Who is Photeff?
By Kari Plenc
Copyright 2016 Kari Plenc
Table of Contents:
All characters and events depicted are fictitious
Prologue: Rushmore East
Lou stands upon the flat, easier-to-walk-across sand nearest the water, he and his fluttering summer outfit breathing the fresh sea air. He has stopped to view for a moment the distant work in progress. Sculpted from manmade bluffs fifty stories above the shore, likenesses of the New Order’s founding leaders are nearly finished, scheduled for completion the first day of 2100. Lou figures the visages will be of the first ruler of the new order, Zehntar, and his henchmen; or perhaps of him and his wife, Marina. For now, a towering curtain of laser light hides the monument-under-construction from public view; the exact identities of those to be honored are being withheld until the grand unveiling.
The statues will become known, some are saying, as Rushmore East. Many object to that comparison; Rushmore, they say, commemorates elected leaders who brought law and order to a continent, while this new bluff will idolize Alien conquerors who overran an existing civilization. Lou dismisses that view. The conquerors have, after all, brought many improvements to the nations of Earth. The end of sectarian wars is foremost among those gains. But others include new technologies, progress towards wealth equality, education and meaningful employment for all who want it; all have become realities under the New Order. Even segmentation of the week into dual 5 hour shifts was an example of “grand” ideas implemented by the invaders; it allows workers like Census Bureau supervisor Lou Ipson, to “double up” and earn extra vacations, such as the one he is presently enjoying. These are the positives, and what is the negative -- the illness they communicated to this planet? It was not by design, just an unfortunate side effect of different, though similar, races blending. And that the conquerors quickly found a cure despite already being immune also says something redeeming about them. These thoughts occupy the sand-traversing Lou Ipson as a horse and rider approach from the direction of the far off, shrouded work site.
Even from a distance Lou can tell the uniformed equestrian is a Symmetry Man. Physically advanced in all ways, this race has mastered engineered genetics, even to the point of gifting every individual with a handsome look. Each Symmetry Man, while unique from the next, has this proportional, always pleasing to the eye feature, which includes a perfectly symmetrical image especially pronounced from forehead to chin. This quickly earned the invaders their terrestrial name, and they adopted it (along with the Earth’s version of the English language, in keeping with their policy of integrating to new environments).
The descriptor is equally applied to the women. As a result of scientifically aided evolution, the female “Symmetry Man,” as it were, is even more amazing than the male in her biologically engineered features. Most internal components vital for life have become more efficient and therefore more compact, which allows them to be situated higher in her torso. The abdomen, then, has evolved into a thinner, more muscular midsection with a better protected spinal column and providing strength and flexibility. Besides giving her a striking physique it is a fact, however trivial, that in the Symmetrian version of football, all goalies are female….
“You there!” says the rider, bringing her mount to a stop before Lou. A quick scan by the identifier drawn from her holster confirms the walker’s name. “Lou Ipson, the Third,” she announces in a business tone, “Is all well?”
Lou is not surprised by this greeting; he has been addressed in this manner before on his early morning jaunts. The rider is an armed patrol as well as a courier. This double duty is natural because postal deliveries, when of a sensitive nature, are often made in person. And all federal parks and beaches are patrolled in the traditional Symmetrian horseback manner. Lou feels, in fact, that this kind of reverence for one’s heritage is another positive contribution brought to the New Order by its founders.
“Fine Sir,” he replies, addressing the rider properly in a military fashion. “Thank you for stopping.”
“And good day to you, sir,” answers the courier, her steed resuming its trot upon the sound of those words. And dodging an occasional overreaching wave as it slides up onto the sand, Lou moves on.
Osip Karrbasten’s sleep had been fitful one. Perhaps in return for his half-century of wisdom and experience, the Russian Cossack was becoming accustomed to nights of restlessness due to aching muscles and worry. Through the previous night spent camping against the uprooted base of a conifer, it was the latter of these ailments which had precluded restful slumber, that dear friend who had gone his own way in life, and whom the Cossack did not expect to meet again.
For his years, Osip was ruggedly fit, his barrel chest filling out his traditional military overcoat. And although of medium height, he sat tall in the saddle of his Don. . The shimmering chestnut Mare also carried the Cossack’s water, supplies, and his rifle, which he holstered abreast the horse. In addition, Osip wore a saber at his own side. The two of them, Osip and his Mare, moved as one, neither leading, nor following, both agreeing on each step through the fallen forest, like waltzing partners on crowded floor finding spaces as they opened. In a forest of leveled evergreens, the going had been extremely slow, as they picked their way over and around the fallen tree trunks on this cool summer day.
The mighty pines that were the obstacles lay everywhere around them -- not strewn about, but in parallel as if the rolling forest had been run through by a Titan’s comb, leaving a straightened beard of conifers lying flat against every slope. The Cossack, whose rough countenance was half hidden by his own graying hair, found the way nearly impassable. And now, around midday, there was something else -- Osip sensed that his mare was uneasy. But the source of her concern was not discernable, and with much ground to cover, they pressed on.
It had taken a day to get this far; it was a day since that moment when the firmament lit up, when Osip knew he had to return to the drop site, the small rock formation in the forest to where he had guided the group -- 40 men and women, scientists and military, mostly Russian, but with western European nations represented as well. It was a strange assignment, Osip had thought at the time -- his instructions were a brief handwritten note with few details. But of course he carried out his mission and guided the party without question. He had left the troupe at their rock shelter as planned, and returned to the small Siberian town from which, the next day, he observed the sky splitting in two, a tunnel of fire stretching from heaven to the horizon, and a roar of a thousand lions that leveled a vast forest and shattered windows in the little village before calm once again returned.
Now, as the sun began descending from its zenith, Osip again felt the apprehension in his companion. They stopped as Osip scanned the horizon around them. It was then he first saw the lone cat following them, alternately visible upon the fallen timber, then hidden beneath. It was rare to sight a cat such as this so far from the Amur River, but certainly not unheard of. There was no question of the tiger’s interest in Osip and the horse, though for now it was keeping its distance. With his rifle, he and his partner would be fine, thought Osip. He gave the Mare a reassuring rub between her shoulders. “Poshli,” he said gently, and they moved on.
As evening approached, so Osip finally approached the area in which he had left the expedition days earlier. He could see the outcropping of granite where the land rose above its surroundings. A faint cry for help was soon heard, and Osip knew he must get to voice he could not yet see; but between him and his goal were several acres of dense windfall. So Osip dismounted, took his rifle and put its sling over his shoulder, and in knee-high boots climbed upon the fallen trees. Many of the trunks were large and limbless, and crowded enough for him to tightrope down the length of one, then leap to the next. After half an hour of this exercise, Osip reached the source of the pleas: a scientist from the expedition badly injured from the explosive event of the day before. He lay with his back propped against a tree at the edge of the high area. Nearby were the rocky formation, and thirty or so saddles beside it. There were no other signs of the expedition’s group. Osip gave the half-delirious man a drink from his canteen, and they began to converse. The man spoke only English, of which Osip’s knowledge was luckily sufficient. The man conveyed this much: that the others had left him behind, due to his injuries, and they had gone away by ship. When Osip questioned the meaning of that, as there was no body of water nearby, the man pointed to the sky, to where it had been aflame the day before, and repeated, “ship…from there.” The Cossack felt the man would need medical attention and communicated that they would ride back together. The man replied that, to the contrary, he would stay and wait for another ship. Each was expressing that the other’s plan was out of the question when they were interrupted by the Cossack’s friend.
A whinny alerted Osip, who climbed upon a rock to see above the slash. The cat was making its move toward the mare, who was waiting faithfully for her partner. Osip knew that without her, he probably, and expedition survivor certainly, would die this far from help. Leaving the injured man for the moment, he began hurrying along the bark covered beams the way he had come, this time waving his arms in the air and directing, as loudly as he could, Russian obscenities toward the cat. This had the intended effect of drawing the cat’s attention to Osip, plus the unintended effect of sending it bounding in his direction, closing fast. Osip stopped, quickly un-slung his rifle and aimed; he took his best shot. A flinch from the angry Siberian Cat confirmed it had taken the round in its chest, yet it continued to charge. Osip operated the rifle’s bolt action smoothly and fired again. Once more he repeated this. As the third shot rang out, the cat was upon him. Osip jumped from the timber to the ground below, losing his firearm in the process. The mortally wounded half ton hunter collapsed upon the bows above Osip, who had drawn his saber and, sensing his opportunity to end the battle, thrust the steel weapon to its hilt into the neck of the tiger. The cat, its front end disabled, made a dying swipe with a hind paw. Its claws were knifelike, and the longest of the blades found its mark. Osip fell back into a bed made of pine; blood rushing from his frame soaked his uniform.
As final rays from the west grew dim over a forest laid low, so the last embers of life faded from three fallen travelers near a remote granite outcropping. A dutiful servant waited through the night; at dawn she sought a return course through the brush, and made her way unburdened back to the small, Siberian town.
