This took a strangely mystical path but I guess that it started out mystically so perhaps that’s not surprising. Mysticism is not my normal sensibility so perhaps I had better get a brain scan to ensure that nothing is seriously amiss “up there” :-)
A (so far) seven-part story, this, so follow the tabs left to right.
Loud music unsuccessfully tries to drown the road noise. The bar is otherwise quiet. It’s a Monday; Monday nights in cheap motel bars are never popular.
She is tucked into a corner of the bar, slumped in front of her glass, unresponsive to her surroundings. There are no tears; she is past tears.
She is young, intelligent and well presented. One of the stable of beautiful up-and-coming young things that the television stations slap the tag ‘journalist’ on and puts in front of the cameras to fill the ‘serious’ timeslot.
This particular young thing has been steadily making a name for herself but it has all come crashing to the ground in stupefying succession: a miscarriage, a cheating husband, a lost job. A perfect trifecta of pain.
He enters the bar, stops at the counter to collect two glasses of water from the young bartender and then moves in straight towards her.
From the notch on his left pinna, to the missing finger tip on his right-hand ring finger, it was clear that he had lived through some bad times. His features were lean and craggy. Not in that clean photogenic silver-screen way that is beamed into our living rooms each night, but in a way that made you inadvertently catch your breath slightly when you took them all in; you unconsciously braced yourself against the same pain that he was feeling.
He places one glass before the woman. Sits down opposite her.
“You need company. You probably don’t want it, but you need it.”
She is used to chat-up lines from hopeful bar-room lotharios. She doesn’t even look up. When she replies her voice is flat, lifeless: “Says you. Look: I just want to have a quiet drink. Alone.”
“That’s not what you really want and we both know it.
“I can see your failure. Sense it. Feel it. Practically taste it. You’ve just lost your battle with whatever daemon has latched onto you.
You’re a looser. That’s not an insult: it takes one to know one. The question is: what now?”
“What now? Nothing! That’s what. Nothing.’ The last word was quiet, barely above a whisper.
“I can help, but first you listen.”
“You can help.” Derisive, dismissive, uncaring enough even to form a question.
“I can. Listen.”
“A few years ago I was pretty much like you. I had reached rock-bottom: dead-drunk at 3:00am standing by the edge of some docks and prepared to quit. I was also coming down hard from my latest hit. My mind was just sort of locked into high-speed replay mode: racing through all the crap in my life over and over again.
“I’d just come to the conclusion that the only way forward was to throw myself into the river. Let the currents or the propellers of one of the container ships fix me up.
“I clearly remember that it was foggy. And quiet. Don’t know why I remember such trivia.
“I’m on the edge, gathering up enough energy to push myself over. Didn’t need to gather up my courage; you only need courage to overcome fear and I had reached the point where I feared living more than not." He looked at her, “You’ve just found that point yourself.”
“This guy in a long black hooded cape comes slowly up to me out of the fog; the spitting image of ‘The Grim Reaper’, but without the scythe.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that Death was here to take me away! The thought didn’t scare me, that’s another thing I remember clearly. Another indication of how deep in the gutter I was.
“Then I think ‘Santa Claus!’ Strange how the mind works.
“Then I start to figure I’m on some weird gang’s turf, but as this guy comes closer I sort of tune in to this amazing feeling of peace and my mind just sort of wound down and stopped going round in circles.
“I’m guessing that you’re starting to pick up on that same feeling now, by the way...
“My friend ‘Mr. Death’ has what looks like a black towel in his hand. He holds it out and says to me: ‘Touch.’ Just the one word: ‘Touch.’
“I pick up a corner of the cloth, and it splits into two pieces. I’m looking at the small scrap of cloth I’m holding and it starts sort of flowing and rearranging in my hands. Wierdest thing I have ever seen.
“By the time that was over, ‘Mr. Death’ had gone. I have no idea who he was, where he came from or where he went. Never seen the guy again; don’t expect to, either. He’s out there though; I know that.”
He pulls a small, shallow bowl from his pocket. “That was the start of my healing.”
“Here’s my Cloth. For me, it has taken the shape of a bowl but I still call it Cloth. Why a bowl? That’s for me to know, and you...not to know. It’s not important in the Grand Scheme Of Things. It seems to me that the Cloth assumes a form that will be of most benefit to the holder in some way. Yours will be different, of course...”
Startled, she met his eyes for the first time since he had sat down. "Mine?”
Gingerly, slowly, reluctantly, she reaches out.
Some force of habit or training comes into play and she describes what she is touching: “Deep, deep black: light seems to vanish into it. A tessellation of perfectly fitting spiky/sharp-cornered segments. Cool to the touch. Velvet smooth.” She pauses, then continues with a note of amazement entering her previously dead voice, “It looks rough but it’s the smoothest thing I’ve ever touched! It is somehow reassuring.” Thoughtfully.
The edge of the bowl under her fingers starts to bulge. The bulge swells, flows and splits off a soft amorphous mass of material. With the original bowl apparently unchanged, the new piece morphs quickly into the shape of a baby’s pacifier.
She fondles the pacifier and looks at the man with a mingled expression of horror, surprise and relief: “How did it know?”
He says, “The Cloth found a need in you. That’s what brought me here. This is the start of your healing.”
Tears flood; time passes. Even the Nile may eventually run dry.
Introductions can be made. He is Rod, she is Amy.
In every relationship one needs to know the proper time to broach an awkward subject. Things like “I’m pregnant” (with or without “…and you’re not the father”), “Honey, I crashed the car” (“…again”) and “You remember when we talked about my mother coming to stay, don’t you?” require delicate timing.
The years that had passed since their meeting in the bar had taught Amy much.
“Rod? Are you still awake?”
“I think my Cloth’s trying to tell me something.”
“But I don’t know what.”
Propping himself on one elbow, Rod rouses himself. “You too, eh? I‘ve been trying to work out how to broach the subject. I’ve never been able to get anything from my Cloth other than simple themes like ’go into that bar now’, ’follow that guy’, and so on.”
“Same for me, but this time it’s all much more vague and yet my Cloth is somehow being much more insistent. I need to get this sorted out. I need you to help me to get this sorted out.”
“We’re not going to get much sleep tonight, are we?”
“We need paper and pens.”
And so the witching hour passes. For Rod and Amy sleep is now forgotten. Half consumed cups of coffee sit on their kitchen table. Scrunched up balls of paper are strewn around the rubbish bin; a smaller number have reached their intended target.
Driven by Amy’s logical mind and training and by Rod’s intuition and persistence, the pair start gathering everything that they feel even slightly Cloth-related.
