The Enlightening Chapters 10-13

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10

That was, without question, and by far, the single most astounding moment of my life up until that point.  Everything seemed to stand still, crystallized in the moment.  It felt like a giant window had opened, and I had the privilege of a stunning glimpse into a hidden world– a hidden universe– that had been there all along.  I fell to my knees, struck silent and mouth open wide.  My entire body quivered involuntarily at the astounding vision before me, maybe 100 yards away, out in the center of the meadow, where a moment ago nothing existed other than grass and dandelions, grasshoppers and butterflies, and open space.  

It was, without any doubt, a gigantic black triangular spacecraft, probably 150 yards wide- half as wide as the meadow itself- and maybe 35 yards in height, floating only about 10 yards off the ground.  I knew the ship was really there, because I could see the huge triangular shadow on the grass below, and it blocked most of the trees across the meadow out of view.  The great wind passed as suddenly as it came, and the humongous craft floated in complete silence, slowly rotating with a gentle wobble, exposing in turn each of its three smoky matte-black metallic side panels, each one a perfect rectangle, and perfectly flat.  I caught glimpses of the top and bottom of the ship as it rotated and swayed.  It appeared to be perfectly flat on top, with the exception of some small protuberances here and there.   The bottom was basically flat as well, with what appeared to be four rounded orange lights, or glowing ports.  One large port was in the center, and a smaller one was at each of the three corners.  It looked like there were additional, unlit ports, as well, but I wasn’t sure.  The ship was shaped like an equilateral triangle, or at least close to it, as far as I could tell.  I wouldn’t guess that something like that could float, let alone fly.  But there it was, right in front of me, as plain as the leaves on the trees!              

Suddenly, and without warning, the muted side panels erupted in a wild multitude of brightly flashing, scintillating lights… I had to squint and hold my hands up over my eyes just to peek at the tremendous display, which seemed to out-shine the brightness of the morning sun.  As bright as it was, I still couldn’t help but to try to look at it, as best I could.  The lights reflected off the meadow grass and the surrounding trees, cycling through every color imaginable and unimaginable.  I stood there, stunned at the awesome kaleidoscope of power and beauty, as it blazed before me.  I think I was too thunderstruck to panic, or even move, let alone run away in fear.  I didn’t want to miss one single moment of what I was witnessing.

That entire, amazing vision was seared into my consciousness, forever.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see every detail, as if the ship is still floating right before me.  Even now, as I write this, I have goose bumps, as I always do when I relive that very moment.           

How fortunate I am, born here on Earth at this time in our planet’s development, to have witnessed firsthand such an amazing technological marvel; an inter-galactic machine untouchable by Earthly technology for who knows how many hundreds, or thousands, of years off into the future.  At that moment, I couldn’t even dream of ever being inside of anything like that.

Nearly overwhelmed by the sight, I began to slump down a bit, and I craned my neck forward to stare at the amazing craft, in all its dazzling glory.  As I watched, a nearly inaudibly deep hum began emanating from the ship.  It was a much different sound than the droning buzz I had heard just a short while back—this sound was deeper and less horn-like.  Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the lights shut down completely.  The side panels reverted back to the solid, smoky black they were originally.  Next the humming stopped, and the triangle stopped rotating and wobbling.  It froze for several long moments, completely silent and motionless, so that all I could see was a giant, solid black rectangle, suspended low above the meadow.  Then the entire ship began to fade away, right before my eyes.  In about five seconds, it had literally just dissolved out of view, as if it had never even been there at all.    

Then another great blast of wind tore through the area, almost tumbling me head over heels into the meadow with a powerful suction, and I looked back up towards the sky from my hands and knees.

The kite– or what I thought had been a kite– was gone.  Suddenly a very deep feeling came upon me, like a huge feeling of loss had just opened up in my heart, seeing that empty sky up there.  O.K., so it was definitely not a kite!  I was definitely quite convinced at that point!  I climbed back up to my feet, and for several moments I stood there, stunned, stretching my neck upwards, peering all over the sky, looking back to the meadow, and back to the sky, waiting– hoping, actually– for a return appearance.    

