The Enlightening Chapters 31-33


                                                            31

       
I didn’t have much time, right then, to ponder the ramifications of what I had just witnessed, or what Merle meant by his comment about very large accumulations of mass/energy, because Merle informed me that we had to pack up and get out of there.  We unexpectedly had less time than Merle had originally assumed.  I did take a moment to try to steer Merle into discussing other quantum particles, in addition to photons or electrons, but he was having none of it. 

“We have to clear out of here, immediately.  Regarding wave-particle duality, as you call it– any particle, or accumulation of mass-energy, rides the wave.  We are all but ducks on the lake, Ken.”  Merle reached into his pocket, I guess, and pulled out his little gadget.  He clicked the gadget, and the chip that was still hovering above the pool pointed a beam into the water, leading us to the proper sequence for easy disassembly.  As we pulled each piece out of the water, Merle quickly dried it with his gadget, and we re-packed the box.  Merle held his gadget up in the air, and the chip floated back down and flipped itself right into the little chamber in the gadget.  Then Merle used the gadget to reseal the end of the box, which I didn’t think would even be possible.  Merle and I took the box back out of the lab into the hallway, and Merle locked the door of the lab behind us, carefully wiping clean both doorknobs with a small cloth, as we made our way out.  Then we carried the box further down the hallway, and deposited it against the wall next to the last door on the left side.  Merle told me that “a friend” would take care of it.  After that, we headed out of the building, and briskly headed back out to the car.

The guard was now parked in his car, over on the other side of the parking lot, away from Merle’s car.  The white panel truck had long since left, I assumed.  We got into Merle’s car and departed, after first exchanging waves with our security guard friend across the lot.  As we pulled away, Merle looked over at me.  “You must be hungry, Ken.  Would you like to stop for a bite to eat somewhere?”

“You must be reading my mind, Merle.  I am absolutely starving.”

“How about a nice New Civilizations Special?”  That was the name of one of the “house special” cheeseburgers at the R.H. Enterprise, with jalapenos and diced kimchee and some type of cheese.  Merle must have known that I liked that one.           

I was actually a little disappointed that we weren’t flying off to Antarctica, or maybe to a picturesque little valley in the central highlands of Madagascar, or possibly to the pyramid complex on the Giza Plateau, or something like that.  “The Enterprise again?” I asked.     

“Why not?” 

“OK,” I said, somewhat grudgingly.  “That’s fine.”  I guess I was already getting spoiled with the conveniences of Merle’s car/ spaceship.  “But this time maybe we can eat in the lounge.”  The lounge portion of The Enterprise was physically separated from the primary restaurant, with a separate entrance, a large bar, and several tables, as well.  The two portions shared a kitchen area in the back, and the lounge area offered a slimmed-down version of the restaurant menu, including cheeseburgers.  The lounge would also offer much less interaction between Merle and a waitress, I was thinking.    

After a brief flash of darkness, I looked around for a moment, and I suddenly realized that we were back behind the strip mall, next to the dumpster, where we originally began our day’s adventure.  “Wow, Merle.  I never even know when we’re flying in this thing, when we go so fast.” 

Merle liked that.  “Smooth, isn’t it?  Especially for such a little ship.  I really like it.  They did great with this.  It’s a lot of fun.  You know, it goes in the water, too.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah.  I haven’t had to try it, though.  Probably won’t get the chance.” 

We pulled back around the mall, and got back on the street.  Before long, we were pulling up to The Enterprise. 

“I think I’m starting to like this, Merle.  Fly out to who-knows-where in about three seconds.  Do your thing.  Fly back in another three seconds.  Have dinner.  Nice way to travel!” 

Merle liked that, too, and he flashed me his patented wide grin.  “It’s the only way to travel, Ken!  It was considerably less than three seconds, though.”

As we entered the Lounge, I could hear the jukebox churning out the traditional strains of “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”.  I knew what that meant.  “Daryl is here,” I said. 

“Where is he?”  Merle asked. 

“I don’t know.  I just know that he always plays this song.” 

