The Enlightening Chapters 41-45

                                                            41

We walked back to Merle’s car, in the parking lot, and got in.  I assumed he was going to drive me home, and then leave, but he had saved his biggest surprise for last. 

“Hey, Ken,” Merle said casually, as if the idea had just occurred to him, “would you like to visit the base, and meet some of my friends?  Maybe play a little basketball?” 

“You mean on the big black triangle?”

“Yes.  What do you think?”

“Are you kidding?  Heck yes, I would, totally!  I was hoping I could get up there, but I thought I probably wasn’t allowed.”

“Well, in general, we don’t receive visitors from Earth.  Truthfully, though, you won’t be the first person from Earth to visit the ship.  You’ll be the second, I believe.”

“Who else has been up there?”

“That, I’m afraid, is truly top secret.  And it happened several years back.  So everybody will be very much looking forward to seeing you and meeting you.”

“Well, let’s do it, then!”  I was very enthusiastic.  Eight days prior, I would have been terrified. 

“Hold on,” said Merle.  “I would be remiss, not to mention a few things before we embark.” 

“OK.”

“First of all, please know that people from a large variety of civilizations throughout the galaxy are on that ship.  And a few of them are even visiting from other galaxies.  About half of the people on the ship are from Akeethera, but amongst the balance of people, you’ll see a large variety of different body shapes, different skin colors- all kinds of physical differences, really.  Don’t expect too much in the way of tentacles, or antennae, or that sort of silly science-fiction thing, though.  The evolution of intelligent life on all worlds tends to arise from similar ecological niches, so you tend to end up with very similar models, such as two arms, two legs, two eyes, and a decent number of fingers and toes.  However, there are beings in the universe, and on the ship, as well, that stretch those boundaries a bit.  Also, there are others of very ancient lineages that have evolved beyond our sort of basic physical model, but the few you will see on the ship take a more standard appearance when they are among us.” 

“Are you talking about the time-savers, who have evolved beyond our basic physical model?” 

Merle grinned at that comment.  “You really are starting to catch on, aren’t you, Ken?  The time-savers aren’t the only ones in that category on the ship, however.  Remember, Ken, it’s not unlike your situation here on Earth.  There are many, many different types of people on this planet– tall people, short people, thin people, heavy people, people with glasses, people of different races or nationalities, people with a wide variety of disabilities, people who hold different beliefs about their world and universe, people with different skin colors, people who wear their hair differently, people who dress differently, people who eat different types of food.  But all people have much more in common with each other than any of these minor differences.  All people need to love, and be loved.  All people need shelter, food, fresh water, and safety.  All people are trying to build a good life for themselves and for their loved ones.  All people hope to be treated with kindness and respect.”

“People are people, in other words,” I said. 

“That’s right, Ken.  People are people.  And it’s no different up on the ship.  Brothers and sisters are we all.”              

“And we are all but ducks on the lake.”

That comment seemed to please Merle very much.  “That is so true, Ken.  That is so very true.”  He smiled at me and chuckled.  “You know, Ken, all these people on the ship have volunteered to be a part of this mission.  Even so, a long excursion like this can be very difficult on people.  Loneliness and deep feelings of isolation can set in, even with so many others on the ship.  Homesickness can be a real problem, especially when there’s no easy way to return any sooner than originally planned.

“Also, there’s a lot of stress involved with returning home after a long superluminal space journey like this.  Almost everybody on ship will miss an entire generation of time, back on their home planet.  When I return to Akeethera, over 25 years will have passed, while only six years has passed for me, personally.  My mother and all of my friends back at the academy will be 25 years older, while I’ll be the same age as people who were only young children when I left.  All these things can prey on the mind of the space traveler.” 

“Wow.  That sounds really hard.” 

“It’s not so bad, I suppose, if you’re trained for it.  Still, it can be very hard on people, and sometimes people are looking for something that takes their mind off their own situation.  Maybe that’s part of the reason people are so excited about your upcoming visit.  This will be the event of the trip, and everybody is tremendously looking forward to it.” 

“Looking forward to me visiting the ship?” 