Her husband would be home soon with good news, Theresia hoped. It was a good sign that he was running late; he may have gotten one of the factory jobs -- perhaps he would phone. Waiting was difficult, so she decided to retrieve the letters from their drawer, as she did from time to time. She moved the flowers from the center, to the side, of the small table at which she sat. Then, un-wrapping the letters with care, she began to read the handwritten German notes:
By the time this reaches you, my dear sister, it will be over for me one way or the other. They tell us we will fight on to victory or to the end. Other divisions here on the Eastern Front have already done just that, and those times when it is the end, very few of our men are left to be taken prisoner. It is just as well…the cold here is killing us anyway. Better to move on than to wait. I must accept the plan that God has for me, and push on. Do not worry, though, I don’t mean to say I am suffering. I am glad that you and your man are safe in America, at least. How ironic that your country is now my enemy. Their bombs have killed many thousands of innocents in our cities. The Americans should have stayed out of this war; it is not their concern. If they would have kept out of the previous one, perhaps I would not be here today. It is hard, but life goes on, and soon, hopefully, I will write to you again from better circumstances. Please take care,
Your Brother, Klaus
She touched the signature lightly with her fingertips, and then went on to the others.
I only have time for a short note. They run us ragged here. I know you have heard about Klaus. It is so sad, and for what? Each week they send us new men to replace the casualties. When I see the young recruits, I think of Klaus. What might have become of his life? I know he would have been a good family man. Some day, when a boy here or a girl there is being neglected, will this world stop to think about the good father that was lost when Klaus died? I have heard enough talk of the virtues of war. There is nothing virtuous about it in my eyes. War today is all man’s modern technology put to use killing one another for land and gold. Oh, yes, but all our endeavors, it is said, pale in comparison to the logistics of war! What does that say about us? But then, I have written too long on one topic. What of you, Sister? Please tell me you have gotten a doctor’s attention for your new problem. I am sure God willing, that you will be fine. Now they are calling for me again. God bless you,
Your brother, Adolph
PS How I miss real coffee
How are things in the New World? When this is over I hope to find a sponsor (hint) and move to your neighborhood. I will find a small piece of land for building a house and then put in a garden like the one you have. Then I will rent a small store and open a Bakery just like the one Dad still has back home. For now, I stand guard over Poles we have captured. They have been rebelling, so we have been busy putting an end to that. Oh, sister, it is not pleasant, but it must be done. I know not whether what we are told is true, whether they are less human than we are. But if only they would behave, we could get this war over with. Then I will be coming to see you and your new family. I will help you with the baking when I get there. Love,
Your brother, Fritz
I hope this letter makes its way to you and finds you healthy. I am so sad for you; you have already a heavy heart for losing Klaus first, and then Fritz. I have some information about Fritz. There had been an uprising and he was killed by a Slav whom we had liberated. One cowardly shot and a wonderful brother’s life ended, from one minute to the next. That is the thanks we receive -- now Fritz waits for us in heaven. As for Adolph, still he does not understand. His disobedience landed him in the military court. He has written to me for help, but there is nothing for him that I can do, he must reform himself; the SS will give him every fair chance. This news is all sad, yes, but persevere Theresia, and we will see the day when there is a New Order. And by the way, sister, you do not have to worry for my safety. I am in charge of very important projects now, and I no longer fly missions myself. Soon we will be victorious, and the enemy nations, yes even yours, will see what a bright new world will come. It is then that you can visit or even return home, and I will see you once again. And all will be well.
Your Brother, Wolfgang Reich
She read these letters together as one, to be fair and equal to her younger brothers. Each note brought tears, yes, but each allowed her to dream for a moment that the four men were alive yet, that she and they were still a family; that Klaus had a family of his own; Fritz owned a house and bakery; Adolph, though always cynical, was a caring person and the best uncle; Wolfgang was an important leader in government. So she would dream. She would dream there had never been war. That is why she, from time to time, retrieved these letters from where they lay, directly atop the others ---- the ones in envelopes with black boarders -- which she also kept but never reopened.
The phone beckoned Theresia as she wrapped these last letters inside the soft fabric saved for that purpose. She picked up the receiver with anticipation, quickly saying hello in her stiff accent. But it was not her husband’s voice she heard; instead, through the earpiece came the voice of an intruder.
By this modern technology, the evil he spoke into his receiver pushed electrons along the path of wire from his unknown location to Therisia’s home, there to be converted back into anonymous speaking. The taunting message was the same as the other times, all during the last six months, since peace had come. Partly serious in tone, partly mocking; the disguised voice was sometimes high pitched, other times low, as this time. The words never varied.
“Achtung, Frau Reich, This is the police! You have been selected, due to your affliction, for immediate deportation. All Krauts who are unable to work, must at this time return to der Fatherland. Schnell! rrrrRAUS mit du! Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Reich.” And the call ended.
Slowly, Theresia replaced the receiver on its hook. She collected her letters from the table, and put them back in their drawer with those she would never read again. Sitting again at the small table, she moved its centerpiece back to the center, then stopped, with her hand on the vase. Minutes passed quietly as Theresia fixed her stare on the flowers, breathed in their fragrance, and voided all else from her mind.
Fiona’s Dream and Rejoicing
Fiona remembered as she slept. She dreamt of when they first met.
The young Fiona Redwolf wasn’t crazy about the tattoos. Why would a healthy 20 year old do that to his skin? But it was alright, she thought. The young hospital aid had been polite and helpful since the first day she had known him. Their brief conversations soon became something she looked forward to each day, as they learned about each other. She was recovering from her vehicle crash, working to regain use of her injured legs as well as her memory. He was striking out on his own, working at a job more indicative of his current ambition, or lack thereof, than of his potential. Fiona, looking past the tattoos, saw that potential and, for now, unable to remember where she was headed in life, would make it her business to encourage the young man.
She had been driving tired on a rainy night when her car had left the road and overturned. Thrown from the vehicle, she lay unconscious on the wet ground for an hour before the medics arrived. No details of the moments prior to that were known; Fiona herself would not reveal anything. Her mother had visited once but then returned home. Her father had left his family many years ago. He had, soon after that, left the world by his own doing. A man Fiona knew only when she was a young child, Mr. Redwolf was proud of his Lakota heritage. He would tell his daughter stories of great leaders and wise men from their nation’s history.
The doctor had explained the basics to Fiona: 30 days had passed recovering from her injuries; they had repaired her broken ribs, they had removed her spleen. Then came the news; Fiona was pregnant. She suddenly experienced a dizzying flood of flashbacks. They returned her to that fateful night.
She had left the party early, but not for home. She rendezvoused with the stranger, a drifter, whom she had met that evening -- an exciting departure from her normal, cautious, ways.
She had then driven through the night to seek her solution in the anonymity of the big city. Indeed, she must have fallen asleep at the wheel. And despite her serious injuries, she had conceived. Now alone with this knowledge, Fiona had to follow through. She knew the action she would take.
At this point in her dream, which she had had many times before, it was usual for Fiona to awaken, and so she did this time. But not in her own bed; she was in the hospital, with her family at her side -- her husband with his tattooed arms, their 8 year old Cleranne. And there was Curriel, whom Fiona had carried throughout her physical therapy ten years before. Born of a drifter Curriel was adopted by a lowly health care worker who would then find his ambition and path to success.
Fiona and her husband had always known this day might come, when she would be unable to fend off infection due to a latent effect of the accident and the damage it had done.
Her nation had a proverb: We enter the world crying, as others rejoice; leave the world rejoicing as others cry. Fiona had tried to live by those words, and now she offered simple advice of her own to her daughters as she held hands with each. “Sit beside me, my precious girl,” she said to the older one, “and my Angel,” to the other, “In life, you may want to do great things, and I’m sure some day you will. But if ever it seems you must choose between your own needs and the needs of others, remember this: there are times when it is best to simply take care of yourself. Then, because you are a good person, you will be doing what is right.“ With these gentle words, Fiona closed her eyes and fell into a peaceful, final, sleep.
Back when Al Gosip was barely a young man, America was forming its strategy for wars in the Middle East, and Al was forming his opinions on ism’s -- nationalism, colonialism, and conscientious objection-ism, as he called it, to name a few. He also formed an opinion that military conscription was imminent. So on a rainy summer day he tied a bedroll to the back of his Sportster, the one he had mostly built from spare parts, and rode off to British Columbia. During the five years that followed, he earned enough money to get by, grew a long beard he would keep from then on, realized his draft fears were unwarranted, and finally, returned to the land that he loved.
Besides the beard, his excursion gained him mainly three things: life experience, a working knowledge of French, which he picked up without really trying, and his permanent nickname, North of Border. The last of these you could say represented the only argument he’d ever lost to his brother, who tagged him with the title. Equally bullheaded, but always in opposing directions, the two disagreed with each other on most everything, from music and motorcycles to -isms and ideology. Al’s older brother and only sibling moved away also, but to the South, and unlike Al, did not return home. Perhaps for that reason, the vast tracts of forest and fields eventually went to Al in their entirety. Included in all that real estate was the remote equipment-shed where a middle-aged Al, who had always excelled at understanding things mechanical in nature, was tinkering when a strange aircraft entered Earth’s atmosphere.