Sure enough, we found Daryl and Mark, in the back of the Lounge, playing darts and enjoying a few cold ones.  “You guys want to play darts?” they offered us. 

“No, no thanks,” I said.  “We’re getting some food, so we’re going to grab a table.”  Being with Merle around other people still made me nervous.  I was always afraid that either he or I would say something really stupid or inappropriate, and ruin everything.  So I was sort of relieved that we had the ready-made excuse of needing a table, for eating.          

Merle and I ordered our food at the bar and then grabbed one of the few remaining open tables.  Actually, Merle didn’t order any food—just a tomato juice—but I was quite hungry, so I ordered a New Civilizations Special with a cup of lentil soup, a Tribble Salad, and a pint of ale.  I was actually relieved that Merle hadn’t ordered any food this time, if you know what I’m saying.        

As we sat down, I was expecting that we would discuss the double-slit experiment we had just conducted in the wave pool, probably only ten or fifteen minutes prior.  Merle had another direction in mind, though, as usual.  “So what do you think is at the very center of our universe?” Merle asked me. 

That question took me by surprise.  I just had never really wondered about the center of the universe before, I think.  I didn’t really have any well-developed thought on that, so I just sort of said the first thing that came into my head.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Wow.  The center of the universe, huh?  Emptiness, I guess, after the Big Bang?” 

“Nope.  And nope.”

“What was the second ‘nope’ for?”

“The Big Bang.” 

“What do you mean, ‘nope’ to the Big Bang?”

“I mean use your mind, Ken, and think about what might be at the center of our hyper-dimensional universe.  And don’t get too caught up on that ‘Big Bang’ stuff.  You remember what is at the center of our own galaxy, don’t you?”    

“A black hole.  I mean, a hyper-dimensional black hole.” 

“Correct.  So what do you think might be at the center of the universe?” 

“Remnants of the Big Bang?” 

Merle slowly turned his head towards me, fixating his now-baleful eyes on me as he did so.  Taking a deep breath, he issued forth a deep, melancholic sigh, apparently quite heartfelt, and looked up towards the ceiling as he slowly shook his head.  He paused for a bit, apparently in deep thought– with furrowed brows, even, I noticed– before he suddenly continued speaking.  “Ken, remember, I said not to get too caught up on the ‘Big Bang’ stuff.  Instead, think microcosmic/ macrocosmic.” 

“Microcosmic/ macrocosmic?” 

“Yes, yes.  Remember, a hyper-dimensional black hole is at the center of our own galaxy.  That’s the microcosmic.” 

“That’s the microcosmic,” I repeated, and thought about it.  I leaned my right elbow on the table, and supported my chin with my cupped hand, as if that might help. 

Well, maybe it did help, because right then, like a slow-motion tsunami, the idea began to bore in upon me.  As soon as I began to consider this new idea, I suddenly knew that it fit, so perfectly, that it must be true. 

“The macrocosmic!” was all I could articulate, as the realization sank in upon me, layer upon layer.  I was looking upwards, now, myself, as if I was imagining for the first time the workings at the center of the universe, and had set about trying to see it, up in the sky, even though we were indoors, and it was daytime, and the center of the universe is much, much, much too far away to see with the naked eye, let alone the largest telescope in the world, if in fact you could even say that you could “see” it, at all!        

“What is the macrocosmic?” Merle asked me.  He had an extraordinarily large smile on his face. 

“Merle,” I said.  “It’s a hyper-dimensional black hole.  A supremely gigantic, hyper-dimensional black hole!” 

“Absolutely correct, Ken!”  Merle stood up, leaned across the table, and gave me a high-five.  Absolutely correct!”    

By then, I already saw the basic situation.  A gigantic, hyper-dimensional black hole, functioning as a sort of ever-present Big Bang, resides at the center of our universe and sends off enormous jets of mass-energy in an eternal cycle.  Our Milky Way galaxy, and all the galaxies that we can see from Earth, are part of that larger flow from the central black hole.  It is such a massive flow that we can’t easily recognize, from our perspective, that we are riding within it.  However, we have already picked up on certain cosmological clues to the directional, anisotropic flow we ride within, for example the alignment of rotation axes of galaxies, polarization angles, and so forth.                          

