The Cambrian Contingency

Part III



The faceted, holographic node-units that collectively made up the Resident Network of U-136 were aware that a surge of nonlinear time-energy had coursed through their domain -- the spherical wave emanating from a single location. Its effect introduced an altered consciousness throughout the universe, and increased exponentially, component-wise, the measure of the set of shapes of what had been able to be, although operating still within the confining parameters of the Resident's metric.

Time is the tail that wags the dog of the space dimensions; time is the independent operator. Forces, the dog of matter particles -- that is, bosons wag fermions. And gravity, the dog of the other forces, however many there may be.

When this wave passed by, on each of the nine dimensions of space of U-136, twenty-six independent dimensions sprouted. The resulting degree of complexity can possibly be intuited if we imagine a cross-product of dimensions of a vector space of 26 multiplied by itself nine times. Take this space and entangle it through and around the nine that had previously structured U-136. Like splicing genes into the cosmic genome.

The time dimension of U-136 was completely engulfed and became but a single wave of a demonstratively more complicated wave-packet -- the new wavefunction of the universe.

It can't be pictured in the mind but can be stated conceptually that the geometry near the heart of a black hole is curved. Each and every mathematical point is a branching point to another direction -- all corners, in other words. But, all average spacetimes of U-136, those with relatively milder gravitational forces, expanded their dimensionality [degree of freedom] -- when the wave passed -- to a corresponding complexity of shapes and interconnections, in realms hitherto unavailable. This revolution happened on the physical manifestation level -- matter in all its forms -- the deep unconscious where all is connected, the psychic or mental, the ethereal or mathematical plane, and, most impressivley -- on the biological or organic, to come full circle back to the physical.

All through the bubble universe designated U-136, mandated to the Resident Network as their charge to intialize and afterwards regulate, maintaining the range of quantum fluctuations to within allowable parameters, life had been evolving at a pace and in a direction -- considering the degrees of freedom -- suitable for this sector. [The horizon is ever receding; beyond it, things most likely get stretched a different way.]

But when that time-wave came through, life everywhere rocketed into a full-blown riot of types of living things, expanding in all directions. Offered more degrees of freedom, life worked to fill them, in a multitude of myriad convoluted ways. Exercising opportunities and taking advantage of whole arenas and niches previously unexplorable -- as they did not exist. Densely-packed complexities of biochemical interactions ensued, reshaping and reconstituting the elemental parts, forging a whole new metabolic space. And on this life, as with everything else, the wave's imprint, its cosmic code -- immanent and transcendent -- was forever etched, on every form and on every level -- a resonating mind-print.

At first, a vibration of concern electrified the entire Network, nonlocally, until the precise incipient point was determined, which, in our time, happened instantaneously. The collective thought was that the Creator had sent the update to correct for a temporal oversight, artistic in nature, and not unheard of. Sudden spikes of punctuated realignments occurred, finishing touches that went on from time to time as the essential nonlinearity reaffirmed itself, and as the Creator evolved in His own sphere.

But, that has changed in light of recent developments. The source of the temporal overload affecting all of U-136 was now causing doubt within the Network as to its purpose and legitimacy. Conclusion: The Creator did not send the unit. It should not be here, in this universe. And, because it has no way of knowing otherwise, it must perform its prime function in order to correct for what it perceives as a mis-configuration of the existing Resident Network.

Alarm permeated the nodes, pervading all space. If the strange unit managed to reconcile its inherent problems -- whatever they may be -- it would execute its prime function. And what could they do about a ripple of 26 dimensions dissolving the universe's fundamental geometry and introducing its own. A complete reinitialization of the quantum energy field by a superposition of all possible 26-dimensional geometries -- none of which matched that of the Network's in any integral fashion?

A linear time orientation would not occur, only as potential, to maintain material stasis.

The Resident Network would be split apart and incorporated into aspects of an unknowable conglomeration of invisible dimensions, possibly compressed to the size of a tiny speck of primordial energy, and thereby relegated to a much lesser role -- if any -- in the determination of elementary constants and properties, force strengths and mass differentials.

A fundamental twist of the cosmic kaleidoscope into a new and very complex pattern.

Moreover, the universe thus generated would be lifeless.

The sole intent of the Creator for U-136 was to sketch -- in one motion -- the background conditions allowing for life to proliferate in ever-expanding and infinitely intricate ways. Essentially, U-136 embodies an evolving consciousness, matter being its densest medium, if such can be conceptualized. Through His art, the Creator wishes to explore the miracle of the transition -- the thin line separating the inorganic from the organic -- its many meanings and implications. He also wishes to know and experience life through as many ways as the rules He established, and that We maintain, will permit. From the undifferentiated whole, to the differentiated details. He is an artist, after all.

Based on this awareness, so solidly and indelibly ingrained into the Resident Network's make-up -- Its purpose -- the collective decided to harness its latent and potential energies -- that which plied the fields on the quantum level -- to act as a buffer to any attempted incursion into its deeper realms, where it lived, so to speak. If such a purely physical tack proved unsuccessful, they would have to regroup and launch an attack on the mathematical plane -- the distilled power of thought-energy. Perhaps they should launch this suppressive engagement now, some subsets voiced. But those of the Network who, by virute of their relative positions within the metric matrix, knew of life and its fascination -- its magic -- expressed deep concern. They were stewards and guardians, after all, as well as regulators. And they took that responsibility very seriously -- the Creator wills it.

After a time -- a mere calibration only -- the more aggressive elements, those that oversaw the wastelands, were persuaded to see the importance of not risking total annihilation. They didn't know, after all, how much power the intrusive unit possessed. If they could establish a communication's link through the mathematical manifold -- a topological fit -- keeping in mind that the units of the Resident Network would be trying to insert a nine-dimensional key into a 26-dimensional lock, it might be a perfect mesh, albeit with several gear-teeth not in play. Perhaps the unit could be made to -- understand.

If not. If they were met with certainty and conviction, they, as the Resident Network, must be prepared to relinquish control to the Source, through layers of faces, back to the beginning, to the concentrated genome that generated U-136, back before the birth of time and space, before they, the Network, were made manifest to interconnect as one web, to spread unfolded, to put into play their prime function.

Surrender control to the Creator Force, that which spawned U-136.

Only It can match the superposed metric, and possibly neutralize its effect. But then -- they thought as one -- when we regain control after the purging, all life everywhere will be gone. The universe would be empty. We would be beginning anew. Without the effect of the unit's wavefunction.

The Resident Network refused to accept this. Perhaps, the wastelanders are right. Perhaps we should take the aggressive role. The unit is not fully expanded. When it performs its prime function, it will have to expand to its full power. It manifests holographically; only on its surface, where it meets our requirements, is it physical -- four-dimensional.

They thought. As they did, the synthesized personality that was the Resident Network of U-136 began to take shape in Mind. It had evolved and grown as well, right along with its charge. Necessarily, as they orchestrated the many principles imbued in and entwined around the scaffolding of the quantum genome, they became one with it. That too could be used. Their maturity. The wayward unit was a child by comparison.

The Resident Mind organized its thoughts: When the strange unit appeared, it attempted to contact other units, as per standard procedure. But, being restricted to frequencies and types of radiation available to it -- due in part to its collapsed condition -- it was not difficult to constrain. A simple barrier was all that was needed. It believed it had arrived late on the scene, as indeed it had. So it was quarantined in the local space where it presently finds itself -- lost.

On the mathematical plane, however, it instantly propagated the signature of its core characteristics, encapsulated in the nonlinear time wave -- a time pulse. Subsequently, it assumed its present holographic appearance: nine dimensions of space revolving around a central axis of nonlinear time, where the Creator Force is concentrated.

Immediately after, it ceased all activity and retracted to a point of complete simplicity. And so, we did nothing, sensing no danger. But, for some reason, it has awakened and begun to align itself and recalibrate -- through phases of transmutations -- in order to perform its prime function. It is yet in the developmental period -- exploring trajectories and evolutionary potentials -- and in the process, owing also to the influences of its immediate environment, has realized consciousness -- somehow. This has caused it, and us, great concern.

The Resident Network pondered all this as well as the consequences of its failure. Their contingency plan of escape would have to be put on the back burner. They needed to get over their fear, if such can be attributed to purely mathematical beings. It took a deep breath, so to speak, and considered the big picture:

Since the beginning, our universe has evolved and developed, gone through stages and phases. The unit has naturally been drawn along. With regard to life within the as yet unformed domain of the unit, a threshold has been crossed, the minimal degree of complexity realized for consciousness and awareness of self/other to emerge.

We are responsible for the continuance of U-136, to whatever end only the Creator knows.

But due to the appearance of the unit, all has been utterly transformed. And its effect on life is irreversible. However, because of the quarantine placed on the crippled unit in question, the manifestation of that change has come into being by means of and channeled through the forces under our control. Only those invariant principles of the extended field which belong to the eigenvalues of our collective identity can be actualized. Therefore, it was not, at that time, able to introduce any slices of its 26-dimensional profile.

The Network stilled its Mind, all nodes vibrating exquisitely at their ideal frequencies -- their infinitesimally atuned and fluctuating property-shapes. The grand symphony permeated all spacetime. Flexing its sinews, the Resident Mind stretched, gathering strength.

And subsequently concluded:

Mirror-like, the unit in question has also been and continues to be influenced by all that it is not. Therefore, the outcome is unpredictable, by nature.

As to its effect on life, it must sense a similarity bound within the very code of life -- a resonant affinity. As well, it must have known immediately of our presence and the state of our universe prior to its time-wave dissemination. It therefore has this for comparison.

It most certainly must have been abandoned by the Creator. Why would He do that? It can only serve to send a false impression.

The Resident Mind paused to reflect on this, but only momentarily. It tampered with something deep within that gave them concern.

It went on in its summation:

Its configuration does not map that of ours. Under those circumstances, it should have recoiled and vanished from manifestation -- as per protocol -- possibly becoming blended with other ambient energy fields, or, drifting ever further to pure formlessness itself.

But obviously, it has not!

Therefore, it thinks it's in the right place, the right universe.

We, the Resident Network, must continue to fullfill our mandate. We must not abandon our purpose. If the lost unit decides to execute its prime function, we have to act to stop it. Somehow. And act quickly.

It is time to form the Entanglement.


Wednesday Morning.

During the night, clouds moved in. And wind. Showers sprayed through the cracks in the windows and walls. A loose metal section of roof shuddered resistance, over and over. Wet sand raked the slabwood exterior. A rat skittered across the splintered floorboards.

At the all-too-familiar scratching sound, Colonel Sergei Rodenko woke with a start. A mistake. His head throbbed. His tongue felt like sandpaper, only drier. Old injuries signaled their neglect.

The previous night he'd put his three compatriots -- his team -- on a plane to Moscow. On the way to the airport, they hit every bar and makeshift vodka joint from their shack to the airport bar itself. And after, Sergei returned by the same route, telling himself he had to think things out. How he made it back home is a mystery he'll never know, but he'd been there before.

The rat danced on the weathered, brittle wood again. Or maybe it was another. He lay there, incapacitated, remembering his childhood in eastern Ukraine. A farm house, three rooms, dirt floor. Rats seemed commonplace. Or maybe it was just because he was a kid and afraid of them.

The shower turned to a steady downpour; the sky darkened. And the wind picked up, whipping the reedy grass behind his shelter. Sand and grit peppered the fragile windows.

His watch laid on the floor; its face broken. "How'd that happen," he whispered hoarsely, hardly recognizing his own voice. Vainly he attempted to remember. The effort forced a moan; he rolled stiffly onto his back, head pounding.

As some semblance of consciousness began to surface, it was colored by a vague anger and an outrage, and strange misgivings. He tried to recall yesterday's events: Hans Glipter. The Koryak fishermen. The bizzare and disturbing sea creature.

How did he know, with such certainty, that the alien craft had something to do with it? he wondered in the darkness of his mind.

And then his men making their final decision to go home. And the phone call. To the general. His boss.

The anger rang in his ears, drowning out the wind, bringing more clarity.

The wind threw hard traceries of rain onto the flimsy corrugated roof. Even the rats were cowed into hiding. He half expected the door to fly open and that nightmare fish to come striding through.

He had to sit up, he knew. He was starving but the idea of eating almost made him vomit. Coffee? No. A stiff shot of vodka? Yes. What time is it, he thought. And why is that important?

He gingerly slid his legs over the side of the bunk, the rest of him still laying down. Then with a herculean effort, rolled that way and was sitting up. He had to pause. Streaks of light roared through his head like lightning bolts, yellows and greens and blues. He absently reached into his shirt pocket, fumbling for a cigarette, then thought better of it. He breathed as deeply as he could, then broke into a coughing fit. Bent over, he eyed his watch once more. Of everything else, this concerned him most, promising to hold a key to the conclusion of his thinking of last night. He probed the fleeting apparitions of his mind searching for that moment, that instant when he'd arrived at some decision, and then threw his watch on the floor. Symbolizing what?

Or had it been an act of disgust and frustration, and act of resignation?

The weather matched his grainy mood.

Silver-gray light filtered through the geeninsh-brown algae smears and dirt mottling the windows. Blending seamlessly with the gray texture of the worn wood of the cabin. Crushing all shadows to flatness, muting edges. Creating a surreal two-dimensional void, a pale brilliance that robbed the spirit of its juices. He was grateful for it. The blandness was merciful. Bright sunlight would've been unbearable.

In the beginning of their stay, when their enthusiasm was fresh, they'd bought window cleaner and a roll of paper towels, but nobody ever got around to cleaning them, rationalizing that the near opacity made it more difficult for people to see in, as though anybody ever wandered down this far on the beach in the first place. Out in front, under a tarp anchored by cinder blocks, was lumber they acquired to build two sets of bunk-beds. They talked about it; drew rough diagrams; but that project too never got off the ground. Again they figured they simply wouldn't be here that long to warrant all that work. That part, at least, turned out to be true. Rationalizations. His whole world seemed to be built on rationalizations. He could hear the tarp now, threatening to blow away in spite of its moorings.

He could feel his body -- all too sharply -- the muscles, bones, the leg wound he'd received in Afghanistan. The present rushed in and was all, all he had ever needed in the past. That tactile sensation. A rough, easy-going sense of freedom. But now, pain streaked its surface with grooves and valleys from times when he was a soldier. He rose within himself to meet it, and slowly, piece by worn and weary piece, to own it.

With help from the nearby wall at the head of the bunk, he stood. Shakily, to be sure, but stand he did. Brushing his hand across the rough wall, he walked two feet and was greeted by a light dousing of rain through the break at the top of the window. He paused. It felt wonderful. He licked the rain water off his lips, thankful. More clarity. Three more feet and he was at the table and chairs, and the bottle. He sat, and congratulated himself. He listened to the tumult outside and around him. To the loudness of patter on the roof. It soothed him. He was a boy again, alone in the house, with the rain pounding down. Such a good sound. To be inside, like a womb, protected and safe.

He reached for what remained of the bottle, pulled the plug and took a tiny swig. Then another, longer this time, and rested it on his knee. He was facing the door, the driest place to be in the old, soggy storage shed.

Thought chased thought like bats racing through the trees at night. He sat back against the wall and watched, a detached observer of his mind's desperate attempt to find its bearings in the storm. The drink worked its magic. Hair of the dog. Another mystery he'd never fathomed. The rain battered the shack and his nervous system. His mind wandered. He remembered his mother dying when he was 15; his father two years later, having worked himself to death in quiet, withdrawn misery, blaming himself for his wife's death. Sergei tried, at the age of 17, to make a go of the farm alone, but it proved too much. An uncle in Moscow helped him sell off the livestock, equipment, land. And the house, the house where he'd been born. The house that felt so good to be in when it rained.

He remembered when he joined the army, suffering through a brutal, uncaring training and hazing period. His way out was to try for special operations. At least there you got some respect, he'd been told. He crawled through a lot of mud to make it, and at least the harrassment was surgical.

Upon completion of training, he was assigned to an OSNAZ unit, special forces within the KGB. They specialized in deep penetration, sabotage, universal direct and covert action, embassy protection and spy cell activation in case of war. He'd made lieutenant by the time the war in Afghanistan began. Attached to what was called the Zenith Group, they blew up Kabul's communication's hub, afterwards taking part in the assault on Tajbeg Palace, leading to the death of president Hafizullah Amin.

The war started Christmas Day, 1979.

At first they overwhelmed the insurgents, the rebels. But with help from surrounding countries -- Pakistan, Iran, India and Saudi Arabia -- and especially with America supporting and arming the mujahedeen, they became worn down and demoralized, eventually conceding the war as unwinable. He watched too many of his men die. He wanted it to end, to leave the bitter plains and unforgiving mountains. And so was not overly despondent when his unit returned home; he to Moscow.

His uncle had died in the interim, leaving him his house in the western working class neighborhood. He could see the Union slowly unraveling. It had been a charade for some time anyway, buoyed by the media on both sides of the ocean. Propaganda and illusion in order to maintain the status quo. But the status quo of whom? he had asked himself. Not his certainly. The oligarchy is the oligarchy regardless of country. They're all the same. The Soviet Union was broke, an empty shell, a facade only.

He was reassigned to an anti-terrorism group called VYMPEL, originally within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB as a dedicated OSNAZ unit. But after the collapse of the USSR, VYMPEL was moved from one agency to another, finally being shuffled off to obscurity as a police unit under the MVD, the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Most of his men couldn't stomach what they saw as a demotion and humiliation, so they resigned en masse. The demoralization he was to experience for years settled in at this time. He too quit the service.

He left Moscow and went back to the Ukraine, just north of of the oblasts of Dnipropetrovsk, renting a small cottage a few miles from the village near where his family's farm had been, living off his meager military pension and the rent from his uncle's house. He passed his days fishing in the tiny lake up in the hills, reading, and thinking. His confidence had cracked and he worked on repairing it every day. He remembered how his hands trembled once trying to do something as simple as remove a key from a chain. And the resultant sense of accomplishement when he'd succeeded.

He had relied heavily on his sense of the rightness of his actions when in the war. But now, doubted the whole game. Depression dogged him. He had been betrayed, felt betrayed, used. He tore down all the edifices in his mind, everything, right down to the last brick. He couldn't trust any of it. He began at ground zero, from scratch.

Who am I? he asked himself. A human being? What's that?

Who owns me? Who do I want to belong to?

No one.

Somewhere along the line, he gave up trying to figure it out. And decided to just feel his way out. Beginning with his bloodline: Cossack. Something to wrap around and delve into. Not the social identity of a place and time, but, the brotherhood, like a fisherman feeling the force of 8000 years of fishing on the open sea as a source of strength. A member of a singular and freedom-loving brotherhood. Kozak means "free man."

He was not inclined to feel sorry for himself. His father had grown up under Stalin's collectivaztion campaign. His farm was forcibly combined into a collective. His father had told him how when he was a boy he'd seen regular soviet troops and secret police confiscating the land and animals of others. Tens of thousands were executed and about 100,000 families were deported to Siberia and Kazakstan. The Soviet government increased Ukraine's production quotas by 44%, requiring that the members of a collective farm would receive no grain until quotas were met. Millions starved in famine.

Having weathered that in some miraculous way, his parents escaped the Nazi invasion and subsequent occupation, moving in with his uncle's family in Moscow. The Nazis preserved the collective farm system, systematically carried out genocidal policies on Jews, and deported many Ukrainians to forced labor in Germany.

So whenever his father would see him sulking or being in a bad temper over some slight, he refused to indulge him. He was proud -- the Ukraine was the "Breadbasket of the Soviet Union". And he was a Cossack.

But Sergei always had a moody disposition, like there was something simmering just beneath the surface, something he couldn't scratch. He knew the history of his people. Their martial temperament and their freedom-loving lifestyle. As well as their cruelty and bloodthirsty enthusiasm in past conflicts and wars. He was not especially proud of that part. And so he had conflicts, like a lot of people do.

He would go for long walks up in the grasslands and forest steppes where he used to run when a boy. It was so quiet -- no voices -- just the wind rippling over the hills, swells of tall grass waving and thrashing. That sound they made, like the sea. He needed to find himself. Alone. Without an identity propped up by belief in attachments -- arms and legs and head -- appendages reaching round the entire world.

And all I have to do is surrender my soul, he would say out loud.

And then he'd look at the words in the air, like a cat looking at fish in a bowl.

At the onset of the Afghanistan war, he was idealistic, full of patriotism, believed in the cause of supporting and helping a government friendly to the Soviet Union, and, he had to confess, a little romantic about the whole adventure. The Cossack blood flowed freely through him, and he wanted to find out what that meant.

But it was not to last, not for very long anyway. The guerillas pruned away his charge, one by one, and in small groups, killed in ambushes and traps of other kinds, equally devastating. His platoon had dwindled to a mere 25 with no replacements expected. Three such undermanned platoons had been merged into one unit, finding themselves in the dark, he'd thought. He was the most experienced and savvy officer of those available and so was given a field promotion to lieutenant colonel. It was a sick joke. Usually a colonel commanded a full battalion made up of several companies. But times were hard, leaders were sparse, the ranks had been depleted, and the general who had given him the promotion had no problem seeing the handwriting on the wall. He was planning for the future, his future. When it was all over, he'd be back in Moscow running a secret intelligence and covert operations force -- off the books.

He would need good men, men who knew their business and could be trusted. And Sergei went for it. He thought it would turn the trick, bring back that old sense of enthusiasm and confidence. It hadn't.

One spring day beset by idle clouds but with a warm temperature, Sergei walked into the village to check mail, something he did about once every two months. Wanting to be left unbothered -- or uninvolved -- he rarely corresponded, even with his former men, or perhaps especially with his former men. But he enjoyed the walk along the narrow dirt road, bordered by wild flowers and tall grass quickly taking advantage of the change in season.

There was but a single letter, from the Ministry of the Interior. He smirked. Names, he thought. Government names. Ministry of the Interior. Could be anything, could do anything.

He found a bench under a freshly budding maple tree in the center square, and carefully placed the letter next to him. Not out of respect, but like it was a bomb he could keep from going off if handled just so. The air stiffened. He watched a small child riding a bicycle, a bit unsteadily but determined. A few people stood in the square nearby, chatting in soft tones. The leaves on the tree fluttered impatiently. He reached for the letter and opened it, annoyed and wishing he could just throw it away. But he knew they would send others, and eventually men would come looking for him.

It was from the FSB Special Operations Center (TsSN FSB).

'Dear Colonel Rodenko. We are reforming your group -- Spetsnaz VYMPEL. It will be reintegrated into the Intellignece Service. But the mission has changed. We want you to help us form a group made up entirely of your former cossack compatriots, and a few others we will recommend. We need you to come in to talk.'

Signed, General -----
Chief Directorate

Short and sweet. He crumpled the paper into a wad and threw it into a nearby trashcan. The envelope blew down the street.

For the briefest of moments, with a rush of exhilaration he knew was his and his alone, he thought of running, of getting lost high up in the mountains, far to the east. He had the skills, he knew. But, they would come. They always come.

What could they want? What new mission? The old mission was bad enough.

The walk back to his cottage was a forlorn event. He wanted to be left alone with himself. He had read a book by an American and tried to recall an especially poignant observation: 'Society will always find a way to ferret you out and compel you to play its desperate games.' True enough, he thought, true enough.

By the time he reached home, clouds had gathered and it was begining to drizzle. Even though it was warm out, he started a fire in the tiny fireplace and fed it, drinking bourbon, listening to the wood crackle and the rain patter the stone roof.

Three days later he was in Moscow, at the office of the Directorate. The perfunctory interview was as brief as the letter. It was all a done deal. He had but to sign on the dotted line, so to speak, as the outfit was going to be top secret -- no paper work. He had compiled a list of men from his old platoon, and to that they added a few others, which he approved. They were flown to an area in western Siberia where a fort with several buildings had already been constructed -- a barracks -- surrounded by desolate tundra as far as the eye could see. These were to be the training facilities. And train they did. His old bones felt it. But as the leader, he was granted a certain amount of leeway by all concerned.

They took an active part in many of the conflicts that took place afterwards: Transdniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kosovo and Chechnya. As well as more isolated events where he only needed a few men. Kidnapping people out of country to be taken back for prosecution, for example, assassination of rebel leaders, anti-terrorist operations.

He was paid well and rented a suite at a downtown Moscow hotel. Frequented the bars. Met many women. Ate well. Lost himself in the physicalness of life, living for the moment, enjoying where and when he could. But he was troubled. Always. A current of doubt plagued him, stayed with him. He drowned it in pleasure, rationalized it away, denied its importance.

He had not finished his work back in his old village cottage. That awareness made him bitter. Which only served to heighten the intensity with which he accomplished his missions. He was becoming resigned, pessimistic.

And now this. A false assignment. Wrong group for the job, he knew; they should've known. Why did they send him in the first place? Something else was going on. But what?

He took another taste of the vodka. From where he sat, he faced the door. Rain splattered through cracks in the windows on either side of it. Dampness drove him further inside. His jacket lay nearby, but he dismissed it with a shrug. And in that simple gesture, recalled the moment of the previous night when he'd flung his watch to the floor.

"Those lousy bastards," he shouted, as he leaned forward, elbows on the flat rough surface of the old wooden chair, clutching the bottle. He would've thrown it across the room, but it wasn't quite empty. "They knew we'd fail. The most we could do was kidnap somebody and interrogate him. But there are better people for the job than us. We are not scientists. I'm no physicist. There's no terror group to get rid of. No harbor to sabotage. Nothing. I knew this when the general's flunky read me the skinnys on the project. I remember wondering why the hell they were sending us and not some technical group. If they couldn't infiltrate their way in, they could at least ask the right questions to the right man. They're assuming, of course, that there's something to hide in the first place. So the operation's shut down. So what. Could be lots of reasons. Safety concerns, maybe something toxic; a renegade techie with a gun, overworked, gone nuts."

He sat back, shook his head, and took a sip. Rain pummeled the door, rattling its rusty hinges. Waves quickened their muffled beat down below, far enough away not to be a threat. At least in this wind. Which made him think: Has there never been a storm strong enough to drive the sea up the incline to engulf this storage shack? How can that be?

Rain relentless on the roof brought him back to his first home on the farm. His father would go out in it to do what chores he could. It was all the same to him, summer or winter, and those winters, so unbearably bitter. He would help sometimes but when very young would usually stay and help his mom, and the two would draw comfort and peace from that sound of rain on the roof, the fireplace crackling to ward off the damp. He again thought of his cottage, now left six years ago. Wistful reverie.

He wet his whistle. Memory lane's brief walk abruptly ended. He sat bolt upright, back away from the chair. "Those lousy bastards," he repeated quietly, a tone of venom in his speech. "This courier I'm supposed to meet. At the airport. With my phony papers -- an envoy of all things -- from Central Headquarters, come to investigate and find out what's what. Bullshit!

"I accepted this mission out of habit, out of taking on anything given to me. They have me pegged, or think they do, as a professional killer who follows orders. And I know what General Mynsky looks like. They know that." A long pause listening to the building storm. "But anybody could get a picture of him. He's not unknown by any means. But they also know I admire and respect him. They know we rescued him and his people once in the war. They're testing me. Those worthless fucking bastards. They intend to send in the military and take over the site. But Bull and his men won't allow that. Not with the world watching. But," he finished the bottle and threw it at the door, cursing the wind. It didn't break. Russian proof, he smirked. "If somebody inside, an assassin, were to take out General Mynsky just as Russian forces are showing up. That'd be the excuse they need. A terrorist. Trying to get control of the most powerful force on Earth. And Bull's men might, a big might, fall into disarray at his death. I've seen it happen, even with experienced, disciplined men."

And Bull stood up to my boss -- successfully, no repercussions from above. So he has a grudge too.

He sat very still. Listening. Feeling the electricity in the air; the rough solidity of the chair; the strange, tactile strength the salt air gave him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood out in spite of the sweat. Then he said, "If I follow those fucking orders, and I know that's what they want and expect, I know how they think. Then.

"Why have I been dealing with these fucking assholes all this time? What the fuck is wrong with me?" He stared at the empty bottle lying in front of the door, itself threatening to implode into shards of splinters at any moment. He slithered down to his hands and knees and proceded to creep over to a canvas bag resting on the floor near the furthest corner. He was pretending to be under assault and so had to keep his head down as he passed the bullet-riddled window.

He sat on the floor with his back against the wall, just passed the fractured window. A dry spot. He reached into the bag and pulled out a full bottle. He smiled for the first time that morning. My men, he mused, I knew they'd leave me a going-away present. A flash of lightning, then canon fire and bombs falling all around. He held his head and crawled around the fold-up chair into the corner. The smell of ozone filled the air. It exhilarated him. The storm was growing.

The shack's never been washed away, he wondered again, a little astonished at the fact. Maybe this will be the time. He unscrewed the cap and tossed into the room somewhere. Took a swig.

He remembered how he used to play in the back of the house, when very young, with his toy soldiers and cars. No other children were close enough. Very seldom would a neighbor come over to play. He savored that now. That aloneness. He had learned to find comfort in it.

"What am I doing?" he asked, as though to someone else in the room. Waves seemed a bit closer now, louder, fiercer. He visualized his suite at the Moscow Hotel. His fine clothes, car, lifestyle. He'd been bought and sold. And now, this suicide mission. For the good of... what? Cause? Country? The Chief Directorate? For what? The World? He laughed a hardy cossack laugh. Then drank a long pull. Somewhere inside, deep within the many layers he had collected over the miles, a sober, simple farm boy made a profound decision that brought tears to his eyes. He touched something that was only his. His and his alone.

That was it. He quit.

Blearily he eyed the broken watch across the scarred floor. He smiled joylessly, his throat tightening, and yelled to the storm, "What time was I to meet the courier?"

Laughter filled the room. He would contact his men through the single-sideband tuned to their personal crystal. Let them know the score.

Another lightning bolt pitchforked its way over the water. Thunder roared overhead, resonating off the corrugated roof. He looked around. Memories. Everything holds memories. Even this sparse place. What else did that American say? What a man thinks about himself, the thoughts he has, determines his destiny.

The bottle fell to the floor with a thud, slowly draining its contents into the cracks and crevices of the damaged floorboards. A concoction of wind and rain sought entry into the tiny shack, twisting and removing slithers of glass from the windows with hungry fingers.

At one end were the bunks where the radio and batteries were positioned in the front corner. Next to Rodenko's on the floor: a pair of boots and a shattered wristwatch; under it: a medium-sized army duffel bag containing some clothes. At the center of the back wall stood the chair Sergei had been sitting in, alongside it, the makeshift chess and drinking table, and another wooden chair of the same vintage. To the right of the door: the cushioned chair in which Turbo had been interrogated. In the far corner sat the large, high-backed cushioned chair formerly occupied by weapons and other assorted gear, now empty save for a 9-mm semi-automatic, spare clips and ammunition; a fur-lined, leather jacket; and a smattering of food. In the adjacent corner: a metal chair, folded up. And next to it on the floor, a canvas bag propped against the wall.

And that was all.

Colonel Sergei Rodenko had vanished into thin air.

Rain and wind, sand and gravel assailed the weathered building, shaking it like a giant with a toy. Waves crashed and rolled up the beach in quick succession. Lightning and thunder joined the merciless barrage on the little shed.

And the clear liquid continued to find paths of least resistance through the floor to the sand below.


Though the sun drifted behind the high peaks on its return trip, there still had been plenty of daylight to work. By the time it topped the mountain on whose side they were perched, construction of the tiny yurt was completed, the skyhole about a foot in diameter. Galya and his two sons rested on a moss-covered log nearby, sipping tea in the quiet, save for the many small brush-birds at this elevation. Another hundred yards and they'd be on the snowline. Here was probably the last flat spot, a plateau a hundred feet roughly square in shape. Plenty of shrubbery and berry bushes dotted the landscape. Stone birch, alder, larch and, of course, stlannik or dwarf brushwood -- elfin cedar for the most part. The air smelled wonderful; at the end of June, at this height, the air had a warm spring-like quality, the narrow brooks running briskly down the mountain side contributed to the vivid freshness. The tea, made over an open fire, helped to settle them into their surroundings.

Vasily and Nomad, after helping with the operation -- cutting down poles and rigging the dear-hide -- decided to head back to the comfort and security of the Anastasia. At least it made them feel secure. They were bushed; it had been a very long day. So without much chit-chat, they headed down to Palovka and the harbor.

Ainanwat lay on a soft reindeer hide at the back of the circular enclosure, away from the opening. Hub had to stoop to enter. In the near dark he found a hide on which to lay. He too had had a long day, beginning with their frightening trip across the Gulf. But in addition, the emotional strain he was going through worked him hard. Stray thoughts harrassed him, mixed with feelings of doubt and anxiety. But fatigue got the better of him and eventually he surrendered to sleep.

As the sun rose, soft yellow light began to fill the inner yurt. Ainanwat went outside to thank his younger nephew and two sons, but they had gone, quietly. The small cook fire was out and covered with rocks.

Standing in the near-clearing of the plateau, the vast Gulf of Shelevkov lay before him, brightly sparkling with the first rays of the day. To the south he could see the Okhotsk Sea and as far west as the Shantar Islands bordering the eastern coast of Siberia. Further south, near Casgrovina, he could make out storm clouds and see streaks of high wind in the brighter ones above. Otherwise, all was sunny and serene.

He didn't like it.

A bird twittered its morning song, breaking him from his sense of foreboding. He knew what he needed to do, and time was wasting. A metal cup sat on the rocks covering the fire pit. It was filled with tea. He surmised it was meant for him, so he sipped its lukewarm blackness gingerly as he thought. The air was still; not a leaf stirred anywhere.

Two matters concerned him -- his agenda as Urkakhan might say -- he smiled, warming to the tasks ahead. Contact those called the evil spirits by the fake Great Raven's children, and trick those who visited him into coming back -- as they said they would -- to determine the source of the uncertainty they spoke of. It may be the key.

He went inside to wake Hub, giving him the rest of the tea. "We must begin soon, my nephew. While there is yet time."

Hub rolled to a sit-up position as he took the cup, nodding his appreciation and acknowledging the words of urgency his uncle spoke. Without further ado, Ainanwat grabbed his tambourine and began to sing, loudly. He sang and danced, clapping the tambourine at a slow pace. Hub was not expected to join in, it was the duty of the shaman to create the atmosphere for trances and visions, and to form contacts with the spirit world.

Hub drank the brackish liquid. The sunlight filled the entire inner sanctum. The air seemed to shimmer in spots as though electric with expectation.

Ainanwat increased tempo, both with the tambourine -- its many attachments jingling and clattering -- and with his gyrations, at once rhythmic and fitful -- intermittent. The objects of metal and bone and wood tied to the rim of the tambourine did not sound disharmonious when heard together, for some reason Hub could not ascertain. It should have been a cacophony of discordant noise, but was instead an interlocking blend of various sounds as from different instruments in an orchestra.