As seemingly unrelated events often redirect one’s path through life, action taking place at a military airfield fifty miles away would have a profound impact (physically, in this case) upon Al at his remote hideaway. A National Guard fighter pilot, though overtired, was climbing into his cockpit because his relief, due to illness, had not replaced him eight hours previous. An unidentified aircraft had been spotted and tracked on radar, and the nearest plane that could intercept it was the one flown by this pilot, who soon had his jet taxiing down the runway.
The airstrip’s pavement, of course, was clear of debris, a feature vitally important to any runway, lest the landing gear or underbelly of planes departing or landing should be damaged, resulting in catastrophe quite understandable to anyone. To that end, at this airfield as at others of its time, all utility vehicles bound for runway were first driven across shaker strips – corrugations similar to rumble strips known to automobile drivers approaching intersections, but much more intense in design so that any parts on board the utility vehicles which might be loose or otherwise threatening to fall to the ground would do so at the shaker strips, and therefore not on the airfield itself. The one exception to the procedure was the transport of weapons to the awaiting fighters and bombers. That was because inherent in the design of most munitions were intricate mechanical and electronic parts, including those for guidance, arming and detonation of the weapons, all of which worked best, generally, if not shaken violently beforehand. An alert driver of a vehicle towing such munitions, or just a driver with technical know-how like North of Border Al had, would never have made the mistake of pulling a trailer of missiles across shaker strips. But on this day, neither was driving the weapon that would be used against the unidentified aircraft. (A good thing for Nob Al, as it would turn out).
Meanwhile, Al had taken a break from reading manuals, and instead was walking in the woods, eating an organic grapefruit and wondering -- wondering because in his fruit he had found part of a worm. Had we considered, wondered Al, the loss of nutrition -- previously provided by organisms -- now missing from our pest free produce? Surely, through millennia of evolution our bodies had found a healthy use for the most commonly, if mistakenly, eaten critter-encapsulated proteins. Hard to imagine needed nutrients existing inside wriggling worms, true. But if a larvae-a-day was indeed good for you, then Al had gotten half his allowance by mid morning. Regardless, Al decided to toss his half eaten Ruby Red and his shortened friend into the understory.
But as Al was about to discard his meal, he beheld an awesome sight, heard a deafening roar, and braced himself against a mighty wind. All in the space of ten seconds these phenomena were complete, and not far from Al, in the general direction he had intended to fling his fruit, sat now a gleaming gold machine. Bigger than Al’s truck, smaller than his shed, this craft had dimensions and design unlike anything he had seen. Al, of course, began making his way toward the aircraft (which he assumed it was) to investigate. Only half way there, Al was suddenly thrown to the ground by a blast of displaced soil. Near the crater made by and containing the unexploded ordinance, lay the unconscious Al, buried alive under a thin covering of forest floor stuff. A part of his beard was visible, as was a spot of the grapefruit still in his hand, but despite careful observations made of the site by the space traveler who had just landed and who then set off on foot toward the nearest main road, Nob Al went completely unnoticed.
The overworked National Guard fighter pilot was unable to explain convincingly to his superiors just how the unidentified aircraft had disappeared when fired upon, or why the missile had never found its target nor detonated. And since the radar patterns reflected by the alien ship were inconsistent with known signatures, the case, in its entirety, was closed after being attributed, officially, to malfunctioning equipment and human error.
The Third Reich
The heir to the fortune, raised by surrogate parents, had never known his father. Nevertheless, he had grown to be just as reclusive as his mysterious old man. Now 39, the heir listened from the shadows in his mansion’s library, a high ceilinged room with towering narrow windows and matching draperies which hung like banners. He listened as the police lieutenant explained his theory. The key, said the detective, was a rare, 80-year old photograph. From 1944, it showed a certain German military officer standing next to the commander of the air force. The heir viewed the picture for a long while, then set it down quickly when his hand began to tremble. “Who is this?” he asked.
“I believe the officer in the photo is your grandfather,” said the detective. “His name is different, but as you can see, there is no denying the likeness to your father, whose unsolved case has stuck with me all these years. And so, when by chance I saw this image I had to learn more about it. It is of a man named Reich – Wolfgang Reich – who was a decorated pilot and later a top ranking German official. He was placed in charge of special projects for the war. Little else is known about him -- he vanished soon after this photo was taken. It was rumored that a treasure in gold and many German military secrets disappeared with him.”
The heir listened quietly as the detective continued
“Remember, your father was adopted and brought to America as an infant by a German couple who controlled a fortune of unknown origin; Now this fortune is yours. I believe their money came from this man, your grandfather. Something very mysterious started with your grandfather, then involved your father, and perhaps will continue with you.”
“What do you mean…how old was this ‘Reich’ when he disappeared?” asked the heir.
“That’s why I’m here now,” said the detective, “he was forty. And, of course, your father went missing at that same age, when you were a mere infant. I was a rookie then -- it was my first case, you know.”
Late into the night the lieutenant and the heir discussed this theory, concluding their meeting only after agreeing on what they should anticipate, how they should prepare for the anniversary only days away.
And so, as the heir celebrated his 40th birthday alone in the library where he had met with the detective, there was no show of surprise on his face when a visitor stepped into the room. “I’ve been expecting you,” said the heir. “But I don’t understand, Father, why haven’t you aged; you appear as young as me?” The visitor came a little closer, the heir stepped out from the shadows across the room, and the two men looked at each other. They were dressed quite differently, yet each must have felt as if he were gazing into a mirror -- they were, essentially, identical.
“I presume that you have been managing the family fortune per your inheritance contract?” asked the visitor.
“Yes, father. I am among the richest men in the world, if all my accounts are combined.”
“And the laboratory?” asked the visitor.
“Well maintained,” answered the heir. “Father, is that a Bavarian accent?”
“You have many questions,” replied the visitor. “Let me try to answer. My youthful appearance? The space vehicle in which I have been travelling slows time to a crawl for its occupant. Thus, I am about the same age as you, even though, for me, the world was still at war only weeks ago. You see, you would be more accurate to address me as “Grandfather.” I am Wolfgang Reich. Before I left on my voyage in 1944, I created the infant who became your “father”. Then, after nearly 40 years passed for him here, but only days for me, I returned in 1984. Because I looked just like him, I stepped into his place. I created you, and then left again. Another 40 years for you on Earth went by, mere days for me in my vehicle, and now I have returned again, to take your place, and put to good use my wealth which has grown for eighty Earth years. Yes, the two technologies -- Human Cloning and Space-time Continuum -- prove quite useful together.
“That’s how you did it,” said the heir quietly, “Einstein’s theory of relativity.”
“Einstein had the theory, but he was no pilot,” said the visitor, momentarily agitated. “And my commander was a pilot, but no scientist. Only I could both of these things verstehen. I, alone, could manage our great discovery -- the machine which now has brought me here.”
“I would like to see this machine,” said the heir.
“It is safely hidden,” replied the visitor, once again composed. “Besides, unfortunately for you, from this point forward there can only be one of us.”
The heir looked into the visitor’s eyes. “Is that how it ended for your other… son?”
“It was not easy that time, either,” said the visitor, who swiftly drew his pistol and gunned down the heir with two shots. “Das wird nie einfacher,” he repeated to himself. Then, just as suddenly, he fell.
Darts delivered their electrical charge into the visitor. Two officers appeared from the doorway of the adjacent study, ran to the visitor’s convulsing body and handcuffed his wrists. Meanwhile, the detective also rushed in and tended to the heir, who was dazed, but okay. “The Kevlar suit did its job,” said the detective as he helped the heir to his feet.
Soon, the German visitor recovered, and the police officers prepared to take him away. As the old detective stood face to face with him, the visitor stammered, “Now the torch I give over to mein sohn.” Then he grimaced, moved his lower jaw once, and bit down on a hidden capsule of poison. A grin flashed on his face before he lost consciousness.
Legacy of Ron Gosip
Dust rose for a quarter mile behind Ron Gosip’s new Denali as he travelled alone.
His GMC might be a strange sight in itself, thought Ron. Where he was going, the property owner did not share Ron’s preference for the brand. It was a small example of their differences. Many other, more serious, disagreements had long ago driven the stubborn Gosip men apart. Ron, therefore, had stayed away.
But on this dry, summer day, he exited the highway and took the unpaved road, to see the old hunting grounds, and to take a stroll through one of the remote wooded parcels. Ron was fully aware that he was not welcome on the posted property, but he figured he would be gone before anyone discovered him. He parked his truck off the road and walked down the logging trail.
“Why did they ever have to go?” he asked himself -- he was deep into the property, when his memories of “those days”, were interrupted by the sound of a small engine.. The driver braked to a stop in front of Ron and killed the all-terrain vehicle’s motor.
“This is private land, mister. Ain’t no tresspassin’ allowed here.”
Ron noticed the rifle on the back of the ATV. It was similar, he thought, to the .22 that he and his brother had shared when they were young. Knowing how territorial hunters could be, he bluffed with a half-truth.
“It’s all right, I know the owner.”