Merle and I talked about the universal black hole some more, before our food got there.  Merle explained to me that once mass/energy is ejected from the black hole, via the poles, it is compacted together rather tightly– shepherded together by the gigantic magnetic field extending deep into space from each pole of the black hole.  This mass/energy begins to slow down immediately, due to repeated collisions with adjoining mass-energy in the tightly packed stream. 

After traveling for eons, the mass-energy has traveled far enough from the black hole so that it begins to break away from the attraction of the weakening magnetic field extending outward from the poles.  It begins to curve back down, and away from the central axis, in a spiraling 360 degree radius, much like the fabric of an umbrella, except in this case with spiraling tines, arching away from its central pole.  This mass-energy spreads apart and accelerates through space, as it eventually plunges back towards the central plane of the universe, drawn faster and faster, in a spiraling and expanding fashion, by the enormous gravitational force of the accretion disk and the beckoning central black hole.  The broken-down magnetic field lines also are drawn back towards the accretion disk, thereby functioning as the spiraling “tines” of the umbrella.  On the opposite side of the black hole is an “upside down” umbrella structure, functioning in the same way.   

Inevitably, all the mass-energy that was ejected via the poles feed back into the accretion disk, and finally back into the black hole itself, before repeating the cycle.  The universe itself, then, is the only true perpetual energy machine in our universe, and the black hole at the center of the universe is the only infinite black hole, most likely, in terms of an infinite number of accretion disks.  For every amount of mass-energy that re-enters the universal black hole, an approximately equivalent amount of mass-energy is ejected from the inside of the hole, and back out into space, thereby maintaining an eternal equilibrium.        

The Earth is somewhere in the acceleration and expansion phase of the cycle, in the umbrella “fabric” portion of the process, having broken away from the central magnetic axis, but not yet having reached the central plane of the universe.  That’s why, when we look around us, mass-energy is departing from us in all directions.  That is how it looks when we are in the midst of an accelerating flow of material, which is also expanding through space from the original narrow jets to the cascading and expanding “umbrella” of mass-energy.  All other galaxies appear to be receding from us in all directions, and the universe is so gigantic that we cannot easily discern that we ourselves are in the midst of a structured, accelerating flow.

Once mass-energy enters the central plane of our universe and begins to move back toward the accretion disk, the cumulative mass-energy will draw back closer together, even as it continues to accelerate, as it nears the narrowing throat of the “whirlpool” that is the black hole at the center.  That is how we know that the Milky Way has not yet entered the central plane of the universe, or the universal accretion disk.               

One of the things I struggled with, as we discussed it over a burger and tomato juice, was to realize that space is not expanding, as I had been always taught from Big Bang Theory.  The modern Big Bang theory posited that all the stars and galaxies that clearly appear to be racing away from us (the most distant ones at nearly the speed of light—are, in a sense, not actually racing away from us).  According to the Inflation portion of the modern Big Bang theory (I say “modern” because it was not part of the original theory), space itself is expanding.  So those stars that seem to be racing away from us are really not racing away at all, in the usual sense, according to Big Bang theory!  In retrospect, it sounds almost silly, but I believed it myself.  Most astrophysicists worth their salt believed it, also.  Of course, that was before we knew that the universe is hyper-dimensional. 

Eventually Merle got through to me that those galaxies we see receding away from us in all directions are, actually, speeding away from us via normal physical space, exactly as they appear to be doing.  “It’s nothing trickier than that,” Merle said.  “We are all in the flow, accelerating back to a cataclysmic re-acquaintance with the universal black hole- the Mother of the Universe, you might say.  Space, or space-time itself is not expanding, overall.  The energy field within space-time is curved by mass/energy, and it is in a less curved state farther away from mass/energy, but all this talk of expanding space as being the sole explanation, or the cause, of retreating galaxies is incorrect.

“In fact, three-dimensional space is entirely static, throughout the infinite cosmos.  It’s really the curvature of the time dimension that causes the apparent “curvature” of space/time.  Since space and time are interconnected, though, the curvature is also innately interconnected. 