Thoughts, ideas, reactions and feelings are discussed and discarded; brainwaves jotted down; lists appended to and amended. Dreams are recalled. Rod described a particularly vivid dream: “I was a bear that kept tossing people‘s breakfast croissants into a nearby lake. Trouble is, each time I did it, I just got hungrier.” Later, Amy complains of suffering from a persistent earworm: “If I ever hear The B52’s ‘Private Idaho’ after this again, I swear I’ll scream! I just can’t get it out of my head.” Rod similarly complains that Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” wouldn’t leave him alone: “I’ve been hearing it everywhere!” Rod mentions recently feeling an unexpectedly strong feeling of loss in response to seeing the Eiffel tower in a travel advertisement. Amy notes down her strong desire for mashed potatoes.
Many more thoughts and discussions ensue.
Few couples will have examined their recent lives and experiences in such as way as Rod and Amy did that night.
As the stars start to fade in the early dawn light, the weary pair bend over a final set of notes. Both have experienced strong reactions to each idea and have also experienced a peculiar, particular feeling of ‘rightness’ in response to the final—apparently haphazard—groupings:
Group 1: Idaho
Group 2: Paris
Group 3: WFTs
“Idaho & Paris. Think our Cloths want to send us to two different places?”
“I baggsy Paris! Actually, no…that does not feel right. I think that we are getting directions, like latitude and longitude and somehow we need to translate them to somewhere we can physically go to. I wish there was a Rosetta Stone we could consult." Amy sees Rod’s blank face and explains, “You know: a Codebook that would let us read things more clearly.”
“The nearest thing we have is the good ol’ Internet. Fire up your laptop and let’s get searching.”
A scant minute passes while Amy’s laptop and internet connection get acquainted and for her to type, then: “‘Paris, Idaho.’ Hit #1. A small city near ’Bear Lake.’ Cold climate. THAT scratches the itch aright.”
“But I still don‘t feel finished. How will we know WHO we’re after. Paris’ web page says that the city has a population of 513. Not big, but big enough.”
“The Cloth will lead us, it always has done; it lead you to me, remember.”
“No. This time It feels different; we’ve got to work it out. We need a name.”
“Well…we have a couple of names here: Joe Walsh and Fred Schneider. One of them? … Doesn’t seem right. Fred Walsh? … No.”
Together: “JOE SCHNEIDER!”
“Bingo! Joe Schneider of Paris, Idaho. All bases are now covered, I would say.”
“Damn it!” Rod‘s pent-up frustration is released, "There’s got to be a better way of working with the Cloth!”
“And…Bingo again. That’s what this is all about. Rod, we need to find this guy.”
Paris city, Idaho: a whitebread, declining, one road town frankly unworthy of the appellation ‘city.’ There is one cafe and one hotel. Few facilities exist, other than an absurdly oversized Mormon church. It is winter, and it is freezing.
The local telephone directory entry for “Schneider, J.” has directed Rod and Amy to a faintly ramshackle wooden farmhouse surrounded by rusted trucks, frozen fields and a few wretched cows.
Rod knocks on the peeling, weathered door and after a short delay, is answered.
The agreed gameplan is for Amy to take the lead; by training and disposition she is better suited to meetings and interviews. “Good afternoon. Sorry to disturb you. We’re looking for Joe Schneider.”
“That’s me. So?”
“Joe” is “Jo”…an unexpected turnabout. “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”, so the saying goes.
Rod charges ahead with an uncharacteristic surge of enthusiasm, agreed-upon gameplan immediately forgotten. “Ma‘am we’ve come a long way to meet you. We have a story to tell you. Something very important.”
“Rod!” Amy thumps him on the shoulder, “You sound like some door-to-door woo-meister trying to make a convert. Excuse him, please. Be assured that we are not trying to convert you, nor trying to sell you anything. Rather, we are looking for your input to help us solve a puzzle. It should not take long.”
“Got a lot of time. Not too much patience, though.” Jo comes to a decision: good manners to the fore. “Can’t stand on the porch all day, none of us are dressed for the weather and all the heat’s going out the door. You’d better come on in.”
As they file into the house Amy whispers to Rod, “Red hair! Red! I told you that the colour red was important.”
Walls are decorated with framed certificates, books line shelf after shelf. This is the house of a scholar with wide-ranging interests and abilities. Titles such as Proceedings on the Workshop on Non-Perturbative Quantum Chromodynamics nestle adjacent to others on voodoo and The Psychological Practices of Traditional Mystics. Books extolling the virtues of Tantric sex are filed together with catchy-sounding titles like The Social Mores of Sex Workers in Victorian England.
Rod says, “I can‘t even pronounce half of the titles of these books. I’ve no idea what they’re about.”
“She’s a polymath.” Seeing Rod’s blank face, she follows-up with: “A mega-braniac in many different areas.” Wide-eyed, Amy stops abruptly in the doorway to the kitchen and then quotes:
Off I fly, careering far
In chase of Pollys, prettier far
Than any of their namesakes are
—The Polymaths and Polyhistors,
Polyglots and all their sisters.
“This is from a poem called ‘The Devil Among Scholars’ by an old Irish poet called Thomas Moore. I am staggered that I had cause to look this up a few days ago. My Cloth really was trying hard to get us here.”
Time passes. The three are comfortably arrayed around the kitchen table, hot waters before each person.
Jo moves things along. “Small-talk time is over.” A stern look is directed towards Rod, “If you are not a ‘door-to-door woo-meister’, what are you?”
“This is my Cloth.” Rod launches into his personal history. “Many years ago I had reached rock-bottom…” He gives the same story he told to Amy when his Cloth directed them to meet. It is a story he has told many times, to many people, in many different circumstances.
When Rod finishes, Amy takes up the account, ending with: “I was at the end of my wits when Rod brought me my cloth. I now think of my Cloth as an integral, manifest part of me. It is a key that ‘unlocks’ my spirit, and as a result, abilities that I had forgotten I had. Nothing like mind-reading or teleportation unfortunately, just the simple things that my particular malaise robbed me of: confidence, logical thought, emotional stability, and so on. I feel joined to my Cloth, but tenuously and not in any way that I can explain.”
“Sounds exactly like you are trying to sell ‘woo.’ You may as well try to convince me that you have a dream catcher that actually does catch dreams, or that you have just had lunch with the moon rabbit. Mystics all over the world…” Her voice trails off as she realises how serious the pair before her actually were.
“The story is kind of mystical, I admit. If someone had brought it to me at the station, looking for me to do a news segment on it, I wouldn’t have touched it with a very long pole. It’s all true, though. You’ll see.”
“Let’s table that for now, shall we.” Sceptically. “You mentioned a puzzle…?”
“The puzzle is: Why? Why have we been given our Cloths?” From Amy.
Rod joins in, “And what’s it really all about?”