“Makes no diff’rence,” said the man. “I’m leasin’ this land, and no one else is supposed to be back here. So if ya don’t mind, you can kindly turn ‘round and leave.”
“Now, hold on; just take it easy,” Ron said with his hands up in front of his chest, as if blocking the hunter’s words. “Like I said, I know Al Gosip. And, you say you are leasing? How do I know that’s true?”
The hunter reached in his pocket and produced a piece of paper, which he unfolded and thrust towards Ron. “This-here agreement is how you know.”
Ron read the brief note of permission hand-written by the landowner. “Well then,” he said, trying to sound friendly, “you’ve met my brother… Can’t you see the resemblance? Heck, when we were kids, they couldn’t tell us apart.”
“That’s a real interesting story, mister,” said the man as he took his document back. “But I have the right to kick you off here. And besides,” he added, brandishing the note once more, “the guy who wrote this specifically stated to me that he ain’t got no brother. So it looks like I caught you in a lie, now don’t it? So I’m just gonna get your license plate number, and then I strongly suggest you leave, or I can call this in, the choice is yours.”
The hunter re-started his machine and threw up a cloud as he spun it around.
A loud “pop” startled the trespasser as the four-wheeler took off down the lane. He began to follow, but after a few steps, dropped to all fours.
Ron struggled to breathe, and his view of the rifle lying before him began to blur. With great effort, he raised himself to an upright, kneeling, position, and sucked in what air he could.
It is said that images from all the years of a lifetime can appear in rapid succession during one’s fading moments. This review within the mind, it has been proposed, is fate’s final accounting of a person’s legacy. It is that theory, at least, which would best explain Ron’s recollection of his daughters, through all the stages of their lives, re-run within his mind during these, his last seconds.
Following this closing of the books, Ronald Gosip collapsed onto the trail. He lay on his side, motionless, his eyes open, as if watching the old Ford that was making its way toward him.
A flash in the night sky was followed by an explosion and raining fireball. Drones were easy to take out; the piloted Symmetry ships, on the other hand, were nearly impossible to hit. The best that resistance forces could do was to harry them, and that was thanks to Curriel and Cleranne Gosip. Whenever the alien fighters would appear, a barrage of jamming transmissions, generated by the resistance using the technical data they possessed, could confuse the Symmetry ships’ navigation just enough to slow them, giving ground artillery a shot or two before the pilots could adjust and invariably retreat. Those technical specifications, contributed by the Gosip sisters also allowed the resistance to monitor the positions and travel of Symmetry fighters, both in and out of the atmosphere. This was crucial to allow travel by American airships, as they were inferior in battle and slower in transitioning to space travel. So it was on this night, with drones dispatched, the commander of American Rebel forces, Cleranne Gosip, was leading a squadron across the sky which she believed to be safe. In coordination with this air cover, Curriel was changing firmware in the ground units below. With the air force overhead, the artillery electronics module (AEM) could be temporarily powered down to accomplish the upgrade. What the resistance forces did not realize was Zehntar had devised a way to “hide” behind the image of the drone that they had just destroyed.
Panic was in Curriel’s voice as she alerted her younger sister above.
“Got it,” was the calm reply. “Jam away Big Sis, we’ll take care of the rest. Her confidence did not take into account that Zehntar and his two accompanying fighters had learned another trick. As the jamming signals were sent, the aliens’ onboard computers adjusted in seconds, greatly reducing the disabling effects of the relentless waves. Soon a dogfight was in progress, and the night sky was ablaze with energy packed photons and counter shielding light curtains.
“Get out! Let us take this from the ground,” pleaded Curriel to her commander in the air.
“No can do, Big Sis,” was the sassy reply from the maneuvering airship, “you’ll only make yourself a target. Do your job, I’ll do mine.”
“Give them another target “repeated Curriel in a crackly transmission, “that’s a great idea. Don’t worry, I don’t mind.” Then off the air, “Saving your butt, don’t mind one bit. You’re the favorite one, after all.” Then, ignoring her commander, Curriel energized the AEM, overrode remote command, and began targeting, then firing any time the enemies position allowed a shot. As anticipated, this revealed her position and Zehntar’s ship was soon directing its weaponry at both the American ground artillery and air force.
“Damnit Sis, there’s no need for that. Just Jam. Jam only. Shield and jam!” Transmitted Cleranne. Then to herself “Never listens,” as she fired upon a Zehntar wingman.
As the battle intensified, the American ships were shielding and dodging more than attacking. Still, their commander could not issue the order she wanted to -- scatter and return to base; her technical chief was now in harm’s way.
Her dilemma was interrupted, as was the battle, by a light that blinded the pilots, and a radiation storm that nearly crippled their planes. Seconds later the interference subsided, and a new craft appeared amidst the others. This one was larger and, as they would soon learn, more advanced. It fired a salvo of beams around the three Symmetry ships, without hitting them. It was clearly a “shot across the bow.” A short break in the fighting followed as Zehntar’s ships hovered, presumably attempting to communicate with the new craft. The American fighters circled at a safe radius. Then Zehntar surprised everyone by firing on the large ship. In a second the newcomer fired back and Zehntar’s ship and those of his wingmen were reduced to powerless Symmetry personnel carriers, falling to the earth below. Escape pods soon were jettisoned, and resistance ground forces mobilized to capture any survivors.
The dominant ship then haled the Americans with peaceful overtures. The reply from Cleranne was curt and quick, as she reformed her squadron to lead the alien away from her ground crew. As the newcomer fell in with them, the Rebel leader switched channels.
“What do you make of that, Sis? Cleranne called. “Can’t be the enemy of our enemy, can it? Always heard they were coming; thought that was legend” There was no response. “Come in, Tech Leader.”
Suddenly Cleranne’s heart sank. “Don’t you dare not answer me Curriel Gosip, that’s an order! I’m not running this show by myself.” More silence. Cleranne immediately sent a distress call ordering a ground team to her sister’s location. Then, as the new ship continued its flight with the American planes, Cleranne tried again. “Come on Sis, if you can hear this, we’re almost outa this now, if our new friend is who I think it is. But its hardly worth it without you. You’re the one I look up to, you know…. Come in, Tech Leader…come in Curriel. ” But there was only white noise.
It tore at the flight leader to leave it there, but she had a squadron to command and an alien ship to guide back to base. Said alien ship was flying with them, surrounded. Cleranne would land with it; her pilots would remain in the air. They were nearing their base when a comm. Light flashed in the corner of Cleranne’s panel. Never used except by maintenance personnel, the channel’s frequency was unique to each ship and was highly encrypted. The flight leader flipped the corresponding switch and listened.
“Tech Lead to Flight Lead, come in.”
“Thank God – what’s up Tech Leader, what’s your status?”
“Status normal. Listen, that friendly ship of yours has the same drive signature as Zehntar’s. It’s a Symmetry ship. That’s why I switched to this channel. Watch yourself… Oh, and Thank you so much for the kind words, Your Eminence, I am touched. “
“Transmission received and so noted. “ replied the relieved Cleranne, “But do that to me again and I’ll have your stripes. Eminence out.”
The meeting with the pilot of the new ship was peaceful at first. This, and the pilot’s surprising ability to speak English, albeit aided by a translator, contrasted him to Zehntar. Even so, Cleranne was not in the mood for a friendly discussion. Her armed rebels and their dogs stood ready to subdue the alien at her order. She ran the interview.
His name too, was Zehntar, he said. Pronounced with different intonations which indicated to Symmetry Men that he was Zehntar Sr., the father of the tyrannical alien leader whose fate was now uncertain (either dead or in a holding cell under guard of the resistance.) He, Zehntar Sr., assured Cleranne that his intentions were peaceful and called for a non-destructive integration with the nations of Earth. His people needed ports of call as they branched out into other galaxies, traversing using technology based on, but far more advanced than, the worm-hole travel used generations ago by a race now extinct. Those beings had contacted Earth, Zehntar Sr. explained, before having perfected the technique. Now the Symmetry Men, more advanced, were coming; the young rogue pilot Zehntar had come first, hoping to establish dominance before the rest could arrive.
“There is the problem,” Cleranne interrupted coolly. “More are coming. What will they bring…more tyrants like your son, more disease to sicken our masses? You yourself could be more of the same. Can you hear my sister’s terriers? The growls low in their throats? To them you smell no different than your son. What if they are right? I have the power to stop you now, why shouldn’t I?”
Zehntar began his pitch. “Ask yourself why you are thirsty for a fight. You fear oppression by new rulers; alien rule would scorch you like the desert sun, and you think war is your only relief. But who has ever profited from war? When have military efforts ever overcome the casualties lost? Their bravery and heroism, their usefulness, were exhausted in determining the victor. The Victor and the Vanquished, so we say, but neither title can bring back lives or souls. No, war can have no winner; justifications for it are imagined, and the gain we expect from it eludes us like a mirage.”
“You don’t need to preach the evils of war to me, Zehntar. I know them well; I have had enough of it. But if that is what it takes to determine our own future, then we shall continue to fight.”