“Gravitation, in fact, might be considered as the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, by your parlance—the Conservation of Time.  This makes a lot of sense, in light of what we know about the Lorentz transformation equations and time dilation.  You know that time passes more quickly at higher altitudes, correct?” 

“Yes, I do recall that.” 

“That’s right.  A person living on a mountaintop actually experiences a faster passage of time, compared with somebody living at sea level.  The Earth’s mass causes a displacement, and curvature of space/time.  This curvature is greater the closer one gets to the Earth.”

“O.K.” 

“So less curvature up on the mountain, where time passes more quickly.” 

“O.K.  I see that.” 

“So what happens if you drop a rock off the mountain?” 

“Well, gravity will make it bounce down the mountainside.” 

“That’s right.  In the universe, time is always conserved by mass/energy, as much as possible.  In other words, mass/energy is pushed by the space-time continuum towards the slowest possible passage of time.  The universe pushes the rock towards the slowest possible passage of time, where space-time is the most curved.  That’s exactly what gravitation is, so you could describe gravitation as, simply, the Conservation of Time.  Remember, time is actually an energetic manifestation of the space-time continuum.  Therefore it is a thermodynamic-type process, in a relativistic sense.”      

Merle threw so much information my way that sometimes I didn’t really focus on something until well after he said it.  That’s how it was with his explanation of the Conservation of Time.  It wasn’t until sometime afterwards that I grasped how amazing it was to consider gravitation to be one of the Laws of Thermodynamics.      

Regarding the central black hole of the universe, I’m not saying that it’s completely inevitable to get sucked back through at the end of a cycle.  Merle mentioned at some point that it was believed there are civilizations that have existed for so long that they were able to develop technologies that helped them to escape the central destruction, either by short-cutting the black hole and riding the flow back outwards, or possibly simply by going back against the flow, and avoiding ever reaching the proximity of the center.  That type of wild adventure is the sort of thing I think about, sometimes, when I have some quiet time to think, maybe late at night before going to sleep.  If these civilizations exist—and I believe they do—I am rooting for them to escape the clutches of the universal black hole!   

                                                             32

Merle took another sip of tomato juice and smiled at me again.  “Well, Ken, it sounds like the music has stopped.” 

“I guess it has.” 

“Well, I have a five dollar bill in my pocket.” 

“And?” 

“And I’m going to play some music.” 

I sat there while Merle put the money in the juke box.  As the strains of “Here Comes the Sun” poured out of the speakers, Merle came back to the table.  “How about a game of pool?”  he asked me.  “I’ve never played.” 

“It’s sort of difficult, Merle.  I’m not really that good, myself.  But sure, we can play.” 

“Good!  I’ve watched people play a couple of times, so I have a pretty good idea of what to do.” 

“Good!  You probably know more about it than I do, Merle.” 

“Oh, I doubt that,” he said. 

It’s probably needless to say, but you might have already guessed that Merle only needed a few turns to clear his “striped” balls off the table.  I think I sank only two “solid” balls.      

“I thought you never played,” I said, after he sunk the last four shots in a row. 

“I haven’t!  But like I said, I’ve watched a few games.” 

“Yes, I can see that.”  There’s no question that I might have been just a wee bit annoyed at how good Merle seemed to be at sports.  For him to shoot pool like that, having never played before, was almost discouraging to me.       

By then, Daryl and Mark had come over to watch us play, which made it impossible for Merle and me to talk about the universe, or anything like that.  After Merle and I finished, the four of us played a game of doubles- Merle and me against Daryl and Mark.  Daryl was a good player, so the match ended up being mostly a duel between Merle and Daryl, with Mark and me mostly missing our shots.  Daryl ended up winning the game for his team when he went on a run and sank the last three balls, finishing with a very difficult shot where he used “English” to curve the cue ball around one of our balls that appeared to be blocking Daryl’s position.  Rather than getting frustrated with how the game ended, Merle got excited watching Daryl shoot, and he gave him a very enthusiastic high-five after the last ball went in.  “That was awesome!  You made the ball curve so much by spinning it!”  Merle almost shouted.  “Remarkable!”        

