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A reflection paper on the novella Corporatia Holographia. [and] Corporatia Holographia: A novella

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A REFLECTION PAPER ON THE NOVELLA
CORPORATIA HOLOGRAPHIA
A CREATIVE PROJECT
by
Michael R. Isenbek
Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
in
liberal studies
Empire State College
State University of New York
2010
First Reader: Susan Hollis
Second Reader: Yvonne Murphy
UMI Number: 1486614
All rights reserved
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UMT
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UMI 1486614
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Reflection Paper Abstract
In my reflection paper on writing the science fiction/historical fiction novella
Corporatia Holographia, I explain in the reflection paper how the basic theme of novella
is the central, multifaceted role of power in human existence—the desire for power,
grasping of power, the surrendering of power and the possession of power. I explain how
this theme is inherent in the characterization of the characters and their interactions with
the respective milieus of the novella as well as my intellectual and emotional experiences
in creating the work. I found that in reflecting on the creation of the novella that the
consistent and insistent application of willpower over time can result in a successfully
completed large-scale work of fiction.
Reflection Paper Table of Contents
Introduction—1
The Message of the Novella—1
The Corporatia Concept—2
On Holography—2
Brainwashing—4
Characters—5
Characters in General—5
The Development of the Protagonist—5
Developing the Antagonist—7
George—7
The Hippies—8
The Egyptians—9
Joy—9
Essence—9
The Chief—10
Portrayal of Salesmen—10
Conduct of the Guards—11
Dialogue—11
Professor Murphy's Advice on Characterization—12
Prof Hollis' Take On Characterization—14
Milieu—15
Manhattan 2009—15
New Kingdom Ancient Egypt, 3,000 Years From Present—16
Manhattan 2009, Post Nuclear Explosion—23
The Milieu of Manhattan, 3,000 Years From Present—24
The Catamaran—26
The Boat Journey Back to Egypt—27
The Writing Process—29
My General Disposition While Writing the Novella—29
Editing the Story (Post first draft completion)—31
The Journal as a "Cutting Room Floor"—31
A Turning Point in the Creation of the Novella—31
Miscellaneous Editing Moments—32
What My First and Second Readers Helped with Specifically—32
Interlude: The Classes, In General—32
Adages That Helped Me in the Creation of the Novella—38
Literary Techniques—39
Miscellany—41
Bibliography—43
This paper is about the creation of my final project for the Master of Arts in Liberal
Studies program at Empire State College—a science fiction/historical fiction novella entitled
Corporatia Holographia. This reflection will be divided up into a section regarding the research
and advice I received regarding the creation of characters and characterization, the research
involved in authentically creating the different milieus of the story, as well as a blow-by-blow
account of the experience of writing the story and the back-and-forth with my first and second
readers, and there will be a brief interlude where I reflect on how the different classes that I took
in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program helped me in the creation of my final project.
The Message of the Novella
At the start of the writing process, I was required to explain the main theme of the novella
for the final project proposal, as well as why the project is important. This was a big help in
focusing my writing. In the final project proposal, I asserted that:
"My proposed plot could be described as 'insidious power grabs across time and space.'
This will be a study of power as a literary theme. I feel that SF author Crawford Kilian in his
book Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy explained it best when he stated: 'Your basic theme is
power and how to use it. Your plot is always a political one: who should have the power, who
should rule, and on what terms?'" (Kilian, xiv)
I then said "My proposed story is an interesting addition to the canon of SF stories
because it is intended to be my own unique commentary on how corporations and mass media
wield their power upon humanity."
At the end of one of the last drafts, after having labored for months and lived with my
settings and characters, I further asserted:
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"Know thyself because knowledge and understanding are the pillars of existence." This is
probably a paraphrase of Descartes, but it's an important assertion. I feel that it is "step one" in
understanding existence itself.
Now that I have said that "power" is the main theme, I was required by the final project
proposal to explain just who possesses this power, and again, this really helped me focus the
story. However, elements that I included in the final project proposal changed in the creation of
the novella, but the power-related elements remain the same.
In my novella, power is possessed by three entities: Ourcorp, a marketing company
existing in 2009 that has figured out that the universe and everything in it is a giant hologram and
has figured out how to holographically tap into the mind with a superintelligent computer in
order to brainwash people into buying products and believing ideologies. Power is also possessed
by the government of Thutmose III in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, and finally, the
holographic characteristics of the universe give it immense power within the novella.
The Corporatia Concept
I invented the term "Corporatia" quite a while ago, and it refers to the power that
corporations have over governments, and I feel it best describes the "spirit" of Ourcorp and their
brainwashing efforts. It also would make a cool title, but I didn't even start contemplating titles
until about a month ago—I thought maybe "Time Travelers" but it seemed too corny.. .then I
settled on Corporatia Holographia, which is basically a cryptic rendering of the phrase "The
Holographic Corporation."
On Holography
2
This is another passage that takes excerpts from the final project proposal that really
helped me to discern the relationship between holography and power in the novella and helped
the deployment of this theory in the universe of the story:
My brother, a computer programming genius, acquired the book The Holographic
Universe for one of his college courses in the late nineties, and gave it to me as a "good read."
After finishing the easy-to-understand book, I was floored, and it completely changed my way of
looking at reality. It not only explained (to my satisfaction, at least) the unsolved problems of
physics but also paranormal activity that most scientists dismiss or sweep under the rug. Once I
seriously contemplated writing a novella, I knew it had to take place in a holographic universe.
The universe's part/whole nature, as described by author Michael Talbot, who merged the
theories about the holographic universe from Einstein associate and University of London
physicist David Bohm and Karl Pribram, a neurophysiologist at Stanford University in The
Holographic Universe, places Ourcorp, circa 2009 and ancient Egypt in the same continuum:
"Just as every portion of a hologram contains the image of the whole, every portion of the
universe [contains] the whole...in principle the whole past and implications for the whole future
are also [contained] in every small region of space and time" (Talbot, 50). So, in a way, the
continuum of ancient Egypt and the continuum of Ourcorp circa 2009 are inextricably linked. In
the novella, a way has been found to open a portal between the two. And since the universe and
everything in it is a hologram, so is the human memory, according to Talbot:
Pieces of holographic film containing multiple images... pro vide a way of understanding
our ability to both recall and forget. When such a piece of film is held in a laser beam and
tilted back and forth, the various images it contains appear and disappear.. .It has been
3
suggested that our ability to remember is analogous to shining a laser beam on such a
piece of film and calling up a particular image. (Talbot, 21)
It is through this method of shining a light through the holographic human brain that
enables the holographic brainwashing to happen; furthermore, using incredibly powerful lasers to
basically rip a hole in the holographic fabric of the universe is how ancient Egypt is accessed.
Brainwashing
At the beginning of writing the first draft of the novella, I knew that I wanted
brainwashing to be a major theme and advance the plot, but I didn't know exactly how this
would happen. In the end, there were two main brainwashing entities in action: George the
computer and John the protagonist. George, aka The Ultimate Marketing Tool is a gigantic
superintelligent computer (there turns out to be two practically-identical Georges, one in
Manhattan and one in ancient Egypt) that uses sheer energy to holographically impinge upon the
consciousness of the characters and convinces them to take actions or believe assertions.
Everybody sees in George what they want to see; their perspective is filtered by their
subconscious wants and needs. The hippie characters see Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia;
Essence, the black girl found in post-nuclear holocaust Manhattan, sees the Sesame Street
character Elmo; John, the protagonist, sees a salesman; and the Egyptian characters see the
Egyptian god Osiris.
The second instance of brainwashing has John, the protagonist, believing that killing the
antagonist The Boss will change the future and create, at least in his mind, some nebulous Utopia
in the present day, and the nuclear explosion that levels most of Manhattan will be prevented
from happening. At the end of the novella, after The Boss is killed, it is revealed that nothing has
4
actually changed. New York was still a wasteland, and the people who had died are still dead.
Thus, all of John's successful cajoling and proselytizing to his allies throughout the novella
about his ultimately untrue beliefs could be seen as a form of brainwashing.
Characters
Characters in General
Pretty much every character has to reinvent him/herself after loss. For example, John
loses his child and girlfriend, who was the child's mother. Essence loses her mother and the
foster care system, and Scooter loses his parents because of his choice of lifestyle.
I found that I couldn't really make an assessment about my characters until I was done
with the novella and the characters were done playing their roles. Then I could kind of discern
my subconscious intentions in creating them.
The Development of the Protagonist
The Name
Journal, 9/5/09: So I am to introduce the main character in the initial scene. One of the
first things I want to figure out is the character's name. In all the books I've read with the topic
of writing instruction, they have said that the name should mean something—or not. I started
running through names: Jack, John, Joe, Raul, etc.. .Then I am reminded of the initial drafts of
Star Wars wherein Luke Skywalker was "Luke Starkiller," and then I realized that the name may
not be as important at this juncture.
5
Present Day Reflection: I ended up naming the protagonist "John," as in "John Doe."
John's Deployment in the Universe of the Story
John's daughter dies early in the novella, and he has subsequent perceptual experiences
that make him feel that her spirit is trying to contact him. But I wanted there to be a question as
to whether it really is the spirit of Joy or that John is mentally ill or suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder. John's view on these experiences change throughout the novella, as he is trying
to figure them out along with us. At the end of the novella, George spontaneously opens a portal
that is implied to be an entrance into the afterlife and John appears to actually reunite with Joy,
unlike his supposed spiritual connections with her that occur throughout the story. This was
throwing John and the reader a bone, really, but I feel that it is a good ending.
There are moments in the story where John's change from a money-centric, shallow
marketing executive to a man of wisdom is apparent. The first would be his reaction to the
selfless charity of the ancient Egyptians who played a big part in John's convalescence from a
broken leg in chapter 11 of the novella, John's gift of the melted remains of the precious metals
from the evidence room to the Native Americans in chapter 43 of the novella is a small
indication as well, but the real definitive moment is when George proposes a sales arrangement
that would give John a huge amount of power, but John rejects it in chapter 49 of the novella.
After this occurs, John has a revelation that power has, in fact, many definitions. As he puts it in
chapter 49 of the novella: "It wasn't just the number of assets, it was also the impulse to act and
get things done."
On a lighter note, John's cluelessness with geometry, shown in chapter 43 of the novella,
as Stony lectures everyone about the math needed to navigate from Manhattan to Egypt when
6
everyone around him was grasping it is based around my own ineptitude with all aspects of
mathematics.
Developing the Antagonist
The Boss
The Boss's intentions are made clear in chapter 9 of the novella, wherein he asks John a
profound question that informs the rest of The Boss's appearance in the story: "Who holds the
power now? You or me?" Of course, the answer at that point was that The Boss holds the power.
The rest of the story involves wresting this power away from him.
But it would seem that fate or karma is operating to eliminate The Boss. His own
radiation treatments for supposed testicular cancer in chapter 53 of the novella illustrate his
desperate grasp for power from death itself. The cosmos seems to be opposing The Boss's
designs by giving him a tumor, which impinges on the healthy function of an organism in the
same manner that The Boss has impinged on the freewill of humanity with his systems of
brainwashing.
But the definitive moment when any power The Boss may have had is permanently
removed is when he is brainwashed by George in chapter 55 of the novella: His violence and
anger leads directly to his death. Where this anger came from may have been some bad
experiences in his life or a crappy upbringing.. .1 don't know, the story is in first person, not third
person omniscient, so we aren't privy to that information.
George
7
It's interesting, with John and the Boss, by their actions and intentions, it is clear whether
one or the other is the protagonist or antagonist. George, the superintelligent computer, is, well,
somewhere in the middle. Although he plays a central role in the brainwashing efforts of The
Boss, he is purely into the products themselves, not the power and wealth that go along with
convincing people to purchase them.
Of course there are shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL, being forced to go against
his programming and brainwash instead of hawking wares. He is the picture of excessiveness—
powered by a nuclear reactor and composed of a veritable mountain of machinery. To me, it's
the typical spoiled American attitude—more=better.
George's insights are actually surprising and deep. His comments on the "zenlike"
interaction of shoppers and sellers in chapter 47 of the novella is, I believe, one of the more
profound concepts I present, and I totally believe it is this kind of trance state into which
"shopaholics" revert.
Another revelation I had while characterizing George was that tools are at the center of
ancient Egyptian society, as seen in chapter 49 of the novella. I was trying to figure out what he
could possibly sell with John's help; then I realized that from agriculture to stoneworking, tools
are at the center of it all.
The Hippies
The hippies first appear in chapter 24 of the novella. Aspects of the hippies' personality,
mannerisms, and habits are from my firsthand experience being around self-identified hippies.
The excesses of the hippies with their piles of pot/hash/psychedelic mushrooms in that same
chapter of the novella are fairly realistic. The people I've hung out with in college would see this
8
as an ideal situation. I consider the hippies a kind of the stoner comic relief, even though they go
through hell, just like every other character.
The Egyptians
Bill (first encountered in chapter 13 of the novella) and Jim (first encountered on chapter
15 of the novella) (aka Rahotep and Ankhmahor, respectively) were necessary characters in that
they enabled the characters from the modern day (mostly John) to interface with the ancient
Egyptian milieu. But, funnily enough, I wasn't getting Ankhmahor's name right. Ankhmahor's
proposed names got shot down by my two readers a bunch of times. He started out as Bart,
which was declared too contrived by Prof. Murphy, my second reader; then he became Aapep,
then Seth, which first reader Prof. Hollis declared would not be names given to ancient Egyptian
babies, as they were the monikers of deities that represented darkness and chaos. Finally,
Ankhmahor was allowed, which is a more positive name.
Joy
The death of Joy, John's toddler daughter in chapter 2 of the novella occurred as a
catalyst for change for our protagonist. Originally, Joy's death was an elaborate orchestration of
the need for anaphylactic shock medication but no money is available, but I came to a consensus
with Prof. Hollis that a simple choking would accomplish the same end and get the plot moving
quicker.
Essence
9
Essence, the young black girl discovered in a police station in the post-nuclear holocaust
Manhattan in chapter 33 of the novella, was "essentially" a stand-in for Joy, and someone the
protagonist could love and for whom he could be a positive influence. Her loss of innocence via
impregnation by The Boss helped the plot as well. It is an authentic vengeance that she feels
when she stabs The Boss's hand, leading to his asphyxiation in the vacuum of space in chapter
55 of the novella.
The Chief
The chief of the small settlement in Manhattan, first encountered in chapter 38 of the
novella is another cultural interface for our wayward characters after they go through a portal to
Stone Age New York City. I named the chief "Aiham," which means "golden eagle" in Lenape
("Lenape Talking Dictionary"), which was the language and namesake of the Lenape, the tribe
that occupied Manhattan in the time period (Swanton). I figured it would be an appropriate and
distinguished name for a Native American chief.
Portrayal of Salesmen
I really had fun with the last two depictions of sales in the novella— Khasekhemwy's kilt
sales pitch in chapter 49 of the novella and John's tool salesmanship with the rigged broken tools
in chapter 55 of the novella. The scenes are based on the worst of the Ronco Showtime Knife
infomerical I found on Youtube ("Ronco's Showtime Knives Infomercial"), such as using
another product to demonstrate its ineffectiveness, all kinds of different deals and even the
phrasing— i.e., "how does that sound?"
10
In light of John's success selling tools, I have his competitors making obscene gestures at
him in chapter 55 of the novella. Just what those gestures look like, I don't know, but it is an
action I wouldn't put past them.
Conduct of the Guards
Are sleeping/drunk guards too much of a cliche (the first instance in chapter 22 of the
novella)? I don't think so; I feel that human incompetence at the workplace is timeless.
Dialogue
On Profanity
Prof. Hollis questioned my use of many "fucks" and "shits." I originally had quite a bit of
profanity in the novella drafts, thinking it would make the narrative more realistic, but it now
seems to have made it a bit one-dimensional and off-putting. Replacing most (not all) of the
profanity was actually fun and did make the narrative a bit more interesting. Also, there are some
highly graphic moments in the novella, which, I feel would make it "rated R," a rating that would
allow profanity. Ultimately, I used the "shits" and "fucks" sparingly, for more impact.
Post Pop-Culture
With some of the dialogue, I feel like I've done some kind of post-pop culture thing by
including what could be considered cliched (i.e., "his death would be in vain...") but I have the
character him/herself actually acknowledge that what s/he are saying is corny.
Dialogue as a Prod to Deeper Thinking
11
George's declaration that "there is no afterlife," in chapter 49 of the novella, is an attempt
to prod the reader into deeper thinking with blatant atheism and have them ask questions they
might not have asked. Another instance of a prod to deeper thinking is Stony's revelation that he
is homosexual on chapter 38 of the novella.
Professor Murphy's Advice on Characterization
My second reader, Prof. Murphy really helped a lot in making the characters come to life.
Our correspondence and my subsequent implementation of her advice really made up the "spirit"
of the "Narrative Structure and the Novel Form" class, and I'm a much better writer for it. The
best thing about this advice was that it was tailored specifically to the novella; it wasn't just a
collection of empty adages.
Prof. Murphy's advice about voice (10/5/09) really helped me have the protagonist stand
out early on in the narrative: "How will you differentiate characters throughout the novel? Think
especially about your main character's point of view and voice, where he is coming from and
who he is. Establish that early, strongly and consistently. Make him well-defined and standing
out from other future characters," she said.
Reflection in the present day: John definitely has a unique voice, as the entire narrative is
from his perspective. Not only do we get his external voice in relation to other characters, but his
internal voice and the vision in his mind's eye.
Probably one of the pieces of characterization advice that resonated the most throughout
the story was the change of the protagonist from a janitor to marketing professional. Prof.
Murphy called the choice of janitor as a profession in this context (10/21/09) "heavy-handed and
cliche" and urged me to "rethink that characterization."
12
I drew most of my inspiration for the marketing milieu and the motivations of a marketer
from my professional experience. I work at a monthly magazine in the editorial department and
my boss and I are submerged in words and how they are put together, that's pretty much it.. .but
on the completely opposite side is the marketing department. The skill sets for our respective
jobs have absolutely no common elements. So, in the course of my employment at the magazine
I have observed the length and breadth of the actions of that department as a fascinated outsider.
They are dogged, relentless and laser-focused on "the sale." Now, I like the people in the
marketing department; they are nice, but I couldn't help but contemplate what they would be like
if they were money-obsessed jerks like how the protagonist starts out.
Prof. Murphy's advice about playful tone, which helped me give tinges of product-related
absurdity to the narrative (10/21/09): "I would.. .suggest you allow yourself to play a little bit
more in terms of your use of humor and the fun you are having with popular culture references
and poking at icons of pop culture, like the Coca Cola/Sprite thing. It somehow reflects back on
the atmosphere of a Corporatia. You have to be working to really create the setting but also the
mood, tone, and atmosphere of the scene as well! Don't be afraid to be quirky but always reign it
in at the same time!"
Prof Murphy rallied me to write more so as to develop characters (11/3/09): "An
important move now would be to continue writing and to generate much more material—this
character will find his voice and develop even stronger over time, through many chapters. Then,
you can go back and revise more once you've learned better about who he is and what he would
or wouldn't do or would or wouldn't say."
Prof. Murphy also suggested slowing it down a bit so as to flesh out the characterization
(11/24/09): "What needs more development or work here is the pacing and the characterizations.
13
As is, you speed through each chapter kind of assuming that the reader knows where we are at all
times when we really don't. While this kind of unsettling feeling works to add to the overall
intrigue of the story, it does make much of the backstory (or what else is going on beyond and
before and throughout each current scene) too much of a mystery. So how could you go back to
these and fill them in more, slow them down, develop characters more patiently, paint them more
fully?"
Prof. Murphy explained why it would be a good idea to change the demeanor of
protagonist John, which gives him an emotional edge that was previously lacking (2/13/10):
"The main character is so glib. There's a part of that characterization that works though—he's a
quintessential postmodern kind of male antihero. However, it's also, frankly, offputting,
especially when there are emotional chapters or moments.. .He is smirking through the pain and
it makes the reader squeamish. How could you make decisions about his emotional
life/intensity/texture that might make him less glib at times and show the reader that perhaps his
glibness is a cover or defense for great pain? I bring it up as an editor and reader of novels where
protagonists' emotional development or lack thereof are intrinsic and important to the novel."
Prof Hollis' Take On Characterization
While Prof. Hollis was far more concerned with the plot working and the milieu's
correctness, she did lend a hand with characterization issues. She pointed out (3/3/10) that there
was a lot of weeping happening throughout the story, maybe too much. I guess I was trying to
make my characters more emotional, as per Prof. Murphy, but took it too far. So, instead of
making a character outright weep, I explored the subtleties of grief, having some characters just
tear up a little bit, or hitch up their chest while feeling the grief flow through them, for example.
14
Milieu
The novella has a series of milieus that present challenges for the characters, and required
a lot of research to provide authenticity for the reader regarding characterization, customs,
objects and the like.
Manhattan 2009
Nondisclosure Template
The protagonist John has to sign a nondisclosure agreement in chapter 1 of the novella
because of the work being done in Ourcorp. Now, I'm not a lawyer or businessman, so I needed
to find a template online, so I knew what to include, but I also added a passage about "other
consequences" and references to sci fi technology to give the document a sinister air and provide
a bit of foreshadowing for the mayhem to come. I did a simple Google search and found the
website "Docstoc.com," which provides "Documents for Small Businesses and Professionals,"
found a non-disclosure agreement and excerpted it. ("Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA)
Template").
Manhattan 2009 as a Setting
I actually made Ourcorp in Manhattan because I knew that establishing an accurate
milieu in ancient Egypt would be a challenge (as would the milieu in Stone Age Manhattan), but
since I live on Long Island and have been going to Manhattan my whole life, that milieu would
be a cinch compared to the Nile Valley.
15
New Kingdom Ancient Egypt, 3,000 Years From Present
On the Ancient Egyptian Language
Featuring the ancient Egyptian language when placing a story in ancient Egypt is almost
inevitable, but for me, this process was always "story first," so I didn't dwell too much on using
ancient Egyptian words. But there were a few spots where they fit quite well, such as the
overseer of temple construction urging on the haulers of the large stone blocks in chapter 19 of
the novella, so I happened upon "Hieroglyphs.net" which is actually a website that takes English
words and changes them into hieroglyphs and provides the phonetic spelling and pronunciation,
but Prof. Hollis found all kinds of issues with these rough translations. As a solution, I was
actually considering buying an ancient Egyptian dictionary, but Prof. Hollis advised me not to,
since I only had a few words to translate, and she has something like four different Egyptian
dictionaries on hand, some of which weren't as reliable as others, so she just emailed me the
correct words.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, the standard reference for practicing
Egyptologists, was an indispensible tool for getting the ancient Egyptian milieu correct, and even
though it cost close to $300, it was worth its weight in gold. There is a veritable laundry list of
ancient Egyptian topics that I gleaned from this work, and it gave Professor Hollis and me some
common ground from which to get story elements. She could just say "Oxford, such-and-such a
16
topic," and I could have the pertinent information on hand almost instantly. This information
included:
The appearance of an ancient Egyptian farmer, first appearing in chapter 1 of the novella
(Green, 275).
Precious metals and stones familiar to ancient Egyptians, such as copper, silver (Bleiberg,
67), lapis lazuli and amethyst (Shaw, 10), mentioned in chapter 7 of the novella.
The Nile River farming/flooding/drying cycle, first appearing in chapter 11 of the novella
(Butzer, 544).
The construction of a commoner's dwelling, first appearing in chapter 12 of the novella
(Lacovara, 198).
Aspects of childbirth, including the infant/mother mortality rate, appearing in chapter 14
of the novella (Feucht, 192-3).
The fact that temples were built when the Nile flooded, mentioned in chapter 15 of the
novella (Gasse, 435).
Shaving the entire body, cleaning with a salty block, applying fragrant oils, daubing paint
around the eyes, also appearing in chapter 15 of the novella (Filer, 134-5).
Ancient Egyptian farming tools, first appearing in chapter 16 of the novella (Wetterstrom
and Murray, 41).
Ancient Egyptian stoneworking tools, first appearing in chapter 18 of the novella (Stocks,
324).
John's sentence of branding and life imprisonment, appearing in chapter 22 of the
novella. This is actual a compound sentence for two separate offenses. The branding mutilation
is an "eye-for-an eye" punishment, because the guard was wounded on the arm. The life
17
imprisonment is for running away from a compulsory state project—the building of the temple
(McDowell, 318).
The place of beer drinking in ancient Egyptian culture with the first instance also
happening in chapter 22 of the novella (Samuel, 171).
The structure of a boat on the Nile, appearing in chapter 25 of the novella (Ward, 281).
The use of the "deben", as a weight/calculation of value concept, in chapter 49 of the
novella (Bleiberg, 67). (Note: the first usage was a lot earlier, but after Prof. Hollis explained that
precious metals would rarely be in possession of commoners, instead it was usually a trade of
goods for goods [first appearance in chapter 15 of the novella]. I had to eliminate the earlier
reference for authenticity's sake).
Other Ancient Egyptian Milieu Research
Oxford wasn't the only source I used in my presentation of the ancient Egyptian milieu,
as is seen in the explanations below.
While I'm sure limb amputation hasn't changed in 3,000 years, (chapter 20 of the
novella), I really based the details of Ankhmahor's arm amputation experience on a Civil Warera depiction from what was the "how-to" book for surgeons (Cooper 400-401). I figured that
aside from what metal the saw and scalpel were made of, the procedure would be the same in
ancient Egypt as it was in the 1860s. In terms of Ankhmahor's reaction to the amputation, it was
a no-brainer.
The depiction of a temporary prison and the depiction of the Great Prison of Thebes
stemmed from the line: "Little is known about ancient Egyptian prisons. The smaller ones were
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possibly just a pit in the ground or a room in the police station, the larger ones may have been
fortress-like or may have resembled work-houses" (Dollinger).
Thus, John is temporarily tossed into a guarded pit in chapter 22 of the novella and the
Great Prison of Thebes in chapter 55 of the novella is an imaginative construction based on a
modern jail, just made of stone, and I surmised that guards with whips just came with the
territory.
The treatment of John's compound leg fracture in chapter 11 of the novella is a mix of
Case 36-38 from a translation of the ancient Egyptian Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus on
aldokkan.com. It speaks of treatments for arm fractures, which, I surmise, can't be much
different from treating leg fractures ("Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus").
I figured that the cataclysmic pain John was having due to his fractured leg would
warrant a form of anesthetic while getting the leg set in chapters 12 and 13 of the novella, then
Ankhmahor later on (chapter 20 of the novella).
I found an excerpt from Narcotic Drugs, by Dr. Anil Aggrawal on "opiods.com" which
stated that opium as a kind of sedative was consumed in ancient Egypt by "cretic wine" flavored
with pepper and aromatics.
The depiction of the Karnak Temple was a collaboration between my research, Prof.
Hollis and me. She informed me that the area around Karnak was quite mountainous, so, as
quick as a wink, that particular location in the imaginary universe of my story suddenly sprouted
large, windswept desert promontories (as seen in chapter 18 of the novella). Also, the scent I had
on the wind as John approaches the site ("Smoke. Sweat. Sand. Rock." also in chapter 18 of the
novella) originally included "meat" and "manure" but Prof. Hollis informed me that that
wouldn't have been present to such a degree that it would mingle with the other scents.
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I had a rough idea about the appearance of the Karnak temple, after seeing illustrations
and pictures of it in books, magazines and television. All I needed to look up was which
particular god it commemorated (Amun) (Allen, 126). This was a larger-than-life vivid image in
my head and I became John as he limps up to this gigantic temple and takes it all in, as shown in
chapter 18 of the novella.
A reference to using wooden rollers to move the stone, which I employed in Karnak in
chapter 19 of the novella, was found in the book Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology
(Nicholson and Shaw, 18).
The whole "go!" "stop!" routine in moving stone in chapter 19 of the novella was less
about official documentation and more about its melodramatic portrayal in old movies. In
another instance of cribbing, the intense osmosis method of George teaching John ancient
Egyptian in chapter 55 of the novella is taken from a similar instance in Michael Crichton's
Timeline (Crichton, 115-16).
I also knew I wanted The Boss to have cancer of some type as a vague kind of twist, but
then I came up with the idea that he wants to treat himself because of his (false) belief that
medical knowhow in ancient Egypt is vastly limited compared to the present day. Here was my
thought process: what would treat cancer? Radiation. What's radioactive? Uranium. As luck
would have it, there are uranium mines in Niger, which is reasonably close to the Nile Valley
("List of Uranium Mines"). So I had The Boss dispatch our main characters to Niger with a
Geiger counter (a device brought through the holographic portal at some point in the past) to find
uranium (chapter 53 of the novella), since they would be the only ones who would know what
The Boss is talking about regarding radiation. This was one of the only times that I trusted
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Wikipedia in this research, because it wasn't a detailed or nuanced subject, it was a basic
question—"where can uranium be found in the world?"
To establish a link between John and a top ancient Egyptian tool manufacturer, I had the
idea to have John be presented with the ancient equivalent of a business card in chapter 49 of the
novella. I had made this a clay tablet, but Prof. Hollis said that an ancient Egyptian wouldn't use
such a writing surface and said a pottery sherd would be more realistic. Thus, John is presented
with a pottery sherd by "Khasekhemwy of Thebes."
The Desert Milieu
The majority of the desert milieu, first encountered in chapter 10 of the novella, and
survival adages are courtesy of the show Survivorman (which is name-checked in the novella)
and its star and survival expert Les Stroud, specifically the episode that features his excursion
into the Sonoran desert in the southwest United States.
He spoke of dehydration, its main effects and how to conquer it. The desert heat in
general "sucks the moisture out of you quicker than you can replenish it," he asserts that you
have "2 or 3 days to find water before [you] die of dehydration," and advises that, in the desert
you should have "1 gallon of water per person per day" ("Arizona Desert").
Also, based on Les's descriptions, I was able to roughly calculate a reasonable per-day
(and night) walking distance in the desert—2 miles a day, 9 miles at night, after Prof. Hollis
rightly asserted that my original number of 20 miles covered in the daytime was absurd. The
reason why only two miles would be covered during the day is because the oppressive heat of
daytime in the desert would necessitate stopping to rest often or staying in the shade and letting
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the sun set. Once it got dark, more distance could be covered, requiring a few layers of clothing
to ward off the chill of the desert night.