Then I suddenly realized that my four acquaintances had vanished along with the ship.  I stuck around another twenty minutes or so, looking and hoping for my new friends or their ship to return, to no avail.

11

As it dawned on me that neither the ship nor my acquaintances were returning, it also occurred to me that I should have taken some pictures, with my cellphone.  Here the ship was right in front of me, plain as day, and I never even thought about taking a picture!  Then I realized that I didn’t even bring my phone!  I was so mad at myself!  Heading out on a bike ride, without even taking my phone!  And then not even thinking about it anyway, when the opportunity for a photo was right there!  I pounded the heel of my right hand on my forehead, frustrated that I had completely and utterly blown the most amazing opportunity of my life.       

Hopping back on my bike, I pedaled home probably faster than I had ever pedaled before.  After I got back on the street, I was flying across intersections, blasting over high curbs, weaving between cars and pedestrians, careening along like a bicycle messenger on a crazy dare.  Even though I was so teed off about not getting a photo of the ship, or of my mysterious friends, I knew that I had to call my family, my friends—everybody– to let them know what happened.   I literally crashed my bicycle into the back yard, and ran into the house like a madman.

I threw open the door, ran to the phone and called my parents to tell them what had happened.  I was so relieved when the phone was answered on the first ring!  It was my dad.  

Let me just say, I didn’t get very far with my space alien story.  I tried to tell him about the trips to the forest and the four people that I was convinced were aliens.  Before I could even get to my face-to-face encounter with their spaceship, I could see where the conversation was headed.        

“There are no space aliens out in the forest preserve, Ken.  There are a lot of strange people that hang out there, though, that you might think are space aliens.”  That comment greatly amused him.

That’s how the rest of the conversation went.  No matter how adamant I was that I saw a huge spaceship, close enough to throw a rock at, he kept getting back to his point.  

“I don’t think you should go back there, Ken.  I’d just stay away from there.”

And that was about it.  That call basically went nowhere.  And to this day, my dad still doesn’t want to discuss that part of my Enlightening.  After that reaction, I realized that I might want to rethink my plan of calling everybody I knew.  I didn’t want to alienate all my friends and family, in one big rush of me being excited.  

There was also a bit of a problem, truthfully, in that my new friends, who I assumed must definitely be space aliens, really looked like normal humans.  Merle had a bit of an unusual look about him, I suppose, which I could never really put my finger on, exactly—I think he was unable to completely mask his facial bone structure, or head shape, or something, as he assumed his Earth-human disguise.  But otherwise, there was no way to tell, whatsoever, that Merle was any different a person than you or I.

I later learned that Merle’s planet was selected as the source of the mission partially because there was a considerable physical resemblance between Merle’s people and Earth’s people, as well as a similar gravitational field on each of the two planets.  Similar height, weight, body structure and facial structure, for the most part.  Some of the other alien species were too short, or with too large of heads, or too tall, or too used to other gravitational conditions.  Especially since Merle was going to be spending a lot of time on-planet, and interacting strongly with Earth-people, myself included, it was better that any disguise didn’t need to be dramatic and unwieldy. 

As far as the three girls go, they looked just about perfect, really, even considering some of Atropha’s rough edges.  Each of them would definitely turn a few heads down here on Earth.  They looked like perfectly normal, albeit rather exotic and beautiful, Earth girls.   I was surprised when Merle once told me that the girls’ Earth-people disguises were quite different than how they appeared in their own real life.  He implied that the true appearance of the girls was a little outside of the box.  That was intriguing, but also, I have to admit, a little unsettling.  

After a while, I got to thinking that these girls were basically using avatars, almost like what you might use in an online game or something.  So that added another weird dimension to the whole thing for me.  I almost wish Merle hadn’t mentioned anything about what they really looked like.  Still, it’s always good to get a full picture of the situation, if you could say that knowing that these girls were basically picture-perfect avatars was getting a full picture of the situation.  Well, you know what I’m saying, I think.