“And in fighting we gain comrades in arms, that is true. Yet if we really desired, we could have many times more brothers and sisters in peace. There is always another way to determine one’s future, commander Gosip. Our philosophy is not to punish our defeated enemies, but to bring them into the New Order…”
“Empty words, Zehntar Sr. That is the same talk as that of your son; our world has seen the results of his promises too many times. How can we expect anything different from his flesh and blood?”
“I can assure you he is not me, in that way. No, believe me, if I thought his methods could have been reconciled in any way to our values – to my values -- I would not have shot him down. But it was beyond my power to save him. For our mission to live, my son may have died. Now I must live with the choice I’ve made and the pain of that loss.” Zehntar Sr. paused. “You know, in many ways I had lost him already, years ago. ‘How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child’ – true words by your own poet.”
“I cannot deny your selfless act, and I can imagine how you feel now,” said Curriel in a momentarily kind tone. “But that does not change what is the right action for me now.”
“And what,” replied the still melancholy Zehntar, “is the right thing, commander Gosip? Think about what is right for you. Are you not a good and fair person, a strong and benevolent leader? Then what is best for you must surely be best for your people. A future of peace and cooperation…”
“Enough of your smooth talk!” Snapped Cleranne. There was silence as she paced a few steps in either direction, then stopped, studying the annoying, handsome, middle aged Symmetry Man. Moments later, with a wave of her hand she issued her command to her rebel guards; her decision was made.
A chemical bath cleansed the subject. Robotic arms wielding sterilized needles and surgical knives extracted blood, bone marrow, and other internal cells for analysis. While the samples were tested by the machine, its twenty mechanical hands retooled with lasers and snaking camera probes and clamp-like retractors. The chest cavity was opened, and the robot retooled again. Nearly as soon as the freshly synthesized blood was ready to be injected into the subject’s system, his new bionic heart was undergoing its final connections.
Inside its host who only minutes before was a dormant shell, the new pump began its mundane but life-giving career. Outside, the unfeeling appendages continued working. The job at hand now was repair of the burns sustained in the fiery crash. Syringes were held at the ready to correct undesired fluctuations in any of the now-breathing subject’s closely monitored vital signs. Knives and lasers in orchestrated motions removed the damaged dermis from the space traveler’s face, hands, and arms. Close behind, another set of android digits implanted mini drug capsules which over time would ensure the recovering body’s acceptance of the new tissue about to be woven into place. This fabric, a polymer based fabric impregnated with living cells -- harvested from the patient throughout this surgery -- would serve as his covering for now, and soon would grow to be his new skin. This part of the operation, which took as long as all the previous steps combined, completed the emergency treatment, and the still unconscious man was moved to a waiting bed to begin his recovery.
“You tell me, what are we going to do?” Asked Stegulnnidev, still looking in disbelief at the flight data displayed before him. If it was correct, the tiny, vintage, scout ship had travelled near the speed of light, on autopilot, without any guidance from the passenger who arrived all but dead. That is to say, the passenger was dead, technically, preserved in the ship’s near freezing temperatures.
The sentinel measured the ship’s hull for ionization. His partner retrieved the flight recorder information from its computer. The outdated scouting ship measured 20 feet long by almost 15 wide. This was a one or two passenger vehicle, with most of its volume taken up by the engine, fuel, and life support equipment. The craft had come out of nowhere unexpectedly to perform an auto-piloted emergency landing at the Earth Orbiting Space Post where the two sentinels stood watch.
Also on the post was an emergency medical treatment facility staffed by one doctor and assistant, one multitasking dock technician, and the post commander. They were a mix of humans and their conquerors, except for the three military persons who by requirement had to be men or women of the Symmetry race.
“Svatz, what are we going to do?” Repeated Stegulnnidev.
“I’ll tell you what.” said Svatzconnev as he slipped his meter into his bib pocket, “We’re going to lie. Lie like mad. You know, we’ve been here ten years; our tour is up. If we miss the worm hole back because this turns into a federal case, we’ll be stuck here another ten. That is not going to happen.”
“Worm hole” was of course, the popular term for something beyond Svatz’s, or any average person’s, complete comprehension. He knew it was a recurring phenomenon which his Symmetrian scientists had long ago discovered. It allowed their ships, otherwise incapable of traveling faster than light, to navigate from galaxy to galaxy, the way temporary land bridges once provided a means of migration from one continent to another..
“Are you with me, Steggy? This is what we’ll say: The data recorder? It malfunctioned. The antique scout ship? Purchased at auction by a half-human hobbyist.
“But he’s 100% human,” protested Steggy.
“We’re not going to report that, nor that he’s forgotten his own name. Just give the commander the only other information we have – the note that was on the pilot. Since it was stuck in his shirt pocket, and has his blood on it, then he must be “Photeff.” A more Symmetrian name I cannot think of than that, right?
“I guess you could read it that way” Said Steggy,
“Of course you can,” said Svatz, “Go along with me on this and the Commander will buy it. Then the rest is easy; impound the ship, release Photeff-the-passenger to the surface after he has become acclimated to his new heart, and get ourselves to space dock.
“And what about “Photeff’s therapy?”
“Don’t worry” Svatz continued, sensing his fellow sentinel’s apprehension, “you heard the doctor. He may never recover his memory. And after we get home, I don’t care if he does.”
Meanwhile, the commander was passing the time at her desk by reading a currently popular “How to Lead” book. Just finishing a chapter based on the premise that subordinates will try harder and patronize their bosses more if they are always treated unequally, she waved her hand at the holographic display to turn it off. “Hogwash,” she said aloud just as the Sentinels arrived at her door. She motioned them to enter, and they began their meeting on Photeff the spaceman.
“So how,” she asked the two, “did a vintage scout ship travel near the speed of light with an lifeless pilot and arrive just in time to save the poor bastard?”
“We believe, sir,” said Svatz, “that the poor… the pilot, that is, was an amateur flight enthusiast who left from Earth, then encountered meteors and was mortally wounded, then returned under auto pilot.”
The commander was unconvinced. “He would have to be at least half Symmetrian, and have a lot of money, to get his hands on a ship…no, that craft must have been lost or stolen at some point. Possibly long ago, since at the speed it was travelling, he could have jumped here without experiencing the passage of any time himself.
“But sir, that is, has that ever happened before, leaping forward?” asked Stegulnnidev.
“Say it how you want, Private, but really, we are all moving forward in time, it’s just that some are traveling faster than others. For our fatally injured -- as you say meteor-struck -- friend here, less than an hour may have gone by, while on earth, many years passed. The ship, having lost operator input yet still monitoring the pilot’s fading vital signs, went into a preprogrammed chill mode, and executed a near-light-speed search for any post transmitting sick bay beacon. Then it found us. Upon arrival, the life saving transfusion and heart transplant were then automatic. Unfortunately, it will take a formal inquest to determine the complete history here, not only for Photeff but to ascertain the origin of his ship as well.”
The commander looked with a studying glance at Svatz, and then Steggy. The two Sentinels were at a loss for words, but the anguish on their faces was discernable.
“Now,” continued the Commander, “Under our government’s current program to find and decommission any lost ships such as this, you both would, for participating in this inquest, be granted a stipend…. A raise and promotion…”
Steggy turned his gaze toward Svatz, then said “Well, maybe we could look at the flight recorder once more and reanalyze…”
Svatz broke in quickly, “I really wasn’t anticipating this would be necessary, Sir. That is, I have friends and family whom I was expecting to see again soon, just as they were planning on my return.”
“Now Svatzconnev,” replied the Commander. We all know very well that, and you signed up for this, as our home planet travels through space much slower than Earth does, what seems like a ten year absence to us here is much more than that to our loved ones. This is the same phenomenon experienced by our rescued friend. Remember, our first extractions from here, so many generations ago for us, was a mere 200 years ago on Earth. More or less, that is, as the expedition of our planet’s first race had trouble navigating the worm hole, scattering scout ships amongst various landings decades apart, or have you forgotten your history lessons?
Svatz thought about this. “So, let me get this correctly,” he said, “The Investigation would result in higher pay for ten years?”
“That’s right,” replied the Commander.
Svatz looked at Steggy, and each seemed to know what the other was thinking. “You know, Sir, we may be able to help with an inquest, after all, if that’s the push now.”
The commander suppressed a grin, having changed the Sentinels’ course. “So, a hobbiest, you say, heh?”
“Well, That was our original guess, sir,”
“Well, whoever he is, he seems to be no threat to anyone. I only wish he had identification of some kind – didn’t seem to realize he needn’t have left everything behind for near-light travel. Anyway, I don’t need to complicate this issue any further. No, you two will have to get your raises another way. I’ll write commendations for you both. But as for making this a case more trouble than it’s worth, I’m not so inclined.” Then the commander looked at her two underlings one more time, sighed, and issued her order. “Enter your report into the system as you first presented it here. I will sign off.”
“But sir,” the two answered in unison.
“Dismissed,” said the commander.
Photeff and the Historian
Owner, manager, bookkeeper, and head of maintenance, Ed Regel was checking in a new guest. “This stretch is longer than I thought,” said the road weary traveler as he headed to his room with his satchel. Remaining with Ed was another lodger, the graying Photeff. Not as old, perhaps, but physically just as seasoned as Ed and indeed, mentally not as quick.