“And how does it work, and can we make it work better, and, and….” Amy drops the ball, which Rod picks up, “…and. We believe…that our Cloths believe…that you can work it all out.”
“Which is why we are knocking on your door in freezing weather.”
“Now hold on. That is more than one puzzle. What makes you think I have any answers for you?”
Amy again takes the lead, “Our Cloths. They worked really, really hard to make us work hard to find you, and here we are. And we trust our Cloths.”
“We have something that no other mystic or religion has.” Rod offers his Cloth, “If I’m reading you correctly, you are already starting to ‘get’ that something special’s going on here.”
Jo is reluctant. “You’re asking me potentially to turn my world upside down, based on a silly story told by a couple of crazies. No offence.”
“None taken. Touch!”
Rod and Amy wait in silence, watching Jo staring down at the object in Rod’s outstretched hand.
Jo takes a deep breath, then—cautiously, hesitantly—touches the proffered object.
At the touch, Rod’s Cloth swells, flows, splits. In Jo’s now cradling hands the formless mass rapidly morphs into a miniature rose, constructed from a tessellation of perfectly fitting spiky/sharp-cornered segments.
Jo fingers the intricate figurine in silence for several minutes, examining it minutely.
“What an invigorating experience. There is much to explore here.”
Suddenly she is smiling, excited. She recounts childhood memories of her mother’s rose garden and recalls journeys to the rose gardens of France and Britain.
Rod looks at Amy, says: “The force is strong in this one.”
A few days have passed since Jo first acquired her Cloth. The trio of Rod, Amy and Jo are again sitting around Jo’s kitchen table. Rod is cradling a cup of hot water. Cinnamon tea is in front of both Jo and Amy.
“I have been meditating. I meditate daily but since you have given me a Cloth, it has been easier than for a long time and I feel more ‘centred’ than I ever have.
“The rose has always been my meditation object; a rose has always seemed to me to be the embodiment of delicate, intricate beauty and at the same time a reminder of how fleeting our whole existence is. This is why I was so overjoyed at the shape your Cloth took when it budded for me, Rod.”
Rod, smiling: “I think that was the first time that I have ever done an introduction where tears were not involved.”
“Yesterday something astounding happened.
“I had just reached Dhyana stage when I was joined by a figure in a black, hooded cape. Your ‘Dr. Death’, Rod. There is some question in my mind as to whether he/it was physically there. I suspect not, but he/it was most definitely psychically there.
“He/it talked to me! Imperfectly, it must be said, but we had a true meeting.”
“We are going to need a better name than ‘him/it’! That is simply horrible and Rod’s ‘Dr. Death’ is not cutting it any more.”
“‘Gaia’. Old name, old idea: ‘Mother Earth.’ And Gaia is a ‘she’… most definitely female.
“Gaia created the Cloth to operate as a translator: to help her understand us, and vice-versa. So far it barely operates and has been limited to invoking the sorts of vague feelings, innuendo and hints that you had to work so hard at when Gaia wanted you to meet me. The Cloth is currently only able to make an initial connection to a person when that person’s mind is appropriately receptive.” Jo looks at both Amy and Rod before continuing. “This is the answer to one of your puzzles: why she can give the Cloth only people who are psychically empty.”
“‘Psychically empty.’ Nicely sums up how I was when ‘Dr. Death’ came to me. I was calm, ready to do the only thing I though I could do.”
“I was the same when Rod was sent to me: my world had narrowed down to a single pathway, and a single possibility.” Amy shudders, reaches for Rod’s hand, squeezes.
“I conjecture that the Cloth finds me suitably receptive because I habitually practice deep meditation and in so doing, can achieve a compatible mind-state.
“It seems clear to me that the Cloth is capable of much, much more. Sadly, the ‘bandwidth’ between Gaia and us is currently so limited that she can’t simply outright tell us what to do with it. There isn’t an owners manual and we can’t demand that our Cloths offer up a a neat set of instructions etched into golden tablets. We are going to have to work out what we can do based on the few hints and nudges that Gaia can offer us. Still, the channel between her and us should improve as our mututal experience grows.
“Here’s the bigger picture; this is what I gleaned from Gaia from that first meeting.
“Gaia doesn’t understand humanity. Our intelligence—that selfish, singular attribute—is an unexpected aberration. She has only ever dealt with us as a plain animal species. A member of the superorganism that is The Earth.”
“All the life of the earth, all inter-relating. Think of your own body, Rod. There’s ‘you’ but you’re just a collection of cells, many not even human.”
Amy says, “I did a piece once. Some Ph.D. said that individual human beings can be thought of as superorganisms; There‘s the human body, sure, but each person’s gut contains another thousand-plus species of bacteria. I remember the guy saying that there’s one hundred times more genes in the bacteria you carry than in your own body and they all work together, somehow.”
“Precisely. The human body has co-evolved with bacteria. Without those other thousand-plus species, we would all be dead.
“Gaia’s trouble is: we’ve stopped behaving simply like animals and as a species we are increasingly destroying many of the other members of the superorganism. Gaia doesn’t know about society, psychology, motivation; doesn’t understand science. She can’t understand how variations between different nationalities arise and definitely doesn’t comprehend that such as thing as ‘politics’ may even exist.
“Gaia simply sees one species out of balance with all the others. ‘Plague’ was the impression she left in me.
“It seems that we humans are starting to give Gaia an upset stomach and she’s trying to work out whether to reach for the antacid or to ride it out and hope it all improves of its own accord. Thankfully, She wants to know more about us before making the decision. She’s already been trying to learn more. She’s given you and others like you your Cloths and she knows what you do and can—subtly, imperfectly, it is true—guide you in your interactions with others. She’s hoping that the little lessons and small guidances will lead to big improvements; hoping that she can work out a better way to communicate with us; hoping that she won’t have to cull us.”
“Now she and I can converse a little more effectively but we need to do much better. It’s going to take a lot of learning and teaching…in both directions.
“That’s all I have managed to get from Gaia so far. Now let me tell you where I think things are going to go…
“We are going to have to work out how to return the human species to balance. Together, we—those of us who now have, or who will be given Cloths—will have to assume the superintendency of our species.
“I think that Gaia has just appointed me head honcho! That’s work enough to keep me for the rest of my life.”
Rod, joking: “All hail Jo Schneider! First ambassador to the superorganism of Earth.”
Laughter all round.
Amy says, “What a huge load to take on!”
“I won’t be doing it all on my own. There’s you guys, for one thing. And the other Rods and Amys that must be out there. There’s probably quite a few more Jos, as well. As Gaia learns from me, she will understand you guys better. She will work with you more clearly, more surely.” Soberly, “I hope that I am capable of the task. I hope I can make her understand that we are not a plague to be wiped out.”