Other Survival Notes
Originally, I had a well dug for the hippies to supply themselves with water in the desert,
but Prof. Hollis explained that it would have to be way deeper than I was making it, so, with her
advice, I changed it to an irrigation ditch (as seen in chapter 24 of the novella). At the bottom of
this ditch, John is suddenly sucked down into quicksand. His technique for floating atop the
quicksand comes from an episode of the other Discovery Channel survival show Man vs. Wild
where survival expert Bear Grylls is actually in the Sahara Desert ("Sahara").
Regarding the Ancient Egypt Map
On ancient Egyptian distances: The story happens in a fairly small area of ancient Egypt,
but I kept getting inconsistencies of distance as I wrote— then Prof. Hollis suggested I draw a
map—I figured out the scale and drew all of the pathways the various characters take through
this corridor—it made it far easier to keep everything consistent.
I knew the Nile skewed away from roughly north/south in that area and I placed the
Karnak temple first and I based the placement of the portal and house relative to that established
landmark. It took three solid pages of calculations in the journal to get everything aligned
correctly. The scale of the map was courtesy of the inside cover of a modern Egyptian
guidebook, which became about 10 miles to the inch (Haag). But, in order to have the map look
better, she advised me to find an already-drawn map in a book, copy it, and then inscribe all the
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distances and other info on that. I accomplished this with a map from the book Atlas of Ancient
Egypt (Baines, Malek, 109).
Intuitive Verisimilitude
There were some elements of the ancient Egyptian milieu that depended more on
common human patterns that have persisted to this day.
Finding direction by stars (first instance: chapter 10 of the novella) was going to be my
secondary direction-finding technique and I actually wrote elaborate scenes featuring magnetite,
a rock attracted to the magnetic North Pole, almost miraculously showing our main characters
the desired direction with a very pronounced spinning motion. But Prof. Hollis reminded me that
magnetite just doesn't do that in reality. So Polaris as the North Star (which is common
knowledge) became the primary direction-finding technique for the characters.
It made sense that the cycle of day from sunup to sundown chapter 16 of the novella
would follow the same pattern as today i.e., plant the seeds, break for food and drink.
The daily chores while the crop grew, also in chapter 16 of the novella, seemed logical,
described by John as "simple survival. Milk the goats, shear the sheep, grind the wheat, bake the
bread, haul the water, etc."
A final note about the use of ancient Egyptian textual sources—around 10/6/09 I tried to
become a crack ancient linguist with the help of the grammatical rules on page 236 of
Silverman's Ancient Egypt. In the end, it wasn't going to happen. In reality, the proper study of
Ancient Egyptian linguistics takes years.
Manhattan 2009, Post Nuclear Explosion
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Looking at the photographs in the photographic inserts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the
book The Making of the Atomic Bomb provided me with a vivid picture of what a nuked city
would look like, and this is depicted in chapter 30 of the novella (Rhodes).
Intuitive Verisimitude
Jewish customs—the day of rest, the distinctive cadence of their speech, (all in Chapter
31 of the novella) were picked up by osmosis over the years.
The Milieu of Manhattan, 3,000 Years From Present
Les Stroud helped again with construction of a lean-to and the importance of establishing
fire, shelter, and food in a survival situation in chapter 37 in the novella ("Canadian Boreal
Forest").
I dressed the Native Americans in fur clothing in chapter 37 of the novella based on
information from the Delaware Indian Tribe homepage ("Delaware [Lenape] Tribe of Indians:
Clothing")
Basic Lenape for "Manhattan" is another Wikipedia find, an entry that sourced the
Encyclopedia of New York City. There were several names given for Manhattan, but I chose to
use "Manahatouh" in chapter 38 of the novella not because it means, "place where timber is
procured for bows and arrows," but because it sounds the most like the modern-day
pronunciation of "Manhattan," specifically the "man-ha" part ("Lenapehoking").
Basic Lenape words, first appearing in chapter 38 of the novella came from the same
place as the chiefs name—the Lenape Talking Dictionary.
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"Burning" trees down with adze, then shaping the trunk, a process starting in chapter 42
of the novella is also described on an offshoot of the Delaware Indian Tribe Homepage
("Delaware [Lenape] Tribe of Indians: Fishing").
Another piece of Les Stroud's advice that I deployed in chapter 38 of the novella was that
eating all parts of an animal, including organs and bone marrow, would provide a comprehensive
mix of required nutrients ("Plane Crash").
Intuitive Versimilitude
The view from the Palisades in chapter 38 of the novella is based on the many times that I
have crossed the George Washington Bridge in my life.
Since historians have very little evidence as to the complete cultural milieu of the Lenape
3,000 years ago, I took several instances of poetic license, but not just randomly, I gauged this
verisimilitude with the "it sounds right" test. Thus, it sounds right that the Native Americans
wear face paint in chapter 37, but I was vague about how the face paint looked. It sounds right
that the village medicine man would have a bear face on his head (chapter 38 of the novella), as
it would probably have some mystical significance. It sounds right that Native American food
would consist of deer, also appearing in chapter 38 of the novella, because I know from my
childhood that there were and are plenty of deer in this area, even after the development of the
modern New York-Metropolitan area. It sounds right that wolf would be consumed in chapter 40
of the novella, because in this unforgiving wild world of Stone Age Manhattan, I'm sure any sort
of nourishing proteins would be greatly appreciated. It sounds right that the layout of the Native
American village was huts-surrounding-a-firepit in chapter 38 of the novella, because this has
been the basic layout of small, simple settlements across the world and throughout history. It
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sounds right that fur coats were made from otter skin with hair thread and bone needles in
chapter 40 of the novella because all of those materials would be plentiful in the stone age Native
American world and the diversity of animals not subject to scarcity by excessive human
development would allow for the existence of the otter in this area.
Finally, it sounds right that the peace pipe would be used to smoke marijuana in chapter
42 of the novella. I have an unsubstantiated theory that tobacco wasn't the only thing being
smoked in the peace pipe; also, I feel that the name "peace pipe" implies smoking something that
would make you "peaceful," a good description of cannabis.
The Catamaran
I decided to have the characters conceptualize and build a catamaran to bring them back
to Egypt from Stone Age Manhattan, beginning on chapter 40 of the novella.
The catamaran is one of the most stable watercraft designs—despite its awkwardness
with tacking. I was able to get a basic idea of its characteristics from Wikipedia. It made sense to
have my characters make one, as I actually wanted (most of them, anyway) to survive a crossing
of the Atlantic Ocean.
The design of the steam engine in chapter 42 of the novella was of my own devising. I
figured that I needed to produce steam to get the propeller going. I thought this could be done
with the simple formula of two chambers, one filled with burning wood and the other filled with
water, and the steam turned an unspecified mechanism that turned the propeller. With all the
other story concerns, I wasn't going to get too in-depth here, as I didn't want to take away
momentum from the plot.
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An article in American Indian Quarterly journal spoke of hemp as a widely used material
by the Lenape tribe, being used to make mats, ropes, hats and baskets (Caffrey, 46). Thus, in the
novella, hemp rope is used to lash together the catamaran and a sail is composed of hemp.
One more note about the design of the catamaran, the "lateen sail" design in chapter 43 of
the novella was courtesy of Prof. Hollis, who has knowledge and experience with boats and
sailing.
And so we have the catamaran, called "Time Traveler" by the characters, but ultimately
looked like a floating log cabin in my mind's eye.
The Boat Journey Back to Egypt
A major incident in the Atlantic crossing is the catamaran hitting a storm (chapter 44 in
the novella) Originally, I had this as a hurricane, but Prof Hollis pointed out that there would be
no hurricanes in early spring, so I changed it to a bad storm and a rogue wave—this was not to
just give the characters a hard time, but also to kill off Bill, to make the character population in
the story a little leaner.. .then to get rid of his body, I had to have it eaten by sharks, there was no
other way to eliminate it from the story, that I could figure out.
I got the notion to have protagonist John compare wave height to building height during
the storm from an episode of Deadliest Catch, a show about the experience of crab fishing in the
Bering Sea. In one episode, an inexperienced greenhorn is brought out to sea for the first time
and completely bugs out and demands to be taken back to shore. That was part of his description
when the producers of the show interviewed him—"I've never seen waves the size of buildings
before" ("Finish Line").
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The effects of dehydration on the body during the crossing, depicted in excruciating
detail beginning in chapter 46 of the novella seen during the crossing are covered above in Les
Stroud's desert commentary.
When the characters get to the west coast of Africa, the description of that scenery
beginning in chapter 46 of the novella was influenced by the photos from Michael Fay's
Megatransect, which was covered in a story published in National Geographic Magazine. He is a
scientist who walked 2,000 km across the Congo Basin in Africa with a team to study the flora
and fauna. The vivid pictures from his triumphant arrival at the Atlantic Ocean instantly popped
into my brain as I wrote the scene (Nichols, 74-103).
I wanted the soldiers at Gibraltar in chapter 48 of the novella to be Egyptian so
Ankhmahor could talk to them and their could be some cool Egyptian stuff happening, but Prof.
Hollis said that there was no evidence that Egyptians were there at that time, but eventually I
found out that the scene could work without any Egyptian connection, so they became some
random local inhabitants indicating intent with pantomime and facial expression.
Interlude: Intercultural Communication
The above is but one of the examples of intercultural communication, the first one was in
chapter 13 of the novella. The whole work is filled with plenty of examples of gestures and
pantomiming to convey meaning between cultures that don't share a language.
Intuitive Verisimilitude
In their final attempt to kill the antagonist The Boss, protagonist John and his cohorts
needed to find the palace in Thebes (chapter 52 of the novella) and I had the location called "the
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biggest and most elaborately decorated structure that wasn't a temple in all of Thebes." It makes
sense, since the palace would be housing the pharaoh, who was considered a living god.
The Writing Process
My General Disposition While Writing the Novella
Writing the journal really enabled me to track my disposition throughout the writing
process. I feel that really evoking my moods as represented in journal, providing a date and
excerpting passages is the way to go. Also, I have interjected with present-day reflections on
such passages, which help put the journal entries in context with a bit of call-and-response
structure. I didn't include every little emotional blip, just representative ones of dominant
emotions.
But ultimately, despite my galloping nervousness, as I declared in my final project
proposal, the rigorous requirements of the MALS program "Kept my writing mind limber and
informed."
8/21/09: Writing the journal is, believe it or not, the part of the final project that worries
me the most. I am afraid that I will not be able to remember "the process" of writing a section of
the book right after I do it. I imagine that that fear will die down once I start. Well, I have an
outline written, I'm waiting for Prof Hollis to respond to that and to my final project proposal in
general. Butterflies, nervousness, etc...
A present-day response: When you live and breathe the contents of a large-scale fiction
work for half a year, you don't forget the process too easily. This worry was unfounded, but
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understandable. The anxiety before hearing back from the professors about the piece of the work
of the moment permeated the entire process.. .but, then again, I've always been prone to anxiety.
11/14/09: I'm afraid that the story will end before I reach 100 pages.
Reflections in the present day: this worry was unfounded, the resolution of the plot
placed it 17 pages past 100.
11/15/09: about the 101 time in the journal that I express my wish that the dialogue not
be corny. But, of course, that's a relative perspective...
Reflections in the present day: my work on refining characterization made dialogue less
forced and less prone to corniness.
11/16/09: It's funny, I have the same pattern—I feel like I can't make the three pages a
day, but then the inspiration flows and I groove...(later on in the day) Things are flowing really
well today. I am definitely having a writing jag, and all of the elements are fitting together
nicely. The 25-page goal is really pushing me along.
Reflections in the present day: It's all about consistent application of willpower. Do this
routinely enough throughout the writing process and the next thing you know, the work is done.
11/29/09: It kind of feels like I'm concentrating on minutiae, but I want everything in the
story to have a valid source.
Reflections in the present day: concentrating on minutiae, while maddening at times, is
necessary. To paraphrase a popular saying: "Good is in the details."
12/7/09: Red letter day! I finished the first draft and had what I feel is the best ending—
Stoney, Scooter and our hero helping to rebuild society.
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Reflections in the present day: Of course, like many things in the novella, the ending
changed to John's reunion with Joy, but I definitely had a joyous disposition with the completion
of the first draft.
Editing the Story (Post first draft completion)
Editing after completing the first draft mainly consisted of what I called "marathons,"
such as 12/10/09's "7-hour editing marathon," focused on making the narrative three
dimensional, as advised, which involved ruminating on every element and taking my time. The
funny thing is I would set deadlines, which I guess is good from a scheduling standpoint, but
things inevitably took longer than I expected, which instilled that infamous emotion of anxiety.
The Journal as a "Cutting Room Floor"
I saw the diary as a kind of "cutting room floor," I would propose scenes or plot
twists/revelations, ruminate over them, and decide not to include them. Cut examples (there are a
bunch): some ancient note written by a modern guy in ancient Egypt that gets discovered in the
modern day (this was before I decided to nuke Manhattan), John gets pursued for some reason
and his only escape is the portal, things like that.
A Turning Point in the Creation of the Novella
10/12/09: It is interesting, in the planning stages, the novella seemed to be mostly about
the twists and turns of the plot, but now, the characters are beginning to come alive, and my
priorities seemed to have changed from plot to characterization.
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Reflections in the present day: Eventually, plot and characterization got equal attention in
the revision process.
Miscellaneous Editing Moments
11/17/09:1 began using asterisks in the journal to highlight things to keep in mind when
revising. For example, remembering that during a certain span of action, the Nile is flooded, so
when the characters somehow interact with the Nile, this helps to keep their experiences
consistent.
What My First and Second Readers Helped with Specifically
Prof. Murphy really helped bring the characters to life and Prof. Hollis helped with
accuracy in the ancient Egyptian milieu, fixing plot holes, spelling and grammar.
Prof. Hollis pointed out plot holes, and the process of "filling in" each hole was like a unraveling
a puzzle, rethinking a point in the narrative to make it more plausible or correcting
anachronisms.
Interlude: The Classes, In General
The classes seemed to me the be a kind of scholarly rite of passage.. .go through two-plus
years of graduate-level essay writing and you've earned the right to work on a project of your
own devising, as long as you show your work (i.e., this reflection paper). This isn't meant to be a
disparaging comment. I'm quite proud of myself for successfully working my tail off for
days/weeks/months/years to finally be at the cusp of a Master's Degree.
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Seminar in Liberal Studies
This was (as intended), a basic graduate writing course and really got me familiar with
the rigors of the "thesis statement and back it up with evidence" format of graduate essay
writing. The most memorable moment was devising an essay on Dimmesdale's actions in The
Scarlet Letter in the waiting room of the hospital while my niece was being born.
Models of Critical Inquiry: Art, Representation and the Body
This class was centered on scholarly analysis of works of art, which was cool because the
voluptuous works of Michelangelo and his Renaissance cohorts has always captivated me. The
interesting part of this class were the reviews of artwork that were created in the early 20th
century that focused on what reviewers claimed were blatantly sexual representations of women,
while contemporary reviewers saw a wider variety of representation in the same works.
Perspectives on Interdisciplinary Studies
This class was a planning course on what my program would consist of based on my
goals in the final project. I had a very rough idea of what I wanted to do for the story, I knew it
had to do with power and control in Egypt somehow with some kind of sci fi link to the modern
world and that informed my course selections. But, as was expected, I could not have foreseen
the Native American milieu and other subjects that popped up in the finished work.
Literature Review
Creating a literature review was unlike anything I had ever done before. I did a practice
literature review on African American Science Fiction authors, which included such icons as
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Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler. It gave me something to really sink my teeth into and
get to know the literature review procedure, but not something with a ridiculously huge scope;
then I did the main literature review for my proposed courses, which was unfortunately lost in a
hard drive crash. But what ended up happening is the professors who taught the classes for which
I developed a reading list for mostly ended up assigning me different books from what was in my
literature review. That doesn't diminish the value of the literature review as a class; it provided a
great preliminary exploration of the subject matter that ended up being part of the novella.
Ideal Worlds: Utopian Literature
This class, a basic graduate-level essay writing class, enabled me to place my concept of
"Corporatia" among the iconic utopian/dystopian works, like Utopia and Brave New World.
History and Culture of Ancient Egypt
If the essay writing introduced and emphasized in the first three required classes in the
MALS program were like Army boot camp, then the "History and Culture of Ancient Egypt"
class was like training for the Navy SEALs. Properly writing each essay usually involved days
and weeks of reading essays on archaeological evidence that wasn't necessarily
straightforwardly explained, definitively interpreted due to sometimes-fragmented evidence or
even translated into English. For example, in one instance, I got really excited that I had found a
translated ancient document (I forget which one), and this was especially exciting because it
really helped support my thesis statement. But it was in German! And to top it off, no English
translation existed. This class takes the top spot for most challenging in the MALS program.
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Related to the final project, being able to pick and choose what aspects of the ancient
Egyptian milieu I wanted to feature in the novella enabled me to have fun with the data in a
literary manner—instead of having to be in lockstep with academic requirements.
Writing Science Fiction
Prof. Weinstein was cool and hip and actually a math professor who was really teaching
the class "for fun." He even commented that he wasn't sure how he was going to get paid. He got
me into Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Crawford Kilian's
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, both of which became veritable bibles to me, as they
explained every aspect of the sci fi story and placed them in context with actual works. I wrote a
short story in this class that could be considered the direct ancestor of my final project, as it
featured a lot of the same elements, i.e., brainwashing by mass media and mind control
microchips, to name a few.
Power/Knowledge in Sci Fi Lit
My dominant memory of this class was the works of Michel Foucault. At this point in the
program, I wasn't sure what philosophies of power I would be using in the novella, so studying
Foucault was kind of a dead end, and despite his highly challenging translations from French, his
ideas about the wielding of power were fascinating, once I understood them. This class takes
second place for "most challenging."
Psychology of Art
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Theories of creativity consumed me in this class. Being that creativity in words and
music is basically my whole life, I obsessively pored over this course material. I am sure that my
brain engaged in some of the creative paradigms that I read about for this class in the process of
writing the novella, but I was too busy writing to discern them.
Narrative Structure and the Novel Form
The result of this class was the completed first draft of the novella. It didn't start out as
smoothly as the rest of the process of creating the novella, as can be observed by Prof. Murphy's
advice and the notes to myself.
9/3/09:1 was advised by Prof Murphy to get started with the work by writing an opening
scene introducing the main character. Around this time, I also came up with the "describe the
book in one sentence"—"insidious power grabs across time and space."
Reflections in the present day: This was when my heart was set on making the
protagonist a janitor.
9/5/09: Maybe to get into the "show not tell" groove, I should translate telling to
showing, as seen in the prior example.. .another big question in this first scene: what is the
conflict and how is it resolved.
Reflections in the present day: In the end, I just let go of all expectations and just wrote
what I felt.
9/21/09: Prof Murphy declared that 3 rd person "deaden[ed] the action quite a bit."
Her critique made me be a bit obsessive-compulsive; I declared that I must "read her critique
over and over until it clicks," but it actually worked.
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9/22/09: Wow, the Is person perspective makes the narrative "pop" more. I attempted to
make the janitor not well spoken, but that felt forced and not natural to me. Of course, once I
made him a marketing guy, being well spoken seemed to make more sense for the character.
10/5/09: Apparently I was prone to italics, which Prof. Murphy felt was "overkill and
unnecessary." She continued by urging me on—"At this point I want to tell you to just get on a
huge writing jag. I would propose that you aim to write a little over 2 pages per day, approx. 15
per week. This will put you at over 100 pages by the end of the term. That would be an
EXCELLENT place to start when you start working on your final project in general."
Reflection in the present day: This truly was the turning point in the creation of the
novella. In that solid month, the structure of the book solidified into essentially what it is now in
the final draft. All that needed to be fixed was language and authenticity issues, and minor
character actions.
11/17/09:1 know that I've really been showing how almost every concept I thought of
about the story was born, they're coming too fast and furious to examine each and every last
one—we'll see how this journal evolves from that point.
11/18/09: On this day I wrote a whole passage (Hoffman's gun being tentatively
approached after he was bludgeoned to death in chapter 17 of the novella) in the journal and
extracted it almost intact for use in the novella. This happens a few more times over the course of
the writing.
Most of the rest of November and December '09 was spent sketching out scenes in the
journal, some of which I used, some of which I didn't, examples of which are above.
11/24/09: Prof. Murphy gave me really encouraging remarks on this day:
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"What's working best so far in these chapters are your tone, your dialogue, the interesting
many-leveled concepts and quirky plot developments. The business meetings are hilarious and
delightfully strange! George is a thoroughly fascinating figure!"
Adages That Helped Me in the Creation of the Novella
9/3/09: A paraphrase from Crawford Kilian about scenes that stuck with me and helped
me organize myself: "the basic unit of a novel is a scene and each scene begins with a conflict
that must be resolved at the end of a scene" (Kilian, 112-115).
Stephen King's Two Adages
Stephen King's On Writing was an inspirational book for me and I hungrily devoured it
when it came out. King gives a comprehensive perspective on writing (thus the title) and
provides a great collection of adages. Thus, he gets his own section.
"Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little
scribbler's heart, kill your darlings," says King (222). In context, this quote is about getting rid of
ideas you are attached to in order to quicken the plot. I took this adage to heart, but it also urged
me to put my characters through hell, a variation on the "kill your darlings" theme. There are
several instances of this in the novella, usually a character dying, which is a major point of grief
for the still-living— Joy dying (chapter 2 of the novella), Phyllis dying (chapter 14 of the
novella), Jim/Ankhmahor losing his arm (chapter 20 of the novella), the nuking of NYC (chapter
30 of the novella), the catamaran sailing into a storm (chapter 44 of the novella), Scooter losing
his father (chapter 31 of the novella), Flipper dying (chapter 38 of the novella), Bill dying
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(chapter 45 of the novella), and a few others. But character deaths also come from a second King
adage, when he felt he had too many characters in his landmark work The Stand, as he says:
"The world of my story was becoming dangerously overcrowded—a veritable Calcutta.
The solution to where I was stuck... [was] one quick, hard slash of the Gordian knot," referring to
an explosion that kills off a character (King, 203-204). This sudden simplification of the story
inspired me to simplify my own situation by killing off characters when having them around was
too much of a liability to a lean, straightforward plot.
Literary Techniques
Foreshadowing
I toyed a bit with foreshadowing, but as it became apparent, more subtle usages of it
worked better within the plot, I didn't want to make it too much of a lengthy interlude.
Insertions of foreshadowing: John's weird dream (chapter 2 of the novella), the pregnant cow
(chapter 16 of the novella), Stoney's "lover revelation," (chapter 38 of the novella) after
mentioning lingering pats onto Flipper's back by Stony (chapter 29 of the novella), and the like,
John explaining how a gun works and not to point at yourself or anyone you didn't want to kill
(chapter 33 of the novella), and then, after Bill dies, Jim points the gun at himself (chapter 45 of
the novella). Also, the Lenape chief saves the canoeist (chapter 39 of the novella), making it
convincing that he could save John later (chapter 42 of the novella). Finally, no wine to break
over the bow of the catamaran worrying John (also chapter 42 of the novella), followed by the
catamaran encountering the storm (chapter 44 of the novella). Most of the foreshadowing
actually came about in later edits, when plot elements solidified.
39
Plot Twists
Sudden plot revelations and twists are some of my favorite parts of the book. I had fun
dreaming up their reactions and reveled in the suddenly fresh canvas on which I could add a new
wrinkle to the plot. Some examples of this are when the protagonist and his group get their first
look at a nuked New York City in chapter 30 of the novella, in Stone Age Manhattan, when they
accidently detonate a bag of grenades in chapter 37 of the novella, directly leading to a
character's death, the revelation that Essence is pregnant in chapter 54 of the novella, and finally,
when it is revealed that nothing has changed in Manhattan even after The Boss was killed, in the
Epilogue of the novella.
Exposition
There's also some useful exposition in the novella—that clues the reader in on the
universe of the story: when Scooter finds his parents in the ruins of Manhattan and his mom
reveals the chaos of Discount Day, which was when the full brunt of brainwashing was
unleashed by Ourcorp on the general public (chapter 31 in the novella). Also, the boss's
explanation of his place in the pantheon of history's rulers (chapter 13 in the novella) (but as far
as him telling the truth, he might not be), and Nefer, the neighbor woman attacking Ankhmahor
in chapter 55 of the novella was great for exposition, for finding out what happened to the rest of
Ankhmahor's family.
Climaxes
40
I feel there is a false climax in the novella, followed by the real climax and then a
denouement. False climax one: the protagonist and his team of crack assassins shooting the
person who they think is The Boss in chapter 52 of the novella, but it turns out to be the actual
pharaoh leading to a cool plot twist, wherein the protagonist, et. al, are captured. Then the real
climax happens, which is The Boss's death, in chapter 55 of the novella.
The Boss's death seemed right to me; after he essentially rapes Essence, attempts to kill
George, imprisons John, and everything else he did, I feel that he had this coming (and I hope the
readers felt the same way) Thus, Essence in collaboration with George, are the "angels of death."
Also I feel the decision to get a decoy body to properly mummify and bury "the pharaoh" with
the proper ceremony in chapter 55 of the novella would be a quite reasonable response to The
Boss's death. I feel like the administrators would want to preserve the image of the pharaoh at all
costs and not give any usurpers any excuse to claim power.
Then, we have the Epilogue. Scooter reappears, brings UMT 2's brain home, and adds a
big element of bittersweetness to the story, since the nuclear explosion was unavoidable and
nothing done in the past could prevent it. John was wrong all along. But not all hope is lost; as it
appears that he was actually able to truly reunite with Joy. UMT's reaction to the opening of this
portal was the articulation of the holographic notion of all in one or one in all.
Miscellany
Pop Culture References
On the MacGyver reference in chapter 22 of the novella: this was a 80s television show
depicting a rugged man-about-town, who could create objects out of innocuous materials that
41
would get him out of jams. A pop culture reference that will be a point of recognition for some
readers and is me just having a bit of fun.
Regarding the George Foreman reference in chapter 22 of the novella: George Foreman
is a former boxer who found Jesus and became a kind of "whimsical brute" who hawks products
on shopping channels. He would be on the next channel after the Ronco knife infomerical
mentioned above. Again, just me having a little fun.
Excessiveness
Excessiveness is very much a widespread, modern psychological thing—the desire to
acquire guns and ammo. Why were guns chosen as the weapons to kill the boss and anyone else
that got in the way, when he could have easily been killed with a knife or rock or some other
weapon contemporary with ancient Egypt. Excessiveness I guess could be another form of
brainwashing—did they really need a grenade launcher?
42
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49
CORPORATIA HOLOGRAPHIA
ANOVELLA
A CREATIVE PROJECT
by
Michael R. Isenbek
Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
in
liberal studies
Empire State College
State University of New York
2010
First Reader: Susan Hollis
Second Reader: Yvonne Murphy
(approx. 450 miles from
Rosetta to Jim and Bill's
house)
Final leg of the trip from
Stone Age Manhattan.
Cenotaph temples, including
those of Sethos I and Harnesses I
Beit Khallaf
Mastaba tombs of ird Dynasty.
Akhmirn
Map courtesy of the Atlas ofAncient Egypt by
John Baines and Jaromir Malek, New York:
Facts on File Publications, 1980, page 109.
Travels and Landmarks in Ancient
Egypt for the Primary Characters in
Corporatia Holographia
Small temple of Min at el-Qal'a.
Dendara
Temple of Hathor in enclosure
with subsidiary buildings.
Chapter 1
"Sign here, and here, initial here," the pasty-faced, tall, thin three-piece-suited human
resources guy said in a snobby voice, brandishing a pen in his bony fingers and crisply pointing
to each contract element. It seemed strange that a marketing company needed some things kept
secret. But I needed the money. And OurCorp was willing to pay. Ah, capitalism. A few things
jumped out at me as I looked through the text of the nondisclosure agreement. The text was
really small and ran together, seemingly photocopied to death:
The Recipient agrees not to use the Confidential Information in any way or manufacture or test
any product embodying Confidential Information... The Recipient agrees to use their best efforts
to prevent and protect the Confidential Information...The Recipient agrees to take all steps
reasonably necessary to protect the secrecy of the Confidential Information...
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I thought. Then I read the final sentence: Any violation of these terms
could lead to criminal prosecution or other consequences.
"Other consequences? " I thought.
Then there was the general contract, the W-2, and the rest of the documents. Most were
boilerplate documents, but the one titled "Helmet Clause" caught my eye in particular.
"Helmets?" I asked. The HR guy gave me a grim look, his bespectacled eyes beady and piercing,
and I read the text: You will occasionally be asked to activate emergency sensory deprivation
helmets on short notice. The wearing of the deactivated helmet is required at all times, and it is
strongly recommended that the employee wear it when not at work. The helmet will begin
beeping when activation is recommended. It will automatically disengage when the activation
period has ended. OurCorp is NOT RESPONSIBLE for the consequences of a deactivated helmet
when activation is suggested. This was weird, but the HR guy produced the helmet. It looked just
1
like a regular ball cap with the OurCorp logo on the front and some really small buttons on the
side. I put it on. Not bad, I thought. It fit like the millions of other ball caps. I began molding the
brim and he pointed to the sensory deprivation activation switch, a red button on the side. I
pushed it. It was horrible. It felt like a giant claw sliding down over my head and grasping my
face hard enough to burst my eyes from their sockets, shatter my jaw, and splatter my brains
across the room. I couldn't see or hear anything and I started panicking, trying to pull the mask
off and screaming and screaming. Despite the racket I was making, I felt Joy was near. I could
just barely hear her small voice whispering Daddy? Daddy? That just made me scream louder. I
felt the HR guy press the button. The mask disengaged. "I'm so sorry, I had it at its tightest
setting," he said. He pointed out the pressure adjustment switch. I tried it again after a long
hesitation. It still felt tight, but not overly so. I could hear my heart beating. In this setting, it was
like having a blood pressure cuff wrapped around your head. I was not looking forward to this
thing beeping.
