Merle drove me back home. He turned on his “radio” and we listened to some jazz. “Who is this playing, Merle?”
“That’s Thelonious Monk.”
“I like it.”
“I love it,” Merle said.
When we pulled up to the house, the fireflies were out, in the yards and in the park across the street. They were flashing all around us, and I could see that Merle was entranced by the spectacle. That was the night we sat there, watching the fireflies and listening to “’Round Midnight”. For a few minutes, I think we both almost forgot all that we had experienced that day, and we just wallowed in the serene beauty and true marvel of nature that are the fireflies, with the music serving as a sublime aural backdrop. When the song ended, Merle touched the screen, and we listened to the entire song again, as we watched the flickering show.
“More beautiful than Saturn, I’d say,” said Merle.
“I actually have to agree with you, Merle. I never really paid the fireflies that much attention, before, except maybe when I was very young, when we collected them in jars.”
I think Merle may have winced a bit, when I mentioned collecting them in jars. But that’s what we used to do, when we were kids. These days, with heavy pesticide usage, frequent grass cutting, and less leaf litter, which the firefly grubs require, there aren’t nearly as many fireflies as there were in the past, but that night, at least, they were out in a decent abundance.
Merle and I said our “goodnight”, and I made my way back into the house. L.C. came to greet me at the door, which was nice. “How is it going, L.C.?” I asked her. “It looks like it’s just you and me tonight, girl!” I gave her some wet food and cleaned the waste out of her litter box. Then I listened to a voice message from Kim, and sent her a text message in return. It was too late, at that point, and I was too tired anyhow, to get together. By the time I finished replying to Kim, L.C. was sound asleep on her little cat bed, satisfied with a full belly.
“Correction,” I said to her as she slept. “It looks like it’s just me.” I grabbed a quick bite to eat from the leftovers my mom had brought over that morning, and I plopped down into the couch, now totally exhausted. I quickly fell asleep, before I could even turn on the TV or the computer, and before I could even make it back to bed.
That night, I dreamed that Merle let me take his ship out for a flight, by myself. He assured me that I would be able to do it by myself, and I successfully traveled back out to the mysterious “Planet 9.” I was hoping to see our new-found friends in their mothership, but they were gone by the time I got there. Panic set in when I attempted to make the return trip back. Instead of ending up back by the dumpster, I found myself in deep space, surrounded by stars on all sides, with nary a planet to be seen, anywhere. Nor did I recognize the sun, anymore. It was just billions upon billions of unreachable stars, in all directions. Every time I moved the ship again, in my attempts to get back to Earth, it seemed like the stars were just farther and farther away, and I realized that I was stranded, all alone, and likely for all time, in the vast desolate emptiness of infinite space/time.
I suppose I hadn’t consciously realized it yet, but pressures and anxieties were building up in me. As much as I was enjoying having L.C. as my housemate, I knew that as soon as Neddie was released from the hospital, L.C. would move to the house next door, and I’d probably never see her again. I’m sure I feared I would lose Kim forever, also, when L.C. left.
On top of that, Merle was not long for this world, I knew for a fact. My impending mission of informing the world about hyper-dimensional relativity, and all the other truths I had come to learn about the universe, was weighing upon me quite heavily. It felt like the full weight of our universe had settled squarely upon my shoulders. I alone had to do what I knew would be a very, very difficult task, in convincing a skeptical Physics academia of the realities of the hyper-dimensional universe. I couldn’t help feeling extremely isolated, and hopelessly insignificant; the tiniest and least significant little fish within the endless pond that was The Infinite Crystal.
It had been a very restless sleep, overall, as I endured an entire series of disturbing dreams. The dawn streamed in through the windows and fell upon me, there on the couch, like thunder. Exhausted though I was, I got up, fed L.C., and made myself some coffee. After I took a shower and got dressed, I sat back down on the couch and wondered what this new day was going to bring. I didn’t have to work that day, which was a Tuesday, and I found myself fearing that Merle had already left the planet, without saying goodbye.
My fears were assuaged, though, when I heard the familiar low tone, followed by the ringing of my doorbell. It was Merle!
