging from the rear-view mirror ... it could've been anyone's.

        "You'll have plenty of time later," Florrie said. "Come on, let's go find the guy!"

        * * *

        She thumped the front door and an older woman looked out the window next to it, then opened it.

        "Come in, come in, are you here for the adventure advertised in the papers?"

        "No?! What adventure?"

        "What are you here for then?"

        "Nathaniel Harvey. Is he here?"

        "She's got an apology to make," Florrie chimed in. "And she's desperate to make it."

        "Well, come on in. He never said anything about having a girlfriend or partner. And John's pretty strong on that. If someone's got partner problems, he'd rather they sorted that out for themselves, not waste his time with it. Do you want a cup of tea or something?"

        "We just ..."

        "It's her that's got the problem, and no, she isn't his girlfriend. Though she wants to work on that. And a cup of coffee would be nice. Rene likes it strong, milk and no sugar: I'll take it black."

        Rene muttered: "I thought you were my friend, not my mother."

        "Relax. He's here. You've just got to make the connections you didn't make earlier. Do it right and he'll be eating out of your hand in no time flat! Trust me."
        Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-13-2014, 06:30 PM. Reason: double "the" needed editing
        sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

        Gold is the power of a man with a man
        And incense the power of man with God
        But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
        And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

        by Peter Cape


        • In_Loos_Ptokai
          Abrogate all rituals
          • Apr 2007
          • 802

          Nathaniel stared enthralled at the planet fast approaching. He'd dreamed of this for ages, seeing Mars up close, and now it was happening. It was a pity that it'd zoom past so fast he'd only have time for ... wait a minute ... or a second ... or perhaps a nanosecond ... who said he had to remain on the same time frame as his body?

          Perhaps he could switch time frames around. Perhaps he could see this approach in "slow motion", so to speak. He paused. That would be possible, wouldn't it?

          Like so ... ?!?

          The planet swelled before him, but he noticed that it was not coming at him so fast.

          Like so ... ?!?

          It grew in his vision like paint drying ... too slow. Much too slow.

          Ah, the Goldilocks speed for approaching a planet.

          And that was Olympus Mons? OMIGAWD!!!

          * * *

          "And just what is your relationship to my current client Mr Nathaniel Harvey?"

          They were sitting down around the table in the living room. Mr Thomas seemed a trifle annoyed: he raised his eyebrow in a side-glance at his wife.

          "I was his boss. Then I fired him. Then I couldn't stop thinking about him and want to apologize to him and rehire him."

          "And that's just the start of it," Florrie chimed in. "She's getting clucky."

          Rene glared at her: Mrs Thomas laughed, quietly.

          "Well, it's true, isn't it? You've never chased a man like this before. You've never wanted to apologize like this either."

          "I won't be young for ever ..."

          Mr Thomas broke in. "So you want me to interrupt his journey of discovery, just for you to play happy families?"

          She blushed. Happy families was the sort of term she herself had used to mock Florrie and other friends about ten or more years ago, when they had gotten married so soon after leaving school.

          "Well, I can't," he said. "He's been gone for over half an hour, and so he's already learnt much that prevents me from simply pulling the plug."

          "What?!?" She was incredulous. Experts, she knew, gave plenty of reasons for not doing things, when the real reason was they were lazy.

          "I found that out myself. I went off exploring Antarctica one afternoon, and my wife" - a short nod and smile to her: why did Rene have to feel so envious? - "needed me back to sign some stuff. She couldn't, even though she switched the machine off at the wall. It was only when I felt I'd been away long enough that I got back. By then the guy who wanted to sell me some gear had already gone off and sold it to someone else."

          "So the story is, that you can't." Why did Florrie have to interfere? Why did she have to give her shoulder a quick, sympathetic squeeze? "Is there some way you can get Rene here to get to wherever Nathaniel's got to, and tell him herself?"

          "Come back in a fortnight's time, and I'll have another machine prepared for you to use. I can't simply use the one he's using, because I don't know the effect of two people in the exact same space."

          Rene blinked. Florrie continued: "Well, you know that's part of what she wants ..."

          "Exactly the same space? If you and someone else took up exactly the same space, you'd kill each other. and I won't allow that."

          "Come on, Rene, hold your head up. We'll come back in a coupla weeks. Same time, Mr Thomas?"

          "Shake on it, Mrs Stirling?"

          "Agreed. Come one, Rene, you can do your crying in the car. Let's leave these people in peace."
          Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-21-2014, 05:52 PM.
          sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

          Gold is the power of a man with a man
          And incense the power of man with God
          But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
          And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

          by Peter Cape


          • In_Loos_Ptokai
            Abrogate all rituals
            • Apr 2007
            • 802

            He bid farewell to the God of War regretfully. Over his shoulder (symbolically speaking, since he didn't have any shoulders to speak of, just a viewpoint) he watched the planet fade into the darkness. Huseini-Levy still shook, occasionally, since there were still volatiles in the surface layer, but ... and he knew he didn't have a body as such, but his viewpoint was very specific, and tied to a specific location. There, did that make any sense to him?