Daryl looked first at Mark, and then at me, with a look that questioned, “Is this guy for real?”  I wasn’t about to tell him that Merle had never played a game of pool before, in his life.   

Two other guys had come in, while we were playing, and called “winner”, meaning they got to play the next game against Daryl and Mark.  That gave Merle and me a chance to head back over to our table, which luckily was still empty.  “Three Little Birds” was playing on the jukebox as we took our seats, although at the time I didn’t realize that was the title of the song.  I always thought it was “Don’t Worry About a Thing.”           

“Is this Bob Marley?” I asked.

“Yah man,” Merle said, in his best Jamaican accent.  “Love this song.” 

“It is great,” I said, as we each took a sip of our respective beverages.  “You’re pretty great, too, at sports.  I think you’d be great at any sport you want,” I said. 

“I always liked to play sports back on Akeethera, other than maybe swimming, which I was never that fond of.  I’ve wanted to play a game of pool for several months, now.  That was a lot of fun.  I don’t know why I never had a pool table put in, on the ship.  That doesn’t take up as much space as a bowling lane.  Maybe I’ll have that done tomorrow, if possible.”    

“Everything is fast with you, isn’t it, Merle?” 

He looked at me as if he didn’t understand why I was asking that question. 

I just laughed.  “It’s all relative, I guess, isn’t it?”  Right then, my cell phone rang.  It was Kim.  I told her we were at The Enterprise, and she said that she would stop on by in a few minutes.        

In the meantime, I was getting thirsty again.  “I wouldn’t mind having another beverage,” I said. 

“Well, I guess I wouldn’t mind another tomato juice, then.” 

So I went to the bar and got us another couple of drinks.  When I came back, Merle mentioned that we were getting “pretty close”, now.   

I was confused by that statement.  “Close to what, Merle?”

“We’re getting close to wrapping up our discussions of the hyper-dimensional universe.  Right now you have a very strong understanding of the large-scale structure of the universe, and of Hyper Relativity.  But let’s think about how gravitational fields operate in a hyper-dimensional sense.” 

“Are you going to say that mass-energy traveling faster than the ratio of space to time—relative to us—still affects our own space-time continuum, in our own physical and perceptual space-time reference frame?  In other words, we are gravitationally affected by mass-energy from outside of our own physical dimension?” 

“Yes!  Very good, Ken.” 

“Is that possible?” 

“Yes, of course it is possible.  Why wouldn’t it be?  Isn’t space-time a continuum?”

“Yes.” 

“Well, then, if you gravitationally compress one portion of the space-time continuum, shouldn’t it affect adjoining space-time as well?  It’s very much like pressing your thumb into a rubber ball—the spot under your thumb is not the only part of the ball that compresses down.  Adjoining areas of the rubber ball are pulled down, as well.  In fact, shouldn’t gravity affect an ever widening shell of influence, in an ever-dwindling way, as time passes?  Isn’t that infinite interconnectedness the very nature of the continuum itself?”

I could picture exactly what Merle was talking about, more or less.  “So this is gravitation that exists outside of the field equations?”  I was referring to Einstein’s field equations from General Relativity, describing gravity. 

“Well, Ken, I would tell you this.  You make a great observation, regarding the field equations.  This new information you will be bringing to the table will, at the very least, add another level of significant depth to the understanding of the field equations, and it will, as you suspect, add more layers of mathematical possibilities, going forward.  But I would suggest to you that you already have quite a lot on your plate, in terms of physics and cosmology, without delving too deeply into the field equations, yourself.  There is much room to explore, mathematically, within the hyper-dimensional realm, but you need to maintain a focus.  Otherwise, you will find endless additional corridors to explore along the way, and never reach your ultimate goal.  The important thing to take away is that gravity bleeds over into other adjoining dimensions of the continuum, to a certain extent.” 

“So, which extra-dimensional mass-energy affects us the most, gravitationally?” I asked, hoping for some elucidation. 

“Right here, in the Milky Way Galaxy?” 

“Yes.” 

“I already told you.” 