“Merle! You’re still here!” I told him.
“Yes, I believe I am,” he said. “We still have a few more things to accomplish, Ken. You’re not going to be rid of me quite that easily.”
“Well, I’m glad you feel that way.” L.C. came up to Merle, and rubbed up against his pants leg, purring. “Well hello there, L.C.!” Merle said. He reached down to give her a nice little petting. “Sorry to say, L.C., but Ken and I have to hit the road again.”
“So where are you taking us today? Andromeda?”
“Now that would be quite a trip! But I’m afraid that might be a little outside of the scope of this mission. Today is going to be a little more down to earth, you might say. We’ll be paying a visit to our friend, Professor Jonmur.”
We got back in the car, and Merle turned on the radio.
“What are we listening to today, Merle?”
“Well, right now we’re listening to The Grateful Dead. The song is ‘Ripple.’ Do you know it?”
“No. I never really listened to The Dead, much. I guess I know a couple of their songs.”
“Well, this one is easily my favorite. It really has quite a lot to say. It actually would make a heck of a good theme song for this mission.”
We listened to the song as we drove along to the professor’s house. I didn’t really understand what it was they were trying to say, and I thought maybe Merle was just pulling my leg about it being a good theme song. I could see that Merle was into it, though, listening to the song and smiling, so we just drove along without saying anything. We pulled over and parked along a curb in front of a big green house that I assumed was the professor’s, just as the song was wrapping up.
“Here we are!” said Merle, and we got out of the car.
The professor was out in front, puttering around underneath a large bush, and he turned to greet us when he heard us approach. “Well, hello, Merle! Hello, Ken! I’m so glad you both could stop by! I’ve dug out some dusty old things I thought you might be very interested in!”
“That’s why we’re here!” said Merle.
“Well, come on in, then. I have some very good tomato juice, if you’re interested, Merle!”
“That sounds great, Professor!”
All three of us had a nice cold glass of tomato juice. “This is very good,” I said. “I hadn’t realized how much I do enjoy tomato juice, myself.”
“They tell me it’s an acquired taste, but I love it,” Merle said.
“You always have, since I’ve known you!” the professor responded. “I’ve never seen you drink anything else!”
I sure wasn’t about to say anything about Merle’s unusual tomato juice habit. Instead, I noticed several dozen frames hanging on the wall, across the way, in the den. Inside of each frame was a spectacular insect- either a large beetle or a butterfly, primarily. “Wow, are those the coolest insects, professor! Where did you get them?”
“I collected the majority of them back when I was a young entomologist. Ever since I realized how many fewer insects I was seeing, compared to when I was a younger man, I mostly changed over to just taking photographs. Catch and release, you know.”
Merle and I both nodded in response.
“Now I have something else to show you,” said the professor. He walked across the room and picked up a large portfolio that was leaning against a cabinet. “This is something I came across the other day, when I was looking through my father’s old files. I hadn’t seen these for many, many years. I was hoping that you’d be interested, Ken.”
The professor brought the portfolio over to the table where we sat, while Merle cleared the table. The professor opened up the portfolio, and pulled out what appeared to be a set of large blueprints, or plans, faded significantly with the passing of time. He spread one plan out on the table, as Merle rejoined us. At the top of the large sheet was the title- “Maximillian R. Jonmur Streamside Park”.
I sat up in surprise. “Is this the original blueprint for the park?”
“It sure is,” said the professor. “Actually, there are several plans in the set. And I found a few interesting things.”
“For one thing, the factory buildings on the north side of the stream were supposed to be connected to a drainage system on the opposite side of the buildings, which flowed away from the stream, to avoid backflows into the stream during storms, as it does now. There was supposed to be an entire filtration system that was never built. Instead, several companies just ran some outflow pipes right down towards the stream.”
“We’ve seen that,” said Merle. “It’s outrageous.”
“You’ve seen that? How did you get back there?” the professor asked. “It’s not easy to get back into that area, unless you wade down the stream, which would be pretty dangerous with the current, and all the garbage in there. I wouldn’t recommend wading in that water without the proper equipment.”
