Neither Romeo Nor Juliet...|
My dream come true. Romeo, my first major Shakespearean role landed in my lap this morning, nine thirty-one sharp. When Johnson L, my midget agent (“don’t you dare call me crap like size challenged American or similar, or I’ll bust your balls... midget and proud of it...”) woke me up this morning with the news, my mood changed from the initial murder first degree to the following let’s have a party.
“Johnson L, my sweet little charmer, if you were now here, by my side, I would have taught you right away how wonderfully beautiful the making of children could be...” ...to which she responded with warm honey dripping from that incredible sexy voice of hers...
“Oh, my darling Roger, dying to... here... do you want to talk to Big JJ about it?...” making me slam the phone back on its cradle even before the final question-mark sign could have registered into my brain. Big JJ was Johnson L’s black, two hundred and fifty pounds heavy, six foot six tall husband, madly in love with her, and remarkably missing any trace of a sense of humor. Those two were a real perfect fit of extremities. And Johnson L’s agency Emerging Little Talents the best one for emerging newcomers like myself. Not that I considered myself little in talent, but based on my remarkable little success, I surely fitted in the emerging category. My latest major role was a talking tomato in a Heinz ketchup publicity video, and from Tomato to Romeo... I let out a scream which did not bother my deaf cat, Broadway. I looked at her, pissed off at my impossibility to share my sudden joy with somebody, be it even a cat. Not only deaf, but probably the only cat in the world able to sleep spread legged on its back. Certainly the proud owner of more than one, single deficiency, just like its master.
I decided the event was nevertheless worthy of celebration. I had a wild shower to wake myself completely up, chose to sacrifice a new pair of socks to go with my worn out tennis shoes, pulled on my jeans, a tee shirt marked Big Black and Proud, Big JJ’s present for my birthday (“thin white boys need something to be proud of...” he said, and he meant it), and phoned Kitty, my latest blonde intellectual conquest, one year and running strong. She was trying to penetrate Hollywood with script writing and Johnson L was her agent too.
“I love you...” I yelled into the mouthpiece, and after a short silence I heard the sound of a rusted file scrapping across pieces of cast iron, and somehow formulating the words...
“Who the hell is that?”
I clicked shut after the Who but I knew the rest of it by heart. I checked fearfully my different body parts, ensuring everything was in its rightful place. In my enthusiasm I had pushed by mistake the call-back and it was Big JJ who picked it up. I immediately formulated some generic prayers suitable for whichever God was on duty at the time, then dialed again, this time carefully checking each digit.
“Kitty?...” and after hearing her blessed soft voice answering me, I allowed myself yelling again my I love you in her ear. I heard her giggle at the other end of the line.
“That’s what happens when you smoke pot for the first time.”
“Kitty, sweetie, you know I wouldn’t touch pot with a pole. Tell me, do you want to go dancing somewhere, I feel like dancing...”
“Roger...” there was doubt in her voice, “it is ten thirty am, are you sure it was not something stronger than pot?”
“Kitty, sweetie, pretty... listen good girl - I’ve got it! Romeo is mine!” I screamed the last part and I could hear her wild screaming at the other end of the line as well. When we both ended the phonetic show we decided to celebrate in style and spend all of the afternoon and the night at the Flamingo hotel downtown, a poor copy of the Vegas one but at least they had a suite with jacuzzi, wide screen TV, a copious breakfast, and a big, big bed. Of course, also the price was within my limited range.
“Kitty, you know...” I confided as we were lying naked in bed after our fist love session... “you are almost as good as Johnson L...” to which she did not respond immediately. For a moment I was afraid her last encounter with Big JJ had proven his lack of humor to be contagious. Then she looked at me with those big, blue, beautiful saucer eyes of hers, got hold of some unmentionable intimate parts of my body in her left hand, and murmured in my left ear.
“Roger, you know... Big JJ may tear you limb from limb even if this is a lie. I will tear just one limb off if this is true.” She smiled angelically and somehow I knew she meant it. Not that Kitty had any competition when it came to bed matters. Perfection still had things to learn from her.
The stage test was a formality, still, it had to be passed. The audition was at 9am sharp, and I made sure I had at least two hours of undisturbed sleep before the waking up of the following morning. I paid the room bill with instructions not to wake up Kitty at any time before noon, mounted my coughing motorbike and zoomed to the Chinese Theater where the audition was to take place. My undefined prayers answered, Johnson L was there without her monster big black shadow, so there was no chance he might have linked my voice to the phone call of the previous morning. She sent me a loving smile, a wink, and made a V sign with her right hand. It was in my pocket, I knew it, but this time I refrained from I-love-you’ing anybody. I just picked up the text and skimmed through it. Not that I needed any text in my hand - I knew all of Bill’s characters by heart for all of his plays, since my raw age of fifteen. Inclusive the female roles. A kind of mania I had. I looked shortly at the title page just so the director would not think I was being impolite, and whispered in a barely audible aside to Johnson L.
“Hey JL, are you sure these guys are serious? Look, they even misspelled poor Bill’s name, they wrote it Shakespeere.”
She blinked in real slow motion these natural, exaggeratedly long, eyelashes of hers, and let out a soft sighing...
“Ha, ha, ha. Real funny. I am sure even Big JJ would have had a fit over this one. Now, Roger, you go there and blast those guys off their chairs, or I come after you and blast you dead. Got me, my dear protégé?”
“Got you dear master sex bomb.”
She meant it and I meant it and we both meant it. I knew she liked being flirted with. As long as she had full control. It seemed to me she never had anything but full control.
The audition was perfect. Actually it turned into a mini repetition of the play, and with the exception of one unimportant role, all the present candidates got the job. Juliet was a beauty, and I was glad Kitty was not around. Not that she had anything to worry - we tried a kiss that steamed the insides of the director’s eyeglasses, yet in my mouth it was as if I kissed a frozen lamp-post in mid winter. I considered myself lucky that my tongue didn’t stick to her teeth.
Johnson L left shortly after the repetition started, all her candidates got their roles, now she was free to go and make some more money elsewhere. I rushed home, it was well after dark, I was hungry and thirsty for a chat with Kitty. She was in my apartment, having taken the day off at the shop where she was temping while waiting for the big break, and eager to hear about my first day as a real actor. I stormed into the room, picked her in my arms and kissed her till I felt blisters start creeping onto my tongue. I had to get rid of that frozen lamp-post taste. Then I let her down but kept my hands tight around her. She squirmed impatiently.
“So, talk bastard or I will start banging your head with a frying pan,” she panted. I fed Broadway, then we went to a small pizza joint, ordered a giant size quatro-fromaggi (it’s always a mistake to order food when you’re hungry) and I told her everything while munching mouthfuls, including almost everything about beautiful Juliet.
“They are professionals to their marrow” I told her. “Funny they have misspelled Shakespeare. They wrote it with e-e-r at the end.” She let out a short joyful laughter. “Hey, what’s there to laugh about?”
“Well, guy makes joke, girl laughs, isn’t that the way it goes?”
“What joke did I make?” I puzzled, and I think for a short second we were both serious.
“You said e-e-r and complained about it. Not a big joke but it falls under the passing category.”
“Sorry, I am still lost here. What’s the joke, even the small one?”
She frowned, then decided it was not worth the effort to fight about it and kill a perfect evening, therefore she made her final statement.
“Mr. Roger, that’s the way it is correctly spelled, s-h-a-k-e-s-p-e-e-r-e, and I don’t know exactly what goal you are following with this useless discussion. Because all I want is to finish my pizza, get five minutes of wild sex with you, and then go back to my apartment. I have to wake up tomorrow at 6am.”