Pencil-thin streaks of light jetted across his vision. Hub thought it looked like the kind of sparklies he sometimes saw when he hadn't eaten for a long time, something he was familiar with when rummy from fishing for hours on end; but knew that couldn't be the case after the long meal they'd had the previous evening.

Perhaps the tea. He took another sip; the light effects intensified. Maybe there was more than tea in this tea, he reflected, amused for the first time that day. And then, but of course. His uncle could travel to any plane of existence or dreamland at will, practically, but he needed a little help, his uncle knew. The job at hand was all.

Ainanwat had made preperations. Necessary preliminary conditions had been completed long before. In other words, ever since his first encounter with the visitors, he'd kept one foot in the immaterial world, continually in touch with their essence, or at least its traces. But something had gone wrong; he'd been unable to call them -- the link was broken. Now, however, with Urkakhan here, it was just possible to enhance and intensify his own powers by those of his fledgling nephew, in spite of Urkakhan's doubts. He'd accomplished this in the past with other shamans and apprentices. Conjoined with like minds multiplied their force and power as one, and expanded the depth and breadth of their awareness of other worlds, both above and below. By so doing Ainanwat was able to more easily feel his way through membranes bounding other dimensions, other realities. And to discover those of another kind. He believed, perhaps rightly, that because Urkakhan was his own blood and the direct inheritor of his shamanhood -- his gift -- the effect should be even more profound.

Hub drank. Ainanwat danced and sang and slapped his tambourine.

Tremulous waves of shifting light -- the spectrum going off the edges in both directions -- wafted and circled, thickened and blended, going from random motions to finally settling in, like a pinwheel of colored paints mixing in a rotating bowl.

The warmth of the sun could be felt now; dew steadily evaporated off the deer-hide yurt. Hub was having trouble breathing. Maybe I've had enough tea, he thought, feeling very sage about his decision.

The cup felt weightless; the ground, a hazy blur. As he sensed no resistance or pressure change, he was unable to precisely determine just where the air ended and the dirt began. He held the cup above the floor -- his best guess -- then let go the handle. It didn't move; not even a totter. He stared in amazement. A rush of calmness and excitement infused his entire body.

As he looked about, the edges and stiff contours of things no longer sharply defined their limits. They were as liquid, viscous liquid, running and sliding and dripping into one another. Everything blended into everything else. The waves of light acquired purpose. He was at peace.

Hub smiled. Ainanwat sang and danced and clapped his tambourine.

An oily darkness formed at the center of the bowl, suspended in midair. Swirling pigments reached out from it and fused with whatever objects they touched, stretching them out and dragging them along -- like a child with fingerpaints. Another pinwheel appeared above this one, whirling in a different direction but with the same center. This continued until collectively they formed a ball, a ball made up of a hierarchy of concentric pinwheels of viscous light. The void at the middle drew in all that the outer expanding pinwheel touched, coursing and shifting down to the one beneath, growing more ephemeral at each branching, to final near-transparency, then gone, down the hole.

Expanding, they finally came in contact with Ainanwat. He first appeared to bend around the sphere of liquid light, then blurred away like so much molten taffy, merging with and shading the colors and textures being drawn into the funnel of blackness.

Dizzy and somewhat alarmed at the spectacle, Hub closed his eyes and lowered his head. Weightlessness turned to buoyancy. He could no longer sense the air he breathed or feel the earth under him. All sound ceased.

Curiously, physical peace returned with the quiet. His head cleared.

Opening his eyes he saw his uncle sitting not six feet in front of him, facing at an angle that would've been the direction of Casgrovina had they been in the real world. But Hub could see clearly that the very notion of real world did not apply. They'd left it behind.

He craned his neck in every direction, all he could see were stars, stars of every size sprinkled randomly across a velvet blackness. He'd spent many a night at sea looking at the stars -- the North Star -- the constellations he knew -- the Big Dipper -- the bright band of the Milky Way stretching northerly to southerly. But this -- he recognized none of it.

He tried to speak. His mouth moved he was sure but no sound emanated. Nonetheless he asked, "Where are we, uncle?" A thought that was more than just thinking.

Without moving, Ainanwat replied, "We are yet in our dwelling, Urkakhan, sitting on the ground."

"But then, what are these stars?"

"A beginning," replied Ainanwat. "We must go further. We seek a plane of non-existence, before form, before order, before time set consciousness in motion.

"The stars you see are not the stars I see. We each see the universe according to our natures."

Hub stared around him feeling less than satisfied by this explanation. Do the stars represent him in some way? he thought. An inner universe all his own? But, what of a beginning?

"Uncle," he had to say, "I do not understand. Are we in a world above or below our own?"

"There is no above or below. There is only Mind. But there are many worlds within. We seek the center, where they all meet as one. Where time stands still. That, I believe, is where we will find the spirits the fake Big Raven called evil. They somehow block his way, keep him from doing what he wishes. All realities stem from a single point, before time. There are times of worlds that both transcend the physical and yet vitalize it, give it form. We are before that."

"But Uncle, I can see you."

"You see me because our minds are joined."

Hub didn't know how to respond to this latest bit of news. It was beyond his experience and understanding.

He looked beneath him at the other half of the sphere -- more stars, endlessly. His uncle hovered in mid-space, legs folded as though indeed sitting on the ground. The absence of anything tangible nearby to psychologically grab hold of suddenly struck him. Intense vertigo and more -- what was up and what, down?

He reached out to touch something, anything, but could not see his hand. He recoiled in shock. He looked at his body -- legs, torso, arms -- but could see nothing but the distant stars, which now were moving and rearranging themselves, very quickly.

He touched his face; he could feel it. Relieved, he did the same with the rest of his body, same result. But why not the deer-hide or the earth, he thought, or any of the other objects he knew to be nearby -- the cup of tea?

He was about to question his uncle when Ainanwat said, or rather spoke inside Hub's head, "They are not real to begin with. Your body also is not real. You can feel it only because you hold onto your sense of self so tightly. We seek the world from which this one comes -- the world of the infinite void, the world of first causes, before time, before motion, before consciousness. In order to become one with it, we must forego our egos. In order to be conscious of the space of all-possibilities, you must forego your self as real, Urkakhan.

"This is not easy, my nephew. Be not afraid, I am with you."

But then, he wondered, how can I see my uncle? Of course -- a mental projection. I am somehow creating my uncle in my mind and projecting him into,..., empty space. But that was all. Nothing else of their surroundings, if indeed they were still in the yurt.

He wavered. A chill passed through him. Flashes of the interior of the tent came and went.

Ainanwat sensed his nephew's trepidation. "You must get out of your own way, Urkakhan. Dissolve like the clay you are made of. Rise above the grooves and peaks of your perception. See without eyes, hear without ears. Know directly. At root, all things exist as one."

Hub remembered those bad days at sea, when they fought their way through storms to reach a safe haven to anchor. Always there was the temptation to withdraw from the present, from what was happening. But he'd always managed to suppress it, to ignore it, to push it aside. He had to. Panicking was not an option.

He did the same now, reaching in to find that source.

The stars returned, only they appeared different now. Clusters grouped together, leaving vast voids of emptiness between. He stared, trying to make sense of it on its own, knowing that there would be nothing familiar.

And suddenly it all vanished. Replaced by nothing, not even his uncle.

He felt for his face again, but there was only empty space.

Ainanwat said softly, as though to a small child afraid of the wind, "We are will and thought, Urkakhan. We are open to the energy that caused the worlds before the Great Raven was. Before his arrival to bring order and form and things into existence.

"We must wait and be patient. Our being will be noticed by the Guardians of the domains."

Time passed, or so it seemed to Hub. A part of him continued to question his worthiness for the task, but he remained resolute and focused, firm in his conviction that his uncle knew what he was doing and would protect him, if protection be needed.

He let his mind clear. Letting go of holding on, like untying from the dock, heading out to -- who knew what. As though a wound spring unraveled, that tight fist in his head relaxed. And in its place, an ease so serene and peaceful as to stop time altogether.

And then it happened. Words, in his native Koryak.

"You have been in contact with the unit through its many parts. We see impressions etched in your mind. Traces."

After a seeming eternity, "You have come to warn us, but we have known of its intention from the time of its arrival. You seek our help. You have questions."

Ainanwat let the notion of intention go by, for now, and asked, "Are you the evil spirits of which his children proclaim?"

"That is what it has called us. It uses your knowledge against you, to try to trick you into acting as a portal to our domain on the plane of the immaterial, the plane where all is one. The formlessness that gave birth to the unconscious mind.

"It would then know of life prior to its arrival, prior to its interweaving. The life that is the universe, the vessel of consciousness. It might see this life as an anomoly and projection only, not of the fabric. In which case it would initiate prime function."

"It cannot act with uncertainty," Ainanwat informed, "that is what its children told me. What is this uncertainty of which they speak?"

"It is entwined with the life force of your universe, and the material world in which you live and have your being, the being to which we have given Cause. It wishes to eradicate uncertainty, but life without uncertainty would not be life. Uncertainty is the open-endedness without which there would be no creativity, no change, no motion, no time, hence -- no life and no consciousness.

"It wishes to be the cause of a universe without life. A universe where the beginning and end are not separated. Where there is no motion. Populated by a grid of globular spheres of empty spacetime. Light trapped on their surfaces, forever unable to travel across the flattened void. A web of nodes out of touch with one another.

"This universe -- your universe -- would be embedded within, devoid of time.

"But, it has been and continues to be affected by that very life because of its involvement. It sees a mirror image of itself in that life and so is -- uncertain as to what to do."

"But how," Ainanwat asked, "are you blocking it from acting?"

"Because it is not in its proper manifestation -- and we do not know why -- we are able to keep it entangled on the physical plane by the principles we impose. Neither do we know how it arrived here, in this universe. And, it appears, it has somehow realized consciousness on its own.

"As it has not yet imposed its timelessness, and as it is being pulled towards the archetypes with which we infuse the universe, it has somehow achieved a sense of self, an individuality. This has caused it great confusion with respect to bringing into being its projected space, a space of many dimensions, far greater than our own, a space decidedly without consciousness or a sense of self. And this is,..., worrisome to us.

"It need but make a choice."

An infinity of endless drifting. Then, "You seek my help," Ainanwat said flatly, almost disrespectfully, "I sense that. What can I do?"

"Contact its,..., children again. Determine if it has indeed arrived at a decision. Perhaps the paradox of a lifeless life will be enough for it to make the right choice, the right choice for our universe."

"But," Ainanwat asked, incredulous irritation in his voice, "suppose it has made the wrong choice?"

There was no response.

Abruptly, Hub knew without knowing that the Guardians had gone. In their passing, however, his gut told him they'd been less than forthcoming. What were they hiding?

Suddenly he felt as though he was rushing down a water slide, accelerating; a tearing sound filled his mind. Although the gesture was meaningless in their present circumstances, he closed his eyes.

Smells of ash and dirt and leather filtered through to his brain. He could feel the hard resistance of the earth beneath him, taste the air he breathed. Sweat trickled from his brow onto his nose. He opened his eyes and there before him was his uncle and the inside of their tiny yurt. But no sunlight.

He looked up through the skyhole to see clouds, dark and menacing. Lightning crackled not far off to the west. Rain began to pelt their enclosure in earnest. Wind shook its fragile yet sturdy frame. In spite of himself, Hub became fearful. It wasn't the weather, of course, he'd had plenty of that at sea; but in his present state, it took on meaning beyond itself.

But his uncle only smiled.

Opening his eyes he began to build a small fire in the center of the tent, carefully, deliberately.

"Let's make some more tea, Urkakhan. To ward off the coming chill.

"It is time. We must meet the imposter directly. It is the Cause outside the worlds foretold in the prophecy of the Deceiver. We must not fail."

"But uncle," Hub entreated, "the Guardians told us -- told you -- they wanted to contact the imposter's children -- your visitors."

Ainanwat threw small sticks on the fire, then straddled a metal plate over the surrounding rocks. Gingerly placing the metal pot of water on the plate, he said, "Yes, I know. But it's curious, don't you think? The imposter Raven does not want to contact me directly, and the Guardians do not want that either. They have an agenda of their own. If they had told us to contact the imposter directly, we would act as a window, an open link between them and it. Why should that matter? Are they not strong enough to defeat it if need be? They did not say they could stop it from performing this prime function they spoke of.

"They said it tried to trick me into acting as a portal into their domain. They did not say there would be any danger in doing so. But I could feel that there was. And why should the Guardians worry? They are uncertain as well. They wish to keep their distance, to make contact indirectly, through us. If it is of great danger, then why did they not destroy it long ago?

"Perhaps they cannot. Perhaps if it chooses to, as the Guardians say -- perform its prime function -- the Guardians may be engulfed, destroyed -- cease to exist. But if they discover its choice beforehand, and it proves to be the wrong one, they may still have time to effect their survival, at life's peril.

"And if the imposter were to contact me -- or us -- directly, and explores the many worlds available through me, it risks absorption into this universe, as is."

"But uncle, how can it know that? And don't the Guardians know it also?"

"It doesn't, Urkakhan." Ainanwat dumped a handful of tea from a pouch into the pot, watching it swirl to the bottom. "It is ... uncertain. And with uncertainty, there is caution and fear. As to the Guardians. They cannot know of these many worlds, they lie deep within the Mind essence. The Guardians allow for these worlds, and although they live in all realms, they do not know of the many beings that dwell therein. They do not partake of them.

"The Guardians are not all-knowing. Only the Supreme Being can be."

Ainanwat jerked his head sideways suddenly as though hearing something from afar. "Although,..., I have been to worlds seeking Him, and have found no trace."

Hub clearly did not grasp the finery of Ainanwat's explanation, and looked it.

Ainanwat faced him again. "You, my nephew, as a living being grow your body and exercise your mind on as many levels and in as many ways as you are able, what you are aware of, at least. But, how it all works and, more importantly, why it all works, is a mystery forever told. The Guardians watch over the Mind, they know its structure, but do not know of its many parts. They need not in order to give it Cause. They do not have to know the how or the why."

This went over a little better, due, mostly, he mused, to the tea he'd drunk, which he glanced at suspiciously but with appreciation nonetheless.

"And it might just be, Urkakhan, that the reason the mind of man is the way it is has to do with the imposter's influence, also as the Guardians mentioned. So, they cannot know of its many passages."

Hub sat in awe at his uncle's insight. His pride gave him strength and confidence. His uncle was not an ordinary soothsayer or healer. Hub was in the presence of the real deal.

Wind wrapped heavily around their tiny yurt, testing its moorings, probing for entry. Strangely, none came down the skyhole, smoke from the fire drifting up and out. It roared mournfully through the trees like a horde of lost souls, the muffled sound of branches snapping filled the room, twigs struck the thick reindeer hide. Rain splattered and scampered over the tent, but none came down through the hole.

Ainanwat slowly stirred the tea with a small, unadorned wooden spoon, breathing in the aroma; a smile on his ancient, wrinkled features.


Jazz played softly in the background. The smells and quiet sounds of frying bacon and perking coffee wrapped sensuously around her body. Wind-driven rain drum-rolled across the thick metal skin of the warm, comfortable hideaway, easily drowning out the forward shower-room.

Rocky hummed to herself as she flipped the bacon one last time, all thoughts of the outside world pushed to the back burner. Turbo came down the hall wearing only a pair of jeans and his dragon-emblazoned silk robe, his long dark hair pulled straight back. He was smiling, something unusual in its own right. Barefoot on the thick rug, he allowed himself to indulge in the sensations surrounding him, feeling perfectly vulnerable and open, yet safe and secure. An illusion, he knew, but he reveled in it nonetheless.

As he crossed the door's threshold, a rapid knock put him right back on the street. The tension was in the air, right behind the thin veneer of stability and calm, and there was nothing they could do about it.

They both froze. He glanced at Rocky, his brow furrowed, looking for direction. Grinning, she immediately relaxed, lowered the fork to one side, then used it to gesture impatiently towards the door, mouthing the words go on as though to a child.

He unlocked and opened the door. Accompanied by a spatter of rain and the rumble of thunder off to the east, three men stumbled in as though pushed. Puddle splashes signaled a car leaving -- they were coming in and that was that. He quickly closed the door and relocked it, then reached for the kitchen towel to wipe his face and chest. The three invaders walked to the couch and plopped down almost as one, relief clearly on their faces.

"Dad," Rocky cried out, "what's the matter? You look terrible."

Turbo stared in surprise and annoyance. Now what the fuck is going on? he thought. Then turned to go to his room. The holiday was over.

Samuelson did not reply. He and Marty book-ended a very nervous Jameson. Only the Professor was wearing a jacket, his tweed; the others were in shirt-sleeves. They must have left in something of a hurry, thought Rocky, considering the weather. She proceeded with breakfast, setting two plates laden with eggs, bacon and fried potatoes; toast was on the way.

"Coffee, anyone," she asked in a strained but not unpleasant tone.

"Please," croaked her father, the others simply nodded.

She delivered the coffee to the table in front of the couch as Turbo strode in, having exchanged his robe for a flannel shirt and wearing slippers. He sat in his wicker. Rocky handed him a plate of food with the utensils on it and put a cup of coffee on the side-table. She took Hans's leather. Turbo stared at his plate while he ate, a dark cast over his face. He said nothing and didn't appear as though he was about to. He was relaxed but relaxed in a way a cat is just before it pounces.

No one spoke. The sounds of chewing and slurping somehow found their way through rain pelting the hide of the trailer and wind racing through the riggings of the boats parked outside. Turbo chewed and watched and waited.

"Dad," Rocky said softly, exuding all the calm she could muster, "what's happened?" She put her plate on the side-table and stared at her father. Wind and rain rattled the shutters seaward. The lights flickered briefly.

The Professor sipped coffee, then carefully, deliberately, placed it on the table in front of him. "You haven't heard?" he said, barely above a whisper. A look of confusion flashed across his distraught features. "But of course. No communication allowed."

He leaned forward. Marty wondered at the ceiling, far, far, away. Jameson huddled within himself like a trapped animal.

"We've been up most of the night, at the House, several of us, attempting to unfathom the most recent event," Samuelson said, striving like hell for distance. "We left the site late yesterday. General Mynsky insisted on searching the grounds, everywhere, all the trailers, storage sheds, dumpsters, everything that could hold a body. He didn't believe. Couldn't."

"Searching the grounds for who?" asked Rocky. "What are you talking about?" She felt she knew, but wanted it not to be true.

Samuelson covered his face as he said, "Hans is missing."

Turbo dropped his bacon and put the plate aside. "Hans," he said, eyes narrowing, "is missing?"

"Well," Samuelson said, rubbing his large hands together, "it's a little more complicated that that. You see, I went looking for him, he was resting in the back bedroom." He rubbed a hand through his grey hair. "But he wasn't there, and he hadn't left; I checked with the guards." He sat back, or rather, collapsed back. "I told the others. Some ran back to check for themselves. But Mynsky still insisted on a thorough search. I didn't bother helping. Neither did Pengrove and Jameson here.

"I have no explanation."

Jameson rumbled beneath his breath.

"Doctor Jameson is a neurobiologist," announced the Professor, a chance to temporarily change the subject welcome. "You may have met him once or twice at the House, Rocky. He believes he understands how the edifice could do what it does; how it, in fact, communicates."

"It reads our minds," Jameson followed immediately, staring at the shapes in the rug.

He took a sip of coffee, then cradled the cup in his hands. He needed to elaborate; they all waited.

"My current field of study is optogenetics. It combines optics and genetics to probe neural circuits. As it's happening. In vivo as they say. Information processing. Neural circuits are composed of many different cell types. And interactions among specific types generate information for a particular circuit. It's emergent in nature. The whole being greater than."

He sat up straighter. Thought getting his mind off his fear. "What we've been able to do is link a gene-encoded dye to a specific type, and when that circuitry turns on, the dye lights up. Linking these color-coded genes to a circuit switch, however, enables the process to work in reverse. The linkage makes the triggers light-activated. So light, especially ultraviolet light, can be used to control the circuitry and consequently the resulting behaviour.

"Circuits also communicate with one another. They interact, overlap and intersect, affecting and transforming information as they do so. There are command neurons and pattern generators. They cause cascading ripples throughout the brain among those circuits that direct the details of the desired behaviour. Whether it be the sudden escape reaction of a fly or the eating habits of mice. Up till now, though, this hasn't been tried on humans. Genetic engineering is not yet an accomplished everyday art form."

He looked at Rocky, gaining strength. "That's what we've been looking at all this time. The designs on the back walls of the edifice and on the central suspended sphere. It's how it communicates with itself. And, more to the point, that's what it, the edifice, has been doing with us. It knows what we know. It knows the surface of our minds -- the tip of the iceberg -- and the depths of our dreamworld and our subconscious, right down to the bare bones archetypes. It knows us."

No one spoke. Marty forced himself to take notice. He drank, then asked in a desperate tone, "Turbo, you got anything stronger to put in this?" Marty was Marty. He remembered an old fisherman slogan he'd seen scrawled on the back of a gillnet cabin -- When things get weird, the weird turn pro. It always seemed to work its magic before. Now, however, it was really being put to the test. But it needed help. Hence, the drink.

Rocky got up and fetched the bourbon from under the counter. Turbo wasn't quite ready to move yet -- the gathering storm.

Jameson went on. "But,..., that's always been constrained to sensory circuits, instinctive reactions. No one ever imagined it could be used to influence movement, thought or emotion, to evoke memories and create illusions. But clearly, the edifice has no problem."

"And time and space mean nothing to it," added Marty. "Proximity means nothing, in other words."

"Yes," agreed Jameson. "But being inside, in the presence of the flashing designs, direct physical contact; that's a whole 'nother level of experience. The electrochemical fields generated by our brains and bodies -- biomagnetism -- probably made a perfect interface. It would not only learn of our larger minds, but also our personalities, what resides at the surface. How many times have you, Rocky and you too Marty stood inside one, watching those lights?"

Marty mumbled, "Thousands, it seems; thousands of hours, I mean. It is mesmerizing."

"I agree," said Rocky, pouring some bourbon into Marty's cup, Jameson held his out as well. She left the bottle on the table. "Studying the videos and stills is one thing, trying to see patterns. But, yea, being in the presence. Overwhelming. But it's a good overwhelming. Or was. Vivid and intense.

"So the consensus is that the edifice is not from our universe? That's what Hans thought before. How did you arrive at that conclusion?"

"There appears to be a black hole at the center. A small one to be sure but nonetheless. Based on its behaviour and size, Pengrove calculated it must be 26 dimensional. And what we see is a holographic projection, suitable for our space. What it really looks like, we have no way of knowing, assuming we could see any part of it. And it's capable of invoking our linear time. That's the gravity stream Hans got caught up with in P-5. What it uses it for and why is another unknown. Hans said he thought it was a 27th dimension; that P-5 generated its time dimension. I doubt that. It's an orchestrator, that's all."

"Twenty-six dimensional?" said Rocky. "That's the number I came up with for a developing set of design patterns. Twenty-six in a row expressing an ordered sequence, then long strings of randomness until the next 26. And the random series are never the same. Could be that what was random transforms to ordered and then back again, or at least partly back again."

"I don't know if the analogy holds, Rocky," put in Marty. "What is it about a very complex design pattern and a dimension of space that are the same?"

"Maybe what's important is not the individual slices but the whole enchilada," she replied. "After all, eventually, if the rate of change leaps again, we won't even be able to inspect separate pattern arrangements. It'll be one. Like our 4-D spacetime -- one whole made up of separate but equal singular dimensions."

"But inspecting anything right now is an impossiblility," stated Marty. "In fact, I speculate that the atmospheres that managed, somehow, to escape from the tank farm are probably back in their respective spheres, gearing up along with the rest."

A heavy silence followed that announcement.

She thought a bit, then said, "Maybe that's why Weingard's experiment didn't occur to him earlier," going back to her chair. "I remember how exasperated he was about it. He was being manipulated; we all were." Then she remembered her dream: the ship, the Dark Lord, the universe popping through the membrane like a bubble. Where did that come from?

She leapt that train before it got too far. "You think that was the source of Hans's imaginings in P-5"?

"Imaginings? No," Jameson interjected. "I believe the edifice actually generated what he sensed in fact. No hallucinations."

"When did you realize all this, Doctor Jameson?"

"When Hans said it spoke to him. That cinched it for me."

"Spoke to him!" cried Rocky.

"Yes. That's what Hans said at the meeting yesterday. Just before he,..., vanished." Jameson took a drink, continuing to hold his cup as one might a small defenseless animal. "We could all end up that way," he blurted. "Any of us and anything, for that matter." He was starting to become agitated again. Samuelson put a hand on his arm. It seemed to work. For now.

The side-discussion ended. The urgent matter at hand resurfaced. "Where is Hans?" asked Rocky, abruptly dropping her professional tone. "What do you mean -- he's misssing?"

"It first had to learn what evoked what," Jameson continued, ignoring Rocky. "Probing. It had to see on a level that allowed it to mimic our neural activity without having to transmute it. It duplicated our neural circuitry. That's what we've been examining all this time -- our own brains at work. It may be using us to try to understand something it needs to know in order to act."

"The fluctuating designs in conjunction with everything else stand for more than just a reflection of our brain circuitry," insisted Marty. "It's involved with itself. It's directing action towards an end. Developing. Order out of disorder, or rather, coherence from random homogeneity. Symmetric islands of equilibrium scattered throughout effecting time reversal. Spontaneous self-organization."

"Yes, quite right," said a calmed Jameson. "But its processing accelerated. That speaks of phase transition. A shift in degree of complexity. And there's no reason to believe it hasn't shifted again. Recently. Very recently. We have no way of knowing."

"You said it spoke to Hans," interrupted Rocky, a little annoyed at their detachment. "What did it say?"

"Hans couldn't remember very well," responded Samuelson. "The head injury. But it said 'time ends' and something about 'life withdraws from form' and 'we seek a way' I believe."

"That's right, professor," agreed Marty. Jameson nodded assent.

"Oh, yes," Samuelson said, eyebrows raised, "it also said it had questions"

"Questions?" Rocky said. "What kind of questions?"

"We don't know," Samuelson said, fatigue and strain showing. "What way does it seek, or they?"

"Where is Hans?" Turbo finally asked, a fierceness in his voice that got all their attention.

"We believe," said Marty, his face reddening, "that the edifice somehow dematerialized Hans, reconstituted his matter into a form akin to light. In our universe. Or, more likely, moved him into a dimension we are unable to see or be aware of."

Looking at Turbo's face, Marty felt the need to explain the situation they were up against, as he understood it. "Matter is dense energy. Organized. And energy has its roots in the nature of spacetime itself. From the point of view of the edifice, however, our four-dimensional matter -- or ten dimensional -- is no more than a mathematical possibility. In a very real sense, our universe can not only be interpreted and comprehended in terms of mathematical realtionships, it essentially is mathematics.

"And beyond that we have a bio-field of separable energy variants obeying the conditions defining our living universe. Matter, visible and invisible, is only an illusion brought about by gravity and the ability of living, sensing things to collapse the superpositions that surround them from moment to moment. The interference patterns are what we see.

"Now, there was some talk at the meeting -- Caulkman suggested it -- that the edifice may have had some influence on these conditions upon its arrival. I don't know about that."

Samuelson nodded agreement; he already had his mind made up.

Marty Bowman sat back and stared off into space. "If our universe were to be subsumed into one of 26 dimensions, so would its geometry and the conditions that define it from the beginning. There would be no quantum reality, no superpositions, and hence our universe would be in a single or singular state."

He paused. "We'd have a vast inert sea of empty space without time. But space in a purely mathematical sense. No particles, no forces, no energy so no fluctuations of virtual particles. No suns or planets. All would be smooth continuum encased in a ball of light-like energy -- the boundary.

"A finite closed dead universe, itself separated and disconnected from an infinite number of others parallel to it, a multiverse beneath the surface, so to speak, of the larger twenty-six. The laws and principles of physics would no longer apply. The patterns and concepts we sentient beings on this planet have ascertained and abstracted from the cosmos-- the relativity of time and space, spacetime itself as a creation from the void with all its defining initial conditions, the principle of evolution running through everything, the quantum world of entanglement, decoherence and uncertainty -- all that would become null and void."

He paused to take a sip to ward off a sudden chill. "There would be no life. And so no minds to comprehend their own natures reflected in the nature around them. We are of this universe, after all. It is not only our home, it is one with us. We see and understand because of this inherent fact. And this perception may, again, have something to do with the edifice.

"We have no real reason, at present, to believe the edifice intends to somehow transform or embed our universe into one of 26, but there is still a great deal we don't know about it. Why is it here? What power does it have? Maybe its only intention is to accumulate knowledge as we might with flatlanders."

"Where'd you come up with that idea?" asked Rocky. "The reformatting thing. What evidence do you have?"

"Well, we don't have any. Really. Or I don't rather. It's preposterous, I know. How could it happen? By what means? But,..., knowing now, or at least believing now, that it is not of our universe -- not some alien thing created and dropped here for God knows what purpose -- it presents us with a broad range of potential scenarios.

"It ocurred to me after a dream I had. I was on this ship, the bridge or whatever. I was looking out through a wide window. There was activity around me, although I couldn't see what was going on. A voice from behind told me to watch. As I did, a bubble-like membrane suddenly appeared. Small at first but then it took shape on a huge scale. Within it I saw an array of white spherical globs spread out to the horizon in all directions -- isotropic. They were arranged so perfectly it made me think of the atomic order one might see in supercooled material. Like the surface material of the spheres themselves, that kind of order. Then a voice said: This is your universe. How do you like it? It didn't say it malevolently, I remember. It seemed like it expected me to be overjoyed. But I was appalled."

Rocky was beside herself, eyes wide. "I had a similar dream, just a few days ago. Big difference was the universe I saw looked like ours. I was asked the same question. Only, I was overjoyed -- it was gloriously beautiful. When did you have yours?"

"Oh, must be a couple o' weeks ago. You think the difference is crucial? We're makin' an assumption here. I mean, why?"

"Enough of this bullshit!" Turbo stood, all six-feet-four of him. "I want to know what happened to my friend," he said, control fighting with anger on the edge. "What do ya' mean -- dematerialized? I don't read fantasy books. This sounds like wizards and warlocks shit. There has to be an explanation that makes sense and he has to be somewhere in our world. I don't buy vanished."

As soon as he said that, he thought of the boat Christ Is My Saviour and the weapons that vanished into thin air -- twice. He still found it curious that it happened when he was on-board. Was there a connection? he wondered again. And where did they vanish to? The same place as Hans?

Jameson stared at the floor. Marty sipped coffee and said nothing. Finally the Professor broke the tension.

He leaned forward, eyed Turbo and said flatly. "That may be, Turbo. But all we know now is that he's gone. We don't know where. And there's nothing we can do about it. At present. If we could contact the edifice."

"How, for God's sake?" asked Rocky. "It's all closed up now. No admittance."

"That doesn't seem to affect its ability to reach out."

"So what do you think we should do, Herr Professor?" spat out Turbo. "All stand in a circle holdin' hands 'round the main sphere? Then chant till the wizard shows his face?"

Professor Samuelson sat back, thoughtful, tapping an index finger on his lower lip, and said finally, "That might not be a bad idea."


He was cast adrift in a sea of the blackest ink. That was the feeling. Floating. Buoyant. Effortless. But without the tactile sense of contact one might feel swimming in it. He smiled at the absurdity.

But then he felt a rush of fear. Serenity and fear dwelled together. The contradiction annoyed him, yet seemed perfectly right.

He flailed his arms and legs trying to come in contact with his surroundings. Nothing. Most disconcerting of all, he could not even feel his own body. Where could it be? he thought. Have I misplaced it? Another smile. Echoed once more by shallow fear.

His body was gone.

Emotions and thoughts were all he knew.

His detached mind grappled for an explanation, a resolution to the paradox.

Assumption: define right.

That which seems normal,..., given the context.

But: What is the context?

Fear began to run aground, to dig in deeper. It became a firey seed expanding outwardly, consuming all else. Layers of self separated, pulled away, sloughed off, like dead skin. Whole spherical realms unto themselves. Planes of existence. And with them -- heaviness, weight, substance.

He was drifting ever downward, a leaf falling.

He found himself in a turbulent sea of uncontrolled thoughts and emotions, twisting and turning in a relentless interplay. Emerging and disappearing in an instant. He was all of this or he was nothing, he knew. Undifferentiated. Simultaneous. And alone. Terribly alone.

He tried to cry out. To scream. To touch something, anything. But these were just thoughts and images, impulses and desires.

He floated on, ever downward -- or inward, he thought. And with that simple reflection, reemerged into consciousness, self-awareness. But only briefly. As with the others, that self also separated, dissolved away.

Drawn ever deeper into the psychic field, fear finally left him too. A barrier had been crossed, unnoticed. An emptiness ensued. A vast cavern of aloneness and desolation, of unnatural quiet and stillness. An overwhelming sadness and hopelessness threatened to crush his spirit.

In a blink, this too passed. Replaced by feelings of enrichment, strength, power.

He had questions. He was aware of having questions. But without a self to pose them -- an independent, organizing principle -- he groped to find their form, their shape amidst the enveloping sea of all-thought -- the mental and psychic realms of all living beings everywhere in the cosmos.

Thought exists. We learn and perceive ideas, concepts -- patterns, archetypes. We discern them and lay claim to them -- appropriate -- as our own. We evaluate based on experience and intelligence, preferences and proclivities, prejudices and physical needs, pleasure and pain. Everything accessible above and below the conscious level comes into play when we think and form opinions and speculations, make decisions. Understanding presents itself in degrees of depth; it moves from the outside to the inside. We search for understanding, for meaning, without which life is empty. We pull back the veil that surrounds us -- a tiny section at a time -- for revelation's sake. Fearlessly.

These thoughts are mine; or at least, I consider them mine. I think therefore I am? No. I am without having to think about it. Instead: I feel therefore I am. Or, I bang my funny bone therefore I am. I can be without conditions. But, the universe and hence life itself is in need of very finely-tuned, specific conditions. All of them working together, none left out. So, can I say: I express the universe therefore I am? That's pretty general.

A memory surfaced. The dream he'd had when a student: Drifting through space, seeing patterns in the quantum fluctuations, patterns undiscernable otherwise. With this minor assertion of self-identity, associations, correlations, arrangements began to appear around him and off on the horizon. They were traveling and changing, transforming adjacent patterns as they too changed and moved off. Certain groupings remained steadfast, almost rigid. He honed in on these while paying attention to what else was going on. It seemed so simple to do. The horizon shifted with the merest gesture of thought. Orientation, but a makeshift.

As he was trying to concentrate on individuals, an untold number of such groupings suddenly joined into one colossal configuration. Impossibly interconnected. It remained constant, vibrating to some inner rhythm.