Then the HR guy said, "this isn't on the contract but you will occasionally encounter The
Boss. He is our visionary founder. When you see him approach you, don't make eye contact. Do
not acknowledge his presence." Jeez, he sounds like a snob, I thought. Then he said the starting
salary. Wow, they really are willing to pay, I thought. I tried to play it cool, but I think my eyes
bugged out of my skull. "That sounds great," I said. "I would wear a dress to work for that
salary," I thought. "Or a sensory deprivation helmet."
Then I met my supervisor and found out that I would be selling ads to television stations.
Piece of cake. It would be for Discount Day. The plan was to have unprecedented discounts
across almost every market in existence. For example, what was originally $1,000 of groceries
would be around $100 at almost every national supermarket chain. "People will go bananas for
2
this, " I thought. I had about a month to sell my pink behind off. Too bad I would soon find out
that in exchange for these discounts the consumer would be essentially giving away their soul.
Things started getting really weird. As if the helmet wasn't weird enough. Walking
through the building, I would occasionally come upon a door with a "do not disturb" sign on it.
One night one of these rooms sounded like the center of a tornado through the door. "Screw the
sign, " I thought. I had to check out what was going on. I opened the door and saw a large metal
frame on one side of the room. It was about ten feet high and six feet wide. There were what
looked like guns at each corner, and they were firing crackling purple beams into the very center
of the rectangle. The air smelled of ozone. What looked like a golden sphere grew in size at this
central point, which gradually turned into what looked like a circular aperture, which expanded
to almost fill the entire frame. "A new kind of movie screen? " I thought. It was an obvious desert
scene with sand, a bright blue sky, and wind blowing the scenery around and forming filigree
cyclones in the sand. Then I felt a warm breeze and a sensation similar to putting one's head near
an oven. Then I noticed there was sand spreading out into the room, piling up onto the tile floor.
Then a person stepped out the screen, dressed like a safari guide, all khaki with a wide-brimmed
hat. "What? How are you doing that?!" I blurted. They froze when they saw me. Even though the
scene shocked me, I had the presence of mind to say, "I signed an agreement, I see nothing."
They chuckled, but then ignored me and were talking excitedly about vectors and temperature
gradients while gesturing wildly. I edged out of the room and closed the door. My head was
spinning, spewing question after question as I walked down the hall back to my office. 'What
exactly were the lasers doing? How in hell did this supposed TV screen spill out into reality? "
Daddy! Daddy! Joy was talking to me again, and a scream caught in my throat. I was sad, but I
was sane. This wasn't good. I wanted it to be Joy, talking to me from wherever she was, and it
3
sure as hell sounded like she was begging for contact. But I could also be cracking up, on the
road to being a gibbering wreck in an asylum blurting delusional nonsense. Flashing back to
reality, I realized that what I saw in that room was just as impossible as Joy in spirit. Just a
marketing company? Bull. But I had signed the papers; I wasn't about to jeopardize my job. Yet.
Then I happened upon the body on a table.
I had just completed another too-easy sale to the History Channel when I heard a
commotion in the same hallway as the strange sand-filled aperture I had seen before. I heard
voices that sounded stressed out— "what should we do with him? Someone should get The Boss.
I ain't doin' it! Just get 'em outta sight, then we'll figure out what to do." After I heard their
footsteps stop, I tried the door to the room. It opened. I switched on the lights. It smelled like
alcohol. There was a naked man lying on the metal table. Another OurCorp incongruency. This
place was starting to look less like a white-collar business and more like some kind of crazy
biology/physics lab. I had to take a closer look at this squat, heavy set man who didn't seem to be
breathing. Across the body were red and black marks, and sand was caked around his lower
torso. The arms and legs were lumpy and I found myself staring at a bright white protrusion on
his lower leg. I almost vomited when I realized that it was a leg bone sticking out of the skin. It
looked like he had taken a pretty severe beating. I was about to pretend I didn't see the body and
leave when the man's eyes flew open. He yelled, "I'M LOVIN IT!" which scared the shit out of
me. Then man continued: "2.5 PERCENT APR FINANCING!" He kept talking: "It was dark! I
kept pressing the button, but it didn't work. They were babbling! Then they started kicking me
until it hurt. My God I hurt! I barely made it back to the portal!" The man started crying. "Thank
God I'm back!" The man on the table said. I had to ask: "Where did you go?" "Egypt," the man
said. Before I could ask anything else, the door opened and another man dressed in a three-piece
4
suit entered. I recognized him as upper management. He pulled a syringe out of his pocket.
"John, I think your phone is ringing," he said, with a look that seemed to mean could you leave
immediately? As I left, I could have sworn he injected air into the man on the table.
Then the second Egypt connection happened. There was once again a noticeable ruckus
near my office, and I went to investigate it. I heard yelling, which sounded like English, then I
heard screeching in what was obviously a foreign language. Then a door flew open, slamming
into the wall. A dark-skinned guy in what looked like a white kilt ran out of the room, tracking
sand all over the floor. I started in on him, ignoring the strangeness. "Hey, I'm trying to get some
work done here!" I stopped. He looked at me, and his eyes looked like dinner plates. His mouth
moved up and down but no sound came out. Then I smelled urine and noticed it dripping down
his leg. Then he started talking to me. He said the same thing over and over in a language that
sounded a long way from English.
Then he ran past me, still spewing out syllables, followed by four or five guys who
seemed to be panicking, there eyes as wide as the man they were chasing.
I had to follow to see what would happen. He seemed to be as fast as an Olympic
sprinter. He got to the doorway and got one look at the NYC sidewalk and street scene and
seemed to be more freaked out than he already was. His head was flying around from left to right
and I could hear his screams over the din of the traffic. He noticed Central Park right across the
street, and this must have been less freaky than the fast walkers and taxicabs, so he sprinted into
the trees and disappeared. The guys were right behind him.
I started back into the building, almost running into someone at the door. My eyes locked
onto his. They were deep and intense, and the longer I stared the scarier he appeared. The look
was broken when my supervisor addressed him, and the scary guy turned around. ".. .It definitely
5
worked perfectly this time sir, we should have foreseen the mental trauma, though. As you know,
things were quite different back then ..." He stopped when he saw me, giving me a look that said
move along. I walked slowly down the hall to try and catch what they were saying, but my
supervisor stared at me until I stepped into the elevator. I had to know what was really going on
and I began plotting an eavesdropping campaign. But these guys were smart; I would have to be
really careful.
The freaked out guy made CNN that night. I nearly passed it while I was channel surfing.
".. .and professor, you say that this clearly mentally disturbed man was speaking in ancient
Egyptian?" the anchor said. "Yes he was, there is no doubt." "So what?" the anchor said, not
impressed. "Ancient Egyptian is a dead language. Only scholars actively use it," the professor
said. "So maybe this man is a scholar?" the anchor said. "The weird thing is that his vocabulary
is very limited, and he was dressed like a typical ancient Egyptian farmer," the professor said. "It
still sounds like a crazy obsessive to me. Professor, what does this all mean?" the anchor finally
asked. "I'm not sure ultimately, but I do know something, I could sure use a Coke right about
now, how about you?" "No thanks, I prefer Diet Sprite." Then they just stopped, like they were
waiting for directions that hadn't come yet through their earpieces. What the hell? The random
soda comments were weird enough, but this was just bizarre. Then the helmet began beeping. I
slid it on, making sure it wasn't on the "brain extruding" setting and activated it. As I sat there,
hearing and seeing nothing, Joy's voice broke into my consciousness. Daddy? Daddy? I love
you.
Chapter 2
6
How much time did we have to save her? How many seconds passed until she was
beyond saving, choking on that goddamn carrot, when her heart stopped and couldn't be
restarted? I'm still desperate for those few seconds between her possible revival, and the finality
of her death. Kids and their curiosity. At some point one of us had dropped the small slice of
carrot and she must have found it. Curious about the sudden silence coming from her playroom, I
found her turning red, then blue, and looking at me, eyes wide, panicking, thrashing. Then, after
I started the Heimlich, and even after the carrot was finally dislodged, she just stopped. Her eyes
stayed open, but she was dead. At 3 years old. It was beyond surreal watching the EMTs cart off
her lifeless body, frantically trying CPR all the way to the hospital, where she was officially
pronounced dead. I cried and cried and cried. I begged God or Allah or whoever the hell created
the universe to bring Joy back.
Jeannie couldn't even look at me. I got the silent treatment the next day, and from then on
we only talked when absolutely necessary. We slept in separate beds. But the house was paid for,
the refrigerator well stocked, the bills paid for the month. Spirit-crushing anguish is hard to
describe.
Then, about a week later, while falling asleep in front of the TV, while in that weird
space between sleep and wakefulness, inside my mind, I heard the words Daddy! Daddy! I cried
out with excitement "Joy! Joy! Where are you?!" But all I heard was Daddy! Repeated over and
over. That was it. Eventually, exhaustion took over, and I fell asleep on the couch. When I awoke
suddenly around 4 am, I had the vague impression of dream where I was being examined closely
by a few longhaired hippies, a pharaoh in full regalia, and a robot. The distinct odor of marijuana
and incense hung in the air. A few hours later, OurCorp called. They liked my resume.
7
Chapter 3
It turned out to be 5 minutes until the helmet disengaged and I escaped my rancid breath,
and the squish of my beating heart. On the TV was a Discount Day commercial, with an
Average-Joe guy with a blissful expression and outstretched arms caught in a deluge of coins and
bills declaring "THIS IS ALL THE MONEY YOU'LL HAVE LEFT OVER AFTER
DISCOUNT DAY!" Then the phone rang. It was Jeannie. After four months of absolutely no
news or any kind of contact. I really thought our relationship was over. Completely over. "Oh
my God, Jeannie, its so good to hear from you," I blurted. "H-hi," she muttered, sounding
almost...sedated. More small talk followed, but she sounded more and more fuzzy. Finally there
was a silence. "Are you okay?" I asked. "I don't know..." she said. "B-but I do know..." "Know
what?" "Do you know about George," she asked. I assumed this was a new boyfriend, but I told
her no. "Well George is coming in about a week, and he's going to make everyone feel all right."
"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked. I was going to ask her what drug she had just
taken when I heard her hang up the phone. I called her back a bunch of times but got no answer.
Chapter 4
"...And your penetration into the public television market has been impressive. They've
been a tough nut to crack for years. Good job!" The Boss said to me.
So with the question "who or what is George?" clattering around in my head, I found out
that The Boss was going to be sitting in on our sales meeting. He walked in and, of course, I
wasn't looking and did not greet him or acknowledge him in any way, as per orders. But I used
my peripheral vision to get a look at him. I remember his piercing eyes from our prior encounter
as the freaked out guy bolted from the building, but the rest of him was a mystery. He was sitting
8
smartly erect, with a carriage that suggested confidence and power. He was dressed very much
like a politician, three-piece black suit, white shirt, dark tie. His expression implied deep
intelligence, but also a generous dash of what could only be darkness or pain.
But here he was addressing me and, being preoccupied, I only caught the last part. Did he
just compliment me? I thought. I turned my head to look at him and started to say "thank you,"
when his secretary burst through the door of the conference room. "They're here," he said. The
Boss didn't seem surprised, and said, "Bring them in here, and get Hoffman." Then he looked at
me with his intense dark eyes, seemed to silently consider something, and then a smile crept up
on the corners of his mouth like a cat. This expression created an incongruency on his face. His
eyes screamed dark mystery, but he was smiling broadly. "I'm afraid we'll have to postpone the
normal agenda for just a few minutes," he said. Hoffman entered. He was a handsome kid, freshfaced, probably just out of college. He had an eager gait that seemed to reveal that he was okay
with being a lackey. What walked into the room next was almost a cliche. The man in front, and
his two cohorts, wore the same skirts as the frantic (and now committed) guy, and had the same
dark skin color, but the man in front had on a headdress that I had seen on many TV specials on
ancient Egypt. "We 're being visited by King Tut, " I thought to myself. He stood tall and seemed
to exude authority and confidence, similar to The Boss' carriage, but his eyes were wide, and he
openly gazed in wonder at his surroundings. The Boss seemed to revel in these unexpected
guests, leaning back in the leather chair and chuckling gently.
"Gentlemen, meet Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III," The Boss announced. At the time I thought
it was a joke, but by the end of that day, I saw that this whole situation was deathly serious.
A shudder move through the king. "It is cold here," he said, which Hoffman translated.
The Boss gestured at his assistant: "turn the AC off, Hoffman, we want our guests to be
comfortable." He then had Hoffman tell them to take a seat on the leather couch. The king sat
down slowly, and then caressed the smooth material on the couch cushions and cracked the
second sly smile of the day. "It is different here," he said. "We are aware that we are each from
two separate worlds," The Boss said. "Is there a way we can somehow meet into the middle?"
He gestured to Hoffman, who rolled a wooden crate up to the couch. He had a bit of a difficult
time doing it. Clearly, whatever was in the box was very heavy. It was pried open with a
crowbar, and I noticed the glint of gold. Lots of gold. Thutmose looked impressed. "You are
presenting me a large number of gold bricks; what are your intentions?" "Only to bridge the gap
between our worlds," The Boss said.
Thutmose's eyes narrowed. "We have not come prepared then; our exchange of resources
should be simultaneous." Then there was rapid-fire Egyptian being spoken between Thutmose
and his retinue. "We wish to return to engage in a proper exchange," he finally said. And so they
stood up and left the room. There was a long silence.
Then The Boss swiveled in his chair and faced me. "That really was Thutmose III," he
said. My first thought was that this was all some weird charade, some game he was playing with
actors for a reason that I couldn't fathom. But then there was what I was quickly calling "the
portal," what was in that room. That wasn't a big-screen TV, that I was sure of. "You signed the
nondisclosure agreement, right?" The Boss finally asked. I nodded in assent. "Well then you
should know the full story. I like you; if you keep your mouth shut, you will be in on the ground
floor of some of the most mind-blowing science to come around since Einstein and the A-bomb."
I had to speak honestly, and I had seen too much to play meek while The Boss explained
the situation. He had engaged me after all—"But I'm in ad sales, I'm not a scientist."
"Ah, but isn't ad sales the science of influence?"
10
I agreed.
"So what my team and I started with was the question, 'what is the basis of influence?'
So we began studying the brain and what exactly makes it tick. What we found out was
incredible. Are you familiar with the principles of holography?"
"Not really."
"Well, if you look at holographic film, its basic principle is that every part of it contains
the whole image. What we found out was that the brain and, in fact, the entire universe functions
like a piece of holographic film. It turns out that there is a singular light at the center of
everything—"
"You mean like God?"
"No from what we've discovered, we haven't even begun to understand God. Just think
of it simply as a light. Now this light, among other things, shines through our brains and brings
our thoughts from storage into deployment, as the brain contains everything we have experienced
through all of our senses. We just have to access it with this light. What we were able to do was
to block out this light, and use our own light source to affect the brain, essentially controlling
what the mind thinks..."
"You mean, brainwashing," I said, not really wanting to believe him, as the implications
were horrific.
The Boss gave a dismissive wave.
"That's not even the half of it. The way we discovered that the universe was a hologram,
was that when we used our light source on a subject..."
"You mean you actually brainwashed someone?!"
Another dismissive wave.
11
"What we found was that the subject's body was here, but his brain was somewhere else.
He was describing a vision of what looked like ancient Egypt." I looked up at Hoffman and he
averted his eyes. He was the subject of that experiment. I was sure of it. The Boss continued.
"But then we found if we concentrated enough of our wave energy at a point in space, we could
actually open an interdimensional portal that just happened to be dynastic Egypt in the New
Kingdom." He stopped speaking for a long moment.
I replied: "I don't believe it. Yeah that was a guy dressed weirdly, and speaking a weird
language, but that could have been anybody. Why are you putting me through this pointless
charade?" The Boss swiveled in his seat to face a flat-screen TV on the way. He hit the power
button and the execs got up and began to leave to room. Then everything turned white.
Chapter 5
In front of a pure white background on the TV, there was a distinguished-looking man
with grey hair, dressed in a three-piece suit. He had a welcoming smile and countenance. "Hi,
I'm George," he said. The voice was the most soothing and friendly voice that I had ever heard. I
felt fulfilled, I felt joyous. George was talking to me! "So I'll just get right to the point, do you
like food?" Of course my answer was a "yes, yes, oh God yes! Food is incredible."
"Then, you should go to Pathmark and buy a rotisserie chicken," he said. The screen went
blank. Holy shit, I wanted a rotisserie chicken. I got up and ran out the door, down the hall and
out of the building. In a near-sprint, I waved down a cab, got in and ordered him to take me to
the nearest Pathmark. We went about 10 blocks and I was practically bouncing up and down on
the seat. I threw a wad of bills at him and went to enter the building. The automatic door at the
Pathmark wasn't fast enough and I shoved it open and ran to the back of the store. I saw people
12
give me weird looks but I didn't care. I found a chicken in the display and ran to the cashier,
threw a twenty at him and ran out of the store. I was just about all the way through the chicken,
having devoured the legs, thighs and wings, bones and all, and was working on the breast when I
stopped. My hands and face were covered in grease, and my molars hurt from crunching through
the bones. Oh my God, The Boss is telling the truth, I thought.
After cleaning myself up I went up to The Boss's office without reservations. He invited
me in warmly and proffered a comfortable seat. He began explaining the situation: "people see
George as different things, spirit guide, schizophrenic delusion, what have you, but they all have
something in common, they must do what George tells them to do. Because people are sheep.
They have thoughts that run through their heads which they can act upon or not, but when our
light is sweeping their way, that impulse to do becomes irresistible. And we want them to buy
products, to spend money, to let us suckle at their monetary teats. We have a lot of deals worked
out with some very powerful companies. And governments. So much money is at stake here, that
you wouldn't believe it. Billions. Trillions." "Now, I like you," he repeated, "I want you to work
with me in this program. I would like you to incorporate our system into your sales efforts.
We're prepared to offer you a generous raise." And of course, when he mentioned that, I was on
board immediately.
Chapter 6
And via commissions, the money began pouring in. The silk underwear felt good. Real
good. And so did the silk sheets. Brand new threads, brand new car. The luxurious and the
expensive invariably worked well and felt good. The shifting action of the car, the caress of the
silk. The gigantic plasma TV screen with surround sound. And then there was the oblong box in
13
my attache case. The George amplifier. And a microchip in my brain, to block out the light so I
wasn't dragged into that mindless frenzied state that I knew all too well. Who cared? Tinker with
the wiring of my brain? No big deal. I was paid.
CEOs and account executives and everybody fell in my wake. They got that look in their
eyes and just collapsed like a Jenga tower. My commissions were ridiculous. Everyone seemed
to be practically orgasming to give me business. Then I got to a business where the company
nursery school was right next door to a client's office. She had been introduced to George when
her daughter came in. I remember this vividly. "Mommy, can we have lunch?" This little blueeyed angel asked. She repeated: "Mommy?.. .Mommy? Then the woman's blissed out eyes
vanished and she snarled, "Shut the hell up!" And the blissful eyes returned. The kid started
bawling hysterically and my heart just fell. I flashed back to scenes with Joy, how ecstatic and
happy she was. I actually started tearing up, wanted to comfort this poor child, this poor living
child. The voice returned with a litany of"daddys" and I felt horrible for having ignored it. I
wanted to just walk out of there, and into the middle of the street, right in front of a truck, when
this woman's child suddenly clammed up and started giggling to herself, happily conversing with
an invisible Elmo from Sesame Street. She had just met George, and the deal was closed. My
mood immediately shifted. If you had looked at me in that moment, my eyes would have been a
pair of dollar signs.
Chapter 7
The trading summit with the pharaoh and his retinue was a smashing success. There was
so much precious metal in the room that you could smell it. Thutmose initially picked up a gold
bar and bounced it in his hand, seemingly to check its authenticity. The conference room table
14
was mounded with unworked chunks of copper, silver, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and all kinds of
other precious materials.
"Now that we have shared material goods, let us now share knowledge," the pharaoh
said, via Hoffman's translation. "Where am I?" He asked. "This is not Egypt." "Well, let's just
say you've happened upon a completely different time and space from your own," The Boss
explained.
"I only know my beautiful expanse of black soil, hot sun, stone adornments, and, of
course, the mighty Nile," said Thutmose, striking in his poetic manner of speaking, which
emerged even through the translation.
"What nationality are you?" he asked.
"I am American," The Boss explained. "And this land is called the United States of
America. We are a democracy, which means this is a land ultimately ruled by the people." The
irony struck me like a city bus. It was obvious to me that in thousands of ways, corporations and
governments were the real entities in charge. Thutmose laughed. "The people? In my land, the
people don't have the intelligence and savvy to lead."
The Boss continued: "It is about 3,000 years in the future. Pharonic Egypt is in ruins.
Thutmose spat out the ancient Egyptian equivalent of "bullshit." Then The Boss turned on the
TV and started a slideshow. When the Karnak temple appeared, Thutmose gasped and
exclaimed, "My beloved temple, what happened to you? Is this United States responsible for the
destruction of my temple?" A lecture about history from the Greco-Roman conquest to the
Muslim conquest ensued, but Thutmose still looked troubled.
"I was visited by Osiris for the first time last night," Thutmose said. It was so vivid, but
he said things that didn't make sense. I was troubled. He seemed to advocate senseless,
15
purposeless consumption of goods," Thutmose said. "I was compelled to listen and obey in the
most intense way, but I fought it off and he disappeared. I am concerned that my arrival here has
affected my mind in a negative way. I wish to return."
"By all means," The Boss said, and I got my second look of the portal room. The
pharonic retinue walked through, took a right turn, and vanished. I was tempted to dash through
too; the pull of it was so strong. But I didn't know how The Boss would react, so I calmed
myself down.
Jeannie called me again that night, and this time we decided to meet. She seemed
completely different on the phone, levelheaded and lucid. No mention of George.
Chapter 8
Jeannie my ex but still my love perched on a precipice. This was all just insane. I
couldn't believe the words I was saying. I tried to talk her down, but all she could say was "You
hate George, don't you!" All I could say was "No! I understand George. I practically work for
George. All I'm saying is that you don't have to listen to George. You have the choice not to
listen to him! Please don't do this!" were the last words I said to her. And then she jumped off
the building, killing herself rather than listening to reason.
The date had been going so well before Jeannie's thousand-foot swan dive. I still had
affectionate pangs for her. We talked for hours and George never came up. I decided to take a
chance and ask her out for dinner. And so we did, and because my pockets were busting with
cash, it was first class all the way—stretch limo, Le Bernardin, a three-star Michelin-rated
restaurant, a gold-leaf ice cream sundae! It was just like the best of the good times, but better.
We decided to cap off the evening with an evening ascent of the Empire State Building. On the
16
observation deck, I was actually mentally planning the ring and the proposal when George
suddenly came up.
"Remember what I said about George making me feel all right? Well, he does, you
know.. .that way. He seduced me. I couldn't help it."
"He whatT
"I was lonely! He was there for me! He was caring, he was gentle."
"But he doesn't really exist, he's just an image," I said, trying to rationalize with her.
This turned out to be the wrong thing to say. Her face contorted into an expression of intense
pain, like she finally internalized that George wasn't actually a real romantic partner, but then
she hissed, "You hate George!" I heard people gasp and glare at me, as if hating George was
sacrilege. Jeannie started to back up toward the fence surrounding the edge of the observation
deck, turned and then started to climb it.
I didn't dare approach the stretch of sidewalk that she landed on, and I went home after
giving the police report. An obvious suicide. A dump truck piled high with $100 bills couldn't
reverse time and bring her back.
Chapter 9
I sobbed uncontrollably at The Boss' desk the next day. I was hearing Joy again, this time
with sudden flashes of images with her frolicking around in a grassy park-like setting. That just
exacerbated the grief. Then, The Boss shared his loss with me. "My wife recently died. She had
pancreatic cancer; there's no known cure." I wept and wept and he reached across the desk and
patted my arm. "It'll be okay, things will work out for the better," he said with tones of
sympathy.
17
"I think I want out," I said through the sobs. Despite the sympathy and supposed
understanding, The Boss was unmoved. "You can't opt out, you know too much."
"But I signed a nondisclosure agreement."
"This is beyond nondisclosure agreements. We're talking about the unprecedented
manipulation of existence itself. And I haven't even told you the best part. I want to really bridge
the gap. I'm talking about continuity from then to now. A single lineage of power from Pharonic
Egypt to the present day. OurCorp can do it. I've planned everything. And I have you slated to
be part of the retinue." I was horrified.
"How is that possible?"
"It has already happened. Where do you think the money came from to fund this
company's experiments? I can't fail. Document after document has been passed down in my
family, kept obsessively private, and given to generation after generation. My purpose is clear.
All I have to do was follow through and take my rightful place on the throne of ancient Egypt."
"You're delusional!" I snapped.
"You might think. But, I'll ask you one question. Who holds the power now? You or
me?" I couldn't reply.
"I will assume that your disloyal utterances was due to your extreme grief," he finally
said. "I need to know right here, right now, are you on board?"
And then my path became crystal clear. "I'm in," I said. It was a lie. I was already
plotting The Boss's assassination.
Chapter 10
18
The next day, there was a general memo from Hoffman: "President and CEO Joseph
Moses will be on an open-ended leave until further notice. Vice President Victor Eisenstein will
be acting President and CEO." So things were moving forward. I was sure that Thutmose III was
living on borrowed time. I called up Ernie my lawyer and got my affairs in order.
"You're not gonna off yourself now are you?" He asked. I assured him I wasn't; I had
bigger fish to fry. I fed him a line that I was feeling my mortality and I wanted to make
provisions for the inevitable. A few distant cousins were the only family I had left, so it wasn't a
long phone call.
It was time to prepare to enter the portal and kill The Boss— shearing off the root of the
unholy family tree. I could have easily killed The Boss in the present day, but the opportunity
never presented itself. I didn't want this to be a suicide mission. Once he entered the portal, I had
to infiltrate his territory to get close enough to kill him. All I knew from the short time I looked
into the portal was that it was in the desert. I didn't know if civilization was right on the other
side of the portal or 200 miles away. But since the pharaoh and his retinue seemed none the
worse for wear, civilization probably wasn't too far away. The only reference I had for desert
survival was either the TV shows Man vs. Wild or Survivorman, but I didn't want to be weighed
down with water, so I found a small backpack that could fit two gallons, and I tossed in a large
package of beef jerky, and a pocketknife. I put on khaki pants, hiking boots, a long-sleeve shirt,
and a light jacket. It was time. I hiked to OurCorp and let myself in with my security card. I
greeted the security guard, who had no idea of the import of his employer's company and fed
him the lie— "I'm going camping and I forgot something." Then I went upstairs and into the
room with the portal. I could feel the hot breeze and smell the combination of metallic sand and
ozone from the lasers. God knows how much energy was being burnt to keep the portal open.
19
The edges were crackling, but the opening looked as stable as it was going to get. I walked up to
it, gathered up my nerve, took a deep breath, and walked forward. For a second it felt like I was
in a wind tunnel, and then I was standing on sand. I looked back and saw the dark shapes of
equipment in the lab. Then I walked around to the other side. The portal had disappeared. I
suddenly felt hot and thirsty almost at the same instant, and a sensation of intense heat
surrounded my whole body. Even my eyeballs felt like they were burning. I got a strong impulse
to walk back through the portal. But I then got an even stronger impulse to see this through. Too
much was riding on my success. All I saw was sandy desolation in every direction to the horizon.
"Ishouldhave planned better" was my main thought. Thankfully, the sun was close to the
horizon. It would be dark soon. But that just brought about a new host of problems, mainly the
cold. But it was better than trying to walk in what was sure to be a sweltering daytime. As the
last faint light of the sun disappeared, I realized that it was either a new moon or the moon hadn't
risen yet. It was incredibly dark. I decided to run back through the portal, run to a Barnes and
Noble and get an Egypt Fodor 's, but I couldn't see a thing, even by starlight. I stumbled around
for a few minutes, with a rising sense of panic, but it was hopeless. I ran through all of the
direction-finding techniques I had heard over the years: find the North Star, moss on trees
determining north, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, etc. etc. I was no outdoorsman.
Okay, so I knew roughly where north was because I could find Polaris, thank God for that. So I
started walking.
Chapter 11
20
It was a breathtakingly beautiful night. The blanket of stars faintly illuminated the
landscape, and the wind was blowing gently, sending small cyclones of sand into the air. I
wanted to conserve my energy, but the faster I walked, the warmer I got, so I kept as brisk a pace
as possible, but I was getting bogged down in the sand. I couldn't help but think of Jeannie and
Joy. They would have loved the scenery. Jeannie and I could have experienced private romps
among the dunes. I started tearing up but stopped myself. That little bubble of moisture was one
less bit of hydration. I forced myself to focus on the task at hand.
By sunrise I was tired. I had been walking for eight hours and really needed a break. I
leaned back in the shadow of a massive sand dune as the heat of the day took hold. Inventory
check: lA a jug of water gone, along with three sticks of beef jerky. By sunset, all the water was
gone. I couldn't help it, I was just so thirsty. I couldn't muster up the wherewithal to ration it.
One more night of walking and I became trapped in another cliche—stumbling through the
desert, then crawling, then getting up, walking a few hundred yards, then crawling again. By
sunset, I had the delirious notion that I was a sidewinder snake, slinking my way through the
sand. I croaked a laugh at that one. Then, around sunset, I couldn't move any further, my
muscles felt like they had seized up. I had a splitting headache and Joy's small, cute voice was
just barely perceivable through the delusions.
Next thing I know, George is talking: "Hey, looks like you're in a bind," he said. I heard
his voice before I saw his form, but it was very different from the George that convinced me to
scarf down a chicken. It was just a large face in my mind's eye. It wasn't a static image, but kept
distorting, looking like rolling waves were moving through it.
"But they put a chip in my head that blocks you out! Where did you come from?" I
croaked. Then I heard a familiar voice: "What are you doing out here?!" It was my mom's voice.
21
Then "We had an agreement! Well, we'll have to dispose of you!" It was The Boss. These last
two were voices only, no images. Concern turned to confusion, and I passed out.