            Way ahead, there loomed a big patch of light, a disk when everything else were pinpoints of light only. Jupiter? Now, wait a mo! Supposing he was able to split his viewpoint? He was a biped with binocular vision, wasn't he, at least in his body? Then what could be easier than splitting his viewpoint - not too far, puleeze! There, a little closer, and he'd get better three-d vision.

            Did others who had taken on the challenge of traveling the universe as a spirit ever have this sort of difficulty?

            And it was a planet, and it was growing in size, very very slowly.

            Could he go to sleep? Not out on the perimeter, but in close where there are plenty of stars, all gazing down at him like people's eyes ... now where had he found that image? Stars as eyes, all accusing, all staring at him?

            No matter. He relaxed, even further, and lost track of the world.

            There was so much for him to digest from seeing Mars up close, after all. He didn't need the eyes staring at him. He'd let them know about it all when he had finished, anyway.

            If he finished.

            * * *

            The fortnight never seemed to take so long. Most men she'd had in her life had either been in or out before the fortnight was finished. Like that sorry sod she'd met in Varsity, who'd wanted to marry her seven years ago.

            She'd stopped answering his calls and he'd eventually stopped making them. She'd met him a year ago. He'd been playing with a beautiful two-year-old girl in a cafe, and she'd stopped to chat once she recognized him. But he'd rebuffed her: "We weren't friends back then, only acquaintances, and I was a dork besides. Now are you happy? I'm waiting for my wife."

            She'd never been told to get, quite so bluntly, or politely.

            She was grateful for Florrie's support. She called in every evening, to unwind. She was becoming a nuisance, but told herself that if she had to see this through to the end, then so did Florrie, and besides, she pumped Florrie's children for tales of Nathaniel. They had liked him. They were not happy that he had gone without telling them anything. But he had not been happy in the weeks after she had fired him.

            * * *

            The phone rang at work. It was Florrie. "Mr Thomas has rung to say he's ready. Are you?"

            Was she?!? Was she ever! She handed the business over to her trusty team, rushed out to her house, and waited while Florrie's husband checked the car over. "Can't have Florrie stuck in the middle of nowhere with a broken-down car, can we?!?"

            Then off into the great unknown - well, between Apata and Aongatete, on a winding rural road. The great unknown appears to be between your ears, she snarled at herself. Or as Florrie would say, agreeing with Mum, there's more unexplored space between your ears than you know about. She just did not want Florrie saying it out loud.

            That would be much too much.
            sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

            Gold is the power of a man with a man
            And incense the power of man with God
            But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
            And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

            by Peter Cape


            • In_Loos_Ptokai
              Abrogate all rituals
              • Apr 2007
              • 802

              Aha! Jupiter grew before his eyes like a toadstool head during spring, bright red and yellow and orange, with tinges of blue and green and other peripheral colours.

              Faint, small globules swam in from one side - those'd be the Galileos.

              Quite a different sensation from looking at them second hand from the NASA probe photos.

              Looking at them "up close" so to speak ... now that's an idea. Could he improve his vision even more? Widen it, so to speak? And get some of his own "close ups"?

              Well, how about that now? Maybe he could get even clearer?

              No, that won't work. Beyond a certain limit, when he suddenly pictured himself with telescopes a few million kilometres either side of his face ... he couldn't manage to keep that absurd image out of his mind, and so he lost it ...

              * * *

              Rene was not happy. The room was small and drafty - it'd obviously been converted from a carport - and the terms of the agreement were less than encouraging. She would be taking all the risk of this adventure. Her host would do everything within his powers to ensure that she came to no harm, but would not be able to prevent her from harming herself.

              He also suggested she "practice" on going somewhere close, so she would not harm herself with lack of experience. Nathaniel Harvey was now at the orbit of Jupiter, and the comet could not now be seen with the naked eye.

              She bargained the price down to the thousand, same as Nathaniel paid, for two uses of the machine, one to learn how to use it, then the other to find Nathaniel and persuade him to return.

              And with some misgivings, she gave Florrie a hug and took her shoes off then lay in the newly-built machine. She heard two switches flicked, then instant disorientation as the world flipped perspective.

              Skating on light was fun: it felt like skating on ice at the rink in Christchurch when she had been a little girl and her grandparents had taken her there often while her Mum was at the hospital getting her cancer seen to. Pity they hadn't cured it. The saddest thing about your childhood was suddenly finding out that Mummy wasn't ever going to come home from hospital and watching Granny cry and knowing you couldn't give her something to stop her crying.