Rod asks, “Can we trust all this? These are just your first impressions, after all. We all know how useful first impressions tend to be.”
“If you accept the old tenet that minds cannot lie to each other, then we must trust. I believe what I have experienced so far, and trust my conjecture. You’ve always trusted the feelings sent to you by your Cloth, have you not?”
“Sure I trust my Cloth. Always have. My Cloth is why both Amy and I are still here.” Aggressively, “But this is all rather bigger than just little ole me…”
“I trust. You should continue to do so.”
Rod and Amy stay for a while to give assistance to—and learn from—Jo.
On leaving Paris, Amy says to Rod, “We have discovered our Rosetta Stone. Jo is the person to make sense of it all, I just know it.”
You're living in your own Private Idaho,
Where do I go from here to a better state than this.
— The B-52s, Private Idaho
Rocky Mountain way
Is better than the way we had
— Joe Walsh, Rocky Mountain Way
Jo is meditating. It’s a habit that she started in her 30s and has stuck with on an almost daily basis.
Meditation usually relaxes her and helps foster her natural creativity. Usually. Today is turning out to be different. Jo starts to notice a subtle change in the timbre of her experience and sensitises herself to the now oh-so familiar presence tugging at the periphery of her cognition. Gaia is with her. Jo starts to pull her awareness into focus and, as she does so, is fairly overwhelmed by a tangled wash of emotions. A dread anxiety, borne along by urgency and—yes—irresolution. This was new: Gaia was afraid!
The session continues to change; morphs into something quite different…an almost cinematic experience being played into her consciousness. The novelty and quality of this almost drive her out of trance, but she resists and is rewarded.
She sees a lone young male wolf, shockingly pure white, lying still on a small denuded stone outcrop, pale gray eyes gazing out across a valley of snow. She knows without being told that this is Alaska, that these events have happened quite recently, that this meeting is the cause of Gaia’s disquiet and that the wolf is to become an important player in future events.
So intently is she studying the animal that she doesn’t see Gaia appear in front of the wolf. She does however, see Gaia offer her Cloth with the customary ‘Touch.’ Jo watches as the wolf acceeds to the command. A yelp of pain, a growl of anger and fear and Gaia’s overture is complete and a small diamond-shaped jewel comprised of a tessellation of perfectly fitting spiky/sharp-cornered segments is unshakeably embedded into the wolf’s forehead.
Jo’s meditation once again nearly comes to an abrupt end as she marvels at how easily the wolf accepts Gaia…as it though had always known of her. She recalls with shame her initial scepticism, but is able to suppress her emotional response and continues to observe.
Gaia begins. “Do not listen to your heart. The path you desire is not wise; it leads to certain disaster for yourself and for all those whom you seek to help.”
The wolf: “The humans must be curtailed while they can be, before they destroy us all. Can you not feel the changes?” He pauses, nostrils flaring, “Do you not see, hear, smell and taste these foul creatures everywhere? Nowhere is free from their corruption. They will destroy us. Even the rocks beneath our feet suffer. You know what is at stake here, better than I do. Surely you also know what must be done.”
“You wish to raise an army, position yourself as its General and clear the Humans away. You surely know that a few wolves are no match for them.”
The wolf’s rejoinder is fearless and immediate. “An simple army of wolves is not what I plan. I intend to engage all animals in this; all plants, too if I must.
Ultimately, I want you to join the fight. You can prevent these barbarians from destroying us all. You must do so.”
“Be warned, young General. If you engage directly with them, you will fail.
“Know too, that I am not omnipotent and that if I engage directly with them, I will also fail. Humans have a clear phrase covering this situation: ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ and such is surely the case here. They are masters of destruction in ways beyond your imagining. In ways that even I cannot resist.”
The wolf waits. He is shaken by Gaia’s claim of powerlessness but remains defiant, resolute and typically primal: “Am I to lie down, offer the Human scum my throat?”
“I did not say that. I stress the word ‘directly.’ I have a plan already under way. You will still command an army, but a different army to the one you envisage. I cannot become part of your plan, but you must become part of mine.”
Gaia’s tone becomes peremptory. “I command this: learn more about Humans. I am hopeful that you will discover an alternative path that you can tread.” Softening, she continues, “Be warned that this will not be easy. Nor will it be quick.”
For the first time, Gaia addresses Jo directly. A single word: ‘Prepare.’
Abruptly, Jo’s meditation breaks and she finds herself staring directly into a pair of unwavering pale gray eyes.
“Hello General. I have just been appraised of your arrival.”
Jo is on the phone to Amy. She is venting.
“It’s so frustrating. There is so much to teach and he has such limited patience for learning. I know that The General can spend hours in contemplation, that he can also spend hours(days?) tracking down his prey but 10 mins of more abstract ideas seems to be his limit.
“I simply can’t break Humanity into 10 min sound bites.”
Amy replies, laughing. “Most politicians these days do precisely that!”
“You’re too young to be so cynical.”
“I was a new reporter, remember? Have you tried “show not tell”? It works for young children, maybe it will work for a Wolf.”
“Are you saying that I should plonk him in front of the TV?”
“Yes. You have seen ‘The Fifth Element’, havent’ you?”
“Ha ha! Do I chose children’s cartoons or daily affairs shows, chick-flicks or war films? “All of the above”? I am not sure that it’s even possible. Most animals are physiologically unable to see TV correctly, as far as I know.”
“Most animals don’t NEED to watch TV. I wasn’t thinking of TV, anyway. Have you brought him into the community? Let him directly interact with other humans and human society?”
“I haven’t dared. He is still a wild Wolf, you know. He is a killer and a bit volatile. I have scars! I don’t think he’d take too kindly to a leash.”
“I wasn’t talking about taking him shopping or to the local county fair! Start him off in the back of your pickup so he can watch from afar. You can surely make him understand the benefits and the boundaries.”
“That’s a great idea! I haven’t fired Betty up for quite a while, though. I hope she’s up to it…”
And so it was.
From his vantage point atop ‘Betty’, The General observed a wide gamut of daily life: Human anger and love, violence and caring, the minuteae of life as it is lived in Paris, Idaho.
Time and understanding progressed apace.
Another weekly phone call. Amy is shocked.
“Ye gods, Jo! You’re telling me that The General knows about biological warfare!”
“He was asking me how to weaponise fire. He knows that it can be a powerful weapon but has trouble creating and handling it. I’m still thinking on that one. I’m appreciating my opposable thumbs more and more, let me tell you.
“That little conversation led into to his ideas for applying other weapons. That’s when the subject came up.