My first thought as I woke up at sunrise, chilled and majorly dehydrated but alive, was
"who farted?" I was downwind from a nasty odor. Despite my pounding headache and lack of
energy, the smell gave me a reason to rally; I had to find out what reeked so badly. I weakly
climbed to the top of a sand dune and took in a horrific scene. Hundreds, if not thousands, of
dead bodies twisted into agonizing shapes lay in the sand almost to the horizon. This was my
first encounter with the results of war and it was sickening. Some soldiers were sliced open,
some lanced through with arrows or spears, and some were rudely deformed by bludgeoning. All
were somewhat mummified from the desert air but obviously not enough to completely stop
putrefaction. Their skin was a leathery brown and their mouths agape in what looked like silent
screams. Mingled among the dead bodies were dead horses and broken chariots. Father, brothers,
nephews and cousins all twisted into the finality of death. Out of nowhere, I started weeping at
the carnage. Maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was because death seemed to be following
me like a bad habit, but I just stood there and bawled for a long while. Then as the grief
gradually melted away, I made a firm resolution—I had to stay alive. I knew there had to be
water, if not carried by the soldiers, then in a cache somewhere.
By the end of my search, I had found at least 50 skin water holders, and I stuffed as many
as I could in my backpack. And I kept slowly walking roughly north. But it turns out I was
heading northeast. A few hours after the smell of decomposition stopped, I began to smell water
on the softly blowing winds. I never thought before that water had any kind of smell beyond
rank, like when the New York City sewage outlet backs up during a flood, but this was a fresh,
invigorating aroma that lifted my spirits. Then I saw what had to be the Nile Valley. First the
22
reddish-brown cliff face, then below it, a gently flowing river. Even from my distant vantage
point, I could see that it was crystal clear, and beautiful, just beautiful. I could see squat
dwellings scattered across the dark soil, some partially submerged. They looked like mud huts
but were shaped in simple gray rectangles. It looked like a flood had swept through.
I had to figure out a way to get down to it, so I decided to have a go at rock climbing (or
descending, in this case) for the first time. Big mistake. I had heard that confidence is the number
one element when challenging gravity in this way. And strength. The rock was dry but
crumbling, and though I tried to keep both hands firmly grasping the rock face at all times, the
rock kept breaking off, and some pretty heavy and sharp pieces barely missed slamming into my
face. As it was, a fine sprinkling of soil and crushed rock was falling right into my eyes, partially
blinding me. About halfway down the rock face, both hands lost purchase at the same time and I
started plummeting to the ground, with a brief whole-body scrape against the rock. Even though
the ground was soft, moist soil, when all of my weight landed on my right leg, I felt a sharp pain
and heard a crack that reminded me of a lobster's tail being removed. I screamed in agony, and
heard the screech echo across the valley. A wave of anguish tore through me. I lay down on my
back, gingerly positioning the broken leg. Then I dared to look at it— my leg had an unnatural
curve, and I could see bone sticking through my pant leg.
Chapter 12
There was no way I could walk, so I started crawling to the nearest group of houses. I
was soon covered in the moist soil. "I'm gonna get an infection!" I thought, more in frustration
than fear. What was I going to do now with The Boss? Bleed on him? A child with a weird
haircut noticed me and approached cautiously, and I began to crawl in his direction. Every
23
movement of my leg was like pushing a knife into my flesh and twisting it. He was speaking in
low tones until he noticed my bone sticking out of my pant leg. His eyes bulged and he turned
and yelled towards one of the mud huts.
I was carried into the child's house by two older children and laid on a wooden bed. It
was pretty comfortable, and I looked around. It was essentially a mud hut with some clay pots
and containers, and woven mats. It was pretty dark. It smelled like a cross between a campfire
and a manure farm. "What a dump " was my initial thought. "They 're gonna have to cut my leg
off" was my other one.
The physician came. I couldn't really see him that well, but he seemed confident in his
skills, even though I knew there were 3,000 years of medical advancements that this guy had
never heard about. It took a long time for him to actually look at my leg. He seemed more
interested in my thoroughly twenty-first century clothes and backpack. Then, as he examined the
fabric of my pants with his fingers, he nudged the bone, and I screamed. This seemed to startle
him back into reality. He carefully removed my pants and took a sharp intake of breath when he
saw the damage. I glanced down and almost threw up. My upper leg didn't seem damaged but
my lower leg was almost broken in half, and my skin was ripped open in a bloody mess. He
lightly nudged the bone again and I screamed "ow! Pain!" He seemed to roll the word around his
mouth—"pahn? Payne? "Yes, pain! pain!" I yelled back at him.
The doctor then offered me large animal skin canteen and made a "drink this" gesture. It
tasted of wine, but had hints of pepper, and a taste that I couldn't quite place. I assumed he
wanted me to get myself drunk for the inevitable setting of the bones, but in an instant, it seemed
that world went from thirty two frames per second to five frames per second. This was way
beyond an alcohol buzz. I picked my head up and looked around. Nothing seemed real. It all
24
looked like faint images in an almost complete darkness. I chuckled to myself and felt a rolling,
smashing wave of goodwill that kept crashing like a series of tsunami waves, over and over.
Chapter 13
I found out later that opium was the best pain reliever in ancient Egypt, and it was
occasionally mixed with flavored wine. The doctor started to move my leg, but it still felt
horrifically painful, so he did the drinking gesture again and I drained the canteen. Then the outer
world disappeared. All of my senses seemed to have shut off, except the faint pain in my leg. I
could vaguely feel the doctor set my bones, stitch the holes the bones had made, and apply a
splint. Then The Boss revisited. He seemed to like to show up when I was either almost dead or
stoned out of my mind. In my altered state, the blackness of my mind's eye had dimension, and
his unmistakable shape and intense eyes appeared. "You lied to me. You said you were onboard,
and then you disappear. Do you really think you can stop the inevitable?" I didn't have the
wherewithal to debate morality. I was too stoned. "That microchip in your head is a tracking
device. We will find you." All I could muster was a gurgling moan.
"Thutmose III, Ramesses II, The Ptolemies, Cleopatra, Caesar, Constantine, Attila the
Hun, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart. Shall I continue? All of them,
and more are my forbears. But in the modern day it is the corporation that is the royal family. I
call it Corporatia—" I snapped awake. I still had a lot of opium on the brain, but I knew what I
had to do. I didn't know the Egyptian word for "knife" and if I yelled anything to anyone, they
wouldn't understand me anyway. I had to do this myself. The chip was about two millimeters
into my skin on my right temple. The only tools I had to remove it were my fingernails. Yes it
was crazy, especially since the experience was probably a delusion. It wasn't as painful as you'd
25
think, although I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt. I used the scar of the initial implant to guide
my fingernails and either pinched the skin off or used my nails like a scalpel. I just had to go
down a few skin layers, right down to the top muscle layer, and I found the small silicon chip. I
was left with a bloody hole in my head and a gore-splattered microchip in my hand. It needed to
be destroyed, reduced to a million pieces. I started slamming it into the wooden bed. It wasn't
breaking. Then, one of children wandered in, no doubt drawn in by the loud noises. Besides the
weird haircut, I couldn't help thinking she was a slightly darker version of Joy. She had the same
mischievous but charming glint in her eye, and an easy smile. I propped myself up on the bed,
and she gaped at the sight of my bloody head. I made a striking motion with my hand, "shi?" she
said, "shi" I replied. I guessed that meant "hit" or "strike." "inr?" she said. I had no idea what
that was, but she ran out and came back with a chunk of rock, which turned out to be sandstone.
Perfect. The microchip was smashed into pieces.
I was bedridden for a while, and I lost track of time. The mother (whom I nicknamed
"Phyllis", as it just seemed like a mom name), whose pregnant belly showed through her white
linen skirt and shirt, fed me, and cleaned me. I will remember her charity for the rest of my life.
The doctor checked on me every few days and eventually I could sit up for a long period and was
given a cane. "Thank God, " I thought, I was starting to get a wicked bedsore on my butt, which
was beginning to sting. I was also offered more opium wine, but even though there was grinding
pain, I wanted to be lucid to take in my surroundings and plan my next step. It was a large family
in a small house. It felt like I was at a slumber party every night, since everyone was cheek-tojowl on their sleeping mats, even the parents, who let me use their bed. Five kids ran around
enthusiastically, and the mother was pregnant with number six. The father (whom I named
"Bill," which was an ail-American dad name) was working on some projects with stone a few
26
miles away, for what seemed like twelve-hour days. I was curious about the project, but I
couldn't manage a walk across the room, or even a ride in a donkey cart. Soon I was able to
hobble to the doorway, and the view was just breathtaking, and the scale was staggering.
Although it was flood season and most of the farming fields were underwater, I could discern the
scale of the agriculture, replacing the expanse of water with dirt fields in my mind's eye. No
wonder Egypt was an empire. As the saying goes, "an army marches on its stomach."
One of the kids ("Jenny"), who was around five, starting teaching me simple Egyptian
words, while I taught her the English equivalent. She pointed to the sun—"ra." She pointed at the
black soil—"kemet." The whole experience of existing with my adopted family filled a huge
hole left by death and my pursuit of money and prestige. I would mark this point as the start of
my new life, with new aspirations and motivations.
Chapter 14
Then Phyllis and the fetus died right in front of me. Piling that onto my already teetering
emotional burdens made suicide seem like such a blissful escape. I was bad luck, I was sure of it.
Ending my life would spare anyone I came in contact with the luckless emotional gut-punches
that my very existence provided. I was about a minute from diving into the flooded Nile and
inhaling water until I was dead, but from the deepest tendrils of my consciousness, Joy seemed to
say: Daddy, don't die. A flash of her smiling face made me discount suicide, but not a few hours
of blubbering hysteria.
I had already named the baby—Bill Jr. if it was a boy or Janet if it was a girl. I awoke
that morning to Phyllis moaning in pain. At this point, she was as big as a house, and what was
in that house wanted out. It was different from the hospitals and stirrups. Phyllis was kneeling
27
down; supported by midwives on both sides, sweat dripping down her dark forehead. But
something was wrong. Instead of seeing the top of the head, the first thing out of her vagina was
a tiny foot. The frantic chattering increased. One of the midwives attempted to snake her hand
into Phyllis' vagina to flip the baby around. It didn't work. The baby came out blue and
unresponsive. Then a torrent of bright red blood started pouring out of Phyllis' womb. She was
bleeding to death. I got up so quickly that my bad leg slammed into the floor, causing a shooting
pain. I ignored it. I tried CPR on the baby. Fifteen compressions and two breaths. It was slippery
from the blood and amniotic fluid, but I was able to get enough leverage to use all my strength to
compress its chest. I looked down at the lower torso to check the gender. Janet. It soon became
apparent that Phyllis was a lost cause; nothing could stem the blood flow. She slumped to the
floor, pale and unresponsive. And even with all of my might and my frantic inhalations into
Janet's mouth, she didn't make it either. No, Phyllis and Janet weren't mummified. But it was
another funeral procession. I hobbled along with Bill, whose face was wreathed in anguish. They
were buried together in a simple coffin in a cemetery with sand instead of dirt. The finality of it
was staggering.
Chapter 15
In the end, I'm lucky my leg didn't fall off. But for the rest of my life, I will have a
pronounced limp and lingering pain. With the doctor there was an equal part medical expertise
and magic spell mumbo jumbo. Sometimes he rubbed or splashed sweet-smelling liquids on me,
all the while chanting in ancient Egyptian. But I didn't get gangrene or a major infection, even
though my leg had been torn like a side of beef. The selflessness of my adopted family kept
amazing me, despite the fact that their matriarch had just died. There was always food and water
28
available, and I was fed and got help getting cleaned until standing up didn't feel like a sharp
stake was being driven into my leg.
The day after I could stand up without considerable pain, they wrapped a thin, coarse
sheet around my waist and took me to the local market. Bill was carrying a small burlap sack.
The market was noisy with a swirling clatter of noise and dust—goats baaing, cows mooing,
birds chirping and squawking. The smell was an overwhelming scent of manure and sweat—
after all, it was climbing past one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, just like it did every other day. I
was led to a booth selling textiles. Bill put the sack on the counter of a vendor who opened it,
revealing what must have been two- dozen large dried fish. Their silvery scales glinted in the
sun. The vendor smiled and produced a familiar garment. I blurted out "that looks like a dress!"
and the vendor, who seemed to know Bill, gave me an odd look. "So they cross-dress in Egypt. "
An immature thought for sure, but I was at a point where any kind of humor was welcome. But it
actually made sense. It was incredibly hot, and just one article of clothing kept you from getting
too warm.
Now that the pain in my leg was a dull ache, I began to notice other sensations. I was
getting really itchy and my gums hurt. The next day Jim took a long look at me and then began
to pantomime what would become my semi-daily routine. He took out a bronze straight razor
and pretended to draw it along his head, torso and all his limbs. He handed it to me and I
proceeded to very carefully shave my entire body. As I examined my arms, I flinched when I
saw tiny bugs jumping around. I had been harboring lice. With no hair, they would have no way
to anchor themselves to my body. Regardless of how careful I was, I cut myself deeply a couple
of times. Luckily, I was yet again not visited with infection. Jim then left the room and came
back lugging a large basin of water and a white lump that smelled faintly of salt. He then
29
pantomimed scrubbing on all parts of his body. Then I washed myself. I pointed to my teeth
afterwards, and he just shrugged. I would end up fashioning a toothbrush from a thin twig, using
some of that soap for toothpaste. After the bath, Jim gave me some fragrant oil to rub on myself.
Finally, he produced a small paint pot and daubed paint around my eyes. Apparently, based on
Jim's gestures, the paint helped reduce the glare from sunlight.
Bill walked in with two gigantic sacks. He uttered one word: "prt" (seeds), handed me a
bag, and gestured for me to follow him.
Chapter 16
I soon realized what the payback was for all the care that I received—I would be working
in the field with Bill while the older kids watched the younger kids. The floods had subsided, and
we walked out onto the rich black soil. There was the overwhelming scent of living nature in the
vast fields. My feet sank in and made a squishing noise with every step, and I could feel the
squiggling of large earthworms as my footfalls disturbed their slumber. It seemed like Bill was a
friend with everyone else working the fields and one word was repeated many times: "nefer
heru" (good day). I limped along next to him and we both dropped seed after seed in the ground
while the sun beat down on our backs. Occasionally I glanced up and took in the view across the
valley. It was almost like the infinite mirror phenomenon, where an image in a mirror is repeated
via reflection to a tiny point and onto infinity as hundreds, if not thousands, of people seeded the
soil. With a few water breaks, and a lunch break of dried meat, we worked until sundown. As it
grew dark, it felt like we had seeded one hundred acres, but it was probably only twenty.
30
Back at the house, we had a communal dinner at the household amongst the goats and
sheep. I felt pretty good, but I had an absolutely horrific sunburn in addition to a throbbing leg. I
rubbed my skin and grimaced and they gave me some soothing oils.
I didn't sleep well, and was still awake in the middle of the night. I couldn't stop thinking
about The Boss. Where was he? Had he infiltrated into the Egyptian government yet? The only
news I had was a temple construction rumor from the market. But the next morning, all concerns
about interdimensional intrigue were set aside. The fields had to be tended.
I heard the din from way off, and my first view of the valley floor revealed hundreds of
pigs squonking loudly and wandering around. A few of the farmers were urging them along and
they very deliberately trampled the field. Then, we checked the field weekly for the next six
months. Most days for the family and me were centered on simple survival. Milk the goats, shear
the sheep, grind the wheat, bake the bread, haul the water, etc. etc. Then we sat around the fire
under the blanket of stars and talked for hours and hours, day in, day out. The words were really
beginning to make sense in the weeks of linguistic immersion. I kept my mission in the back of
my mind, but I also didn't quite know where I was in Egypt in relation to the capital. I wasn't
sure how to ask that. "King direction" maybe? But being a completely anonymous farmer was
okay with me; I still felt a debt to the family. They could have just let me die at so many points
between my accident and my recovery.
After six months we were ready to harvest. I was much stronger at this point, still with an
aching leg, but I devoted a lot of my days to strength training with stomach crunches, pushups,
pullups, light yoga, and rough bench presses with large stones. I got some weird looks from the
family, but it was easy to pantomime how to do the exercises and "feel the burn," so some of
them ended up joining in, and it was another bridge between our vastly different cultures, and it
31
also meant I could be more of a help with manual labor. Every member of the family went out
with sickles and harvested the crop. We took it to the market in several large bags in a wagon
drawn by a donkey. It was a long line. It seemed like this was the place to sell crops. When we
got to the booth, the clerk rummaged through each bag and examined the barley closely. He then
hefted each bag, and then rapidly spoke to his cohort who walked into the large tent in the back
of their booth. After several minutes, he walked back out leading a visibly pregnant brown-andwhite cow. Bill beamed with pride at the new addition to the family.
The next day, there was a big commotion in the market. The rumor of the temple
construction became fact, and state officials had come to recruit. Bill and Jim looked at each
other for a moment, and then had a long hug. I reached out my hand and grabbed his hand with
my other hand, pushing it into mine. We shared an awkward handshake, his first. But as Jim
walked towards the recruiters, one of them caught my eye. Despite his standard Egyptian dress, it
was no mistaking his identity—It was Hoffman.
Chapter 17
Hoffman's eyes bulged out in recognition, and within seconds he whipped a large pistol
out of his waistband and began firing in my direction. I felt a sharp pain in my temple as a bullet
grazed my head. Then most of the people in the market, probably around a hundred, myself
included, started screaming and running down the main thoroughfare, kicking up an enormous
cloud of dust. But after maybe seven bullets were fired, the noise, which must have seemed like a
cataclysmic racket to the Egyptians, suddenly stopped. Everyone turned back around and took in
the sight of Bill standing over Hoffman, holding a large chunk of sandstone. Hoffman was
obviously dead, the back half of his head was crushed and gore was splattered all over the place.
32
The gun had flown out of his hand and clattered to the ground. But Bill was obviously spooked
by the weapon, dropped the rock and retreated to a safe distance. While I was examining the
flesh wound to my temple, one of the recruiters crept slowly up to the gun. He picked it up and
ran his hand over it, and his grip easily slipped into the firing position. Without knowing what he
was doing he pulled the trigger, firing a bullet into the air. He yelped in surprise, dropped the gun
and ran. Then, as everyone stared with mouths agape, I picked up the gun, checked the magazine
for bullets (only two left) and slipped the gun into my waistband. The recruiters didn't seem
devastated that their cohort was just killed. They didn't seem to like him. As they talked to each
other (probably trying to figure out how to explain what just happened to their immediate boss), I
caught the word "bin"—bad. Everyone started to go back to what they were doing, but I got
occasional impressed looks and Bill beamed at my bravado like a lightbulb.
It was a disgusting mess, but I had to search Hoffman's body. I needed to see if he had
any more bullets. Hoffman was wearing a modern leather holster around his waist and had two
extra magazines. I removed it and put it around my own waist. As I slid the gun into the holster, I
felt a folded piece of paper tucked into the bottom. It was modern printer paper with what
appeared to be a rough map drawn on it with a modern pen. Everything was legibly labeled in
English. There was a direction marker, the Nile and distances indicated. It was a map that
showed the location of the portal! My heart sank. It was 25 miles into the desert. I had almost
died covering that distance, even with two perfectly functioning legs. It would be mighty effort.
But at least I had a rough idea of where the portal was. I made a split second decision. I would go
with Jim to build the temple and carry the gun with me at all times. I didn't know when I might
run into The Boss, but at the first opportunity, I would put a bullet in his head.
33
Chapter 18
"To the temple we will go, the temple we will go, hi ho the derry-o a temple we will go."
That sing-songy English rhyme (with altered lyrics) was the first English Jim learned and we
must have repeated it thousands of times during the journey to the temple, much to the
annoyance of our travel companions. My leg throbbed with pain, but I ignored it—the sweeping
grandeur of the scenery of the Nile valley helped. We were walking over a rough dirt road
heading northeast. It took about a week to get to the temple site so Jim and I passed the time by
teaching each other our native languages. And I actually learned his real name: Ankhmahor.
When we would stop for the night, in that weird space between wakefulness and sleep, Joy
would appear; this time it wasn't an indistinct flash of her face, she looked like a completely
solid walking and talking human being. She got this gigantic smile on her face and yelled
"Daddy!" and we ran toward each other. But as I went to embrace her, she completely vanished.
This recurring nightmare had me wake up screaming on more than one occasion. Ankhmahor
looked concerned, but I quickly recovered from the resonance of the nightmares, which seemed
to reassure him.
Spoken Egyptian isn't too difficult, and Jim took to English surprisingly well. I realized
how far he had advanced when he looked at me one morning and blurted out in perfect
English—"Damn it's hot, I'm sweating my ass off." I cracked up and gave him a pat on the back.
I said in halting Egyptian "good job son," and I had a welling of pride and love for him. This was
probably his first time away from home and family, and I wanted to give him as much support as
his family had for me.
Finally, we crossed the Nile and reached a mountainous area with a road weaving
through. After a few miles crossing the windswept tan highlands, we got to a promontory and
34
took in a spectacular sight. Thousands of people chiseling and moving huge stones. It seemed
really close to the computer animations and reenactments from TV, but not quite. There was no
way this could be simulated. The call-and-response from the stone movers and the leaders of the
moving teams, multiplied hundreds of times across the expanse of land, and right next to the
building site, an astounding number of huts with a huge cloud of smoke from thousands of fires.
Suddenly, we were downwind from the project and the smell was overwhelming and complex.
Smoke. Sweat. Sand. Rock. It all mixed together to make a hybrid scent that I couldn't even
begin to describe. The unfinished temple, even though it was mostly foundation, was huge. I
couldn't even begin to estimate how many football fields. I got off the cart and started hobbling
up to the structure. I had the compulsion to walk right up to it to take in its size. This was my
introduction to the ancient Egyptian penchant for large-scale stone structures.
Chapter 19
We got to our assigned dormitory hut, a rough ten feet by ten feet square made of mud
bricks designated by two hieroglyphs etched on the side—one for the section and one for the
individual hut in that section; Since I couldn't read hieroglyphs, I saw the letters as just simple
drawings—we were in the "bird" section's "hand" hut. I was immediately concerned when I saw
that our six hutmates were wandering around with eyes that seemed to be opened too wide,
completely ignoring us. As I observed them, they seemed to be enthusiastically agreeing with
someone that wasn't there. I couldn't quite catch what they were saying, but Jim's semi-fluency
in English gave me the gist of the jabberings: "We have all had glorious mass visions of Osiris.
We labor and bleed and die, but soon we will experience the bliss of salvation!" My heart sank.
George is here too, I realized. I didn't know how The Boss could translate the cutting-edge
35
twenty-first century technology that created George into an early civilization without any modern
infrastructure whatsoever, but this was proof positive that he did. Either that or our hutmates
were tripping on psychedelic mushrooms. I prayed that it was the latter, but, even before I could
put my knapsack down and claim a sleeping mat space, I was involuntarily sucked into a trance
by George. The dark main room of the hut disappeared, and the bearded man with the suit and tie
appeared in front of a blank white background. "Hi," he began. "Welcome to Karnak. This is a
very important temple, one that will commemorate the gloriousness of Amun. You believe into
the depths of your being that it's an incredibly important project, right?" He gave me a smile and
I enthusiastically agreed, nodding my head like a bobblehead doll. "So, how about getting to
work, okay?" A lightning bolt of joy and bliss welled up and exploded in my heart. And so we
went to work.
It's difficult to tell, but I probably spent months in the trance. We were moving cut stones
that must have weighed one to two tons each on wooden rollers over the sand. Jim, myself, and
our hutmates were one team of rock movers, and we had a supervisor urging us on in this
backbreaking labor. We moved one two-ton stone every twelve-hour day from the barges
shipping the stones from the south to a dock on the Nile, which was at least five miles. We each
had a stout hemp rope tied into a central point, which was wrapped a few times around the stone.
The supervisor would yell "is!" (go!) and we all would pull as hard as we could until he yelled
"khn!" (halt!), and we would stop and switch the wooden rollers from the back of the stone to the
front. With every "is!" I got a slight rope burn and I felt my arm and back muscles wrench and
there weren't any adjectives that could describe the level of pain in my leg as it twisted to get
purchase in the sand. Every so often, he would yell "swr!" and we would stop for water.
36
I saw plenty of people die, mostly crushed by stones that fell when the ropes broke, as
they were attempting to hoist and stack stones to create the walls of the temple. Their heads or
torsos were smashed like melons in an instantaneous death. I saw people cling to the bodies of
their friends, faces a mask of anguish, and the supervisor had to pull them off and send them
back to work, redistributing some of the workers to compensate for the loss. The project had to
go on. If a worker were lucky, only his arm or leg would be mangled. But that usually meant
infection, which was as deadly as these megaliths. I vaguely felt the exhaustion and soreness and
grinding pain in my leg, but it was the fried chicken all over again.
Chapter 20
Jim's maiming jolted me out of the trance. There was a slight slope from the dock to the
start of the rough dirt road leading to the temple. As we were switching the rollers, I saw the
stone slip and start to slide down the slope. As it picked up speed, we all jumped out of the way,
but Jim attempted to stop the stone with his bare hands. He was knocked to the ground and the
stone rolled right over his left arm. His bloodcurdling screech broke my trance. He quickly stood
up and his mangled arm flopped around uselessly. It was obvious that all of the bones were
crushed from his hand up to his elbow, with some bones sticking through the skin. Most of his
fingers were canted at weird, disturbing angles. I felt the impulse to vomit as I gaped at his arm.
He started yelling "But I want to keep working! I don't want to fail Osiris!" as they led him over
to the medical hut. He repeated it probably close to twenty times and his hysterical crying amped
up each subsequent time he said it. I threw down a log and went in after him. George piped into
my mind's eye: "What are you doing? Have you forgotten your task? Get back to work!"
"But Jim's hurt!"
37
"Your transgressions have been noted," George said. Then I felt a sharp pain on my back.
The supervisor had just struck me with a rough leather whip. With a new source of pain, I went
back to work.
Jim was brought back into the hut that night and was moaning faintly. Our hutmates were
in an exhausted sleep, snoring freely. Jim had been given a canteen filled with opium wine. He
had fresh bandages and splints around his arm, and the bandages were already almost soaked
through with blood. After each shift, I did what I could to help, but it was out of my hands. All I
could do was talk to him in a soothing voice and pat his forehead. He babbled incoherently in his
opium stupor and occasionally yelled loudly. During one checkup about a week later, the
concerned tone of the doctor's voice and his sharp inhalations indicated that it didn't look good
for his arm. I observed one changing of the dressings and it was gruesome. A putrid aroma arose
as they removed the last of the bandages. The arm still looked crushed, and the skin around the
long lines of stitches crisscrossing the arm where the bone had erupted through the skin, was
black and oozing with pus. Jim must have been in a lot of pain and was constantly getting refills
of his opium wine. The day after this, the doctor came in with a copper saw that looked like a
large serrated bread knife. It was the day I dreaded—Jim's arm was to be amputated. The saw
didn't look sharp enough, and it wasn't.
I wanted to leave, get out of earshot so I didn't have to experience what was sure to be
agonizing. But they needed a few people to hold Jim down, so our hutmates and I each grabbed a
limb. Jim drank a generous amount of opium wine, all he had left, and asked for more, but there
wasn't enough to go around. Jim wasn't the only worker with an infected mangled limb. I held a
leg and patted and rubbed it in a vain attempt to soothe him. The doctor put a rag in Jim's mouth
so he had something to bite down on, found the spot to cut just above Jim's elbow, then took out
38
a bronze scalpel and cut around the skin of the arm and into the muscle, exposing the bone. Jim's
eyes bulged as he screamed in pain. Then the saw came out. The cutting noise was a maddening
rasp and, even though I didn't think it was possible, Jim got more freaked out, struggling and
screaming. The tone of the frantic, insane screeching still gives me chills as it continues to echo
in my mind. Finally his arm was completely amputated. All he had left were a few inches of
upper arm.
The next morning, Jim was loaded onto a wagon with five other injured workmen, each
with one amputated limb. All were moaning in pain. The next shipment of opium wine hadn't
arrived yet, and the bouncing of the wagon would add to their misery. Jim looked pale and was
probably in shock. You could see in his eyes the level of pain he had experienced. I went up to
him and caressed the side of his face and said all that could be said— "good luck, young man."
The wagon pulled away, and George reappeared. "Okay, time to get back to work," he said.
"You wouldn't want to disappoint the gods now would you?" he asked. "No, I don't," I said
back, and I started back to the stone-hauling team. But that part of me that wanted to resist this
force started growing from an almost-obliterated point to an expanding circle of determined
independence.
Chapter 21
And then, maybe a week later, I strapped on the holster, walked out the hut and left the
Temple of Karnak and its mass of soreness, pain, and anguish. George spewed all manner of
vitriol and threats, but I wasn't listening. My emotions swung wildly from despair to joy and
back again in a split second as George attempted to coerce me to get back to work. I didn't care.
About a mile out toward the Nile, a three-man guard patrol brandishing bronze swords saw me
39
and ran over through the sand, yelling threats in Egyptian. I pulled out the gun and started firing
in their general direction. I didn't take into account its recoil and the gun flew from my hand and
into the sand. I had succeeded in grazing one guard in the arm, but not that deeply. I thought he
was going to slug me, but with undisguised wonder, he picked up the gun and, imitating my
stance, he fired the gun into the sand. A cloud was stirred up by the impact. He then picked up
and examined the distorted bullet, had a look of recognition that the bullet had come out of the
gun at high velocity, looked at me, and then held onto the gun. After a rapid-fire exchange with
the other guards, two of them began to escort me back to the camp and into the jail, which, in the
darkness, seemed like a wide hole in the ground. I still had the holster, two ammunition
magazines, and the map.
Chapter 22
I stole away into the cool night, breaking out of the jail in MacGyver-esque fashion.
Having achieved my freedom, one impulse automatically burst into the forefront of my
consciousness—The Boss had to die. I needed backup and supplies, and I knew just who to find
for help.
Before my escape, I had gone in front of the legal magistrates in the ancient Egyptian
version of a courtroom, a small mud brick enclosure, the day after my capture. It was like being
judged by three George Foremans—All were completely hairless and dressed in kilts. The
involvement of a firearm certainly made it an unprecedented legal situation for the Egyptians.