I thought I’d better interject. “We didn’t wade out there; we just sort of crawled through the underbrush to check it out. I think I still have the scars to prove it!” Merle gave me a wink after I said that.
“Well, I’m impressed,” said the professor. “You’re more dedicated to this, already, than I’ve realized. Very few people ever make it back into that area!
“Another interesting thing I found was that my father had designed a fishing pond, as an oxbow off of the main body of the stream, so people could easily fish there without the current of the stream being such a factor. Also, he had designed an overflow outlet, so that when the stream flooded, some of the water would divert into a retention pond, with a recreational area surrounding it, across the street from where the factories are now. That area was zoned to be left undeveloped, in case it could be used for that purpose in the future. It runs all the way to the back side of the forest preserve, so it creates another corridor for wildlife, all the way back to the lake area. It’s a swampy area, which is probably why they still haven’t changed the zoning designation for that spot. So the site is still available, basically.”
Merle moved in closer, and peered deeply at the plans. “Fascinating!” he said. “That’s great news!”
“I know, right?” the Professor said. He pointed back to the plan. “And here’s where my father had designed three underpasses, under the road, to allow animals to pass under. Notice here,” said the Professor, pointing at an area of the map, “where he wrote that the underpasses should be constructed where the natural washouts are from the flood plain. Look, he even wrote, ‘enhance the natural washouts’, right there. He thought the underpasses should be like large, enhanced natural washouts that animals naturally gravitate towards, anyway. I remember him telling me, when I was little, that a lot of animals were being struck by cars on this road, so I know it bothered him that they didn’t put in the underpasses.”
“The underpasses are a great idea,” said Merle. “That road is pure carnage, to this day. Not to mention, it’s dangerous for any driver that hits a large animal. I recall a few years back, when a woman was seriously injured after her car hit a deer on that road.”
“I remember that!” said the professor. “That was tragic. It could have been easily avoided with a simple underpass.” The professor paused for a moment to look at the blueprints. “In fact, if I recall, that accident was very close to where my father proposed one of the overpasses.” He paused to consider the thought. “Well, I suppose I have some big dreams that may or may not be realized, some day. But first we have to get that stream cleaned up! In the meantime, I have something for you both.” He reached back down into the portfolio, and brought out more blueprints that looked much newer. There were two rolls, secured with rubber bands. “I had three full sets of copies made,” he said. “There is a set for me, so I don’t have to keep using the originals, and another set for each of you.” He handed us each a rolled-up set of copies, which we gladly accepted.
Merle was extremely happy as we got back into the car, and he turned on the radio to a very up-tempo instrumental. I believe it was the “Black Mountain Rag”, in the country or bluegrass vein, with fiddles, banjos and guitars. Merle said it just “sounded happy” to him. “Love that Doc Watson, anyhow,” Merle said. “Fabulous person, amazing musician!”
Merle looked over at me as if he was telling me a little secret. “Frankly, I was thinking that ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ would probably be a much better fit, but I was in the mood for something a little less wistful,” Merle said.
“This is good,” I said helpfully. I had no idea what he meant by his “Big Yellow Taxi” reference.
“Well, I’m glad you like it.”
“So, what’s next?” It was still early in the day, and usually, with Merle, there were places to go. This time Merle had a little surprise for me.
“What’s next is, you are going to get a little bit of a break from me, and astrophysics, and all that.”
“Why’s that, Merle?”
“Well, they say that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, which is very well put. And lately, you’ve been all work, and no play. You need some time off for some ‘R and R’. Also, you don’t want to completely forget about your friends, do you? They are very important. I’m going to take you back home, and then you’ll have the rest of the day free, as well as tomorrow. I’ll see you on the following day.”
This was completely unexpected, but I was surprised at how much it did feel like a big relief. I realized that, again, Merle knew what he was talking about.
Not five minutes after I got back home, my phone rang. It was Kim, calling me on her lunch break. We agreed to get together for dinner, after she got off work.
Not long after I hung up with Kim, the phone rang again. It was Ronny. “Hey, buddy, you’re a hard man to get a hold of, these days!” he said. “You’re not even answering your text messages!”
“I’ve been a little busy, I guess,” I said.