I knew it when it was pointless to argue any further, not to mention killing the open ended promise of wild sex, so I swerved into pizza talk, had my stomach filled, my five minutes fulfilled, and then I was alone at home, a bit perplex, but hanging it all on fatigue, starvation, sex drive, subliminal advertising and candid camera experiments. I sank into a satisfied exhaustion sleep, Broadway acting as a fur hat around my head, and the only dream I remembered at my late morning wakeup was the one of Broadway barking. I woke up with a shudder, shook awake my poor cat just to make sure it was not barking, filled up her bowl with milk (actually, I was still not sure, after having Broadway for three years, if it was a she or a he), and went to have my morning shower. There were no plans for the day so I decided in favor of a short visit to the gym. My growing belly needed some urgent mending. I opened the computer to check for any mail, then on a wild impulse I made a net search for ‘Shakespeare’. I got back a few hundreds of hits, which left me frowning and with a cold touch in my afore mentioned bit of outproportioned belly. After a countable few seconds of hesitation, I typed in a blind fingers flurry s-h-a-k-e-s-p-e-e-r-e on the keyboard, and before any regret had time to get hold of my senses I pushed the return key. Tens of thousands.
If Johnson L was at the root of this practical joke I promised myself I was going to stretch her to Big JJ’s length and breadth, Big JJ or no Big JJ around. I went over to my library and took out my brand new collection of Bill’s complete works. The e-e-r spelling was on all external and internal covers, and even in the prefaces. Whoever did this job did it immaculately, I thought to myself, while pictures from the movie The Game kept rushing through my head. Followed my visit to the attic, where I picked up an old, dusty, untampered with suitcase frightening in the process some peaceful spiders out of way, opened it and rummaged inside. Two of my high-school notebooks were the treasure I was looking for, and which I found effortlessly. I was probably shivering a bit when I opened the first notebook, looked through its pages to my ugly handwriting covering most of the space, till I got to this one page where... holly molly... the same wrong spelling in my own handwriting? I believe that till this moment I knew it was a strange farce of some kind. And after this moment I knew it might not have been. And I started feeling the strange effects of sudden panic getting hold of me. What the hell was going on here, was I schizo or something?
I didn’t try the second notebook, I knew by now what I would find. And as I was sure my sanity was intact, I jumped on my bike, rode into a village twenty miles away and stormed in an all night books shop. Absolutely no doubt about it, e-e-r all the way, inclusive in a Spanish version they had there. By the time I got back home I was shivering uncontrollably and did the only sensible thing I could do - went to bed. We started serious repetitions next day and this nightmare would certainly have a sensible explanation.
I reached the Chinese Theater half an hour before repetition time. I didn’t lay yet any claims to stardom, thus didn’t want to start with late coming. Of course, it was not the only reason. I wanted time to think and I wanted to have the right inspirational framework around me. And what better framework than a theater preparing a Shakespearean play, thinking of course of the name in my kind of spelling. I had never been a sci-fi fan, never believed in ghosts, but I had this oppressing feeling that something happened which was so undefined, that I might soon become one. Unless if I woke up and found out it was a well designed dream. Which I knew damn well it was not. The other actors kept pouring in, my ‘cool’ Juliet being the last one (already star complex? I winced to myself).
“Hi Juliet,” I shouted trying to unwind and sound friendly.
“Ha, ha, ha...” was her dry response, and why did my blood suddenly run cold hearing her repeating Johnson L’s refrain from last night? I picked up my text, what the hell goes on here... Romeo and Ophelia?! The repetition went through flawlessly, we concentrated on the first act, mostly declaiming and little acting, and except for the need to have to use the name Ophelia, everything was fine. If seeing the world around you changing visibly was fine, that is... There was no need for me to research further, I guessed. I would find even in Shakespeare’s own handwriting in England the name Ophelia as Romeo’s partner. It seemed to me I was taking the changes quite well, the first moments of panic leaving place to adaptation... who was I kidding? I was scared like hell, and seeing Big JJ in the theatre all by himself waiting for someone, did not improve any my rapidly dwindling self confidence. I hung back as much as I could, hoping to see Big JJ go away with whichever person for whatever reason, probably at Johnson L’s request, but he waited on his chair and my belly started rumbling. Maybe he did recognize my voice on the phone? Well, I couldn’t delay my exit any longer and I tried to not see him on my way out.
“Hey, Roger, I want a word with you.” The rusted file was grating my auditory system again, and I could either run or answer. I answered.
“Hi, Big JJ. You waiting for me?” as if there was any doubt.
“Yeah.” He stood up and came towards me, stopping one foot away, and looking me straight into the eyes with such intensity that I was afraid I was going to faint in three extra seconds. “JL told me something funny about you, and I want to check it.” That’s it, I was a dead man, she told him about my innocent flirt and my next acting would be as organic food for chickens. He put his hand inside his jacket and anything could come out of there - a gun, a knife, a baseball bat or even a bazooka. But... a CD? He shoved it under my nose and grated. “What do you see?”
Well, I didn’t think I saw anything special, but being still alive meant she didn’t rat on me. It boosted a bit my confidence, and my trust in artistic agents and protective Gods. I took the record from his hand, since it seemed that’s what he wanted. It was a normal run of the mill jazz record, a mix of Louis Armstrong, Ella... I was going to give it back to him with sincere regrets, and apologies, and “have to be home by...” when I froze in mid motion. I looked at it again, more carefully this time. Yes, it was a jazz record alright, only that they somehow spelled jazz with one single z. I looked up at Big JJ and I could swear it was the first time in his life that this guy sensed something close to fright.
“Why do you come to me with this thing?” I asked, still unsure if we were on the same wavelength.
“JL told me about your spelling problem.” He took the record back and looked at it at length. “She KNOWS that jazz is spelled with one single z. And it seems to me that we are the only two in this world who know differently.”
We went to a bar and I decided to do the honors. If it was the end of the world then who needed so much cash as I was carrying in the pocket at the time, twenty seven dollars and eighteen cents? I got myself a Budweiser, he took a double Chivas Regal leaving me with seventeen cents exactly, and we sat in a corner trying to examine the issue philosophically, rather than scientifically. Not that we were great at any of these disciplines, I the actor and he the bodyguard in love with the body he was guarding. But I felt some kind of brotherhood in misery, and I was surprised to find behind the awesome appearance and scrapping voice, a hidden teddy bear.
“...and don’t you dare tell anybody or I’ll break you in two...” and he meant it. He opened the discussion with a statement that I found pretty interesting. “Listen Roger,” he said, “if this... hmmm... whatever, is limited just to one ‘a’ and one ‘z’ then the hell with it and I can keep on living. But what if we keep seeing changes appearing that apply to everybody else and only we two are left out of it? What if everybody suddenly has a tail and only we two don’t?” We were so tense that this remark caused a hysterical explosion of laughter on both sides, and the bar owner probably decided he could dilute the Chivas even a bit more. Big JJ certainly had a point there, or rather two points - does it stop or does it go on? And are we in or are we out? Of course we did not mention the third point of concern, this one being - are we both crazy or slaves to some mass hallucination, or is something really happening? We decided something was really happening, therefore we had to keep in touch and try some subtle investigation. We weren’t doing anything wrong, not yet, but we both had a nice relationship we wanted to keep, and didn’t want to risk it in any way. I got home around 10 pm and called Kitty.
“Hi Roger. So, how was your first day? How was Ophelia this time?” I was going to ask her how does she spell jazz, but clearly it was not necessary. I refused her offer to come and visit me for an X rated encounter, raising an imaginary eyebrow on her face the way I sensed it in her voice.