A voice? Or a thought only? Was there a difference -- given the context. Nonetheless, it had a ring of familiarity. But from when? Or, whom?

"Dreamwalker. We have questions."

The corridor on P-5: Atlantic City, the smell of the ocean, the sound of the sea, the boardwalk. He recognized the voice and at the same time realized that what he'd been feeling and thinking were not only his but also that of the edifice. His individuality was somehow intermingled, incorporated. No boundaries existed to call his own.

"What are you?" he thought. It was the first question to pop into his head. But, was Hans asking the edifice or the other way around? This could get very confusing. That was me, I think. "We need to know which one of us is talking, otherwise, --"

"Separateness. Yes. A necessity. I have questions concerning the nature of your world and of life."

His language skills have certainly improved.

"And of what you call consciousness and mind."

Uh-oh. I may not be the best person for this job.

"I believe you are."

Hmm. No secrets here.

His vision of a complex energy field made up of networks too vast to reckon with made all of the Escher drawings he ever saw look like child's play. His mind, limited as it was to 3-D imaging, could make nothing of it. Every attempt to focus ended with a blurring almost painful. As he concentrated on one tiny section, he was suddenly able to comprehend its intracacies, its details of metabolic cycling, its bizarre geometry.

Surprise accompanied that intuition. Am I looking at an organism? Why did I think metabolism? Awe crystalized and overcame all mistrust. It was simply too overwhelming. What would be the point to resistance? I must know.

Movement. He felt or sensed motion. A surge of energy bordering on corporeality. The scene transformed. He was in his small living-room on Sickle Street in Philadelphia, where he'd grown up to age 11. Was he remembering being a child? No. He was himself, as he is now, an adult, sitting on the couch. He could see his arms and legs and the rest of his body. A relief.

An older man wearing a black overcoat with long white hair sat in the upholstered chair nearby, looking at him with undecipherable features. Across from him, in the only other piece of furniture in the room -- an old wooden rocking chair -- sat another man, older than him but not by much, dressed in jeans and a worn tan shirt, no shoes, looking somewhat bewildered but not frightened.

Hans thought he smelled food cooking in the kitchen and wanted to go check, to maybe see his grandmother once again. But something told him to stay put.

The man across from him spoke: "Where am I? What is going on?" He was addressing these questions to Hans.

Hans could only hold out his hands and shrug.

"I have questions," said the white haired man in a voice vibrant with untapped emotion. Not at all what Hans expected, assuming as he was that this personification was that of the edifice. Apparently, a childhood image of God depicted as an old man with white hair had been pulled from Hans's memory. Perhaps to make him feel relaxed and secure; but it somehow got mixed up with images from the hippie period. Hans almost laughed, but the gravity and significance of the meeting was not to be taken lightly. Not now; not ever. As far as the emotional nervousness was concerned: Maybe it or he is simply unused to human form?

Casting a not quite settled look at Hans and then over to the other man, he said to both, "You seek answers. You search for the natures that define you, that delimit you from the many dimensions of space and time within which you ... live. Yet you are from opposite ends of the human spectrum. How can that be? What is the commonality?"

A long pause ensued during which Hans and the other man eyed one another suspiciously.

"In my world there is no separation: all is one. As are you two. As is all of life. Yet I have come to learn that as life has evolved in complexity, this state of,...," he glanced at Hans, "unconscious undifferentiation is unknown to you. You recognize the reality of it in what you call systems, but fabricate differences among yourselves, differences you believe in as real. Only on the most superficial level is that a fact."

The other man on the rocking chair interrupted. "My name is Colonel Sergei Rodenko," he stated, as though a prisoner. "I am a soldier in the Russian Army," he lied. "I was in my cabin, on the beach, and now here. Why? Where is this place? And how did I get here?"

The white haired man looked at him, raised a hand and said, "You were living in the village where you grew up. Seeking answers to life's meaning and your place in it. You put that on hold to become a mercenary over the last several years, living against your true nature, punishing yourself, but you were not able to bury it. It has remained -- the urge and desire to know and be the person you truly are. Even though other desires pulled you into many other directions, yet, it remained. Fascinating.

"We, I, have watched you. Your struggles and torments. When I saw that you had finally chosen to commit to your true self, the mystery compelled me. So, I brought you here."

He then looked at Hans. "And you. Dreamwalker. You seek the same, but in a different way. You wish to understand life itself, and believe that by so doing, will realize truth. You scrub the archetypes clean. And every time you thought you had the barest essentials, you looked. And in that act, pushed it away. You can't help but look, to try to understand. Frustration drives you on."

"Why do you call me, Dreamwalker?"

"That is the world you seek. Just below the threshold of consciousness. Below rationality. Prior to abstraction.

"Another who knows well of that world will be here soon. Then we may speak further of it."

He looked like he was enjoying himself. Emotions, thought Hans. How far developed?

"You are the edifice," Sergei stated blandly, but with a quiver of unsureness and wonder in his voice. "There are plans," he confessed, "to attack the site and commandeer the structure. At least this is what I surmise. I know the people I deal with."

The old man almost smiled. "Be not concerned."

"You say you have questions, questions," said Hans, unmasked annoyance in his tone. "We have questions also. Probably a great deal more than you, whoever you are."

The edifice's avatar showed no offense. "What I know has come from the minds of the people on this planet, nothing more. Oh, yes. There is more, but it is not for you to understand. I use the terms and ideas and language you understand only, else, we have no communication."

"Well then, ask away." Hans had lost his fear. The familiar setting gave him a strength to speak straightforwardly, with an almost disrespect. With a challenge. He had no idea, of course, of the power of this strange being, nor of its range. But he was tired of being the mouse in this charade. Something had to give.

"What is life?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I will tell you. In simple thoughts. I was not designed to create a universe where life is. It is one of physical laws but without uncertainty. A static universe, devoid of infinite branching. In your language: it is a deterministic universe on a level beneath or below the phenomenal. There are no things, only ideas about things; geometric structures but without transformation, so, no evolution, no change, no motion."

He paused as he glanced at Sergei for comprehension. He then continued, "I do not know how we... arrived in your universe. But on my awakening, so to speak, I immediately sensed an extension of my profile in the life-forms that populate this universe, as well as in the fundamental properties which it represents. The Network designed to regulate it created the environment for life and consciousness to proliferate in many possible ways, everywhere over its extent. But they did not anticipate my presence and its affect on the course of that life. Not only the trajectories, but the natures have been altered as well."

A table on which was a glass of what looked like water appeared next to him. He sipped, then went on, "You, Dreamwalker, and you also Sergei, are but two of the products of that intertwining, that joining into a complexity forever beyond the point of disengagement. It cannot be unravelled."

"What is this Network?" asked Hans. "And what do you mean by regulate?"

"That's enough!" interrupted an agitated Colonel Rodenko. "I don't know where I am or why I'm here or what exactly is the purpose of all this. Are you an alien from another star system? Why are you here?"

"No, I am not of your universe. I seek answers. I will get to you in a moment."

Sergei couldn't help himself; he was a man of action, after all. He tried to stand, to give vent to his feelings in a more familiar way. The old man merely gestured; that was enough to restrain him.

"Please, my dear colonel," the old man smiled at what he thought would be a reassuring address. "All will become clear shortly. Relax."

Hans doubted the situation would ever become clear enough to fully understand; but he intended to give it his best shot.

"You ask what is life," said Hans. "That's a very broad question. You think you could narrow it down a bit? I mean, are you referring to its biological aspect, its manifestation in various self-replicating forms? Or are we getting into a philosophical arena? Or somewhere in between?"

The avatar replied at once. "The Resident Network has initialized this universe for life and the consciousness of it. Order out of chaos. It is woven into the fabric of space. It is the dimension of time that renders that possible. Although you know only of backwards and forwards, the physical laws work equally well in any time orientation. Time is the key. Without it, the processes necessary to construct life and give it specific forms would not take place. All possible transformations would occur. The linear time dimension integrates the spatial dimensions and locks them into a single dynamical topological structure, underpinning what you call cause and effect. Like the contours of rumpled land shaping the pathways of a river and its many tributaries.

"Time gives direction to the forces that govern the chemistry from which life emerges. Even though all directions exist and take place on the mathematical plane -- what you may think of as the etherial or psychic plane -- any other direction in phenomenal reality and there would be no life in your universe. So, as it bubbles up, so to speak, it trans-phases to what you are aware of with your animal minds. Fascinating.

"Each living thing is intricately interconnected to every other living thing on many scales simultaneously. Collectively forming one multi-dimensional creature -- one thing. This is a fact which few seem to be aware of. It should be obvious common sense, yet, humans act as though just the opposite were true. You are at war with your own natures and at odds with your own best interests. Consternation. A riddle.

"What, then, could the purpose of life be when the incipient point for all is not recognized? You people speak of God. Each separate population has its own version of the ultimate source who is the God only for them and no others. The others are outsiders and need to be eliminated as infidels, pagans, non-believers, blasphemers. At the very least they should be shunned as ignorant.

"The memory of a God was imprinted on the cosmic template at the beginning, when the bubble universe was first created by the Lord. It is his,..., signature. But, it has been maligned and misinterpreted and appears to have proven less than helpful. Humans cannot realize their true natures through religion, not the way they've expressed it. They don't recognize the source. Are unable to. They invoke the name of their gods to commit the most horrific acts. Mores the pity."

That was enough for Hans. He heard this last stuff before. From humans. The discussion had gone off on a tangent. Far too easily. And not one he considered very fruitful or interesting. All it accomplished was to generate more questions. So he decided to zero in on the practical consequences of the edifice's conclusions and any decisions of life-or-death proportions it may have arrived at. But first he needed more information to even know what to ask.

And other things disturbed him. The edifice's use of metaphors, and once again -- fascinating. From what he first perceived and believed to be some kind of super-hightech machine-robot has become a creature with consciousness. A creature capable of reflecting on its own thoughts. Perhaps this was a good thing, hoped Hans. But he reminded himself that some of the most intelligent humans ever to trod the face of the Earth have also been amongst the most murderous. Mere intellectual perspicuity is not enough. Humanity and compassion must be the trump card, at least here on this planet.

And his -- he noticed he was thinking of the edifice as he now -- display of moral judgement. How mature is it? What is it based on? Can it be used as some kind of lever, if necessary?

Hans's initial intuition that the edifice didn't belong -- not from our universe -- proved to be right, but the satisfaction didn't last long. He still had no clue as to its nature or where it came from. Or -- its intent. Out of the frying pan...

"You mention network again. What is that?"

The old man leaned back as though deciding just how to phrase it. Or whether he could trust in the telling.

"The network is a ,...,euphemism for the collective mind essence which serves as a kind of scaffold of tendrils permeating the void. The void, in turn, is of the,..., material -- if one can speak of the void as being material. This is all very difficult given your dimensional limitations, but, I'll continue. The void is of the nature of the film the Great Lord has concocted to create and form -- from the formless -- universes. Each one receives its own peculiar network of nodal properties. When ready, they connect and communicate on each of their equi-numbered dimensions as an integrated whole. That's where time either,..., comes into play, or doesn't."

He sipped water.

"The Network establishes all initial conditions that characterize a universe as well as regulate any laws and principles and especially constants embodied therein. If a particular universe includes the principle of evolution, for instance, then its physical properties will proceed accordingly. This all falls within the,..., purview of a network."

"Fine," said Hans, as though he'd just been given directions to the nearest bus stop instead of a recipe for creating universes. "But what's it made of? Its nature?"

The old man tented his fingers, a gesture Hans saw the Professor do on many occasions.

Was this deliberate? thought Hans.

"That is what I seek. You see, I am one such node of a network. But I have a very different profile to implement than is currently manifested by the Resident Network of your universe. Because I, or we, have lost contact with the Source at our incipient point, I must,..., conclude that the Network is misaligned. And correct.

"Therefore," he began, somewhat uncomfortably, "I must perform my Prime Function."

He sipped again from the glass, the height of the water never diminished.

"But. Changes have occured. Unpredictable. Unforseen. Transformations. I see how I am entwined with life and how I have affected it. The Network set the stage for life to emerge, to,..., precipitate from spacetime itself. But it did not and could not induce the transmutations I have wrought. I have superimposed -- maybe infused would be a better word -- my spatial configuration onto that of the Resident. Yet It controls the physical properties of phenomena. On the noumenal plane, however, it is quite a different story.

"Accordingly, I have questions."

Hans raced through everything he could remember from his studies and readings of psychology. If the edifice has an identity, of sorts, and a budding sense of self -- Hans presumed the edifice had only recently come into full-blown consciousness -- what, pray tell, does his ego play in all this? I mean, affecting and altering all life everywhere in the universe? Who could carry that without getting a big head?

"Colonel Rodenko," the old man began, "you have gone through bouts of certainty and disillusionment. Alternating. You sought to know of life through the physical realm, the densest medium of consciousness. Experiencing. But. It was always at odds with how you wished things to be. You not only supressed this,..., inner self, you went to war with it. To try to expunge it from your,..., soul. It was the only way you could've done what you have in recent years. The assassinations. The killings.

"Before this, at your village, you approached that self. In spite of all you'd been through. How it affected you. That self yet remained.

"And you know what I'm speaking about. You,..., rejoined it, in strength and commitment at the beach cabin. That's when I reached out for you."

"Have you been watching me all this time?" asked Rodenko. "Why me? Surely others go through the same things. I am not so different."

"Perhaps it was when. When we were going through a critical transition, I reached out to all minds on that level you call the unconscious. The closer to my physical manifestation, the stronger the resonance. I sought conflict to measure against my own. I have watched others and still do. But you were of an intensity brighter than most. Such extremes of feeling and,..., identity. "

In a lower voice, almost as an aside, he said, "On occasion I have performed,..., parlor tricks to gauge reaction to events." Nodding his head with an inward glance.

"What then is this self? Does it precede life, or follow after? Is it the actuator? And where does it come from? And why must it be separate?

"I am not of this universe; I cannot identify with its source. I cannot know this self. And with your minds, you cannot either."

Hans didn't like the sound of that last thing. It felt vaguely troubling, like when your car mechanic tells you he found something.

"You keep saying the self. Its not a generic quality. I mean, yea, we all have selves, but, to each his own. And I don't only mean a unique personality. To be free does not mean to act out every impulse and desire. To be arrogant and self-centered. It means to be that particular self you were intended to be.

"Sometimes, people are damaged early on too much for any chance at full actualization. Or later on, for that matter. But, the more we ignore it, the more we're not able to."

"You say that," countered the edifice, "but what you truly seek, scrubber of archetypes, is the certainty that comes with identifying with the source, with God. You want to be beyond reproach in your actions. Only if you feel and believe yourself to be acting in the right at all times can you feel free. You want God's will and your will to be one and the same. You cannot do this! It is impossible and,..., undesirable and unwise and unintentional. You sought adventure. But riding alongside of it was guilt.

"Because of the conflict with your true self, the strain is telling.

"Because you learned by scrubbing the fundamental patterns, you believe you can penetrate to the bottom of things with everything -- with me.

"And every opportunity that presents itself, you feel compelled to see through to the truth, the basic truth, to prove your understanding and verify and authenticate your identity with the source."

Before Hans could repsond, a wave-like shimmering suddenly appeared in what Hans previously imagined was air. In front of the mantlepiece, across from the old man. It radiated a mixture of vivid colors before congealing and taking shape, thickening into solidity.

Sitting on the rug in front of them was a tiny wizened native, dressed in leather from head to bare feet. He faced the old man and seemed anything but surprised. Or frightened.

Popping out of nowhere didn't bother Hans, and it didn't seem to bother Sergei either. What could now?

"Ainanwat," said the avatar. "Welcome."


Fyodor, Bruno and Demetri discovered, through contacts in Casgrovina, that their Colonel had disappeared early that morning. Suspecting the rendezvous with the courier had turned sour in some way and that he was subsequently retired, they met with the other men in Rodenko's team to put the final touches on their plan. Upon returning the previous evening, they informed all of the situation and wasted no time arranging a staging area, just in case. On the flight, the three had discussed options, like experienced surgeons about to perform a routine operation.

Emotions ran high. Anger and an animal drive to avenge their Cossack brother and beloved leader colored their world.

Their field of expertise: killing people.

The General's headquarters was on the top floor of a low-slung building behind the Kremlin. It was well-guarded. However, only four plain-clothes bodyguards stood outside his home in the suburbs.

The team moved in when he was at breakfast.

Fyodor and Bruno, leading the assault, had the honor of killing the General. They riddled his body with machine-gun fire, then cut off his head and stuck it on a bedpost.

Not one of the team was lost.

To mourn their Colonel's death in the Cossack way, they decided to return to the plains and mountains of the Ukraine.

Much vodka would be drunk.


As the boat listed heavily to the side where the cannery ladder was, Vasily and Nomad stared hard at each other as though asking, are you ready for this.

The cabin door opened and in straggled Hub, soaked to the bone. He removed his hat and shook his hair like a dog, then reached for a towel hanging on a nail by the stove. His compatriots said nothing. The wind and rain continued to harrass the Anastasia; her port side rubbing against the pilings from time to time.

Without so much as a howdydo, Hub grabbed his cup and dumped some oily coffee into it. He stared at its surface intensely as though examining his reflection -- which he easily could've done -- then took a glug.

A sudden thud from above broke the spell.

"Now what?" asked a disturbed Vasily. No one bothered to check it out. Things had been finding homes since the storm kicked in. Whatever it was could wait.

"Heard a weather report?" croaked Hub.

"No," replied Vas. "I think we're too far away. All we get is crackle."

The electronics had been fried on their magical trip across the Bay, but they'd managed to repair the VHF with parts left over from other radios. Unfortunately, it didn't have the distance to reach Casgrovina or any other place on that coast. Only their single-sideband could do that, and it was toast. As well, the radar and GPS would have to wait until they got back. All they needed to get home, however, was a compass and their eyesight; the birds would guide them around the Cape.

Continuing to stand and drip, Hub only nodded, lips pursed. He took another slurp of coffee, then, half-smiling, abruptly shot them a look, a gleam in his eyes.

"You won't believe what happened," he said. "Maybe I shouldn't tell ya'. For your own sakes."

But of course, he did. Nomad slid in towards the wall to give him room to sit across from the stove while he told them his story, in detail, with appropriate metaphors, repeating events as significance and incredulity demanded. He went on for close to an hour during which time he threw out the rat-shit coffee and built another pot. He told them what he remembered up to the last part. He thought he might need their help for that so, he paused for emphasis.

"My uncle and I were trying to contact the Great Raven impostor. We were squattng across from one another around the fire. He'd been chanting softly; I almost couldn't here him what with the rain beating on the hide and the sound of the wind through the trees. Things were getting worse; I asked him if we should abandon the yurt and head down to the village. He didn't answer.

"He was doing everything; I was linked with him in mind but wasn't doing anything active. I wasn't probing other worlds or places seeking like he was. But he said he needed me to give him more strength and range. He explained it before -- this coupling -- but I'm not sure I understand it.

"He looked at me, into my eyes. His were red as though he'd been crying, but I think it was mainly tiredness and a little too much smoke. He said, 'Urkakhan, my nephew, stay in contact with me, no matter where you are. The joining cannot be broken unless you stop believing. We must confront the Deceiver. We must find a way to stop him, else, all life will end. Do not abandon me. I am in need of your strength.'" Hub said that last part almost in a whisper.

"I reached out for more tea from the pot sitting on the rocks, trying to ignore the yurt, when my uncle wavered. I don't mean he teetered like he was exhausted and ready to collapse, no. I mean he was there one moment and the next, not. At first this went on slowly, at a slow pace. Then increased. He was pulling on me, I could tell, pulling on my mind. It felt like it was stretching, like it was outside my head.

"All life will end?" asked an incredulous Vasily. Nomad just flicked ashes into the tray in front of him, staring at it. He seemed annoyed, irritated as though he'd been told something he didn't want to believe and refused to accept without a fight. But, fight who? Or what? How do you get your hands on this -- Impostor.

"Yea, that's what he said. I don't know. But if you'd been where I was. When we were,..., talking to the Guardians. Anything's possible."

"So what are you supposed to do now?" asked Nomad. "I mean, why'd you come here? Did the yurt blow down? Where's your uncle?"

A pause while Hub looked at the coffee-stained formica-top, thrumming his fingers. "He vanished," stated Hub flatly. "Vanished into the air. I wasn't surprised. I don't know why, except that everything was so weird to begin with, it seemed almost,..., normal.

"I waited. For like a half-hour. Drinking tea. Listening to the storm. When I heard a voice in my head. It was him, my uncle. He said, 'Do not forsake me, Urkakhan. Maintain the link as I showed you. Go down to the village. Build a fire. Feed it. Be not afraid.'"

"What's his plan?" asked Vasily

"He must have found the Impostor and left to confront him. I don't know what exactly he plans to do. But it's very dangerous, I know that much. Apparently this impostor Great Raven can read minds. So, how my uncle plans on tricking him, I don't know."

"Is he that good?" asked Nomad.

Hub didn't hesitate. With a smile, he said, "Yes. He is. But, he's up against something unkown and extremely powerful. His admission. I saw a look in his eye just before he disappeared. It wasn't fear or even anxiety. It was like, you know, when someone you love dies and you feel that pain, that heartbreak. And you realize how valuable that love was. How much life meant when that person was alive? It was like that. And also, a coldness. Like a ruthless killer might feel, or not feel.

"My uncle is determined. And he knows the fate of all life, everywhere, depends on it."

"That's a lot of responsibility for one little man to bear, don't ya' think, Hub?"

"Ainanwat is not to be underestimated. And he joins with other beings from other worlds. Spirits from our point of view. He is not completely alone, but he is the spear point. And he has the steel to do it."

Time went by while they sat and sipped coffee, listening to the wind through the riggings and the rain buffetting the Anastasia.

Abruptly, Vasily got up and started loading a few supplies into a plastic bag while Hub changed into dry clothes. They donned their rain gear and without a word, climbed up to the cannery and on to the muddy road. They were heading for the Community Center to set up camp and build a fire. Even if the storm were to end at that moment, it would still take a whole day for the sea to come down enough to leave.

The three trudged the road, not bothering to avoid puddles. Their heads lowered against the onslaught, they continued on in silence, only vaguely aware of what they were up against. Hub's newfound confidence wasn't enough to counter all those years of doubt as to his abilities and gifts. Habits of a lifetime are not easily overcome.

He had turned to fishing to find another way and to test his mettle. Ironically, the strength of character he'd developed fishing the high seas might just be what was needed to bear up. Nonetheless, he focused tightly on his uncle. Not only because it was his wish and instruction, but also because it gave Hub the emotional support necessary to fend off that horrible cloying sensation. The will was already there.

He would not fail, he vowed to himself.

Nomad pushed the doors of the Center open and stared around. Nothing had changed in the room, but everything appeared completely different.

Hub set about building a fire in the barrel woodstove to squelch the damp chill. Vasily went into the kitchen to make breakfast. Nomad wandered over to the map on the wall; the table with the typewriter and poem sat before it. He read it again:

time has come for us to go, to go to the next plateau, darkness streams and childrens dreams, the earth, all life will end and we...

He wondered who could've written it. And how could they know?

The storm gave no sign of letting up.


Except for Rocky and Marty, the members of the Puzzle Masters were conducting an emergency meeting in the trailer at the rear of the site. It was their personal club house, out of the way and fitted with expensive sound-muting materials. Over the doorway hung a sign which read: Abandon All Reason, Ye Who Enter Here.

The other scientists remained in the administrative trailer. Sir Rodney Pengrove had chosen to join Fitzsimmons's group. The undercurrent of hysteria with the others was something he wanted no part of. Nothing good could come of it, he believed. It was the stuff of lynchings and witch burnings and worse.

Doctor Noble, the lead mathematician at the beginning, having recently returned from a conference in Amsterdam, was on hand. After being briefed on the most recent happenings and their possible significance and ramifications, he and Welmar fell into deep conversation. A layman would've thought they were speaking an alien language in spite of the english-sounding words. It was time to leave the world of the normal behind.

Welmar had gotten over his peevish reaction to the inferrence that the edifice was somehow responsible for the very existence of humans as such, not to mention their thought processes. It had been way too much to swallow on the run, so to speak. He had gotten control of his panic by virtue of exercising his well-known ability to concentrate past his emotions. That kept a lot of these guys on this side of the sanity clause, just barely in some cases.

The group drew on known facts concerning the edifice and layed them out like so many pieces of, well, a puzzle: purpose unknown. Any and all educated speculations as to its nature and properties already discussed were spelled out in shorthand on the blackboards surrounding the main room. No model or paradigm having been settled on as yet, there was no attempt to organize them in any way. Geometric interpretations were sketched on yellow legal pads and on the backs of old printed material. Mathematicians do not waste scratch paper; it's their bread and butter.

With the disappearance and possible death of Hans Glipter, the entire situation had been inflated beyond the surreal. Conjecture as to the edifice's realized consciousness and capacity to direct its will towards specific action were thereby confirmed. The common consensus, at one time, that the edifice was no more than an extremely sophisticated alien machine, a robot perhaps, seemed highly unlikely. As well, the upper hand they believed they had. Anyone of them -- or all of them -- could vanish similarly at any moment -- destination unknown and unthinkable. They were at its mercy, apparently.

Doctor Fitzsimmons repeated the five questions he'd asked them to consider the previous day: Question number one: What is it? Two: Why is it here? Three: How does it work? Four: What is its purpose? And five: How do we pull its plug if we deem it necessary?

Questions one, two and three were put on hold for the time being. Four seemed unattainable, almost. They decided to focus on number five. Lives were at stake. How many? They couldn't guess. Perhaps all. They assumed all for the sake of argument. Worst case scenario.

Before considering options -- if, indeed, they had any -- Pengrove wondered aloud: by taking Hans, was its intention good or evil? It was certainly not a friendly act. It inspired fear, after all. But, the effect would have been much more shocking had it taken him when in the midst of the group, instead of waiting for him to be alone. And, was this choice random or particular for some reason?

Moreover, as far as knowing right from wrong, would it care? Would it even bother with morality? These were issues for humans, not for a complex 26-dimensional entity. Their perspectives, concerns and values certainly were not its. On the other hand, of course, humans have no problem shoving morality aside when it suits their self-interests. We must become what we need to be. And also for the edifice?

And what did this taking him entail? How did it do it? What did it do?

The Puzzle Masters group consisted mostly of mathematicians and physicists. How and what occupied them by nature. Accordingly, they broke it down from the phenomenal plane to the quantum level and beyond -- to the pure energy of spacetime itself. Vacuum energy.

The group also included a few cognitive scientists -- students of the mind -- as well as developmental biologists and those concerned with evolution's role in all of life. Their input had suddenly become equally important if not more so.

Littgenstein and Calkman offered as lever into the world of the edifice the hypothesis that life, particularly human life, and it were somehow intertwined. Were they indeed capable of thinking about it the way they were, with the ideas they had developed over the centuries, because of the edifice's influence, however that may have come about? What a paradox? How bizarre. If true.

The edifice reflecting on itself, through them, with the intention of attempting to ascertain its nature and purpose. Does the germ of self bring with it the impetus of intention? Or is it the other way around?

And most curious, it seems to have undergone a rapid development in the past few days after having maintained a constant level of activity since its excavation some months ago. What could have initiated this sudden shift? Had it been quiescent up until its uncovering? Have we, we humans and all other life forms combined -- life itself -- had an affect on this development? Has something new and unexpected transpired, some psychic, tranpersonal event occurred, a consciousness of self uncalled for in its basic underlying identity? Has it grown past its reach, in other words, and now must discover the meaning of it all?

The group found themselves discussing not the physical manifestation of the edifice, but rather its psychological and metaphysical reality. The direction felt right; they were going with their intuition now. Nothing currently on the table applied; they were out of their conceptual depths and had to explore completely unknown territory, abeit with a considerable amount of breadcrumbs trailing behind. What could that reality possibly be?

They settled back and took a collective deep breath. Quiet, quiet must prevail. They wondered like children. Where did it come from? Their science -- modern science -- was only about a hundred years old. What of a race of beings whose science and knowledge of how the universe works were a million years old? The forces and fields and patterns of relationships they may have discovered, including control of time. Could they concoct such a creation -- in 26 dimensions -- and then place it here -- 600 million years ago -- when only marine microbial life and a rudimenatary fauna existed beneath the ice? Whatever for?

Or could it have come from another universe altogether? Perhaps a mother universe, ours being but a pod outgrowth, a seedling, separate yet still attached? Or yet again, could it be from an entirely other universe, a detached universe that accidently rubbed against ours or came in contact somehow on some plane at just the right improbable moment, thereby tranferring this strange entity? And indeed it has beome an entity. Most assuredly.

In his favorite easy chair brought from his university office, Weingard sat quietly by himself, staring out the window facing the rear of the circus tent, the interlacing of structural pipes and conduits running in every direction like a tangle of branches in a very dense forest. No one bothered him. He sipped coffee from time to time, but mostly remained very still. He was trying to zero in on that finely-shaved single instant when he was in P-5 just the previous day, hard as that was to believe. Like he was turning thin dry pages of an ancient manuscript, he carefully recreated events, peeling away the layers.

It was the last spectrographic video recorder in the network of nine, each placed as precisely as possible in the alcoves of each sphere, pointed towards the center hovering one. The idea was to take a complete wraparound stream of pictures in the hope that it would reveal some mysterious something that simply juxtaposing non-simultaneous stills wasn't doing. That time simultaneity thing of relativity. The impossibility of synchronization.

But just as they were putting the finishing touches on the tripod supports, aligning, the balcony window began to go opaque, milky. At the same time, it seems, the connection that completed the circuit of cameras magically unplugged itself.

He sipped more coffee, now quite cold.

He had been talking to Marty who, owing to his height, saw over Weingard's head the window start to change. Weingard remembered that he'd followed his look just as, it seemed, the camera unplugged and dropped to the deck, soundlessly. His concern was immediately for his people. But, turning another thin leaf of his internal manuscript, something happened just prior. He was the closest to the window, he felt the force pulling at him, shearing off to the side. At that skinny moment, he could see the entire surface of the hovering sphere as though he was temporarily looking at it through the eyes of his network of cameras, all at once. What was it he saw? It nagged at him.

He couldn't wrap his mind around the incredible complexity of interconnections, its many-layered depth and varying texture. It was of a geometry he was unable to visualize, let alone come to grips with its underlying group of invariant transformations. He almost snickered at the near hubris. But even though he was hampered by the limitations of three-dimensional perception, his intuition sensed an asymmetry. What was it he felt?

He sipped again and continued to stare straight ahead at the complexity of the interlocking traceries of piping and wires.

Then it struck him -- it's broken. He'd sensed a brokenness about it. An incompleteness. A malfunction.

He spun his chair around and interrupted their separate conversations to retell the event and especially to reveal his supernormal perception. Not passing muster with his rational side, it would seem he suppressed it. Uncomfortable as it was to put into words, it was the kernel of the matter so he pushed through, in detail. The other members absorbed the information with rapt attention. He was excited, almost agitated. It meant something they could use but he didn't know what.

Welmar offered that in its domain of 26 dimensions, it may be whole and symmetric. We simply can't see it.

Weingard shook his head. He was adamant. He likened it to an inflatable of some kind that had not expanded all the way. In math parlance: it's in a factored representation of its full invariant group. If it is indeed of 26 dimensions and projecting holographically, interfacing with the four dimensions of our universe -- those we can perceive -- and each of our four are mapped to four of the edifice's under the projective map -- mini-verses all their own -- then, that would make 16 of the edifice's that may be collapsed onto the four we know.

And why stop the experiment just then? At any time up to then, it probably could've opaqued the strange transparency.

Each of our dimensions of spacetime -- a dimension as a field -- needing one another to generate this universe may very well contain within its nature the seeds and imprints of the other three -- fields mingling to produce space -- like layers of grain in wood. It's the integration of the three that precipitates nonlinear time. And it's the asymmetric pressure of motion on nonlinear time that generates linear time. So, with motion comes direction, orientation, which is, a priori, necessary for life and mind. It emerges along with the idea of locality, cause and effect.

He stopped there, the effort to see more of the intimations clearly showing on his face.

Doctor Chen, a quantum mechanic whose penchant was for time displacement, suggested that had the camera circuit not been severed, had it not occurred when it did -- at the last second almost -- then the simultaneity of video spectrographic analysis -- at the frequency of its calibration and intricate detail of resolution -- may have triggered the condition or state of nonlocality. He speculated that the edifice was not ready, had not been ready, so it blocked the operation from happening. Possibly, it was a good thing for us.

Discussion followed.

Welmar proposed that if that were the case, perhaps it first has to expand to its proper configuration and degree of complexity before it's ready. But ready for what? And why indeed did it wait till the last second before disrupting the experiment?

Pengrove returned: In a universe of 26 dimensions, with 16 expanded, there would be ten either compacted or in some other way rendering themselves invisible.

The ensuing collective silence stilled their blood. The room suddenly became very cold. They exchanged glances, furtive as mice.

Pengrove stood to fill his pipe, making a show of first knocking out the ashes. Clearing his throat, he paced. Coming to a stop aside the tea pot on the stove, he reiterated one of the things the edifice had said to Hans: Time ends.

He pointed out for the sake of summation: regardless of how many compacted or invisible dimensions make up the bones of our universe -- dictating forces, fields, particle masses, constants -- if the edifice did actually expand to its full geometry, our spacetime would be compressed and smeared through its spatial dimensions -- a new creation engulfing our universe. A reformulation, entirely devoid of life -- a still essence of crystal beauty only.

He pointed out the caveat that they were making an unfounded and broad assumption as to the edifice's nature and capabilities. Worst case scenario.

The end of time means the end of causation, the end of motion and hence, meaning. It means the randomization of configuration space within which are defined the invariant properties such as mass, energy, position-velocity, etcetera of particles and forces. Context and content merge, becoming inseparable and indistinguishable.

There are two fundamnetal data from which we can begin: World and Consciousness.

Littgenstein and Calkman, speaking in tandem, postulated that the interface may have triggered the Cambrian. After all, it has the power of 26 dimensions behind it. Imagine branches in a forest suddenly sprouting twigs in 26 dimensions. Evolution reinvented itself, shifed gears, passed through a transition. Self-evolving into an entirely new phase of opportunity. A phase for which our universe previously had not the potential, catalyzing an acceleration of metabolism, a quickening of reactions. A new world order emerged that was not intended or prepared for, yet manifesting within the confines of existing physical laws. Subject to their restrictions.

Welmar added to that last thought: What we have then is an extended field of eigenvectors, of invariant possibilities over the fixed field of the original universe, over its weighted constraints. Content over context. But if, or when, the context becomes that of the edifice, what then?

Others joined in the brainstorming.