“Oh, sure, you’ve got a girlfriend now, and you’ve forgotten all about us, haven’t you?”
I had no good response for that one.
“The reason I’m calling,” Ronny said, “is that I have three tickets to tomorrow’s game, and Keith can’t go. I doubt very much that Bryce would want to go, because it’s Cubs versus Mets. I thought that maybe you’d want to bring your new squeeze. It’s a 7:00 start.”
“That would actually be perfect. I have to work the lunch shift tomorrow, so that will work for me. I can call Kim back and see if she’d like to go.”
“Call her back, huh? OK, Romeo, go call her ‘again’, and let me know. Otherwise maybe we can find somebody else.”
I talked to Kim, and it worked out perfectly for her, also, which was super encouraging, so I called Ronny back to confirm our plans for Wednesday evening. I still had some time to clean the house, and to take care of some garden maintenance in both Walter’s and Neddie’s yards, and to take another shower, before Kim came over. She took me out to her favorite restaurant—a Thai place– where we had a nice, leisurely dinner, with two pots of tea, and dessert, as well. We came back to Walter’s place afterwards, so Kim could spend some time with L.C.
“You really do like this cat, don’t you?” she asked me.
“Yes. I’m going to miss her when she goes back to Neddie.”
“Well, I have some good news I forgot to tell you in the restaurant. I talked with Neddie yesterday.”
“So what’s the good news? Is she getting out of the hospital?”
“She should be out sometime next week, apparently. But that’s not the only good news I was talking about.”
“So what’s the other good news?”
“Neddie says that you can keep L.C. for as long as you’re staying here this summer, if you’d like. That will give Neddie a little more time to recover, before she takes a pet. She also told me that she’s planning to sell the house, probably within the next two or three years. One of my aunts has offered to let Neddie stay with her, until Neddie is ready to move into some type of assisted living facility or something, down the road. After her bad fall, she realized that she is getting up in the years and could probably use some help with things, before she has an even worse accident. She’s almost thirty years older than my mom, and lives by herself, so it can be tough for her at times.
“Neddie hopes that, once she moves in with my aunt, one of us can look after L.C. Neddie says that you’re an absolute angel for helping to rescue L.C., and that you should have first option of taking her in. Neddie’s only stipulation is that you let her stop by for visits, from time to time.”
“Well, I don’t quite know what to say. Other than it all sounds great. I’m not even sure where I’ll be in two or three years, but it all sounds great!”
“I think it will be great,” said Kim. And that’s when she reached out and gave me a big kiss on my cheek. The next one was on the lips, and so was the one after that. Let’s just say we had a very nice time together that night! By the time Kim left, several hours later, it was obvious that our relationship had evolved from simple friendship into a much deeper, romantic relationship. I was on Cloud Nine, as they say, when I went to bed that night, and I slept like a baby, with no disturbing dreams, for a change.
Wednesday, Kim and I both worked during the day, and that night we had a tremendous time at the baseball game with Ronny, even though the Cubs lost to the Mets, 6-3. The three of us went out for some late-night pizza and a lot of laughs, afterwards. I crawled back into bed rather late again, tired, but also quite satisfied after a very enjoyable night out with two great friends. I slept hard, and soundly, again that night.
I had set my alarm the night before to get up early, since I knew I would be getting together with Merle on Thursday. Even on short sleep, I leaped out of bed, showered, and made coffee in record time. I took care of L.C.’s food and litter box, and after she ate and groomed herself, I sat down on the couch to play with her. I had a thick piece of yarn, maybe four feet long, and I tied a large goose feather that I had found to the end of it. I flipped the yarn this way and that, and L.C. was wild for it. She scooted back and forth, grabbing the feather in her paws and in her teeth, and she tried to run off with it. I was laughing at her like a crazy man, when the doorbell rang. It was Merle, of course. I should have known something was different, because I never heard the droning tone this time. But maybe that’s because I was laughing so loud.
“Come on in, Merle!”
“What’s going on? It sounds like you’re having a party in here!”
“Oh, L.C. and I were playing with a piece of yarn and a feather.”
“Well, like I said, a party!”