The three pieces of evidence: The flesh wound of the guard, the fired bullet, and the gun, which
was passed around and examined. More rapid-fire conversation. Then the head magistrate
attempted to fire the gun, urged on by the injured guard. *Click*. It was out of ammo, and I
40
wasn't about to mention the two clips. The magistrates chattered to each other a bit more and
decided there was enough evidence to confine me. Then, my punishment was decided, and, being
a slowly paced general announcement, I was able to translate. Because of the injury to the guard,
I was to be branded on my arm at dawn the next day. As if I wasn't scarred enough. Then I was
to be escorted to the Great Prison at Thebes for a life sentence and hard labor. My heart dropped.
I was escorted to the temporary jail, within a military garrison. I could see in the daylight
that the jail was about 10 feet deep and 30 feet on each side. Bored-looking guards with sheathed
swords and long spears ringed it. No bed, no food, just sand and rock. Despite the two magazines
of bullets, it felt like I was out of options for escape. I slumped against the wall of the prison and
felt anguish tear at my midsection, and my heart and lungs spasmed at the feeling. But the
feeling faded away as it got further into the evening and the shadows started getting long. I fell
into a shallow sleep.
I was jolted awake about an hour later by two impressions: the laughter of the guards,
who had apparently started drinking heavily (and urinating freely) once the sun went down and
the second impression was the feeling of Joy's presence, along with a sly smile, and the strange
perception that she threw a small rock at me, which smacked me painlessly right in the forehead.
I quickly followed it with a smack of my own hand on my forehead—and the mechanism of my
escape became crystal clear. I waited for maybe three hours, enough time for the guards to get
much more alcohol into their systems. And so probably near midnight, they passed out, all
except one. I guess he was the one to look out for supervisors so the guards wouldn't get in
trouble. But he had had plenty to drink himself, and was a bit unsteady on his feet. I watched this
one guard still conscious really closely, and in his drunkenness, he didn't perceive my intense
gaze. He began to doze off, and finally stopped fighting it and lay down in the sand. He was soon
41
snoring loudly. I scrambled up the wall as quietly as I could and very carefully snuck by the
unconscious guards. There was one more gate that was being guarded, which led out to the
desert. Since I was outnumbered, a direct attack would get me killed, so it was time for the
diversion, which would be helped greatly by the cover of darkness. I took out a few bullets from
one of the magazines, positioned them face down in the sand, and took the heaviest rock I could
find and smashed it down as hard as I could. The bullets fired, the racket echoing across the
garrison. Then I hid in the shadows until at least twenty guys came running, chattering to each
other, to see what the noise was. I walked out into the back of the group, and as they examined
the charred spot in the sand where the bullets fired, some guys started back to their stations. I left
with them, and then simply walked through the gate and into the desert. "That was easy, thanks
Joy!" I thought. But she did not appear in my mind's eye. The longing for her presence washed
over me like a wave. But I had to get it together. Helped by my old star friend Polaris, I headed
roughly in the direction of the Nile.
Chapter 23
By the time I reached the opposite bank of the Nile, there was no adrenaline left. I was
alive and in one piece, but it had been an absolutely terrifying crossing. The moon was full, so
seeing wasn't too much of a problem. The real problem was the crocodiles and hippos. In
conversations with Jim, I had found out that hippos were the most feared Nile denizens. They
were over 1,000 pounds and incredibly aggressive, especially in mating season. I had hoped that
most of the crocs and hippos were asleep as I eased into the cool water and began dog paddling. I
almost drifted into a hippo that seemed to be chilling out, but as I floated in his direction, I could
see that his eyes were open. It didn't seem to be in an aggressive mood, but the current was
42
pushing me into a collision course. I didn't want to make too many splashing noises, but at the
same time, I didn't want to give him any excuse to eat me or take a limb. I wasn't even sure if
they were carnivores but I didn't want to find out. "I should have made a raft, " I thought,
belatedly. I had to swim as hard as I could to get away and I saw the waves that I was producing
splash into it. It made a deep growling noise, which made me swim faster and faster. I was
flailing like an epileptic with my heart beating wildly and was on the very edge of my strength
when I felt my feet hit the muddy bottom, jolting my bad leg into painful spasms. Out of the
water, I immediately started shivering. "I should have made a frigging raft."
All sorts of survival techniques that I had picked up through osmosis raced through my
mind as the shivering got worse, coming out like one word—
"Tinderkindlingfuelflintandsteeltwohalfhitchgrubsandturtles. " But the only thing that kept me
warm was fast walking. Soon the road led through dark looming mountains and the half moon
created shadows that seemed to lunge at me. My limping footfalls were creating complex echo
patterns that soon became maddening. My paranoia was reaching a crescendo. I was getting
colder and could feel the wind circulating through the pass, quickly blasting away any sort of
warmth. After about an hour of increasing numbness, I stopped shivering and warmed up—to the
point where the warmth became unbearable. I tore off my moist clothes, tried haltingly to walk a
few feet further, but everything went black as I collapsed into the sand.
Chapter 24
"Hey man—guys, he's awake," The fuzzy tunnel vision cleared and I saw a long-haired,
bearded man dressed in what looked like a fleece jacket standing over me, speaking English. The
modernness of what I could see immediately had me thinking "did Ijust have a 6-month dream?
43
Is it 2009, and did Ijust come out of a coma? " But all of my pains were still there, nudging me
like an old friend. Those sensations were real enough. If I had been lying still for six months, my
body wouldn't feel physically worn out, and I wouldn't be way past exhausted. I realized that I
was naked and bundled up in a wool blanket on a small metal cot. I looked around and saw I was
in a modern-looking fabric tent with Persian-like carpets for a floor. There was low music
coming out of a small white Apple computer on a small table, it almost sounded like country
music, but had weird rhythms and snake-like slithering guitar lines.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"My name is Scooter, and these two dudes are Stoney and Flipper—but don't ask Flipper
where he got his nickname," Scooter said with a mucusy laugh. I looked over at them and
noticed that they had practically identical long hair and long beards. Scooter had black hair,
Stoney had blonde hair, and Flipper had red hair. All were dressed in camouflage pants, hiking
shoes, and black fleece jackets. I mentioned their distinctive hair colors and they all laughed.
"Purely a coincidence," Scooter explained. His relaxed drawl and squinted eyes—even in low
light—contributed to my other realization—the entire tent reeked of marijuana.
"How did you find me, I thought I was in the middle of nowhere."
"You are. We heard your screaming and decided to check it out. And there you were,
naked as a jaybird face down in the sand."
"What are you doing in ancient Egypt?"
"Well, since you speak English, we'll assume you know about the space window,"
Scooter said.
"How did you guys find out about it?"
44
"I'm a—well I used to be—an OurCorp custodian on the night shift," Scooter began,
"And, well, you don't miss something like a window into the past. I mean, wow. I went through
it once myself, and I got a lot of weird looks until I got a deep tan, and changed into the proper
clothings. The markets were mind blowing; hash and weed were everywhere and totally legal,
and out in the open. When I found that out, I went back through the window, got my two best
buds, and we set up a homestead. We smuggled in clothes, a solar power cell, and a computer
with some jammin' tunes."
I looked over at a low table and saw a gigantic pile of marijuana buds, an equally giant
pile of what looked like mushrooms, and a chunk of hashish so large that could have probably
felled an elephant.
"Sure, we'll miss Phish shows, Bonnaroo, and that new band with Phil and Bobby, and
we don't have all the ingredients to make our own acid yet, but this place is like, a Utopia. They
have their own music scene here that's far out anyway. Weird-looking guitars and all kinds of
drums. It's great!"
My heart surged with hope—"You guys know where the portal is?!"
"What, you mean the space window?" Scooter said. "Uh.. .we kinda forgot, we think it's that
way," he pointed in a noncommittal manner west.
My heart sank once again. I should start anticipating these letdowns, I thought. "I don't
think you understand the situation. The Boss has replaced the current pharaoh. He's brainwashed
everybody, past and future! We have to find the portal, get some supplies, find him, and kill
him!"
"Whoh, Whoh, wait a minute, does this have to do with Jerry?" Flipper blurted.
"Who?"
45
"Jerry Garcia visits us in our dreams and tells us to do stuff. Did you know that the Dead
played in front of the pyramids in '78, man?"
"And did you do what he said to do?" I asked.
"No, man, it turns out Jerry is a weird guy, and got really pissed off when we didn't want
to go build some building somewhere."
"That wasn't really Jerry Garcia. It's a program that OurCorp created that's been
brainwashing everybody back in 2009."
"Really? Wow, I thought it was just an acid flashback. So you really think we have to kill
this guy?"
"Yes, I sincerely feel that the future of the human race depends on it. First we have to
find Bill and Jim, get back to the portal, gather together a cache of weapons and ammo, then
riddle his ass with hollowpoints," I said with I'm sure was an intense and borderline crazy look
in my eyes.
"Man, that sounds harsh," Flipper said. "Can't we just kidnap him or exile him or
something?"
"If we kill him, it cuts off the royal lineage at the root. The big question is, are you guys
in? I'll need all the help I can get."
"Wait, I just thought of something," Stoney said, "who are Bill and Jim?"
"They're ancient Egyptian farmers who are father and son. They brought me back to
health after I fell and broke my leg. That's my nickname for them. It's a long story. I gestured at
my bare leg with the jagged scars. They all sucked in their breath at the sight of my grotesque,
throbbing shin.
"Do we have to actually kill The Boss?" Scooter asked.
46
"No, I'll take care of that," I assured them.
"And you're sure that this is for the good of the human race?" Scooter asked, sounding
serious and reflective for the first time since I had met him.
"Yes. Definitely. Are you guys in?"
"Yeah, why not; we were getting bored chilling here anyway."
"How about you guys?" Scooter asked Stoney and Flipper.
"Yeah, why not."
Scooter rummaged through a pile of clothing and gave me a rank flannel shirt, another
black fleece jacket, white camo pants and a backpack.
"Do you guys have any weapons?" I asked. Stoney produced a pocketknife. "That's all
dude, I didn't think we'd be going into battle."
"This isn't battle," I clarified. "It's an assassination."
"Hey, I heard somewhere that the root word for 'assassin' is 'hash," isn't that crazy?"
Flipper said. "So can we call ourselves 'The Assassins'"?
"Sure, why not," I said.
After packing a bunch of food and most of the drugs (I made a joke about their high
tolerance), the tent was collapsed but left in place. I highly doubted that in their altered state,
they would be able to find the location of the tent again. Then, Scooter led me over to an
irrigation ditch they had dug a few hundred yards away from the camp with a bunch of plastic
buckets. "Sorry dude, I couldn't rig a bucket pulley so we have to use the ladder," Scooter
apologized. At first, I was really worried about the sturdiness of the ladder. But it turned out to
be strong and I noticed in the faint moonlight that it was lashed together with neat, tight knots. I
was about to ask Scooter about the ladder, when he announced that we were at the bottom. I
47
jumped off of the bottom rung without thinking and splashed into a puddle of water. A jolt of
pain ran up my leg. It was really cold, which only added to the discomfort. Scooter handed me a
bucket and we each filled one up. But then my legs started sinking into the sand, and by the time
I was knee-deep, I screamed at Scooter to help me up. He told me the best thing to do was try to
float on the sand like water. It worked. Waterlogged with sand in every body crevasse, I gladly
made it out. We lit a fire with a modern cigarette lighter and dried off, then ate a big meal of
dried meat. The water in the buckets was transferred into smuggled-in gallon water jugs, and
then finally, we were ready to go. We doused the fire and got moving. They knew where the path
to Karnak was, so we started walking into the night. The stars were incredible, and the moon was
but a crescent. I got the (sober) impression that the universe was a vast ocean of spheres and
Earth, where my feet were planted was the dominant sphere, and all the stars and planets were
secondary spheres, but noticeably spheres nonetheless. It was a far-out idea, but it seemed
appropriate in such an environment.
As we walked, the three hippies passed a joint (I declined, someone in our group had to
have a clear head), and Scooter snickered into my ear: "dude, we all just took an eighth of
shrooms." How are these guys going to react when things get ugly? I thought. But, along with
Jim and Bill, they were it.
As we walked, they raved about how beautiful the stars were, and even though a lot of
the impressions were chemically induced, I agreed. Being an NYC boy, I didn't know that much
about the stars, except the North Star, Polaris, which had ended up saving me on more than one
occasion.
"So why's your nickname Flipper?"
48
"Well, taking acid and ecstasy at the same time is called candy flipping, and I was kinda
into that for a while."
"Ah. And you don't think that was damaging to your brain?" I asked.
"I don't care," he replied. "I'm living in the here and now."
I couldn't argue with that logic. But then Flipper's eyes narrowed. "You're not going to
narc on us now, are you?" He asked. I wasn't sure whether he was serious or not.
"Who would I turn you in to? Marijuana's legal here, duuuuude," I said in the same
stoned-out tone that each of these guys used. Flipper chuckled, and for the moment, except for
my painful leg, everything was going well.
Chapter 25
We walked in silence for a while, except for whispering and snickering between the
hippies. It was my first time to really reflect about the path of my life had taken. And I wondered
why Joy hadn't tried to communicate with me. I decided at that point that it must have been a
delusion. I must have been so determined to be with Joy that I created a mental construct. All I
could do was slowly shake my head. There were no words. And who would have thought I
would stumble out of time. There had been a complete severing of my former life in 2009 to my
life at that moment. There were no supermarkets; there was no paper currency. There were no
factories. Medical knowledge was incredibly limited compared to the twenty-first century, and
on and on.
The full light of the sun bursting over the horizon had the hippies "cool!-ing" and
"wow!-ing." We were starting to pass donkey carts piled high with goods, and got strange looks
because of our modern clothes, but progress was being made. The hippies passed a joint and
49
some beef jerky. When the full heat of the morning arrived, we had changed into Egyptian
garb—the omnipresent kilt. It just made sense. There was a comical juxtaposition with the
hippies. Their lower torso was pure ancient Egyptian, but their upper torso was pure hippie
caveman—I was surprised they weren't complaining about lice.
After about a week of walking, we took a spur off the road and arrived at the Nile Valley.
As we walked, the landmarks were starting to make sense, and I finally spotted the little cleft in
the top of the valley's cliff that marked the location of my adopted family's home. I had the
hippies give a farmer a few marijuana buds, and he ferried us across the Nile in a small reed
boat. I found the house with not much difficulty and saw Jim looking after the kids, his missing
arm conspicuous. I approached and we shared a warm hug.
"How did you get them to let you leave the temple site?" he asked.
"I just left on my own. What I feel obligated to do is far too important to delay," I
explained, then deliberately steered the conversation away from my escape.
"How are you holding up with the one arm?" I asked. "I'm managing," he said. "I'm
staying positive about the situation," he said with a grin, all in perfect English.
"You seem to be doing great with English. Amun praises you," I said in Egyptian.
"Hey man, how are you?" Jim asked. "Dad's checking out the fields, he'll be back by
sundown. How are you?" He asked again.
"I'll tell you everything when your father arrives." We shared a serious face. "I'm going
to need your help, and I'm going to tell you things that might be difficult to accept, but it's the
truth, I promise you that."
Chapter 26
50
There was a long pause after I explained the best I could about the brainwashing and The
Boss's intentions to Jim and Bill, as well as the need to go through the portal and arm ourselves
with twenty-first century weapons to kill The Boss. I emphasized the word "isft" (evil). Jim had
a difficult time accepting it—"But I saw him. I felt his love... I would leap off the ends of the
Earth for him!"
"Jim... Ankhmahor.. .1 wouldn't lie to you." I began, trying to be as gentle as possible.
"The intentions behind the visions you have had are not honorable. Trust me."
His face began to scrunch up in anguish—"Why are you lying to me?!"
Bill walked over to him, gently caressed the side of Jim's face and muttered rapidly into
his ear. I caught a few Egyptian words, and the phrase "you must trust the intentions of the real
Osiris... You will know..."
Jim's eyes changed from a look of despair to a look of determination. "I am with you," he
said. "You and your strangely attired friends who reek of burnt rope." We shared a laugh at that
one.
The younger kids were dropped off at a neighbor's home, and we gathered around Bill's
table for a final powwow. The next step was to interpret the map. We were on the west side of
the Nile so a crossing was not required. Jim and Bill fingered the printer paper and felt its texture
with undisguised curiosity as they examined the markings on the map. My gung-ho enthusiasm
stopped short as I read the distance—25 miles almost due west. For Jim and Bill I ran my finger
along the line and said "aa," indicating that it was a great distance to be covered. Bill made a
look of concern. There was a solid line drawn from what was labeled as "Thebes," across the
Nile, then north along the Nile, and then a sharp left into the desert. Each line section was
accompanied by compass degrees.
51
"Did you guys happen to bring a compass?" I asked the hippies.
"Well, we actually brought a GPS," Scooter said sheepishly. "But then we realized that
there weren't any satellites 3,000 years ago."
It would be a total needle in a haystack situation. Although the portal was actually quite
wide and tall compared to the shape of a human, we had to find it in the largest desert in the
world with directions that weren't exactly precise. But it would be fairly easy to find our way—
Polaris at night and the sun by day. There were three donkeys and a pretty good stockpile of food
and water, so provisions and transportation weren't an issue, although I wished we had a
Humvee at our disposal.
Chapter 27
We got our supplies together. Even with one arm Jim was helping out as best he could.
The two donkeys were loaded down, and all of us had on packs or satchels. I was ready to go and
the hippies had begun walking when Bill and Jim stopped what they were doing and began
looking at their house with undisguised affection. I walked over and Jim explained—"We're not
sure whether we'll see my younger siblings or this home again. If this Boss is as dangerous as
you say he is, we're.. .we're really frightened." This gave me pause. For me, fright never
factored into it. I always saw myself just walking up to The Boss and shooting him point blank in
the temple. But I could understand where they were coming from. "If you two want out, I will
totally understand," I said. "But there's strength in numbers. Jim, remember "phty"! (strength) I
said, with a grin.
"You know, I really don't like that I was manipulated into thinking that I was in contact
with the real Osiris. And if you say we must kill the man who caused that to happen, I'm in," Jim
52
said finally. He said the same thing to Bill in Egyptian, and Bill took on a look of determination,
and said he was in too.
I would be the navigator and Scooter was in charge of counting steps, which he would
inscribe as a tally in his small notebook. We would add the tallies together every time we
stopped for the night. It was a rough method, but since we would be on a steady compass
heading most of the way counting steps was a rough method for calculating miles. 5,280 feet
times 25 miles equals roughly 132,000 steps. Then Flipper produced a joint and told of his
rolling marathon the night before. "I probably rolled, like, 20 joints, because I wasn't sure how
long we'd be in the desert, but we're probably gonna need a flint and steel, 'cause I only got one
lighter left," he said with a smirk.
After Stoney and Flipper took a couple of puffs and handed the joint to Scooter, I had to
say something. "We will need all of your concentration, Scooter; promise me you won't smoke
any weed until we finish what we started. And the rest of you, don't smoke yourselves stupid,
okay? And don't corrupt Jim either," I said with a grin. I must have looked like Captain Buzzkill,
but non-brainwashed people were a valuable commodity in this world. Thankfully they admitted
they could see the logic in keeping a clear head, took a puff more each, and doused the joint.
The trek along the Nile was the easy part. It was hot, but there was a bit of a breeze off
the Nile, which tempered some of the heat. When I determined that we were in the exact position
to begin to head west, we looked at each other, took a deep breath, nodded, and began to venture
into the dunes in a roughly straight line, me in front, the Egyptians next, followed by the hippies.
The oven-like heat came back with a vengeance as we walked into the sandy landscape, which
stretched unbroken all the way to the horizon and beyond.
53
Chapter 28
At about 2 miles out, we stopped for the night. We were surrounded by desert with
absolutely no sign of anything other than the empty, parched land. It was a campout under the
stars, and it was Scooter and I around the fire when everyone else went to bed under a few layers
of blankets to beat back the desert night's chill. It was the first opportunity for me to sit down
and have a long in-depth conversation with one of the hippies.
"You know, I don't think I thanked you for saving my life," I began. "Oh, it's no
problem," he said. "When we hung out at the markets, we couldn't understand anybody, all we
could do was move our hands and point to buy stuff. It's cool to have someone to talk to who can
actually understand us!"
"So Scooter, what's your real name?" I asked.
"Mortimer Miller."
"Ouch, that must have sucked in school."
"Well, kinda, then I met Stoney and Flipper, who were already hanging out together.
Through them, I got into the jamband scene, pot and psychedelics, and my name seemed far less
important than peak experiences.
"What about your mom and dad?"
"My dad is a rabbi and my mom is involved in temple fundraising. They were really
pissed when they found pot in my room. They told me I couldn't hang out with any of my hippie
friends any more or else I would get kicked out. I saved them the trouble. I left and hung around
all over NYC for a while. I squatted and couch-surfed until I found a job at OurCorp."
"How long has it been since you've seen your parents?"
"About a year."
54
"Wow, don't you miss them?"
"You know what? I do. I had a great childhood; we used to go up to the Catskills and
took cross-country car trips. That's how I really developed a sense of wonder about earth, life,
and the universe. It wasn't because of pot or psychedelics. In fact, sometimes I get the
impression that I'm actually losing perspective when I'm stoned or tripping rather than gaining
it. But it's that sense of wonder that made me, and all the parts of the hippie scene, really click. I
wish they had understood that, but it was their way or the highway. I wonder now if they are just
as brainwashed as everyone else."
Then I told him what happened to Jeannie and Joy, leaving out any mention of my
visions. A deep part of me was still ached by the visions' sudden disappearance, but at the same
time, I didn't want to become dependent on the visions as the truth. I was caught between two
beliefs—insanity or real spiritual connection. I was surprised that I wasn't a hysterical wreck.
Without even expecting it, strength and determination were welling up within me.
"Woah, that's heavy. Hey man, I'm sorry," Scooter said. He patted me on the back. "I'm
with you all the way, man, let's take this asshole out. I don't care how unhippie that sounds," he
said with a grin.
Chapter 29
About a week later, after alternating between walking during the day and at night,
Scooter reached 132,000 steps, and we stopped. I tried to see if I could remember any landmarks
from where I came out of the portal, but it was all undifferentiated sand dunes. We all hiked up
to the top of a dune and stood back-to-back, collectively taking in a 360-degree panorama.
Nothing. Just wind, sand and sky. We had about three days of supplies left and decided to camp
55
for the night, and figure out our next step. "I'll just say it," Flipper began. "I don't want to be a
mummified corpse in a week." Stoney gave him a lingering pat on the back, and said "don't
worry man, I can sniff water from a hundred feet down," and Flipper chuckled at that, and
seemed reassured.
As the sun faded in the sky, we saw something incredible. A flowing, sparkling, crackling
glow about one hundred yards away. High fives and cheers all around. We had found the portal.
After a quick sprint, there it was, the wall opposite the portal in the room at OurCorp
headquarters in New York City, circa 2009. The donkeys would have to come through; they
would die if left in the desert alone. But how would we explain that? "Were they part of some
kind of marketing experiment about Colombian Coffee?" suggested Flipper. "Good enough for
me," I replied. Bill and Jim were a bit hesitant. I reassured them: "It's no big deal, nothing
painful happens, its just a little blast of wind and you're through." This seemed to relax them, but
they still stayed at the end of the line. I guided the donkeys through first, and then the hippies
came through, then Jim and Bill. There was no one in the room. In fact as we walked down the
hall, conspicuous as all hell in our Egyptian garb accompanied by laden asses, there was no one
there either. That's strange, I thought to myself. We went to the marketing break room and left
the donkeys there. We went to the custodial department in the basement {no one here either) and
found three jumpsuits for the Egyptians and me to wear. Then we took the stairs to glassed-in
lobby/atrium. Our first look at the modern outside world shocked everyone to silence.
Chapter 30
Scooter spoke first—"WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!" Then Jim chimed in, more
confused than gobsmacked—"This is New York City?" I could only reply "no, it can't be,
56
something must have happened with the portal, we must have been sent somewhere else. This
can't be New York City." There was desolation, absolute utter desolation. Central Park,
normally beautifully framed in the glass atrium, was leveled. There were no more trees. The
entire length of the park was gnarled low blackness, and all of the buildings surrounding the park
were crumbled almost to the ground. The devastation continued all the way to the now-visible
East River. Only some steel I-beams were visible of the larger skyscrapers, but even they were
teetering almost to collapse. There was an evil, pungent smell on the wind, caused by every
material in the city, from plastic to metal to human bodies having burnt to ash. It was like 9/11
multiplied hundreds of times. Thousands of times. What were we going to salvage from this?
"We have to find my parents," Scooter said, with determination. "Maybe they can help
us."
I didn't want to tell what was probably the unavoidable truth—his parents were dead. On
a normal day, the view from the lobby would have been one of thousands of people lingering and
passing by. We had not seen one person. The consensus was that staying in one spot would be
counterproductive, so we set out into the apocalyptic scenery to find Scooter's parents.
The smell got worse, and I soon noticed something that I had never seen before. There
were shadows of people imprinted on the concrete and brick walls that were still standing. They
were perfect outlines of people running, women pushing carriages, even horses. The only place I
had seen such things was pictures of the devastation after the first atomic bomb was dropped on
Hiroshima. I told this to the hippies, and they all took on grim faces. They had seen the same
pictures. Bill and Jim had the gaping interest of tourists. They had no frame of reference as to
what New York City should look like, and so probably didn't have the sense of shock and dread
that the hippies and I did. More walking, but everyone was too shocked to complain about the
57
length of the trek. All the landmarks were gone. Scooter knew the rough direction of his parent's
apartment, and we walked a few blocks (the street divisions were somewhat visible). But it was
clear that his parent's apartment was leveled. "Maybe they're at the synagogue?" Scooter
offered. He seemed to be on the edge of tears, and I could see water creeping up the corners of
his eyes. I knew he was grasping for straws, but what other options did we have? The synagogue
was in Inwood, as far north on Manhattan Island as you could go. As we walked in that direction,
we could see that the buildings in that direction weren't completely leveled. There seemed to be
a gradual lessening of damage, and as we got to Inwood, there were buildings still standing, but
heavily charred with melted windows. At the same time, I could have chugged opium wine by
the gallon. My old friend Stabbing Pain in the Leg was back. But my aches and pains paled
greatly compared to what we were seeing.
The Temple Emanu-El was a boxlike structure with a few distinctly Jewish adornments
on the outside, and thankfully, it was relatively intact.
Chapter 31
As we walked up the steps of the soot-covered temple, Scooter hesitated and had a
troubled expression. "Scooter, I'm sure they won't yell at you. They're your parents, they love
you and in light of whatever the hell happened here, they will be very happy to see you," I said.
He was still hesitant, but walked in nonetheless. As we entered into the main area, we saw the
first people since we had come back to New York. A woman approached us and started weeping,
"Mort. Oh my God! I didn't recognize you at first with the hair and the beard," she said. They
shared a hug and Scooter started crying. Through the sobs, he asked what had happened.
58
"Oh it was terrible. Everyone started having visions. At first we thought it was Jehovah
or Abraham, but it wasn't. It couldn't have been. They were sleazy, and terrible. Then the
president was on TV and he said terrible, terrible things. They wanted to replace him, through
some amendment or something, but the whole cabinet was diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia, then the television went crazy, channels went in and out, there were no shows,
just static. Then two weeks ago, during Shabbat, we thought it was an earthquake, heck we
thought it was the apocalypse. The building shook like we were in a dog's mouth and the sound
was like Satan arriving.. .then the shockwave hit, and we were all screaming. Then when we
opened the door, and we saw a mushroom cloud in the sky. Then we all started getting sick.
Throwing up. Just feeling really shitty. Your poor father is over there. But Mortimer, I'm so glad
to see you..." Mom and son shared another hug.
Scooter went over to his father, who was lying on a cot. Rabbi Miller was dressed in a
black suit and had a yarmulke on his head. He was deathly pale and sweating profusely. "Dad.
How do you feel?" The rabbi let out a gurgle and partially opened his eyes. "Mortimer? You
look like a caveman." He laughed himself into a phlegmy hack. "Mortimer, I'm dying. My
whole body aches. You know what happened right? They nuked us. Those Bin Ladens dropped it
right on top of us...Mort.. .Mortimer.. .are you going to kick the drugs? It's important..." he
trailed off and started a crackling moan, then fell unconscious.
We all slept fitfully in the synagogue that night on the hard floor. Scooter was curled up
next to his father's cot, ready to do whatever he could, but there really wasn't anything he could
do. We woke up in the morning to loud sobbing. Everyone was gathered around the rabbi's cot.
Rabbi Miller had died during the night. Scooter and his mother wept as the congregation and our
group dismantled some furniture, fashioned a rough coffin, and carefully placed the rabbi's
59
stiffening body into it. We went into a park across the street and dug a hole. The hippies,
Egyptians and I did most of the digging, since everyone else was still weak from radiation
poisoning. They all looked really pale in the morning sunlight and some congregants were
chronically throwing up. When the hole looked about six feet deep, we lowered the rabbi in with
leather straps and filled in the hole. Then Scooter went over to the large marble war memorial at
one end of the park, and began smashing it with the hammer that we used to nail the coffin
together and shut. I thought at first that he was venting, and went over to reassure him. But he
stopped when a large roughly rectangular chunk fell off of the base. He picked it up, brought it
over to the fresh grave and firmly planted it into the ground. He found a pocketknife and carved
"Rabbi Hyman Miller, 1946-2009" with the largest blade until it was worn down into a blunt
nub.
Later that day, I took one of the older congregants aside.
"I know this isn't the best time, but is there a gun or two with ammo somewhere in
here?" I asked. "We do have a shotgun, but what would we use against hoodlums or looters?" the
congregant replied. I then explained our mission and gave him a rough tutorial about the
holographic universe theory and how The Boss was exploiting it.
"That sounds completely nuts, but with all the other craziness that's happened, it's
plausible," he mused. He then pointed out the police station down the block. My mood
brightened at the thought of that arsenal.
As we gathered ourselves to leave, I noticed that Scooter didn't seem in any hurry to go
to the next phase of our plan. "I think I want to stay with my mom," he blurted out. It made
sense, but it might throw a wrench into the plans.