It took me a moment.  “You mean the Milky Way itself affects its own gravitational cohesion?”

“Yes, of course.  Mass-energy throughout the entire hyper-dimensional range of the Milky Way compresses space/time, all the way into our own space/time reference frame.  All that extra-dimensional mass-energy creates what you might call a gravitational soup.  That soup is what keeps the galaxy from flying apart from its centrifugal forces.”       

“A gravitational soup?” 

“Well, on Earth I’ve heard it referred to as “dark matter”.     

That’s what dark matter is?” 

“Absolutely.  The dark matter ‘halo’ surrounding the Milky Way is the gravitational bleed-over from the extra-dimensional portions of our own galaxy, primarily.  Space-time is truly a hyper-dimensional continuum.” 

Dark matter explained!  I was so excited by that, I nearly knocked over my glass of ale!  “And dark energy?” 

“That is the flow of the universe, as we discussed.  The fact that we are now in the ‘acceleration and expansion phase’ of the universal cycle, and accelerating back towards the gravitational attractor of the central hyper-dimensional black hole, is the simple explanation for dark energy.”

“Ha!”  I laughed, at Merle’s description.  “A simple explanation!  Ha!” 

“But it is simple!” Merle said.     

“Simple for you, maybe, Merle.”  But in truth, when I thought about it, later that night after I got home, I realized that Merle was right.  It was actually deceptively simple. 

“I’m afraid that’s all I have time for, tonight,” Merle said.  “I have an appointment, back on the base.” 

Just then, I saw that Kim was approaching the table.  I had almost forgotten about her!  She came up to us and sat down next to Merle.  “Hey, guys!  Why aren’t you shooting pool?” 

“We already did!  We lost!”    

We all said hello, and so forth, but soon Merle stood up.  “I really have to get going,” he said. 

“Don’t leave on my account!” said Kim.

I mentioned to Kim that Merle was already about to leave, before she came to the table.  “Actually, I was about to head back home myself, to see how L.C. is doing,” I said.  “But would you like a drink or anything while we’re here?” 

“No, I’m good,” said Kim.  “I’d actually like to see how L.C. is doing, also, though, if you’re going to the house.”

So we said our goodbyes with Merle, and Kim drove me home.  She stopped by for almost an hour.  We had a nice conversation, and we played with L.C.  The more we talked, the more I found myself being attracted to Kim, and I couldn’t help thinking that the feeling might be mutual.  She still had never mentioned anything about a boyfriend, and I think I was pretty clear about not having a girlfriend. 

When she finally got around to leaving, and I walked her out to the car, I think we were very close to a goodnight kiss.  I think we both wanted to, but it still seemed a little soon, and instead we just said goodnight, awkwardly.  After I got back into the house, I walked over to L.C., who was sitting on a chair in the living room, relaxing after the play session.  I was becoming a real pet owner, already, because I was starting to talk to that cat as if she was another person.  I could tell that she liked it, too, because just talking to her in a nice tone of voice was enough to make her purr, especially if you said her name.  “The next time that happens, L.C., I’m going to kiss her,” I said.  L.C. meowed right back at me, which I was all too happy to take as her approval of the idea.       

                                                            33       

The next morning, a Monday, I worked the breakfast shift at The Enterprise.  Lillian was working that morning, also, and I tried to avoid her as best I could.  I was afraid she would be asking questions about my strange friend that I wasn’t prepared to answer.  Obviously, Merle had made quite an impression on her, since she tracked me down, anyway, to ask uncomfortable questions, as I had feared.  I answered as vaguely as possible, and tried to deflect the questions by making a joke of them.  I don’t think I placated her very much.  I was glad, quite frankly, when my shift ended before she could grill me further. 