“I guess so!” He and I stood there for a moment, as I waited for him to say something. Finally he broke the silence.
“You didn’t have to get up so early. I would have let you sleep in for a while. You must be tired.”
“I didn’t want to miss anything! I’m OK. I feel good.”
“What are we going to do today, Merle?”
“Well, it’s going to be another big day.”
“Well, first of all, I have a very exciting day planned for you.”
“I won’t even try to guess.”
Then Merle dropped the bombshell that I had been dreading, probably more so than I had realized. “Also,” he said, “today is my last day.”
“What do you mean, your last day?”
“A ship is preparing to leave today. I have to be on that ship. I’m going back home.”
That was one of those moments like you might see in a movie, or a TV show, where somebody speaks a devastating line, and the last words reverberate and echo, repeatedly, while the room spins around the recipient of the devastation, who is staggered by the horrible news. I couldn’t really say anything in response, and Merle put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s time, Ken. You’re ready.”
Well, I sure didn’t feel very ready at that moment. ”So you’re leaving right now, Merle?”
“No, I’m not leaving right now. We still have a lot scheduled for the day. Let’s just enjoy this day, together, and we’ll say our good-byes when it’s time.”
I don’t even remember leaving the house and getting into Merle’s car, to tell you the truth. I was trying to appear calm on the outside, but inside I was reeling. I do remember that Merle played some soothing classical music in the car, something by Felix Mendelssohn, I believe. So he must have known that I was upset.
“Where are we going, Merle?”
“First I wanted to stop by the park one last time.”
“OK.” Frankly, I was glad for anything that might extend Merle’s stay a little more, although deep down I knew that the schedule was not going to waver.
We drove to the park, and, like the previous Friday, it was early. We parked the car in the parking lot, this time, and got out. “Let’s take a little walk,” said Merle. “I just want to enjoy a little nature before I leave.”
The finality of that statement hit me like a punch in the gut. We got out of the car and strolled out into the park area. Nobody was even on the basketball court yet. “I don’t see any cicadas,” I said.
“No, me neither,” Merle said. “I’m glad we took the time to really enjoy the cicada from last Friday. I’ll never forget that. I can’t say that we have any comparable type bug back on Akeethera.”
“Do you even have bugs on Akeethera?” Suddenly I experienced a sharp pang of regret, as I realized that there were so many questions I had for Merle that I would probably never have a chance to ask him!
“Sure, we have bugs. They’re somewhat different than your insects, as would be expected, but they fill the same type of ecological niches. Our planets are quite similar, really, in terms of landforms, and that sort of thing, so the same sorts of creatures have evolved, to a large degree. Swimmers that are like fish, flyers that are like birds, bug-like creatures that are very similar to your insects, furred animals very much like your mammals, reptile-like creatures, and even people that are very much like your people. We’re just a few thousand years farther along.”
“Just a few thousand years!”
“Oh, that’s not so much, really. You and I still get along very well, don’t we?”
Merle’s question bubbled right on down into my gut. A weird, queasy feeling of powerful emotion welled up within me, and my answer was a little wobbly when it came out. “Heck yeah, Merle. You and I get along just great.” It hit me that, in a span of a little over a week, Merle had become one of the best friends I would ever have, in my life– as good a friend as I could ever hope to find. And he was about to leave, forever.
“Oh, look!” Merle said. He stooped down to the ground, and got down on his hands and knees in the grass. “Gryllus veletis!”
I didn’t remember the scientific name, but when I bent down closer to take a look, I did recognize the same type of cricket which we had seen the previous Friday. “It’s the Spring Field Cricket!”
“Very good, Ken! I’m impressed! We just may make an entomologist out of you, yet!”
“I wonder if it’s the same cricket we saw the other day.”
“No, this has to be a different one. We’re quite some distance away from where we were on Friday. A cricket lives his entire existence in a very small area. That is his universe.” Merle stood up and took a step back, so he wouldn’t accidentally step on the little guy. “Well, I was able to see one last little friend here. That was good.” He looked down towards where the cricket was, now well hidden somewhere in the dense grass. “It’s been nice to meet you, little friend. I won’t forget you, or your brothers and sisters. I’ll be thinking of you, from across the galaxy, 97 light years away.”