              She knew how Florrie must've felt a fortnight ago, watching her weeping helplessly in the car on the way back. At least she hadn't lost all hope ... now where was this escapee of hers?

              Or hadn't she better get back?

              * * *

              Over a cup of coffee, they discussed the next mission. Mr Thomas brought out some printouts of the current location of the comet, some pictures of Jupiter, and some pictures of the comet. Rene memorized them as best she could.

              Then off for her second trip.

              * * *

              This fly-by of Jupiter was a (repressed) astronomy geek's seventh heaven. The only problem, Nathaniel felt, was the lack of a camera. He'd never be able to transmit these images to Earth now, would he?

              This "toadstool" was glorious in full technicolour. Jupiter stretched across the field of vision, bright reds and yellows and oranges and faint blues and greens and purples ... another problem seemed to be a faint niggling pressure in the back of his head, if he still had had a head. He was more of a ghost it seemed, now, more insubstantial than he had dreamed possible. So what was this niggling feeling, and how did it happen, and how would he stop it?

              "Hi, I've got to talk to you ..."

              "Oh crumbs," he thought. "Now I've taken up the noble art of talking to myself."

              * * *

              "Why won't you answer me?"

              "I don't need the distraction of talking to myself while I'm trying to absorb the incredible, glorious spectacle of Jupiter up close."

              "You're not talking to yourself. You're talking to me."

              "Oh great, self-delusion as well."

              "How is it self-delusion if you're talking to me and I'm replying?"

              "Oh, god, and I even know the answer to that. So if I tell you what I know, I'll be telling me what I know, which will increase my self-delusion ..."

              "But there's stuff that I would know that you don't."

              "Really? But I'd rather be concentrating on Jupiter. So thanks for the fish, but I'd really prefer to be absorbing Jupiter's awesomeness at this very moment."

              * * *

              She felt defeated, but she wouldn't give up. Besides, he was right: Jupiter was truly awesome at close range. She could well believe that a man would give up the comforts of home for such an experience.

              How to balance the appreciation of Jupiter's beauty with her appreciation of Nathaniel's looks ... how indeed? She'd never given herself this sort of problem before. It would be a problem for her with him ... if she could get him to accept her apology, then later, her need, her desire, her love ... and double that problem for him. She did not intend to make it any the easier for him, either.

              She'd have to try a different tack next time.

              Damn it, she was sure she was the only one for him, and he'd better know it! Damn it!

              * * *

              "I love you, Nathaniel."

              "Of course I love me. That's what makes it possible to get up in the morning when the boss of my previous company indicated she thought I was so much waste of space."

              "No!!! I'm not you. I'm Rene, your former boss. I love you. I want to apologize."

              "That is funny. Deluding myself into believing that my former boss fired me out of ... what? Love? Rabbit-punched me in the gut, chucked me into the unemployment gutter, left me feeling like shit - out of love? My god, talk about self-deluding wish-fulfillment!"

              "But that's something you don't know and I do."

              "Without an external frame of reference? How can you prove that?"

              "I fired you because I didn't want to ... lose myself over you."

              "External frame of reference?"

              "Florrie will back me up."

              "External frame of reference? I know Florrie: she's a good girl. Her son's fascinated by computing and aircraft. He might be a good programmer one day."

              "Come back and she'll verify what I say."

              "When you have not yet verified that you aren't an echo of self-delusion, of insane wish-fulfillment? What's the point of that?"

              "Look, you're not the only one in this world."

              "I thought my former boss was good-looking - no, make that stunningly beautiful when she smiled - but I'm a geek. I've never thought looks were the only thing. I've always had other fish to fry. And now I'm talking to a lunatic part of myself trying to delude me into believing that she actually loved me? While I'd much rather be spending my time observing Jupiter? No can do. End of 'interview'. You don't get the job, self-delusion."

              * * *

              She was locked out. She could not get through, now. He refused to answer, whatever she said. And as a disembodied Point of View, she couldn't do anything to make him notice her.

              She could've wept, except she had no eyes, as such. Only the Point of View, which she allowed to absorb the magnificence, and beauty of the planet passing below her. Already the comet was swinging past and moving out, having absorbed some appreciable velocity from the giant planet's own orbit.

              Perhaps in absorbing the magnificence spread out below her, and to some extent behind her, she could buffer the blow to her ego, her sense of self-worth. A stunningly beautiful self-delusion?

              She fled.

              * * *

              Nathaniel relaxed. That irritating voice was silent. The cheek of it, allowing him to imagine that his former boss might actually have feelings for him.