“He has very effectively worked out—heavens knows how—that Alaska’s economy depends on potatoes. He plans to spread potato scab among the crops. He intends to recruit shrews to introduce beetles and worms into the fields to eat the tubers. He knows that he can use Ravens to dust a field with Canada Thistle seeds which will grow up to out-compete an already planted crop with the added benefit (as he sees it) of poisoning the ground to stop potatoes growing over the long-term.”
Amy: “This is serious stuff, Jo!”
“Oh yes. I finally understand what he meant when he told Gaia that he was going to recruit plants to fight Humans.
“This is far more sophisticated planning than I had thought possible. I don’t know how his plans would work outside of Alaska although I see no reason why they should not given the right “local knowledge”, which he claims to be able to organise.
“It’s obvious that I have been underestimating him.
“I feel rather ashamed of this, and not a little fearful.
“My trouble remains, though: how do I convince him that anything he can do, Humans can do a thousand times better. I use the term ‘better’ somewhat advisedly in this case but you know what I mean.”
More discussion. No clear plans emerged.
I don’t understand these humans!
Know your enemy. That was my plan. Find their weaknesses and learn how to attack them.
It isn’t working out that way at all.
Gaia told me that Jo would help me understand and plan what to do. So far, all she has done is try to explain how Humans ‘work.’ Jo often quotes this little message:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709
Sometimes I feel that I should just rip Jo’s delicate throat out and return to the North. I’ve come close a few times. I’m discovering that I have more self-control than I thought I had.
I can see the wisdom in learning as much as possible, but with each question I ask, and with each answer Jo gives, I get more confused. Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t a deliberate strategy: to demoralise me into inaction?
Money! What the hell is that all about? It seems to rule almost every aspect of their lives but I just can’t see it. Jo says it can be the ultimate weapon but how that can possibly be? I can’t use a weapon I don’t understand.
Compromise. All human society is about compromise. Except when it isn’t…I thought I understood war: if another pack comes into your territory, you run them out again. But wars of ideology? I should rip your throat out if you don’t agree with me? Craziness. And yet compromise seems to be at the heart of their society. Jo seems curiously unwilling to discuss the topic of war. She says that understanding how humans achieve—or fail to achieve—compromise may be key to avoiding war. “We are all going to have to work out how to live together”, she says. I’m still thinking that we should just cull the humans and be done with them.
Humans have no leader. I can’t see how they achieve anything without a clear leader. I once told Jo: “Take me to your leader.” She laughed. Laughed! I still don’t understand what a cliché is. I thought that this would be a weakness I could exploit, but Jo told me a little story about a make-believe animal called the hydra. Tear one head off, the story goes, and another two grow back. Jo warned me that this is the way Humans operate, that If I attack them I will only make things worse.
They have all these pretend gods but they have forgotten about Gaia. It’s ridiculous! These humans live in their heads so much! They have constructed these elaborate stories to guide them through their lives but consistently ignore the truth all around them. Jo says that this is one of the things that worries Gaia most. “Willful ignorance” she called it. I say that any animal that keeps on walking around with it’s eyes closed deserves to be eaten.
Their science allows them to achieve amazing things. Humans have walked on the moon. And wow: Jo gave me a “worming tablet” once…I don’t think I have felt so good since I was a cub. At the same time, they use their science to rape the land and destroy the web of life all across the planet.
Will it always be this way: for every good a bad, for every weakness will I find a compensating strength?
Gaia sent me to her for a reason and I trust Gaia, but I’m not going to play Jo’s question and answer game forever. Nothing I have yet seen convinces me that I should not raise an army to wipe them off the face of the planet.
This is not the regular Jo-Amy catch-up phone call…Jo is uncharacteristically emotional.
“I can’t believe it! I am so excited!
“I think I finally got through to The General. And I wasn’t even trying.”
Amy is amused. She has never seen this side of the usually oh-so-together professor before. “Take a deep breath, a big mouthful of whatever alcoholic liquid you have at hand and explain.”
“We had just had a long session en-rapport and I was taking some time out. Having a nice cuppa on the porch. I shifted my chair to get out of the sun and a couple of cockroaches scurried out of their hiding place.
“I went straight for the bug spray and got the pair of them. They flipped on their backs pretty much straight away and I went back to my tea. We may all be part of Gaia, but I am not a big fan of some of Gaia’s more interesting aspects like salmonella and polio.
“Then I noticed the General. He seemed shocked and not a bit agitated. He kept on looking at me and then the ‘roaches. He watched them until they stopped kicking up a storm and then got up and left.
“I didn’t see him for a couple of days.
“When he came back, he got straight to the issue. He never beats around the bush, it’s not his character. He asked me why I had killed the cockroaches. I first tried to explain about how I found them dirty and that they made me uncomfortable. I then explained that I was afraid of them passing a disease to me.
“He got angry. Called me an immoral creature and a hypocrite who was not worthy of Gaia’s trust.
“I had frightened him!
“He was afraid that I could kill so ‘thoughtlessly’ and so ‘effortlessly.’ He called me cruel for allowing the roaches to suffer so clearly and for so long without putting them out of their misery.
“I’ve been killing roaches in this way all my life and never thought about this before. I have to admit: he has a point.
“He pressed me about whether I could kill him so easily.
“I told him that I couldn’t, but that others could.”
Amy interjects, “Quick, Robin! Get the anti-wolf spray!”
“Anyway…we went on for a quite a while. Things got a bit heated, I have to say. He is scary when he is angry, you know.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t add to my collection of scratches and scars.”
“But I think I have finally found an opening, a chink in the armor of his confidence and belief. I’ve been skirting around discussing the Human talent for inflicting pain, suffering and immense amounts of thoughtless destruction. I know that he has been becoming increasingly impatient with me for doing so. So many times I have asserted that if he started something, he couldn’t possibly win, but I know that he has never believed me.
“It appears that he is now beginning to take me seriously.”
“A thought, Jo. If he gets this disturbed by a bit of roach spray, how will he react to H-bombs?”
“Good question! Only time will show us the answer but I think I know a way to double-down on this bit of progress.”
The General and Jo are en-rapport. Both are sitting at the place where first they met.
Why did you show me that awful event? Is it to break my spirit, to send me back to my lands with my tail between my legs? Perhaps you wish me to lead a pathetic life, continually whimpering in fear and impotence, meekly accepting any atrocity that may cross my path? You intended to frighten me, perhaps? Well, you have succeeded! Of all the terrors that you have introduced to me, I have just witnessed the unthinkable.
You have talked about Human wars and shown me how Humans accept daily genocides without pause.
I have accepted the truth of the images placed before me: how Human science makes it possible to inflict unthinkable destruction with one bomb. I have seen how Human ignorance and sloth have led Humans away from Gaia and as a result, brought all of us to the brink of ecological disaster.