After I hung up the phone with my dad, that day, I realized that it might be hugely beneficial to take some photos, just to document these individuals, even though it might be a tough sell considering their perfectly normal appearance.  I hoped that, if all went well, I might get the money shot– the spaceship.  So after I hung up, I ran out the back door, quickly adjusted the chain on my now slightly banged-up bike, wiped the grease off my hands, and headed out to a big electronics store to see what they had in the way of small cameras.  I bought a couple of mini video cameras and a tiny still-picture camera, as well, with my credit card, even though I didn’t know how I would make the payments, on my small paycheck from The Enterprise, which is what we called the R.H. Enterprise, for short. 

When I got home, I spent the rest of the day rigging up the cameras inside my clothing and my backpack.  Along with my phone, I was going to secretly capture some photos and video footage that would prove to everybody that I hadn’t lost my mind.  

After I had everything set up, my mom called.  Obviously she had talked with my dad.  She tiptoed around the “space alien” angle by referring to the “strange people I met” at the forest preserves.  I had to reassure her that I was OK.  I told her that I agreed it was probably best to stay away from there.  

I went to bed that night secure in my thinking that I would take some great photos the next day, at the forest preserve.  I figured that close-up photos of the triangle would be a world-wide sensation, once they got out, if I could get another chance. 

12

That next morning, I got all my hidden cameras set, and, pulling my bike out of the garage, headed out extra-early.  I stopped in my tracks as I realized that I was hearing that deep, fuzzy droning sound again.  This time it stopped almost as soon as it began, and I rolled down the driveway towards the street in great anticipation.  I immediately noticed that music was coming from somewhere.  It sounded like Pink Floyd, but I wasn’t sure.  I looked out and saw a car parked out at the curb in front of the house.  It was a regular looking little hatchback-type car, and Merle was in the driver’s seat.  He was listening– very intently– to a song which he later told me was “Brain Damage”, by Pink Floyd, from Dark Side of the Moon.  Tapping his fingers on the armrest of his chair to the beat of the music, a smile of sly satisfaction was spreading across Merle’s face.  He turned his head in my direction, and our eyes met.  

I hit the brakes– hard– and hopped off the bike.  It fell from my grasp and landed on the driveway in a clattering heap.

Merle turned off the music and came bounding out of the car like a cat, to help me pick up the bicycle.  It seemed like he was there in an instant.  “Let me help!” he said as he grabbed the bike and stood it upright.        

  “You have a car?” I asked.  

“Sort of,” he grinned.  “Sort of a special model.”  Well, that was an understatement, as I came to find out.  “Come on, we can put your bike in the back.”  And he rolled my bike over towards the back of the car.  

I sort of panicked at that.  This was the ultimate “ride with a stranger”.  I was scared to go in there, and I sure didn’t want my bike in there, either.  Quickly I looked for a way out.  “No way, Merle.  That car is too small.”

He laughed out loud at that.  “This car?  I don’t think so!  I could put twelve bicycles in here.  Come on, have a look!”  And with that, he lifted the back hatch.       I sure didn’t expect what I saw next.  With the hatch shut, and viewing the inside of the car through the closed windows, it looked just like the inside of a regular car.  But once he opened the hatch and I poked my head in there, an entirely different scene unfolded.  It was huge inside!  He wasn’t kidding about the 12 bicycles.  I could probably have gotten 30 bikes in there.

And it wasn’t the inside of a normal car I was looking at.  It was a full circular shape on the inside.  The ceiling, walls and floors were covered in a sort of glowing metal, which appeared to be self-illuminated with a soft, bluish-white light.  Panoramic windows rimmed the entire craft for near total visibility of the outside surroundings.  There were a few blinking or flashing gauges or whatever in different locations, but surprisingly few, actually.  Several were on the sizable central console, which was under the front window and extended out to within easy arms’ reach of the driver and front-seat passenger.  Those two seats were the only visible seats in the entire craft.  In the center of the vehicle, several yards behind the seats, was an orange-colored cylinder, metallic-looking and yet mostly transparent, maybe five feet in diameter, which stretched from the floor to the ceiling.  There was a rear view screen that was in the top of the front window, but you could also turn around and look right through the orange tube as if it almost wasn’t even there.  All in all, the entire scene was basically like what you’d expect the inside of a spaceship to look like, I think.  But, of course, that was because the car was a spaceship, more so than it was a car, as I came to find out. 