Always wearing a brimmed hat to protect his surgically repaired countenance from too much sun, Photeff planned to stay a while at Regel Sands. Although the heart implanted in him by his rescuers had given him a new lease on life, his brush with death had left his mind weakened and unsuitable for holding a steady job. Photeff was therefore considered disabled. He was allotted enough retirement credits to comfortably get by, and sent down to the surface to enjoy life. But he had found it difficult to acclimate to the world that seemed new to him -- that is, until he arrived at the resort, where Ed and the lodgers made him feel welcome. They, it seemed, were not put off by his ways which were, at times, scatterbrained.
An historical volume in his hands, Ed was explaining the history of the resort to his guest.
”Hold it.” Interrupted Photeff, “Why is…are books are not everywhere?”
“I believe,” answered Ed, “that I have mentioned once or twice the switchover decades ago of all records to paperless electronic form. I also pointed out that this conversion made records vulnerable to a kind of network sabotage, once known as ‘hacking,’ which then took place during the invasion. That is why, for example, that without a place to start, no history could be found for you, and why likewise none exists for me. Have we got that now?”
“Oh yes… yes,” replied the momentarily dejected Photeff. He meandered away from the desk and surveyed the lobby, settling his view upon a portrait Zehntar and Marina, the Republic’s first leader and his wife, in their finest ceremonial dress and makeup. “How did they do it?” he asked slowly. “Now even, they are few in number…and yet…they dominate.”
“Superior technology,” replied Regel. “That and a few other advantages. Have a seat, Photeff, and I’ll tell you what I know about Symmetry Men.”
“Please do tell,” Photeff answered, Still looking at the print, seeming to have missed the invitation to sit.
Ed had told much of this to Photeff the previous day, and would repeat it again in days to come. In addition to having lost his long term memory, Ed’s guest, and new friend, struggled to remember recent events as well – although on that front he was improving.
“Well,” Ed began, “The invasion was sixty years ago, the year twenty-thirty. It was not a purely military invasion in the usual, historical sense. It began with the introduction and spread of an alien borne malaise-causing virus. The disease spread quickly, infecting all except the small percentage with immunity. Although not deadly, it rendered victims weak for months as would mild tuberculosis. Then began a steady infiltration and overpowering of Earth’s leadership by the advanced, yet very human looking beings known as Symmetry Men. Though numbering only in the thousands, the new race arrived with technology so superior to any on Earth that terrestrial governments faced a choice of either a costly war against undefeatable weapons, or an alliance with aliens and their weapons. With their populations’ strength already diminished by illness, Earth’s leaders chose the latter, first in weak third world countries, then throughout Asia, then Europe. Any who delayed this decision found their enemies, previously inferior, suddenly powerful in alliance with the invaders. Military resistance to the invasion was quickly neutralized in every nation but ours.”
“Yes. Our air force still operated in its own air space, where communications and radar systems could not be disabled by the invaders. And the U.S. had the only anti-aircraft systems capable of, on occasion, striking and destroying fighters of the invading force. For these reasons, and because of the vast U.S. arsenal of nuclear tactical weapons still held in reserve, the alien race was taking a measured approach to its final conquest.”
Photeff had by now taken the manager’s advice and found a comfortable chair, and in addition had found a friend in the manager’s piebald terrier, who favored Photeff at this moment only because his owner was too busy with his historical speech to provide the ear scratching, which Photeff happily continued while asking again,
“That’s right. Their ruthless and feared leader, Zehntar, from his Siberian headquarters, sent spies to the States to roam cities and gather intelligence, to learn what motivated Americans and what kind of new leader they would elect. Then with selective assassinations and strategic bribes, the Symmetrians put their own men or human “puppets,” into many positions of political power. Yet America’s air defense system was holding out, able to destroy drones and prevent the aliens’ other ships from firing accurately. The mixed government, meanwhile, stood by, powerless, waiting for a victor to emerge.
“Zehntar’s spies, nick-named Frigate Scouts after the magnificent bird we see soaring for days-on-end above us here, had the ability – due to the slower rotation of their home planet -- to wander for many Earth days without rest. Disguised as humans, they blended in with the population and could only be stopped if detected. That’s where the Gosip sisters came in.
“Their first advantage was Native American heritage; antibodies inherited from their Lakota mother gave them a natural immunity to the viruses introduced by the invaders. They were among the few unaffected by the illnesses which took their toll on the health of most other humans. Second, they had their dogs – able to identify the Frigate Scouts by their Symmetrian air, devoid of the earthly scents which terriers love. Finally, the sisters had been bequeathed with knowledge of Symmetrian space vehicles, complete technical specifications found among the journals they inherited.”
“Hold on. I know you said this one time already. Did the dogs help them see the past?”
Ed took a second to process Photeff’s typically misplaced question. “The past? The past… oh yes. No, my dear Photeff, the comment to which you refer, I believe, is that which I made about looking back into time. It was in reference to the way we learn about the past from traces of light in the cosmos. These photons, fired billions of years ago from the muzzle of the Big Bang, and just now reaching us, tell us how the interstellar masses have moved across the universe since the beginnings of time. This ability reminds me of, and impresses me about equally as, what dogs , such as Popeye and Willow Kaine here, have done for millennia. They learn about the past from traces of scent in the air and earth. Whose paths have crossed there, man or critter, what time, which way they went; a whole course of events gone by, newly revealed and relived as atoms left behind are drawn into muzzles of another sort. That was my comment.” On cue, Ed’s chocolate Lab, his other and more loyal canine, rose from napping to collect a few pats from the master
“’Another muzzle.‘ Like that,” opined Photeff in his delayed, concise way.
“Yes, now, where was I? The sisters were recruited by the resistance, won followers, and became leaders. Cleranne Gosip took a command position in the American Forces, and Curriel became her top technology advisor.”
“Wait. Back up one time.” There was a long pause as Photeff formulated his request, alternately opening his mouth as if about to speak, then closing it and scowling in thought. “Why were Native Americans immune to plague of aliens?” he finally asked.
“Well now, that gets us into the question of where the Symmetrian race originated. You see, there are two schools of thought on this. The first says they have ancestors common to our own and therefore share genetics and antibodies, so to speak, with us. This has been all but proven; however, the history of this connection between humans from Earth’s past and today’s Symmetry men has only been explained through speculation, including talk of worm holes and interstellar ‘land bridges’ of negative energy across oceans of dark matter. Due to these uncertainties and others, many still insist Symmetry Men are altogether alien. In any event, it turned out that the evil Zehntar was the son of a benevolent ruler, whom I shall get to in a moment.”
The conversation continued along these lines. Ed described the defeat of Zehntar Jr., and told how the victory was made possible by the Gosip sisters and their rebels who held out until Zehntar Sr. arrived. Ed also explained the Pact made by commander Gosip with Zehntar Sr; how, in order to distinguish himself from his son, Zehntar Sr. borrowed from early, Earthly science fiction and adopted a first name of Conner; how commander Gosip ruled at Conner Zehntar’s side and became known by the name Marina; that together they implemented their ideas for the New Republic; and how, after their long rule was over, the two left Earth to travel the cosmos.
The man with the new heart and repaired countenance listened intently while putting forth a fine effort, though in vain, to satiate the terrier-Popeye’s need for ear-scratching. Often, Photeff would interrupt to have Ed expound further on parts of the story, such as the impassioned speech of Zehntar and his persuasion of Commander Gosip wherein he used (legend-has-it) quotes from Earth’s literature to win her over. These details in turn would prompt further requests, e.g. just who Shakespeare was, “anyway”. As the evening came to a close, the canines returned to their large throw rug, and the good friends, Ed and Photeff, said good night and retired to their own beds.
“Buenos Dias,” said the vacationing Lou Ipson III to a Mexican family he passed while walking on the beach one warm afternoon. “Buenas Tardes,” replied the Mother. Ipson knew some common Spanish phrases, and thus prided himself in his bilingual abilities. “Lingual,” he thought, resembling “Lengua,” Spanish for tongue, and likewise, “tongue” in English also meaning “language.” “Such similarities for peoples who are so different,” said Ipson to himself. Happily oblivious to the illogic of his statement, Ipson paused in thought.
He marveled as a large brown pelican hovered over, then dove into, the waves, resurfacing to float briefly while securing supper in its bill, then taking wing to hunt for more. It was with grace and precision that the great hunter spied and caught its prey. Yet how sad, thought Ipson, that the creature lived so easily, for it could never know what man, who was grounded in reality, had learned through hardship and struggle, forced to invent and create to survive. The bird due to its hunting nature had evolved keen eyesight, yet had no ability to look into itself. For speed of flight it evolved a brain which was lightning fast, yet incapable of profound thinking. Indeed, if such a brain had any thoughts at all, they would live as close to the surface as the fish on which the sky-diving avian fed. And it would then follow, Ipson mused, that without deep thoughts, there could be no memories, and with no memory, no history from which to learn.