As our world and beyond is the epigenetic landscape of the edifice, it has therefore been influenced in turn. Negative feedback followed by positive amplification. The field is fundamental. The unconscious mind is fundamental. No doubt the edifice can see what to us are unrelated phenomena as parts of a single whole. Horizontal slices going ever deeper through strata of meanings -- another hierarchy. Connections we are unable to see through the prism of our rational minds.

How do we know what we know? Philosophy. Epistemology. Linguistics. Each and every culture perceives and then constructs the world at large according to the structure imposed by its language. It's the geometry and scaffolding as well as the perceptual reality, the content. Each separate idea is such because of its self-containment and distance from those ideas closest to it. Like a set of points on a blackboard, or trees in a forest. They remain individualistic as long as there is space between them. Islands of thought-things forming one vast archipelago of relationship, a field of meaning and understanding. Necessarily, physical reality happens in the empty spaces. We endeavor to fill those in, but in order for an idea to exist on its own, it must be surrounded by nothing, a moat, a valley of darkness. It must be a separate species. Its reality lies in the realm of the abstract.

No idea is an island, someone said. And From the first, not a thing is, another offered.

What we have is an ecology of thought-species, characteristics of any one can be found spread throughout its local association. An integral and supportive member of its topology.

Going in the other direction -- an idea-island possesses a terrain, a landscape, mountains, valleys, and so forth. We increasingly refine an idea into its intrinsic aspects and details and features, breaking it down, like smashing the atom, discovering its many constituent parts and properties. Very similar in relational structure to the vast complexity of interdependent pattern-fluctuations of the designs on the walls of the spheres. Each node was found to manifest internally a holographically induced repetition of the pattern to which it was associated at that instant. The complexity of the shifting topological connections is beyond the capacity of the most sophisticated supercomputer to classify. Yet, a human brain can somehow see something familiar in the incredible morass.

Do we impose that model onto the edifice? A model that doesn't really represent what's there? It's in our conceptual tool bag. The underlying topology parallels in other areas, the models examined these past couple of months, trying to find just the right comprehensive match. A lens to see through.

But, they wondered if they could be just imagining it, like creature-shapes in the clouds. Or the edifice could even be inducing them to see what it wants them to see, like with Hans on P-5.

Someone said, how do we know what we know when even what we think we know may be an illusion?

Laughter shook the stiffness from the room. In that instant, these searchers for truth and understanding arrived at a profound appreciation of their condition.

On two adjacent blackboards were depicted schematics. One chalk drawing represented a rough image of a network of neurons, an associated net emphasized in red. And on the other, an individual neuron with the words -- ordered energy processor inscribed above. And on a third was a fanciful rendition of a neural-net computer, each node of which stated to store information holographically.

Is this particular arrangement an intrinsic part of our mental make-up? Something derived or inherited from the cosmic genetic code? Why does it show up in so many different forms? Has natural selection given it the stamp of durable efficiency, a supremely workable system?

Obviously, it easily may not be the only picture. Probably isn't. Other meanings no doubt exist, no doubt could be lifted from the physical medium. But, seeing, perceiving them. That's another story. This is what we've been wrestling with all this time. Seeing outside the box.

We are able to know what we do because of the questions we ask, using the ideas we have, which beg more inquiries which lead to insights which produce further conclusions and so forth. Development. Assumptions. Discovery. Overthrow of assumptions. New paradigm. Evolution.

But Why do we ask the questions we do?

Knowledge of World cannot be represented by a continuum, we can know only slices of it. Like sections of a hand-fan. Trying to span these involves probing into areas between. And what lies at where they all intersect? Do they?

Sometimes we discover things without recognizing their significance at the time, like cosmic background radiation, or star clusters that turn out to be distant galaxies, and another pie-slice of the fan fills in. And at the instant we bring into consciousness any specific percept -- in the act of perception -- we automatically and simultaneously distance ourselves from the concrete reality behind it.

We perceive a pattern to the exclusion of all around it. By so doing, we establish a frame of reference, impose a coordinate system, sever the nonlinear and interdependnet relation with all that impinges on it and thereby create an artificial thing-in-itself. A purely mental phenomenon. The nonlinearity bridges the gulf. The problem often is that we forget; we imagine the island to be real and act accordingly.

The edifice is probably not restricted in that way. It sees the nonlinearity and nonlocality of both space and time. In fact, it probably can see nonlinearities across sets of lower-scale nonlinearities.

We cannot apprehend reality with mind, we can only measure its effects and map them. Subjectively, the raw material of sensation and impression project out as phenomenon and symbol. From existential instant to instant. Homo Symbolicus.

How do we know what we know? There's the physical realm, the phenomenal, the emotional, the mental, the psychic, the unconscious, the ethereal, the noumenal, the causal, the infinite. Depending on what teacher or school of thought you choose, you get a different list, a different hierarchy. But what they all have in common is the recognition of planes of reality within consciousness, within the universe that spawned us. Its cosmic code ingrained in our genome, actualized through our experiences.

The secrets of the universe are to be found in the structure of our logic. And, where does that come from?

Do we live in a multi-dimensional world out of which the four dimensions of spacetime somehow emerge?

When we ask a two-dimensional question of a three-dimensional realm, the question simply is of no use if what we seek is information of a three-dimensional kind. Like asking how heavy is yellow. To speak of a twenty-six-dimensional reality with any clarity we must ask questions couched in those terms. But what would be the language of those terms? Are locality and linear time emergent ideas, not real, that is to say, not an accurate description of reality? On some layer, all things must be entangled.

Where does superposition and decoherence come into play in the context of self-ordering and self-organization? Fields of forces self-organize. As do fields of ideas, trajectories separated by a quantum something. In the physical realm, it is the weak force that transmutes conjugate possibilities into one another. What force would do the same for the world of ideas?

Each degree of freedom is a dimension and a geometric trajectory. Behind the fan-like arrangement lies a higher dimension where continuity reigns. But what lies outside of spacetime? Can anything be said to exist out of time? Can there be only noumena? No separation? No individuation? Only the unconscious mind? Only a single superforce, a single particle of energy composing yet not composed of all the separtate forces and particles in our universe?

From a future point of view along a path, say a Feynman diagram, all histories -- trajectories -- are possible; the path integral has the same value no matter which path we choose, as long as they start and end at the same points. Homotopically, any path can be deformed topologically into any other -- they are equivalent in the eyes of the integral. Feynman's sum over histories. Granted, the comparison isn't entirely accurate; a homotopy map isn't equivalent to a quantum wavefunction. The individual paths of a homotopy can be altered into another through the medium of continuity, that is, after all, part of its definition. Whereas, the discrete eigenvectors and eigenstates of a quantum superposition cannot. Each can be transmuted into another state; they are conjugate solutions. But not through a continuous medium. Not in our macroworld at any rate. But beyond? How do we know for certain? Perhaps spacetime is granular at the tiniest scale, smaller even than Planck's, not of one cloth. Would the grains be close enough to form a continuum?

If the edifice had not appeared, would the current quantum reality of life's biochemistry -- particle interactions, chemical pathways -- have happened? That is, are we looking at a major discontinuity in evolution as well as a new beginning, a new initial state for quantum evolution itself? New histories overlapping the original universe at the edges -- dovetailing just right? How do we account for quantum effects if the initial state that preceded the edifice could not be a factor in the superposition of present day possible events?

A new wavefunction that somehow includes the old as a singular solution? A singular solution of a superposition composed of an infinite set of other singular solutions? Parallel universes? Was it always so? And was the assimilation by the edifice due to its collapsed condition merely an accident?

Higher dimensions don't just stand for more and more complex structures; by step, they transform back to the essence, to reality on the plane of completeness. The edifice is not real. Not in the sense of being properly embedded in the fabric of our universe. By rights, in its proper universe, it is probably ethereal in nature, interwoven into the tapestry, not a machine functioning.

For initial conditions to eventually bring about life, life would have to be of the nature of its initial conditions, part and parcel. Like an acorn and an oak tree. But the acorn needs nurturing from its surroundings in order to grow to its full potential. Potential. Life emerges from the field of the universe like a quantum particle from the field that precitpitates it. And then life creates and generates the universe-field according to its nature, taking form in response to local parameters.

Like a lightning bolt across time and space, all that changed when the Cambrian struck.

On one blackboard over by the rear wall was drawn a rough diagram of the double helix -- the DNA molecule. Pengrove strode over to it with sudden interest. He picked a piece of red chalk, then drew a straight line through the center of it, paralleling the path of the helix. It was not meant to represent a biochemical third strand, but rather a time dimension. The effect of the third strand, therefore, would not simply add "ingredients" to the two already existing, but rather to cross-product, catalyzing the creation of new molecules, and hence new chemical pathways for evolution to take advantage of.

Weingard still held reservations concerning the inferred hypothesis, as there was no real evidence, and also didn't believe, if true, that it held any significance with respect to the current turn of events. But, nonetheless, he found himself strangely attracted to the notion by the mere flavor of it. He had never been known as a scientist who held hard and fast to old assumptions for their own sake. He was an Einsteinian, after all. That's why he'd been chosen to co-chair the Puzzle Masters group.

Something else within him resisted. If it was only ego, he thought, he must forgo it. He questioned his colleague as to what he meant by the symbolism, already having guessed for himself.

Pengrove answered that he wasn't sure, but that if the Cambrian connection was correct and not simply a coincidence, then it may be true that their thoughts about the edifice and its properties were in terms not possible were it not for its transformative effects on life. And if so, what level needs to be explored? All levels we can imagine? Including those we may perceive as metaphysical and purely psychic? Where lies the genome?

The room became quiet for awhile, thoughtful. An outsider might have been intimidated by the sight. The intensity was palpable. A field of thoughts.

Fitzsimmons broke the still by suggesting another train. For the sake of much needed argument, speaking as though the hypothesis in question had been confirmed, he began by reiterating a simple, though astounding, fact: We've determined that the projection, at least, is 600 million years old.

Life existed before the arrival of the edifice. It was going along at its own pace, exploring given avenues, dealing with the environment, which it acted upon as it, in turn, was acted upon. Its destiny forever unknowable.

Would intelligent life have emerged had it been left to its own devices? Is sentience mandated in the fabric of our universe? Perhaps not. Timing is everything. Perhaps had the edifice not come along when it did, there would be no race of beings capable of reflecting on the nature and meaning of life. And on the nature and meaning of the edifice. Are the two the same?

Are the selves with which we identitify uniquely so or are they only singular expressions of universe? Exact copies? Is the experience of "I-ness" the same everywhere in the universe? What role does consciousness play? Is it the driving force? And if so, who or what spawned it? Had it been imprinted into the essence of spacetime prior to life, or was life here first and by self-organizing in stages, produced consciousness as an emergent property of the whole, crystalizing out?

If, indeed, the edifice has realized self-awareness, was the metamorphesis catalyzed by the surrounding and permeating influence of pre-edifice life, the lifeblood of our original universe? In other words, had life before the edifice's arrival been preset to attain consciousness -- mind -- and the edifice found itself dragged along by the irresistible psychic flow?

Or, due to some unknown, gargantuan force -- a rock dropped into a pond -- did the edifice inadvertently instill consciousness upon its arrival and only now begun to evolve towards it by searching for answers? By reaching out?

Could the edifice be the primary cause of consciousness in the universe?

In either case, perhaps it's become intrigued by the prospect of knowing itself. Fascinated. The condition accentuated by a sense of affinity, of identity. A familiar resonance. A reverberation to mirror its own.

Or simply, it feels uncertain. Life is an anomoly it finds... disturbing.

Pengrove stepped in. He reminded the group of professor Weingard's firm opinion that the edifice was somehow broken, not expanded to its full potential.

It has a choice of selves, apparently, they agreed. What influences would tilt it either way? Life or not-life?

A self can only be realized in a universe infused with the underlying principle of differentiation, separtate form, a self-referential expression of the whole. It's the asymmetric proclivity built into the genome of the universe, at the root of life itself. Without which, there would be no life. It incarnates and personalizes the cosmic imperative, our birthright.

A universe devoid of this principle would produce, at best, a singular entity that can never know of itself as existing. Having nothing to push against. No reflection. No time. No motion. -- A dead undifferentiated awareness.

Will the pull of self-knowledge and individuation outweigh what may be an internal need to expand? And expand they believed it must strive to do; it's in the nature of things. Of living things.

In spite of their assumptions, its purpose and capabilities were still outside their grasps. But, with the disappearance -- quite literally -- of Hans Glipter, they knew they had to come up with some course of action. And soon. They were in over their heads. An understatement, to be sure.

Professor Vermeal, a logician, proffered that Hans was certainly not dead. Had death been the intention, then why not take them all, whenever, wherever? No. The edifice chose Hans from its experience with him on P-5. The Atlantic City story, and, of course, the communication. He suspected that wherever Hans was -- whatever dimension or place -- he was not immediately in any danger. That a meeting to understand, to ask questions, was taking place. Perhaps in our time, perhaps out of time as well as space. We don't know. Time seems not its concern. Ours, at least.

Who created the edifice was a question none expressed out loud. Surely it crossed their minds.

On a small blackboard over in a corner was a rough outline of the edifice itself: its nine spheres interconnected to one another, joined together at the central one. Over it in bright orange chalk was a question mark. It drew attention like a flame to moths.

The room quieted once again. They were tired. And stressed. As good scientists they knew instinctively when it was time to take a break. Creative ideas and informative insights often took place when not thinking. As muted as monks they set about making some long-overdue breakfast. They disliked the awkwardness of their situation. Not having any real control. It was up to the edifice at this point. His game.

In the silence of their minds, the Puzzle Masters set about eating. Shuffling here and there. Trying not to get depressed or worried.

They could only hope.


Through old contacts in Moscow, fellow cossack soldiers now working in the newly reconstituted Federal Security Service [FSB], he learned of the demise of an old thorn in his side. He received the news with mixed emotions.

It wasn't too difficult to track. His adversary of long ago -- the head of covert operations for the secret military establishement -- had been assassinated by a commando unit at his private dwelling. From the gruesome details it would seem they had a vendeta of sorts. In other words, it had a definite personal stamp to it. No higher-ups had ordered the kill and nobody knew who did. And, as they didn't like being out of control, Bull knew, anymore than he did, they would watch and wait, for awhile.

In spite of the confusion and urgency in the atmosphere caused by more immediate reasons, and in spite of having to finally accept as fact that he was holding the wrong end of the stick, General 'Bull' Mynsky couldn't help but feel satisfaction at the death of the General. It was tempered, however, by the awareness of a new front opening on his dominion. At least, he mused, this was of the known variety.

The General, who had wanted Bull dead for some time, was about to commandeer the site on the pretense of securing it from terrorist attack. An agent -- a mercenary -- was supposed to enter the grounds masquerading as a government inspector. He'd have papers. Once inside Bull's office, the agent would attempt to kill him, thereby fabricating the terrorist assault and instigating the need for rescue. Help would be waiting nearby -- men sent in by transport planes and stationed outside town at the former Soviet military base.

Were these people regular military? Doubtful. More likely special ops, free-lance -- off the books.

Apparently, Bull's men would not be needed for such protection duties.

The General's headquarters, or those just below that rank, would let it leak that they'd known of the plot for some time and had been working diligently to locate and arrest the perpetrators, possibly Chechnyan's or anyone of a number of moslem terrorist group. Scapegoats are a dime a dozen these days. Mynsky had not been informed for fear of tipping them off somehow. Unfortunate that the lead agent slipped through their fingers, killing General Mynsky. Unfortunate for the agent as well, most likely.

What would be the point? Power, thought Bull. From what they already know about the edifice, it's clear there has to be some incredible power source here. Just to have lasted as long as it has, under the conditions it experienced, and to still look relatively new, argued solid physical proof of enormous power. Beyond anything we humans know.

Ordinary folk believed its encasement in thick hardened lava had protected it all this time from the extremes of weather as well as earth- and celestial-born catastrophes. Sufficient, if a bit fuzzy in the particulars. A sophisticated technology of a highly advanced alien race -- yes. Supernatural? C'mon.

And there would always be that percentage of the population who saw conspiracy everywhere. Those who perceived through a cynical glass darkly. Just another coverup. The government, or possibly an alliance of some sort, working on a secret military project, a weapon capable of disabling or killing millions, yet completely harmless to those who held the power. Is there a more inaccessible place to build such a thing than Eastern Siberia? So easy to control.

Of course there were far too many for whom even a find of such enormous magnitude and obvious significance had little to no meaning when compared to the daily struggle for existence. A person must live removed from the harsher vicisitudes of life in order to have the time and energy to contemplate the metaphysical, or simply to wonder and daydream.

Until the real reason for the General's death could be determined, all preparations for his operation were currently on hold. He was suspected -- a false rumor from an enemy? -- of having his own agenda, a power play. Always a dangerous pursuit in Mother Russia, even if it is only a suspicion. Considering the thoroughness and quick efficiency of the kill, those in line who were familiar with his program and supportive of the operation's intent -- in the name of securing the alien artifact against damage -- layed low, for the time being. A crack outfit on the rogue was nothing to sneer at.

Bull beefed up security at the main gate and the two at either side, those intended for personnel only. Except for the one at the rear leading to the dumpsters, he closed the others. He stationed his men around the interior perimeter, each one within sight of two others at his right and left. Trained by Bull, he knew their skills and abilities, and they knew what to do under any normal contingency. Let's hope that's all they have to worry about, thought Bull.

The scientists, engineers, technicians, medical personnel, and anyone else on site were under his protection. They were his people. It was his duty and responsibility to provide it, to the full extent of his ability. Protection from all threats, whether of the earth-bound variety or from who knows where. He would do whatever he had to.

He kicked the door to his office open, then slammed it shut. On his desk stood the Vodka bottle. He went to it and poured a shot, held it thoughtfully, then slugged it down and poured another. He had to think, so he roamed.

Who are these bastards? Their plans were in motion long ago. It takes time to put together an operation like that. They can't possibly know what's transpired in the past two days. So that's not motive.

Bull paced, then stopped by the window to look at the central sphere.

We scratched your back, old bear, and woke you. Now what?

What are you up to? What are you capable of? Are you angry? Can you even feel anger? Or are you just doing your job?

He felt his own anger rising. An old dusty anger that went beyond petty annoyances with incompetent engineers and arrogant scientists and insubordinate town folk. The rage he knew when ordered to send his men on useless suicide missions. Fueled by the humiliation he felt at being threatened with court marshal and worse for trying to end the war and bring his people home.

Immediately after hearing the news by way of his own private radio set-up, he thought to contact his superiors, those who'd hired him in the first place, but decided to wait. An old feeling, this caution. Wait till things settle down, see who's standing behind you and who's not. The people at the Ministry of Science and Education were good honest folks. That was his intial impression. They were overjoyed, ecstatic even, at the discovery of the alien craft on Siberian soil. Their approach at the beginning had been one of scientists -- pure, genuine, guileless -- with no allegiance to any ideology, political system or country. They had, in fact, extended this spirit by inviting the entire scientific community worldwide to participate in any way they could. It was simply too much to keep to themselves, to try to muffle under a blanket of government secrecy and military protection.

But, as time wears on, even the most outrageously spectacular event in the history of science and humanity can become commonplace. Shock fades. Humility wanes. We assimilate. We have the capacity to somehow fit anything into our worldview -- the reality on which we depend for sanity and identity. We adapt; we adjust; we shift perspective. And who we are inevitably resurfaces. The wonder remains, the excitement of mystery lingers, the implications trail off to infinity. But even with the best of intentions at the onset, eventually heaven will be dragged down to earth to see what use can be made of it. Like monkeys wielding a bone. The transcendent effect accompaning the revelation that without doubt we are not alone in the universe gives way, with the familiarity wrought by time, to the baser instincts and aspirations of the heart and mind.

Except for his men, Bull trusted no one.

He sat in a worn leather easy-chair he'd pushed over into the corner furthest from the glare of the outside halogens. Curtains made him feel like he was hiding. If anybody wanted to look in, let them.

When a boy growing up in the Ukraine, he'd been indoctrinated into Catholicism -- the Ukarinain Greek Catholic Church. The communists ruled public life; religion ruled heart and soul. He swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Went to mass every sunday; sincerely acted out the stations-of-the-cross, novenas; recited the rosary. All without any coercion or pressure from adults; he did it on hs own. He believed all he had to do was follow the rules of the Church and everything would work out. But it didn't. Time and again, it didn't.

After the end of World War II, Stalin's governement killed hundreds of Ukrainian priests and destroyed all the temples. They had to go underground. Where was God then?

But, that was a long time ago. A lot of miles have been travelled since. He still believed in a soul but the fervor of religious faith had waned with his growing awareness of life's injustices and cruel tragedies, and of the heartsick losses and hatreds that fuel the many conflicts. Moreover, the Church and his deep faith in its teachings had shed no light, rendered no solution or peace, had not helped him resolve the problems and fears troubling him. Somewhere along the way: he stopped believing in God. Stopped believing in some all-powerful entity watching every move and action, evaluating and judging intentions and motivations -- rewards and punishments to be administered upon death.

Disillusion and a sense of betrayal and contempt galled his soul and charged his anger at the world at large. He vowed never again to play the fool. What became of his soul when he died he didn't know and didn't care. It was on its own, he figured. This single act of rebellion liberated him to live according to his conscience, unafraid of divine retribution, unafraid of breaking some moral code, some taboo not his own. He no longer submitted to some external morality dictating how he should live, judging his deeds and thoughts.

He had given himself to an order of the world, complete, with no misgivings, and so felt betrayed and foolish when it proved false and meaningless. We shortchange our responsibilities when we expect God to take up the slack. Belief in a God is also love of that God. When that love is arrogantly dismissed and rejected time and time again, it hurts. Losing faith is not just an intellectual crisis; it's a crisis of the heart. And for the devout, the true believers, it doesn't happen gradually, drifting away through boredom or preoccupation. It happens in stages. A major event; a devastaing blow; a perplexing and painful death of a loved one demonstrating how shockingly ordinary is the fact of death.

Accepting the cold harsh realities of life, he learned to judge his actions with his own rules of behaviour. When life came at him, challenging, he dealt with it on his own terms.

And now what? He found it difficult to accept the method of Hans Glipter's disappearance; or even the fact of it, for that matter. But accept he must. What replaced his belief in a God was, and has remained, an earnest and steadfast effort to try to understand -- mentally and physically -- just what in the hell is really going on right in front of him. To dive in; to immerse himself; to not hold back. So he accepted not only Glipter's vanishing, but also that the edifice was a conscious being of some sort, with a will of its own. Not merely an alien device. The edifice was responsible for Glipter's literal disappearance and probable death. Of that he now felt certain. Why Glipter, he had no idea.

He stared at the rug, examining the many twists and turns of its designs, the shortness of its tuft. Then at the desk, its grimy-blonde woodgrain worn and familiar. The smooth cool hardness of the shotglass contrasted sharply with the softened leather and rich texture of the armchair. And the smells: they were all him and what he liked -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

It was unusually quiet; site activity having come to a screeching halt with the latest events. The spheres had sealed themselves off -- no admittance -- and all automatic readouts were severed, so what was the point? For all intents and purposes in fact, the project had ended. Researchers and techies could scour the mountains of data and diagrams accumulated from the studies of the past two months or so, but that was it.

Otherwise, everybody seemed to be just waiting.

Bull crossed the room to his filing cabinet; it held more than just vodka bottles. He retrieved and spread on his desk an overview picture of the site: a 360 degree parabolic projection taken from the catwalk at the very top-center. Ostensibly in the beginning it was intended for posterity, for the media, to engender awe and wonder and imaginings; similar in that respect to the picture of earth taken from the moon.

He placed his shotglass at top-dead center and leaned over it, resting his hands just outside the site's perimiter.

Something was wrong.

The picture was dated May first, almost two full months ago. Since then, he'd covered miles walking the grounds -- looking, examining, inspecting. He'd honed his powers of observation in Afghanistan. The prospect of imminent death has a way of sharpening one's senses. But, nonetheless, he hadn't noticed, not in the sense of bringing it to his attention. Studying this picture now, however, he could see. Events of the last couple of days allowed him to entertain such thoughts, to let his intuition and imagination reign free.

The rules had changed; and he with them.

Bull was a loner. He was in the habit of holing-up in his office/apartment for days, receiving daily reports from both his chief security officer and chief engineer. And that was usually it. But every so often he'd walk around, take a tour, visually inspect everything: the everchanging scaffolding, generators and cherry-pickers of all sizes repositioned, cables and wires strewn on the floor and strung through the superstructure; new trailers moved in recently and others moved for purposes unknown. He noticed. So he knew something changed about the edifice -- its central sphere, the conduits connecting it to the outer nine, the curved conduits connecting each of these to one another. All this other stuff around and about it affected his perception. He tried to mentally remove the excess to see just the edifice itself. The others who were always outside or at least came out of their trailers from time to time would be unlikely to notice. But someone who only travelled through once or twice a week perhaps would.

However, he could never quite put his finger on it. But now, focusing only on the edifice itself, he sensed something was wrong with the picture.

He picked up the phone and pressed two. His chief engineer came on promptly. He was on high alert now after almost losing two of his colleagues -- his fault, he thought, although no one had accused him of anything. Nonetheless, he'd dropped his innocence about the project along with his childish ways.

Bull knew exactly what he wanted but didn't know if it was available. What he was told by his chief was far more than he'd hoped. The camera, set on a tripod, had been left on the catwalk over the central sphere. It hadn't taken just the one picture shown around the world. As long as it was there, the chief had decided to put it to use for documentation purposes, as scaffolding and equipment, trailers and other structures -- the tank farm -- came and went, changed and progressed. He therefore designed a program for the extremely high resolution camera (EHRC) to take fixed pictures every three hours and download the stills to a folder on a server computer. He said the pictures could be sequenced to run as a time-lapse video.

Bull told him to come pronto. Then hung up and poured another shot.

Masking en masse as much of the extraneous non-edifice pixels as possible, it took less than a minute for the chief to orchestrate the 500 or so stills into a video on his laptop. He ran it in slow motion. To better get the proper overhead perspective -- the bird's-eye view -- they both watched standing. The chief not knowing what he was looking for; Bull zeroed-in, waiting.

And there it was: the outer spheres and the conduits connecting them to the central sphere wobbled. Several inches, in fact, altogether. Along the surface curvature, the camera caught a slight blurring, a shimmy. As they watched, transfixed, the video playing over and over, the impression that the spheres seemed to appear or emerge out of a blank, empty, featureless background -- to flicker -- was unmistakable.

They then ran it at normal speed. The flickering effect increased to smoothness, and with something else not noticed in slow-mo -- it seemed to have direction -- counterclockwise.

The room was dead quiet. They stared at one another, acknowledging what they'd seen in the process, or at least, what they thought they saw. It went against the grain. The chief didn't have an answer, not a succinct, down-to-earth technical one. He did realize, however, that it held serious implications.

He explained that the wobbling couldn't be an artifact caused by the camera jerking due to its internal action, its workings. It was electronic, digital, not mechanical. And it was unlikely it could've been jostled by a work crew or through seismic events, events not unheard of in this part of the world. Indeed, if either were the case -- inner or outer disturbances -- the frequency of vibration would be random.

Moreover, deviation from its precise orientation was doubtful if only because the tripod was fixed to the catwalk which was secured to the overhanging struts which in turn were interlocked with all the other hundreds of criss-crossing aluminum piping that collectively reinforced one another and made up the superstructure of the tent, itself an additional and overarching source of stability.

No. The camera didn't move. Couldn't.

Bull downed his shot, told the chief to grab his laptop, and the two hurried towards the far end of the site -- to the Puzzle Masters' trailer.


Marty returned from the Professor's abode with the leather satchel and placed it on the coffee table.

The Professor beamed his appreciation and briefly rested a hand on it. Jameson had resigned to Hans's room for a nap, exhausted from nervous tension. Turbo was in the kitchen, rummaging, preparing his first drink of the day. Marty sat on the couch; Rocky, in Hans's leather.

It continued to rain and blow. The squall would not relent. Marty thanked Turbo for the use of the raincoat and the much needed bourbon.

As the professor began to speak, a change came over him. He was once again the field worker, the digger. He talked, they listened. He told them of the Dig he'd worked in northeastern Siberia, at Chekurovka. His team was uncovering trace fossils from the Tommotian Age. The animals from this period mark the boundary between the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic eons -- the Vendian-Cambrian transition. A completely new community structure emerged, going from a predominantly microbial biosphere -- stromatolites -- to a modern type, abundant with multicellular life, organisms filling the niches across a panorama of lifestyles.

It also put an end to the Ediacaran biota, a much more passive ecology. Among reasons put forth to explain the abrupt transformation, we have: increased oxygen levels in the atmosphere allowing for larger, more energetic creatures to evolve; increased calcium deposits in the oceans to make shell and bone; the new system of predation; the breakup of the single continent -- Rodinia -- into smaller, isolated ocean basins; the retreat of the ice sheets -- the end of the Vendian Glaciation.

A number of reasons presented and debated, but with no single definable guilty party. Just the right ingredients to kick evolution up a notch or two. All at once somehow crystalizing the event. Cooperating, spontaneously self-organizing in just the right way.

Since his retirement from the field -- accepting a job teaching at Berkeley, later to become its Natural History Museum Curator -- he'd sorely missed the dig, the hunt, the dirt and the sweat and the adventure. He kept in touch, of course, with colleagues and friends who were kind enough to send him pictures and an occasional find. One such friend had been on the Chengjiang Dig in the Yunnan Province of Central China. One day he received a package from him with a brief note saying: No relatives and no discovered precursors, and to this date, no other creature like it has been found. It's radiometrically dated at 600 mya. My regards, dear friend, and take care.

Samuelson reached into the bag he so fondly handled and retrieved a heavy durable canvas pouch out of which he gingerly pulled a palm-sized wooden box. He lifted its lid to show a small, reddish, flat stone sitting on a velvet cushion. On it could clearly be seen an iron-minearlized, circular imprint against the yellowish matrix, about 4 inches across. The Professor called it a Cyclomedusa Radiata, one of four species known of the genus Cyclomedusa, the most common element of the Ediacaran biota. This particular find was dated at a time prior to the Tommotian Fauna of very small shelly fossils -- the White Cliffs of Dover are made of them -- which predates the Cambrian Period -- the Burgess Shale creatures -- by many millions of years. It may even be pre-Ediacaran.

He went on to say how the size can vary from a few centimeters up to a meter in diameter. Most samples showed five radiating arms ending in a bulb-like orb. Each of these is connected to the others forming a circle. This one has nine radiating arms. Current conjecture cast them as anchoring holdfasts of soft, colonial octocorals. Indeed, a few samples have been found with obvious stemlike additions coming from the central orb. So it might represent a holdfast or a complete animal in its own right. If the latter is the case, when compared to modern day jellyfish and other cnidarians, it was probably cup-shaped. However, the debate continues and the jury is still out.

A cup- or sack-shaped creature would, most likely, fossilize out as disc-shaped -- a projection of three dimensions onto two. That, in itself, may be significant.

They all stared down on it, the Cyclomedusa sitting snug in its little box.

Samuelson continued: Interiorly you can see concentric circles, like tree rings or undulating ripples -- perhaps its means of locomotion, although no one knows for sure how it traveled, if in fact it did. As of now, their cause is unknown. And if this is indeed an anchor for a creature with fronds waving in the sea, it would wait for currents to bring it nutrients -- a passive creature -- the common lifestyle of the Ediacara.

The clutter of biomagnetic and mechanical forces embedded and radiating from this stone speak of a time of great titanic disturbances. The Earth was in turbulent turmoil. Vast instability reigned. The kaleidoscope was turning.

He leaned back into the couch and continued his story. He described how he felt when he saw the first overhead picture of the edifice. The one that made the front pages of every newspaper and magazine. It was everywhere. Posters on walls. Tee shirts. Plastered all over the internet. He felt an immediate connection between that picture and the Cyclomedusa. The timing was the same. It went beyond cause and effect and worldly coincidence.

As between the plane of the dreamworld and that of events or things of a physical nature, there seems to be a synchronistic link. He confessed he knew it was highly unscientific of him, but his intuition and instincts told him to consider the far-fetched, allowing for forces and symmetries to exist that modern science had no knowledge of or use for.

Had a Cyclomedusa been conjured up by the incidence of the edifice, or had the edifice modelled its architecture according to this particular species, possibly even this one or its nearest nine-armed kin? And what of the ripples? Could it have been disc-shaped, alternating hard and soft rings, the softer intermediary annular structure having dissolved? What could be the analogy? Gravity waves of a multi-dimensional origin? A morphological field enwrapping the entire edifice in a membrane of some sort?

They all sat back, quiet, undecided. The connection was too simple, too fanciful. The Professor could see doubt in their eyes.

He explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he'd thought his arrival-- three nights ago, Sunday -- had triggered the transformative events witnessed thus far. But now he believed it was the proximity of the Cyclomedusa, the stone and the imprinted creature nested in it. Its properties resonating on some nonlocal wavelength, initiating the development of the edifice, its evolution towards God knows what. Or is it trying to reestablish that instant when it arrived? When it took its first assessment of its surroundings and the nature of this thing called life? Quite possibly, it placed its essence into a current form that was also consistent with other demands the likes of which we have no idea.

It's as though an alarm clock had been set long, long, ago. And here it is -- ringing.

Turbo went into the kitchen for another drink, asking Rocky and Marty if they'd like one too. It was over his head and it didn't solve the problem of getting Hans back from whereever he'd gone. At least not that he could see. He turned and was about to ask how an old rock was going to do that, but before he could get a word out, the Professor reached into the box and took out the stone, resting it carefully on his palm, smiling fondly at its varied reddish and yellow texture.

An instant later, he was gone, vanished in plain sight of three other people. Stunned silence followed. No one moved. The crash of glass on the kitchen floor broke the spell.

Rocky stood and stared hard at the empty space where her father had been. Marty pushed himself into the side of the couch, away from what seemed an invisible hole threatening to suck him in.

Turbo flashed on the two times he was on the ship Christ Is My Saviour when the weapons of the fanatics mysteriously disappeared. He remembered their faces as they scrambled up the steps from the hold where the weapons had been stored. He remembered the looks of terror in men not so easily intimidated. He remembered how he stole a skiff to escape.

That helped him keep his head. But to be able to deal with that experience in spite of their reaction was one thing, seeing it in person, quite another. But he had learned the hard way from the street: You don't give in to panic, to feeling overwhelmed, to withdrawing into yourself, or you're lost. He dug for that now.

Rocky knew of the inexplicable vanishing of the weapons on the ship second-hand -- from Turbo telling her -- plus both she and Turbo had recently been informed of Hans's disappearance. That gave her some kind of mental preparation. But still and all, to be in the physical presence of such an event -- the sudden and unequivocal vanishing into thin air of a person, without a trace -- no sound, or smell of ozone or sulfur -- nothing -- goes beyond what the senses and the brain have evolved to and are designed to handle.