You engaged my intellect, leaving my emotions unswayed…
I have witnessed your personal indifference to life, have seen you kill creatures that offend your idea of beauty or “make you feel unclean.” I detect not an iota of qualm or remorse.
…and you connected to my emotions, you made me angry. Still, my anger was directed to you, personally.
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
— Francis of Assisi
Do these words define you, do they define Humanity?
You bring me to a storage silo infested with a ‘plague’ of mice. You show me an imbalance that you Humans created through poor “mangement of ‘Economic conditions’” and poor storage processes.
Then you make me watch the way in which it is ‘controlled.’
Atrocity! Unthinkable carnage.
I witnessed tens of thousands of lives wiped out before my eyes. Gassed into oblivion in an instant. An effortless, thoughtless, industrial-scale pest-clearing exercise.
“Two more barns to do before knock-off this afternoon.”, said the team leader. No empathy, no regret, no thought of consequence. No mindfullness. “All in a day’s work” to those involved.
What I saw here will darken my dreams for the rest of my life.
I once referred to Humans as ‘barbarians.’
And my anger knew no bounds.
I wanted to destroy.
And now I know a sweeping impotence.
I now belive you to be devils.
And my anger has mutated into a fear greater than any I have ever known.
I am cowed.
…but not into inaction. Now that I truly begin to understand I can begin to plan a true course of action.
Jo and The General are en-rapport with Gaia, Rod and Amy.
The General opens. “If I had my way, still would I rip the throat out of every Human on the planet. I see little about them that is good and much that is terrible.
“Jo has shown me that my way would be disastrous for me, for my species and ultimately for all. I cannot hope to win a direct battle against Humanity. More: I should not attempt to do so, for this is not Gaia’s wish.
“I must control the fear and anger that I feel. Only then will I be able to control these emotions in others and only then will I have any chance of furthering my desire to bring out a better world.”
Rod breaks in. “Some Human wisdom for you:”
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Jo interjects with amusement: “Of all the pieces of human wisdom you could choose!”
The General continues. “Humour or not, that is well put. I have learned long-term thinking; I am persuaded of the need for subtlety. You have introduced me to politics and not just the simple balance-of-power necessity I have always known. I have learned of the need to plan for what is beyond the horizon, to cooperate across time.”
Jo responds. “It has been a privilege to work with you, General. You have shown me viewpoints and experiences that I could never have dreamed of. Let me give you another quote:”
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
— Douglas Adams
Amy’s speaks, “Rest assured that this will not be the case for those who are here today, or who are to join us in the future.”
And Jo continues, “I have long known that to undo the evil that Humanity has wrought on the world will require many generations of change. I recognise that reparations are needed: Humanity will cure the ills that we have caused. Those of us here today will—with Gaia’s increasingly active participation—gradually guide our species, our sciences and our technologies to this end.
“I will miss you. You have taught me that Humanity is not alone; we have partners that we should and must work with.”
The General replies, “I have learned the same from you.”
Gaia summarises in uncharacteristically voluble terms.
“This a momentous and utterly vital time for all of us.
“When I first sought him out, the General had a heart filled with anger and the lust for war. He wanted me to spread The Cloth widely, across many species, to help him wage war on Humanity. I could not do this without causing the common destruction of all. I have see how his heart and mind have both changed, and I have seen that the Humans have been able to work with him towards a common goal. This itself has been a significant event for Humanity.
“I now judge that it is safe for me to bring all the wearers of The Cloth of all the non-human species together under The General’s guidance. Jo, Rod, Amy and the other Human Cloth wearers will help me guide Humanity to a better future. They must and will now learn to cooperate with all other Cloth wearers, and in doing so will reestablish a global balance to ensure that all my species see a better future.
Twenty-odd years have passed since Amy and Rod first sat around Jo’s kitchen table; now they are joined by a dozen other Cloth holders.
For a solid week, the group has been discussing and arguing. Acrimonious dispute has flared and been dampened, tears have flown. All in attendance have ridden an emotional roller-coaster; they are all acutely aware of playing a very high-stakes game.
The ride is now over, Jo is called upon to summarise. It is a measure of the gravity of the situation that her words and style have a measure of formality, even though she is among a community of friends.
“You all know the load that Gaia has placed on our shoulders: ‘decide on the future of the human species.’
“As Amy said to me, many years ago: ‘What a huge load to take on!’
Jo takes a little time to smile at Amy before continuing. “A huge load indeed, but a necessary one that is not also without benefit.”
“One of the first impressions I gained from Gaia was that humans were a plague that deserved to be culled. It has taken effort and patience to persuade her that despite our negative impact on the planet so far we have an intrinsic value and should be allowed to continue to exist. She has now accepted that position but in return has worked hard to make us understand that we humanity simply continue its destructive ways. A decade or so ago, Gaia gathered this group together and set us on a voyage of discovery. Discovery—both of the world and of the self—seldom is easy and I am quite certain that it has not been easy for any of us. As we have learned and grown, so has Gaia’s knowledge of us and our species.
“A few days ago I was reminded of Emily Dickinson‘s beautiful poem, ‘If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking.’ I’d like to share a particularly appropriate verse with you all.”
Jo picks up a worn paperback, opens it to a marked page and reads:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
“Let us reflect on the fact that our task has been to save all the ‘fainting robins’ out there, as well as to ‘cool the pain’ of the human species.
“The issues we have covered this past week—the species’ excessive fertility, aggression, territoriality and increasing isolation from both the rest of humanity and the rest of the life of the planet—have been endlessly debated down through the ages, but Gaia has not given us the luxury of endless debate, argument and counter-argument.
“We have been given a definite task: we are the only group in all of history who have been asked to act.
“As Rod would say: ‘Ouch.’
“It has often been said that humanity needs a ‘parent’ to keep it in check. Through the Cloth, Gaia has provided a mechanism that will allow her to more actively play that part.
“We are asking Gaia to change the very essence of what it means to be a human. We are initiating the change from Homo Sapiens—the thinking human—to Homo Socio—the social human. The desired outcome is a less numerous species that is better able to relate to both itself and the rest of the planet. We cannot say how this transformation is to be achieved—other than to request that it be done as ‘humanely’ as possible—but it is clear that Gaia has the power to make almost any changes we may ask for.
“We may quail at being chosen to be a part of making this decision but my heart, and I hope yours as well, is clear.
Jo pauses to gather herself before continuing. Stress levels are high, and she is not young.
“For completeness’ sake I will restate the decisions of this group.
“On behalf of the human species, we ask Gaia to undertake the following over the next few generations in such a way as to minimise human suffering:
“The ultimate outcome of the second decision is that all members of humanity shall become Cloth bearers. We consider that this symbiotic relationship will be vital, ensuring that humanity will never again become so disconnected from Gaia and the rest of the planet.