“Roger, are you sure Ophelia is only a lamp post?”
“Kitty, I am sure YOU are only the sun,” this remark changing the raised eyebrow into raised mouth corners. I preferred it this way, and pretending I had to repeat some passages for next day, we parted for the night. I immediately attacked the internet. This was what I agreed with Big JJ to start with. I would try chatting rooms and he would try wild searches. We had no idea what we were looking for, but it did not make much sense that we were just two with this sickness. There had to be more, and maybe some may have had an idea of what was happening here.
Several days passed. Now, that I was sensitized, I kept a watchful eye for other discrepancies, but it was very rare that I found any real ones. Most of what I thought to identify were just normal local variations, like that twenty dollars bill with Grant’s picture on it. Of course, it had to be simple counterfeit as it was a single bill of its kind, and I had to spend half a day at the police station answering hundreds of question as if I was the criminal. And on top, they confiscated it and I had to hitch hike back to the theater.
The first physical materialization of the phenomenon, or at least one that pointed to much deeper changes happening, was fingerpointed to me by Big JJ.
“When did you lately buy a music CD?” he called and asked, about two weeks later.
“When was the last time I had fifteen bucks and a full belly?”
“OK, listen Roger, go to a shop and imagine you want to buy. Tell me what you see?” I understood it had something to do with our “research”, so I went right away three blocks down from my place, a shop called SEE-DEE, and entered browsing around. I didn’t know what I was looking for, so I played shop, selected a few I would have bought if I had the money, and checked the prices. I stopped after the third one. The first was 15.01$, the second was discounted to 9.51$ and the third was a collection at 31$. I did not have to go any further, though I started looking at other prices, just for confirmation. With a few exceptions, all followed the pattern. I got out of the shop promising to come back when I would come into an inheritance, and looked at several close by shops - a fast food, a jewelry shop, a car rentals. Maybe till now I did not really get shivers, I was starting to for real. Then I went home, opened my computer and started looking up essays on the subject of pricing psychology and marketing. This was, my God, this was a deep one. Hundreds of texts supporting, based on researches, the pricing system of adding a least significant money unit to the round price, rather than deducting it. I remembered myself always laughing at 14.99$ and 9.49$ and so on, the philosophy being of de-emphasizing the big numbers. And here I suddenly read serious marketing texts supporting the approach of allowing the customer to bargain down, for the psychological effect, the price to its rounded value. Oh, my God, this was not a different letter or name, this was a different way of life. I suddenly felt like sex, who knows - like Big JJ said it - we might suddenly have found one day soon we were the only ones with no tails around. The change, even though we could not nail down when it started, seemed to gather momentum. Would it reach a steady state and stop? I was not in the mood of let’s wait and see, I was in the mood of let’s do today what I may not be able to do tomorrow. I called Kitty and asked her over. Poor girl, she worked a double shift to cover up for a sick friend, and I woke her up. But Kitty was Kitty, grumbling was a dirty word in her dictionary, actually she sounded keen to find what was so important to talk about (she asked me three times, a bit disappointed actually: are you sure it’s not sex you want?). She was even more intrigued once she got to my place, and found me waiting for her outside the apartment, where I took her hand, ushered her into the waiting cab... “...Hey, JL, Big JJ, what are you doing here...” then looked at me with a both accusing and demanding regard. I did not want to play it too mysteriously, but I did not want the cab driver to be part of the story, so I asked her to have a bit of patience. Actually she guessed from Johnson L’s shoulders move, that she was in the same darkness as herself, and this eased a bit the tension I sensed in her body.
We got to a small, not fancy but high quality Italian restaurant (Johnson L’s choice, and I knew I wouldn’t have to pay), chose a bit of a more remote corner at my request, ordered appetizers and when the waiter left with our choice, Johnson L started with no introduction:
“OK, guys, the first miracle happened - you two are buddies, and trust me, this is bigger than the parting of the Red Sea. Now I need a second miracle, this second one being - understanding the reason for this affection you two share. I doubt if this second miracle will happen, but... Roger, you are the actor, the scene is yours.”
They all looked at me, the women amused, Big JJ impenetrable, and my weak reflection in the closed window... was it perspiring?
I may have been a great actor, but I was a lousy story teller, so by the time I finished my short exposé I knew both of them, Kitty and JL, were on the verge of exploding in laughter. Only the waiter that suddenly appeared with mozzarella-tomato for all of us prevented the loudest laughter in history from erupting. Kitty attacked the food immediately, as if hesitating would maybe make it disappear in line with my story, however JL, after the first convulsions, stayed pensive.
“If I wouldn’t know you two guys so well, I would just have a healthy laugh or ask for a barred-windows ambulance for you two. But with Big JJ’s imagination rating a zero plus, and with friendship between you two rating a zero minus, you get me here wondering. Not that I know what to wonder about. Let’s eat, I take disturbing news much better on a full stomach.”
I couldn’t blame them for acting the way they did. Imagine someone comes to you one Monday and tells you it is actually Tuesday. You tell him - thank you, cross the street to the other side and hope the right kind of services will deal with the guy before he does some damage to himself or others. The food was excellent, and even Big JJ let out a few smiles over the pointless discussion that developed around ET and if there should be a part two, as rumors persisted, or better let it bask forever in its one-and-only glory.
“I wish I could phone-home to get an answer to this riddle,” said Big JJ smiling, and I felt a chilling shiver run down my spine. Big JJ never joked, never in his life. And across the table, wonder of wonders, Johnson L seemed to freeze in mid munching hearing him utter these words and regarded him with the intensity of a worm turned cobra.
“Big JJ? You made a joke? Is this the end of the world of something?” Of all the stupid irrelevancies that could have proved what we were trying to tell them about, it seemed to me that this one remark was suddenly some kind of temporary eye opener. To me it was even more, it was plain frightening. Was I losing my only other ally in this strange adventure I was living through, was he joining the “masses”? Did Johnson L really have for a moment this insight into something happening and would she keep it one day from now? Our regards crossed - Big JJ, Johnson L and myself, with Kitty mostly oblivious to the undercurrent and slave to the culinary temptation spread on the table.
The waiter came with the bill and Johnson L, who liked to feel “real” money in her hands, paid with real dollar bills. With Big JJ at her side she was never afraid to carry this kind of money. The waiter was about to pick up the bills when I let out a shout and grabbed the wad from her hand. They all looked at me as if I had finally flipped for real. I kept looking fascinated at the top bill, a twenty dollars bill, and the mottled picture it carried was clearly not that of a beardless Jackson, but that of a cleanly bearded Grant.
I told them my story when we left the restaurant. I did not include it in my earlier recount since I thought it was irrelevant. But now that meaningless event suddenly blew out of proportion, and the way it looked to me... did these changes happen around me before they happened for real, was I some kind of catalyst to the things happening, and same with Big JJ? We decided it made no sense to go and investigate what would the police report look like now, if we agreed that I was not crazy then it would probably have the story the other way around, with Jackson as the counterfeit twenty dollars bill. I wanted Kitty to come to my place after we parted company, and I sensed certain reluctance. I could understand her, crazy or not I was something weird to have around, and she started showing signs of fear. Somehow the events started catching up with her once her belly full, and with Johnson L seemingly starting to accept what we were saying, she started getting into it too.