He looked over to me, and I knew he was about to say that he had to leave.
“I’m scared, Merle,” I said.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“I believe in you.”
“I don’t know why you do. Nobody is going to want to listen to me.”
“All you need to do is find some open-minded individuals, who have ears to hear. If they truly want to understand the universe, they will easily see that the hyper-dimensional universe makes much more sense than the limited universe they had previously known. If they’re stubborn, and just want to hold on to their old beliefs no matter what, there’s really nothing that you can say that will change their minds. Those are people that don’t want to unlearn what they’ve learned, period, no matter how ‘intelligent’ they may appear to be.”
“Nobody is going to believe me about you, either.”
“You can feel free to mention me, or not mention me, when I leave– whatever you think is best! I won’t be offended if you feel that you have to say that you came up with the idea of the hyper-dimensional universe all by yourself, just so people don’t write you off as some kind of UFO nut or something. But if you think that mentioning me is the best way to go, that is fine, also.”
“It’s the truth, Merle. I mean, you are the truth. I mean– you know what I’m trying to say. It’s true that you told me all this stuff. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t acknowledge what you’ve done. You’ve spent years of your life, and traveled a long way.”
“Whatever you think is best, Ken.”
I didn’t know what else to say, at that point, so I just reached out and gave Merle the biggest hug I’ve probably ever given anybody in my life. Merle hugged me back, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was smiling at me.
“It’s going to be OK, Ken. You’re going to be just fine,” Merle said.
“I’m glad you’re a lot more confident than I am, Merle.”
Merle grinned at me. “I truly am confident, Ken.”
“Well, if you’re so confident, how about some words of advice? I’m going to need all the advice I can get.”
“That’s a great attitude to have, Ken. One can always continue learning and growing, do you know what I mean? Just make sure to consider the source of the advice you may receive. In my case, I think you’ll be fine.” Merle smiled at his own self-promotion, and, putting his hands on his hips, he leaned back a bit and tilted his head up to watch the sky. He stayed in that position for several moments, thinking. Then he looked back over towards me, with a look of resolve on his face. I assumed he was going to give me some specific pointers about how I might get people to believe me about Hyper-Dimensional Relativity, but he surprised me with a much more generalized approach.
“All you need to do, Ken, is focus on being respectful, kind, and giving, and you’ll be fine. Embrace the community of your fellow beings, and take the stewardship of your planet into your heart. Understand that I’m not telling you to let people take advantage of you, or to cause harm, but I am saying that people, in general, deserve the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.
“Keep in mind, however, that the intolerant often try to take advantage of the tolerance of others, in order to advance their agendas of hatred or division. In that sense, even tolerance has to have its limits.”
I’m sure Merle could see by my facial expression that I was surprised by this train of advice, but he just kept the theme going.
“As far as your own personal life, do not force an unwanted love, but do accept a true, honorable love gladly, with an open heart. Happiness will come to you in profusion, if you simply do that.
“All people have their faults, and moments of weakness. Even knowing that, the act of forgiveness might be the most difficult thing of all to master. But if you can find forgiveness in your heart, that may help keep your happiness from dissolving into anger and resentment.
“If you have a job to do, give it a strong, honest effort. Put good food in your body, make sure to get some physical and mental exercise, and always continue to educate yourself.”
I was beginning to wonder if Merle was just getting started, or what.
He continued with barely a pause between sentences. “Also, take a moment here and there to smell the roses, as they say. Come out here, to the park, and enjoy the natural goodness of your planet. If you can’t make it out to the park, or somewhere like this, you should be able to find nature wherever you might be, outdoors– even indoors, in some cases. Even if you’re in the middle of a huge parking lot, or something, there is always the sky to enjoy.” Merle reached his arms out straight from his sides, and raised them upwards, looking up to the sky as he did so. “Everything will fall into place, if you follow those principles.”
I thought about what Merle was saying, and I couldn’t help but feel very doubtful that everything would go as smoothly as Merle seemed to predict. “But our world is so messed up, Merle. There’s so much fighting and distrust here—it’s not like Akeethera. A lot of people think it’s all leading to some kind of an apocalypse, even. People just won’t want to listen to me.”