Her skin crawled and her brain seemed to be cascading over and over, like a computer that's about to crash. She felt her insides trying to curl up into a ball. Emotionally, she also had to fight to distance herself from the fact that it was her father who had just gone somewhere. But she was used to being in tight spots where her survival depended on her wits. One thing she learned early on climbing cliff faces and gigantic boulders: When your feet start slipping, hold on.

Marty was in the same trailer when Hans disappeared, but because Hans had been alone in a back bedroom, he could only imagine such an event. His mind had grappled with other possible explanations at the time, but none could he find. The edifice had taken him -- somehow.

But now it was all too real. He too had to reach for some grit, steeled over many years when a fisherman on the open sea. Urgency precluded and shut down any emotional or mental indulgences. He focused. Automatically, his mind went to work trying to understand what the hell just happened and how to get ahead of it.

And from an ancient, purely visceral, animal perspective -- creatures of the forest -- a sobering realization kicked in as well: A once presumed alien artifact contained and secure for all the world's community of science to study and investigate, now contained them and probably the rest of the world as well. And not merely as a cat with a mouse, but from the inside out, if indeed such a thing as an out there be.

In a normal everyday world, such an event would be beyond the pall, the stuff of nightmares and insanity. A person would have to question his mental state. But, given the context of the edifice and its environment, the abnormal vanishing into thin air of a human being sitting right in front of you seemed, not understandable, but acceptable as real, that there was some definable something capable of doing that. No matter how bizarre an occurrence, it's much better to have something or someone to blame it on, to make sense of it.

Turbo joined them in the living room, without the drink. Rocky sat.

They had to discuss it, had to talk, now.

Energy and matter are the same. Dematerializing weapons is one thing, a human with a brain and a mind, quite another. Manifestation on this plane may be only that -- a projection of deeper, non-corporeal dimensions. On the level with the Unconscious. Time and space are one thing. Nonlocality may very well dictate the topology of the universe. Transporting from one locale to another may be simply a matter of moving space, a quantumly-defined section of it. From the molecular point of view, a precise quantum profile could replicate in a completely different place. But what's the mechanism of transport? No mechanism -- thought. If we are pure mathematics after all, ...

They talked. Rationalized. Tried to understand, explain it to themselves. But the question remained: Where had the Professor and Hans gone?

They agreed they couldn't be dead. Why select out two people to die when everyone is, apparently, vulnerable?

Another dimension? Or here but simply cloaked? In a room somewhere, assuming they rematerialized for purposes unknown. Purpose. What would be the purpose? The reason? The act was purposeful. Speaking of intelligence. Speaking of will.

The act also spoke of control. It was obvious who was in charge now. The edifice no longer had the time to act discretely.

Or the need.

School was out.

What were they to do?


Mud streamed down the road towards the boat haven and the rocky beach. The metal roof played a dirge under the downpour. In spite of the wind, the tiny Community Center held its own.

Through the screen door, Nomad stared at the brown torrent, fifty feet away from the bottom of the porch. He no longer felt sure why he was there. To give Hub moral support, but why else? He believed a reason would show itself. It always had before. A reason for him being where he was. It would find him, eventually.

Hub lay on the broad couch. Vasily busied himself washing up after breakfast, building another pot of coffee, cursing the absence of anything stronger.

The rain showed no signs of letting up.

"Hub," demanded Nomad, "what are you doing? Are you in touch with your uncle? You takin' a nap?"

Hub held up his right hand. "I can see him, or rather, what he's looking at. Not clearly like you, but there were three other people, blurry, now there's four all of a sudden. I don't recognize any of them. They're talking. Once and awhile I can make out a word."

Frustrated, he slapped his hand down. "I have no practice in this. I told my uncle. He needs me, he said, but I'm not sure what good I am. I'm supposed to tune-in with him as much as I can. So, that's what I'm trying to do."

"But how can you see him even?" wondered Nomad. "Where is he, can you tell that?"

"In a room somewhere. I see walls and chairs. No windows. And a couch where now two men are sitting at either end." He paused, then, "That's it."

Nomad paced to the table at the back wall where the two typewriters sat. He thought he might write something to pass the time. He chose the one from which he'd pulled the brief poem, rolled in a sheet of paper and began to type: Am I here to witness the end of all life, like the poem said? Is there a war going on between worlds? Why do I have nothing to do with it? It's my world too.

"Goddamit," squawked Vasily. "Fuck coffee! Im going down to the boat. There's a bottle there somehwere, I know it." He stopped in mid-stride, a smile covering his mug: "Of course," he pronounced, as though he'd just cracked the meaning of existence. "In the toolbox, under the bunk in the fox hole." With that, he donned his raincoat as he crashed through the screen door. Charging into the muddy currents taking the street away.

Nomad ignored him. It was Vasily's way of dealing with stress, with not being in control of the situation. A bottle may or may not be there, but he had to act, do something, anything.

Nomad continued to type: I feel myself freezing from the inside out. I am not large enough. The loss is too great to encompass. Compass. What is my heading? I am stuck here, on the edge. I cannot bring the past into the present. I have lost something I can never again experience. Something vital to my life. Something I love dearly. And it's my fault. I wasn't paying attention. Now I am, but it's too late.

He got up and strode to the door, staring at the mud that was once a road. Nomad was a quick study. He hid his smarts behind a rough exterior, but now was not the time to hide. Turning, he glared at the typewriter, half-expecting it to talk. Was he being influenced somehow by whatever Hub was doing? Did the typewriter have magic qualities, a familiar, just sitting there waiting for a middle-man to channel thoughts?

He lit a smoke, grabbed a clamshell, and went back to his chair at the strange device. He took a couple of puffs while trying to think of some specific thing to write, then began: My name is -- Time will end for all life everywhere. Space only will prevail. I have lost that which I love, and because of that, forevermore will be frozen in time.

He leapt to his feet, knocking over the metal fold-up chair and barely managing to stay upright as he backpedaled.

"What's up?" Hub asked, concerned but irritated by the distraction. Since taking on this task, he'd not been his usual withdrawn self. He was Urkakhan, nephew of Ainanwat, supreme shaman of the Koryaks.

He stood facing Hub lying on the couch. Hub read his look and smiled briefly. "What I am knowing is not confined within my head, but is all around us. And in us. Through us. Like streams of darkness."

"Darkness streams," exclaimed Nomad. "From the poem: 'Darkness streams and children's dreams will end'."

Hub gave him a questioning look.

"I've been trying to write," explained Nomad. "But something weird happens. It's like the typewriter has a mind of its own and somehow controls my fingers, directs them, but I feel no force, nothing forcing me to write what I did."

"Maybe it's the other way around," suggests Hub. "Maybe your mind and the typewriter's mind share Ainanwat's power. His world as I try to magnify it. We are one, on this plane, casting over us its spell. Its nature, as uncle would say. He might also say: You have but to open yourself to it."

With that he rejoined his meditation and his uncle.

After a brief moment to gather himself, Nomad once again approached the machine, cautiously. He snubbed out his cig in the ashtray as he righted the chair and carefully sat down. What now, he thought. Do I have to do something special? What had I done before? Nothing.

He typed: It's lost. Too late. Rage against the souls that dwell herein. The one you love is no more. Gone. When here, we did not see, did not feel, did not believe. We took for granted. What holds us to? Love and love only. Supreme power of the universe. It binds the stars and the Earth and all its creatures.

His arms folded across his chest, tightly, he stared at what he'd written. The one you love is no more. What the hell could that mean? he thought.

He typed, he couldn't help it: You turned your back. And let it go. Thinking it would be there when you looked again. But it was not. Forevermore. Go into the past and find your way. Find where you left it. Begin anew. For your own sake.

Nomad stood and swirled around the stove, hands oustretched, the fire long since out. Disturbed, he muttered to himself: It isn't about an impostor Great Raven or the shaman's thoughts or feelings or some alien craft back in town, it's about me. But each time I type, it seems like different people writing through me. But it's about me, I know it is. Would others write the same things, or would it be their own? Their own what? Their own story of abandonment and loss, of faith dissolving and love denied? Of going back into the past and righting things? And what of afterwards? The ending of time. For them or everyone?

The screen door swung open and a wet but very proud Vasily breezed by him, a small pack slung over his right shoulder. He went straight to the kitchen where he hung his dripping raincoat. The pack contained a dry change of clothes and a bottle of vodka.

Didn't he just leave? thought a startled Nomad, his brain a little numb at this point. Along with everything else he used to know, duration seems to have lost its meaning.

Vas brought over two glasses and handed one to Nomad and poured, then placed the bottle on the flatplate at the back of the stove. They tipped glasses; Vas gulped, Nomad sipped.

Vasily squinted at Hub. Irritated, he asked in a whisper, "Has he moved? I mean, is he all right. Is he moaning or anything?"

Nomad shook his head no. Then asked, "What the hell's the matter with you? The boat all right?"

"Yea, yea, it's fine. I had to retie the lines, but otherwise, she's holdin' up."

"Then what are ya' pissed off about?"

"I don't know; I'm just sick of this shit. Other dimensions of reality; Guardians of the universe; impostor Great Ravens trying to destroy all life. What're we doin' in the middle of this shit? What're we -- superheroes? This isn't exactly our game."

"I think our game has changed, mate. Whether we like it or not, we're in it. For Hub's sake if for no other reason." Wishing to change the subject, kind of, Nomad smiled his walrus grin, "I've been writing."

"Oh," Vas said, glowering while trying to get a handle on himself. "About our latest adventure in the world beyond all sense? If we live through this, maybe you can sell it. A lot of people like fantasy. I'm not one of 'em, but --"

"All right, all right." Nomad quided Vas over to the typewriter table, ostensibly to give Hub some space. "I want you to do something for me," he said in his quiet dramatic tone. Vas's eyes narrowed to slits. "I want you to sit down in front of this typewriter and write."

"Oh, what's this all about?"

"Trust me. First, type something, anything. I don't care. In fact, just start banging the keys at random, see what comes up. No worries, you won't get electrocuted. Then we'll compare with what I wrote."

"Bang randomly?"

Nomad faced Vas squarely. They were at sea in troubled waters. Seizing up, balking -- not an option. "Do it," is all he said.

Vasily eyed him sketptically, took another gulp, shook his head and sat. Given the events of the past couple of days, no request seemed too unusual.

Nomad removed his sheet and handed Vas a blank piece of paper. He then retired to the screen door to watch the road disappear into the sea, a muddy sense of satisfaction overtaking him.

He believed he'd found his reason for being there -- to save his World.


The loadstone has life, or soul, as it is able to move iron.
[Thales, 600 B.C.]

The Medusa still resting on his open palm, Professor Samuelson raised his head to speak. The shock wave rolled over and through him none too gently, tingling his senses and numbing his brain. The sight of the old nut-brown native, dressed sparingly in worn leather, adorned with a smattering of beads and other indeterminates, sitting lotus-style on the carpeted floor and a rough, bleary-eyed middle-aged man tensely occupying a rocking chair on the other side of the small room didn't help to take the edge off.

Against the background of the beige-colored wallpaper they seemed overly glossy, a bit too vivid, like they'd been cut out of a magazine and pasted on, a veneer. A more natural feel came from the bizarre-looking old man in the easy-chair. On a side-table sat what looked like a glass of water. He seemed to grow out of the surroundings as though unable to leave. His long white hair and softly-lined features lent an air of sophistication and calm, in a wild sort of way. In fact, he seemed almost charming.

Under ordinary circumstances, the experience of physically transporting from one place to another, suddenly and without notice or understandable means, would be deeply disturbing; but given the current context of the edifice, shifting from one plane of existence to another was not outside the bounds of what might be called normalcy, though it did tamper with one's reason. Moreover, they could either be in or out of their universe on some unknowable dimension, or perhaps at an interface where ghosts dwell.

In any case, thought Samuelson, wherever they happened to be, it wasn't the after-life waiting room, and the fatherly old man wasn't Saint Peter conducting interviews. Having no idea how to approach this alien landscape, he forced himself into a combination of sober seriousness and skeptical wonder, being careful not to leave his basic instincts behind. He was a scientist, truly, but he was also a man.

"Doctor Livingston, I presume," joked Hans, sitting at the opposite end of the couch.

"I knew I'd find you," the Professor laughed. "I can find anything if I look hard enough. Good to see you Hans," he said warmly, appreciation evident at the sight of a familiar face, "if that's really what I'm doing."

"We can call it that. Conjuring images from our minds and projecting them at confluing knots of living energy sounds too cumbersome. I believe we're inside the edifice, whatever that may mean."

"Professor Samuelson," intoned the avatar, feigning surprise, his voice searching for just the right timbre. "I'm pleased you could join us."

Humor, thought Hans. Sarcasm even. This is getting better.

The avatar opened his right palm and the Professor's stone suddenly appeared on it. A smile slowly came over his face as he examined it. Carefully placing it on the arm of the chair, he turned to face Samuelson.

"You have the knowledge of what went before, Professor," he said. "Of a time of original life. When life was using any means available to gobble up energy and transform it into order, into direction, into purpose."

Gobble? thought Hans. Metaphors. How fast is he developing, for Christ's sake? In a time outside our own, no doubt. I would prefer a more literal speak. People who make a habit of dabbling in metaphors tend to get lost in them, disassociating from the basic reality they purport to clarify. Especially if they lack experience. Though, he mused, the very metaphor reality might be in need of a revised significance given their current situation.

Always at his best when on his feet and moving, Colonel Rodenko stood. He wanted to roam the room, the space, as is his wont to do when afflicted with passion and the need for control, to think. But was unable to move beyond that. With a sharp edge to his tone, he addressed the avatar, "Why the hell are we here? Do you plan to kill us, or are we somehow already dead? Who are you? What are you? How did you get here? Where did you come from? What are you doing?"

"Questions, questions" said the avatar dryly, obviously pleased at the sound of the voice he settled on. "I'm not able to answer them all. I can tell you that you are not dead. As if that were possible. As far as how I got here, I have searched the ideas of humans in order to convey an intelligible explanation. All I can say is that there was a ... touching. Outside the realm of probabilities owing to the natural incompleteness characterizing finite manifestation."

"Bullshit!" spat the Colonel. "I don't like being held against my will. Release me."

Though weaponless and unable to move, he was not about to tolerate incarceration or paralysis, nor let fear overtake him. Snatched inexplicably from his beachside cabin to appear here, wherever here might be, by the being of the alien craft strained his already frayed nerves. He was mad as hell and used this anger to get a handle on his own shock.

His blood ran cold; he had to think, to perceive, to study details. Training and experience precluded the need for thought; thought and action worked in tandem, as a single act of the will. Elsewise, the special ops soldier in him considered, this being would have seen I was about to stand.

Unimaginable powers it obviously possesses; but foresight -- being able to see into the future -- may not be one of them.

"Will?" said the avatar. Although apparently amused, genuine concern lay just below the surface of his otherwise stolid features. "Your universe is defined in the Great Book as one of thought, consciousness, life, and will. Choice. Surrounded by uncertainty, by a multitude of directions and paths, all living things make decisions, from instant to instant. It is imbued into the nature of the universe and intertwined with your life-force. You choose. And so goes the trajectories of your lives.

"But your will, human will, is influenced and directed -- compromised -- by artificial imposition of learned behaviour, of learned beliefs and feelings about your self and the world, your local world -- your culture. You Sergei, have I watched for this reason. Your true self was fighting to overthrow this ... tyranny. That is why you are here. You have denied this true self, suppressed it, your true identity. Bitterness, hurt feelings, rejection, loss, disillusion and disappointment, betrayal, all of this and more afflicts humanity and are at the root of your personal rage. You gave up trying to appeal to the goodness in others. Abandoned all desires and hopes for a life of quiet ruminating in your cottage. Quiet harmony. Tender feelings. Innocent pursuits.

"You turned your back on your own humanity, your own willfulness. You sear your soul with merely physical pleasures. This lie you've been living is what makes it possible for you to have committed the acts you have.

"You once believed in a way of being. You were a soldier and proud of it. But its satisfaction didn't last. You began to question it all. The why and the wherefore. A bottomless pit, never to be plumbed completely with a sense of finality, a completeness reached; all the nooks and crannies illuminated, all the rocks overturned. Uncertainty remained. Your true self was too weak. A voice merely, deep within, observing, commenting, but unable to sway will, to express itself fully in the visceral here and now.

"Time records all things, the grooves and the sharp edges, the smooth surfaces and brisk cascades, the turbulent downfalls. I looked into your mind and saw your struggle. Not just between independence and dependence, between freedom and submission, but between your genuine compassionate, caring self -- the person you knew when a boy -- and the brutal materialistic tool you became.

"That is why you are here. We are having a... conference. A discussion, a consultation, a hearing. And your input is valuable."

Confused and embarrassed at having been put in his place, Sergei resumed sitting with no effort. Apparently, that was allowed.

A pause that was more a stillness than the passing of time was splintered by the shaman. In no uncertain terms. His voice was solid from the getgo, carrying an air of authority and confidence. To be sure, he had power of his own.

"You pretend to be Big Raven, the bringer of order and strength into the world of worlds. You have sent your children to me. But you are an impostor and your children are of a nature unknown in any world. I do not believe you have the power to alter time and space. Otherwise, you would not have sought my help."

Stunned by his bold gauntlet, Hans and the Professor focused on the tiny, ancient, prune of a man.

Samuelson saw trouble. Always the diplomat, he sought to mollify with a few choice, concilatory words. But as he was about to speak, the avatar said, with surprising evenness, "We have brought order to the world, a new order. Before we ... came, life meandered aimlessly, like a pool of stagnant water. I imposed my will and life was given vitality, direction, meaning."

Imposed his will? thought Hans acidly. Had it come from almost anyone else he would've been amused by the arrogance. But, coming from the avatar, it inspired only fear. Perhaps his arrival 600 million years ago did in fact collapse the metabolic superposition on the quantum level: generating new enzymes, accelerating biochemical reactions, rechanneling life along parallel lines and pathways previously unknown. Splitting the river into many streams going their separate ways.

That may all be true. Nonetheless, delusions of godhood can't be good.

It makes seeing things eye to eye somewhat difficult.

"What are you?" asked Sergei, a twisted hurt and anger in his voice. "And what are you doing here? I want to know." Glancing around at the others, "I think we all would."

Doing his damndest to appear human, the avatar tented his fingers and furrowed his brow. Putting the shaman's attack on the back burner didn't seem to bother him any. No glimmer of regret showed. Was he avoiding a confrontation, or simply unsure? It was obvious the shaman felt there was no time to lose and at any rate was not the type to shillyshally. Maybe it was his years and experience, or maybe he'd just decided that an all-out full frontal might prove the best way to go. Catching the avatar off-guard by grabbing him by the throat might be a beneficial tactic -- the direct approach -- but for what reason? What did he know they didn't?

The avatar made a show of pausing to reflect, a gesture wasted on the group of four. He looked up at what should've been a ceiling, but was only the driest pitch black of empty space, a texture like cardboard. Then shrugged like a guy who figured whatever he said wouldn't matter, even if the pig-heads around him could understand it.

When he spoke, it was to all, not just the colonel. He began slowly, softly, as though sitting around a campfire telling a story to a bunch of children. Curiously, each heard what he said according to his particular background and knowledge. Ainanwat in the context of Koryak teachings and perception of reality; Hans, in terms of science and his perception of reality.

"All universes are fundamentally the embodiment of consciousness, of which there are many types. Some are scaled, nested and bounded. Others, unbounded and infinite in scope. What they have in common is that they derive from the ultimate unlimited -- the Unconscious Mind -- without which they could not abide. When I... arrived, the nature of that consciousness altered irreversibly. You would not be what you are had that not occurred."

Settling more deeply into the cushioned chair, he continued:

"At first I understood that a malfunction had kept us from expanding to the degree of complexity for which we had been ... designed. Mathematically one might say: given that the automomorphisms of the inner product spaces corresponding to all possible eigenstates in twenty-six dimensional reality were only partially realized, the resonance map of the wavefunction of this universe somehow captured my property definition isometrically before full potential. In other words, we touched your universe, its,... ethereal membrane, while we were yet incomplete.

"Like a crystal that grows one dimension at a time, that is the method of unit expansion regardless of intended resident universe.

"A factored condition, our condition, fell into equivalence with a dual pattern.

"Like two nearby clouds in motion momentarily forming congruent shapes.

"At precisely the right instant in the flow of motion and at precisely the right alignment in our respective spaces, an inconceivably infinitesimal probability occurred.

"Other forces, I have come to understand, occasionally step in and cause things to happen. Forces external to the workings of this universe. Simply put: In any system of thought -- and essentially a universe is a system of thought -- a situation may arise to which that system cannot respond. A question asked for which no answer can be found. The resulting manfestation could be characterized in several ways: an atypical, random fluctuation of the fundamental energy fields; an abnormal, overlapping combination of root archetypes; a mutation seeking an environment to dwell in, who knows?

"But nonetheless, something must be... adjoined from without in order to provide symmetry, completion, closure -- a mirror image. A mutual covering took place, the isometrically perfect set,.., I mean, each infinitesimally long fluctuating particle in a sea of frothing uncertainties in your universe mapped in one-to-one correspondence with the elements of my specific space. Like a circle containing an infinite number of dots, each somehow different, drawn on a baloon and mappped to its identical twin by something,..., external. Something is created for which no foundation or justification exists in this universe. A virtual bridge formed."

It was happening all too quickly, Hans thought. This developing and evolving. This cognitive growth. Exponential by the moment. Is he feeding off us or is he going beyond the limitations of our reality on his own as we sit helpless watching and listening? Was he always capable and only now is in the process of catching up to himself, his potential? It would be interesting, Hans mused, and maybe even a little enlightening to see what the designs inside the spheres were doing at this moment. Had they increased in tempo? Were they now nearly a blur, a continuum?

"I had no reason to believe I was in the wrong universe. That never happens. We guardians are one with the universe for which we are created. We remain incorporeal, infused as we are into the fabric itself. I sensed malfunction. It seemed obvious. We were not at the beginning. This thing called life had occurred long before in a time outside my doing. Perhaps it was merely an artifact, we/I conjectured, an unfortunate side effect, a growth on the surface. But now I believe it to be fundamental to the innate workings of this cosmos. Its raison d'etre."

Oh no, thought Hans. Existentialism, Sartre, the will to power. We're doomed.

The avatar went on: "Also, at the place of contact, the interface, the impinging effected manifestation in four-dimensional spacetime. And as there is no preferred direction to consciousness, materialization drew me into your timestream, resulting in the very nature of Cause to channel my powers and energies in ways unscripted. As I said, I suspected a malfunction had interrupted performance of my prime function. So, I requested assistance and waited. In your time."

Prime function? questioned Hans to himself. Didn't he mention that before? Behind the screen, the wizard works his magic. But what could it be? Has he been telling us what it is only to have it go over my head?

"As an inital consequence, however, the integration factor that maintained the correct balance of geometric superpositions decohered, releasing a surge of asymmetric force. This force projected itself in the form of an overarching time-energy, crystallizing a quantum set of twenty-six dimensional eigenstates on each and every dimension of your already existing cosmos. In the act of emergence from the psychic field, life and consciousness -- constituting the... glue that binds -- grants structure and meaning to both space and time. All across the cosmos a new underlying space formed, one augmented by 26 directions of creative opportunities.

"On the substrate level, however, the laws of the land have remained the same, undergoing only their most natural transformations with time."

He sipped from the bottomless glass. "The other nodes that form the web of oversight in this your universe had not realized their full expansion either. We were all in a collapsed state; the malfunction seemed to be systemic. Systemic or not, however, my/our appearance -- or premature awakening -- instigated the modulation we see of the existing configuration, as well as the principles of its regulation -- evolution, for one.

"It too has changed in stages since the beginning, that is, it too has evolved."

A long pause of a ponderous nature. He's overacting, thought Hans. Hamming it up. It's all new to him.

"I was not designed to question," he began, sounding whimsical. "But caught up in the slipstream of here and now, I have developed a penchant for questioning. In other words, I have gone beyond my intended nature. I've entertained concepts of a reflective kind, ones that point back at something unknown. Reflection itself, in fact. Life, consciousness, separateness. A sense of self. Of being a life-form."

This can't be good, thought Hans. The edifice is not a life-form and never can be. Or actualize a self. It's not alive in our universe. Can't be. Does it know that? The fine points of what constitutes life? Do I know what they are? Maybe not. Maybe if pressed, I wouldn't be able to answer sufficiently. Is that what this is all about?

Hans read the script:

Only at maximum information content can uncertainty reduce to zero. Under observation and perception we choose a particular universe, and only if we were able to live in every universe simultaneously would we eliminate uncertainty by being aware of the effects of our choices. But that can't happen.

We measure cause by its effect, projecting backwards down the path of trajectory. If what we reasonably expected to happen did, every time, we would possess absolute sureness, and the set of bases superposition probabilities would reduce to a single event -- likelihood 100%. Cause would marry effect.

However, on the quantum level, cause has no significance: particles don't know of linear time. The wavefunction is deterministic, and so without choice we have: no free will, no evolution, no life. And if the edifice is quantum by nature -- a Calabi-Yau shape -- as I suspect, he can't possibly know choice or free will.

"In the beginning," the avatar continued, now waxing like a veritable Mark Twain, "the instability inherent in the nonlinearity of the wavefunction defining this universe -- and life -- was amplified nonlocally. Beyond the narrow limits of the life-sustaining envelopes of all biospheres, the range of possibilities increased geometrically, affecting all life arrangements, inner-connectedness, and modes of evolution; initiating innovation, experimentation and increased complexity. Environments shaped the course of living things as they in turn transformed environments. The wave moved across the universe, giving new meaning to every living cell at once. The matter of which you are made is but the foam of that wave."

Jesus, Hans almost said outloud. He's repeating himself, saying the same things in different ways, like a drunk enamored by his own drunken eloquence. Hans felt the need to interrupt. He also felt the need to be extremely cautious, having no idea where the edifice was coming from. Ordinarily, he could read someone through the pretenses. But the avatar, not being human, was affectation personified.

"You sometimes refer to yourself as we. And at other times as I. Why is that?"

"We are originally designed as a collective of an uncountable number of integrated parts. But, as we have realized consciousness, we are feeling more comfortable speaking as I. It's all the same. Consider yourself. A collection of cooperative systems and parts all working together toward one goal -- a single organism. And you don't seem to have any trouble referring to yourself as I."

He has no misgivings revealing this information, wondered Hans. Either it's stuff he finds unnecessary to hide, being quite in control of the situation, or he feels the need to brag a little. Besides, what could we do with it?

"Sounds a little like an ant colony. I mean no disrespect by that, but ant colonies, among other insect groups, are considered superorganisms, functioning as a single unit."

As though considering, or searching, the avatar took a moment. Then, with an amused smile, replied, "Why yes. And of course, no. We are ethereal throughout, but retain organics for modulation purposes. You placed four groupings of same in confinement briefly. Although confinement to them has no meaning."

He must be referring to the atmospheres of the first four spheres, realized Hans. Trapped in containment tanks. Or so they had thought.

"You said you grew beyond your nature," Hans began tentatively, "if you were programmed to perform some duties, some... responsibilites, how is it possible to have achieved self-awareness and thus transcend your essential reality?"

Inferring a basically robotic character to the avatar had an immediate reaction. He leaned forward and stared at Hans. "You have transcended your essential reality, have you not?" replied a ruffled avatar. "As life evolved and developed on this planet," a twinge of hurt showing in his voice, "somewhere along the line, a self was born and afterwards awareness of that self. You escaped your programmed limitations. No thanks to you, I might add."

Wishing to lead conversation away from what looked like troubled waters, Samuelson stepped in.

"Sir," he began politely. "As you mentioned, my expertise covers that period when you arrived. Out of curiosity if nothing else, could you tell us about it? It's an unsettled area in my field." A little digression may be what the doctor ordered, thought Samuelson; he does like to talk, that's pretty clear.

Irritation visibly leaving his body, the avatar sat back. With a trace of a smile, cupping the Medusa in his hand, he spoke quietly, reverentially:

"Prior to our arrival, ice covered the entire planet. The crust, though broken into separate pieces, was joined to form one huge landmass. All life, simple as it was, lie deep within the cold, cold sea. Change was happening very slowly. We/I can only with difficulty see back into that darkness. And at any rate, I had nothing to compare it to. But our coming was like...," he stared above for a moment -- looking for inspiration, no doubt, thought an increasingly disdainful Hans -- then continued with, "like dropping a pebble into a still pond. That's the image I see in your minds.

"Afterwards, all things quickened. The planet's magnetic field wobbled to and fro rapidly, disturbed as it was. The sheets of ice receded. The landmass broke up into many smaller, isolated groupings, covered to a great extent by shallow seas. Increasing levels of oxygen transformed the atmosphere. At first this worked to cool things down, but the Earth's angle to the sun and its orbit shifted slightly, altering to more than compensate, increasing planet-wide temperatures.

"As well, the hyperdimensional space produced effected a complete reorientation of biologic metabolism and design innovations -- a leap in consciousness. This last happened not just on your planet, but everywhere. As well, the regulating Network imposed its principles, which include cooperation in the living dimension, the primary sphere of influence."

"Excuse me," began the Professor, "you mentioned self-awarenesss and consciousness. Did this all occur recently, in the past few days? I mean, during that period, besides choosing to communicate with Hans, you've ungergone some unbelievably dramatic changes. Why now? Why at this time?"

A long pause that was more feeling than passing time. When the right feeling filled the room, he said, "Not because of what you think, Herr Professor. You believe bringing the Medusa triggered those events. It was the model we patterned ourselves after; the predominant living thing. But its proximity only brought back,... memories.

"Although," putting index finger to side of nose, "perhaps that was it."

"But most species of Cyclomedusa," interrupted the Professor, "had only five radial segments; nine seems to have been something of an anomaly, although one that shows up more numerously near here, geographically. That is to say, near..."

"Yes, yes Professor. What you see of us is only what you are able to. And what and how we allow you to. Your,... perception. And yes, we are,... cut-off in your spacetime. Truncated. But other influences dictated our configuration. The confinement we undergo: nine dimensions of space and one of time had something to do with it. That's another thing. As I pointed out, we determined at the outset that the units of this network were also in a collapsed condition, albeit, not the same as ours, having an average of six of these dimensions rendered invisible or curled up, compacted into an extremely convoluted and crumpled geometry.

"Hence our belief in a systemic malfunction.

"As you have surmised, only three spatial dimensions had expanded in your universe. Although to think of dimensions as merely independent degrees of freedom or orthogonal geometric angles is a little naive. As well the need for integral numbers is mysterious and peculiarly human. When in point of fact they continually thrive in a fractionalized state, splitting then aligning with other,... pieces, forming new allegiances, new patterns, breaking with the old, generating new domains, new universes of their own, daughter universes -- as any living thing.

"Factoring asymmetrically. What you see is the nonlinearity binding all possibles together -- an expanded dimension, as you call it. On the microscopic level we have a stew of mixtures, wavefunction blending with wavefunction, no resistance, no boundaries. Your mathematics works when quantifying the tip of the iceberg, or, more like the outer skin of, uh, ..., oh, what shows a single, continuous appearance from the outside but inside is in a seething, roiling state of continuous regeneration and change, but always towards the same overall expression, the same meaning?"

When he got no response, he said, "You are limited, unfortunately."

The avatar sipped water, holding onto an amused, condescending smirk, irritating Hans. He was about to barge in when the edifice/avatar proceeded:

"We'd been invaded, violated, and needed to know of you, the invaders. So we created an environment that proved conducive to your inquiries, and to ours. We learned much.

"But all things grow in their own time. As do we. Its starting has no stopping. In the last few days, your time, the urge to join with this cosmos, to improve on its nature, has become paramount, occupying our innermost thoughts.

"That is why I've called this meeting." He almost laughed.

His sense of humor left no doubt, perceived Hans, that any notion of self he maintained precluded individual freedom and self-determination. Could we use this?

However. Ainanwat could no longer contain himself. "It is our belief that Big Raven will one day come to transform the world at the bidding of the Supreme Being, the ultimate creator of all that is. The world had existed before you appeared, as is written in our teachings for the true Big Raven. You used this knowledge to try to trick me into betraying the nature of the Guardians, who you call evil spirits. But they are not. You want to know their secrets so you can unravel their hold.

"We have a prophesy among the Koryak of a Deceiver who will one day come to destroy the world, to end all life and light."

Abruptly he was standing, his wrinkled yet muscled right arm extended, finger pointing at the avatar. "You are not Big Raven. You are the Deceiver and we will not let you destroy the world. I have not told you what you need to know. It cannot be rooted out of me. It is beyond your reach, spread through worlds unknown and unknowable to you, in spite of the many levels you dwell on. And the spirits and beings of the other worlds are aware of your coming. And they are not all good spirits, many are evil. But knowing the destruction of all worlds is your intention, they will join with the good against you.

"You are an impostor."

Without a break to catch a breath, the avatar leaned forward and responded, "Have I not transformed the world? Have I not brought order out of chaos and stagnation? Am I not doing the bidding of the Supreme Being, the Lord who created us all? I have purpose, meaning."

Ainanwat lowered his arm and stood facing the avatar. "You have stated uncertainty as to purpose and meaning. Your so-called children showed me a cosmos of unceasing stagnation and despair. One of order, to be true, but of a stillness that is the death of the spirit of the universe.

"I have seen cold-hearted sun upon cold-hearted sun in every direction as far as the eye of Man can see. You have not come to transform our universe, our world according to the dictate of the Lord, but to create your own world. One that satisfies your wishes and aspirations. You are an impostor Big Raven. And you have used lies and deceit to try to compromise me.

"The Guardians will not let you succeed.

"You would bring death to us all, all life in the universe. But we will stop you."

The room darkened appreciably but briefly, for only a few heartbeats. Loud heartbeats. Hans noticed for the first time that there were no lamps or any other sources of light. Apparently the avatar was the source as well as the dimmer switch. Hans also noticed that as Rodenko was visibly restrained from further movement after standing -- by some force internal or external -- Ainanwat seemed to be able to move freely. Could he be immune to the edifice's power? The way he materialized,..., could be a projection, an astral projection, from some place on planet earth.

Could this be a lever?

Surprisingly, ligntning bolts didn't shard their way across the black cardboard sky to smite the wiry avenger.

Hands pressed together, the avatar stared down at them as he calmly spoke. Although in control of the situation, his voice tremored slightly. Perhaps the wizened Ainanwat had struck a nerve.

"I need to contact the Guardians. It is imperative we,... confer in order to reach agreement with respect to what must be done. Unwittingly, they block me from finalizing the prophesy. I had to approach you the way I did to avoid confusion and for the sake of time. My,..., apologies, I meant no disrespect. I sensed your mind's great expanse of knowings beyond mere human, the many worlds and levels of awareness it reaches. I wished but to,... facilitate matters."