“Sort of like the “Tardis”, huh?”  Merle was grinning widely at me.  At the time I didn’t understand the “Tardis” reference.  I’d never really watched any “Doctor Who” before that.  “Can we load the bicycle in?” Merle asked.  “I’d like to get going.”

 Well, what choice did I have, at that point?  I picked up the bike and was about to put it inside, when Merle put up his hand to stop me.  “Hold on,” he said.  “There’s one more thing.”  

 “What?”

“I’m going to need you to leave all your cameras at home.  No photos or video.  Those are my orders,” he said.  “That was my agreement.”  

“I don’t have any cameras,” I lied.  Boy, do I regret saying that.  

Merle looked at me, with the look my mother might have given me when I was seven, after catching me in the cookie jar before dinner.  “Ken, you can’t get in– or out– without passing by the landlady in the kitchen, do you know what I mean?  Please return the cameras to the house.  I’ll wait.  If you want to put your bike back in the garage, that’s fine.  You won’t need it.” 

He didn’t seem angry, or even judgmental.  In retrospect, that hurt.  Almost like he just assumed I would lie about it, like I was a young child.  I guess that’s a pretty accurate assumption and description, though.  

I asked Merle about the landlady in the kitchen reference once, and he mentioned something about some Russian novel.  Well, that went right over my head.  The amount of knowledge Merle had about Earth culture was unbelievable, especially considering that his home planet was 97 light years from Earth.       

Sheepishly hanging my head after being caught in the fib, I retreated back to the garage with my bike.

“And leave the phone also!” Merle called after me.  Damn, he didn’t miss a trick.  

I already knew better than to test Merle.  And after I had gotten a good look at the inside of the car, I never considered not getting into it with him.  I don’t remember being afraid, or even concerned about it, in the least.  I just felt like I had to get back into that car, or ship, if I had any opportunity at all to do so.  I was very focused on that idea.

So I put the bike in the garage.  Then I hurried back into the house and dumped all the camera gear, as well as my phone, on the kitchen table in a heap, so I could hustle back to the car.  I never did get even a single photo, the entire time Merle was here.  When I first headed out that morning, I didn’t have anything turned on yet.  I didn’t want to waste the batteries, so I was going to fire everything up as I approached the forest.  I never got the chance.  Nor did I ever try again.  And I’m fine with that.  I know what I saw, and what I experienced.

13

When I got back to the car, Merle was back in the driver’s seat, and he was again listening to Pink Floyd.  It was now the song “Eclipse”.  He motioned for me to come inside.  I opened the door– it was exactly like a regular car door on the outside– and sat down.  I looked around the inside of the vehicle in amazement.  The seat looked like it would be hard, like hard plastic or metal, but actually it felt incredibly comfortable once I sat down.  It contoured to my body perfectly, and gave a little– but not too much– with every move.  It was the most luxurious and comfortable chair I had ever sat in, by far.  It almost seemed like it was alive, it was so responsive.  Sometimes it almost seemed like the entire ship was alive, really.  It’s hard to explain.        

Merle smiled at me, and, concentrating on the music, tapped his finger on the armrest, while silently mouthing the lyrics.

The big orchestral climax faded out into the sound of a beating heart, which I had never really noticed before in that song.  As the heart continued its beating, Merle turned to me and spoke the spoken final lyrics, perfectly mimicking the British cockney accent on the original record, “There is no dark side of the moon, really.  As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”  Then the song ended, and Merle chuckled.  I figured that he must have found the ending part to the song to be funny.         

He turned to me again.  We were still parked at the curb.  “I just love that album,” he told me, “Dark Side of the Moon.  It was released in 1973.”  He turned to me and smiled.  “You know, that album played a very large role, believe it or not, in my getting this mission. 

“All the space-faring peoples in this part of the galaxy were very fortunate to have such a close view of the development of the Earth, especially at such an important era in Earth’s history.  We on Akeethera had been observing your planet for a long time.  When you started detonating atomic bombs, it really got everybody’s attention.  Then you had two massive World Wars, not to mention many other wars and skirmishes continuously going on somewhere, all the time.   

