Sitting in the steel room beneath the cement streets of Oookino, a city that covered an island in the Pacific, I lamented that I was alone for the next 6 hours of my watch-over shift. A watch-over shift is a group of 12 people who take turns looking after events on the planet by radio.
The shift in this room has 4 TV screens showing this planet from different angles of satellites orbiting above this planet. There are other rooms with different angles on the planet but there are no windows in this room. No one knows where all the rooms are.
One has caramel coloured carpeting covering square tiles. The one in Oookino is rusty steel. It protected accessed by an elevator. Sometimes it gets hard to stay awake. The air in here is clean but the fresh scent of the sea is missing. I won’t suffocate but squawking sounds come from the random program of a computer and not real birds.
One can’t deny it; the military did everything to make this room seem natural. Somehow they didn’t try hard enough; and others who have spent time in this room agree.
Still, it’s only for three months and I can go back to the sounds of Chicago, a real city. Its got churches and jazz bars and everything man can make, good or evil. For now, though, I must stay awake and protect the world from destroying itself with its modern machines.
They sure make effective and efficiently destructive satellites these days. They no longer destroy life forms just randomly. They cancel out human beings only. If the life form isn’t human it need not worry that it will be cancelled out; it won’t be.
I dare not think what can be done by them lest somehow it should happen that they get turned loose on the world accidentally. All the people on the planet would be – - I realized I didn’t know what would happen. Destroyed, I supposed. The intensity of such an event hit me with the audacity of a chariot going over a cliff. I stood up and took some deep breathes.
I had been taught just to look for white spots on the monitors. Those would be the killer satellites going off up in the universe detecting and destroying people. But species from other planets would survive.
I sat back down placing my fingers next to the keyboard. Any one of these 47 keys, touched accidentally, would set off weapons that would haunt the world for people like bats seeking blood in Transylvania. This is true for any of the watch-over rooms.
I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Suddenly I fell asleep. My finger jerked and brushed a key – I have a tremor. Something went off on the land. I saw white dots on all the TV screens. Humankind was going to start being destroyed unless I could do something to stop it. Could I?
I was trained to let humanity destroy itself if this situation ever occurred. It said to do so on page 54, paragraph 8 of the book “What If?”, the watch-over text.
I had stopped the population in its tracks – the people anyway. Shuddering I took the elevator to the ground level to see the damage first hand. Curiosity had the better of me; I had to see for myself.
Stepping out of the entryway on land I saw women and children suckling but frozen like statues by the beams pulsing directly at any human life forms from distant satellites. They were now in the sky and they were stopping civilization wherever it was found. That was anywhere.
People usually gathered in cities making their destruction feasible and possible. It was those who ran by themselves, lamenting and not replicating the groups of so many, that caused a problem. I decided to look to these souls for protection from the blasters. However, I knew that the blasters could detect small groups – as few as two – but not single parties.
This was secret information known, supposedly, only among the watch-over groups. There was something else that we had read in that book “What If?”, however. It was that Earth was like a train station; a stop-over place for different species from other worlds. All kinds of life forms lived on this planet, many unknown to humanity.
This was a problem. I needed these others, yet I dared not veer to close to any of them or both of us would become like mountains; solid and unmoving. What could I do?
I took a walk. Walks are good for problem solving. I encountered many solutions to the problem in the fields, but all the answers eventually ended with granite solidity; the devastation by a killer satellite.
Then there was a woman who radiated the warmth of the rising sun. I waited but amazingly she never rose. She just sat on my horizon. Whenever I looked at her I shuddered like I was getting into a tub of warm water. I wanted to put my head under to feel her warmth completely but knew I couldn’t stay submerged until forever ended. I would drown and die.
I stayed awestruck until something cold crept out of my center. It covered my bright dreams with a fresh and cool covering that turned cold. Frightened, I looked at her again.
The lady had left me standing on a foundation spreading blue and calm over to the rim of the planet. My heart slowed to a turtle trot. I fled from my safety running toward the opposite direction. Suddenly a monster emerged from behind a wide elm tree.