As the great pelican flew off in search of more calories, a series of waves, a bit larger than the average, crashed in at Ipson’s feet, soaking his sandals. “Yes you are grounded,” said a voice to Ipson. “But compared to me, you are, like all men, just a bird in the breeze, unaware of a greater meaning .”
Ipson was not sure about the source of this voice, but felt compelled to reply. “Certainly that is not true,” he answered, “for thousands of years we have built civilizations out of nothing more than the very dirt beneath our feet. The wisdom we have gained in the process is immeasurable.”
“Immeasurable,” laughed the Sea, “You see the world within the context of your infinitesimal life. Each generation, revered by you, is merely another wave rolling upon the shore to me. How many thousands of lost ships, millions of souls, billions of dreams are hidden in my depths? What knowledge of life and death lies trapped within my silent, pressurized world? I have watched man’s nation building with great amusement. Those who have conquered my waves momentarily have spread their ideals, their languages, to other lands. Only to disappear in time, as you will. You pride yourself in thoughts profundidad, yet the sum total of man’s awareness is no deeper than ripples on a pond. High flying man, you can be proud of your lunar landings, but compared to me, you have no depth. None at all.” And with that, the sound of the waves resumed, uninterrupted.
Lou Ipson heard the Sea tell him this, but he did not reply, out of tactfulness. For, it appeared, the Sea was unaware of what Science had accomplished, that the sea floor had been mapped and mined, that there was nothing more the oceans could tell man. Still, Lou thought, while some beings had come much farther than others, it was true that all men, all life, had started in the sea. Indeed, all were equal by this logic, he concluded. It was this feeling of egalitarianism which drew Lou Ipson III to the water. That, and today, the unveiling.
Observers were spread out along the beach for miles down the shore from the sculpture. with main population viewing from city across the bay. Many more were gathered where arriving vacationers entered the port – where associated structures themselves formed a small city upon the water.
“Who do you think, Lou?” Photeff had approached the wave-watching Ipson unnoticed.
“God day, Photeff,” said Lou to his fellow Regel Sands patron. “It has to be Zehntar, but your guess is as good as mine.”
“Many think like you, today. Because he ruled first?”
“And he ruled his way,” answered Ipson, who sensed an opportunity to pontificate. “He’ll always be known for his Reverse Darwinism. Remove the institutions that benefit from undesirable behaviors, and those behaviors eventually fade out of the culture.”
“Too much for me,” said Photeff who was enjoying the breeze with his face tilted up in the air.
“Nonsense. A simple example or two will demonstrate. Take jobs. Because of Zehntar, the New Order guarantees everyone their basic needs. They can then work for whatever additional income they want, but the ills of Capitalism have lost their purchase. Like unused appendages, worker abuse and government corruption fade away when people no longer depend on employers for security.”
“That’s a lot. Think I get it, though. Think.”
“Well here’s another,” offered Ipson. “One related to today’s events. We honor leaders, but not the fallen. War memorials are things of the past, and as a result, so is war mongering. “
“The connection is missing for me.”
“By way of analogy, why do we enjoy and benefit from the fruit we grow in our gardens? Because it was there as we evolved. Why did we once accept as granted the notion that in losing a soldier we have gained a hero, or that fighting is nobler than making peace? Because that’s the environment that was there through our history – created in part by glorifying warriors.”
“Oh. Now connecting. Thanks, Lou.” Said Photeff, looking at the far-off countdown clock displayed within the curtain of light. “Two minutes. Soon we will know the answer.”
“Yes,” said Ipson. “Enough of my jibber-jabber. What about you, Photeff – who do you predict?”
“Hoping for Marina. Something about her.”
Lou ceased his lecturing, even resisting his need to comment, when Photeff noted the “good location” of the sculpture, on how the shoreline had been redrawn over the past century by climate change. Instead, the two exchanged few other words as they waited with thousands those final minutes. The crowds were, proportionate to the general population, a mix of eighty-some percent humans, the remainder Symmetry Men. Easy to differentiate visually, the two races nevertheless were obviously of the same, ancient lineage. Evidence of this was plentiful in both complex and simple ways. One plain and ordinary example of this relationship, for example, was that Symmetrians shared the otherwise distinctly human trait of shedding tears as an emotional response. And so, when the luminescent timer had reached zero and the veil of light deactivated, many of each race emoted this way during the moments that followed. Some were responding to the lifelike rendition of Conner Zehntar. Others, many breathless, were awestruck by that of the woman at his side. Abreast Zehntar Sr. was his wife and co-ruler, depicted not as Marina in her ceremonial dress of the New Order, but as Cleranne in her American military uniform.
Standing next to his friends on the shore, amid the gasps and applause, Photeff cried silently as he witnessed this great unveiling. His two softly uttered words were imperceptible to most bystanders, yet they began a healing transformation within Photeff.
Sworl Edge Road
Regel Sands Resort, a modest establishment nestled amongst wind shaped dunes, had once reached uninterrupted to the shoreline. This feature was, of course, of economic importance to the small group of cabins. So when the State first proposed straightening the highway known locally as Sworl Edge Road by rerouting it along the beach, the resort owner resisted. But in the middle of the ensuing legal fight, he relented and simply gave the waterfront portion of his land to the government. He later explained that a certain young woman, the one taken from her loved ones years prior in a rainy-day collision on the bendy, two-lane stretch, had appeared to him, placing her hand on his shoulder as he was meeting with officials. Others present reported water streaming from his eyes; he swore the tears were not his.
Three generations later, the automobiles which travel Sworl Edge Road, as any road, continually share information -- with each other, with weather monitoring devices, with guidance satellites -- and thus drive themselves with a perfect safety record. Nevertheless, the highway remains re-routed, which means that lodgers cross the highway to get to their strolls on the beach, which they nearly always take in pleasant weather. There, they enjoy views of “Rushmore East” across the bay. The recently completed towering sculpture of the New Order’s founding couple can also be seen from the resort’s office, where on this fine day the manager is at his desk.
A weather-beaten wisp of a man, he has strong hands, hands with veins pronounced in relief on their backs -- a branching V pattern on one, more parallel trunks on the other. Presently they hold notes in document form, which he reviews thoughtfully and then sets aside. He reaches for his keyboard and begins to type, entering the following without interruption:
My name is Eddie Regel. At least, that is the name I adopted long ago. The first part I knew, but my surname was gone from my memory, as were all other details of my life, when I arrived here. That was the year Twenty-Fifty. I was young then, more than a boy, but not yet a man; everyone soon referred to me as English Eddie. And to complete my identity, they tagged me with Regel (rhymes with eagle), in honor of the owners of the Sea-side cabins where I was taken in. I am still here, and in fact I run the place now, so there was no need to change its name, Regel Sands Resort. I am of, shall we say, retirement age, though gladly in good health; nothing much has diminished over these years, in my opinion, apart from my accent.
I’m not a storyteller by any stretch, but events of the past two years are fresh in my mind and I have often thought of recording some of them – that is, those pertaining to Photeff. So, when a currier arrived one day last week, bringing the first of various documents I had requested, the information they contained induced me to write this, a story about my friend.
Roughly my age, Photeff arrived two years ago, outwardly normal save a few scars from his surgeries and a slight limp in his stride. Personality-wise, however, he related rather poorly to adults, though rather well to pets, as would a child. And it was soon apparent that he had trouble speaking at times, occasionally finding it difficult to follow a conversation or to find the right words.
Yet, he had found me.
Photeff was saved by Symmetry Men and their technology at the Space Post where his tiny, auto-piloted ship crashed. They replaced his pierced heart (a space meteor, they surmised), and repaired his burned skin (the fiery landing.) His journey’s point of origin, in both time and place, was a mystery, as his ordeal left him unable to recollect, similarly to me, anything about himself. This space-travel induced amnesia was not unheard of. Incredibly, in fact, dozens of others like him had been brought from the past by Symmetrian scout ships, I being one early example. It seems that the first wave of Symmetry Men had navigated imperfectly the topology of space, each of their tiny ships reaching Earth at its own time, with arrivals scattered across the nineteenth, twentieth, and even twenty-first centuries. Realizing their error after landing, they re-embarked upon their missions; each little craft would jump near light speed to the future, often taking a human subject along, to reconnect, post invasion, with the newly established Symmetrian culture on Earth. A side effect of these trips, a not fully understood impairment of the passenger’s faculties, commonly resulted in memory loss.
Also, it was normal, for reasons of safety, for personal effects to be left behind – Photeff, accordingly, had only a handwritten note, found in his shirt pocket and from which they divined his name. Interestingly, what he lacked was a Symmetrian pilot. Photeff had arrived alone.
Photeff was transferred to Earth’s surface after recovering from his physical injuries. By then he had corresponded with me once already, having located me through a search for anyone who might share his mental ailment. I, with my particular kind of memory loss, fit the bill, so he sought me out and became a lodger here.