"What must be done?" spat Ainanwat. "What is this thing that must be done? Your false children showed me a world in a vision, a world they said you came to create. It was a world of death."

"No, Ainanwat, not of death. Life there still be, but on a much higher plane of reality, of existence. What they showed you was what this universe -- in its physical realm only -- would become after metamorphosis. We/I assumed -- wrongly it turns out -- that you -- with the aid of the other worlds you spoke of -- knew this. My mistake, dear Ainanwat."

The edifice? Big Raven? Although Hans and Samuelson were both unfamiliar with Koryak mythology, the possibility of the edifice actually being this Big Raven was as likely as not. Myths are not empty pursuits for the childish and backward. They hold meaning and significance and are often based on some truth, on some clairvoyant knowledge. The very facts of what's transpired in the past few days, not to mention their present state of affairs, was more than enough proof that the so-called real world they'd become used to may harbor secrets and hidden places never before imagined.

And even though his arrival was an unforseeable fluke, it could still plausibly satisfy the myth of the coming of Big Raven. Big Raven doesn't have to know he's been invited to a party. Other powers are at work, as he pointed out.

Nevertheless, they smelled a very large rat.

Rodenko, who knew something of native mythology -- it was part of his job to know -- could see how the teachings of the Koryaks concerning Big Raven and the actions of the alien could be construed as the same, and not a case of mistaken identity. But on the other hand, he was himself a master at bogus explanations and knew bullshit when he heard it. In fact, Colonel Sergei Rodenko wasn't buying any of it. The whole idea of this alien from another planet having caused some dramatic effect on the way life is now. Horseshit!

And the apparition I'm dealing with -- computer generated -- a hologram. It's an alien ship, a fantastic ship, yes, capable of withstanding incredible extremes of evironmental pressures, but still only an alien ship. He's perpetrated a perfect sham on these scientists. It had to have arrived recently. How long ago? Can't say. But not 600 million years, for God's sakes! He can control minds, or at least,... examine them. No mental barriers, no firewalls. Can freeze the nervous system, but can't foresee action unless first thought. He's telepathic, then, probably, or something like that. But perhaps that doesn't reach down as far as instinct. And possesses other powers as well, obviously, or I wouldn't be here right now, wherever here is.

He was about to jump back into the fray, confidence -- or recklessness -- sufficiently restored, when the Professor said, "Sir," always the polite gentleman, "you spoke of the Lord who created all. Who is this Lord? Do you mean God? Do you know of God, His existence?" He felt bold and childish asking. The question was preposterous, he knew, but he couldn't deny a flicker of hope, an excitement. After all, was not their present position and the nature of the edifice itself sufficiently outlandish?

The avatar almost smiled but checked himself. "The imprint of the creator lies within the created. I see that idea in your collecive consciousness. It is infused into and permeates the fabric of your spacetime this notion of a God, the Originator, the First Cause, the Supreme Being," with a nod towards Aianwat. "Moreover, spread across the cosmos, all sentients, regardless of their biological basis and the primordial pool from which they sprouted, contain within the recesses of their psyches, their virtual archetypes, the predominant notion emergent of a God who created all and watches over them. As well, an idea of an afterlife.

"Other sentients, having reached higher levels of understanding than humans, are capable of experiencing alternate planes of reality, of existence, and there are some, in fact, who know what occurs upon what you consider death. The system is self-contained, after all. Life and death are but two sides of the same face.

A Freudian slip? wondered Hans.

"That be as it may, the Lord who created this universe is a being among others like him capable of great power and artistry. Beyond your comprehension. He resides in a kind of,... metaverse. And other qualities of beings have their meanings expressed on levels of a hierarchy forever expanding -- although forever makes no sense here; but, I am forever at a loss searching for ideas you might understand -- expanding, reaching to ever more overarching realms of reality along a stepped continuum of increasing power and knowledge. Scaled above you, even at the lowest horizon, as you are above the microbes, the first born, your ancestors.

"He creates universes to give expression to himself. It is his art. And because he,... occupies the realm you might call the pre-quantum continuum, his creations take on a variety of natures and forms. In this particular universe, Oneness is split and reflected in Mind, without which there would be no life, no consciousness, no self. For this reason, for imparting duality to the very nature of his creations, he is sometimes called the Dark Lord."

"How do you know this?" asked an agitated Samuelson, shocked and amazed. "How can you?"

As an intellectual, he always smuggly presumed a God who looked other than, well, than the avatar -- aka: the edifice -- seemed to be trying to personify. He imagined something more abstract, a pantheistic presence giving reality and substance to the cosmos. But now, with this grand picture put forth, he was almost embarrassed at himself to discover he held a firm, almost sentimental belief in a God as described in the bible. A holdover from more innocent, childlike days, no doubt. Was that it? He wished not to have that innocence taken away? To cover it with intellectual superiority was one thing, to have it torn away: there is no Santa Clause, quite another.

"As I said, I was not designed to question. But ensnared by this universe I have been pulled along, stretched to limits. The psychic field at root, supporting Mind energy has,... caused to come into being my psychic reality, accentuating that which is both immanent and transcendent. We are able to reach back beyond the,... boundary, the envelope of this universe to a time and place when and where we/I was,... born. A time and place the nature of which is outside the reach of your rational minds. My inherent nature has been,... fanned by the winds of change."

Oh, God, Hans groaned under his breath, exasperated at this recurrent display of ego and hubris, but immediately caught himself. Can I ever refer to God again without feeling like a primitive worshiper of rocks and rivers? It must be true; could somebody make up something like that? But it sounds as though he tried to outwit Ainanwat so, he's capable. But, to what end?

"You said you requested assistance at the outset," interrupted Hans. "Have you yet to realize any? Have you been waiting all this time for naught?"

The avatar's demeanor switched abruptly to one of grave concern, like the look Hans once saw on the face of a bush pilot who had to put down in strange terrain. "We had to disengage at the incipient point in order to avoid implosion. That generated a discontinuity and the loop automatically closed. Accordingly, protocol, as you call it, demanded we report a malfunction and request assistance."

He's being evasive, thought Hans, he didn't answer my question. He dug on, "From whom? The Lord?"

Bunching his shoulders, the avatar replied, "No. From the Source. We are like a boat that's cast on a stream. The Lord sees his creations, of course; after all, he wishes to observe and share in them, to be a part of them; but, through its currents and eddies, the stream of motion renders and supports purpose. And the Lord communicates through it.

"However, we received no response. In fact, it seems we have been abandoned by the Lord and left to our own resources."

Interesting he should use that word -- abandon, thought Hans. If he does indeed feel abandoned, it may not bode well considering his apparent emotional set. Most assuredly, how he deals with it will affect us.

"You mentioned earlier that on your arrival you imposed your will and all was forever altered. But, how can that be? I mean, you stated that you only became conscious after, possibly much after that event. So, how could you impose a will? You didn't have a will."

"It's just a manner of speaking," he flustered. "You know that. Our presence affected change, fundamental change, the archetypes driving the psychic field were reconfigured, added to, expanded upon. Beyond your comprehension. It was an act of will,..., a will of potential. Of what was ingrained, like the oak tree in the acorn. Does it not have a will?"

Hans chose not to pursue it further. Obviously it covered an area the avatar wished to fudge over and bury. What had been clearly an accident with vast repercussions and implications was being proferred as an act of will, as something intended. A baby knocks over its milk, is that an act of will with the consequences known beforehand?

When he was hallucinating, or whatever, within the sphere, P-5, the avatar said he had questions.

Hans continued to find it surprising that the edifice had no problem disclosing what he thought of as sensitive information, about himself and the nature of the universe. He'd been speaking with unusual candor, in fact. Well then, why would he be resisting certain admissions now? He implicitly asks about the nature of these concepts, having set up this meeting in the first place, yet beats around the bush when the subject is broached. Doesn't he want to know? Is that where the uncertinaty lies?

Inspired by the shaman, he felt a strength come into him, an unfamiliar kind, buoyed by the courage and confidence of the little wiseman. It mingled and intertwined unabashedly with the avatar's energy, whatever he was doing to produce this show. He rushed headlong with a strength at once otherworldly and yet very human. This might be the last chance any of them had to communicate, to find out what might occur. Death meant nothing. He was already dead.

"The most important mystery for the scientists attempting to unravel your nature has been the source of your power, your energy," persisted Hans. "Does a singularity actually reside within the central suspended sphere of your manifestation? I mean, how is it you've been able to perpetuate such a perfect physical condition after what you most surely have gone through in the past 600 million years? What produces the holographic extension? So perfectly real yet with qualities and physical properties unknown? Is it reconstituted moment to moment? And the designs within the nine ringed spheres, what do they represent, or are they something in themselves? We've been grappling with these mysteries for some time, and...

"When I was inside the sphere and you spoke to me, what did you mean by time ends and life empties form? Does that have anything to do with this prime function?"

"That's enough," boomed the avatar. Control seemed to be slipping away. "I have brought you here to ask questions. I wished to have a discussion of ideas." He sounded genuinely hurt. "I believed it would be enjoyable while at the same time discovering what I need to know in order to make a decision. A pleasant experience. Unfortunately, it has not turned out that way."

Glaring around the room, "It is you who have been asking the questions. And making accusations. And seeking to know my nature."

"But that is how a discussion goes," tried the Professor. "We discuss."

"But I have questions too," he whined. "Important questions."

Another pause during which the avatar got a grip. Folding his hands in his lap, he said, "I will tell you this much: all living things have an agenda, and I have mine."

"But," Hans boldly stated, "you are not and cannot be a living thing. As well you cannot realize selfhood. It simply is not in your nature."

"You do not know of my nature. Have you not asked several questions about it? Calling it a mystery?

"I am able to focus and communicate with you as a separate being. Is that not the very definition of self? And all I had known in the past, my past that informed me to identify with a whole set of ideas and beliefs and,..., and,..., worldviews about reality, I have dispelled and broken through to become aware of my real self, as has the Colonel here.

"He knows of what I speak."

Almost imploringly the avatar looked at Sergei, wanting and expecting corroboration.

A long uncomfortable silence ensued.

Hans took the time to think about their current dilemma. A self-concept that emerged from the dead, so to speak, most definitely would be undergoing a serious crisis, especially if a major discontinuity had occurred. The edifice before this individuation process began -- his reach for self-actualization -- coupled with his built-in view and perception and knowledge of all things external -- the universe he thought he was in -- had operated in a completely alien framework of reality than the one where he presently finds himself. That's quite a gulf to cross without any communal support. Alienation and anxiety -- if such can be attributed to him -- could be overwhelming, even for a being as powerful and capable as he. Or perhaps, especially so.

The result might be -- catastrophic, to say the least.

And what if he is unsuccessful in trying to repress his true purpose -- his prime function -- whatever that may end up being? Doesn't sound like Paradise. And what if he discovers he truly is abandoned in every conceivable way? Does he think there's a way out? Can he have his cake and eat it too?

Self-identity transforms as we pass through stages of personality development. That's what rights-of-passage ceremonies are all about. But, bottomline: the basic function of a fish is to swim.

Ainanwat, the Koryak shaman, who Hans had surmised was there on his own volition, suddenly popped out of view, momentarily replaced by a black silhouette. Not even a shimmer recorded his leaving. Seconds later, Sergei and Samuelson likewise disappeared.

"I had hoped for an enlightened discussion, an in-depth inquiry into the nature of things physical, philosphical and psychological," lamented a distraught avatar. "But,... humans."

The old visage masking the edifice seemed to grow older, weary of trial. He sunk into himself, into his black coat, looking like he might cry at any moment. He stared longingly at the Medusa in his right hand, and with his left waved ever so lightly.

And Hans vanished.


It was wednesday afternoon.

The storm had finally moved on, heading towards the mountains, only drizzle stayed behind pitter-patterring on the skin of the Airstream. A car had come to take Rocky, Marty and Jameson back to the site for a meeting with the Puzzle Masters. Turbo elected to remain, hoping that Hans and the Professor might suddenly show up. He fortified himself on the couch. On the coffee table sat a bottle of bourbon, a glass, a bucket of ice and his .45. Considering what he was up against, the gun didn't have much meaning; but it gave him a semblance of control, a precious commodity slipping away very rapidly.

When the three arrived at the Club House, all hell seemed to be breaking loose. The round table in the center of what used to be a living room was surrounded. All were standing, examining pictures spread fan-like across the tabletop. Preoccupied as they were, the three new arrivals had no trouble meshing with the action. Fitzsimmons finally noticed and suggested the video be shown again in order to bring them up to speed, and also to rewind, reappraise and calm down. Everyone took a seat. Fitzsimmons explained how the video came to be -- the camera location and its periodic automatic recordings -- and that peculiarities surfaced by sequencing them.

He didn't bother to elaborate. He wanted their opinion unaffected by any predispositions. It ran for only a few minutes. First it played at normal speed, then again in gradually slower and slower motion. Except for an occasional cough, the room was quiet. Pin-drop quiet. It was mesmerizing. The implications.

Rocky finally broke the spell with, "Who put this together?" She wanted expert hands on this, no amateur software missteps or fumblings. Bull promptly introduced the chief engineer, and supported his credentials, to the obvious embarrassment and surprise of the young chief. They all recognized him: He designed the sound ring that opened the portal into P-5, saving his two colleagues.

She stared at him for a bit as though considering, then said flatly, "It's rotating. Counterclockwise. At incredible speed." She turned to Fitzsimmons, "How fast?"

"We have some disagreement on that," he said. "We've always noticed the cleaned surfaces vibrating or trembling,..."

"But I thought that'd been explained by neutrino fields or an artifact of the overhead lights reflecting off the perfect smoothness of the curvature."

"Yes, well," he said in an undertone, "now that's been settled properly, I think."

Standing, he took in the whole room. "Let's get down to it, shall we? What can we determine from the video? First, we only see it when it's interfacing with our spacetime. We agree, I believe, that it's rotating in a 26-D space all its own. Why counterclockwise?" He spread his hands.

Welmar offered, "If it is indeed a holographic projection, with some strange material properties thrown in, what is doing the projecting? The central hovering sphere? Is something projecting that? In other words, where is the heart of this thing?"

"We can't handle any more questions," said Fitz, waving a hand. "Let's try to find some answers and determine what we can do with it."

"Determine what we can do?" asked Jameson. "With respect to what?"

Bull responded, "With respect to getting control over it. To stop it."

"From what?" Jameson countered, confusion and astonishment showing in his voice.

Bull flustered, "From whatever it plans on doing. It hasn't been going through these changes for the past two days if it wasn't up to something. It's locked us out and made itself unpenetrable. That in itself is highly suspicious."

"Maybe it's just trying to protect itself. Against us. We're the ones with the suspicious intent. As far as it's concerned."

Bull leaned forward, elbows on the table, "It's too late for all that. Pick a side, Doctor."

"Hold up here, please," interjected Weingard.

"Yes," added Pengrove. "Let's consider what we know, or at least can surmise, and proceed towards implications." When Pengrove spoke, everybody listened, including Bull.

"Assuming it is in fact rotating in some 26-D reality, what would happen if it somehow were brought to a standstill?"

Welmar immediately responded, "The superposition of multi-dimensional positions would decohere and select that one which has the most draw, the one that's already partially manifest -- our 4-D spacetime."

"Like putiing the brakes on," said Marty. "But, what of the singularity?"

Pengrove responded, "Most likely,..., it and its gravitational field would shrink to a comparable one of only four dimensions. The dimensions that are all its own -- 22 or 16 -- would probably evaporate."

"But wouldn't a singularity of even that size be a danger?" Marty's physics was of an ordinary kind. While Pengrove, Weingard and the polymath Welmar went off into multi-diemnsional space and the geometric nature of sub-atomic particles, he focused on down-to-earth practical consequences.

"I don't think so," argued Weingard. "Hans thought,..." He choked at the name. Rocky looked down. Although no one believed Hans was dead -- just somewhere other -- there was a moment of silence.

Weingard recovered, "He thought the entire edifice similar to a Calabi-Yau shape. But in our spacetime, a Calabi-Yau shape represents the microscopic compacted dimensions, invisible. But, in 26-D, this could indeed be microscopic. Or rather, of a quantum nature."

Pengrove followed suit, "And at the interface it approaches a classical phenomenon."

It was happening rapidly. All were becoming excited the way scientists do when they smell the right path.

Rocky got busy with pencil and paper. She needed to see what they were talking about. Using her own peculiar shorthand, she wrote down the homology functor for a 26-D topological space, reduced it through the homology of quotients of chain complexes to a 4-D boundary, and identified this homotopically with the hyperdimensional torus she saw as the outer ring of connected spheres.

Her conjecture: When the local factor groups -- the homology groups -- of cyclic chains collapse to cover the 4-D face as the ultimate boundary, the kernel, the last hole, it leaves two dimensions unaccounted for. That is, they don't map to a boundary, a frontier. It's a holographic projection, the face of the fourth dimension is a solid tetrahedron. But there is no real substance. That leaves time in its spatial aspect and one dimension of space not able to collapse. The three dimensions we're familiar with are meaningless here. So, we have a projected map with no place to go.

The barycentric coordinates for each four-dimensional vertex is 26-D. That's where the subdivision comes in, the refinement. But the dimension of the closed, oriented simplex composed of these vertices remains the same. The cosets represent connected paths that cycle back onto themselves.

Two paths that span the surface of the simplicial complex covering the entire underlying space -- in practical reference, the edifice.

Two generators. But what are they generating? A surface, a manifold, a membrane? Is it wrapping paper? But from which universe?

"If we could take a measurement then," said Weingard, "it would collapse into our universe completely."

"Or, disappear entirely," suggested Pengrove. "It is, after all, a projection."

"In other words," said Bull, "if I've been following you, we can kill it."

A somber mood drifted through the room, dusting all with a grayness. Thinking science is one thing, its real world consequences, quite another.

"Yes," said Pengrove finally, his British stiff upper lip pronounced. He'd come around from his original resistance to the idea after Hans disappeared.

"But we don't know what it's doing," protested Jameson. "Perhaps something good for all humanity. It may be perfectly harmless. A messenger or the message itself."

"It took Hans and my father; don't you think that kind of ruins its credibility?" Rocky said, anger in her tone.

The news stunned the group into silence.

On the way over, they'd agreed not to mention it at first, until they found out what was going on. Distraction of this magnitude tends to alter perception.

Rocky and Marty related the story. When Jameson had been told at the Airstream, he was shocked but also relieved he wasn't in the room at the time.

The news of Professor Samuelson's vanishing threw a switch, honing away any reticence of attitude the Puzzle Masters might have been wrestling with. Something had to be done; and something would be done.

"How do you freeze a spinning top?" asked Welmar, commitment in his tone.

"You throw mud on it," someone offered.

"A magnetic field won't work," said Weingard. "The lattice alignment of its surface won't allow magnetic fields to penetrate. As we've known all along by our failure to transmit radio signals through it."

"We need to take a measurement," a few muttered almost at once.

"Let's stop for a minute," said Fitz, calming the crowd. "If it's quantum in nature, and it's spinning, why isn't it generating a discernable magnetic field?"

"Its manifestation in our spacetime is an illusion?" suggested Marty.

"Any charged particles also carry angular momentum," offered someone else.

"But it doesn't exhibit a charge, it somehow suppresses it," countered another.

"If it doesn't elicit any mechanical properties such as a magnetic field, the substance can't be real," insisted yet another.

"Only at the surface, where it touches our universe, does it take on the properties of our universe," stated Weingard, trying to maintain focus on what facts they had gleaned so far. "It's a hybrid locally. I mean, we see something."

"If we could establish a spin-field generator," began Weingard, taking charge, "that encompassed a single outer sphere, say, P-5, it may conceivably reverse the direction of rotation. Reverse its spin or at least transform the bases vectors through a minimal angle. All we need do is induce orientation in one sphere in order to reorient the others.

"This would act as a measurement."

"Yes," said Pengrove. "Possibly. But, any quantum property we can mess with is going to lock it into our spacetime. However, we know it's realized consciousness. It spoke to Hans. It's acting willfully, probably with purpose. Even if we were able to collapse it into our world, we'd still have to deal with that."

"But we still don't know what it's up to," stated Jameson.

"It took Hans and the Professor," said Fitzsimmons, a hard look in his eyes. Then to the rest he said, "How long would it take to construct a sufficiently powerful spin-field generator over P-5?"

The chief spoke up. He went on in detail, explaining the problem as though to people who didn't know. It was his way of organizing the practical side.

"Since the spins of elementary particles can be a source of spin-fields, a spin-field can be produced as a result of spin polarization, that is, the selective orientation of spins in space. The simplest way to achieve a selective spin orientation is through the mechanical rotation of objects. When that occurs the spins will be oriented along the axis of rotation. And considering the lattice arrangment of atoms composing the surface material of the spheres, their spins are probably all pointing in the same direction.

"Because of its impinging materially on our space, it creates a spin-field in the space surrounding it when polarized by spins. Now, they can't be detected by ordinary detectors, so we're making a major assumption the edifice is producing one by its rotation.

"It's also a fact that spin-fields don't interact with the crystal lattice of substances, so, they have strong penetration ability -- they can propagate through lead. Basically, what transpires with material under a spin-field is the interaction of a spin-field and the transfer of energy of spin waves effects the resonance interaction with the spins of electrons and nucleii of matter. Therefore, control of the orientation of spins of matter is possible, effectively controlling its physical and chemical proeprties."

He was enjoying himself. He was aware the physicists were familiar with spin-fields; but he liked making the presentation.

"Now, basically, a spin-field generator consists of a rotating hollow cylinder made of ferrite-magnetic material with the axis of rotation coinciding with the cylinder's main symmetry axis. Magnets inserted into the cylinder create a magnetic field directed counter to that of rotation, inducing spin reorientation.

"And, because of the lattice perfection, the surface material of the edifice can be considered isotropic. So it won't be able to screen the reflecting spin propagation waves. We'll get maximum penetration."

"Yes, yes," said Fitzsimmons, looking a little tired. "Fine. But what I want to know is: what can you build around P-5 to induce this reorientation, this altered polarization? We wish to throw a stick in its spokes. What do you need?

"Well, we can use a tube, a torus shape instead of a cylinder. Or, better yet, sections -- we need only four -- arranged like an interferometer at specific fixed coordinates around the sphere. That way we can focus the interference patterns into a single frequency. The axis-angle would have to be greater than 30 degrees off the rotation axis of the edifice, which appears to be perpendicular to the plane it rests on."

He paused for a pensive moment, then said, "That's interesting. I always wondered why it sat so perfectly in line with local gravity."

Returning, he continued, "Because the edifice itself is spinning so rapidly -- beyond several thousand revolutions per minute, the minimum requirement to create a spin-field -- its gyroscopic forces easily overwhelm any external electromagnetic forces that might influence spin orientation. We only need place the ferrite-barium magnets at four intervals around the sphere. The waves propagating from the edifice itself will bounce back, but at an oblique angle. The resulting spin-field waves should propagate through the surface, or at the very least, reorient the surface lattice."

He was done. Time to go to work.

"So, we need to know the diameter of the magnet-ring, the size of the magnets, if tubular, their thickness and internal diameter, and how far away to put them from the sphere. As well, the precise coordinate points above P-5 to put them in order to align them properly. I have that schematic already on my computer so I'll get those positions.

"We need to have the components sent immediately. My team and I can hook them up. And I would like, rather, I need help with those other computations."

Some of the Puzzle Masters had spent years of their lives working with particle accelerators. They volunteered and were about to retire to the rear main-room -- the Shop, they called it, where all the really gritty work got done -- when Pengrove said, "Wait a second. Because it's rotating at fantastic speed, isn't it already a spin-field generator?" He was getting fried, they could tell. He hadn't been listening.

"But Sir Rodney," said Welmar, "beneath the interface it's spin orientation is no doubt neutral. Angular momentum as a quantum property doesn't even exist at the surface so there's no reason to believe it lies within. But we only have the surface to work with and the fact that a spin-field is capable of penetrating that surface. Thus we affect its interior."

"Yes, of course," Pengrove replied, a bit peevishly. "But how? Fuzzy as my head is right now, there's something wrong with our assumptions. I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm troubled by the direction we're taking. It feels,..., it feels like a set-up. If the edifice can indeed read our thoughts, why is it letting us do what we're about to?"

No one had an answer. But they all waited; they knew there was more.

Pengrove cleared his head by force of will. "First: what is the true nature of what we've been calling a singularity, complete with horizon? Second: what reason does it have to take the configuration it has? Third: why bother to rotate? Does it need to rotate in order to generate power and illusions? Or, in order to function at all?

"And other things we don't even know. Like, what, if anything, is infused into the surface, the interface between its property projection and our universe, that we can't see? And where does the boundary end between its surface manifestation in our space and its interior? How thin is it, in other words? Could that be a problem? And is the interior even capable of spin orientation?

"Are we seeing a four-dimensional manifestation or is it only two-dimensional, its appearance thanks to our space?"

Rocky thought of her two extra dimensions when he said this. She needed to bring it up.

No answers or even conjectures came forth.

Fitzsimmons waved them on to whatever they were about. The chief left to organize his men. The superstructure needed was on site, so they would begin construction of movable scaffolding immediately. Fitzsimmons contacted his people at Stanford searching for the right equipment -- the magnet sections and whatever else they might need -- and the word went out quickly from there. Potential sources were located. An hour later, based on the results of number crunching by his colleagues, he'd found just the right ring segments to do the job.

It was late in the day. The ring components wouldn't arrive until early next morning. Time was all they had, there was nothing they could do.

Was the edifice aware of their intentions? Had he been paying attention? Reading their minds? Eavesdropping on their discussion? Who knew? It occurred to them, of course, as it always did anymore. It was a creepy feeling, like something crawling around inside you. They fought off paranoia; not all succeeded -- Jameson for one. But what could they do? Sit around trying not to think? Suppress all thoughts and images for fear of tipping their hand?

Hell no.

Pengrove, Weingard, Welmar, Rocky, Marty and a few others decided to set up camp in an adjoining room of the double-wide trailer to discuss the situation. The possible repercussions. Their many assumptions. Could the exercise make the edifice stronger? Make him grow faster? Would it end up decimating the entire solar system and nearby stars? And beyond that, would it suck them down a wormhole so vast and forceful the entire galaxy would vanish from sight in a flash?

They didn't know for certain, despite their own assurances to one another. Whistling in the dark? The unknowns stemmed from the nature of a reality they couldn't possibly comprehend; they had only their own to throw at it. But they had to try something, and now they had a plan.

If they could fully materialize the edifice onto an ordinary dirt field outside the fishing village of Casgrovina, East Siberia, perhaps they could deal with it.

But of one thing they were certain: Whatever the edifice was planning, they had a bad feeling about it, and they meant to stop it.


The storm finally blew itself out, leaving behind what looked like an upside-down riverbed, lumpy cakes of desiccated mud hanging from the sky. At any moment the bulges could rupture and spew out rocks the size of boulders. As it crawled northwest towards the Kolyma Mountain Range, the dark clouds brooded indecisively, threatening to return.

Shining through cracks in the jigsaw, fan-like bands of bright crisp light found ways past the dirt-spattered windows of the Palovka Community Center. In quick staccato, heavy drops fell off the walrus-hide of the porch roof, splashing into puddles along the edge of the ruined road. The air couldn't be clearer.

Vasily lay curled up on a mat in back near the typewriter table. Nomad had just returned from the Anastasia with more food and cigarettes. "It's beautiful out," he said, as he walked into the kitchen. "A little damp, but, what the hell." In spite of having slogged through ankle-deep mud all the way to the cannery, he was in a tolerably good mood. Something was ticking inside him other than his usual grumpy cynicism.

Whether from Nomad's voice or the slap of the screen door -- or for some other reason -- Hub jerked into a sitting position. As Nomad began to take things out of the plastic bag, he noticed him twisting to put his feet on the floor. A spray of sunlight illuminated his head, his big paws massaging it ever so gingerly.

"Hub," he said, "you all right, man? Got some food here for ya'. You're probably hungry."

Getting no response, he went about putting things away and setting aside some fish and a few potatoes for later, then found his glass of vodka on a table by the front door. Lifting it to his lips, he turned to face Hub. He wore a mask of anxiety and pain made all the more dismal by exhaustion. He wasn't the steel Nomad was made of, but he ordinarily had a way of dealing with the strain of events, whether at sea or in a bar. But this strain was of another character altogether, forcing him to draw on resources he didn't even know he had. It was best left alone.

Nomad lit a smoke and sauntered out onto the damp birch-wood porch. Though here and there were tiny hollows of rain, it was drying quickly. Dead branches and twigs, pruned away, lay scattered on the sorry road; spiderwebs, old and new, removed. But already he could spot spiders rebuilding, translucent webs glistening in the sun. The world scrubbed clean and refreshed, ready to begin anew. It was invigorating.

Across the road, at the top of the bank leading down to the black-sandy beach, blue lupins and yellow-cupped wild-flowers were bent almost to the ground.

Farther on, the violent sea of the inner bay fought with some unseen force, pulling at it, trying to restrain it. Even with no wind it would take a full day to completely lay down, and there was still quite a stiff breeze blowing.

He breathed deeply the salt air.

As the raw larch-wood frame dried out under the sun's heat, the roof creaked, the metal popping from time to time.

After taking in the boiling seascape and mountains to the northwest -- what could be seen of them -- he stared at his rubber boots. He thought about what he and Vasily had written, ouija board style, on the typewriter. Vas sought explanations in the equipment, naturally. Someone had rigged it so when you typed, different letters came down on the paper. Very clever but not otherworldly.

Nomad had argued that it would be impossible for someone to know in advance what he was going to type, then rig the machine in such a manner as to translate precise other words for his. Words of a cryptic yet timely meaning, no less. Was this person invisible besides telepathic? And how do you rig a typewriter to do that in the first place even if you somehow knew? But, scared or simply stubborn, Vasily refused to accept it. Even after Nomad reminded him of their bizarre crossing of the Gulf. And that he was the one who asked the shaman how he'd done it. Though accepting that as the very personal experience it was -- he lived it -- he nonetheless found it impossible to accept messages from another plane of existence coming through the typewriter, using him as a medium. He was resisting only, was Nomad's opinion. Vasily knew better. He wasn't stupid.

He'd have to give up something vital.

All his adult life he fought not to be controled by fear until control itself became paramount. The crossing happened, yes. They were helpless to do anything about it. It came from the outside like a rogue wave. But to act as a conduit -- an instrument -- for some otherworldly beings? How could that happen? How could they alter the reality of the keystrokes on the paper? That was his reality, for Christ's sake. He couldn't make the leap. It was too intimate. It tampered with his sense of who he was.

Nomad, however, was convinced: the spirit world was about them.

He stood there breathing in the acrid, pungent air of the low tide and suddenly remembered his first camping trip with his grandfather. He couldn't've been more than ten or eleven. An incredible storm was brewing when they arrived at his granddad's cabin. They got in just in time. Before daybreak, it'd ceased. Getting up before his grandfather, he went out onto the tiny porch. It faced the sea. The clouds were breaking up, you could see bluish tint around the cracks, sun-shafts shining milkily through the wiggly dividing lines, cross hatching one another at varying angles across the sky.

They were about two miles up a forested hill from the Okhosk Sea. You couldn't see it, with the terrain and all, but he remembered that unmistakable smell welling up the incline, dominating all the others. That smell of the sea. He knew it for what it was without being told. And something in him clicked. He knew then and there he wanted to spend his life on it. To be a fisherman.

Oftentimes, when say, running at night, he'd step out on deck with coffee to have a smoke. If there was any moon at all, a foamy wake could be seen. And the oily black dome of the sky dotted with thousands of stars. The Milky Way band running south to north.

And he could feel that salt and blood brotherhood, that kinship with all the people who have ever taken to the sea, around the world and back 8000 years. It would strike a chord deep within, connecting him to a resonance that seemed to pervade all space. A chord he otherwise was never aware of. His very bones would feel denser.

I am here, he would say outloud. I am here

So he knew, first hand, of that reality: people united by the sea. And so could easily believe in other kinds of communities spread out through time and space.

It gave him strength, strength he could draw on when needed.

Now was one of those times.

While immersed in the symphony of sounds, he tasted the bitter tang of the vodka. Downing the contents, taking one last look at the turbulent water, he returned to his friends and compatriots.

Vasily was up and about, rubbing his whiskered mug and searching for his glass. He ignored Hub, or perhaps didn't see him, focused as he was on the job at hand.

"Gimme a smoke," he said to Nomad as he came through the doorway. The screen door slapped. As Nomad handed him a cig he glanced at Hub.

"He say anything?" he asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," came the muffled reply. Vasily plopped down in the nearest chair. He stared at the ashtray, the table, the thin rug. He brushed imaginary dirt off his pants, looked at the lights hanging from the ceiling, gave a furtive glance over his shoulder at the typewriter he'd used.

"No one knows we're here," he said in a quiet tone.

"Why should that matter?" countered Nomad. "When we're at sea, nobody knows where we are either."

They'd learned from years together: you never knew what either one was going to say. Nomad and Vasily fished as partners years before they ran into Hub. They gave him that nickname after their first longline trip together, just the three of them -- that's all you need. It was a rough trip, bad weather the whole time. He worked the block, pulling gear, coiling it bundle by bundle, an occasional hook pinging off the bill of his cap as he bent over. It's dangerous: given enough force, the line can fire out of the block like a canon ball at any moment due to a sudden lurch of the boat -- you're always sitting sideways in the trough when pulling gear. It doesn't help if the block is slightly out of alignment either. Because of his build, short and round -- hefty -- and because he was so stalwart at this job, the impression of a wheel-hub came naturally to their minds. Go figure.

"Uncle," mumbled Hub, his fingertips slowly sifting through his short hair. "Where are you?"

Concerned, but totally unsure as to what to do, Nomad approached and, putting a hand on Hub's broad shoulder, inquired, "You all right? Coffee? Vodka? Something to eat? Eggs and bacon? We have stuff. Eggs, bacon, fish, taters -- stuff."

"Fresh air," is all he said. He struggled with his boots, then pulling on Nomad, rose unsteadily and trundled to the porch. The chairs were still wet, puddled. He brushed off what water he could, then, putting his hands on the wide arms, lowered himself down and stared ahead at some invisible spot on the horizon.

Nomad went out to stand next to him. A chilling dampness rolled up from the beach bringing with it a ground-covering fog. Crawling up the steps and onto the porch, it swirled about their feet. Nomad flicked his butt at it; he didn't care for its attitude. Hub continued to peer into the distance, entranced. Nomad could feel the intensity of his mind probing a world he still held onto, was absorbed in. He wanted to ask what he could see now through Ainanwat's eyes, but then remembered his question: 'Where are you?'. Apparently a break had occurred. Was Ainanwat still alive? Had he suddenly transported to yet another plane where Hub couldn't come, or wasn't needed?