“Roger, I will be fair with you. I am frightened.” There were tears in her eyes, her beautiful eyes that I hated seeing under this kind of cloud. “For me everything is, well, normal, but it means that I am changing without knowing it. What the hell does it mean?” There was a plea there for an answer that I did not possess, and she knew it. In the end she decided, out of her own volition, to come to my place. There was nothing like good healthy sex to keep one’s mind off this kind of depression, a theory I wholeheartedly supported. I unlocked the door, Broadway ran towards us and started purring, pushing against my legs, asking for attention. Nothing surprised me anymore, now Broadway could hear, of all things. For Kitty, of course, this was normal, and I refrained from elaborating on this issue. The poor girl was mixed up enough already. Yes, this was the moment to forget it all, and a healthy tumble in bed was the preferred solution. We both agreed later on that it did not really help. So what? The sex was great.
Next day I left early for the theater and Kitty called her work place playing sick. She stayed in bed for the rest of the day, brooding, reading, sleeping. She didn’t open the TV. “I’m afraid those ghosts will crawl out of the tube into my bed...” she said half joking. I was worried by the other half. When I got back in the evening she was just getting dressed and I helped her hook her bra. I kissed her neck, and since I left the computer on this morning when I left, I pushed on a conditional reflex the email button. There was a single message there just coming in, a one Lynn Bird, and who the hell was Lynn Bird?
“Dear Roger, in a few seconds someone will come to pick you up. Please do not be frightened, there is nothing to be afraid of. It seems we have something in common, which I suggest we discuss. Don’t expect answers, just theories. These may be right, though. And to make sure you know I am not some kind of crack pot, I will mention just one twenty dollars bill.” I was reading the mail a second time, Kitty reading it from behind my shoulder and all thought of sex a long way off, when a discrete knock at the door made us both jump. I opened the door, and I looked at the two mountains, one on each side of the door. The smaller with a swollen lip, both impassive, both as blank of regard as the door itself. I put Broadway in its cage and took the cage in one hand, took shivering Kitty’s hand in my other hand, and followed the big mountain. The small one closed the door and followed us. There was a thirty foot limousine parked in front of the building, as we neared the door opened and we climbed in. The mountains stayed outside. A seemingly sleeping Big JJ was probably the answer to the swollen lip I saw, and an angry, cursing Johnson L was holding his head in her lap and patted it lovingly.
“The bastards gave him some kind of a shot. What did they expect, that he’ll greet them with flowers?” There were two more persons in the limousine, and I eyed them curiously. One was an elderly gentleman, elegantly dressed and who kept mumbling to himself continuously. The other a... well, certainly a whore, with the right physical attributes and relevant dress code. She winked at me, then closed her eyes and went on ruminating her chewing gum. We hardly felt the limousine starting. Only the occasional turn or bump in the road signaled the fact that we were not actually standing in one place, the motor was inaudible and the windows completely blanked.
“Where did they get you?” I asked of Johnson D, and watched Big JJ start showing signs of recovery.
“We were just unlocking the apart’s door when these apes appeared.” I thought that calling them apes was a bit unfair, but right now she was an aggrieved woman willing to slash at anything that hurt her man. Big JJ was already sitting up, only partly groggy, when we sensed the car slowing down, heard all kinds of whirrs and clanks, and then finally it stopped. The doors opened.
I’ve never been in an alien space ship before. If I ever will, I imagine it will look something like what I saw there. Though it was clearly no space ship, and certainly the little woman that rushed forward to greet us was no alien. She was simply, well... I felt disappointed... a woman.
“Oh, I am so glad you could all come...” She moved from one to another, shaking hands with the men and hugging the women, her eyes sparkling with real joy, her manner free and friendly like a human puppy. I estimated her age at less than forty, small, nicely shaped, a pale skin that clearly didn’t get enough sun, basic make up round the eyes and mouth, white blouse, red skirt ending above knee. Not your run of the mill crazy scientist, neither loony. She took Johnson L and Big JJ by the hand and dragged them towards the middle of the dome shaped room, the gray smooth walls glistening in the background with certain iridescence and the big egg shaped construction in the perfect middle of the room imposing in its smooth simplicity. She asked us to sit down on the chairs placed around the “altar” (as I started naming it in my mind) and then she sat on the outermost chair looking at us with some kind of undefined... love? Even Paula, the sex seller, seemed embarrassed by that look. I wondered how much was she paid for wasting her precious time on this kind of “assignment”.
“One thousand dollars” she said, smiling big, and I almost overturned my chair. Kitty looked at me inquiringly, but I lost my voice for several minutes. Our host seemed unperturbed by the little show, and continued smiling genially.
“My name is Lynn Bird. I am a genius.” ...and I am Donald Duck and let me out of here before I lose my mind, I thought, looking at Paula. She didn’t seem interested in me anymore, rather she seemed genuinely fascinated by Lynn. Lynn smiled at her. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are free to leave any moment you feel like. This is a government subsidized research center, however this is not a secret place. Just extremely valuable and extremely well protected. I hope very much that you will first listen to what I have to tell you, and then you can make up your mind. You will be compensated for any lose of time, and we assure you that your respective private activities will not suffer. We will deal with the need to justify your absence. And we never failed a person that was willing to help us. I would like to ask your permission to present my need, and then take your decision. May I?” I looked at her and tried to imagine Richard Kiel alias “Jaws” as her servant and an army of giant ants armed with deadly ray guns covering every corner of the complex. Somehow I failed, she was so much un-CIA and un-Goldfinger that it made it even boring.
“Lynn...” Johnson L started getting control of herself, thank God. I felt happy she was with us there, with JL around, probably an army of alligators wouldn’t suffice to cause us any harm. I looked at her, expecting hell to pour out any moment from that pretty mouth of hers. “...fine with me and my husband.” She looked at me and winked and I had to use my right hand to push back in place my hanging lower jaw. “I believe the same is true with my two friends. I don’t know about your other two guests, of course.”
“Thank you, JL. As a matter of fact my other two guests were here already, and they are familiar with the subject. I suggest I start my explanation, ok?” Never ending surprises. Okay, what the heck, if you can explain me what is happening then I will buy you a beer, Lynn, I thought generously. She smiled and pushed a button on a small box in her hand. The top half of the “altar” started rising up like a giant shell, uncovering inside it... a pearl? It looked like one, a perfect sphere as much as I could judge, smaller than a billiard ball, metallic silver colored, seemingly hanging on some hardly visible thread... was that all? I was disappointed. Big JJ was the first one to find back his voice.
“Lynn, I hate to be at crossroads with my wife here... “he didn’t dare look in JL’s direction and I snickered making sure he did not see me, “... listen, you practically kidnap us, you drug us, or me at least, you greet us as if we are your closest friends, and then you show us some flying steel ball and you probably expect us to be thankful and understand what you are talking about. Well, we are thankful, we don’t know what the hell you are talking about, can we please leave now?”
“Big JJ, can you please bring here this steel ball?”
Big JJ hesitated a second, then got up, placed his big paw around the small steel ball and pulled. His hand didn’t move. He removed it and looked frustrated at the ball, then tried again. The thing didn’t budge. Big JJ frowned.
“So what’s the big deal? You have some magnets holding the damn thing in place. What’s the idea?”
“Harry, please?...” Lynn looked at the quiet personage that till now seemed to be the fifth wheel to our party, and he got up, clasped his hand around the ball and brought it over to us as if it was feather light. He let go and the thing stayed floating in the place he left it. I got up and tried to push it. It was like pushing a wall.