“Oh, yes.  Everybody is very much looking forward to your visit.”    

“Why is that?”   

“Well, for one thing, you greatly endeared yourself to everyone by your rescue of Magu.  Losing a crew member is the worst possible thing that can happen on a mission like this, and you prevented that disaster from happening on Magu’s mission, which has made you a sort of folk hero for many of these people.  Secondly, there was a little thing with the ship’s computer that really got everybody on your side.” 

The ship’s computer?  What do you mean?”

“Well, everybody was very pleased that I chose you as my third contact.  You wouldn’t believe how many people told me that they hoped you would get this chance, both before and during the mission.  But the ship’s computer wasn’t so confident.  It ran a simulation, and rated you the least likely of the nine total contacts to succeed.  By far.” 

“By far?  How far?” 

“Well, the computer provided odds on the other eight candidates, ranking their chances of success.  Some of them were ranked very high.  All of the other eight candidates were either physics professors or physics professionals.  In your case, though, the computer didn’t even produce a set of odds.  It just said that due to your incomplete educational status, your success was “unlikely.” 

“Unlikely?”

“That was it.  Just ‘unlikely’.  The computer didn’t even put specific odds on it.  It actually caused a big uproar, when word got out.” 

“People were mad that you wasted a pick on me?”    

“No, no.  People were angry with the computer, if that makes any sense.  A lot of people thought it was actually a good thing that you were not a professional, already set in your ways of thinking.  Also, your rescue of Magu was a sign of character that the computer didn’t seem to be taking into account.  So, you see, you really were the “people’s choice”, as they say here on Earth, from the beginning.  That’s why everybody is especially happy that you are the last one standing, as they say.” 

“I guess it is true,” I said.  “Everybody loves an underdog.” 

“Well,” said Merle, “I never considered you an underdog.  I’ve always considered you to be a very strong candidate.  I laughed at that computer report.”                        

We sat there for a moment, and looked at each other.  Merle took one last glance around the park, and there was an almost indiscernibly brief moment of darkness.  In the next instant, we were high above Earth, and floating maybe 25 yards from the same giant black triangle I had seen out in the forest preserve, just one week prior.  An enormous, matte black, metallic panel loomed before us, and as we watched, a tiny rectangular opening appeared, with light shining through from the inside.  The opening quickly grew in size until it was perhaps 50 feet across and 20 feet high.    

“Merle, this is incredible!  Just how big is this ship, anyhow?”     

“Well, in terms of area, just looking down on it from above, it’s roughly 100,000 square feet.  But a lot of the ship is subdivided into as many as eight floors, so there’s probably more than 600,000 square feet of floor space.  It’s well over ten million cubic feet in volume.”

All I could do was whistle at that.  The numbers sounded big.  I was too busy trying to peer inside through the expanded opening, to say anything verbally.

“Here we go,” said Merle, and we swiftly entered the ship through the opening.  In another moment or two, we seemed to have landed on the floor.  Looking through the windshield, it was difficult to tell exactly where we were.  The walls and floors all shimmered with a warm, uniform light, and it was tough to discern exactly where the wall ended and the floor began.  It was almost like when they put the reverse time dilation on me in my kitchen, and everything seemed to be floating in the blue haze.  Except here there was no blue haze- just an overall warm, glowing light.    

“Don’t open the door yet,” said Merle.      

He really didn’t have to say that.  I sure wasn’t about to just jump right out.  I looked behind us and noticed that the opening had closed behind us.  I could see that we were inside of a room, or bay.  Although it was well illuminated, no light fixtures of any kind were apparent.  There was a sort of panel, or screen, on the one side wall, perhaps two feet high and three feet wide, with a much smaller one on the opposite wall.  The door which had closed behind us was completely indistinguishable within the back wall, which looked exactly the same as the side walls, except for there being no panel or screen.  In fact, I think the entire back wall opened for entry or, presumably, exit.  As I looked around, I noticed that the wall in front of us began to open, in the same manner as the wall of the ship had opened.  In moments, it was wide open, and we began to move forward.   

“OK,” said Merle, “we’re moving.” 