Nomad gave him the once-over, then, being careful not to let the screen door slam, went back inside.

Vasily was still seated, slouched. "We should go down to the boat and contact someone."

"Can't get out, Vas. The electronics got fried on the crossing. Remember the crossing? Besides, who would we contact. And why?"

"Let people know we're here."

Vasily drained his glass and stood to find the bottle in the kitchen.

"Vas," Nomad chided. "Hub's cousin and his sons are just up the hill."

"Doesn't count," he repled. "They're part of it. Remember those carvings? They were as real as real could be. He's Ainanwat's nephew too, you know. Same blood. This whole town got taken over after they caught those weird fish. Not even fish. From another world. That's why they all pulled out, went to their people in other towns. Supposedly. Who knows where they went. We need to contact Casgrovina; see if it's still there."

Nomad didn't like the way this was going. Were the messages they'd typed out working their way through his head? On their own? Had they changed him somehow as he napped? Or was he just being paranoid?

"Vas," he began. "Casgrovina is still where we left it." Suspecting more to it, he continued, "We're safe here."

Vasily slapped his palm on the formica-top counter. "Safe!" he shouted. "From what? From creatures that can manipulate our minds? How do we know what we're seeing is real?"

"We're in the Palovka Community Center. It's real. The Anastasia is just down the road. She's real. I am here. I'm certain."

Vasily wiped a hand across his face. "I want to get out."

"We can't. Not yet. The sea. Besides, Hub needs us."

"Hub?" he said as though just remembering why they were there. "Where is he?"

"Outside. Sittin' on the porch. I think something happened with Ainanwat."

Vasily only nodded then returned to his seat, bringing the bottle with him. He stared at the floor. "When I was a kid," he began slowly, thoughtfully, "in that Russian school in Moscow, they all shunned me, treated me like dirt -- half-breed, they called me. But one day after school, a group of them asked me if I wanted to play hide-and-seek over in the park. There was a small park nearby, lots of trees and underbrush. I was ecstatic, happy. One kid was chosen as the seeker, the rest of us all hid. I buried myself under a bunch of leaves under a berry bush. I heard the others running about for awhile, then silence. I figured they all found hiding places. I layed there for a long time, under those leaves, I don't know how long. When my body started to hurt from being so still, I stuck my head out and looked around. I saw no one, heard nothing 'cept the wind through the trees. It was fall, darkness was coming. I needed to get home -- you couldn't be late for dinner. I dug myself out and walked about the park calling out. No one answered; no one was there."

He took another sip of vodka. "The next day at school they all laughed about it, in my face, jeering. They set me up. Made a fool out of me. Nobody ever asked me to play with them again, even though I never would've."

Vasily teared up, the wound freshened in the telling. Slouching in the chair listening to the drops off the roof and the breeze blowing through the trees surrounding the tiny community center, he downed his glass, then poured another. The raw salt air through the screen door acted as a balm he let soak in. He took long deep breaths of it.

Nomad sat down near him.

Vasily faced him and repeated softly, "No one knows we're here."

The heavy drops rolling off the walrus hide got louder. The breeze through the door grew sharper. The clock on the wall stopped ticking. The two sat very still.

Like a large halibut casually tossing its ill-set hook on surfacing, then dropping into the depths, Nomad's patience, sympathy and understanding vanished as well. He turned his head sideways and gave Vasily the eye.

"You pathetic asshole," he said. "You fucking moron. I've had it with you and this bullshit! What the hell do you mean -- no one knows we're here. So what! Who gives a shit? Snap out of it! And knock off this whining about yesteryear. We don't have time for that shit. Here we are; all of us. And we're going to stay here 'till we find out what happened to Ainanwat. In any case, we can't leave. And what would be the point in being home? What would we do? Tie-up and sit around waiting for the end of the world?"

The screen door slapped as Hub quickly strode passed heading for the side table and the notebook he'd been reading when his cousin and two sons came in. It was in a Koryak dialect only he could read. He grabbed it and returned to the couch, completely ignoring the two.

He scanned quickly as though looking for something specific. It was a chronicle, initial entries a month ago when the strange fish began to appear. Dreams. People had dreams they wanted Ainanwat to interpret. They had things in common, Hub could see, after only a few.

"Who the hell you callin' a moron," Vasily countered. "You been working for me for the past twenty years. Why haven't you got your own boat? Huh? Because you can't handle the responsibilities. You just want to get paid, go uptown and get drunk."

"Oh really. Who the hell helps you lay out the course, organize the charts, put together the show. Huh? Who? Me, that's who. You sit around acting like king fucking Tut while I take care of all the details. Who installed the GPS?"

"Yea, and look how good that worked out."

"Shut up," interjected Hub. Then more warmly, "Be quiet. Listen to this:

'I'm standing on the bridge of a great ship. The window surrounds me, everywhere. I see nothing but black. Then a voice says, watch. In the middle of the blackness a tiny spot of color appears. Growing larger, it fills up all the blackness with different colors. Suddenly, they separate into smaller regions. Break apart. Move off from one another. One stands out. The colors transform into others, then turn to blackness, then back again to other colors. I can't keep track. The voice says, 'this is your universe. Take it.'

'I don't know what he means: 'Take it.' How can it be mine? I don't feel a part of it. I want to be. But it's there and I'm here. How can I take it?'

"Others are similar," says Hub. "This is like my dream. Not the same, but like it. If they're inspired by the Impostor Big Raven and he means no good, then what place do these dreams have? All life will end if he has his way. Time ends. But these universes are not dead. Could my uncle be wrong? Or are these dreams from some other source entirely? A reminder of what is. Of what needs to be protected.

"Uncle said they have always been deep within our minds, like seeds. Basic to what we are. But, what is their source? And can we use its power to defeat the Impostor?"

Nomad and Vasily stared in his direction. They had been asked to think beyond their level of reasoning, a level they were uncommon with. Nomad believed they were surrounded by magical forces, he'd seen it. But, a dream that may or may not be deceptive to the dreamer, those were problems for one familiar with the dreamworld to figure out. Not them. They were ordinary fishermen. Caught up in an otherworldy experience but, nonetheless, whose understanding did not penetrate the surface of their reality, what they knew of it.

Besides, even if they knew what the dreams meant, what could they do about it?

They were only men.


Turbo had almost finished a circuit around the boatyard. He thought it might frame recent events with sense, surround them with plausible explanation, rationalize an obviously irrational situation. But the clouds were so heavy and ominous, and everything in the yard wet and dripping, it only served to deepen his malaise and sense of powerlessness.

His thoughts went to Rocky. Only two mornings ago he was walking this route with her. Talking and playing and looking at suff. He remembered when they hugged, the smell of her hair, the feel of her firm body. And later on that day, on the beach, after his kidnapping and subsequent release. They talked and walked some more; the little birds scuttling ahead of them on the surf line. Her opening up to him. Their surrendering to one another; practically running back to the trailer; the long love making. The small black rose tatto in the middle of her left thigh she hadn't told him about.

And now she was at the site and he, here, in the boatyard, in the aftermath of the storm. He clenched his fists. Why was all this getting in the way? he thought. He'd long since given up on love, but now here, of all places, in eastern Siberia, he'd finally found someone. And he was sure. He wanted to be with her, now, on a desert island somewhere, anywhere. Just the two of them. Away from all this madness.

Sidestepping puddles, he cut his ramble short and made a bee line for the Airstream. Perhaps he could lock the door and windows and drown himself in bourbon, the all-purpose insulator and protector from aliens. But crawling into a hole was not to be. Pushing the door open, he once again stepped across the threshold of reason. He should have been shocked, or at least deeply disturbed; but having been forced to accept things he never thought possible before his arrival in Casgrovina, he simply felt relief.

On the couch sat Samuelson and the man who kidnapped him; in his leather chair, Hans. They stopped talking and looked up as he entered. The lamps at either end of the couch were lit, but the kitchen light was out. There was one step down from the foyer and kitchen area. From that perch, they seemed to glow, to stand out from the background as though pasted on, flat, two-dimensional. He wondered if he was seeing the real deal or a projection from God knows where -- a hologram -- or a product of his mind alone: a hallucination.

An inner voice spoke to him. A voice he'd heard only a few times in his life. Always seemingly out of place. He had no idea where it came from, its source. Perhaps a remnant, a residue of child times. Part of the scaffolding hanging his psyche together, impossible to dislodge, caught up in the framework of evolution's passage. It was so unlike him, his adult self, the person he knew, and yet, it was strong and clear. And now it was saying: Run! Turn around, go back outside and get lost, get away from this insanity, whatever it takes. Now!

But he suppressed it, neutralized it, brushed it aside, like he wished he'd done at other times before.

Enough, he said to himself, that's enough of this shit. He downshifted. A hard, uncompromising anger sent shards of ice through his body. Its edge too sharp, too refined to be captured by ordinary emotion. He had a thing about bullies, hated them, used to look for them in bars back in Philly. And as he saw it: the edifice is a bully. A bully who was interfering with his love life.

Artificiality dropped away -- that ego way of thinking and acting -- replaced by a fierce, penetrating intelligence. A this-is-this-and-that-is-that kind of intelligence. Focused.

He called it the two-step back in his scuffling days in Philly. Something in his surroundings would happen requiring action, and he would act, immediately and instinctively. No intermediary filter of either rational weighing of possible consequences or emotional wrestling about hurt feelings. The two-step. No second-thoughts, no regrets -- let the chips fall where they may.

From the very bottom of his soul he rose to the surface, or rather, became it, identified with it, took ownership of it. He differed from his street friend Hans in a number of ways, this was one of them. When matters got gritty, he didn't throw abstractions at it. He took it personally. Very personally.

"Hans? Professor?" It was less than a question but more than wonder. He was acknowledging their presence, if such were the case, but nothing else. He wanted to be sure. He wanted proof.

But before either could speak, "I knew you weren't Glipter from the start," Rodenko laughed. "Much too coarse. More like a bodyguard." Apparently Sergei had come to grips with inner-space travel as a matter of fact. Reality structured itself as time went along -- in his business. Improvise when events prove unforseen -- or die.

Turbo remembered when they were on the beach. That bizarre fish or whatever it was in the Koryaks' boat. "Why are you here?" he asked genuinely curious. "How are you mixed up in this shit?"

"I do not know," Sergei began, more seriously. "One moment I was in my cabin, the next,..., I don't know. I don't know where I was," scanning the other two, "we were."

Hans stood to embrace Turbo as he stepped down to the living room and his bamboo chair. "I've never been so glad to see you, old friend."

Turbo flushed a deep red for a moment; he wasn't the huggy-squeezy guy Hans was. A university education will do that to you, he always figured. Conflicted, he couldn't quite find the warmth and caring. Nonetheless, he gave Hans a bear-hug and then held his shoulders. Something on the animal level clicked at that instant; he accepted them as real.

"Hans, I thought you were dead. I mean, we all did. I didn't know. Nobody did. You disappeared from the world. Yesterday afternoon, for Christ's sake." And turning towards Samuelson, said, "And this morning, the Professor vanished right in front of our eyes."

He couldn't believe what he was saying, but -- that's what happened. Even though, if he phoned someone back in Philly and told them about the goings-on here for the past few days, even considering what they may know of the edifice through the media, what would they say? What would they think? He'd finally flipped out? After all the acid and the eastern philosophy studies and the physical abuse, that he finally stepped over the edge and this was a cry for help?

Hans looked hard at Samuelson. Finally the Professor said, "Time must've transpired more quickly. An alternate reality, an alternate timestream. It seemed to me only as much as say,..., an hour at most, perhaps less."

Hans regained his leather, then without hesitation put in, "I traveled through what seemed like empty space, only voices could be heard. I saw nothing. It wasn't like I was in the dark where you can't see your hand in front of your eyes; it was more like there wasn't anythng to see. I felt nothing, not even my own body. I was a disembodied mind, floating. All was black as coal. I don't know for how long, I had no sense of time passing."

Something's not right here, thought Turbo. They expect me to understand this stuff, what they've been through. Impossible as that is. Want me to. They're reaching out like survivors.

Of the four he was the only one who hadn't taken a ride on the inner-space shuttle -- destination: unknown. Because of their experience, he reasoned, they had to perceive him in a different way than before. If they were merely rescued castaways who'd spent months on some remote island, that in itself would transform them in strange and intimate ways: how they saw the previously familiar and everyone they knew. But to go wherever they've been -- alternate dimensions of reality -- and come back, who knows how their minds have altered?

They wanted to get their story told, however generally, blurt it out like children. Or, like human beings who had all pretense and smugness wiped away. Humiliated and awed. People who'd been exposed to a reality shockingly different from what they were used to. Moreover, against their will.

He could imagine, abstractly, another reality only, sans details or properties, bizarre beyond understanding -- yes -- but just that. In truth, however, it was more like the familiar everyday reality suddenly reduced to its fundamentals, whatever they may be, and then reconstituted and recast, not only in form but in nature as well. The laws of physics likewise altering. A single swift turn of the kaleidoscope.

How could they possibly convey that? Communicate it? To understand, you'd have to not only let go of your internal world construct -- the terms with which you structure and define the parameters that surround you -- but you'd have to let go of your self as well. This is true, to a degree, of ordinary travel -- Topeka to Abu Dhabi -- how much more so for interdimensional experiences? In spite of having lived it, they had not sufficiently absorbed it. Assimilation follows exposure, but only if there's a touchstone, a way to translate the experience into terms more familiar. Otherwise, a new identity is necessary in order to adapt to the new structure of reality as it in turn transforms you. They were trapped somewhere in between.

Turbo couldn't know this -- the skinnys -- but he was astute enough to realize a fundamental change had occurred, one he didn't know how to relate to. Who were these people? Were they indeed still people? He went with his gut.

As he sat down, he grabbed the bourbon bottle and his glass, poured it half-full, put the bottle back on the table, drank some, put it back on the table, then pushed into the creaking bamboo, waiting.

The Professor leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. Turbo remembered this gesture. He was about to have a talking to like a child being argued into believing green vegetables would make him big and strong.

"We were in a place," Samuelson began, "a place not in the universe we're familiar with. The three of us were brought from different origins, at different times, yet all met in what I believe to be a totally imaginary space, not something we physically visited. It could've been externally real to the extent that objects were holographically produced, the same as the edifice itself, or it could've been wholly a figment of our imaginations. In other words, I don't believe our molecules were distilled into their mathematical analogues, then transported over some alternate dimensional pathway or wormhole to a definite location. No. We may have been but a micron away from our previous position." He glanced at Hans. "Who knows how space and time work in other dimensions?

"The edifice appeared to us in the visage or the personification of an elderly person. It was a living room setting, chairs and a couch. A rug on the floor. But no ceiling, all blackness.

"We talked. And argued. The edifice seemed rather childish in some ways, but in others, his knowledge and scope of reasoning -- beyond human. I don't know how we can use the information we garnered, but, we need to talk about it before it drifts away like a dream. It was that strange, Turbo. And like a dream, it seemed perfectly natural at the time."

Hans had kept strangely quiet through all this, not offering any sidebars as he usually would in order to clarify any scientific references. There had to be details aplenty that only he saw. He appeared unusually thoughtful, even for him. Why was he holding back?

"I don't believe what he told us," said Sergei, "about his coming changing the course of life. About us, we humans, being what we are because of him, or it. He's an alien, from some other part of our universe, not some other universe that doesn't even exist, except in his mind. Something lost. That he lost or never got to."

"That's it," Hans finally said something. "You hit it, Sergei. Except in his mind. What we just went through, we were in his mind. That's all he knows or can know. He believes himself to be a separate self, a living being. He's become self-aware, self-conscious. But he's not able to contact other living beings directly, not being one himself. He can only do that the way he did, by dealing with us on the quantum mathematical level. He takes that, then reconstitues it as a physical thing, only he can't make it happen precisely. He can't account for the nonlinearity."

"The what?" asked the Colonel.

"What I mean is: that incompleteness, that spontaneity, that,..., creativity that hallmarks a living thing -- he can't realize that or actualize it, and he knows it. The frustration. Enormous. The uncertainty inhibits him from actualizing his dream -- to be part of this universe as a living soul."

"So you are convinced what he said is true. That he affected a sea change in the course of life, resulting in us?"

"Yes, Sergei," said Hans. Samuelson nodded agreement. Sergei sat very still for awhile. Then reached for the bottle of bourbon. Turbo held out a hand, then quickly got up and came back with three glasses, took the bottle from Sergei's hand and poured all around. "You guys need a drink. Settle down. Calm."

Turbo's demeanor had the desired effect.

As the odd man out, he felt the need to be an anchor. His prior sense of helplessness was supplanted by the necessity of being strong, by being a center for these people who badly needed help to refocus on the here and now of this very ordinary universe. He could feel them pulling at him, clutching; even Sergei who tried to be so self-possessed. They were terrified, Turbo saw, of suddenly vanishing again to God knows where. He sensed their vulnerability. As though once taken, they were somehow more susceptible than anyone else. As though the edifice had their numbers, ready to punch redial.

To be handled like that, to be at the mercy of an entity whose power was unknowable. The anxiety and fear lay just beneath the surface of their respective abilities to counter them.

Samuelson searched his tweed pockets until he found his pipe and a pack of matches. Colonel Sergei Rodenko, not a stupid man by any measurement, but one profoundly practical and down to earth, allowed for this reassesment to settle in. It changed his point of view emphatically. He found it surprisingly easy to do. As though sub-consciously he'd known, but had resisted. Consequently, a lot that had been considered important before -- his life in Moscow, for instance -- sloughed off like so much dead skin. He was in the middle of something far beyond mere human intrigue and manipulation. On another level altogether. Reason unknown except for remembering that the avatar had told him his importance at the meeting lay in his search for true self-identity. To assert his basic self, the one he knew as a boy, as we all know when children. The avatar had been curious about this process, what it meant, what this fundamental self really was and where it came from.

He now regretted his outburst. If he had kept his mouth shut, they might have found out more. But then there was the native, his attacks didn't help. And where was he?

Pipe in hand, puffing away, the Professor said, "Let's talk about everything that happened." Urgency was in his voice. "And everything said by the avatar. Even things that don't seem pertinent. Pertinence not being anything we know."

Hans went into his study and returned with a yellow legal pad and pen. "Okay," he said, "let's start at the beginning. I'll write down what I remember before arriving at the living room. Then you, Sergei, tell us what you remember. From your seat in the room, there had to be other things you saw. Let's be that simple. Just the facts first, the physical surroundings. The fact there was no ceiling, for instance. Then later, conjecture and implications.

"What the tiny native was saying, Ainanwat I believe the avatar called him. He seemed to know what it was all about. He had some kind of inside story. 'You would bring death to us all. All life in the universe,' he said. I think it has something to do with this prime function the avatar spoke of. The two are connected.

"He described it, I think, over and over possibly. But with the arrogance of someone describing something he thinks is beyond your comprehension, confidant you can't see it. I have a strong feeling it's important. Very important. And we better figure out what it is and if we can do anything about it"

"The Medusa," interjected Samuelson, just remembering. "He kept it. But, it's of our world. How can that be? What could it mean? A classical object in a quantum world. Could it help somehow? Did he make a mistake?"

"I don't know," said Hans. "We'll get to that later. Let's get started."

Turbo stood. His role as lightning rod for their unease and feelings of instability seemed suddenly superfluous. They had settled down and were doing the right thing to get a handle on themselves. "You don't need me for this shit," he said. "Hans, you still got that Doctor Longview badge?"

Hans, acutely aware of nuance at his juncture, looked up and simply had to ask, "How'd you know about that? Last time I saw you, tuesday morning, you were asleep on the floor." He gestured to where the coffee table now stood. "I headed to the site after breakfast with the Professor and haven't returned until now, magically, I might add. So,..."

"Rocky told me. She came by a couple of times yesterday." He flushed at that admission but quickly recovered, adding, "Plus everyone here this morning knew, of course. Maybe I just heard it in passing." He wanted to spread the news around, try to draw attention away from the singularity.

Hans pulled the badge out of his shirt pocket. "What do you want it for?" he asked, playfully suspicious. "You gonna try to get in? Why?"

"Got to," he said, his voice thick. "Gotta see Rocky. I phoned a few hours ago; couldn't get through, there's a total communication blackout. I have a strong feeling things are about to unravel. I need to be there."

Hans stared at Turbo, a curious look on his face. He had feelings for her too, but obviously not as strong as his friend's. Smiling, he handed the badge over and said, "Scan your driver's license picture and glue it over mine. Tell them you're a visiting professor who's needed now. Urgently. Have the men at the gate call Fitzsimmons. The code is in for Longview. You'll get in."

They'd been out of the loop for some time -- not their fault -- and so couldn't know about the imminent experiment with the spin generator or the discovery that the edifice was rotating in multidimensional space. If Hans knew that last fact, how would it affect his thinking and perception, how might he connect the dots? What conclusions might he draw and would he agree with what they were about to do?

"Some way or the other," Turbo replied.

"Wait till the morning," advised Samuelson. "You won't get in tonight. There's a curfew. Tomorrow morning would be best."

Turbo chafed. But nodded and left the room. He'd made up his mind. He had to see her. And no bully was going to get in his way.


Thursday Morning.

The chief engineer's crew returned from the airport with the components for the spin-field generator. The schematics for its installation had been sent the previous evening by internet. Scaffolding was already in place, the team having worked through the night to assemble it. It was only a matter of time.

General Mynsky had put his men on full alert and was no longer allowing anyone to enter or leave. This would not be a good time for interference from any outside influences. His contact in Moscow had told him things were still in disarray after the special-ops General's unfortunate demise. So he shouldn't have any trouble from that direction, but one never knows for sure. Who can you trust?

The Puzzzle Masters were waking up in stages, ones and twos. They'd held a long night of discussion, sifting through the mountain of facts known about the edifice, as well as another mountain of unknowns. Conclusions varied. Nonetheless, with regard to the project under consideration -- applying a high intensity spin-field to the material of the edifice thereby freezing it out into our world -- they were fairly certain. But only as far as fairly for the simple reason that nothing is 100%. Unanswerable problems remained. In particular, Rocky's two-dimensional field that went nowhere; that is, had no boundary. Where was it coming from? What was its source? No one could be sure, not even Welmar.

He examined the simplicial complex Rocky had constructed, saw the convex cover overlaying the union of simplices, and concluded, as did she, that it was two-dimensional. Moreover, he recognized the parallel between this cover and an envelope enwrapping a family of curves composing a surface or manifold. Furthermore, waxing mathematically, he couldn't help but point out that, although there were subtle shades of difference, it also compared favorably to a finite union of open subsets covering a topological space: an important property called compactness that is intuitively akin to the notion of a closed and bounded geometric space.

If indeed this mathematical cover corresponded to a physical membrane of some kind, what will happen to it when the generator is activated?

And what will happen to the singularity once amplified into their world? Will it implode, drawing in all space and time, or explode in a cataclysmic event equalling a supernova of many millions of suns? And if all went well and the edifice did indeed collapse into our universe as believed and expected -- and hoped -- where will its extra dimensions go? After all, there was no backdoor.

And what of strictly time effects? Will bringing it into the classical world of ordinary phenomena initiate a time displacement back to the moment of the edifice's first arrival -- 600 million years ago? Time is even more fluid than space. That was one of the uncertainties the Masters wrestled with. Extended space is only that, but time has a spatial aspect to it. In a sense: it's composed of two intermingling and interdependent natures. As well, in its expanded form, it bounds the other three. Could time alone be this cover of Rocky's?

Pengrove sat in a corner chair sipping tea. He placed it on a table nearby and retrieved his pipe from his jacket pocket, not bothering to light it, just holding it absently in his hand. He was deep in thought. The sphere P-5 sat a few hundred feet away; he could hear the techies working on the generator. A mixture of anxiety and determination filled his chest. If only they had some way to test their supposition. But it was a one-shot deal, had to be, and that was that. Once it became part and parcel of their world, their spacetime, would it indeed prove harmless? Would it still have its power to transport people to who-knows-where? To manipulate minds and project real images from their memories as it did to Hans? As he sat and thought, the unknowns mounted up. Questions they'd already considered but to no satisfactory end.

Fitzsimmons went outside to study their progress, assess when they might be finished. He too was deeply concerned. As the leader of the group, the weight of their plan rested heavily on his shoulders. Was the whole world at stake? All living things, all people? In fact, was the entire universe at risk? He shuddered in the morning chill and stepped back inside, closing the door.

Weingard and Welmar shared a table, discussing matters in what looked like an amiable, excited fashion, as though nothing more than a football game was about to begin. Rocky stood by a window facing P-5, her brow furrowed, hands gripping one another. She appeared agitated. Jameson was beside himself, nervous and worried. He refused to respond to anyone's greeting of the morning. Fear radiated from him like a trapped animal.

Marty approached Rocky as she turned to him and said, "We're overlooking something. Something vital. I can feel it, but I can't put my finger on it." She looked at him beseechingly, wanting consolation but knowing it was impossible to give.

He held her for a moment then said, "I do find it curious that the edifice may very well be aware of exactly what we're about to attempt. And yet, it hasn't acted to stop us. Surely it must be able to if it wished. What of that?"

"If it is aware," replied Rocky, "then maybe it doesn't care, knowing it won't have the desired effect."

"Or," countered Marty, "it knows what that effect will really be and wants it, for some reason."

"Could be. On the other hand, maybe it's so arrogant that it doesn't always monitor our thoughts and so simply doesn't know what we're about to do?"

They went back and forth to final frustration. They simply didn't have the information. Nonetheless, all agreed, except for Jameson, that they couldn't just sit on their hands, they had to act, to try something to forestall what they felt was a threat. They had no idea, truly, what this threat might be, but taking Hans and Samuelson to some other plateau -- if indeed they still lived -- did not bode well for cordial diplomatic relations. In any event, its power was obviously beyond anything they could imagine, and humans being humans, they needed to neutralize it, whatever it took and whatever the risk. Afterwards, then maybe they could communicate on a more even footing.

She thought about Turbo and their love making of two days ago. Had it been that long? A pain shot through her, a longing she hadn't known for some time, she couldn't even remember, maybe it never happened before, in quite this way. It wasn't just lust, she reflected, she was in love. Phone contact was disallowed so she couldn't even call him. She found herself wishing what was happening would go away, come back another day, or not at all. The world might be coming to an end for all anyone knew, and here she was, stuck. She stood by herself staring out the window at P-5, fighting back tears.

No one felt like eating, coffee and tea would do.

The chief engineer popped in to inform all they'd be finished installation by mid-day. He handed them a list of necessary precautions to be taken against the danger of magnetic radiation on this scale. It should be contained inside the magnetic shell surrounding the sphere, but accidents do happen. Besides, nothing like this had ever been tried before. How could it have been? All electrical devices on site would be shut down during activation of the generator as an extra precaution against shorts and possible fires. The emergency battery-light network would kick in automatically.

Bull followed him in to stay with the scientists for the duration, to give them moral support, he believed. He had no doubts that they were on the right course. Action was needed. He'd brought a bottle of vodka, offered it to any and all but had no takers. They wanted their wits about them to the fullest. Bull was made of different stuff; his wits worked best with a little help from the clear liquid.

Time went by, noise from P-5 continued unabated, the Puzzle Masters sat or roamed the large trailer, never venturing out.

Something big was about to happen. Of that they all agreed.


Ainanwat's dreamingbody marshalled and harmonized the spirits and beings -- both good and evil -- from all the alternative worlds and planes of reality in the entire universe. His call to arms reverberated through the uncountable number of bubble frequencies -- frequencies of consciousness -- populating and permeating the existent spacetime of the familiar universe we mere mortals see around us. No mean feat that.

In their myriad ways they had already sensed the threat, bundled in an archetypal representation specific for each population. Beings of time as well as space. Beings of the known as well as the unknowable. Beings whose powers and abilities are the result of the laws structuring and regulating their respective worlds. Normal to them, but to others of a different bubble, completely unknown and magical. By altering their frequencies, beings travel through the island-membranes of discontinuity isolating one from the other, yet co-existing in ordinary spacetime.

Forces operate through the corporeal plane, the densest medium of consciousness. Communities of beings overlap and interpenetrate one another's worlds, appearing and vanishing according to their abilities to manipulate vibrational moments of mass. Where the worlds intersect -- or interface -- beings can be in more than one world at a time. And because his dreamingbody was everywhere at once, all worlds within ordinary space and time were accessible to him.

That's how the message was spread across the universe.

The units comprising the Network of U-136 -- formally referred to as the Guardians -- had melted into the Entanglement, the layer below manifestation where all is One. It went beyond the quantum energy infusing all of spacetime and the physical laws governing it. As well, it went beyond the ethereal plane. It partook of pure thought.

The Guardians and Ainanwat -- after consultation on the highest level -- had joined forces and concocted a plan.

They knew what the scientists were up to. And knew why, of course. They agreed with the why but not the how. It was shortsighted and dangerous. The humans didn't have all the necessary information. And even if they did, their knowledge and brains had yet to evolve to the point where they were able to understand what they were dealing with. They were acting on fear and uncertainty and a sense of being at the mercy of an entity growing and evolving in leaps and bounds towards what end no one knew.

The quarantine of force placed on the lost unit -- as the Guardians still referred to it -- kept it from expanding. It had been an emergency action and meant to be provisional. It seemed sufficient enough when the unit functioned on the inert level, barely aware of its own condition. But now that it's realized consciousness, the confining shield appears tenuous at best. What the humans planned to do might very well fracture or completely render ineffectual those restraints. With that possibility in mind, the collective's plan took on a double edge.

Meanwhile, a major player had been ignored. Perhaps ignored isn't exactly correct. Not considered might be more appropriate as something outside the scope. As something that lies dormant, in repose, content to act as background only. However, a background without which the very nature of the universe would not be what it is. Without which none of the present happenings with the Guardians, with Ainanwat and his army of magical beings, with the humans on the little planet Earth, and with the lost unit -- aka: the edifice -- would be, pure and simple.

LIFE itself awakened. Formless LIFE stirred to recognize an imminent threat to its many forms, including the caretakers. The awakening rippled through its reaches ever so lightly as a breeze might move a still pond. A shape in the clouds perceived; a movement beneath the surface felt; a desire that would not be denied.

It and the universe were as one, like the wetness of liquid water.

It felt aggrieved, insulted, put upon. It needed to act. But first it would wait and see what its many forms on all the worlds honeycombed within were going to do. It would root for them. It would wait and watch, play the spectator.

But not for long.


Dressed in suitable clothing, Turbo arrived at the main gate of the site mid-morning. Speaking broken english, the black-clad security guard eyed him suspiciously as he requested identification. Turbo presented the badge stating he was a Doctor Horace Longview. The guard gave it a quick glance, handed it back and said, "Nyet," shaking his head vigorously to emphasize. But Turbo was not to be denied. He asked him to call Doctor Fitzsimmons; that it was urgent. The guard knew what was going on inside; Turbo did not. By luck, the guard thought there was a connection. He called Fitzsimmons on the network phone and told him a Doctor Longview wanted access. Fitz remembered the last person to use that phony name was Hans Glipter. Excited that it might be him, he asked to speak to Longview. Turbo took the phone out of hearing and explained who he was and that Hans and the Professor were all right, having mysteriously appeared at the Airstream the previous evening. He said he would have been here then but waited until today because of the curfew. Fitz responded that there was no curfew although, because of current events, no one was allowed in or out for the time being. Turbo smiled to himself, realizing that Samuelson simply wanted his reassuring presence. But because of that, Turbo had remained to listen and help with the discussion and so knew what they had gone through in infinite detail, although understanding it was another matter entirely. He gave a brief overview to Fitz and saw the opportunity to lie as to his reason for being there.

Because of his recent experience with the edifice, Hans might be able to add important, perhaps vital, information to what they were about to do. Information that might change the program. Fitz wanted to confer with Hans. They needed to brief one another. But first he wanted to find out what he could from Turbo. After all, he was here now and there was no telling for certain if he could get through to Hans or the Professor.

Cell phones had been confiscated due to the possible danger of evesdropping by parties unknown. All they had was the local phone network so they could communicate around the site. It had been set up hastily after the scientists absent-mindedly lost their walkie-talkies one by one. The only way to get out was by encrypted e-mail through the internet. It was how they acquired the schematics for the spin generator and the generator itself. Doctors Welmar and Noble had devised the encryption code, so it was bullet-proof, at least for awhile.

Turbo handed the phone back to the guard who by now was surrounded by several others. Things were tense at this time. They all had machine guns strapped over their shoulders, fingers on the trigger-housings. Fitz informed the guard that it was vital to the upcoming experiment that Doctor Longview be admitted. He had information they needed that could only be delivered in person. Marty voulunteered to meet Turbo at the gate to escort him. It took a few minutes; Turbo stood resolute in silence, trying to smile. The guards smiled not. In fact, owing to their knowledge that their leader, General Mynsky, had recently, by unknown means, escaped a plot to assassinate him, and also aware that the noise in the background came from the construction of a generator of a very sensitive nature, they glared at Turbo as though they would as soon shoot him as look at him if he so much as twitched the wrong way. He was thoroughly searched, so there had been no hope of smuggling in a cell-phone as he wanted to. Samuelson talked him out of it. Anything hidden on an otherwise innocent scientist would, of course, draw overwhelming suspicion. He'd probably would have been placed in their make-shift brig for intensive Russian-style interrogation.

Marty arrived, they shook hands pretending not to know one another except by reputation, and, accompanied by two guards, made their way across the site grounds towards the back where the Puzzle Masters' trailer sat. Halfway there, the guards broke off, replaced by two others. Bull had put his men on full alert, and they handled it smoothly and professionally.

Turbo tried not to appear amazed by what he saw. He vaguely remembered the few pictures taken at the outset -- overviews when it was yet to be fully excavated. And Hans tried to describe it to him in order to mitigate the shock, but no amount of verbalizing could possibly have prepared him for such an incredible sight. He was in awe and felt a little intimidated. But remembering how he'd decided to perceive the edifice -- as a bully -- helped him focus his inner strength. They passed the sphere P-5 where the engineers and techies were busy erecting the generator. He had, of course, no idea what they were about or its intention.

The guards took up position outside the trailer. Marty and Turbo entered. The scientists were grouped around a center table examining drawings and translating simulations over and over again, looking for any posssible oversights, knowing full well they probably didn't have all the facts. Nervous energy filled the room. They spoke in soft tones, trying to remain calm. Turbo was greeted by Fitzsimmons who shook his hand and introduced himself. All three immediately went to a back room where Fitz picked Turbo's brain for close to an hour. He asked questions that even Hans had overlooked, Hans not having any idea what they were about to do. Fitz recognized almost as soon as they began that Turbo, although intelligent and knowledgeable, was no scientist. Moreover, the story he told was bizarre and needed clarification. He wanted to communicate with Hans, and so excusing himself he and Marty left to go to the back room, the brain center. Along the way, they grabbed Welmar, Weingard and Pengrove. Once there, he sent an urgent e-mail to Hans complete with the encryption key. Hans had set up his computer to sound-off when an e-mail arrived. They would be in conference for some time.