“There is no trick.” Lynn looked at the question marks on our faces and continued. Harry sat down and she continued. “Let me tell you first a bit about Harry. Harry suffers from a certain strange form of autism. In his case it is called autism because of lack of a better definition. Harry talks to himself all the time. He was recorded and his part of the dialog makes complete sense if one imagines a second party talking to him. The doctors defined it as one person, Harry, talking for both sides but only one of them audibly. The funny part is that the dialog changes, and if at times it sounds as if he talks to another person, at other times it sounds as if he talks to animals, and many times as if he talks to objects.” We looked at Harry as he continued murmuring to himself, blank of expression. “One day he came to the institute, and was not allowed to enter. He turned on his heels, and left this sphere at the gate. When the guard tried in vain to move it out of the way, he was intelligent enough to get hold of Harry and call me. That’s how I came in possession of this item.”
Against my will I started getting fascinated by the recount. I saw similar emotions on Kitty’s face. Big JJ kept an impassive face, same like Paula but probably because of different reasons. I looked at Johnson L. Of us all, she seemed transfixed. She shuddered.
“Where did Harry find it?”
“We have no idea,” answered Lynn. Based on various fragments of conversations that we recorded, it seems that the sphere just popped up one day close to him. He took it and came over. He has absolutely no idea how come that he can move it and why only he can do it. Maybe because he is the first one who touched it? Maybe because he talks to it?”
I snorted sarcastically.
“C’mon, the guy is crazy, he is schizo, you certainly can come up with a better story or explanation.”
She didn’t mind my outburst.
“And you too are crazy, and Big JJ too, aren’t you? You are persuaded that Shakespeere is spelled with e-a-r aren’t you?”
We were finally getting there. I knew without a doubt that everything would finally link to my “strange” perception, though I couldn’t quite find how the strange ball, and Harry, and Paula, linked into it as well. I eyed her strangely and dared ask the question that was burning my lips from the moment we landed in this place.
“Lynn, how do you spell it?”
She returned my gaze, and my friends eyed her with sudden sharp tension outlining their body. It was the first time that she showed a slight hesitation, before answering.
“With e-e-r, of course.” I let the air out, aware of a lack of breathing in the interval. I was terribly disappointed at the answer. “Which does not mean of course that I am right.” My neck tensed again. “I still owe you some information before we continue. I did not present Paula to you.”
We completely forgot about her. Paula looked at us with pure indifference, a bit exaggerated actually. Probably the purity of the indifference act was not so absolute.
“Paula gets a very strange capability, when she is within a certain radius of the sphere. She can, the way it is popularly called, read minds. I prefer to call it create a link.” By now I had guessed it, though my friends had this incredulity look on their faces. “And again we have no explanation to it. But her support to my research is invaluable. She can pick up information vital for me from any source I need her to, inclusive my own subconscience.”
“So she can read Harry’s mind too?” I asked.
“Unfortunately she cannot. What Harry talks we can record, however what Harry hears is in some kind of symbolism that she cannot reproduce.”
I didn’t see it coming, Johnson L’s sudden change of attitude from pure excitement to pure indignation was as sudden as lightning mid of a sunny day.
“Bullshit. All this is a pile of crap, and since I am a lady I do not have to ask forgiveness from any ladies present. You want to tell me that just like that, by pure chance, all these statistically impossible phenomena happened to pile up together in your courtyard, Harry the one who talks to the trees, and Paula the one that links to the skulls, and my crazy husband plus his friend that imagine the world is changing shape, and you the genius that somehow connects it all to this pebble that came from nowhere and refuses to move because it is in love with Harry? C’mon lady, I don’t know what your research is, or what crack is open in your head, but every minute I waste here I lose one thousand bucks of real green money, and if you don’t come up with something more substantial than this stone hocus pocus then I suggest you let us go back to our screwed but real world.” She stood up, the whole four feet of body plus four inches of spiked heels of hers, her eyes flashing with anger. She really thought someone was pulling our leg, and she had enough of it. Lynn was not taken aback.
“Paula, please link us.”
Johnson L froze. Twenty seconds later she looked at Lynn with blushing awe on her face and sat back down. Lynn went over and kissed her on the cheek, apologetically.
“I let her listen to my thoughts. That’s all. Please let me finish what I was telling you. Then you are free to take your decision. OK? Johnson L?” JL nodded absent mindedly, squeezing Big JJ’s hand. I felt like in the middle of a science fiction tale, only this one seemed to be very real. And Kitty... I forgot about her completely and I realized that the reason for the cramp in my hand was the tight grip she was having on it. Lynn continued, and this time she expected no further interruptions.
“I told you I am a genius. This is a fact. I found that I could learn much faster that any other person and at the age of eighteen I got my doctorate in the physical sciences. My thesis was not accepted by any other physicist in the world, yet nobody could refute it therefore I was awarded the title. And the only work position I could find in the market place was with the government, universities refused to accept me. Pure envy of staff.” She smiled. I think I really got a liking to her. “I won’t go into the complex mathematics involved, of course, however I will explain my thesis to you in layman’s terms. Please feel free to ask any question you feel like. It is composed of two main chapters. The first one is called the Time Zero Theory and proves that time is a one dimension vector and its size is zero. Meaning that everything that happens, happens at the same one instant. There is no such thing as today or tomorrow but everything is now. What we living things define or sense as time is only a perception of our senses. Physically speaking it has no meaning.” She paused for a moment, looking at our blank faces. “Don’t try to understand it, it’s a mathematical fact but humanly incomprehensible.”
Kitty hugged my shoulders and kissed my cheek. Why the hell did she do that? All of a sudden I felt like proposing to her there and then.
“The second one is called the Causality Theory, and it will be easier for you to interpret this one even though you will certainly not accept it. It proves that there is no free will in this world, at least in the theoretical scientific sense. In a closed environment, and our universe is one, everything that happens is the result of everything that happened the one moment before. And moment is an undefined quantity as proven by my first theory.”
Big JJ cleaned his throat, though it still sounded like the same rusted file I knew.
“Sorry Lynn, can you please repeat that. I fear you lost me there.”
“Well, what my thesis has proven is that from moment zero, and let’s for a moment for clarity’s sake assume there was a moment zero...” ...for clarity’s sake? I thought miserably, I was getting more lost with every additional sentence, “... every thing that happened next moment was a direct result of that first moment zero. It’s simple, like the pool ball that rolls in a certain direction because a moment earlier the cue hit it with a certain velocity because a moment earlier the player had a glass of beer because years earlier he was born... and so on. Actually the link and the continuity are down to a time interval of zero. And the sum of all the events at this moment in time is the result of the sum of events at the previous moment in time. No free will, no statistics, no random, everything is the result of a hard mathematical and physical relationship. The statistical sciences exist because we are, practically speaking, impotent from the computing and analyzing point of view. In other words they are the result of us being unable to define firstly the accurate mathematical formulas involved, and secondly the exact status at moment zero. If we had these we could predict the future with an accuracy of one hundred percent. We will never be able to do it. But this is why the government pays me this huge salary and allows me to have a big lab of my own. They think it is possible. They are fools, of course.”
“Let me see if I understand your story till now, “it was Big JJ grating again, this time pensively, like he was getting into it for real, “your theory says that if I get up and strangle you right away this is not because I am fed up with you but because this is the way it should be.”
“You are almost right, and the almost relates to the fact that your feeling fed up is part of the same cause and result theory. Of course, you do not interpret it this way. The same can be said for anybody getting a heart attack, for a nova explosion somewhere in the universe, for which spermatozoid fecundates the ovule, for the way the wind blows and the dust settles. The road is fixed, immovable, the time it all happens is zero. Except that we have no way to find a definition of this road. And we have no way to understand or feel zero time.”