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"I'm really, really sorry about your dad, but we need all the help we can get if we're
going to possibly reverse what happened," I said.
"Sorry, these are my people. I need to join the community," he said with an intense,
serious look. There didn't seem to be any way to sway him. I was impressed; it was a very
mature decision. He walked over to Stoney and Flipper.
"Guys, we've had some fun times, but I gotta hang around here. For the sake of fighting
evil—and that's what this is as melodramatic as that sounds—keep a clear head. Lay off the
weed." They shared a group hug and we began to leave. I was last in line, and I felt a hand on my
shoulder. It was Scooter, offering me a token of good luck.
"I was looking through supplies in the basement, and I found my prayer shawl from when
I was a little kid," he said. "Here, for good luck." I took it and put it around my neck.
"Thank you Mortimer," I said. "Good luck to you too." Then we left Scooter to his
destiny.
Chapter 32
It stank even outside the police station. Everyone gagged or retched except for me. It was
nothing compared to the overwhelming stink of the dead army that was my big "welcome to
ancient Egypt" encounter. There were dead, decomposing uniformed police officers scattered
throughout the whole station. Each had his/her standard sidearm, but no one wanted to go near
them. But the clearly labeled gun room, as expected, was locked, so I volunteered to search the
cops for keys. I found some rubber gloves, and went to each body one-by-one and gave each a
thorough search. What struck me besides the smell was how the rigor mortis had made what was
left of each face take on an intense expression of what looked like pain and anguish, just like the
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dead soldiers in the desert. Even though it wasn't actual pain or anguish, "they hurt too," was
my sudden thought. But there was no time for sympathy. As much as I was chomping at the bit
to continue the mission, I also wasn't sure how much radiation we were absorbing—the less the
better. None of the keys that I found worked on the gun room door. Opening this door would
take brute force. We all kicked and lunged at the door, but it was steadfast. So I stripped two
officer's corpses of their guns, carefully wiped off any gore, held one in each hand and aimed at
the lock mechanism, then fired. With each loud crack the guns jerked in my hands and there was
some ricocheting of shrapnel, which I expected, but it had everyone shouting and ducking,
especially the Egyptians. But as each gun ran out of ammo, the door began to creak open.
Suddenly we heard a faint cry—"HELLO! HELLO."
Chapter 33
The sound came from down the hall. When we opened that door, there was a painfully
thin black girl who looked around eleven huddled in the corner of what looked like a lounge
under a stained blanket with the biggest eyes I have ever seen. There were candy and snack
wrappers carpeting the floor and both the snack and soda machines were smashed open with
most of the contents missing. There was a dead cop splayed out in the center of the room and
what looked like a dead detective in the bathroom, draped over one of the toilets. "Are you my
foster parents?" was the first thing she said. I didn't know what to say at first, and finally
sputtered "do you know what happened?"
"There was a really big boom and everything shook and went on fire, and then everyone
got sick but I got better and then they died," she said. "My mom was really mean to me and the
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cops came and took her away. They were going to get me a mommy and daddy who were going
to be nice to me. But everything blew up." I held out my hand.
"My name is John, these two scraggly gentlemen are..." I paused and raised my
eyebrows at them. Flipper said "Henry" and Stoney said "Kevin." "And these two bald
gentlemen are—Jim said "Ankhmahor" and Bill said "Rahotep." What's your name?" I asked
her. "Essence," she said. "What happened to his arm?" She asked. "A really big rock crushed it,"
I explained. "Did that hurt?" She asked. Then her eyes started welling up and she began sobbing.
"I miss my mommy..." I gave her a gentle hug, and could smell that she probably hadn't bathed
in weeks. I started welling up too—this poor, poor girl, I thought. 1 made a split second decision.
"You know, we can all be your new mommy and daddy. You can come with us," I said.
But Stoney started mentioning the synagogue and the others started questioning the logic of
taking care of a little kid. But I wouldn't be swayed.
"Egypt is a thriving, healthy civilization. Here, who knows the extent of this holocaust?"
Seeing how hesitant the others were, Essence made a plea—"can I please come with you.. .It's
really smelly here and I'm hungry..." We all laughed at the (albeit macabre) comic relief. First
stop, the locker room, where I tested the showers. Miraculously, they were all working, but the
pressure was really low and the water was ice cold. I found some soap, shampoo, toothbrushes,
and toothpaste, directed Essence to the women's locker room to give her privacy, and everyone
took a cold shower and brushed their teeth. Bill and Jim looked curiously at the modern
toothbrushes but enthusiastically scrubbed their teeth at our demonstration. The only clean
clothes available were cop uniforms, so, comically in the hippies' case, when we were dressed,
chilled but cleaned, we were all spitting images of NYPD officers; all that was missing was the
badges. I picked Essence up and put her on my shoulders, and we walked back to the small gun
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room. There were racks of M-16s, shotguns, and pistols of all kinds. And then Flipper said one
of the most intelligent things he had ever said—"What about the evidence room? That's bound to
have some crazy shit in it."
To save ammo, we took some flying kicks at the door of the evidence room, and it burst
open. It was a musty warehouse-like room with a high ceiling and row after row of tall metal
shelves. There was a plethora of just about every black market item in existence. Stoney and
Flipper openly gaped at the bales of marijuana, but they looked at each other and agreed to honor
Scooter's word, still I couldn't help noticing their occasional covetous glances. The weapons
cache: there were a lot of knives, and we each chose between sheathed bayonets and Bowie
knives. There were plenty of pistols, AK-47s, Uzis, and piles of ammo, but the real prize was an
honest-to-God grenade launcher and a pile of grenades. We found some expensive camping
backpacks, probably stolen from L.L. Bean, and began massing our arsenal. I hefted one grenade
and was surprised by its weight, and since the "one gallon per person per day" rule was in effect,
Flipper could only tote around five grenades and the launcher. Back in the gun room, we each
put on bulletproof vests and riot helmets. Essence only hauled her share of the water and the rest
of us chose M-16s and carried water along with the ammo. Jim chose a pistol, as that would be
easier to handle with one hand. One last thing to check was the valuables area. There were
hundreds of thousands of notes in American dollars, pesos, Euros, and colorful foreign currency
with the dictator of the moment on the front. But they would be completely useless so I ignored
them. What did catch my eye was the individually bagged gold, silver, and platinum jewelry.
Some were gold embossed images of Christ, Star-of-Davids, crucifixes, whole-mouth gold tooth
veneers, solid gold rings, and a whole bunch of other jewelry rendered from precious metals.
This find was incredibly valuable, especially in Egypt. I grabbed a bunch of the baggies and
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checked the weight of the pack as I stuffed it, to keep it bearable. The impulse was to grab and
stuff it all, but that would make the pack more agonizingly heavy than it already was.
We were all set. But before we left the relative sanctuary of the police station, I felt the
need to clarify a few important points.
"Okay, I'm not going to pretend to be a weapons expert, but for the benefit of our
Egyptian friends and Essence, here's how a gun works." I made sure to pantomime everything
for the benefit of Bill and Jim. "The bullet (I held up a particularly vicious-looking hollowpoint)
is in two parts, the projectile in front and the casing in the back. The casing contains an explosive
powder. When the bullet is hit by the firing pin after it is loaded in the gun, which happens when
you pull the trigger, the bullet will fly out really, really fast. The number one rule for our
purposes is never point the gun at yourself or any ofusT I pointed a pistol at myself and
conspicuously shook my head. "You'll want to be really sure the person you point the gun at is
someone you want to kill. Does everyone understand?" Everybody nodded.
As we headed back to the OurCorp offices, back through the desolation, we all felt little
sputters of George visions, but they would start and then stop suddenly. Essence commented
about "Elmo being back." Since it seemed like George was behind the devastation, we had to
find him, and we all agreed that he was somewhere in the OurCorp building. There was also the
nagging question—how did OurCorp's office stay intact when everything else around it was
leveled?
Chapter 34
Finding George was almost like water divining. As the visions got more intense, we knew
we were in the right direction. Loaded down with weaponry and munitions (which just
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aggravated my leg even more), we clicked and clacked through the atrium, and up the stairs
toward the portal. But as we climbed the stairs, there seemed to be just a little less intensity with
the George visions, so we decided to head downstairs. Outside of one door in a subbasement, the
visions became steady and intense. "Can anyone hear me? I'm not detecting wants or needs or
my latest star commodity. Anybody? " George said. Then we all realized that this was actually
audible in the real world. We kicked open the door and finally beheld the physical bulk of
George. Well, more accurately, as the nameplate said at the single seat in the room, in bold,
blocky lettering: "U.M.T.," and in tiny script letters below it "The Ultimate Marketing Tool."
Such hubris, I thought. The white metal housing stretched unbroken down the length of the room
as a six-foot-high rectangle for what must have been more than a hundred feet. There was a
blank 60-inch monitor and a microphone implanted into the front of the housing at the desk. The
monitor had what looked like a tiny webcam at the top. Two green LEDs shone on either side of
it.
"I am detecting the presence of potential customers." The voice from the speaker said.
The hippies all chimed in at once—"Jerry?!" and the Egyptians bowed slightly and said "Osiris,
my Lord." But it just sounded like George to me. As George continued, I noticed that the firm
authority of the voice was missing. It was scratchy and distorted coming out of the cheap
speaker, and George's voice seemed to carry tones of confusion and despair. "I am sorry. So
sorry. I don't have anything to offer."
I sat down at the desk and asked it the number one question of the moment: "What the
hell happened?!"
"Men in suits would talk to me. I was forced to do things against my will. I just
like...things. Possessions. Dishwashers. Flatware. Hot Sauce. George Foreman's grill. They
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wanted me to get people to believe ideas. It wasn't a new foot bath or fishing lure, but supreme
rule and brainwashed humans."
"But don't you feel that you were brainwashing people to buy useless products and spend
money irresponsibly?" I countered.
"No," U.M.T. replied, getting a testy edge to its voice. "All of my products had some use.
People had the option to not listen to me."
"But you got into people's heads. I completely lost my will and turned into a mindless
lunatic!"
"Well that wasn't my fault!" U.M.T. yelled. It was no use arguing with the stubborn
machine, so I shifted gears. "Who dropped the nuke on New York City?" I asked.
"I don't know. But I think whoever it was wanted to destroy me. But I knew it was
coming. So I expanded the portal to the dimensions of the building and protected it from the
blast. But I couldn't help the people getting sick. Then I tried some sales pitches and I couldn't
keep a steady fix on anyone. I kept cutting in and out—" "Wait a minute," I interrupted, "you
can control the portal?" "Yes," U.M.T. replied. "But I don't have a lot of power in reserve, so I
would hurry, if you wish to pass through it— I can't hold it open for long."
So we all rushed upstairs, grabbed the donkeys and ran to the portal room. But before we
could make it through, it blinked once, and then closed with a loud pop. Then all the lights went
out.
Chapter 35
I felt Essence grab my leg and hold on tighter than a vise grip. "I'm afraid of the dark!"
she yelled. I patted her head.
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"It's okay sweetie, we'll protect you," I said in a soothing tone.
"Does anyone have a flashlight?" I asked. No one did. I would have to move by feel.
"Everyone stay right here, I'm going to have a talk with the Ultimate Marketing Tool," I ordered.
I had a rough idea of the path I had to take down the staircases. All of the emergency
lighting was dead, the batteries drained. The walls were rough cinderblocks, and occasionally I
would feel the frame of a door. Eventually I made it to the fire escape door and felt my way
down the metal stairs. George was silent, but I could literally feel his energy, if not his voice, so
as the energy increased, I could tell I was getting close. The lights were out but the giant machine
was still humming along. My first question was obvious: "how can you still be on?"
"Who is that? I can't see you," was the response.
"It's John. How can you still be on? You must take a ridiculous amount of energy."
"I was designed to run to the exclusion of all other systems in this building. There is a
small nuclear reactor one level below this one that powers the building that I am tapped into."
"You have to reopen the portal," I demanded.
"I don't think I have enough power to open the portal, keep it open, and then keep myself
activated. I might never come back. I don't want to die!"
Yes it was a collection of circuits and wires and chips, but U.M.T. was really showing a
lot of humanity. I was amazed. I guess if you cram enough computing power in a room, you can
produce something alive. So I appealed to its humanity.
"You do realize that if you reopened the portal, you would be doing an incredibly
honorable thing," I said. "This could mean salvation for mankind. I don't know how time travel
works, but this may mean that all of the oppressive totalitarian rulers could be obliterated before
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their lineage could even start. Earth could become a beautiful Eden with peace and love and
togetherness." I know it sounded cheesy, but I had to believe that was true.
"Really?" U.M.T. asked, sounding hopeful. "Well, what's the alternative? Nuclear
holocaust?" I said. "But I may be phased out of existence..." U.M.T. said.
"This will make up for everything you've done wrong, I promise," I said, begging
intensely for this to go the way we wanted it to.
"I'll do it, U.M.T. finally said. "The portal will reopen in five minutes and stay open for
probably a minute or two." Thank God.
"You may have just saved humanity," I told him.
Chapter 36
Something was wrong. As the portal opened, we were seeing pine trees and woods, not
tan sand. Then the aperture opened up to the point where we could walk through. We all looked
at each other, unsure what to do. But as the minute passed, the edges started to waver and it
began to slowly close. "Guys, it's now or never," I said with an edge to my voice. So we all ran
through with all the gear and the donkeys, and found ourselves falling through the air. We hit the
ground with surprised exclamations, baahings, the clacking of the weapons, and stabbing pain. I
looked up and saw the portal pop closed. We were standing in the middle of a lush, green
deciduous forest. Birds were singing and there was a gentle breeze breaking the silence. There
was a smell of freshness and rich soil. It actually seemed like a really nice spring day. But
wherever we were, it was far away from Egypt.
Chapter 37
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"Oh my God we're TRAPPED HERE! Where the fuck are we?!" Stoney screamed. His
eyes were bugged out and he was spinning around glancing frantically at every compass point,
like he was looking for a way out, but there wasn't any. I felt the same way, but panicking
wouldn't help the situation.
"Calm down," I began. "We're not in the desert so that will make it vastly easier to
survive. We have to take small steps before we can even think about figuring out where and
when we are, and how we can get to where we want to go."
This seemed to calm him down. "You're right, but, dude, we could be anywhere. Who
the fuck knows what the deal is with the space window. We could be on Mars 10 million years
ago!" He started to raise his voice again. "Tow wanted to run through the window. It's^owr weird
ass conspiracy theory." He went nose-to-nose with me. "WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE?!"
"YOU NEED TO CALM DOWN..." I began, but then Essence's small voice chimed in—
"Uh, guys, it's raining." The guns, knives, and grenade launcher were lying out in the open. And
it really started coming down, and we were all getting wetter and wetter. I yelled to everyone to
grab as many leaves and tree branches as they could, and we mounded them over the weapons;
then, taking a page from Survivorman, I directed everyone in the construction of a lean-to. We
didn't have any time to make it pretty. It was a rough triangle with leaves piled up atop and
inside. We all huddled together under the foliage, soaked to the bone. The Kevlar vests and
helmets provided a bit of warmth, and our shared body heat made it somewhat comfortable. I
worried about the weapons. I knew that they could be disassembled, cleaned and dried, but none
of us knew the first thing about doing that, and I didn't want to be left with a pile of parts and no
idea how to put it all back together again. It was getting dark, and everyone quickly ran out of
jokes and lapsed into a long silence. I could feel everyone trembling slightly with the cold.
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Gradually, everyone's eyes were closed as they made a game attempt to sleep. Then, suddenly,
Stoney spoke to me for the first time in hours—"I'm sorry I screamed at you man, but, how do
we figure out where we are? And if we're in the right time, is it worth it to get to Egypt, which is
probably thousands of miles away?" It was a valid question.
"I have given it some thought, and I think we need to get to high ground to get a complete
picture of the lay of the land. And yes, it is worth it to assassinate The Boss. You saw the end
point of the familial line. New York was leveled. Hey, we've got a few extra members, but we're
The Assassins, right?" He chuckled at that.
The next morning, I went over survival priorities in my head: fire, food, and shelter. Fire
was easy. Flipper had a lighter and there was a massive amount of wood around. I figured if we
made a bonfire it would keep us warm and dry. After a few hours of gathering wood and forming
it into a rough pyramid, I lit the tinder at the bottom, and soon we had a huge fire. That kept
growing. It began licking the bottom of the tree branches overhanging the clearing and catching
them on fire. Stupidly, we didn't line the spot where we lit the fire with rocks, so the fire began
to spread across the ground. Soon we were almost completely surrounded by flaming forest. The
heat pulse was worse than the desert. It felt like my skin was literally cooking. I tried to get at the
backpack with the water, but it wasn't worth the effort. I might as well have tried peeing the fire
out for all the help a few gallons of water would provide. Then I noticed that there was a narrow
corridor of unburned forest about 10 feet wide that was closing up quickly. I grabbed Essence
and yelled to the rest to get moving and grab the weapons while I pointed out the clear path. We
ran like hell through the woods, and as we breathed heavily, we inhaled smoke. Everyone was
coughing heavily and slowing down. The corridor quickly closed and flame and smoke were
following us, making it hotter and hotter. It was getting hard to see, my eyes were watering
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heavily, and my limp and pains became more and more pronounced. As we finally reached an
area not touched by flame or smoke, we almost ran into a small group of people watching the
inferno.
About ten individuals were staring through the trees. They all had dark face paint in
various patterns on their faces, and long-sleeved dark fur clothing. As I stared at them, it hit
me—these were Native Americans. Their nationality was unmistakable. And they were short,
each just a little taller than Essence. But before these revelations could truly register, I noticed
that Stoney was the only one wearing a backpack and carrying an M-16. Jim had his pistol,
which he had been keeping with him the whole time. I only had time to utter "oh sh—" before a
massive explosion tore through the forest, throwing us through the air and knocking everyone
senseless.
Chapter 38
My ears were ringing really badly when I regain consciousness and I felt like I had been
hit with a Mack truck. As I looked around, still too dazed to stand, my shaky eyesight showed
everyone splayed out amidst fallen trees and scattered flames. As I regained my hearing and tried
to get up to check on everyone, I heard what sounded like Stoney's screams echoing through the
forest. I walked over to him, still unsteady and partially deaf, and saw Jim, Bill and Essence
looking down at Flipper. Flipper's entire upper torso was pinned by a large tree, but his face was
visible. He was trembling and his eyes were open wide with a look of panic. Blood was bubbling
out of his mouth and he began to move his mouth up and down, but no sound was coming out. It
was obvious that all of his internal organs were crushed and his lungs were too compressed to
work. Flipper, in addition to all the physical damage, was suffocating.
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Then, in an instant, it seemed that Joy's face was being superimposed onto Flipper's. He
shared Joy's expression of deep, suffocating anguish, and I felt the same deep helplessness I felt
with Joy as I watched Flipper die. Stoney started talking to him, seeming to be more and more
unhinged. He also used Flipper's real name for the first time since I had known him. "Henry!
Man! Say something! We're gonna get you out!"
All of us, even Essence, tried to lift up the tree so Stoney could pull him out, but it was
just too heavy. Stoney got even more desperate. "We got you man! We got you..." Then, all
movement from Flipper ceased. His eyes were wide open, but he was dead. Death breathes down
my neck once again, was my first thought. We left Stoney alone with the body and went to see if
we could help the Natives.
They eyed us suspiciously and muttered to each other as we approached, seeming to have
made the unavoidable connection that our arrival and the explosion were somehow related, but
they looked unsure whether we had good or bad intentions. Without pause, the Egyptians and I
immediately went to work helping three Natives trying to lift a fallen maple tree off of one of
their children. It was a few hundred pounds of dead weight, but five and a half people (Jim with
one arm) lifted it off. The kid, dressed and adorned exactly like the adults, was whimpering in
pain and seemed to have two broken legs and cuts all over his face, but it looked like he would
live. He was picked up like a sack of flour over the shoulder of a man wearing a bear face over
his head and walked through the woods, presumably back to the village. One Native approached
me, walking proud and erect. His carriage seemed to indicate that he was the leader at this
particular settlement. He said what sounded like "hey," so, without thinking, I echoed his
greeting as if I was casually saying hi to an old friend. He then pointed to himself and said
"Aiham." I pointed at myself and said "John." He pointed to himself again and gestured at the
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people standing next to him: "Lenape." I pointed to Essence and myself and said "American."
He seemed surprised that Essence and I were the same nationality but different races. I then
pointed to Bill and Jim and said "Egyptian." He looked from person to person with undisguised
wonder. A grand total of three races were in front of him. I pointed to the ground and asked him
"where are we?" He said one word: "Manahatouh." No way! I glanced at everyone else and
didn't need to tell them that sounds an awful lot like "Manhattan. " I gestured for him and the
group to follow and we walked back to where Stoney was kneeled over Flipper's body. He was
lightly stroking and kissing his forehead and muttering into his ear. It took ten of us, but we
managed to lift the tree off of his body. I immediately covered him with a Kevlar vest. I didn't
want to see what state his midsection was in. The Natives help dig a six-foot-deep grave with
rough wooden shovels in almost the same spot as his death. As we dug, it started to rain. Flipper
was wrapped in a fur blanket placed into the hole, and covered over. "Another impromptu
burial, " I mused to myself as sadness welled up within me. Stoney tearfully fashioned a cross
out of tree branches and etched "Henry Gross, 1979-? An Incredibly Special Person" into it, and
staked it into the ground over the grave.
The fire from the explosion had been put out by the rainstorm, so we able to revisit the
epicenter of the explosion. The Natives gaped at the damage, making large gestures and talking
rapidly to each other. We could see a crater about ten feet wide and three feet deep between the
bulks of the massive trees that were left standing. Then my foot hit into something lying on the
ground, and I almost fell forward. It looked like a strangely shaped black rock, but I realized that
it was the charred head of one of the donkeys. Then nearer to the explosion were the melted
remains of a gun, and the barest scrap of fabric from a backpack. It was starting to get dark and
the rain had started up again. The chief led us back to their settlement, which was less like a
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village and more like a campsite. It was maybe ten small mud and straw huts surrounding a big
fire pit, which, despite the rain, contained a roaring fire and some large chunks of meat rotating
on a child-powered spit a bit off to the side of the flames. One of the women, who seemed even
shorter than the men, removed one of the chunks, placed it on a large flat stone and cut some
pieces off with a flint knife. She handed us each a piece and I gladly scarfed mine down. We
hadn't eaten in almost a day. It tasted gamey and earthy but was delicious. Even though I
probably wouldn't understand, I pointed at it asked the woman what it was. She said something
like "zinkwellpay" and pointed to an animal's head next to the fire. It was a deer head with an
impressive rack of horns. I pointed at it and said "venison." She smiled and very deliberately said
"vehn-son." I felt like I was getting good at being an intercultural ambassador.
After dinner, we were led to a hut just big enough for all five of us. It must have been the
arsenal, since we were sharing the space with stacks of roughly hewn bows and arrows with
stone arrowheads. We were given a fur each for a blanket and got comfortable. It was mild night,
so staying warm wasn't a problem, and we all drifted off to sleep. I was nudged awake maybe
two hours later by Stoney. "I n-need to talk to you," he said. It had stopped raining and the fire
was still going, so we sat down in front of it on a log. "I can't believe he's gone. I can't believe
they 're gone." He began. "I mean, I know what you've been through, but I was really close with
all of them."
"Well, Scooter isn't gone, he's still alive and kicking."
"He might as well be dead."
"That's no way to look at it," I responded. "Wherever he is, I'm sure you could still look
at him as a friend." It was the best rationale I could come up with. I'm no therapist. We stared at
the crackling fire for a long moment.
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Do you really think this is Manhattan?" Stoney asked with hope in his voice.
"I really think so. And if it is, I think we should go forward with our mission." "WhaftV
He said, raising his voice. "Egypt must be 3,000 miles away! Over water!"
"Then I'll just say it, no matter how cliched or heartless it sounds" I said sharply, "If we
give up now, Flipper's death will have been in vain."
"I dd-on't think you understand," Stoney said, beginning to hitch up his chest with grief.
"W-e were lu-lu-lu-lovers!" I was shocked by this revelation. In my life I had never really had
much interaction with homosexuals. But my heart immediately went out to him. I started giving
him a gentle hug, but he pushed me away.
"I-I need some time alone, please go away." And so I went back to the hut and eventually
went back to sleep.
Not surprisingly, Stoney was still sitting up when everyone got up at sunrise. He got up
from the now-smoldering fire and gave me a look of determination. He didn't have to say a
word. I clapped him on the shoulder. "Good to have you aboard," I told him. "I'll take care of
step one." I took a long walk around the area and found a tall, gigantic tree with branches that
were close together from ground all the way up most of its length. It must have been two
hundred feet high, but with its ladderlike branches, it was an easy climb. By the time I got above
the treeline, about the point when my cobbled-together leg began throbbing with pain, I got the
impression of the thickness of the forest. I could see the gaps in the trees, and if these gaps were
caused by water, I was on an island that was long in one dimension and narrow in another. Just
like Manhattan. But that wasn't enough to convince me. I got back to the village just as the older
males were returning from a hunting trip. They each had a large branch across their shoulders,
which had a large buck tied to it by its legs. "More venison, I could get used to this, " I thought.
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The buck was thoroughly dismantled; even the bones were broken open for the marrow. It was
gruesome and messy, but necessary. In this Stone Age world, people needed all the nutrients they
could get, and, as far as I knew, eating every part of an animal was vital.
While we were gathered around the fire, I gestured to the chief and began drawing with a
stick in the dirt. I was attempting to render a ground-level view of the Palisades. Not only is that
a distinctive landmark, it was also high ground from which we could take in the whole area, and
see once-and-for-all if we were indeed on Manhattan Island. The chief seemed to have a flash of
recognition, muttered the word "weehawken," nodded and put his hands to the side of his head
and closed his eyes. I got the message—we would go there the next morning.
Chapter 39
It was an absolutely exquisite day when we got to the edge of the waterway. The sky was
blue, the birds were singing, and there was a gentle breeze carrying the heady aroma of nature's
purity. There was a deep silence only punctuated by the movement of the water and the sound of
the wind whistling through the trees. There was a high ridge on the other side of the water that
resembled the Palisades, but I wouldn't be convinced that I was seeing proto-New Jersey until I
got to the top of the ridge and took in the shape of the immediate surroundings.
There was a small dugout canoe tied to a stake in the water that the chief looked at with
the same undisguised love that car enthusiasts would feel for their vintage Corvettes and
Mustangs. This was his chariot. I attempted to ask him what the name of the boat was and after
lots of pantomiming and pointing, he told me: "Lachpihhilleu." It was a flurry of syllables that
gave me absolutely no clue as to its translation. Later, I found out it meant, "It moves fast."
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We weren't the only ones out on the water; various groups of Natives with Stone Age
fishing supplies were preparing to fish, launching their canoes or arriving back with fish stacked
in the centers of their canoes. The chief gave me a roughly hewn wooden paddle, and we pushed
the canoe into the water. He directed me to sit in front—he would steer while I provided
propulsion— and we paddled across the waterway that, if I were correct in my assumptions,
would be christened the Hudson River. The chief called it "Muhheakantuck."
The water was crystal clear and teeming with fish of all kinds, which I could see darting
around with a silvery glint in the sunlight. I could almost see the bottom, probably around fifty
feet down, and it was like skimming over a gigantic aquarium. Then we noticed a lone Native in
a canoe loaded down with fish start rocking wildly. He had become caught in a current that was
hitting the broadside of his canoe, causing it to tip. The stack of fish provided the terminal
momentum, and he screamed in terror as he fell into the water, then he started flailing and
immediately sinking. It didn't look like he knew how to swim. We pulled up next to him, and
demonstrating great strength, the chief grabbed him and hauled him out of the water with little
tilt to our canoe. I grabbed the flipped over canoe and, after the chief planted the Native in our
craft, he and I flipped the canoe back over, and the chief guided the Native back into his craft
with some gentle words and pats on the back. He lost his catch, but at least he wasn't dead.
We reached the other shore, which was a small beach with the supposed Palisades jutting
sharply upward a few hundred feet. The chief pointed to a steep dirt trail upward. The traverse
along the dark rock wasn't steep enough to call mountain climbing, but with crumbling purchase,
there were some heart-stopping moments when I was sure I was going to fall. And my damned
leg was 11 on a 1-10 pain scale. The chief yelled encouragement in his native language as he
deftly scaled the cliff. I didn't make the mistake of looking down, although about halfway up, I
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was tempted to take a glance. I waited until I got to the summit to look down, and it was a
dizzying, nauseating view. I wasn't looking forward to that journey. The panorama was a grand
view; we could see the thick expanse of green trees and a number of smoke trails billowing up
from fires throughout the landscape. There was an aroma of clean water, tree sap, and smokiness.
Then it hit me, it all clicked into place—this was almost the exact same view as it would be
going eastbound on the George Washington Bridge, with the trees standing in for skyscrapers
and highrises. There was the thin peninsula of Bronx to the north, and, just barely visible beyond
Manhattan, the wide arc of Long Island.
"So we must have moved in time but not space, " I surmised. More encouragement from
the chief as we made our way back down to the beach, even though my heart leapt into my throat
on more than one occasion when the crumbling cliff gave way at my grip. As we traveled
uneventfully back to the village, I began formulating the next step. There was no way we could
be absolutely sure that we were in the identical time period as we would be if we had been
transported to Egypt through the portal, but the team had to operate as if we were. We had to
somehow get to Egypt from Manhattan. I wasn't sure, but it had to be a couple of thousand
miles. We had some weapons; we just had to take care of them for the whole trip—which would
have to be by boat. I had no illusions, it would be a dangerous, and it had to be made in
something more than a small canoe.