I could see that we were leaving the room and entering a horizontally oriented oval tube, or tunnel, that looked much the same as the bay, as far as the lighting in the walls and floor.  It was almost hard to tell when we had left the room and entered the tube.  Once it was clear that we were in the tube, though, it seemed like we just stopped moving.  “Why did we stop, Merle?”

“We didn’t stop!  We’re actually moving very fast!  It’s just that, inside this tube, it’s almost impossible to sense the motion, and it’s gravitationally balanced, too, so you don’t feel it internally.”  Merle smiled at me, and moments later we heard a short clicking sound.  “OK, now we’re stopped.  I just wanted to show you one thing, along the way.” 

Merle touched the screen, and the doors of our ship opened, with a slick little set of silver stairs- I think there were three stairs—reaching down to the floor beneath the open door of the ship.  We were now inside of another room, much like the first room. 

“Merle!  Isn’t it dangerous for me to be out loose in the big triangle ship?  Don’t I need to be vaccinated, or something?” 

Merle smiled at that.  “You already have been, Ken, as has every single person on this ship.  I didn’t think you’d mind, so we did it the first day you rode in the car.  Or ship.”  Merle smiled again and stepped out onto the top stair.  With some lingering trepidation, I did the same. 

It was odd to step out, and see that our little ship no longer appeared in its camouflaged form, as an automobile, from the outside.  I saw it as it really was from the outside- a sleek, gleaming, silver metallic disc-shaped structure, maybe 40 feet across and 15 feet high, with no obvious bolts, welds, or windows anywhere.  The ship’s doors closed so seamlessly behind us that you would never know doors were ever there, let alone stairs!

The room we were in was fully walled on all four sides.  The back wall had closed behind us, much like the outer wall of the ship had closed behind us when we first entered.  Now there were panels on three of the four walls, and Merle walked up to the panel on the wall in front of us.  When he got there, he turned back to me.  “Come on,” Merle said, and waved his hand to indicate I should join him.  Then he reached his hand up towards the panel, without actually touching it.  Suddenly, the wall next to the panel began to open, and an oversized “door” appeared. 

Merle gave me another wave and another “come on”, and I followed him through the opening.  After we passed through the portal, or whatever you’d like to call it, we turned right, and strode into a large, cavernous room, like a large factory-sized area.  The lighting was very different in this room, and the first thing I noticed was the amazing profusion of plant life there.  There were plants everywhere!  I noticed that there were many tall cones, or tapered cylinders which were narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. Most were maybe 40 yards in diameter at the bottom, and 15 yards in diameter at the very top, with some larger and some smaller. 

These tapered cylinders had an open, almost antique-looking wrought-iron appearance.  They were just about bursting with plants, and they rose up nearly all the way to the ceiling, which must have been at least 100 feet above us.  I noticed that the ceiling appeared to be one giant skylight, through which the sun-lit sky was clearly visible.  The sunlight inside the room we were in seemed very bright.        

“What are those cylinders, Merle?” 

“Those?  Those are mostly packed with plants for food- what you might call fruits and vegetables, and that sort of thing.  Inside each cylinder, there is central access to the plants, for maintenance and harvesting purposes.  On Akeethera, just about all of our farming is done inside similar structures– but most are much larger, and much taller.”

“How tall?”

“Oh, some are probably two or three times as tall as the tallest buildings on Earth.” 

Once again, I let out a low whistle of amazement.  “Two or three times!  Wow!”  Then I noticed that I could actually see figures walking around inside one of the cylinders.  “Wow, there are people up there!  Are they harvesting?” 

“They are probably harvesting some, and also tending to the plants.” 

Looking around further, I was amazed at the entire set-up.  It was very much like a jungle in there.  Aside from the cylinders, plants covered much of the floor, or ground, and the walls, too.  They were hanging from the ceiling, in long trailing vines, and I could hear the sound of trickling water.  There appeared to be quite a few trees, off in the distance, and in open area to our right I could see a group of three figures—children, I guessed, from their diminutive size—playing with some sort of flying, hovering toy.  Just as I was about to ask about that, I thought I saw a bird or something shoot past.  It was pretty large, and pretty fast.  I hadn’t gotten much of a good look.  “What was that, Merle?” 