Big JJ scratched his head, got up and tried to move the ball again, took off his shoe and hit it with the heel. Then he got a hold on it with both hands and hang on it for several seconds. The damn thing was solidly frozen in place. He seemed lost in thoughts, while Lynn added.
“We estimate, based on several experiments, the mass of this sphere to be one million tons, give or take a few pounds. It is made of a material unknown to us, could be a collapsed kind of matter, like a mini collapsed star, however we have no idea which technology could create this effect in such a small unit of matter. We estimate it is alien to this universe. And of course, we have no idea how it got here, what makes it move, and what makes it stay fixed in one place with no gravitational effect on its surroundings. Harry may know but there is no way we can extract this information from him. Harry, can you please return it to its place?” Harry got up almost automatically, never for a second stopping his murmur, and moved the sphere back to the “altar”.
“OK, Lynn,” Big JJ went on, “you, your team, the government, have found here a good excuse for spending the taxpayer’s money, you are all excited, a big riddle, you have your theories and formulas, a mind reader, a mountains mover... all is fine and we are all very happy for you. What are we doing here? I mean I, my wife, and our two friends.”
She clearly expected this question, and probably was all the time wondering when it will come out. Clearly she had the answer ready too, however, surprisingly she said -
“What about a good expensive dinner on account of uncle Sam, then you can go home and relax and tomorrow we get together again to answer your question? What do you say?” She asked everybody but was looking at Johnson L, whom she correctly identified as the leading character in our group. JL was not the hesitating kind.
“OK, fine with me if I can choose the restaurant.”
“No problem, the choice is yours.”
I could never have imagined one could eat at three hundred fifty bucks a head, wines excluded, and still be hungry at the end of a three hours session. The wonders of French cuisine. All those veggie decorations round something that was mostly empty plate and very little edible stuff. The invention of the century, bet these guys made margins round thousands of percents. When back in the limousine I whispered in JL’s ear “...now what we need is a good healthy cheeseburger...” following which sentence I felt that the famous if looks could kill... saying was about to lose its if... I reverted to listening to my still rumbling stomach. Big JJ did not complain, the bastard ordered every time two of each whatever’s. Johnson L and Lynn were the highest spirited during all the interminable sessions between apéritifs, and appétissants, and hors-d’œuvres, and the rest of the French cuisine slang crap. Kitty, loyal to a well established tradition, wolfed down everything on the table that was edible and not allocated to somebody else, and our two new acquaintances ate each one in his relevant style - Paula munching the food while chewing her interminable supply of gum, and Harry talking apologetically to each piece of food that entered his mouth. I was about to order a Budweiser to help me kill the taste when JL’s sharp heel drilled a hole through my foot right down to the sole of my shoe, so I thought better of it and kept downing the tasteless vintage wine. My kingdom for a beer... as King Lear would have said it, and somehow it sounded wrong but I was much too drunk by the time to pay any attention to my own thoughts. I wouldn’t have called it a night to remember, though I was sure never to forget it.
I fell asleep while still at the half way mark between the standing up and the lying down. Kitty undressed me, then crawled in with her arms around me and joined me within seconds. She told me following morning that before she fell asleep she could hear me mumbling several times Richard and then she didn’t give a damn and let sleep take over. We knew we were going to be picked up at ten so we woke up at eight, showered together making sure we were the cleanest possible in all hidden corners, and you are free to interpret it any way you want. Then I made the honors, preparing breakfast which consisted of canned orange juice, cereals without milk (the milk had gone sour), two cold boiled eggs and a few pickled tomatoes. Kitty didn’t get the opportunity to complain since when she opened her mouth it stayed that way for the next five minutes, following which she started sobbing hysterically since this was the moment I proposed to her and she accepted. The knock on the door found us locked in an interminable kiss (there are some things French which are not so bad, after all...), and Kitty was pulling her different dress parts back in place, blushing, while going to the car and throwing me promising looks that could have melted the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. We were alone in the car this time, seemed the others were picked up by other cars, and when we got to the lab they were already there. Kitty told Johnson L the news and the crazy midget punched me so strong in the stomach that I almost threw up my canned juice. Then Big JJ broke half of my ribs in his gentle loving hug and I wasn’t sure if I could return to theatre for at least a week of recovery time. Lynn showed up a few minutes later, with Paula and Harry, and we were ready to start. Start what?
“I have the sphere for about a year, now,” Lynn picked up the thread of the recount after congratulating Kitty... why the hell was no one congratulating me? “I am today as ignorant of its meaning as I was at the beginning. But through Harry I connected to Paula, then later to Roger and to Big JJ. The five of us, I included, have something in common, and now I know with certainty it is unique.” She looked at each of us in turn, before continuing. “We all have an additional, till now unknown, chromosome in our body. I call it chromosome Z.” She stopped again for the effect to sink in, but I think the present population was ignorant enough to miss the weight of the declaration altogether. I thought it was safe enough to ask a question, so I did.
“Does it mean we are not normal?”
“It means we cannot exist. There is no such thing as chromosome Z, and the fact that we have it cannot be explained by any existing medical or evolutional theory. Yet it is a fact. And I personally have a theory of my own, and you can accept it or reject it. But it is the only one out there, and the only one that can explain both Roger’s and Big JJ’s perceptions of changing reality, and answer Johnson L’s question from yesterday - how come all these statistically impossible phenomena happened to pile up together in my courtyard? Thank you for the question JL, it gives a frame to my following theory. Which is: the Time Zero and the Causality theories had to be found, developed, discovered in this world, in this universe. Because of whatever reason. Thus our parents were “contaminated” so that we would result, we five abnormal people, saddled with the chromosome Z. And we are the vehicles for the introduction of these theories in this world.”
“Ho, ho, ho, wait a moment, not so fast Lynn.” It was sweet silent Kitty, all of a sudden alive, interested, talkative... the effects a proposal can have on some women... “Your parents were contaminated by who?...”
“By whom?...” I mumbled and her murderous look had nothing of a soft, loving, future to become bride...
“... by whom?” she conceded, “and how does this exactly link you four into this vehicle you are talking about. And, without being any kind of super scientist myself, I certainly can ask myself the question - how come there is no back up to you five, what if any of you gets hit by lightning, or a bus, or dies of food poisoning? Could these super whatever’s you are talking about be so stupid as to risk human frailty to cut short their supposed to be universe ranging goals? And what does having this chromosome Z mean actually?” Great, my girl, words crafted in gold, I thought proudly, and I kissed her as she sat back down. She preferred to pinch my arm, as an act of retribution for my earlier remark. Why was everybody picking on me, stepping, punching, squashing, pinching?... It wasn’t fair. I felt like bawling. Lynn, as I guessed already yesterday, had all the answers ready.
“I promised you theories, not facts. And my theory is that the “super whatever’s” are not part of our universe. And as far as I can guess, this universe may even be a small experiment for them and now is the moment of a controlling intervention. Or they may try to communicate in some way with us and my theories will in some way enable this communication. The sphere is probably a tool they sent over. For all I know it may even be an intelligent entity itself. I do not really know. The only things I am certain of are... “ she started counting on her fingers, “...one - my thesis is correct, two - it was a foreign intervention that created us five specifically, three - since these others probably can calculate the future they knew that nothing will happen to us before we fulfilled our intended mission, and four - ...” here she hesitated a second before continuing, “... the chromosome Z is a remote control tool of some kind, and I don’t know if it is manipulative or informative or both.” I almost jumped. Same reaction, seemed to me, with Big JJ. Kitty listened attentively, but was not yet entirely satisfied.