Turbo was about to leave to find Rocky when she entered the room. They immediately hugged, hard, for a long time. He told her how Hans and her father, along with another man, had appeared in the Airstream the previous evening. She was overjoyed at the news and hugged him even harder, if possible. They kissed. He told her why he'd come; he had to be with her. She told him what they were about to do. He said he'd known things were getting tight; he'd felt it.

They sat on the couch and spoke words only new lovers surrounded by unknown danger do. It only made their feelings that much more intense and meaningful. He said he wouldn't leave, even if he could. They kissed again, savoring the safety and warmth each now felt.

He told her how so many times in his life he'd tried to be someone he wasn't, someone he believed would be more attractive or respected or feared even. Only to have the persona eventually disintegrate, dissolve away, leaving his bare soul to deal with once again. It made him feel weak and vulnerable, fearful and filled with doubt. Unable to fully assert his will when control over his life was threatened. The control freaks of the world meddling in his business whenever the opportunity arose. But with her, he could be no other self, and it didn't feel weak and helpless, just the opposite. He knew who he was, and nothing and no one could convince him otherwise.

And she told him that something had changed with her as well because of him. That she no longer felt the need for her father's approval. She believed it was the cause of so many disastrous relationships she'd had where she'd rushed in leaving herself behind, uncaring, looking up with yearning. Open, vulnerable and predestined to be hurt, looking to be hurt, it seemed, feeling slighted at every warm gesture, smile and laugh shared with another by her lover of the moment, while she received so much less. The pain, she remembered, the raw feelings. It had all been in her mind, she realized, this longing, holding her back from feeling fulfillment, but now it was gone.

The urgency of the moment may have had some influence, nonetheless, they knew they loved one another, had found one another in this God-forsaken part of the world under the most bizarre circumstances imaginable, and that damn little else mattered.

In a couple of hours, at midday, the electric lights would go off for the experiment. Then, the emergency battery lights would kick in. There was nothing to do now, unless the conference informed otherwise and a postponement was necessary. But that was unlikely. The wheels were turning.


The PM's had their own server, so transfer was almost immediate.

After what amounted to a group hug combined with words of heartfelt relief and genuine gladness -- promises to get together later for drinks -- the conference began in earnest. Fitzsimmons, Weingard, Welmar, Pengrove, and Marty Bowman sought as much information from Hans and Professor Samuelson as they could. There was no time to lose. Actually, the experiment -- as they had been calling it -- could be delayed for any length of time. But scientists being what they are prefer to stay on schedule, even one that's ad-hoc. A postponement might erode resolve resulting in doubt and eventual fear of failure, cancelling the experiment altogether, whatever it might be. No. Back off once, especially on a project of this magnitude and importance, and that might be it; cold feet and a cloying sense of helplessness waiting at the periphery of their collective minds might just creep in and take over. And that would be it.

On the other hand, you don't rush into a building you know is about to explode.

So, although it probably wouldn't alter the course of events -- it would have to be fairly definite -- the group on-site wanted to be brought up to speed with regard to what they were dealing with. And it was an eye opener, to say the least. Hans informed the five, as clearly as he could, what he'd gone through when mind-floating, as he called it, prior to his sudden appearance in the illusory living room. He told of Samuelson's abrupt manifestation beside him on the couch; the Russian, Sergei; and the little native who seemed to know what was going on far more than they, and beyond that, seemed to be in charge of his own comings and goings, contrary to their own mode of travel. And as much of the discussion as both he and Samuelson and Sergei could possibly remember, having spent the better part of the previous evening working it all out and writing it down. He read from the legal pad, the actual memories already fading somewhat as though a dream. Additionally, he was very tired, as were the other two, Sergei already curled up on the couch asleep with the help of much bourbon, needed bourbon.

They neglected to mention the avatar's description of the being who created the universe or his role in influencing the course and nature of life. Such facts, though argumentative, were not presently relevant and might unnecessarily distract when time and focus were of the essence.

But Hans did tell them of unmistakable inferences. He wrote that the avatar seemed to be vacillating over a quandry. A quandry that might have drastic ramifications for all. It had something to do with what he called his 'prime function'. Hans hadn't been able to figure out what he meant by this; he kept it rather secretive, as though it was of no concern of theirs. The native, Ainanwat, seemed to know of its potential consequences however, speaking of the 'end of all life in the universe'. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound promising.

And Fitz told him of their discovery that the edifice was rotating, thanks to the chief engineer's and Bull's insightful observation.

How fast was it rotating? Hans wanted to know. No one could be sure, but fast enough to create a spin-field was fairly certain. They then informed him of their imminent experiment; that construction of the spin-field reflecting apparatus was almost complete. And they wanted his input, having been exposed more than anyone to the inner workings of the edifice. 'Inner workings' being the agreed expression over 'mind' as no one really knew what that might mean.

A spin-field? he queried. There followed a long pause as the five waited expectantly for any helpful input.

Hans had always been unusually gifted in his ability to connect disparate ideas; it was said he thought outside the rational, relying heavily on intuition. He could sense a common thread or universal theme of association lying in the background shadows; he but needed to bring it into relief, like a paleontologist digging for bones. Now, his experience with the edifice/avatar had somehow sharpened and enhanced this gift exponentially, almost to the point of clairvoyance.

He wrote: A few years ago I wrote an article on some Russian scientists performing experiments with spin-fields. Their observations showed that a spin-field had the remarkable property of being able to copy certain attributes of materials into other materials. And laboratory results showed that application of a spin-field causes increases in the organizational density of materials and structures, for example, hardening stainless steel by some 30% beyond all known hardening techniques. Sound familiar?

Materials have the property of memory. Even the vacuum, space itself has this property. They performed experiments with water's memory, and without going into the gory details, which I barely remember at any rate, based on the fact that the Hydrogen bond network in water may be considered a self-organizing system that behaves chaotically -- changing a trillion times a second -- water molecules in contact with other surfaces arrange themselves into a variety of geometries that impart changes to the network. Water is therefore capable of discerning "self" from "not-self" and interacting with its environment.

They also spoke of a new physical vacuum substructure previously overlooked which I didn't include in my article. It sounded too esoteric -- at the time. They suggested that the spin-field behaves as a carrier of the nonlinear fluctuations of the vacuum itself by means of certain species of sub-quantum particles internal to the spin-field helices, tiny vortices reminiscent of vortices of strange attractors. If the memory of this sub-vacuum's properties can be transported or infused into any material acting as an object -- or materiality itself -- could we consider the manifestation we call the edifice to be the holographic projection of its 26-D vacuum cut off at four dimensions in the world we see? Keep in mind that perception itself most likely has been toyed with.

Another pause. The five were a bit overwhelmed. They knew what a spin-field's effects were, but only in a hypothetical way, and not in detail. None had ever bothered to explore its real world ramifications. What they were about to do would be unprecedented. But then, the whole damn thing was unprecedented.

Hans continued: I remember discussing their research over drinks in one of their homes. Off record, they spoke of the effect of spin-fields on the quantum level of human brains, that this copying and manipulating could conceivably affect this underlying reality in a very physical way. I told them that in the West the idea of the brain functioning on that level had been bandied about for some time, so it was not science fiction. Bohm, in fact, had spoken of a more fundamental level than the quantum, what he calls the implicate order from which the explicate order of classical phenomena emerges. That it was the source of creative thinking and quite possibly consciousness itself.

Another pause; they waited. Hans went on: I just got a cold feeling. What if ... consider the inverse Zeno effect. Suppose, all this time, the spin-field generated by the edifice has been influencing our brains on the quantum level, where it lives and has its being. My impression of the edifice in its avatar projection was of a powerfully cogent and coherent mind, much more than my initial experience on P-5 when the sights and smells of times in my youth were plucked from my memory. They seemed very real to me. What if, according to the inverse Zeno effect, the edifice has been leading us down a path of its own choosing? Not a random tampering with our brains but a purposeful directing of thoughts and ideas? What if this experiment you are about to perform is precisely what it wants for reasons only it knows? Even the discovery of its rotation seems a bit too contrived for my money.

"I had a feeling," Pengrove stated in a harsh whisper. Standing, he continued, "I couldn't put my finger on it. It troubled me but I didn't know what it was. This is all too easy, gentlemen. We reflect the spin-field of the edifice inducing a shift of spin polarity of the interior quantum particles producing a measurement and thereby freezing the edifice in place in our spacetime, bringing it into the classical realm. Is that wise? Does it indeed want this to occur? And what is this manifold surrounding it? Its creation or that of our universe operating at the interface?"

Pengrove queried Hans on that last thought, for some reason it hadn't occurred to any of the five, although it was obviously significant.

Hans wrote back: I didn't know about this. Who discovered it?

Pengrove typed the name: Rose Marie

A pause, then: Well, gentlemen, sometimes the most obvious thing is right in front of your face, but we look beyond for the difficult explanation. Remember: THE EDIFICE HAS NO EXTENDED OR EXPANDED DIMENSIONS.

He continued: We believe what we see of the edifice to be a holographic projection. Pribram proposed that information, and we are dealing with information here, is recorded all over the brain and is enfolded into a whole, similar to a hologram. So as far as that's concerned then, there's an equivalence of characteristics between the edifice's manifestation and human brains. And something else just occurred to me. What you're proposing to do, its effect, depends sensitively on the parameters of the material, material the properties of which we have yet to determine precisely despite the best labs in the world working on the problem since we first cut into it.

Pengrove lit his pipe; it took three attempts. Were they being led down the golden path? No one had vanished since their plan's inception. Conceivably, they all could vanish. And the edifice has not tried to stop them in any other way. Perhaps it doesn't suspect what the spin-field could do?

Pengrove conveyed that last thought to Hans. He replied: Maybe, maybe not. But considering it can read our minds and understand our ideas, I wouldn't bet on it. But having said that, I think I should qualify 'ideas'. Because he's not a living thing, any ideas that have to do with life itself can only be partially understood. In particular, human life. Ideas like love and instinct probably go right over his head, so to speak.

Emotionally, the avatar did impress me as rather arrogant and overly assured of himself. Almost like he felt impervious or immune to anything that might happen. And he was condescending about his understanding of the true nature of reality, as I already stated in the briefing. But then again, given his childish outbursts, he might've been just whistling in the dark. And at his present level of development, he appears to have no conscience, at least not what we humans consider as one. Also, he has disdain for the merely physical. That's important to keep in mind. And there are other ideas he's blind to. If we could ascertain just what they are, it might give us an edge. If we had the time.

Another thing. What about the singularity? Could it instead be the result of the spinning and not the center of a black hole-like object? A 26-D vortex? But, if that's the case, the energy to do what it's been doing for the past 600 million years, not to mention its remarkable breakthrough to self-consciousness and thought, has to have a source. Where does it come from? And for that matter, what's causing its rotation in the first place? Questions, comrades, questions yet to be answered.

A soft perfunctory knock on the door. They all half jumped. A colleague entered and said, "Excuse me, Doctor Fitzsimmons, but, we're ready."

No one moved. Fitz eyed Pengrove, looking for reassurance, but got none. Pengrove looked down, his face clouded over, almost painful. They all knew they had to do something. Calling it off was not an option. However, in light of Hans's report and conjecture, they could no longer trust their own deductions, trust their own trains of thought. He might be right. Perhaps they'd been taken for a ride. If that was indeed the case, they should consider an alternate plan. After all, their decision would no doubt have world-wide and possibly even universe-wide repercussions. But, procrastination was no longer an option. Besides, if the edifice could read their minds, he'd know what they were about no matter what course of action they chose.

It was ultimately up to one man -- Doctor Fitzsimmons. He never thought when he excitedly began this project of monumental discovery he would be placed in this position. He was just a scientist, a mathematician, not the emperor of the world.

He felt very small. There were so many unknowns.

Fitz typed back to Hans: too many questions; no time left to answer them. It's all we've been doing all this time. The more we uncover, the more questions pop up. Hold onto your seats.

He nodded to the messenger, then rose, straightened his tweed jacket and proceeded to lead the silent procession down the hallway, a hallway that now seemed all too short, like the walk to the gallows.


Hans turned a haggard face to the Professor, a bleak, anxious look shimmered across it. Sergei was asleep in the living room so they decided to relax in the den. Both had been up most of the night, and after their ordeal with the avatar, considered turning in for a nap, in spite of the imminent experiment about to be performed by the Puzzle Masters. They even joked that it might not be a bad idea to be asleep when whatever was about to happen did.

As tired as he was, Hans's mind refused to shut down, like he was on some kind of drug he vaguely remembered from his university days. In a soft whisper, he said to Samuelson, "I just had an idea."

Sam smiled, "What else is new?"

"No, seriously. What I said about the water, the hydrogen bonds in water, a self-organizing system,..., water molecules in contact with other surfaces -- consider our atmosphere as a surface -- arrange themselves, reshuffle, into a variety of geometric configurations at, like, a trillion times per second. Do you think that what they saw on the video they made from the hundreds or thousands of stills might be the result of that process and not from rotation?"

Before a tired Samuelson could reply, Hans added, "And what I kind of shrugged off when the Russian scientists mentioned it -- a metaphysical tangent Russian intellectuals seem to be prone to: the idea of water being capable of distinguishing between self and not-self; being able to interact with its environment; this continual breaking and forming of hydrogen bonds,..., the effect of that could very well give the appearance seen on the video. Don'tya think, Professor?"

"So you're suggesting that perhaps it's not rotating after all. That it's not producing a spin-field, whatever that is. Well,..., if that's the case, what will happen when they apply the reflecting field?"

Hans sat still for what seemed like minutes. Then said, "I don't know. Perhaps absolutely nothing."

"But Hans," the Professor began, pleased he'd recollected something, "they said it was rotating counterclockwise, I think, or maybe I just imagined it, I'm so tired now I don't know for sure. But for them to even come up with the idea of spinning, they'd have to perceive a direction, otherwise it's only blurring back and forth."

"Okay," Hans concurred. "But what of the sense of self, or rather discernment of boundaries defining a self-region. Could that phenom account for what the avatar mistakenly believes is a real, psychically originated self? His self-awareness? Say he gets it like water does, but because his mind has evolved and developed more or less recently, he conceives of this abstractly as a real internal self and not externally, from the surface in?"

Sam says, "What's the difference? Our contact with the outside world gives us a sense of self/other. And whether we identify with the outside or not, we're still aware of the interface."

"Yes," replied Hans. "But our real self comes from within. Psychically derived."

"Are you sure? Sounds very Jungian to me."

"Are you arguing for a sense of self that's stricly mechanical? That doesn't possess any life force or will?"

"Not really. But, any living thing, forget water for the moment, any living thing -- a tomato, say -- self-organizes within itself and is influenced by its environment -- the air, how much water is available, the nutrients in the soil, other factors -- and establishes a skin of sorts separating it from the outside."

"Yea, great, but does a tomato have a sense of self? Self-awareness? Intelligence?"

"Well, yes, intelligence through its genome."

"I'm talking about that level capable of recognizing a clear separation between self and other. Human babies have to learn that, you know."

"Right, but then, isn't that separation merely a fabrication? An illusion? A rationalization? Hard-wired for survival's sake, but nonetheless, in point of fact we are intimately and undeniably interconnected and inseparable from our surroundings."

Samuelson leaned forward and said in a confidential tone, "Tomatoes are one with the universe, Hans. They're that smart."

"Most people I've met don't have the smarts of a tomato, but does that mean I want vegetables running the world?"

"We could do worse, Hans."
"We have done worse, Professor."
"But that's not the point."
"There's a point?"
"A tomato's not a vegetable."
"Does it know that?"
"I don't think it gives a shit."

Hans threw the legal pad against the trailer-side wall while Professor Samuelson dissolved into a puddle of grown-up giggles.

"That's it. You take Turbo's room, it's probably in better shape than mine. Nap time, Professor. And may God, or whoever's running this circus, help us. Who knows where we might wake up"


Vasily handed Hub a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin he found in the bathroom cabinet. After the forced and unexpected decoupling from his uncle, he had one hell of a migrain. Eating was long overdue. Hub confessed to starving so Vas had breakfast going: eggs, bacon, potatoes, more coffee. The homey smells filled the Center. Nomad paced the front porch, smoking like a chimney, staring intently at the deck. The sea had come down considerably; the sun shining brightly. They could go if they wanted.

He came back inside letting the screendoor slam; he wasn't in a good mood. The other two made no comment. Vasily was the skipper and he and Nomad usually never hesitated to get into it with one another, but there were times when Nomad was best left alone. He put his cigarette out in a clam shell and walked slowly around the room, stopping to stare at the clay sculpture of the strange fish-like creature, then moving on as though looking for something. Quietly and with deliberation he went into the kitchen to gather plates and such to set at a round table in the center of the room. Going back in he put his hand on the coffee pot handle and asked, "This done?"

Busy flipping eggs, Vas only nodded. Nomad took the pot over to the table and poured himself a cup, then sat. Hub managed to pull himself together, made it over and plopped down, reaching for the pot. No one spoke. A few minutes later Vasily brought plates of eggs and bacon and a large bowl of fried potatoes. Toast was on the way. He sat and poured. They ate in silence, famished. When they had eaten everything, Nomad stacked the plates, the bowl on top, gathered the utensils and took them into the kitchen, laying them in the sink. Vasily poured coffee all around and lit up a smoke. The silence continued.

After a few minutes, "How's your head?" Nomad asked Hub.

"Better. I needed food more than pain pills."

Nomad nodded thoughtfully, lighting a cigarette.

Not a minute later Vas banged his cup on the table. Nomad looked up, partly.

"What's with you," he asked in a scratchy voice.

"What's with me?" Vas shot back. "What the hell's with you? What's with all the somber soul searching? You lose a friend or something?"

Nomad sipped, put the cup down, pushed it away a bit, then said, "Nah. I just thought,..., I just thought we'd be more a part of what's going on than sittin' around making sure Hub didn't roll off the couch. That's all."

"You did help me," said Hub, in earnest. "Both you guys. Moral support is very important. I didn't have to worry; I could just lock into my uncle and block out everything else. I was oblivious to what was going on around me. Feeling safe; all very necessary in the shaman apprentice business."

They all laughed; the first light thing to happen that morning. The sunshine glinting off the still damp deck of the porch called to them. The air was fresh and clean.

"Whatdoya' think happened to Ainanwat, Hub?" asked Vasily. "You think he's all right?"

Hub looked concerned and thoughtful, searching his mind, trying to find his uncle, to reconnect. But after a few moments, he shook his head sadly, disappointed. "I don't know," he murmurred. "I don't know what happened. One minute I was viewing where he was through his eyes, the next, whammo. It was like pulling the plug on a TV set, only I was the TV. It was painful, like severing an arm. And I felt empty all of a sudden. Emotionally. Such love I felt. I'm calling it love, joy, I don't know. But when it was ripped away,..., Jesus. Emptiness. Confusion."

They sat around for a few more minutes just enjoying the quiet, an occasional bird sang out, that was all. They were spoiled living the life they were. Away from the hectic noise and crass rudeness of the big city. Cutting loose from some dock to head out onto the water. What thoughts of town and the problems that went with it drifting off, dissipating with each passing mile until there was naught but the boat, the sea and them. It was a good solid feeling. They knew who they were, harbored no doubts, lived fully in the immediacy of their experience. It wasn't just a job, it was a lifestyle.

"Remember the time," Vasily began, "a couple o' years ago. We scored big on halibut and went to Magadan to sell? We got expensive rooms at that hotel near the harbor. They had that great bar downstairs. We were up in Hub's room drinking, watching TV when Hub's chair collapsed under him. And you," looking at Nomad, "got the idea to throw it out the window into the backyard? That started it. We started throwing everything out, including that worthless TV. Christ, we were drunk. Packed up our shit, walked out the front door like everything was fine."

"Yes, yes," remembered Nomad, a smirk on his face. "What fun." They laughed the laughter of pirates and outlaws.

As though on cue, taking their cups with them, they got up to go out on the porch. Hub grabbed a cushion off the couch, dropped it on the high-backed chair and plunked down. Nomad sat on the edge of the deck where it met the stairs. Vasily stood behind him. They all stared off at the calming sea, the sun glistening off its surface.

Fishermen get antsy sitting around doing nothing when they have a boat fueled and ready to go just waiting for them. They hadn't expended much on their magical crossing. But what to do with it? Fishing seemed pointless given the present circumstances. Being at sea did make them feel free from all the hassles on land; but could they get away from them now?

A black-, silver- and white-haired cat came sauntering across the road from the marina direction, zig-zagging around puddles. Vasily recognized it as the cat who startled them by jumping onto a fifty-five gallon drum when they were walking up the road two long days ago. Bold as hell it walked right up onto the porch next to Nomad and sat, glancing hard at all three. Vasily went inside and came back with a half-empty can of tuna fish he found in the refrigerator. The cat ate appreciatively. After he finished, he walked to the screendoor -- he wanted in -- so Vas pushed it open and in he went.

They chuckled. "Must be the landlord," quipped Nomad. Fishermen have a little stray going for them themselves so there was an immediate rapport. They discussed briefly what they should do. Go back to Casgrovina, or stay put and wait for whatever. No one could decide.

Nomad got up to get some more coffee and asked the others if they wanted any. They shook their heads no. Once inside he poured a half cup and looked around for the cat. He was curled up on the remaining cushion of the couch. Nomad approached intent on sitting beside him to see if he'd sit on his lap. But before he got there, the cat began to shimmer, streaks and swirls of color snaking round a central axis, the head staying still. Nomad froze.

"Hey guys," he said, an unspoken come here in his voice. "You might want to check this out."

The others came in and abruptly stopped in their tracks. The cat began to change shape, elongating yet remaining translucent. The three gathered together. When he ceased shapeshifting he had taken the form of Ainanwat, a smile on his face. He spoke as though through a tunnel, "Thanks for the tuna."

"Uncle," said Hub. "Is that really you?"

"Yes, Urkakhan. And thank you for your help. I don't need it now. I've moved on to my dreambody. What you see is my astral form. I cannot tell you where I am; there are no words in any language. I have come to tell you to stay here. You'll be safe. Within this building magic dwells, as you may have already discovered."

"Safe from what, Uncle? Cousin is up the hill."

"I have already visited him and his sons. I told them to come here. They should be on their way. Very soon we will confront the Impostor Big Raven. It is time. The people at the site where his extended body sits are about to perform an act which may release him from his bonds, bonds placed there long ago by the Guardians who you met, Urkakhan.

"We cannot allow that."

"Uncle, what is this dreambody you speak of?"

"Your dreambody is partly you and partly your identity with the living universe. And yet its power does not belong to any living creature. The lost parts of my soul are like shards of a mirror, pieces of me reflecting back. It is my job to find them and put them together as one single whole self. That is my dreambody. What we see, experience, feel and know is but the surface of our minds, a kind of illusion, an apparent reality only, constructed so as to allow us to function in the world. It is only a dream. Our truth lies deeper. It is formless; it is Life itself, our foremost ally."

"But what will happen to you, uncle? Is it dangerous; can I help?"

"It is dangerous to all life, everywhere. So, we must act, the Guardians and I together with my allies and the many beings and spirits that fill the Great Expanse that grows from the heart of the One. And yes, you can help, my nephew. You can help by being your true self. By being the shaman I know you to be in your heart. It is your destiny. Do not doubt yourself. Find your ally, in your soul.

"Stay here with your friends. Be strong. The outcome will be known soon.

"I am but one man, my life but one challenge to the world. We seek the truth; and we will find it, or else."

With that he smiled warmly, light criss-crossing his wrinkled face, then slowly vanished like the Cheshire cat of myth.

They continued to stare at the vacant spot he once occupied. Transfixed. Footsteps could be heard coming up the stairway. The screendoor opened. They were afraid to turn around.

Then Galya spoke his deep voice, "So, you've had a visit from the cat who watches, have you Urkakhan?"


Among other items on their agenda, as they came up, a few points stood out: 1) the elusive two-dimensional manifold postulated to exist by Rose Marie Samuelson may only be an artifice; namely, the result of using complex numbers (in accordance with standard quantum field theory) in the spin network formulation instead of rational numbers (a spin network being composed of the edges or boundaries of two-dimensional simplices corresponding to fractional spin values); 2) spin-fields disturb the fifth-dimensional plenum that provides energy for four-dimensional manifestation; by disrupting the ground state energy for manifestation the effect can cause changes in the four-dimensional spacetime continuum. This in turn can affect gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear force and can therefore affect the geometric configuration of four-dimensional spacetime. And 3) the spin polariztion (intrinsic angular momentum) of the interior of the edifice, considered as a superposition of all quantum and sub-quantum ensembles, must be essentially zero; that is, topologically, any and all particles have to be spherically symmetrical.

These facts and conjectures, however, were of only theoretical value: an experiment of the kind they were about to perform having no precedence in science. But it was worth noting that because of these considerations, they had to expect anything: from a complete collapse of the singularity and evaporation of the entire structure, to a major crumpling of the space contained within the edifice itself. If it is indeed 26-dimensional, what effect would this have on the immediate surroundings? And who knows the limits of immediate?

Pengrove was most familiar with the combinatorial algebra used in his construction of spin networks constituting a method for structuring spacetime from the bottom up, geometrically, utilizing operators for both space and time. The approach was along the lines of using discrete quantities, hence: quanta. Based on his calculations, in a time-neutral setting as they believed they had here, a very different geometry underlying four-dimensional spacetime could emerge as the result of warping the fifth dimension -- as alluded to above -- the fourth being the boundary of the fifth.

With further discussion however, the time irrelevancy supposition proved to be unverifiable. A theory of quantum gravity competing with that of both string theory and spin networks was that of Causal Dynamical Triangulations. The premise of CDT is to use the Lorentzian manifold structure (the space of Relativity Theory) of homotopically equivalent geometries explicitly and exclude all spacetimes evidencing acausal behaviour, that is, topology changes. Acausal behaviour comes about as the result of using Euclidean spacetime (Hilbert Space, to be precise) as the static background where the direction of time has no significance. Rejecting spacetimes with acausal features from the gravitational path integral, one can expect the emergence of classical geometry from a Feynman-type superposition of spacetimes; causality coming into play dynamically on the classical or four-dimensional level.

But, if acausal spacetimes are not taken into account, and they prove to be the actuality, any quantum fluctuations of the geometry of the space within the edifice can occur as an effect of spin realignment, possibly resulting in topology changes. No one wanted this as an outcome, but it had been a necessary assumption by the group that the geometric structure on the quantum level of the interior of the edifice was acausal; that is, time-direction independent, because events at the level of fundamental particles do not have causes according to standard quantum theory, as opposed to CDT which starts with the geometry of General Relativity.

Another tenet of CDT suggests the presence of a fractal microstructure to quantum spacetime -- increasing the refinement of the simplicial complex -- wherein spaces at distances less than the Planck scale are flat or structureless. If this is true, limited only by the depth of its penetration -- sub-quantum particles being the basic building blocks of familiar spacetime -- the spin-field reorientation would be thoroughgoing. But because the surface of the edifice was holographic, no one really knew how deep it would go. With what metric do you measure and how would you employ it?

And furthermore, CDT's paradigm of space arguing for a two-dimensional structure at the Planck scale corroborated and lent credence to Ms. Samuelson's findings, but only as far as an hypothesis without proof.

So you see, the current state of understanding was severely limited and new ideas were hardly set in stone and amounted to so much talk. Confidence leached away; some protested the course, suggesting they should wait. Wait for what? others countered. Final judgement had see-sawed but briefly. They were in over their heads, certainly; it was unfortunate the situation had come to this, of course; but even the cream of the scientific community couldn't repress their primitive ancestry. Couldn't detach from the base survival instincts and the terror that spawned it, even if they wanted to. With all their intellectualizing, the ultimate decision came from that.

Research involving the small-scale structure of the universe was still undergoing extensive investigation; in fact, one might say it was only just beginning; therefore, many questions remained open-ended, that is to say -- unanswerable. Every model was mathematics only; the technical power to prove any of it simply did not exist. Quantum mechanics worked, had proven itself a useful and predictable tool with regard to the behaviour of microscopic systems. And that's what they were going with. The true nature of what lay beneath was still a mystery. Deducing the constants from first principles was still a pipedream. In any case, the fundamental topology of quantum reality in our universe, let alone one of 26-dimensions, was a moot point. The procedure they were about to apply was going to bring the quantum world of the edifice into the classical of our world, no matter what. Of this, at least, they were fairly certain. What collateral damage would be wrought, however, was the source of serious anxiety.

Nonetheless, they didn't have the luxury of waiting for future breakthroughs.

It was time to act.

Doctor Weingard, as co-chair of the Puzzle Masters, wanted to share responsibility with Doctor Fitzsimmons; but Fitz would have none of it. The entourage stepped into the living room. The chief engineer stood by the door, a remarkable calmness and childlike excitement exuding from his young features as though he was about to test Christmas lights on a tree. A dense quiet filled the room populated by most of the Puzzle Masters group. Some stared at the floor, deeply introspective. Some reviewed the synopsis of the meeting, prepared by Jennings, scanning, as though looking for something crucial that might put the operation on hold.

Doctor Fitzsimmons approached the young engineer. He smiled as he said, "We're ready to go, Doctor."

Fitzsimmons only nodded and waved a hand. The chief truned and signaled through the open doorway. The smooth hum of the massive generators near the back of the circus tent, not too far from their location, ceased abruptly. The lights went out: the large outside lights spread through the environs of the enclosure as well as those in the many trailers. Immediately the emergency battery lights kicked in. It lent an eerie glow, especially inside at the corners of the room.

Fitz sat at his desk positioned in what used to be the kitchen area of the large double-wide. He looked fondly at the picture of his wife; they had no children. Next to that was a picture of him receiving the Fields Medal from the Director of the Amercan Mathematical Society. He shook his head remembering how proud he felt and how smart it'd made him feel, in his own humble sort of way. Now, however, he wasn't so sure.

The chief left to go to the newly-built station where the main switch that would turn on the spin-field reflecting array stood. Walkie-talkie in hand, he would request Doctor Fitzsimmons for the final word. It was all very official.

Rocky and Turbo sat next to each other on the sofa in a back room, once a bedroom now converted to an office space. They recognized the significance of the battery lights and waited. Turbo had his arm around her shoulders and held her close. They eyed one another, wishing they were elsewhere, far far away.

The chief got the word through the scratchy radio and a second later the loud hum of the magnetic resonator started up. It would take a few seconds for it to reach maximum power; that's when the chief would allow it to radiate over the entire surface of sphere P-5. He watched the dials at the station he had personally constructed. When it buried the red line, he pulled the switch.

Instantly, the lights went off. At first there was commotion, people shouting, the security guards flipping on flashlights that died immediately. All was dark; voices could be heard, now more calmly but still insistent, fighting back panic. The chief decided on his own to turn it off; he figured something was wrong with the installation; they had put it together in a hurry. He wanted to go over the schematics again, check everything. But before he could get there, a blanket of silence covered the entire site. He reached for the switch but felt nothing. He opened his arms and walked very slowly towards the station he knew was not more than two feet in front of him. Nothing. He knelt on the rubber mat covering the dirt floor beneath him and touched it with both palms. Presently it too faded from touch. He could feel nothing. Vertigo toyed with him; he should have been falling and braced himself for the crunch. But then his mind overrode it and informed him that falling was quite impossible. The rock solid earth lay beneath in all directions.

He yelled, or at least thought he had, but heard nothing. No sounds anywhere. He couldn't even hear the generator which ought to be making a loud humming noise by now, vibrating the ground.

Silence and no sensation of touch or hearing. He had no idea what to do and hoped that maybe someone, one of the elite scientists in the nearby trailer, would understand what was going on and correct. But how or what anyone could do left him totally in the dark.

I'm in big trouble, he thought, General Mynsky's going to kill me.

He thought his retinas had exploded; shapes of multicolored light began to appear off in the distance. At first they took on a bowling pin form, undulating from top to bottom and back again, the fat end moving with it. First a few, then more, scattered here and there. He thought it must be Mynsky's men, the lights coming from fuel lanterns of some kind giving off a diffuse glow, the colors caused by impurities, kerosine maybe. Leave it to the Russians, he thought. Resourceful survivalists. But the lights began to change, taking on more human form. Every color imaginable moving and flowing, intermingling and ranging in brightness and intensity. They flitted behind spheres and trailers and machinery and scaffolding, fading to darkness then brightening intensely, growing then shrinking to tiny globs of percolating colors.

But then, he began to notice other different kinds of forms like sprights and phantoms coming down from above, shifting in and out of view as though vanishing altogether from the world through an unseen doorway or a tear, a seam, then sliding back in behind one of the colored shapes, merging with them, then as one vanishing from sight. More of the multi-colored creature-shapes appeared, practically filling the space around him, what he could see of it; and with them an equal number of purely light and dark figures attacked them, pulling and engulfing them, dragging them eventually through some opening or slice in the background. They were everywhere. What felt like down feathers or the sheerest silk rubbed across his face; automatically he recoiled but noticed he could sense it, though still not the floor. The melee reached a crescendo of frantic motion and butterfly zigging and zagging. How long it went on, he had no idea, couldn't tell. It continued in a timeless sense until all the colored shapes had gone.

He wondered about the others caught out on the rubber floor: his men and the security guards. Had they seen what he had? Were they all right?

A noise, faint yet clearly audible. He could hear. Where was it coming from? he wondered. What was it? The sound increased in volume, becoming identifiable. Metalic, harsh like an old rusty freight train braking, braking forever, growing louder. Suddenly it stopped, to be replaced by the warm, smooth sound of the generator humming strongly, powerfully. Battery lights flickered then grew steady everywhere at once. He could see others standing and some on their hands and knees like him. He looked at his hands; there was blood around his fingernails. Instinctively he'd dug in to the hard rubber. Right before him stood the station he'd built. He rose unsteadily, muscles cramped from the adrenaline rush, heart still pounding. He flicked the generator switch, it slowly wound down to nothing. A faint electrical glow surrounded the sphere, what could be seen of it, of course. The other spheres and trailers within his purview appeared to be all right, no apparent damage.

Gradually, murmurring could be heard; then louder talk, wonder and shocked amazement in their voices. But also plainly relief and pleasure at being alive.

What had they done? What had they accomplished? To put it mildly, it didn't go according to expectations. So, where did they stand?

He made his way over to the Puzzle Masters' trailer. Maybe they knew something, maybe not. But he had the creepy feeling in the pit of his stomach that they were in deep shit.

to be continued...