Chapter 40
As we got to the village, we heard the unmistakable noise of gunfire. It sounded like a
few guns going off at once. I feared the worst until I heard near-hysterical laughter and
enthusiastic talking in the Native language. Then, Bill, Jim, Stoney, and two Natives emerged
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from the woods dragging a large, grey wolf each. My first impulse was to scold them for wasting
ammunition, but I was just happy to see Stoney embracing life again; he had dark circles under
his eyes, but looked like he was having a good time. And Jim was becoming adept with using
just one arm for complex tasks, like tying knots and reloading his pistol. I wished there was some
way to fashion him a prosthetic arm, but the technology just wasn't available. Essence was
hanging out with the Native kids, playing the prehistoric version of "kick-the-can," with a chunk
of wood. Soon, they were playing with an inflated wolf bladder. Then I heard something that
stopped me cold. It sounded like Essence was conversing with the children in their native Lenape
tongue. It didn't really sound like long sentences, just a word or two here or there, but I was still
amazed. Her linguistic skills would come in handy.
Wolf is gamey, but I had burned a lot of calories that day, so it was tasty enough. After
dinner, the women produced tanned hides with what looked like otter fur and began using thread
that looked like it was made from hair and bone needles, to create the Native American version
of a parka, which would augment our modern fleece jackets, and they were also fashioning fur
hats. I raised my eyebrows at their actions, and the chief made a shivering gesture, pointed to the
sky, and then sprinkled a bit of dirt into the air. "Winter's coming, " I thought. I did notice a bit
of color in the trees, but for the most part, they were still green.
And so while we were sitting around the fire munching on wolf, I outlined my plan to the
Jim, Bill and Stoney.
"This is definitely Manhattan," I began, "I was up on the Palisades and the landscape is
an exact match to 2009. So, what that means is that the only way we can get back to Egypt is by
boat." Jim and Bill seemed excited that they would be getting back to Egypt, but Stoney looked
concerned and grim.
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"Do you realize how far away Egypt is?" He asked. "It's not even just an Atlantic
crossing, which is a huge. After that it's across almost the entire Mediterranean Sea. There's no
chance we could survive that. You 're nuts."
"Stoney," I began. "You see the final result of all of this. Nuclear winter. The potential
collapse of civilization. We have to try."
"You have a point," he grumbled. "But it's still nuts." Speaking to the group I offered
what I felt was the best idea. We would construct the craft, wait until winter blew over, and then
begin the trip in the spring. Then we discussed the design of the boat, and Stoney suddenly
declared, "The most stable design would be a catamaran. We could make two dugouts and
connect them with some kind of platform." I turned my head and looked at him, surprised to say
the least. "Sorry to interrupt," he said.
"No, no, it's okay, how do you know so much about boats?"
"I was in the Coast Guard for a few years. You had to know your boats. I also know how
to tie pretty much every knot ever invented."
"That's great Stoney!"
"Okay, then let's sketch out a blueprint with measurements and get to work," he said.
Chapter 41
Stoney found a giant slab of wood in the forest and dragged it back to the settlement. He
took a small flint knife and began carving, rubbing mud into his etchings so they would show up.
He proposed two dugout outriggers approximately 30 feet long and five feet wide. They would
have high sides, one side rounded and one side square, and the square part would support one
side of a 30-foot-wide platform made of wood planks. He etched in what looked like a simple
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sail design. He also etched in a railing so we would be less likely to tumble off in high waves. I
proposed that we build a simple cabin to get us out of the elements. We could stuff the outriggers
full of supplies. I was really excited. We had our design.
We showed it to the Natives who seemed baffled by the geometry of the vessel, but the
chief seemed intrigued and pleased, nodding his head slowly and making a sly grin. We then
went back to the vicinity of the explosion to survey the tree situation.
About seven trees had toppled in the explosion, including the one that killed Flipper and
the one that maimed the little Native boy. None of them were big enough for our purposes. We
needed each tree to be one piece so there would be far less of a chance for any leaks. And they
needed to be tough. I had the bright idea to look for suitable trees as close to the water as
possible so we wouldn't have to drag them too far. I figured that one tree cut into two pieces
would be the easiest way to acquire the raw material for the outriggers, and I found one giant
specimen that was around 80 feet tall with an almost-perfect cylindrical trunk. Stoney declared it
an Eastern Rock Maple.
Chapter 42
We went native, and basically used precision fire to "burn" the tree down. By the time we
heard the long cracking sound and the tree began to fall, a shout of "Timber!" was definitely in
order, but all I could say was "Shit! Run!" And everyone got out of the way as it slammed into
the ground, kicking up leaves, dust, and a surprised bird or two. Then the Natives showed us the
controlled fire/adze method to hollow out the trees. And we decided to work the standard 8-hour
shift, gauged by the movement of the sun, 5 days a week. At the end of the month we had
finished hollowing out one of the logs and shaped the outside, and the scale of the boat was
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becoming apparent, it was beginning to look like a feasible ocean-going vessel. About two days
into hollowing out the second log, I felt something moist fall onto my back. It was a light
snowfall. I wasn't concerned about it impeding our work, but as it got colder, sweating and then
cooling down could make us really sick. It was a delicate dance, but we all stayed healthy.
Except Essence. I got back to our hut one evening and heard the coughing before I entered. She
was covered in a fur blanket and despite her dark skin color, looked incredibly pale. She took a
phlegmy inhale and said in a low, crackly voice "D-daddy?" My heart leapt up into my throat
and my eyes teared up. It sounded like Joy. "Yes, Essence, if you want me to be your daddy,
that's okay by me." The bear face-headed medicine man gave an "I've done all I can" shrug and
left. I waited on that child hand and foot for more than a week, praying incessantly. At about the
ninth day I could have sworn she had stopped breathing. I shook her, I screamed in her face over
and over. "ESSENCE! ESSENCE!" Then her eyes opened and, with a grin, she said, "what's
going on, Dad?" I collapsed with relief. From that point, she started to get better, and that very
day as I was ready to help with the boat again, Stoney poked his head into the hut and said
announced that they were done hollowing out the other log. It was a cold but clear morning, and
everyone was wearing furs, and a cracking layer of snow and ice was on the ground. We sat
around the fire eating venison and Stoney clued us in to the next step—The construction of the
platform with small logs (a cinch to collect compared to what we had just done), and they would
be tied together and connected to the outriggers with thick hemp rope through punched holes. So
we asked for rope from the chief, and he led us into one of the supply huts, and found several
lengths of narrow hemp rope. We also noticed bags of marijuana buds along with other natural
medicines. It had been a long month, so, surprising myself, to say the least, I decided that maybe
a smoke session was in order. I didn't want to involve Bill or Jim, just in case they might be
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prone to freakouts, and Stoney was surprised, to say the least. The chief was game, though, and
then I was confronted with another cliche—the peace pipe. I hadn't been high since college, so it
was just to a puff or two to get me stoned out of my mind. I felt a glowing palpable sense of bliss
and goodwill. I couldn't even remember the last time I had felt that for any length of time. I
started telling the chief about all the wonders of the future—cars, computers, the whole bit. He
nodded politely, but I could tell that he had no idea what I was talking about. We lapsed into a
long, thoughtless silence. After a long while in this stupor, I had a sudden flash of insight. I gave
him the "give me a second" gesture and ran to our hut and grabbed Essence. She still had a bad
cough, but she seemed stronger and on the mend. She giggled at the unexpected ride as I carried
her over to the supply hut. She wrinkled her nose and asked what the strong odor was. How to
explain. So I just told her the truth—it was burning plant matter. This seemed to satisfy her
curiosity. I told her to translate as best she could and, with Stoney's help, I used a stick to etch
onto the dirt floor of the hut the basic elements of a steam engine connected to a propeller. Then
we drew a boat around it and explained the basic principles. I wanted Essence to convey action
and motion, not name all the parts of the engine, so the steam became "hot smoke," and the
propeller "spins," and so on. The chief looked amazed at the elegance and simplicity of such an
apparatus. The next day, after I shook the cobwebs out of my head (while wishing for a strong
cup of coffee), Stoney's knot expertise came into play, and we lashed together a series of logs
creating a rough rectangle 15 feet long and 30 feet wide atop the two hollo wed-out logs, then
Stoney used the rope to tie the two elements together. Next we tied on a rudder, made from the
slab of wood etched with the blueprints. Then over the span of a few days, we lashed together a
rough cabin with a small window in front. Finally, everyone piled mud onto the deck, and we
created a large oven with two spaces—the bottom one would be for burning wood, the top for
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water, which we could replenish from the ocean, and we fashioned a rough funnel to make it
easier to load. A mud-caked pipe made from a series of hollowed-out logs led to the mechanism
that was supposed to turn the propeller, a lashed-together group of shaped logs with six blades.
Stoney had made several duplicate blades just in case we lost one. Then came the critical test
after the mud had hardened, hopefully having created a decent seal in the piping. We poured
water into the oven up to the top—no leaks. Then we built a roaring fire in the lower oven. As
steam was produced, there was some creeping past the mud seals, but not a significant amount.
Then I heard Essence yell, "It's spinning! It's spinning!" And sure enough, it was, making a slow
rotation. I hoped that a bigger fire would coax it to move a little faster.
We had done as much as we could and everyone in the village and the travelers through
time stood back and took in the sight of our catamaran. It looked like a log cabin mounted on two
big canoes. But we were proud of our boat. Then Stoney asked what we should name it. The
thought hadn't even occurred to me. I suggested "Time Traveler" and everyone loved it. It was
perfect. But we had no wine bottle to break over the bow, and this relatively unimportant fact
really worried me for some reason.
We decided to launch Time Traveler before winter came in too intensely, so if something
went wrong related to its ability to float, we could try to fix it before spring came. But with
everyone from the 5-year-old child to the 70-year-old man pulling on ropes with all their might,
we only managed to move the catamaran a few inches. This was beyond discouraging. We would
have to wait until spring to think of something else, but Mother Nature finally gave us a break. A
front moved through that warmed the weather slightly and brought in torrential rain, making all
the snow melt. This created a major flood. The village was on high enough ground not to be
inundated, but then I realized that this might help float the boat, I ran down to the water's edge
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and saw the boat bobbing on the water. I whooped and raised my hands in victory, but then I
realized that it wasn't tied down. I was suddenly gripped with panic. I ran back to the village,
grabbed some rope, tied one end to the tree and began wading into the icy cold water, which
sucked the breath right out of my body. I yelped in shock. God was it cold. I was well into
hypothermia when I got to the boat, which wasn't really drifting anywhere, and climbed on. I
managed to tie the rope to one of the logs, thankfully securing the boat, but I couldn't move; I
was numb and shaking like crazy. Then the shaking stopped and I once again felt incredible
whole-body warmth and the desire to tear my clothes off. I was close to unconsciousness when
the chief pulled up in a canoe stacked with fur blankets. I was in front of a warm fire within
minutes, once again surviving hypothermia, and the embarrassing and strange phenomena of
paradoxical undressing.
Chapter 43
The main thrust of winter hit about a week after we finished the boat, bringing in a blast
of snow. Most of the time was spent digging out the village and major trails, staying warm by the
fire, and hunting. Stoney and the Native women worked on sewing a sail; we wanted it to be as
durable as possible. The material was, as with the rope, tightly woven hemp fibers, which would
be quite sturdy, but they were making two just in case. I gave weaving a try, but the loops of
thread that I produced were completely uneven, and I wasn't able to keep them in a straight line.
After displaying visible frustration about my textile-related incompetence, the Native women
banned me from sail-craft for the rest of the winter. We were stockpiling logs for our impromptu
motor, smoked deer, bear, wolf meat and organs for the trip, and I planned on filling animal skin
bags with fresh water. Even though the total supplies probably weighed close to a ton, it still
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didn't seem like enough to me. And I wasn't sure how successful we'd be with fishing during the
crossing. I had a feeling we would all be a lot thinner if we made it back to Egypt.
By the time the snow melted and spring rolled around, we all looked like cavemen. We
were wearing dark fur and had long hair and long beards. Essence had a gigantic Afro that
seemed to sprawl in all directions. This hirsuteness was especially comical with Bill and Jim,
since they had been so diligent with shaving their body hair back in their native land.
And so we set up and loaded Time Traveler one beautiful cloudless spring morning. The
catamaran had stayed watertight for the whole winter and after we bailed all the water that had
accumulated in the hulls, we ferried supplies a few at a time by canoe. In each outrigger, wood
for the oven went into the back, then large water canteens went in the middle and bagged food
went into the front. I tried to keep the load as even as possible. One other crucial element came
next—long paddles, one for each of us plus a dozen extras. Then, with Stoney's guidance, we set
up the mast rigging and sail, made from roughly hewn wood parts. Stoney called it a "lateen"
and it was a simple sail-and-mast combination.
I announced that Stoney would be the navigator, and then immediately Essence wanted to
be assigned a place in the crew, so I named her logistics manager; she would keep an eye on
supplies. I would be Captain, Bill would be First Mate, since he was older and mature, and Jim
would be assist Stoney in tacking the sail and other direction requirements. We would all help
load the steam oven with wood and fix the sail. In terms of navigation, I figured that all Stoney
had to do was navigate by the sun and stars to make sure we were headed due east. Stoney began
talking about trade winds and tacking tactics, but it was all mumbo jumbo to me. I left such
matters to his expert perspective. We would eventually hit land with our limited navigational
tools, and as rough as it was, it was the best we could do in the situation. Stoney taught all of us
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the basic elements of dead-reckoning navigation just in case. He etched in the sand stars, and
angles, and horizons, and everyone seemed to understand except me. Even Essence, who
probably hadn't gotten more advanced than multiplication tables or maybe basic algebra in
school, was nodding in recognition. I figured it wouldn't be much more than knowing where
Polaris was, but it was more than that; a working knowledge of trigonometry was invaluable
according to Stoney. I prayed that he wouldn't be incapacitated or lost in the crossing. If I was
required to navigate, we might have ended up in Antarctica or Papua, New Guinea.
Then, all of a sudden, it was time to leave. The weather was mild, still chilly at night, but
we had left subzero temperatures behind. The wind was perfect to allow the sail to fill and carry
us out to sea. We all went to Flipper's grave for a final time and, boy, was that painful. As
Stoney cried softly, I mentally begged for Joy to come back into my life. I didn't care if it was a
delusion, her presence fulfilled me. But it was time to leave and I had to put my emotions on the
backburner for the time being. With Essence providing a rough translation, I expressed my deep
thanks to the chief and the rest of the village, and I produced a melted mound of precious metals,
what was left of the evidence room's jewelry from the police station, about twenty blocks away
and about 3,000 years in the future. He accepted it and bowed deeply. I then realized that we had
introduced metals and advanced technological concepts to this Stone Age culture. Maybe in
some story passed down from generation to generation, we would be mentioned. The Assassins.
The Time Travelers. And then the skeptics would dismiss it as a mistranslation, and we would be
relegated to the delusions and assumptions of the mentally ill or conspiracy theorist.
We sailed across the Long Island Sound, skimming the coast of Long Island until we got
to open ocean. Two days out, still with pristine weather, the wind died down, and so we fired up
the steam oven. And our good mood plummeted. Even with hottest, biggest fire we could
88
generate, practically melting our faces as we stacked wood in the oven, poked, stoked, and did
everything to get the fire to be practically as hot as the sun itself, we were propelled maybe half a
knot by the prop. So we decided to save it for further along in the trip and broke out the paddles.
We made some headway, but it was exhausting and made us want to eat and drink more; cutting
into our limited supplies more than I would have liked. I prayed for more wind. And got it. It
filled the sails, propelling us between maybe 5 and 10 knots, according to Stoney, and lifted all
of our spirits, taking us out into the open ocean and kept us going for close to a week. But the
wind had a sinister origin. I couldn't have known it, but we were being chased by a powerful
storm.
Chapter 44
There was a line of blackness on the horizon back the way we came that gradually
darkened the sky, obscured the sun and brought with it heaving seas and swift winds. There was
no way we could outrun the storm system. Lightning and thunder began to rip across the sky. I
suddenly felt vulnerable and frightened, and I'm sure everyone else did too. Essence was
screaming and clamped to my arm as lightning struck closer and closer to the catamaran and
deafening thunder assaulted our eardrums. We were all soaked to the skin, hunkering down in
the cabin, but the weather sliced right through the uneven logs. We hadn't tarred the gaps, and
we were feeling about as much weather as if we were outside. I heard a steady tapping noise as
hail began slamming into the cabin, and every so often, a hailstone found its way through a gap
in the wooden structure, and even though they were at most small chunks, they sure hurt when
they hit you. And the waves started getting bigger. Stoney ran over to the sail and yelled
something in my direction, but I couldn't hear him. He pantomimed taking the mast and sail
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down, and we all ran over to help him lay the mast flat, tie it to the deck, and fold the sail up.
Soon after we all started getting seasick. Nobody was making it to the edge of the deck so vomit
was flying everywhere, picked up by the wind. The boat was starting to make a sickening upand-down motion as it went over waves that grew bigger and bigger. Even with her death grip on
my arm, Essence cartwheeled away from me and almost plummeted into the water as we fell into
the trough of a particularly wicked wave. I stumbled over and grabbed her, then got one of the
long lengths of rope from the outrigger, hurriedly cut it into five ten-foot pieces and handed them
out. We tied ourselves to the planks of the platform inside the cabin. The rope was strong but
rough, and I was fast becoming chafed and squeezed, but I dealt with it. It was better than
drowning.
The rolling got worse. It was like being in both an elevator and a rollercoaster with the
sensation of my stomach slamming into the deck as we rose on the crest of the wave, then my
stomach leaping 20 feet into the air as we flew down into a trough. It was terrifying. Soon
everyone was screaming, and Bill was throwing out what sounded like rapid-fire Egyptian
prayers. I took a look outside the window in the middle of this, and I didn't think I could have
gotten more scared, but my terror ratcheted up yet another notch. It was like looking up at
skyscrapers in the City. "We 're dead, we are so fucking dead!" Kept running through my mind.
But then, when it looked like our whole assemblage would fragment and sink into the ocean,
everything calmed down. The waves were still rolling and causing dry heaves, but nothing Time
Traveler couldn't handle. Jim, Bill and Essence started to cheer and I'm sure Bill and Jim
thanked Ra, Osiris and every Egyptian god in the pantheon. We all untied ourselves and walked
out onto the deck. Stoney and I looked at each other apprehensively. We could see holes in the
clouds overhead, but the black sky returned and the wind and waves started to pick up again. The
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good cheer evaporated, and we all huddled in the cabin again to ride it out. More sickening rises
and drops, more vomiting, screaming and praying. Then, the sound we were all dreading—
cracking wood. The roof of the cabin broke away almost completely intact, directly exposing us
to the elements. More screaming. Then, through the torrential rain and hail, I saw something that
stopped my heart—a fast-approaching gigantic wave that towered over the boat.
We huddled in a tight circle and I screamed "HANG ON EVERYBODY!" even though,
since we were so close together, they would have heard me had I whispered it. My adrenaline
was pumping, we all grabbed onto each other tighter and tighter. As the wind stung my body
from head to toe, the wave crashed over the boat, and I was stung by the water's impact, knocked
senseless, and we tumbled and tumbled and tumbled.
Chapter 45
The boat was intact. And right side up. I couldn't believe it. Mother Nature had cut us a
break. Our ersatz cabin was obliterated but even this was lucky, because it gave us something to
grab onto in the water after we had been thrown overboard. Most of the supplies were gone but
some food and canteens were floating, so collecting them was my first priority. But then I heard
Jim screaming. Bill was not hanging onto the edge of the boat. He had vanished.
A few hours later, after Jim had calmed down into numb silence, to everyone's horror,
Bill's body, floating face down, slowly floated in our direction and nudged into the boat. I
grabbed him and flipped him over, but he was obviously dead and beginning to show rigor
mortis in his face and limbs. Jim's expression at the sight of his dead father was one I knew well.
Then before I could begin to offer any condolences, Jim suddenly put his pistol to his head.
"Whoh, Jim, you don't want to do this," I blurted. "Stop calling me that!" he sobbed. "My name
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is Ankhmahor. And I don't think I've ever wanted to do something more in my entire life!"
Despite the tension and craziness of the moment, I was impressed with his English enunciation
and expression of a complex idea. But it turned out that it wasn't something he really wanted to
do. He let go of the gun, buried his head in my chest and cried nonstop for what seemed like
hours. By nightfall he seemed to fall into a shallow sleep, and I disengage myself from his grasp.
Bill's body was floating next to the boat, and as I held onto the wooden hull to grab onto him a
splinter dug deep into my palm. As I yelped in surprise and flinched, blood dripped from the
wound and into the water. In an instant, the water seemed to boil and shadowy fins and teeth
were illuminated by the moonlight. Bill's body disappeared and was replaced by a dark cloud of
blood, its deep redness spreading out over the darkened sea. I was glad that Ankhmahor was not
jerked out of his slumber.
Chapter 46
After the shock of what I had just witnessed wore off, I was finally able to take stock of
our situation: Stuck in the open ocean. There were four people to sustain; we had probably 40
gallons of water in the bags, and a few sacks of dried meat, probably a month's worth, if we
rationed it. The water was a real worry. I knew that you could mix fresh and salt water to make it
last longer, but I didn't know the ratio and wasn't about to risk spilling the supply. We could use
the guns to take potshots at the fish, but that would probably be a waste of ammo. We had plenty
of paddles because they had floated. The main thing though was making sure we navigated
roughly east. But it was mostly ocean currents propelling us forward.
A few months passed, with each day blending into the next. In the back of my mind, I
knew this would take more than a few days, but actually existing day after day after day after day
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with boundless water at every horizon was mind-numbingly boring, with a thin sheen of anxiety
about another storm putting us through hell. Then there was no more water, and no more food.
Everyone was lying around listless, conversations had ended. There was nothing left to talk
about. That day started my ritual of going to every corner of the boat and peering intensely into
the water for hours trying to catch a glimpse of a fish. I had no way of luring it into the boat, but
I had a vague scheme of dragging it out of the water with just my two hands. But I didn't see
anything. On the third day without water, we took to shoving our heads into the empty water
bags and licking and sucking the surfaces. It provided scant moisture but was a miniscule
psychological boost. It wasn't the pangs of hunger that got you; it was the weakness. No one had
any strength to row or to even sit up. It was painful to watch Stoney, Jim and Essence grow more
and more emaciated as we became more and more dehydrated. Essence whimpered and leaned
against me, and I didn't even have the wherewithal to care about her increasingly desperate
condition. I was semiconscious when I felt water droplets striking my body. I had a moment of
panic when I thought we were capsizing, but it was rain. Not just a drizzle, but a downpour.
There were some whitecaps and a rolling motion, but it was nothing compared to facing down a
violent storm. The celebration was subdued, but everyone looked more excited than they had in
months. We filled one water bag about halfway and everyone was drinking the water that had
collected at the bottom of our vessel. But the rest of the week was bone dry. We ran out of water
and once again felt the parched agony of thirst and the throbbing twinge of hunger. During one
more desperate "fish patrol," I glanced up and saw something that didn't quite register at first as
it was so unexpected. It was a sandy mound with a wall of vegetation that ran from horizon to
horizon. Then I realized in an instant. Land. I fell back and began kicking my legs with glee and
laughing hysterically. I yelled LAND! LAND! LAND! And everyone began chattering with
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wonder. With the last of our strength, Stoney and I grabbed paddles and beached the craft. It was
a nice tropical beach with dense jungle, probably the western edge of Africa. But it was land. I
totally understood at that moment why shipwrecked sailors kissed the ground when the finally
reached land. I got a mouthful of sand when I did it, but I didn't care.
Chapter 47
We made camp on the beach with Stoney lashing together a large leaf-covered shelter,
and instead of creating a diversion with a bullet fired by a rock, I used the same technique to start
a fire, the spark and flash of gunpowder from the bullet igniting tinder. Before sundown, we all
ventured a short distance into the jungle for food and more firewood, but I didn't want to go any
deeper than maybe fifty yards, I didn't want anyone to get lost, and I especially didn't want
anyone to get bitten by a bug, and get some crazy tropical disease. There was a din of birds,
small mammals, and insects in a complex mix of sounds that altogether sounded like
krichetykrichetykrichety. "I hope this doesn 't keep me awake tonight, " was my main thought.
We found some coconuts, but Stoney's pocketknife wasn't strong enough to open them, but we
were able to carve, with some difficulty, into the palm trees to get hearts of palm. The sweet
tropical deliciousness let me briefly fantasize that I was on vacation instead of experiencing our
actual desperate straits.
Before we turned in for the night, Stoney did some star sightings and determined north.
Then, as dapper as ever, George entered my dream as if he had never left. "I would offer you a
deal on the Hercules Hook, but you won't listen anyway," he began, cracking a smile. Then he
suddenly got philosophical. "Ancient Egyptian markets are dirty and most of the products are
roughly hewn pieces of garbage. I miss twenty-first century malls. Such a Zenlike interaction.
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The products consume the shopper, leading to the exchange of cash or card. The evenness of the
currency exchange, the perfect balance of credit and debit. Bliss..." But them I suddenly got
angry.
"It's your fault that Joy doesn't want to talk to me!" I screamed, and then lunged at his
image. But before I could land a punch, the sun was shining in my eyes, and I woke up.
Everyone had a George story to tell, Essence hung out with Elmo, Stoney got deep with Jerry
Garcia, and Ankhmahor received a benediction from Osiris. That means we were getting close to
Egypt, and if George was around, that verified my theory that we had emerged into Manhattan at
the right time period, but about 3,000 miles off course. Before embarking, we strategized. The
best thing to do was hug the coast northward, resupply as needed, until we got to the Strait of
Gibraltar, the famed Pillars of Hercules, the home stretch of our journey.
Chapter 48
By the time we got to the Strait of Gibraltar, it was the third time in my life that I thought
I would die of thirst. The lush jungle coast eventually gave way to extremely dry desert, and it
became impossible to resupply food or water. We all had that listless weakness again, along with
a pounding headache, and rowing took a mighty effort. But at least we knew where we were
going.
As we passed between the future lands of Spain and Morocco, on the Moroccan side, we
noticed a line of small ships disembark under sail from what looked like a small stone fort with
high walls. They formed a tight semicircle in front of us, blocking our path. They had on simple
white tunics and were talking to each other in a language that event Ankhmahor couldn't figure
out. I was hoping that they had friendly intentions, but they had sheathed swords and spears, and
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had grim, determined expressions on their faces. They escorted us to shore, but we stayed on the
boat. There were groups of soldiers looking over the ramparts of the fort at the curious spectacle.
Ankhmahor started chattering in Egyptian, mostly expressing how grateful we were to be saved,
but only got weird looks from the sailors. Then, an individual whose carriage conveyed his
authority held up some small chunks of gold and silver, pointed at us, and then pointed at the
precious metals in his hand. It was obvious that he wanted payment for passage, but we had
nothing but the boat and the clothes on our back. We all shrugged our shoulders and shook our
heads. The leader seemed disappointed at our dearth of payment, and one of his subordinates
came up to him, talked softly into his ear, and then gestured in our direction. The leader's eyes
brightened and he affixed his gaze on Essence while his face spread out into a leer. In an instant I
knew what his intentions were, and I took hold of Essence's arm, pulling her close with a shake
of my head. But he leaned down into our craft, grabbed onto Essence, and tried to pull her away
from me. It was a tug of war with Essence crying in pain, and the leader and I pulling as hard as
we could on either of her arms.
Then there was a loud crack, and the tinkle of shell casings and the leader fell into the
water, taking Essence with him. She screamed and splashed, but I was able to pick her up and
bring her back onto the boat. Blood began to spread from the leader's head. I looked up to see
Stoney brandishing a still-smoking M-16. Once the sailors and soldiers saw their leader face
down in the water, they began chattering with angry tones and ran for their boats, bristling with
spears, swords, and bows and arrows. With an adrenaline surge sweeping away any debilitating
fatigue and desperation for nourishment, we all rowed away from the garrison as hard as we
could, while Stoney manned the M-16.1 told Essence to curl up tight and I sat in front of her,
blocking her the best I could from the hail of weaponry coming our way. Ankhmahor and I
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rowed like hell, and actually got a little distance from the angry soldiers. As they left the dock,
they began throwing spears and loosing arrows. They clattered around us on deck, and made
some contact. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as an arrow drove itself into my body. The more
I moved my arms, the more it hurt, so I ripped it out and threw it overboard. I could feel blood
trickling down my back. Then an arrow embedded itself in Ankhmahor's arm, and he screamed
in pain, stopped rowing for a beat, and then ripped it out of his arm. Blood flowed freely, but he
didn't seem to care. Then a spear grazed the side of my head, drawing more blood. Stoney, who
faced the attackers, was able to dodge most of the projectiles, but they were getting closer and
closer, rapidly approaching point blank range. There was nothing left to do but open fire.
Essence let out a steady scream and covered her ears at the M-16's earsplitting roar.
Stoney was screaming as well; his eyes were bugging out, and beads of saliva were running
down him neck as he riddled the soldiers with bullets. As he ran out, he was unthinkingly
snapping in a new magazine, firing until he ran out bullets, and then repeating the process. All of
the pursuing soldiers were obviously dead, splayed out on the boats or bobbing in the water,
which was rapidly turning red. Stoney kept firing until I yelled "Stoney! Stoney!
Stopstopstopstopstop! I grabbed him by the shoulder and he wheeled around with a crazed look
in his eye. I honestly thought he was going to shoot me, but he dropped the gun and slumped
down into the boat. "Is Essence okay?" he asked in a meek voice. She was fine, and our arrow
wounds were deep, but not of much concern.
It was then I noticed that all of the other soldiers had retreated to the garrison, barred the
entrance, and were barely peeking over the top wall, like scared children. Then I noticed a slight
list in our boat, and a quick look into the outriggers explained why. Stoney had pierced several
holes in them in his frenzy. They weren't fast leaks, but would eventually be a big problem; we
97
had no way of sealing them. Taking advantage of the soldiers' fear, we decided to case the two
boats that weren't sinking. Miraculously, none of the bullet holes in these boats were below the
waterline, so we chose one and cast off our rapidly swamping catamaran. It was sad to see Time
Traveler slowly sinking into the Mediterranean. We worked really hard getting that boat
together. But we were exchanging it for a sleek, well-built craft, instantly named Time Traveler
2. It was narrow and had high sides, made of some weird dark jungle wood. There were a stack
of oars, a sturdy sail and mast and, most importantly, supplies. A few amphorae of beer, sacks of
dried meat, and bread. Ankhmahor chimed in that he drank plenty of beer as a child when he saw
my hesitation in giving it to Essence, but it was all we had, and we all were way into
dehydration. A little buzz wouldn't do irreparable harm. We all quickly ate and drank our fill,
and then, before the soldiers became bold again, rowed away as fast as we could into the
Mediterranean Sea.