“Please Lynn, let’s say that I understand your assignment - you invented these theories. And Harry’s mission - he made the link to the others supposed to be components of this puzzle’s solution. But what about Paula? And for God’s sake - what about Roger and Big JJ and their fantasies? Shakespeare with e-a-r of all things? That’s ridiculous.”
“Kitty, this is as far from ridiculous as true is from false. Paula fulfilled a double function, actually, the first of which is finished. This was the function of allowing me to listen to myself, to parts of my brain I do not have access to, and finalize my theories. Paula’s second function is help me find proof to my theories, practical proof that can be documented, presented, checked, and accepted. Even though under all circumstances, such proof will be of an indirect kind. But it is necessary. And it need not be complicated, though the theory is extremely heavy. Einstein’s relativity principle, also an extremely heavy theory, was proven by flying around the globe a very accurate clock. I hope to find something similar by communicating with these two gentlemen on a level that is possible only through Paula. She will link me directly to their mind storages of information, where no manipulation, lying, forgetfulness and other human curtains mask the real data. It is my job to find my proof there and find a way to use it. I am certain I will find it.”
“Lynn, “ it was Big JJ this time, sounding satisfied yet still a bit puzzled, “why two of us, I mean why both Roger and I? If these super entities could so accurately predict the future then why did they need a back up in our case?”
“Big JJ, truth is you ask the only one question that really bothers me. For all the others I can easily say I do not know or I know based on my previously presented theory. This is the only one that somehow falls in between the two. Which means that I struggle to have it fit in, and I do fit it in, but I am not entirely satisfied. Actually you could ask a much bigger question - if they could compute our universe then they could have computed also our reaction and behavior and result of their contamination. Point is that probably the computing power needed is so out of reach that it took them thousands of our years to fully compute their own universe. They had only a few years to compute ours, once they found a way to access it, thus they got only a very good approximation, that’s all. So I think that even they had a problem designing the possibility for someone to be able to be part of this universe and flow with its events according to the Causality Theory, yet perceive the changes or at least part of the changes as if they were outside the events. Sounds like a paradox, and probably it is even to them. Therefore they designed two, each as backup to the other in case one fails, somehow both were successful. There are nevertheless some flaws, one of them being the fact that you actually influence the events outside the theory, and create in some cases unexpected changes in your close proximity, kind of predicting the future and creating it - like the case with the twenty dollars bill. Another flaw, more important for me, seems to be that you start losing this perception, both of you. And therefore it is extremely important for me to start working with you immediately.” She looked at us, really pleading. “I hope you accept.”
We looked at each other, I and Big JJ, and there was a feeling of relief in the air. We were not crazy after all, we felt we were part of something “big”, our partners knew the truth or at least the theory related to this effect. I knew I was going to say yes, same as Big JJ, yet I had one last question burning on my lips.
“Lynn, what is the real reality. Mine, or everybody else’s?”
“Roger, you won’t understand my answer, but this is one of the conclusions of my Zero Time Theory. Both realities are real. Both happen at the same time, both take zero time to happen. They are the same. Remember I said that the Causality Theory applies in a completely closed environment, which our universe is one. The “contamination” I mentioned and which resulted in us five being born was an external input into this closed environment, breaking the fixed flow that started at moment zero. And based on the Zero Time Theory it immediately (whatever immediately means) resulted in all the past and all the future to be recreated. You are able to sense the differences between the before and the after. And both are real, happening at the same time, at Zero Time. However... if you ask me in our perception terms which was the reality before the contamination - the one you two perceive or the one the rest of us do, well I really have no answer. On a pure guessing base I would say that yours, the e-a-r, is the experimental, the changed one. But it is pure guessing.” She stopped for one second and turned towards Big JJ. “Big JJ, do you too have one last question before we start working?”
“Yes, Lynn. Maybe a philosophical one, though God knows I am no philosopher, why did they actually do it?”
She smiled, really happy, like a kid that has his opinion asked for, and then respected and acted upon. She knew she had won our trust and she was happy.
“I wish Harry could tell us. My own personal thoughts are very simple. They know their future, to such detail, that life is meaningless there. Even sending this ball here was predicted. But not its contents if we succeed to find a way to feed information into it and if they can have access to it. It is with the right kind of information, which hopefully we can provide, that they are looking for the possibility to insert a random effect into their universe to make it unpredictable and livable. And they are asking for our help to find it for them. Maybe they are millions of years more advanced than us technologically, yet, this may be the very reason we could provide them with the suitable data. Because of the simple fact that we do not yet know what our tomorrow looks like. Certainly more now, that this external intervention changed the formulas of our universe completely. The sphere - this is probably the tool of change, and this is also the communication link through which we have to learn to start exchanging information. Wonder why am I so excited?”
Kitty and Johnson L left, leaving us in the compound. JL didn’t like very much the idea of parting with Big JJ, but she had to follow her own “calling”. She just made sure of one thing.
“…and Paula, you just keep your boobs off my man’s chest or I’ll scrap your name off the telephone book.”
Paula smiled. I hated to admit it but when she stopped chewing and started smiling, well, she had this ravishing smile that cut right through a man’s heart. I don’t know exactly what it did to a woman’s heart.
“My dear midget,” and Johnson L beamed, everybody was aware about the pride she took in her stature, “I go only by size, the bigger the better.” And when JL looked like she was about to cut her legs from underneath her, she added suavely, “By the size of the wallet.” She meant it. So JL went over and pecked her cheek. It was clear she meant it too.
We worked with Lynn for three weeks continuously, till she got all the information she thought could help her. We didn’t understand much of it but she seemed satisfied. Inside several days the relations developed from pure business to real friendship. Big JJ adopted me as his Thin White Brother and he went as far as allowing me to call him my Big Black Teddy. I had to scrap the “bear” under threat of annihilation. Lynn was everybody’s friend, mother, sister and daughter, and even Harry seemed to have joined the fraternity and started “talking” to each of us in his own peculiar way. We called ourselves The Contaminated Five, feeling like some kind of teenage secret society dreaming of changing the world before going out and finally getting a job like everybody else. Only Paula was keeping aloof and impregnable, almost indifferent to anything happening there. For her it was a job like her other “job” only this one paid slightly better. She surprised me one time, when we had a break in activity and we remained alone in the testing room.
“Roger, I have a confession to make.” I looked up surprised, and for a moment felt like informing her that I am no catholic priest though I knew a very good one around. But though sarcasm was second nature to me, being rude was no nature to me so instead, I just waited for her to go on. “In the session today I allowed myself to peek a bit around your mind, the first time and not too deep. You know, I envy Kitty, you are madly in love with her.”
This time I was speechless for real. Not that I cared so much for my privacy, what could she find there that she didn’t encounter hundreds of times in her “professional” life? But even though I knew that I loved Kitty, being told that my love was actually so much deeper than I ever admitted to myself was a shocker.
“Paula, do you have a boyfriend?” She laughed, and she didn’t do it too often.
“A pimp, you mean. No, Roger, I am a hard working independent girl and all my money goes into a well stuffed pantyhose. I don’t wear socks, as you know, and my mattress suffers too many visitors.” She was talking freely, shamelessly. “And one day I hope to find myself a guy to love me just like you love Kitty. I know it will never happen.”
“Paula, you may be very wrong.” She looked at me with a sudden penetrating regard, unable to decide if I was mocking her or what. “I know you didn’t dig too much in my mind. Because if you did, you would have found there this hidden thought bothering me very much, and telling me that when you smile you are one of the most smashing women I have ever met. And a man would be honored to have you by his side. Of course, it would mean changing jobs.”