“That was a flying creature,” said Merle, and he obviously didn’t want to get into any more details.  “Come.  We have to leave now.  I just thought you might like to see this.  There are probably two dozen areas like this, on the ship.” 

Merle was right about me liking to see that.  It was a fantastic place, and I hated to leave, but I had learned that Merle’s schedules were not for breaking. We re-entered our ship, and continued on our way through the tube.  Before long, we stopped again, in another room, and repeated the disembarking process.  This time, after Merle opened the portal, we turned left, and began to walk down another hallway.  This hallway seemed to be only for foot traffic.              

Merle turned to me as we walked.  “You know, Ken, everybody on the ship has been looking forward to this moment, for the last several years.  Today is a day of great joy and celebration here.  I hope you’re ready for some basketball, and a big party!”        

Even with Merle’s speech about “people are people”, and all that, I can’t say that I was exactly calm at this moment.  My heart felt like it was about to leap right out of my chest.  Merle lightly touched me on the right elbow to get my attention.  “Come on, Ken.  Everybody’s waiting.”    

The hallway was about 15 feet across, and the ceiling had to be about 10 feet high.  As we walked along, we passed by dozens of people who were standing in the hallway, in small groups.  They smiled and waved at us as we passed by, like they were watching a parade.  I almost felt like I should be tossing candy or something to them.  Without exception, they all seemed extremely happy to see us.  These people, as Merle had “warned” me, came in all shapes, sizes and colors, and were wearing a great variety of different clothing.  Several said “Hello Ken!” in English as we passed by, and I smiled and said “Hello!” back.  I was glad for all the friendly attention, but at the same time, I knew it was time to ask Merle a difficult question. 

“Merle?”

“Yes, Ken?”

“With all these people, and all these ships up here, why don’t they help us more?” 

“What do you mean, help you more?”

“I mean, why don’t they just come to Earth and stop people from fighting each other?  Why don’t they just come down and put an end to our wars?  Why don’t they feed the hungry, and stop the bad guys?” 

Merle stopped walking, and looked deeply at me.  “That is a great question, Ken, with many answers.  First of all, we are all scientists and explorers, not security forces or fighters.  Akeethera, for example, hasn’t had any sort of army or military force at all, for over 2000 of your Earth years.  We have no need.”

“Wow.  OK.”

“Secondly, in virtually all of your conflicts, both parties are at least partially to blame.  It’s likely that each side would say that we were favoring the other side, which would contradict much of what we believe in. 

“Thirdly, as far as feeding the hungry goes, making a habit of supplying people with food would lead to an unhealthy dependence on– shall we say– manna from the skies.”   

“I can see that, I guess.” 

“Fourthly, we inevitably would be attacked, due to the strong feelings of xenophobia still rampant on this planet.  Even with the best of intentions on our part, our actions would be perceived as aggression, and we would be left no choice but to defend ourselves.  Inevitably, people of Earth would be injured or killed, which completely contradicts our basic mission statement, which is to observe and document, while causing absolutely no harm.  We are all peaceable people on this ship.”   

“What about Atropha?  She’s fierce!”     

“It’s true that Atropha can be quite fierce, but her lethality is more bluster than reality.  The girls have been attacked on your planet many, many times, and still, Atropha has never harmed anyone to any significant degree.  She has melted a few pole-axes, though! 

“Also, the girls are not really members of this ship, or our federation, either.  They operate independently, and they have their own ship.  In truth, the girls, including Atropha, are extremely peaceable people, who nonetheless have chosen to have an in depth, interactive experience on a world that is very violent, compared to their own.    