On my way home, I stopped by a pet supplies store to pick up some more cans of cat food, along with some cat treats and another bag of cat litter, and a few other miscellaneous cat-related items, like another pet dish and some new toys.  As I walked along the street, on my way home, one of the cat toys I bought tore a hole in one of the bags, and cat toys and treats and the dish fell onto the sidewalk.  I managed to cram everything from that bag into the remaining bag, but before I got very far, that bag ripped out, also, and now twice as many items spilled out.  I was upset, because I couldn’t figure out any way to carry all the loose items, along with the heavy bag of litter, and I was still only about half-way to Walter’s house.  I was just thinking about stashing the stuff in a nearby bush, or something, until I could come back to retrieve it all, when I heard the buzzing note again.  Immediately, I heard a voice from the street say, “Hey, handsome!”  I turned around to see Latsis hanging out of the open window of the girls’ little red sports car, which had pulled over to the curb.  “Need any help?” she asked. 

“Oh my gosh, yes!  I’m so glad you’re here!  My bags broke!” 

“I see that,” said Latsis. 

“They just don’t make ‘em like they used to!” chimed in Clotro, from the backseat.  I guess Merle wasn’t the only one who enjoyed using clichés.    

“Why don’t we put all that in the trunk?” asked Latsis, as she got out of the car to help.  “We’ll drive you home.”      

She didn’t need to ask me twice.  Latsis and I gathered my loose cans and toys, and poured everything into the trunk of the car.  I was extremely excited to think about what the inside of the girls’ car would be like, because it seemed like they were quite a bit more advanced than Merle, even.

Upon entering the back seat of the vehicle, I got a big surprise.  Their vehicle wasn’t at all like Merle’s.  In fact, even from the inside, it looked just like a regular car.  “This looks just like a regular car from the inside,” I said. 

Clotro laughed at that.  “It looks just like a regular car, because it is a regular car.  We actually bought this car from a car dealership.” 

I found that hard to believe.  “Seriously?  Then how do you get it back to your ship?” 

At that, Clotro reached into her pocket, I guess it was, and pulled out her amazing spindle.  She held it in her hand, and looked over at me.  “Oh, it’s easy to get back to the ship,” she said.    

Well, that spindle-thing of hers was definitely amazing, like Merle said.  I did notice that I never really got a good look at it again, other than the first time I had seen it.  Any time I would try and look directly at the spindle, Clotro subtly changed its inclination so that I was looking at it end-on, and I couldn’t really make out anything too clearly from that angle other than a very shiny, or glowing, appearance.  It might even have been emitting some sort of shimmering, semi-visible field, which obscured any clear view.  It was almost looking at the highway in the distance on a blisteringly hot summer’s afternoon, when it seems like there are glimmering pools of reflective liquid in the distance, or maybe even suspended in the air.  That’s what it seemed like, anyway, when I looked at the spindle end-on.                

When we pulled up to Walter’s house, Merle’s familiar vehicle was parked at the curb in front, waiting for us.  “About time you showed up!” he told me, with a big smile on his face.  “Did you have to stay late, or what?”    

“No, I got out on time,” I said.  Truthfully, I practically ran out of there, to avoid more questions by Lillian.  “I had to stop by the pet food store.  Then I had some issues carrying all my stuff.  Then the girls, uh, rescued me.” 

Merle smiled at the sight of me valiantly trying to pick up and carry all the loose items in the trunk.  “Here, Ken, let’s each grab a few things.” 

“Thanks, Merle.” 

Merle and all three girls each grabbed a handful of items to bring into the house.  I had the bag of cat litter.  We walked up the stairs, I opened the door, and we all went into the house. 

We entered the kitchen and put the pet supplies on the counter.  As soon as we set everything down, Atropha began to whistle in a light, high-pitched tone.  “Here kitty kitty!” she said.  I was surprised to see L.C. come into the room, and make a beeline for Atropha.  Before long, Atropha was on the couch, and L.C. was on her lap, being petted and purring up a storm. 

“Wow!”  I said.  “I’ve never heard L.C. purr so loudly, before.” 

Atropha looked like she was in heaven, with that cat on her lap.  She was petting L.C. behind the ears, around the head and neck area, and all along her back, down to her tail.  L.C. was eating it up.  I was shocked, because I had never seen Atropha so peaceful and happy before.  Usually she was a tad surly, if you know what I’m saying.    

Merle noticed it too, and he gave her a little ribbing.  “Atropha, you don’t seem so fierce, anymore, with that little cat on your lap.  I think I’m going to start calling you ‘Sweet Atropha.’”