Merle smiled at me. “Ken, Ken, Ken,” he said. “First of all, do you know what the definition of an apocalypse even is?”
“It’s some sort of terrible war, where the world is destroyed, or something like that.”
“Not really, Ken. An apocalypse is really a great revelation, about the divine purposes of existence, and about good conquering evil, basically. In practical terms, in our corporeal existence, that would begin with making sure that people are safe from attack, with adequate food, clothing and shelter, and with clean air to breathe, and clean water to drink. Understanding the hyper-dimensional universe can help make those things very attainable, once your science learns to use that knowledge as means for benevolent ends.
“In time, also, your economic theory will become more sophisticated and less zero-sum oriented. After all, they didn’t build the pyramids from the top down, did they?” Merle smiled. I’m not exactly clear on what he meant by that last part, but he seemed to enjoy the analogy. I suddenly realized that Merle probably knew exactly how the pyramids were built, but before I could ask him about that, he began talking again.
“What people really want and need are the opportunities to learn and work together cooperatively to produce, as a society, something greater, stronger, and more stable than the whole of its parts. Those are really the starting points, in terms of respecting the fellow inhabitants of your own planet. Love, happiness, and all those other things follow much more easily once people feel safe and have a full belly, dry clothing, a warm house, a sated thirst, and a constructive purpose. Deny any of those, and conflict will arise all too easily!
“Your world has already seen plenty of evil, Ken. Plenty of war, famine, death… you name it, you’ve had it, and then some. You’ve already seen more than enough of the very worst human atrocities, often driven by greed and the abominable drive to conquer. Whether in a state-to-state sense, or even in an interpersonal sense, that drive to conquer always tears us apart, and destroys our greater purpose.
“Akeethera went through the same thing, thousands of years ago, but after eons of struggle, we finally turned the tide in favor of peace and reconciliation. That was our apocalypse, after all the destruction that had tormented our world for so long. Now, Earth may also be getting ready for the redemptive part of the equation. You will also have your transcendent revelations here, on Earth—maybe even starting right here, in Rundle Heights. But those revelations have to come from within, not from without.
“Enjoy your fellow people, Ken, as well as your universe, and know that I will always be out there, supporting you and cheering for you. And not just me, either. You have more friends than you will ever know, out there, who are all on your side, and on Earth’s side. I’m not necessarily talking about direct physical intervention, but life in the universe is so precious and difficult to come by, that every living person is cherished by legions, quite literally. Believe me when I say that you are never alone. No human, and no person of any kind, on any world, is ever alone in this universe, no matter your situation or circumstances. That’s a simple fact of the universe, and of the Infinite Crystal. That’s something that anybody, and everybody, can take strength from. You’re not just a tiny fish in the infinite pond, Ken. You’re a part of the pond itself, and as such, you are connected with all of it.”
I followed Merle’s gaze upwards, and we both watched a monarch butterfly fly past us, maybe twenty feet up. Far above the butterfly, several cottony white clouds floated peacefully, with a crystalline, azure sky as their backdrop. Far above that, and obscured by the warming rays of our own star– our sun– were trillions of other stars. Planets twirled around many of those stars, and Akeethera was one of those planets. Countless other civilizations flourished around many other stars, as well, extending throughout our universe, and beyond that, throughout the Infinite Crystal- into the eternally rolling expanse of space/time. I suddenly felt dizzy, but before I lost my balance entirely, Merle reached out and supported me.
“Whoa! Thanks, Merle! I got a little woozy there!”
“You’re very welcome, Ken.”
“Do you think that we– I mean, what do you think the odds are– I mean, do you think it’s possible that we are being observed, right now, by somebody we can’t even see? By somebody we don’t even know about?”
Merle put his arm around me and smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised, Ken. I wouldn’t be very surprised, in the least. And I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody else, in turn, was observing them. And so on! It’s probably as true for them as it is for us– you just can’t sneak past that landlady in the kitchen.” Then, in classic Merle style, he gave me a big wink.