“Our federation conducts most of its business up here, off planet, so we aren’t putting our own scientists and researchers in harm’s way, which would violate another basic principle of ours, which is to bring everybody back safely.  For all these reasons, the guiding principle of the great majority of civilizations monitoring your planet is one of complete non-interference.  That is not to say that we may not occasionally lend a hand here or there, in extreme circumstances.  Certainly we have lent a hand, many times, throughout Earth’s history.  But generally speaking, we can only observe and report.  Oftentimes that is extremely painful for our researchers, but there is no other way.  That is the most difficult part of our missions, without question.  All of our own planets went through similar stages of violence, war, upheaval and starvation in the earlier periods of our development, but it is an extremely difficult and painful thing to observe, first hand.”  

“That all makes sense, Merle.  I guess I understand.” 

“Remember, we are hoping that understanding the hyper-dimensional universe will be a great help to the people of Earth.  My mission here was unprecedented, and not lightly undertaken, but we believed it to be worth the tremendous risk.  I agreed to try my best to help, in spite of the obvious dangers.”

“That’s true.  You are trying to help, very much, I know.”

“I’m not out there zapping the bad guys, but I really am trying to help, and I am most definitely on your side.  As we all are.”

We continued walking, and I began to hear some kind of loud music playing, nearby.  We rounded a bend, and then I saw, at the end of the hallway perhaps 40 feet in front of us, a single person standing.  For a moment I admit I was stunned, as she unquestionably resembled a giant praying mantis, in terms of general head and facial appearance.  Even so, I somehow divined that she was female, and we continued to walk towards her, without breaking stride.  She stood about nine feet tall, with surprisingly bright yellow skin.  She was dressed all in green, and as we approached, she held up two blue t-shirts towards us.  She held out her arms in what I can only describe as a mantis-like manner.  She handed the shirts to Ken, and he thanked her in a language that I couldn’t understand.  He followed that up with a heartfelt hug, which she returned with what I easily recognized to be a big smile.  She then smiled directly at me and held out her hand, which I accepted for a handshake of friendship.  Considering that her face and her head looked rather bug-like in general shape, her hand was actually quite pleasing to the touch.  I felt really good, actually, as we shook hands, and I could sense her genuine kindness.  For a moment I considered offering a hug, myself, but before I got the chance, she said something else to Merle, and he seemed to acknowledge or thank her, quite gratefully.  Then, she put her hand up in front of a panel on the wall.  Another portal quickly slid open, and she passed through into the hallway on the other side.  When the door opened, I could clearly hear that the music was coming from that side.  The door swiftly closed behind our tall friend.

“Who was that, Merle?” 

“A very important person.” 

“What did she say to you?”

“Well, she told me that we had made a great choice, in you.  She told me that when you barely flinched, and freely extended your hand in friendship, that she knew you were going to have a very good chance.” 

“A good chance of what?” 

“Of success, of course,” said Merle. 

I’m still not sure I understand, exactly, what Merle had meant by all that.  But there wasn’t time for any more questions, just then.      

“Are you ready?” Merle asked.

“Sure, why not?” 

“Here, then.  Put this shirt on.  You can keep it, afterward.” 

Merle handed me the blue shirt.  It wasn’t a t-shirt after all– it was a basketball jersey, and I noticed that it was a common American brand.  It looked like something you could buy at any sporting goods store, except this jersey had a large number “10” on the back, underneath the name “Sylvanewski”.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I asked Merle where they got the jersey, and he told me the name of the sporting goods store.    

“These were actually purchased in Rundle Heights,” Merle said.  “We had the letters and the name put on at the store.”

I noticed that Merle’s jersey featured a number “12”, with the name “Akeetheran” on the back.  “What are we going to do, Merle, play a game or something?”      “You are catching on faster and faster, aren’t you, Ken?” he asked me.  “Come on, let’s go in.”

                                                            42     

Ken put his hand up to the panel, the portal opened, and we strode through a short hallway, with our blue jerseys on.  The music was loud, and very foreign and electronic-sounding, with a powerful, pulsating beat.  The hallway led to a larger opening, and I could see that we were approaching what appeared to be the inside of a gymnasium, with a regulation-sized basketball court in the center.  There was stadium seating surrounding the court on three sides—standard Earth-style stadium-seating– and they were jam-packed with people, from what I could see, even in the balcony.  With a ceiling almost as high as the ceiling in the agricultural area, it seemed like we were entering a mini professional basketball stadium. 