Atropha replied, without even looking up.  “Well, Merle, maybe I’m starting to relax a little.  It’s nice, for a change, not being constantly accused of being a witch, and not having people trying to take my head off with a pole-axe or halberd every time I turn around!”

Merle laughed, at that comment.  “Good point, Atropha!  I suppose not being pursued by angry mobs does have its advantages.” 

I wasn’t exactly sure what a “pole-axe” or a “halberd” was, and I really didn’t have much idea what they were talking about, with “angry mobs” and all that. 

Clotro walked over to where Atropha was sitting with L.C.  “Hey, don’t be such a cat hog, Atropha!  I want some, too!”

“Me, too!” said Latsis. 

“Too late,” said Atropha.  She carefully lifted L.C. off of her lap, and she stood up.  “We have to go.” 

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such an abrupt departure.  Within a minute and a half, at the most, they were all out the door, in the car, and down the street and out of sight. 

As I looked out the window and watched the little red car drive away, I mentioned to Merle that I was amazed at Atropha’s affectionate behavior towards L.C. 

“Well,” Merle said, “Everybody likes a little affection, Ken.  Even a hard-core inter-galactic time-saving security agent enjoys a little loving.  Behind that gruff exterior is a real heart of gold, believe it or not.  Imagine how lonely it must get for those time-savers, out here on this mission, so far from home.  That cat just made her very happy.” 

“I see that now, I guess.  But what the heck is a ‘pole-axe’, or a ‘halberd’?”

“Oh, those are common types of medieval weapons.  Remember, these ladies are time-savers.  So to them, medieval times were maybe only a few months ago, or less.  A group of ladies like them tended to encounter a lot of people that wanted to whack them in the head.  And Atropha is the security agent for the group, so she would usually have to do something about it.    

I shuddered as I remembered Atropha’s “garden shears”.  “Why did people want to whack them in the head?” 

“Why?”  Merle laughed.  “Well, for one thing, they liked to accuse the girls of being witches.  You don’t know very much about medieval times, do you?” 

“In truth, no.” 

“Well, let’s just say that getting whacked in the head by some medieval weapon was not an uncommon cause of injury and death, back then.”  

“Seriously?”

“Oh, yes.  If you think the times you live in are violent, which they are of course, you’d have to see what it was like 500 years ago, or 1500 years ago.  In general, violence was progressively more prevalent in daily life, the farther back you go. Of course, these days, weapons are far more powerful than stone axes, or pole-axes and halberds.  That’s a rather unfortunate equalizer, in the present day.” 

I pondered that thought for a few moments before a question popped into my mind.  “Merle, why did the girls leave in such a hurry?” 

“Why?  Because your parents are coming.”

“They are?” 

Before Merle could answer, the doorbell rang.  “Yes,” said Merle.  “They are.”  

I answered the door, and my parents came in.  My mom was carrying a bag with leftovers from last night’s dinner.  They both said their “hellos”, and then my father asked if I had any coffee.     

“Sure.  Want me to make some?” 

“Heck yeah, I’d like some,” he said. 

I brewed up some coffee, sort of strong like my dad likes, and I poured a tomato juice for Merle, without him even asking.  He winked at me when I offered the tomato juice, which I know was his way of thanking me for stocking the one Earth food or beverage that I knew he liked.  We talked with my mom and dad for almost an hour, while we all took turns playing with L.C., who was in a very frisky mood after her great petting session with Atropha.           

Eventually, my mom mentioned that they had to pick up some groceries so she could prepare dinner that night.  That was all that my dad needed to hear, and they took their leave of us.  I was relieved that the entire visit seemed to go quite well. 

“Super nice people, your parents.” Merle observed. 

“Yes.” 

Merle went to the window and watched them drive off.  “OK,” he said.  “Time for us to hit the trail, also.” 

“So where are we going today?”     

Merle placed his hand on my shoulder.  “My friend, I don’t think we will ever forget what we are going to do today, and where we are going to go today.  I’m looking forward to it tremendously, myself.” 

      

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