She was quiet. She sat on the couch in the room and kept her gaze fixed on me, locking me into an inability to move. I felt embarrassed.
“Roger, knowing what you know of me and telling me what you have just told me, is simply so different than anything else I have ever heard that I must use a word I never ever used before with regard to a man. You are sweet.” And I was damned if I didn’t see a glitter in her eyes that she tried very hard to make disappear. I thought at that moment she too adopted me. And kind of joined our “private” circle for full membership.
Days passed, and we got into a certain routine. We felt absolutely no embarrassment with each other, to a certain extent we even felt like family. And taken the damn chromosome Z into account, we actually were. Big JJ allowed us to uncover the secret of his naming, though it took some kind of expert handling to get it done. Seems his father named him after the great... white movie hero hunter Jeremiah Johnson, and the poor kid had to fight his way through a range of youth bands till he got fed up with breaking noses and decided instead to break habit and go for the JJ nickname. The Big was Johnson L’s loving later addition. Paula, well, I think she got a sudden unexplained crush on Harry that was obvious to all except probably Harry himself. I wondered what she might have read, uninvited, in his fuzzy special mind. As for Lynn, she was managing the tests, sometimes using me, sometimes Big JJ, and sometimes trying to work in parallel with both of us. She filled tens of tapes with recorded remarks, which later on she was going to sort out, edit, and feed to her Cray computer for analysis.
“Yes, Roger?...” We were alone in the small kitchenette, I was at my second glass of orange juice and she just came in for a coffee. The silver ball was hanging in the air above our heads. Lynn insisted that it “joins” us everywhere just in case it “listens”, so Harry kept moving it from location to location. Most of the time it was stuck in the small kitchen, where, after banging my head against it one night, he moved higher above our head level. There it hung like a misplaced and mistimed Christmas ball. The only thing it missed was the wire to hang by.
“Lynn, am I some kind of damn robot?”
The espresso machine finished its classical whining and whirring, she took her steaming cup and sat across from my table. Big JJ came in as well, and she waited until he poured himself his (we never dared joke about it) big cold glass of milk and sat by my side. Lynn put her elbows on the table and let the bitter coffee smell and steam envelope her face like in a surrealistic Dali painting.
“Do you feel like it, Roger?” I hesitated. “And you, Big JJ?” When none of us responded she went on. “No, I don’t think we are some kind of damn robots.” I liked the sound of the we in her sentence. “No more than a pupil thinks he is a robot because there is a teacher in front of him. Or her, if you insist. I feel myself, I feel good in my skin, I have been probably programmed in a certain genetic way, same like you, and same like every other damn creature on this planet - human, animal, or vegetal. So what’s the difference? I just got a bit of extra guiding, extra capabilities, like all of us here, that’s all. I see it more like a privilege to have some kind of remote training and, you know what, I am mighty thankful for it.”
“What about Harry.”
“What about him?”
“Was it fair to have him programmed as you say it, to his autistic state?”
“Roger, he was going to be born this way. The chromosome Z did not change any our basic genetic composition and predilection. It just added to our capability of expression. And, as I said, to the capability of absorbing the other side’s guidance. You know, our problem as humans is we think we are perfect and our ethics are impeccable. Who says so? We say it. Thus we try to export them even to our peers - families try to export their values to other families, religions their beliefs to other religions, countries their political systems to other countries.” Looked to me she was heating up to the subject. “Just let’s look at this world of ours closely for a moment. There are three basic rules that everything living, from human through animal and down to the lowest plant, abide by. Multiply, eat, shit… oops, sorry, didn’t mean to be rude, it just has the right sound…” she smiled.
“And die…” I offered.
“No Roger, die is not part of it. Die is the end of it.”
“Lynn, aren’t you a bit too simplistic?” I insisted, basically guessing the path she was going to follow.
“Yes, I am, Roger. Just to get my following point clear and unblurred. We, humans, invented something, in addition to the three rules, called ethics. Only we forget, or actually accept, that ethics are about our own well being. We experiment on other living things and use other living things with almost no concern because they are tools to our well being, aren’t they? We experiment on animals, don’t we? We cut and burn trees, don’t we? So what would you say if I would equate these other siders to us, and equate us to trees from their point of view? Do you think they would give a damn about us?” She sipped her drink and looked at our faces, our eyes several inches away from each other’s, all of us deeply in thought. “Not that I think they are this way.” That was it, she vented some deeply seated frustration to a band of friends, now she could cool down as fast as she flared. Though it was clear something else was coming, as she looked us both deeply in the eyes, each of us at a different time of course, and then she smiled like a kid unwrapping a Christmas gift. Yes, something else was definitely coming. She got up, went under the small sphere and looked up at it, fascination playing dirty tricks in her eyes. Paula and Harry came in meantime, and they were sitting with hot drinks in their hands, a strange kind of quiet settling in the room. I was so focused on her eyes that I almost missed the moment when she suddenly raised her hand and her index finger… oh my God, penetrated the sphere. We gasped, and I certainly lost a few heartbeats till she pulled it back. She turned to face us, a triumphal smile on her face.
“I discovered it last night. Now I know we are getting there. I believe we can start concluding our sessions.”
We left three days later. By that time I got in the habit of thinking in paradoxical terms, so the evening before parting I had to ask her again one of those, as Big JJ defined them, deep philosophical questions. I didn’t know if I could expect a meaningful answer, yet, as usual, she surprised me.
“Lynn,” I started, “let’s assume for a moment that your guess was wrong, and actually it is I and Big JJ that represent the original way of things, and that this contamination you mentioned influenced the rest of the world. You gave it even chances yourself. That would mean that actually your perception and reality is continually changing and will keep on doing so. Therefore, the way the e-a-r changed into e-e-r, followed by other changes shifted later in time (at least what we perceive as later in time), your present investigation may, well, disappear. Did you think about it?”
She regarded me with a regard nobody ever before regarded me with, respect. I think it was the first time in my life that I blushed.
“Roger, my dear friend, this is exactly the reason I wanted these experiments with you two concluded the fastest possible. The moment we succeed to feed this information into the sphere and communicate it to the other side this information will be preserved. I hope, and I have no better word than HOPE, that once they have it, they will be able to initiate stabilizing this change wave that is passing right now through our universe. By providing another calculated alien input into it. And, tell you the truth, I hope our reality stays the way I perceive it now. I kind of like it, and since you are slowly fading into it as well, bet you will like it too. I think Romeo and Ophelia sounds so much better than Romeo and Juliet, but then, I am biased of course. You probably would be of the opposite opinion.” Which I was.
One week later I started participating in the rehearsals to the play again, full of enthusiasm and passion for my role. I married Kitty the same week and she moved in with me and my cat. I was deeply in love with her and I kept wondering why I didn’t propose to her earlier. Maybe the inherent romance of the play was getting through to me. I called her for our first full dress rehearsal, I loved having her sitting somewhere in the back rows where I couldn’t see her, yet knowing that she had eyes and ears just for me. Johnson L and Big JJ came too. Our friendship blossomed and JL told us she was pregnant in the third month. Kitty promised to catch up, if possible, triggering waves of laughter from all of us.
The rehearsal started. I waited for this moment all my life, now it was my turn to go out there, go and conquer the public with the power of my acting supporting the immortal words that good old Bill put in Romeo’s mouth. The curtain opened and I stepped forward, forgetting the stage, the public, the fact that it was a play. I was Romeo. This was Verona. And Romeo was asking the eternal question asked by so many generations of Romeo’s throughout the years: “To be, or not to be...”