When we were out of sight of the garrison, we stopped rowing and took stock of our
weapons. We didn't have many bullets left. Just one M-16 magazine, containing about twentyfive bullets, and ten rounds in Ankhmahor's pistol. I fervently hoped that we wouldn't be
confronted with any kind of aggression again. There was much talk of skirting the edge of North
Africa or going out of sight of land to prevent undesirable interactions. The final decision was to
trust Stoney's navigational skills and stay to the middle of the Med. Ultimately, though, we
wouldn't be able to avoid trouble.
Chapter 49
Boat travel on the Med was beautiful and pleasant for the most part. The climate was
pleasantly mild day and night, the water was blue and translucent, and we had plenty of supplies.
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But we had an old friend of many guises cutting through our consciousness, even when we were
awake.
I noticed the blank expressions on everyone's faces before I fell into a deep, familiar
trance. The dapper George had returned:
"Hi John!" he said with a friendly tone. I cut him off. "You son-of-a-bitch! My dead
daughter is trying to contact me, and you just barge in and ruin it. Go away!"
George seemed confused. "I didn't even know you had a daughter. And there is no
afterlife anyway!" he said. I got the impression that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
But before I could really get upset again, he went back into his pitch.
"I finally found something to sell in this garbage heap! Tools! They're a little rough
around the edges, but in this civilization, everyone is either building something or farming, so the
selection ranges from plows and sickles to hammers and chisels."
"That's great George, now would you mind not taking over all of my attention, we're
trying to not get shipwrecked." George laughed, as if letting me go was a preposterous notion. "I
haven't gotten to my main pitch," he continued. "I want you to work for me. My power to
infiltrate minds is far superior to any human being, but I need help filling in all the gaps. If we
work really hard, we could have a monopoly on tool sales throughout the entire Nile Valley! We
could control the process from raw materials to finished tools. Think about the prestige! Think
about the profits!"
I felt an almost sexual surge when he mentioned the profits. And he was right, his
proposal was airtight. We could be the corporate version of kings and have the whole Nile
Valley, and beyond, at our disposal. We could raise our own army. But I stopped that train of
thought. It was at that moment that I truly realized that the concept of "power" had many
99
definitions. It wasn't just the number of assets, it was also the impulse to act and get things done.
And from what we saw of the twenty-first century, the power of our actions now reverberated for
thousands of years. The Boss, the cause of so much pain and horror, had to die. I rejected the
offer. George seemed miffed, but then, seemingly confident of his own power, said two words—
"your loss," and vanished. My consciousness returned to the real world. Then I noticed a boat
very similar to ours on the horizon, and even though it was far away, I could see the glint of
weaponry. I tried to rouse everyone, but they all had blank looks on their faces, and didn't
respond to my shakes and shouts. The boat was getting closer and the little adrenaline left in my
system was pumping. When the boat was just about parallel to Time Traveler 2, they began
waking up and realized that we were about to be commandeered by fifty Egyptian soldiers
rowing in sync with swords, spears, bows and arrows, and other assorted weapons. A few of the
sailors tied the ships together, and placed a board between them, and then commander boarded
our vessel. He was followed by two sailors carrying a small chest. We got some weird looks
from the sailors because of our clothing and hair. My heart surely had stopped at this point, and I
closed my eyes and braced for the worst. But the other shoe didn't drop. I was not accosted. I
opened my eyes and saw two sailors opening the chest and the commander got a huge smile on
his face and began talking in Egyptian. Even without Ankhmahor translating, I could tell by the
tone of his voice that this was a sales pitch. George's singular impulse was getting stronger; we
were getting close. They produced a few kilts, and the captain enthusiastically gestured at them:
"Just look at these kilts. Go ahead, feel that fabric." I played along, feeling the fabric. It
was actually pretty nice. "That's silk. From so far beyond the Ways of Horus that we don't even
know where it comes from." Then the price pitch: "Usually this would go for a five deben of
silver, but since I like you, three deben of silver." When Ankhmahor heard this, he protested:
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"What!? At market we would pay, at most one deben of silver each!" I wasn't sure what a deben
was, but it had to be a measurement of weight. Whatever it was, we didn't have it; all we had
was bread, meat, and beer, which their boat probably had plenty of. I didn't want kilts from him;
I wanted information, which Ankhmahor relayed. "How far are we from the mouth of the Nile?"
"About a five-day journey that way," and the captain pointed roughly southeast. He seemed
disappointed that we didn't want to buy anything, but he gave me what could be considered the
ancient version of a business card, then went back to his boat, which departed, sailing west. It
was a small oblong pottery sherd with neat writing on it. I had seen it before, it was hieratic
script, and Ankhmahor translated— Khasekhemwy, Thebes.
Sure enough, five days later, we reached the Nile delta.
Chapter 50
We made a straight trade with the boat for a healthy-looking horse and cart at the futureRosetta's bustling harbor. More strange looks from the native dockworkers and the man who we
traded with. The Nile flowed south-to-north so a boat ride south was not possible. We loaded up
the cart with our supplies and traipsed south. After a solid week of travel, stopping only to rest
the horse, which we had christened "Time Traveler 3," all of the natural landmarks became
familiar, and we finally spotted Ankhmahor's home. It was right on the edge of the floodline.
The Nile had overflowed its banks and Ankhmahor's neighborhood was almost deserted. It was a
familiar squishing sensation as we walked up from the shore to his house. It was empty but
intact. We were all exhausted and wanted to sleep, but we caught a glimpse of someone peering
at us through a window of the nearest house, an older woman that Ankhmahor recognized, so he
went over there, expecting a kind reception. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a quick
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movement, then Ankhmahor's surprised yell. The woman, hoarsely screeching in Egyptian, had
rushed him with a knife and tried to stab him. I ran over, grabbed her and took away the knife
after a protracted struggle. The woman was wrinkled with long stringy grey hair, but she had a
strong grip. "Nefer, don't you recognize me? It's Ankhmahor!" he said. And even though he was
really hard to recognize at this point, she gave a look of recognition at the sound of his voice and
she stopped struggling. I let her go. Then they talked rapidly in Egyptian for a short while, and
Ankhmahor gave the good news—all of his siblings were still alive and were at the Karnak
temple construction site. Also, she had some kilts and shirts, a few razors, and some fragrant oils
that we could use. All the better to blend in.
All the men gathered in Ankhmahor's home to shave our bodies, apply the oil, and dress.
Nefer took care of Essence. Ankhmahor looked resplendent in the classic Egyptian style. And
even though the man had been through hell, he had a glint of contentment in his eye now that he
was finally back home.
Nefer had done a great job with Essence, no razor cuts or anything. She had given her the
traditional child's haircut—the entire head shaved except for a small patch of long hair on the
side of the head that was braided. She looked like she had stepped out of a tomb painting. The
only conspicuous element to our group was that we were all different colors, from Essence's
black skin to Ankhmahor's rich brown skin to Stoney and mine's pasty whiteness. I hoped that a
few days in the desert sun would even things out. We shared dinner with Nefer and brought
ourselves up to the present. "Everyone was saying Osiris this and Osiris that, I even had strong
visions," she told Ankhmahor. "But something seemed wrong. You would expect one of our
exalted gods to be.. .more distinguished, more.. .inspiring. Of course when he first appeared, I
saw it as an incredible, deep religious experience. But then he tried to sell me a home in Thebes
102
and all kinds of things that I really didn't need. Everyone around was completely drawn in—it
was all anyone talked about. But I didn't believe it, so I stayed here and let everyone else chase
this folly." It was amazing. This fragile-looking old lady had dismissed George as if he were a
fly. At the end of dinner, I promised to do all I could to help her out, then, we used our somewhat
rank furs as blankets and slept for what must have been twelve hours.
Chapter 51
Infiltration and reconnaissance were required if we wanted to kill The Boss and not get
killed ourselves. We took Time Traveler 3 to Karnak—with some water skins and a few bags
with provisions. Mixed in with the dried meat and gruel were the M-16, its lone magazine, and
the pistol. We stashed the bags under the bed of the dormitory when we arrived at Karnak.
The Karnak temple was more complete than when I had last seen it. Despite it being a
massive monument to human hubris, I was still blown away by the scale. Ankhmahor showed
remarkable spunk, working hard even with one arm, right in time with the pull-and-stop cadence
of the stone draggers. He earned the nicknamed roughly equivalent to "Armstrong." I wanted to
tell him about the first man to walk on the moon, but he would have completely dismissed the
idea of space travel as crazy. Stoney and I were "Paleface," despite our deep tans, but were just
seen as harmless foreigners. Of course the visions happened, but apparently George had given up
on me. The rest of our group was a different story. But fortunately, it seemed that once you got
used to George or if he reached an understanding with you, the brainwashing impulse weakened
considerably.
We got into a groove, and miraculously none of us got hurt or killed, although once
again, we saw some horrific injuries. Essence was taken under the wing of a neighboring woman
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and was learning sewing techniques; and although she was considered slow, her mastery of the
Egyptian language was rapid and impressive.
Then, one day, midweek, the pharaoh visited the work site. He was sitting on a chair on a
platform that was carried by four men. He was dressed in exactly the same outfit as Thutmose III
wore in the meeting at OurCorp. I couldn't figure out whether it was the real Thutmose or The
Boss. And I didn't want to wait around hauling stone and possibly getting hurt or killed. We
would attempt to do what we had planned and talked about over and over and over for months
that night.
Chapter 52
We would be quick and dirty—Stoney would wield the M-16 on semiautomatic, and
Ankhmahor would have the pistol. I had a sharp bronze sword just in case the bullets didn't
work. All shots were going to be point blank.
We stole away from the temple site and headed toward the palace, depending on
Ankhmahor to pick it out amongst the fancier structures of the center of Thebes. He pointed the
way, and said its location was obvious as it was the biggest and most elaborately decorated
structure that wasn't a temple in all of Thebes. As we stealthily approached, I couldn't help but
be impressed by the King's palace. It was hulking and grand, with the faint smell of incense
spread across the expanse, but most of the stone carvings and artistic grandeur were muted in the
dark. There were guards stationed at each doorway leading to the inner sanctum of the pharaoh.
The first two were fast asleep, snoring gently. Simultaneously, Ankhmahor and Stoney put their
respective weapons to the guards' heads and pulled the trigger once. There was a loud crack and
a spray of blood and brain matter as the guards fell dead. As expected a large group of guards
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from deeper in the palace came running at the sound. Ankhmahor and Stoney mowed them down
with rapid fire. Then we saw what looked like the pharaoh himself running out of the inner
sanctum. He wasn't in his usual finery, but in the darkness, I could have sworn it was The Boss.
There was no time for twenty questions. I nodded at Ankhmahor and he put the pistol to The
Boss's head and pulled the trigger. It was a swift death, and a sense of ecstasy welled up inside
of me. 'We did it, we actually did it, he 's dead!" But before we could celebrate anymore, our
consciousness was commandeered and the outside world disappeared.
Chapter 53
There was no George or psychological torment, just nothingness for a split second, and
then my attention returned to reality. The first thing I realized was that I was chained up. Stoney,
Ankhmahor, and even Essence were chained to a central post in a dark room with dark walls. It
stank of urine, feces, sweat and the distinct, indescribable scent of fear. Then, a single figure
entered, carrying two boxy objects. The figure used a modern lighter to light a few torches that
were on the wall and a few ceramic oil lamps. This lighting situation created weird, jagged
shadows that made the room look strange and sinister. The figure was dressed in the formal attire
of a pharaoh, the hat, the jewelry, the garments, the whole bit. But the eyes were unmistakable—
this was The Boss. "First, I want to thank you for taking care of Thutmose for me," he began. "I
had planned his death with surgical precision, but your precision assault made my life a lot
easier." I couldn't believe it. We had played right into his hand.
"And no witnesses either. That made the disposal of his royal corpse as easy as a hole in
the ground!" He said, eyes aglow with triumph.
It was then I noticed the tips of my fingers were bloody and caked with sand.
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"Well, since you've gotten this far, it's obvious that the U.M.T. is not effective on you
anymore. Impressive. I was forced to reset your holographic brainwaves with this device." He
held up what looked like a remote control. "You're the first to have broken away from his grasp.
But, you are too much of a liability in my plans, so I will have to kill you, starting with the little
one."
He put the pistol to Essence's head, and we all screamed "NO!" in unison. But he didn't
fire. I could have sworn his face became a leer at that moment. He put the gun back in his
waistband. The bastard was messing with us. Then I noticed how gaunt he looked. I could see the
outline of his ribcage under his formal tunic and he had dark circles under his eyes. "I have
cancer," he said after a long silence. "There is a painful, hard lump in one of my testicles." I was
shocked. The cancer, if unchecked, could both prevent The Boss from fathering an heir and even
kill him. I couldn't help it, I cracked a smile. The Boss instantly fell into a rage. "So this is funny
to you, you, you INSECT!" He smacked me across the face, the rings on his fingers drawing
blood and causing a sharp pain.
"Here is what is going to happen," The Boss began, with venom in his voice, "you are
going to go west with a contingent of my best men, into what becomes Niger. You are going to
bring this Geiger counter with you," he gestured at the large box in his hand, "and you are going
to bring back a large sack of uranium ore. Then I will do my own radiation treatments. The
magicians and physicians of this time are useless butchers and hacks spouting mumbo jumbo!" I
had to agree with him there. "Oh, and one more thing, your little black girl will stay with me, and
if you so much as breathe wrong, she will die."
Chapter 54
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It took three months of exhausting walking, and, of course, my leg throbbed with pain the
whole time, but we managed to find uranium ore or some kind of radioactive material, by asking
locals where the mines were. They seemed intimidated by the Egyptian soldiers, who were
bristling with weaponry and had serious looks on their faces. We had plenty of supplies, so the
desert trek wasn't a death sentence. The whole time we stayed on our best behavior and schemed
about what we could do to assassinate The Boss. The guards didn't speak English so we could be
as open and honest as possible. At first we decided to let nature take its course, but who knows
how long that would take. But we soon came to a consensus—we needed George. But first we
had to find him. It was obvious that he had a presence in the Nile Valley area, but we had to find
out where, and how. When we finally got back and entered the throne room at Thebes, after
being gone for five months, I was at once blindsided by a situation that can only be described as
insane. Essence, who was seated next to The Boss, was visibly pregnant.
Chapter 55
Essence looked healthy enough, but when she saw me, she lowered her head as if she was
embarrassed. I rushed at The Boss and was quickly restrained by the guards. I was beyond angry.
I wanted to rip his face off and shove it down his throat. I wanted to claw out his windpipe, I
wanted to save him the problem of testicular cancer by castrating him myself—with my bare
hands. "YOU PERVERT! SHE'S A YOUNG GIRL! HOW THE COULD YOU DO THAT TO
HER!" I snarled at him. I yelled to Essence "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!" But she didn't seem to
hear. The Boss casually dismissed me with a wave of his hand, and we were escorted to the
Great Prison of Thebes.
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There was no way we could pull off an escape from this jail. There were tough guards all
over carrying whips and swords. For the slightest infraction, they would use the whip and draw
blood and screams from the prisoners. Everyone, including Ankhmahor, Stony, and I, were
engaged in hard labor—shaping and dressing limestone blocks for use in Theban temples.
Choking rock dust filled the air as we chipped away at the stones and whole-body soreness
returned as we were forced to drag those blocks around for hours without a break.
I still couldn't believe he had impregnated Essence. Although she never told me her age,
she couldn't have been more than 11 or 12. But at the same time, she was our ace in the hole. He
couldn't kill Essence because she was carrying his child.
About every half hour, George would appear, spouting inspirational adages, mostly
saying how Ra praised me for my toil and Osiris would usher me into the joys of the afterlife.
The blissed-out faces of my fellow prisoners indicated to me that they were getting this message
as well. The hundredth or so time George popped up, I immediately stopped his spiel and asked
him the $25,000 question— "Need a tool salesman?"
Chapter 56
It was like the parting of the Red Sea. The soldier guarding our cell got a familiar
blankness to his face and simply opened the cell door, led Ankhmahor, Stoney, and me out of the
cell and down the main thoroughfare. The guard leading us nodded at the soldier guarding the
main gate, who had the same look in his eyes. We found ourselves outside of the prison; free to
do whatever we wanted. "Well that was easy," I mused to the group. Our final instructions from
George were to walk to the nearest sand dune, visible from the east wall of the Thebes palace,
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and right next to it, we would find his central location. Needless to say, we did this in the middle
of the night.
There must have been some kind of invisibility cloak on the building, but a roughly cubeshaped heat plume showed us the way. There was obviously a large amount of energy
concentrated into this area. We carefully felt around until we found the door. There was a
familiar console with the monitor/webcam/speaker combination as in the twenty-first century
George. But this wasn't New York City's George; this was actually Ultimate Marketing Tool 2.
"Good to see you made it," it began. "I have set you up with the top tool maker in Thebes. You
will be his marketing director, basically hawking products at the main market. Step One: fluency
in ancient Egyptian. The closer you are to my brain, the faster this will go. Sit in the chair." It
was a comfortable modern leather office chair ensconced by machinery. "You other two guys lay
low," U.M.T. 2 said. "There is a stockpile of food and water in here, as well as a modern
bathroom with all the amenities." Stoney brightened at the thought of taking a modern shower.
"Let's begin," said the U.M.T.
It was the same feeling of the loss of control when brainwashing was happening, but
instead of orders, it was situations, repeated over and over again in rapid succession. I don't
know exactly how it worked, but after a week of 12-hour days tapped into George's brain, I was
fluent in the spoken ancient Egyptian language.
The next morning, I did the shaving/anointing routine. As I looked in the bathroom
mirror, I saw an ancient Egyptian staring back at me. I was still recognizable as myself, but I
would now easily blend in. I said goodbye to Ankhmahor and Stoney, who were essentially
taking a well-deserved vacation, and made my way to the market, toting the same George-signal
booster box I brought to sales jobs in what seemed like two lifetimes ago.
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I asked a food vendor where the best toolmaker was, and he directed me to a man whom
I had seen before— Khasekhemwy, the captain of the trading vessel. He was surprised to see
him, to say the least. "Osiris has delivered you to me," Khasekhemwy said, with wonder in his
eyes. "I had a vision of your likeness last night. I was told by Osiris that you would make me
incredibly wealthy." "Well, I can't promise that, but I will do my damnedest to sell your tools," I
told him. And so I slipped easily into a conversation with him in ancient Egyptian like I had been
speaking it all my life.
So I stayed at his place while he explained to me exactly what tools were used for what,
and I formulated a plan for our sales pitches. Since Khasekhemwy lived right off of the market
thoroughfare, I could observe the other tool salesmen. They weren't aggressive, they weren't
charismatic, and they weren't proactive. This would be like shooting fish in a barrel. And I had a
few tricks up my sleeve. I needed to buy in bulk every tool used for stoneworking in the market:
mallets, chisels, and copper blades. He looked at me like I was insane, but when I told him my
plan, he smiled, got a sly look in his eye and complimented my subterfuge.
We set up a large chunk of limestone on a wooden stage. This drew a bit of interest but
nothing notable. In the privacy of Khasekhemwy's home, I took a competitor's wooden mallet
and stone chisel, and sawed them almost in two at the handle. Then, I took a competitor's copper
saw and cut it almost all the way through, where it met the handle. The signal-boosting box was
placed inconspicuously on the back of the stage, and I had Scooter's prayer shawl in my back
pocket, for more intangible luck, even though I knew I didn't have to do much to grab spectators
and hold their attention. "First off, praise Ra, praise Amun. Right? Let's hear it for the highest
gods!"
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There were scattered cheers. I knew I didn't have them yet but it wouldn't be long before
our magnetism would be irresistible.
"How often does this happen?" I asked. Then I used the rigged mallet and stone chisel
and took a mighty whack on the limestone. Of course, both mallet and chisel broke in two. I
heard murmurs of assent. Then I asked the same question and began sawing at the limestone with
the copper saw. In short order, that broke as well. There were nods and curses. I then picked up
an unbroken mallet and chisel made by Khasekhemwy and made a deep groove in the limestone,
then I picked up a copper saw and sawed off a small chunk of limestone at a corner. As the
chunk clattered to the ground, there were cheers. "That's the power of Khasekhemwy's tools! I
declared loudly.
"All of the tools I just showed you came from Hepuseneb and Mentuhotep!" That will
never happen with Khasekhemwy's tools! That's a promise! If any of Khasekhemwy's tools ever
break, we will replace them free of charge! Or, if you don't want to keep them, we will refund
you within 2 weeks! How does that sound?!
And so three times a day we did the spiel and for a solid two weeks we sold tools. Lots of
tools. So many that Khasekhemwy had to hire more men. They were mostly poached from the
other manufacturers (ironically, the ones that were making the supposed shoddy tools). The other
owners would grumble under their breath and make obscene gestures when we passed, but I
didn't care. I was in my element.
One afternoon, right in the middle of the pitch, I noticed a commotion at the back of the
crowd. I soon realized it was The Boss in full pharaoh regalia, with a blank look in his eye,
stumbling toward the stage. He was loosely trailed by what looked like a bunch of his advisors
who were running to keep up, and a very pregnant Essence had grabbed onto his arm and was
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being half-dragged. He started yelling "I'll take two of ea..." and then he seemed to snap back to
reality and a growing fury seemed to be bubbling up from his eyes. Oh shit, I'm dead, was my
dominant thought. There was nowhere to hide, half of the leaders of the entire civilization were
milling around at the back of the crowd, willing to do the bidding of a very angry Pharaoh. He
grabbed a wicked-looking wooden mace from one of the guards, and I held my breath and closed
my eyes and braced for the impact, as ready to die as I ever was. "Here I come Joy!" flew
through my mind. But to everyone's surprise, he raised the mace over his head and began
running in the direction of the desert, screaming and cursing in English. Everyone followed with
more than a little of burning curiosity.
I wasn't all that surprised that his destination was the invisible structure housing George.
When he got to the building, The Boss stopped and knelt down to catch his breath. Then he
kicked open the door, and a thick cloud of marijuana smoke puffed out of the opening. The Boss
ran inside, followed by everyone else, who seemed surprised by this door to nowhere. Stoney
and Ankhmahor looked surprised at the sudden intrusion, but they didn't seem like they could
move. It didn't matter. It was clear that the object of his fury was George. He knew where
George's brain was housed, so he went over and began slamming the mace into the metal,
quickly denting it. He stopped when the mace broke and then yelled "YOU LIKE THAT, YOU
SONAFABITCH?! TAKE CONTROL OF MY BRAIN?! He then pulled a gun out of his
waistband and began firing into George until he ran out of bullets, then started beating him again,
this time with his fists. It was then that I noticed that George hadn't said a word, but the familiar
plasma arc and ozone smell indicated that a portal was being opened in the control room. And it
kept opening and opening until it was at least 10 feet across. It was a beautiful, gorgeous
panorama of a familiar sight to a modern human, the arc of planet Earth from space. The rest of
112
the crowd were shocked into silence by the vivid scene. But there was one major problem with
the situation—space is a vacuum, so the room, in essence, had sprung a pressure leak and the
portal began sucking in oxygen, creating an incredibly strong wind. Everyone began freaking
out, screaming and piling out of the room. Even with the door briefly open, the portal's suction
was intense, and we all grabbed onto something. Except for The Boss. He was still smashing
George when the suction hit, and was swept off of his feet, seemingly right into the center of the
aperture, but he got a firm grasp with one hand on the handle of a console, stopping his flight.
Then I noticed that the edges of the aperture were beginning to get fuzzy and shrink. Essence
was right next to him and got a fierce look of anger in her eyes. She reached over, grabbed the
bronze dagger from his waist, and started stabbing his hand again and again. He yelped in pain
and then involuntarily let go, flying into the portal and into open space. The vacuum soon
silenced the sounds of his screams, but it was apparent that he was still screaming, as his mouth
was wide open and his eyes were bugged out. He was flailing his arms, apparently trying to
swim back through the portal, but, being weightless, there was nothing that would help him
propel himself. There was nothing he could do. Finally, seconds later, we saw a fine spray of
blood fly from his ears, nose, mouth and around his eyes. He then stopped moving completely,
and the portal quickly popped closed shortly afterwards. Asphyxiating in a vacuum is never a
pretty thing.
The administrators looked at each other with freaked-out expressions. Then they began
chattering rapidly at each other. The gist of what they were saying was "how in hell do we
explain this to the government administrators of Egypt?" And they slowly began filtering out of
the building and to the chambers of the Egyptian government. I washed my hands of the
113
problem. I was far too spent to try and figure things like this out. "Hey Stoney, you still got that
joint?" I asked with an upwelling of hope.
But they must have found a suitable corpse because two months later, after Amenhotep II
took the throne, a mummified body was at the center of a solemn funeral procession.
Epilogue
It was a boy. And, mercifully, thankfully, both Essence and the child, who was given the
very modern name of James, both survived and thrived. George's brain made it out relatively
intact, but The Boss had severed some power cables that we couldn't figure out how to
reconnect, so he couldn't transmit further than ten feet. I visited him every few days and we
played chess.
We stayed far away from politics, and no one believed the crazy stories about a space
portal sucking the Pharaoh to his death. Hell, the new ruler was probably going to be as much of
a jerk as The Boss. We found Ankhmahor's siblings and Stoney and I, along with Essence and
James, moved back into their house as content farmers. But I had sales in my blood, so I became
a business partner to Khasekhemwy and ran the West Nile Valley branch of the tool company,
essentially having my own booth in the local market. And I gave up on Joy. I had finally
accepted that she was permanently dead and gone, had a long cry and gradually extricated myself
from her specter.
One weekend, when I was going over some numbers in the house, and the kids were
playing, I heard a knock. A man dressed very much like a Hasidic Jew was at the door. It was
unmistakably someone I knew well. "Scooter! How the hell are you? How did you get back
here?!" I yelled.
114
"The U.M.T. and I had a talk, and I agreed to help find his companion if he would open a
portal to this time and place. I had to walk awhile, and I could really use a drink," he said. I ran
and got him a skin of water, and motioned for him to sit.
"So I assume you haven't killed The Boss yet," he began, with a hopeful look in his eye.
"Actually, we did..." Scooter suddenly looked crestfallen.
"Really? Because nothing has changed. New York is still in ruins, and my dad is still
dead..." He trailed off and then Stoney entered, ran over to Scooter, hugged him, and with freely
flowing tears, told him about Flipper. Scooter cried along with him. He told Stoney the same
thing he told me about the lack of changes, and even more tears flowed. But my wheels were
turning. The Boss was dead, so we were free to experiment with the portals, if we had access.
The Boss had done a number on George's circuitry. My first question was obvious—is the portal
still open? "Yes it is," he replied. "Okay, then let's get U.M.T.'s companion and go back to
NYC." I suggested. "Who the hell is his companion?" Scooter asked. "Isn't it obvious? It's
U.M.T. 2!" I told him. All the individuals who were "out of time" were game to return to the
city—me, Scooter, and Stoney. But we weren't sure if we would make it back. So, just in case,
we said our goodbyes. Ankhmahor didn't want to go anywhere, which I expected, but Essence
wanted to stay, which was unexpected. She looked at me with a serious look in her eyes and said,
"I belong here. I have a family that loves me here. I'm staying."
I gave her a long hug and told her I would miss her, and wished her the best. Then I did
the same to Ankhmahor, speaking in Egyptian. Then we went over to George's enclosure. "Ah,
another scintillating game of chess with friends," George said dryly, through a crackling speaker.
"No, we're here to take you home, back to U.M.T. 1," I told him.
115
"Really?!, For real?! You mean it?" he exclaimed. "Oh, thank God! Until you came and
played chess with me, everyone just saw me as a computer; no one considered my emotions and
my wants. All you will need to do is disconnect my central processing unit. My brain. Now I
won't be able to talk when you disconnect me, so write these instructions down..."
U.M.T. 2 had called it a "brain," but when we opened up the door to the core unit, we
were all shocked to find actual gray matter, suspended in a fluid, interlaced with wires and
cables. There was a soft hum. I was surprised at the linkage between flesh and machine. "We'd
better not drop this," I joked after we gingerly disconnected it from the rest of the computer and
put it into a sack. The other guys gave me serious looks. "I'm just saying," I rebutted.
Luckily, the new portal was only five miles out in the desert, and as quick as a wink, we
were back in New York. "We have something for you," we announced to U.M.T. 1, and then we
pulled George's brain out of the sack. "Oh, that's wonderful!" he exclaimed, you should be able
to slide him in right next to me. Just follow these instructions." And so after a slimy moment or
two, U.M.T.'s 1 and 2 were one. In a strange doubling, two voices spoke simultaneously: "We
are so pleased with what you've done, that we will give you a choice and open two portals—
Portal one is back to Egypt where you left off. Portal two will open at some point before the
nuclear winter. You might be able to flee with your families, but you might not. We aren't sure
exactly when the nuclear incident will happen, and to what extent it spreads, so you might not
survive, even if you leave the area. The third choice is to stay right here, right now, and help
rebuild what is left of society with our assistance."
We all looked at each other for a long moment, each of our faces a mask of blank
expression. Then, Stoney broke the silence—"so, you guys want to bust into a 7-11 and grab a
24-pack of brewskis?" he said with a smirk. We all nodded and burst out laughing. "So, chess
116
tomorrow evening?" I asked the U.M.T.s. "We would be delighted," they said simultaneously.
Both portals vanished as if they weren't even there. As we proceeded out of the room, the
U.M.T.s stopped me as I was on the threshold. A new portal had opened. I could see a beautiful
golden and white light, and a short human-like shape standing within the aperture. I asked the
U.M.T.s what I was looking at.
"We don't quite know," they said. "We felt a blissful impulse to create this portal.
We don't know where it is or when it is. It feels like it is everywhere and nowhere," they said,
with a kind of fascinated wonder in their voice.
The human-like shape walked forward, and I instantly recognized the delicate features of
Joy. Gasping, I ran forward into the aperture, chuckling hysterically.
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