There were dozens of people, again in all varieties imaginable, in the hallway leading to the gymnasium.  This time, instead of waving at us, the people began cheering and clapping, as we passed by.  I exchanged high fives with several of them, who each seemed to know the routine.  I noticed that a couple of the hands felt quite different than my own hand.  I recall that one hand felt rather leathery, like an alligator purse, perhaps, and another hand felt quite rubbery.  We continued on and entered the gymnasium, and I could more clearly see the scope of the throng that had turned out for the exhibition.  There were easily a thousand people or more in the stands, with maybe a couple hundred more standing around the other open areas.  The crowd erupted in a giant roar, as we walked in.    

Merle and I stood there for a moment, appraising the scene. My heart felt like it was about to beat its way right out of my chest.  I was getting quite a cardio work-out, and I hadn’t even broken a sweat, yet.        

As the roar of the crowd began to dissipate into a hubbub, and then attentive silence, Merle suddenly raised his right hand upwards and waved it vigorously, in greeting.  As soon as he began to wave, a great cheer erupted from the assembled throng.  It was an enormous, reverberating sound, of whistles and clapping and stomping and frenzied cheering.  Hands were waving, and many in the crowd were jumping up and down.  Above the crowd, suspended in the air in a holographic-type display, was a large, rhythmically flashing sign, perhaps 50 feet long and eight feet tall, that read, in English, “WELCOME KEN”.  Sparkling, very colorful embellishments dashed all around it for additional flair, and additional lighting effects flashed all around the perimeters of the gymnasium area.  The cheers and claps thundered through the facility for at least a full minute, as Merle and I stood before them.  I am not kidding you when I say that there were even vuvuzelas (plastic stadium trumpets) in that crowd- at least a half-dozen that I noticed.  Eventually the cheers and horns began to subside, and I thought that maybe I should do as the Romans do, when in Rome.  I raised my hand in greeting and waved, as Merle had done, which resulted in an even louder and wilder sequence of cheering, blaring horns, and flashing lights, which must have carried on for well over two minutes, before things settled down. 

Merle turned to look at me.  “Well, that was a nice greeting, wouldn’t you say?” 

Like nearly every interaction I ever had with Merle, everything happened so very fast that day.  When the cheering finally settled down, a line of perhaps fifteen resplendent dignitaries came up to us for introductions and greetings.  To my astonishment, about ten of the greeters spoke to me in more than passable English, while the other five communicated well enough with bows, smiles and handshakes, with Merle acting as interpreter.  As I had observed in the crowd as a whole, the dignitaries represented a cornucopia of various shapes, sizes, skin tones, and clothing.  Several, including the captain of the base ship, were from Akeethera, and they shared the bright orange or yellow hair and pebbly skin that are the hallmarks of people from there.  I couldn’t help but notice that evolution throughout the galaxy did not reliably result in five fingers per hand.                   

I was surprised when Merle introduced one of the dignitaries by mentioning that he had traveled over 24,000 light years to be a part of the mission.  I could tell by Merle’s deference to him that he was another important individual in some way.  Merle told me it was like traveling all the way from the center of the galaxy, distance-wise.  I told Merle I thought that was an amazing distance to travel, and Merle told me that there were a few people on-ship who were from the Andromeda Galaxy, which is about 2-1/2 million light years distant.  “You should see their ship,” Merle told me.  “It’s the most incredible ship I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.”  I’m still not sure what Merle meant by that, exactly. 

The next person in line was memorable for the most amazing colorful patterns of short hair that covered most of his or her body, and for the fact that he or she had traveled across 1700 physical reference frames of space/time, just for a very brief visit, according to Merle.  That was one of the dignitaries who seemed to have a bit of a language gap, but nonetheless he or she seemed extremely happy to meet me.    

When the greetings of the dignitaries were through, Merle turned back to me and asked how it was going.  I told him that I was starting to feel more at home.  How could I not, with great reception I had just received?   

“Would you like to shoot around a little bit?” he asked me.

“Sure,” I said.  “Wow, this is such a large gymnasium, Merle!  You could hold concerts here.”   