It had three ears; crisp, dark and jagged. One pointed right, the other left and the other changed direction on the center of its head with the randomness of wind chimes. I saw no body supporting its trunk-like neck. I heard words but only saw bark like skin where its mouth should be.
“What are you scared of?” it asked.
“You. Your appearance makes me think you’ll hurt me somehow. Especially since I see no body supporting your head,” I replied.
“Don’t worry friend, I’ve a body. Its much the same as my head, though, so, when others see it too they’re often scared even more, although it’s just the logical extension to my head. That’s not always the case, you know. Sometimes bodies don’t fit the heads they support. Would you prefer seeing my body?”
“Not if you’re all as crisp as your face. That’s enough for me.”
The thing must have sensed my terror because its neck and head rolled away like curtains rising to reveal a stage. Only the ears were left to look at.
I could not imagine what we (we?) must look like to one of the killer satellites. They had been programed to seek out and destroy life forms. They would not see two people to destroy though they would detect one lifeform – me. So, I relaxed and befriended this invisible monster.
(There’s a contradiction in terms. How can a monster be so compassionate as to be invisible?)
We turned and walked towards the sun which was saying, with its new position, “this is where I am setting these days.” I felt a pressure on my hand. It covered my fingers causing my heart to warm up again.
“Hello Eary, pun intended…” I said and we laughed.
“Don’t warm up to me too much. You know those satellites can detect temperature changes.”
“How do you know that? Why that’s eyes only knowledge for those with the highest security clearance…How did you, a creature from another planet, know that about the killer satellites?” I said.
“Oh I could tell you many things. I could rattle off the location of all the watch-over rooms in this universe.”
I must have shuddered because it spoke again.
“I can tell you how to avoid their rays forever. Its not nonsense but it may seem so at first. Its hard for a while.”
“I don’t care how hard it is. I don’t want to be solidified...”
“I will ask you to do things that you currently abhor and may find impossible to do because you’ve been so well trained to be human. Will you at least try doing these things?” it asked cautiously.
I shook again. I didn’t know what things it was talking about. Besides I believed I could do anything, eventually.
Then I realized there were things I could not do, stars and elements I could not see; at least not without the proper preparation. That required accepting I was imperfect. However I could be perfected. So I believed anyway. I pondered this idea when I heard “Just maybe not perfectible on this plane.”
I looked for a speaker but saw only the trees lining the street. Again the voice said, “Don’t worry. Don’t shudder. Your friends are safe and waiting for you. Only you must change some things in your outlook. You may think them impossible, but they may be accomplished with a little effort. Are you ready?”
I thought I should answer quickly lest the voice leave like a weather balloon flowing away. “Don’t worry; I won’t leave you; I’ve come to save you even though you can’t see me … yet”
How had I heard all this stuff? No one was here to speak but I had heard these things - I knew that was true. Besides, the military’s tests had shown I have superior hearing ability. I had heard this. Yet it was not possible with no one here. Which was it?
I had to choose again between what I knew to be true and what others said was impossible. I turned on the cement but when I saw nothing moving I realized that only I could know what I experienced. Like turning on the concrete.
Suddenly everything seemed elegant. It was only natural that I be who I am. For 30 some years I had accepted the limits to what I am like an onion receiving another layer. I accepted them to such a degree that I no longer accepted my self as a real entity. I only knew processes. I knew them well, also. That’s why I was among the few to be allowed in a watch-over room.
Just as abruptly I began shedding layers like a rain cloud loosing droplets. I had so many. It took a few years of shedding, though, before I wanted to fly; or at least hover.
I wasn’t sure where I was but I now know where I am. I know I will proceed according to a strategy that I cannot define … yet. But I will finally understand it. Merely accepting that the strategy exists is like smoke rising from a pipe bowl into the air. It has a beginning – the pipe. It always ends by being invisible.
Did I say “end”?
I’m mistaken. I cannot appreciate the spirit of smoke ending. It does not do this. Smoke simply starts over, somewhere else, probably on another plane.
THE END or THE START – choose