My tutoring of Photeff started when he wanted to talk about his reconstructive surgery. They had done an amazing job, which by their standards necessarily included perfectly proportioned features, of course. So Photeff, aware of this look, proposed the possibility that he was in fact a Symmetry Man. I assured him he was not and immediately realized that I had been insensitive, as his disappointment was clear even through his new face. “You see,” I said in an attempt to recover, “your smile is quite one sided, which gives you a most human, special appearance.” Considering this, Photeff then asked about the origin of the Symmetrian race, and why they were so similar to, yet different from humans. I explained what I knew. I talked about how humans and Symmetrians could have common ancestors, but that another theory contended the two races developed independently from each other. For example, I explained further, the honeybee and the hummingbird took different evolutionary routes, yet were similar in sharing the ability to hover, and in their passion for nectar. In this way, so too could an alien race evolve to match humans in so many respects.
When Photeff asked for clarification of the first theory, that of Common ancestors, I suggested he read the Symmetrian legend of the Cossack. That is when Photeff surprised me. ‘I’m almost sure that I used to love reading,’ he said, ‘but whenever now I try -- the most terrific headaches.’ Which I took to mean that he could no longer read but was too proud to admit the fact. So I made a fateful decision; I offered to tell him the story. After that, together, we spent many days searching for his past, hoping to kindle recollections in his mind, but aware, as I knew too well, that his amnesia might turn out to be complete and permanent.
Our journey of discovery began, as I mentioned, with the legend of the Cossack. I relayed the events of that tale in a concise fashion, starting with the squadron of space travelers arriving via a worm hole, a cosmic event that set fire to the skies above Siberia in 1908. I told of the international earth expedition led there by a Cossack, and how the group, including even their horses, then left with the visitors. I explained how the confused Cossack had fired his rifle at one of the small ships which he felt was abducting a scientist, and how the alien pilot, shot and dying beside his craft, watched the little spaceship fly away in an auto rescue mode with its lone human passenger. At this point Photeff‘s eyes brightened. ‘I remember that,’ he said. ‘I was there. But how can that be?’
I assured Photeff that he was okay, that it was normal to have those thoughts, thoughts of events having happened to him which could not have. Was he taking the memory drugs? I asked. The ones that helped the mind repair itself, but which could, as a side effect, cause feelings of déjà vu, and of empathy with characters in history or in literature? “Yes,” he replied, “I was given those drugs, but … so real.” And then hanging his head very dejectedly, he added “So I am not a Cossack, and I am no Symmetry Man.”
After that episode, I kept my opinions to myself. Most recently, for example, Photeff was certain he knew Cleranne Gosip. This was after I had taught him about Cleranne’s role in the resistance against the Symmetry Men.
Photeff had become entranced by a portrait of the Symmetrian invader Zehntar and his human wife, Marina, who together were the first rulers of the New Order. The conquest of Earth, I explained, was nearly complete in 2030, when Cleranne’s leadership gave the resistance the upper hand. She had been bequeathed by her uncle, I told Photeff, with the secrets of Symmetrian technology, which the resistance put to good use against the aliens. A truce was reached, and to the surprise of all, Cleranne became Zehntar’s partner. Cleranne, I explained to Photeff, became Marina.
Photeff’s wanted to know to know more about this uncle; why did he give his secrets to his niece?
“Guilt, so they say,” I said. Reportedly, I explained, the uncle had found on his property a lost Symmetrian scout ship, studied it, and eventually understood its technology. Not trusting the government, he never revealed his find. He protected his secret too well, though, resulting in a gruesome scene; when Cleranne’s father trespassed on the remote site, he was shot and killed, his body left to coyote’s and raptors; only a lot of sand-soaked blood remained where Ronald Gosip had been dragged away. Cleranne’s uncle maintained that it was a hunting accident, but, not trusting the government, he fled. His documents, explaining the spacecraft in great detail, reached Cleranne, but neither he nor the little scout ship were ever found.
“Then perhaps I am the uncle. I feel sure that I know Cleranne.” said Photeff. That is what Photeff said -- but then, he had been as sure about the Cossack and every other character; and besides, “Photeff,” an Americanized version of “Bvothev,” was still a Symmetrian name, which certainly meant he had been born after the invasion. Even so, I resisted the urge to cure him of his delusion. What purpose would that have served? “Perhaps you are,” I replied instead. “Perhaps you are Cleranne’s uncle, and you will someday be able to recall more details of your deed.”
The wisdom of my reply remains uncertain, for shortly thereafter, Rushmore East, which had been constructed entirely behind scaffolding, was presented in a grand unveiling. The likenesses were, as expected, of the First-Couple. But it wasn’t Marina as she was commonly remembered -- it was the young Cleranne, leader of the resistance, beside Zehntar. Photeff watched the ceremony spellbound from the shore. His only words were “Dear Cleranne.”
The next day, Photeff set out from Regel Sands Resort.
He left behind a very gracious thank-you letter for me. He needn’t have; he had given me much already. For as I had tried during that time to help Photeff remember his rightful place in the world, and as he likewise consoled me in my search for mine, it became clear that a man is never homeless so long as he has a place in the heart of another.”
English Eddie saves his work, satisfied with his first effort, and begins filing the documents he has received concerning his friend Photeff. These include known cases of lost Symmetrian ships beginning in the late 1800’s, along with the files specific to Photeff’s craft, and the official report of his arrival.
Eddie examines once again the copied image of a charred, red-stained paper and the hastily scribed three-word message to “Bvothev.” Eddie studies this and begins to shake his head. “No,” he says to himself with a sigh, “…no… no.”
Through the office window has been a steady rasp from the inland side of the road, a sound broken only now and then by passing traffic. Eddie lets the buzz relax him, and having one of his random thoughts, opens a file to save it. “Poetry,” he says.
“Go ahead,” replies his computer.
“Heat haze on a summer’s day, delivers his communiqué…All for now.”
Eddie rises slowly to leave, then pauses at the door and glances back. “It’s Brother,” he says softly to no one. “Good Luck, Brother.”
On a crisp fall morning a gentleman of retirement age reads the inscription on a memorial overlooking an ancient battleground. He has been coming to the remote site almost every day since he’d found it a year before. The walk up the well built but seldom used steps is great exercise, and the secluded park like clearing the perfect place to read a book, or enjoy music. The fresh air and ocean view aid the man’s processing of memories which gain clarity every day. This day upon arriving at the memorial he once again admires the inscription carved into a great boulder upon the bluff.
“Curriel Gosip, 2000 -2089, Leader, Warrior, Sister. Loved by many, admired by all, her spirit was strong, her heart was pure.” reads the first part.
Then the man, wearing a brimmed hat and long sleeves to protect his surgically repaired skin from too much sun, smiles, feeling proud that he has found the right persons, that they have agreed to his proposal, that in fact they have heartily endorsed it and the words he has chosen. And he reads the second part -- a recently added inscription in matching font:
“Her voice was ever gentle, soft, and low – an excellent thing in a woman.”
The flat, polished granite, cool initially on the man’s palm, warms where he keeps his hand against it. “Rest in Peace,” he says. Then he smiles for another moment before moving to find the trunk of a lone beech-wood against which to lean and enjoy the view. And he enjoys music – not the classics that he usually likes to hear, but instead this morning he listens to the sea breeze and its song in the bright colored maples. For, while the old tunes are useful for recharging synapses in his newfound memory, this day will be spent by Photeff enjoying the sights and sounds around him, and the feel of the rising sun – the here and now. It is important, he has learned, to live in the present as well as to remember the past, to do both, to have that balance. Indeed, balance in all things has become the tenet by which, through which, he will enjoy what remains of his time on Earth.
On the eve of the winter holiday, a leathery old human stands on the beach along Sworl Edge Road and watches the waves form as a cool wind picks up. A uniformed patrolwoman on horseback approaches at a gallop, halting her chestnut mare in front of the man. The rider’s almost -human countenance has a proportional, pleasing to the eye feature common to every Symmetry Man, a look they had genetically engineered, it was said, to end discrimination based on appearance -- the most stubborn and last remaining type of prejudice in their world. “Good evening, sir, can you identify yourself?” she asks, simultaneously scanning for the same information.
“Good evening, I am Edwin Regel,” replies the walker.
“Please be informed, stormy weather is imminent,” warns the rider, who reaches down to hand over an envelope. Then, petting the mare’s withers, she sits upright in the saddle and starts the horse off at a trot.
The man, once again alone, opens his letter and reads the short message from his friend, Lou. Near its end, he faces into the stiff sea breeze, and recites the final sentence aloud for his own comfort:
“I don’t have the specifics of his death other than the beech tree scene, but I will pass along one detail that I hope is true – they tell me he had a smile on his face”
The man returns the note to its envelope, and muses to himself, “A smile slanted to one side I’m willing to bet, whether he realized that or not.”
As the dark blue water’s surface begins to chop, the man seems to stare blankly around him: skyward to a passing Symmetry ship; then to land and vehicles on the highway; and finally, to the long stretch of beach and the courier riding away.
“Horses,” says English Eddie thoughtfully to himself. “I remember horses.”
Intertwined with events of our past, the journey of a lost alien ship ends centuries from now in the orbit of a post-invasion Earth. The vessel's lone passenger must piece together the history he has missed and the identity he has lost.