“Are we agreed?”
She looks around the table at each person in turn. All reply ‘Yes.’
As the final ‘Yes’ hangs in the air, Gaia appears. The black hooded figure slowly bows before the group. It is the first time any member has seen the presence do anything of the sort.
Jo says, “We are agreed. You have your decision.”
The black hooded figure bows again, somewhat more deeply than before, and vanishes.
Rod is loafing on his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, a talking head is saying, “…this country needs strong leadership. John can give us that leadership.”
Amy rushes downstairs to Rod. Rod immediately knows that something is amiss: Amy is never energetic in the morning. Amy says: “Gaia just appeared to me. She didn’t say anything; just touched my forehead and went away.”
“Hmm? I wonder what that was about.”
“I didn’t feel anything odd. Don’t feel anything odd, I mean.” She waves her Cloth at him and continues, “The funny thing is, I am getting a strong feeling of…of…happiness from this. Happiness and anticipation.”
Rod is slumped on his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, a hugely muscular soccer star is detailing his latest exploit: “…and I kicked the ball and it went straight into the net. That was the kick of my life.”
Amy calls down from their bedroom: “Rod? I’ve got a fever. I’m going to stay home today.”
Rod is stretched out on his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, a talking head is saying, “…what this country needs is strong leadership. Only Joe can give us that.”
The sounds of Amy retching reach him. Rod is a becoming concerned. He thinks, She is getting worse. Should I call a doctor, I wonder?
Rod is perched on the edge of his lounge chair. He is somewhat tense, knowing that Amy is still unwell. He is keeping one ear on the morning news and the other on Amy, upstairs. On the screen, a tall, bronzed man is detailing his latest exploit: “…and I picked a number 3 iron and the the ball went straight into the hole. That was the shot of my life.”
Amy shuffles into the room. She is bedraggled and has lost a little weight. She says, “I feel much better today.”
As is his habit, Rod sits on his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, a talking head is saying, “…John and Joe had their chances. In a shock move, the voters have chosen James. Hopes are high that he will give us the leadership we deserve.”
Amy comes in from the kitchen, says: “What is that stink? Ugh! Your toast smells horrible. I feel like a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Want?”
Rod is sitting of his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, a short, somewhat overweight man is detailing his latest exploit: “…I decided to use live bait this time. I got a bite the instant I had the hook in the water. That was the cast of my life.”
Rod hears Amy retching upstairs, thinks, “We both ate the same things yesterday, so it can't be food poisoning…can it?”
Rod is loafing on his lounge chair watching the morning news. On the screen, the story of the day is playing out: “…and this poor kitty spent three days trapped in the well…”
Amy walks tentatively into the lounge room. Says, “Rod? I have missed my period.”
All thought of the unfortunate feline flees Rod’s mind.
Rod and Amy are clustered around a “Pink Rabbit” pregnancy self test kit. The tension is palpable and grows as the image of a pink rabbit develops in front of them.
Rod reads the instructions for what must have been the tenth time. “Says here that a pink rabbit means ‘yes.’”
Amy stares at Rod. Rod braces; he knows that tears—lots of tears—are due Real Soon Now.
Amy is on the phone to Jo. She is sharing the good news.
“Thing is, I can’t be. I was left infertile after…” She breaks off. Even after all the years and events that have passed, that nerve is still raw.
“It was Gaia. It must have been. Remember that I told you a couple of weeks back that she popped in and touched me, and then I immediately got sick for a few days? We never worked out why. Now we know: she cured me.”
Jo, thoughtfully: “…she cured you.” Even more thoughtfully: “Hmmm…and Gaia always plays the long game.
“Congratulations again! The proud parents of the very first member of species Homo Socio. Gaia has given you and Rod what—from her perspective—must be the ultimate reward: Gaia has ensured that your genes will continue.
My mother groaned, my father wept,
into the dangerous world I leapt.
— William Blake
I love going in to Brisbane! Just seeing the kilometre-plus high towers inspires me. They didn’t even have molecular bond augmentation fields and still built the most amazing things. Yes, our ancestors were forced to build high because of horrid and dumb population and economic pressures but boy, did they do it well. I've been up to the old emperor’s penthouse in the government tower and it’s simply amazing.
Sometimes, though, going to Brisbane really sucks. The reclamation teams we join on our civics courses work really hard! It’s rather depressing too: no matter how grand the ancestors were and no matter how well they built, their world still collapsed. Not collapsed, really. Changed, rather…according to Mr. Soo, our history mentor, it was a gradual lessening, not an apocalyptic “end-of-the-world” thing. The population sort of faded away and went “back to nature.” All those silly little “nation states” just went away too, which is a good thing as far as I can tell from Mr. Soo’s teachings. With them went much of the desire for grand showcases like Brisbane. I’d just love to see Nairobi one day though; centre of the ancient empire, and all that.
This visit to Brisbane was more sucky than usual. I kept feeling a ‘pull’ back home, like I should be on the beach. I love the beach much more than I love going to Brisbane. Old Mrs. de Santa kept telling me off but I just couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing.
I was so glad when we were finally back home and the evening meditation session was over. I picked up my force board and a group of us headed down towards the sunset and the surf. Free to scratch my ‘itch’ at last!
I was in such a hurry that I forgot to take off my Cloth. I always take off my Cloth because when I was really little I nearly lost it in the surf. That was a bad time. I can still remember feeling so alone and being so afraid. I kept on thinking what if it can’t be found and I have to go through life without a Cloth? I cried so much! The teachers found it for me—thank Gaia—but it hadn’t gone anywhere near the beach since that day; it was really a complete accident that I had it with me.
We didn’t have the beach all to ourselves, there was a family of bottlenose dolphin already down there. They often swim with us. We’ve given them names…most of them, anyway.
Before I could get on my board, ‘Lefty’—we call him that because he always floats around waving at us with his left-hand fin—came up close and just sort of bobbed around in front of me. Lefty is a young bull and is usually quite friendly, but this was a bit unusual; it was like he was asking for food, but we’re told never to give the dolphins food and they don’t generally ask.
I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I offered him my Cloth. Lefty came right up to me, and touched it. Amazing! My Cloth budded off into a sort of bandage and Lefty stayed really still while I wrapped it around his fin. It fitted perfectly and I don’t think it will work loose. As soon as it was fitted, Lefty turned around and gave me a huge spray with his flukes. By the time I had flicked the water out of my eyes, Lefty was gone.
Lefty is still out there and I’ll swear a few more dolphins now have Cloths.
But anyway, that’s how I got my nickname ‘Splash.’