     “And you were just taking your first tiny baby steps, sending up satellites, orbiting the Earth, and then, finally, landing men on the moon.  I remember how interesting it was, for me especially, observing your planet’s development as it put its first feelers out into the surrounding universe.  Watching Neil Armstrong take the first steps onto the surface of your moon was one of the real formative moments of my youth, believe it or not!  I remember watching it with my mom, while we were having breakfast, from the same news feed that was being broadcast back to Earth.

“I remember my mom saying that we were probably seeing the feed even before the people on Earth were seeing it, because she had pulled some very big strings to get us linked in to a very fast transmission network, just for the event.  My mom had decorated the room with Beatles posters and other Earth-style paraphernalia, to get us in the proper mood, she said.  She even had a lava lamp going.              

“My mother and I were amazed that the people of Earth were operating with a very limited and incomplete view of the universe, due to some basic misunderstandings underlying your Relativity theory.  That fascinated us as much as anything, I think.

“A lot of people on Akeethera, at that time, followed the various Earthly developments from our news feeds, and so forth.  Many still do!  Being young, as I and my friends were at the time, we especially enjoyed the popular American and British music of the day.  It was very different than Akeetheran music, and the uniqueness appealed to us greatly.  There was also a rawer edge to your music, which also appealed to us, as we were able to more clearly imagine some of the challenges the people of Earth faced, that we as a society had not faced for more than a millennium.”    

Merle told me that he had really hooked into Earth music through his uncle, who had run a powerful supply and transport ship for several years, on the final leg of the Akeethera-to-Earth route.  Merle’s uncle had a front-row seat, basically, to the whole British Invasion music scene, as it was happening.  He never was on-planet himself, but he still had to be fully inoculated against Earth pathogens, since he got plenty of exposure to the various travelers he met.  These travelers were shuttling back and forth between Akeethera and our solar system, and on occasion the Earth itself, “for scientific purposes, or for pleasure, or any combination of the two”, as Merle had said with a grin and a wink.  And they were happy to share their findings with Merle’s uncle.  So when Merle’s uncle came back to Akeethera, he passed along his love of Earth music to a young Merle.

“I, myself, absolutely loved the Beatles, even though they broke up just after I started listening to their music,” Merle told me.  “I remember I had a huge Abbey Road poster on the wall of my room, in my parent’s house.  I absolutely loved that Abbey Road album.”  

I sat back in my seat, totally astounded by Merle’s comments, while he continued speaking.  “Many people on Akeethera were disappointed when the Beatles broke up.  I remember seeing it in the news, at the time it happened, and I remember how sad my mom was, because she liked them, too.  Even still in 1973, I remember wondering if they might get back together, because just as I was starting to get into the whole American/ British rock music thing, and particularly the Beatles, they broke up.

“Meanwhile, I was listening to a lot of new music from Earth, and hoping to come across the next big thing.  Of course there were a lot of other great bands out there, at the time.  I was somewhat aware of Pink Floyd, also, and I thought they were very interesting.  And then I heard Dark Side of the Moon for the first time.”  He paused and shook his head, as in amazement at its greatness.  “There is so much pain, confusion, fear and doubt on that album, which greatly appealed to me, at the time, as an artistic statement from Earth.  I felt it was relevant even in my own society, as far removed from Earth as that may be.”  Merle mentioned that the album, on one level, referenced Syd Barrett, who I had never even heard of before.  He was actually the artistic leader of the band in their early days, but Syd was no longer in the band, well before they recorded Dark Side of the Moon

“The album, to me, really touches on the universality of the feelings of fear and anxiety and isolation,” Merle said.  “I love how the band used the imagery of the eclipse of the sun, and the dark side of the moon, as they relate to becoming separated from the ties of connectivity that bind us all together, and to illustrate what a profound magnitude of loss that would be.  Also, how easy it is for any one of us to fall into that isolation and separation, even in a bustling, connected world.  And also, who really are the crazy ones?”  Merle smiled, clearly enjoying his memory of the artistry of the album.  “At least, that’s what it means to me.”                         