              Self-delusion led to the mad-house. He'd lost one friend to Sunnyside in Christchurch. A visit to see him had been unsuccessful. You can't talk to imaginary friends of your real, non-imaginary friends, even when your real, non-imaginary friends try to introduce you to them. He was no actor.

              At several million miles from earth, and rapidly increasing, the last thing he wanted to do was to chat with imaginary friends. What would he do about it? What was there to be done about it anyway?

              * * *

              Rene opened her eyes and attempted to lever herself up. Florrie was instantly there, looking down at her.

              "You've been gone most of the day. How are you? And how's the Prince of Geeks?"

              "He's not coming back." That broke the dam. Tears flooded out, and she wept. Florrie helped her out of the box: she wished it was her coffin and she could simply forget forever being cut off from communication as he had done, with no apparent malice.

              She clung to Florrie's reassuring presence. "I tried talking to him, but he argued that I was a self-delusion, wasting time he preferred to be spending looking at Jupiter. I even told him I loved him, and he laughed it off as self-delusion and wish-fulfillment. I can't get through to him."

              "Time to go home, then. If he's not coming back, there's his house to look after, there's his car, his plane, his family to contact, his affairs to wind up ..."

              Why did Florrie have to be so practical at such a devastating time as this? She felt as if she had known and loved him for a long, long time, and he had died ... Florrie stroked her hair comfortingly. "Cry now," she added. "That way you'll feel better."

              * * *

              The trip home was hell. So were the following weeks.

              It made all the local newspapers, the evening news, the Internet newsfeeds, the discussion groups ... she began to feel Nathaniel had made a good choice in getting away from it all, and ...

              The technique once discovered could not be hidden. The world changed in ways unforeseen.

              She hid in the local geological formations, after Florrie had died in one of the more horrible riots. Most of the worst horrors following passed her by.

              So did the dispersion of humanity to the stars and to the local multiverse.

              She waited.

              * * *

              Living on a comet that originates in the Oort Cloud is a very long-term arrangement. Nathaniel found Huseini-Levy's close passage to Saturn fascinating. Most of the orbit from then on was rather boring. He found himself switching off for long periods of time. If he was advertising this as a holiday destination, he would definitely not be advertising it as a source of continuous excitement. But at least he was not deluding himself any longer.

              The orbit took him out several million times further than he had expected. But that was only to be expected, from the speed changes of the close fly-bys of Jupiter and Saturn.

              But he did get to see the sky change from one where the Sun was the brightest of the low-visibility stars, to one where it vied with Alpha Centauri ...

              At last a perturbation of the orbit changed the pattern of his life. He was falling in to the Sun's family again. Maybe it was time to pay Earth another visit. How had Florrie's kids done? How had the rest of the kids that had looked up to him? It had been probably ... twenty million years since he had been there last. Of course they'd have forgotten him by now.

              * * *

              Huseini-Levy fell towards the Sun. A little blue dot grew larger, as did its corresponding gray dot. He leapt once it had grown larger than a pin-prick, but took his time manoeuvering there. Skating on thin light was fascinating. It would not do to do that more than once or twice in a lifetime, otherwise it might become addictive.

              It was a sunny day. He came to settle on a plain overlooking a wide river. Several large volcanoes thrust their peaks skyward: there used to be only one plug of volcanic origin, Mt Maunganui on the skyline. No longer. And Tauranga Moana, the harbour itself, had vanished. Probably most of the Bay of Plenty by this time. What'll the community papers say about that? He grinned.

              Several creatures screeched at him from the towering forests. A pack of vicious-looking doglike creatures ran out at him, but he faded from their view. Then faded back when they yelped in dismay and ran off somewhere else.

              And then someone else stepped into view, folding out from the cliffside. Someone who he had last seen when he had cleared his workstation a fair few years ago. His eyebrows rose and his jaw dropped.

              "We have matters to discuss," she said, as if it was perfectly ordinary thing to do, to appear to someone you'd fired about twenty millions years before. "I have an apology to make, and a confession, and you have some explanations to make to me, as well."

              "Rene Johnson?"

              "Of course. I look stunningly beautiful when I smile. And I found out I did and do love you."

              A wolfish gleam hovered on her lips. "But then, where is the external frame of reference, if you don't accept me? Am I still your self-delusion, Nathaniel Harvey?"

              "Well, I mean, I ..."

              * * *

              Just then a roaring sound rose from the east, and a glaringly bright light rose and shot across the sky, burying itself in the west. Quiet for a few moments; then the earth shook beneath their feet.

              Then clouds rose in the west. "Poor Victoria!" he said. "That was Huseini-Levy, and it's made quite a mess. Perhaps we'd better go off-planet until the whole thing settles down?"

              The END
              Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-22-2014, 08:12 PM.
              sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

              Gold is the power of a man with a man
              And incense the power of man with God
              But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
              And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

              by Peter Cape