I’ve heard of Splash’s story, of course; there can’t be many who haven’t. I don't think that—even now—the silly kid understands just what he did that day. I certainly felt a change in the timbre of my meditation as a result of him bringing the dolphins into the community of the Cloth…there’s a different vitality to Gaia.
I find it hard to comprehend that he and I have a shared ancestry going all the way back to the very first Cloth holders, but there you go.
But you want to know my story, of course…
I‘ve been researching termites all my adult life. It’s important work. They are amazing creatures. They are such an old species and have existed practially unchanged since the late Triassic era…that’s about 230 million years. They live in a highly organised society and can perform astonishing feats of engineering.
It sounds childish, but I was actually inspired to become a myrmecologist by a couple of short stories created by a writer called Arthur C. Clarke. He lived and wrote at the beginning of the “space race” era…quite a while before the Cloth was given to us.
“The Next Tenants”, was the one that really caught my imagination. Clarke put termites at the centre of a “mad professor”-style story. Clarke was very respectful of the termite species and maybe even a bit prescient, saying: “Remember that the termites, as individuals, have virtually no intelligence. But the colony as a whole is a very high type of organism—and an immortal one, barring accidents.”
And there was “Retreat from Earth.” A story that had invaders from Mars beaten back by termites acting as The Guardian of Earth. I loved that one!
I do most of my research in Kruger National Park in South Africa.
On the day in question, I was driving between termite mounds replacing instrument packs. The packs usually last around 5 years but they sometimes need to be replaced out of schedule. The termites do tend to find weaknesses in the enclosures and end up destroying them. In my wilder moments, I sometimes fantasise that they don’t want to be investigated. That ancient author had a bigger influence than I like to admit, I guess; I often ‘flashback’ to “Retreat from Earth.”
Changing packs is a pretty boring task that requires a lot of land travel and I confess that on the last job of the day my mind was wandering. I was thinking about Splash’s story and I became conscious of a feeling of dryness and a rustling, clicking sensation at the fringe of my mind.
I remember thinking if it worked for Splash…. So I opened up a piece of the mound and laid my Cloth near one of the exposed surface conduits.
As soon as the first soldier crawled onto it my Cloth it swelled and budded, and the budded-off piece turned into a pile of granules just the right size for worker caste termites to handle. I watched as the small mound of granules was surrounded by a cadre of soldier termites and carried inside the mound by a team of workers. Such organised and highly goal-driven behaviour! I wish I had had a camera to hand, I would have been able to write a full paper on the event. I am ashamed that I didn’t even think to keep one of the granules as proof.
Still, I’m sure that I did something special because when I looked up, I saw that the Presence of Gaia was watching.
I wonder what the inclusion of termites into the community of the Cloth will do?
I’ve since heard of people testing their pet dogs and cats, to no effect. I also heard of some guy in Australia trying to see what would happen with a Magpie. The Magpie apparently returned his Cloth after three days; no-one yet knows if anything meaningful happened in the meantime, though.
Evolution is a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners.
From the dance emerges the entity Gaia.
— James Lovelock
The termites found it. All those minds spread over the surface of the earth had got together as a nice big interferometric array and detected an approaching extra-planetary mind beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Very clever of them, and immensely subtle. More proof, if proof were still needed, that there is more to that ancient species than we youngsters have yet discovered.
Before you could spell ‘interferometric’, our telescopes at Farside had dropped the planned schedule of work and got in on the act. We were able to confirm. The termites had given us the location, but we were able to show what it looked like: a spherical object a few thousand Km in diameter, radiating purple with a peculiarly fuzzy, dynamic and ill-defined boundary.
We soon determined that it was approaching fast and was also shedding velocity and shrinking as it did so.
Not only was it coming in really, really fast, but it was on a direct line to Earth.
Most of us on Farside are speculative fiction fans—some are borderline obsessive—and not long before this I’d been pointed at the classic Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Science Fiction story “Footfall.” When the first report came in, a group of us started referring to the newcomer as the Thuktun Flishithy and some reporter-type, perhaps thinking we were using a technical term, wrote this name into his or her posting. Before we could issue a clarification, the whole world was talking about “the approaching Thuktun Flishithy” and we’ve never gotten around to issuing that clarification. Now you all know. Those ancients would be so proud!
I think it was a case of “you named it, you get to keep it” but after we noticed that the incoming mind had changed course and was apparently heading towards our base on Farside, I found myself elected to be the welcoming party.
Am I babbling? Apologies if so, but I am incredibly nervous! It’s not every day that one gets to make interstellar first-contact. I am hyper-aware of the mood emanating from everyone back in the base as well. You’re not helping, guys!
I can see the Thuktun Flishithy with unaided eyes now! I hope everybody else is getting good visuals from all the cameras and ’scopes that we have—rather hastily, it must be admitted—set up out here with me.
I see a dark blue-ray shape. The instruments tell me that it is still several Km in size. A deep purple glow is restlessly playing around the edges of the ray’s ‘wings.’ I can see the wings beating slowly, in the same way that a true blue-ray’s wings would. What’s that about, I wonder…it makes no sense for it to be trying to swim in space…is this an indication of an as-yet-unknown motive force or simply an odd attempt at invoking a feeling of familiarity.
The Presence of Gaia has suddenly joined me. I am sure that I will eventually recover from being half scared to death.
Welcome, Gaia. I am glad that I am not the only life-form here. I am doubly glad, given that you are the true representative of the planet and all our species.
Did you all just get that? No? I’ll repeat. Gaia has just said to me: “Your ancestors were among the first to receive the Cloth. It is fitting that the genes of Rod and Amy are again here to receive the future.”
That was…quite…something. Guess I’ll have to study my family tree!
It has just hit me. In an emotional way I mean, not just intellectually: this is big. Really Big. This event could well have the same magnitude of impact on the planet as The Joining Of Species had all those many, many generations ago.
The Thuktun Flishithy is getting closer now…and smaller. According to my readouts it is shrinking rapidly as proximity grows. Does this mean that it is not a physical thing? Perhaps it is a Presence, like Gaia herself: something that is predominantly meta-physical.
It’s here! It is now hovering dead ahead of Gaia and I. It’s now about three metres from wingtip to wingtip. Astounding!
I am receiving strong feelings from the Thuktun Flishithy: joy, relief, expectation. A feeling of being reunited along with an overpowering sensation of recognition. Gaia’s family has arrived.
I can see a purple ball of force building at the nose of the Thuktun Flishithy. It has budded and is now hovering immediately in front of Gaia’s black-hooded face.
This from Gaia herself, as she reaches out to touch the force-ball: “The Joining Of Species is set to continue…”
See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high, progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below?
— Essay on Man, by Alexander Pope