Merle had already made enough cultural references that I realized that he knew a thing or two about the ways of Earth.  And after all I that I had already witnessed, I was starting to realize that it was just like Merle to surprise me with the unexpected.  So I accepted his comments on Dark Side of the Moon in silence, without even nodding my head.  Merle continued speaking, slowly, as if he was trying to formulate his thoughts as he went along.

“I remember, as a beginning student of Earth, how interested I was, learning about your planet and its history, from the research of people from my planet, and others, who had been studying your world for thousands of years; if not a lot longer.”  He winked at me as he said that.  “I tremendously enjoyed learning about so many of the great thinkers and artists in your planet’s history, obviously many more than one man could study, even in the longest lifetime.”  He slowly shook his head, deep in thought.    

“And then, as a young student, I became so very interested in this collection of songs, by this somewhat obscure, modern British rock band.  Just like a teenager!

“Even though I could speak English relatively well, it was still difficult for me to understand all the lyrics of the songs I was listening to.  I remember that, as a young member of the academy, I officially requested a copy of the lyrics be sent to me.  I don’t know what made me think anybody would actually get them.  At the time, we didn’t even have a full-time man on-planet, and the Committee on Western Earth Culture had to go through another source, from one of our partners in another system who had a person here.  There wasn’t any internet back then, of course, with all the lyrics on-line, so she actually purchased a copy of the album in order to get the lyrics in writing, so she could have a copy of the lyrics sent to me, from right off the actual album sleeve.  Ha!  A lot of trouble to go through!  I’m afraid the Earth culture representatives on the committee thought I had… taken leave of my faculties, I think is how you say it.  But after a few days, I received a copy of the lyrics, transmitted 97 light years, across several sectors of the galaxy, just so I could understand it better!”  He laughed out loud at that memory. 

“One day several years ago (depending on how you look at it), while I was still on Akeethera, I was talking to Risdef Droynom, in a hallway of the academy.  He was the head of Western Earth Culture Studies for the committee at the time.  Risdef is a wonderful man, and he was the one who pulled the strings to have the lyrics sent to me.  More than anyone, he thought I was… barking up the wrong tree… and maybe wasting valuable resources, with my interest in Dark Side of the Moon.  He might have thought it was a pointless teen-age obsession, I’m afraid!  Yet he still agreed to help get me the lyrics. 

“That day in the hallway, we were talking about many things.  I remember we were discussing the influence of some of the greatest Russian authors on Western literature.  Somehow, that led to us talking about Charles Dickens, Emerson and Thoreau, I believe; Mary Shelley and Rachel Carson, also.  Then we were talking about Bob Dylan.           

“Finally, he put his arm around my shoulder and asked me if I was still listening to Dark Side of the Moon.  Of course I said yes.  I’ll never forget how he reached into the large bag he was carrying, and pulled out a package.  As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was.  It was an actual vinyl album of Dark Side of the Moon.  ‘I thought you might enjoy this,’ he told me.  Risdef had that album shipped all that way– on a series of four different very fast ships– just so I could have it.  Even though I didn’t even have a record player to play it on!  I was so stunned I didn’t even know what to say! 

“I was looking at the album in my hands, and stammering as I tried to think of something to say, when Risdef told me that I had gotten the commission for being one of the on-planet contacts for this mission!  That, right there, was the happiest moment of my life up until that point, without question…  I had worked so very hard to get to this commission!  Years of deep study and immersion, to get to that point!   

“That night, when I got home, I was so excited.  I put the album on the table, opened it up, and poured myself a little fluzle, to celebrate.  I played the music over and over, from another recording of it that I had previously gotten through the communication network, while I just sat and stared at the Dark Side of the Moon album, direct shipped all the way from Earth!”

“Fluzle?”  

“It’s sort of like the Akeethera version of champagne,” Merle said.  He then let rip with a big, full-throated laugh, which again took me by surprise.  He held his slim belly and laughed some more, as he remembered the moment.  “Even though I might have had a slight advantage, I was one of only three people chosen, out of more than 2400 candidates, for one of the on-planet spots on this mission, which I still can barely believe!  And that vinyl album, to this day, is my most valued possession.”

At the time, I didn’t know what Merle meant by his “slight advantage”, but eventually I did come to find out what his unique advantage might have been.

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