Merle seemed to love that idea.  “That’s a great idea! I’m going to pass along your suggestion!”  As we strode onto the court, the crowd went wild again, with a repeat of flashing lights and signs, and loud, pulsating music.    

I was shocked to see three more players in blue jerseys, already warming up on the court.  There were also five players in green jerseys, warming up on the opposite side of the court.  I immediately recognized one of the players in blue jerseys.  “Latsis!”  I shouted.  I don’t know how she heard me, over the roar of the crowd, but she turned and ran to me, very swiftly, giving me a big hug when she got there.  “You’re not wearing your hoodie!” was all I could think of to say.           

“And you’re not on Earth anymore!” she said. 

“No, I guess I’m not, am I?” 

“So are you ready for some basketball?” Latsis asked, and she handed me a basketball. 

“We’re playing those guys?” I asked, referring to the team in the green jerseys.  One of the players in green appeared to be another nine-foot tall female with bright yellow skin.  As similar as they looked, I could tell she was not the same person who gave us the shirts.  This player could dunk and block shots easily, but she had a hard time catching the ball.  There were another two players—I never could tell if they were male or female—who were squat to the ground, and maybe not even five feet tall.  They had short legs, long feet, and extremely long arms and hands.  These guys were incredible with their ball handling– even Curly Neal from the Globetrotters would have been amazed, I’m quite sure—but they were agonizingly slow afoot.  That didn’t matter too much, since it seemed like they could make baskets from half-court or farther, almost without fail.  The other two players, apparently a male and a female, were close to me in height.  They were stunningly fast, and could catch the ball, but they were not good shooters.  The green team, unquestionably, had the most unusual collection of players I had ever seen on one basketball team, and they proved to be evenly matched to our side. 

At this point, my other two teammates came over, and Merle was there to introduce us.  It was his two mission-mates, from Akeethera!  I think we all got a little emotional out there, meeting for the first time like that.  Being friends with Merle, as I was, I felt like I had known them all my life.  It was like the roaring crowd didn’t exist, as we exchanged handshakes and embraces.  I wanted to talk some more with them, since they both spoke a little English, but it was game time. 

The game was very different than the last game I played with Merle.  This game consisted of two 15 minute halves.  A large holographic-type timeclock kept track of the time, and from time to time we took a short break, and they stopped the clock.  There was no scoreboard, and no referee.  We didn’t even keep track of the score.  I think it was roughly a tie, but I wasn’t keeping track, either.  It was the most fun I probably ever had in my life, to this day.  The crowd was on their feet the whole time, cheering and blasting their horns, and before the first half ended my stomach was already sore from laughing at the ball-handling exhibition by the two squat players in green.  I tried and tried to get the ball from them, but it was quite impossible.  I half-expected them to pull out the old bucket of confetti routine on me, as I futilely chased after the ball. 

Every time I got a rebound, or someone passed me the ball, the crowd went bonkers.  The loud attention took me off my game somewhat, but I didn’t mind.  That may have been the first time in my adult life when I felt like I was playing a sporting match simply for the pure fun of it, with no conflicting impulses of needing to win getting in the way.  I greatly enjoyed it when anybody, on either team, made a nice play.  Undeniably, Merle again was the best player out there, although, frankly, Latsis was close behind him.  She told me, afterwards, that she used to come to the triangle base quite frequently just to play basketball with Merle, while Clotro and Atropha were otherwise engaged with other time-saver business elsewhere.    

Merle’s two mission-mates were OK at basketball, but I was actually better at it than they were.  I guess they hadn’t been practicing on the court as much as Merle had been.  Merle did mention to me, afterwards, that their Eastern mission specialist had gotten very good at table tennis, while the Southern mission specialist enjoyed soccer.  “You should see how accurately she can kick a soccer ball,” I remember him saying.  “I once saw her out here, on this court, kick the ball and hit the backboard, seven times in a row, from beyond half-court, trying to make a basket with a soccer ball.  On the seventh try, she banked it into the basket.”         

                                                            43

After the game ended, both teams got together at center court.  We shook hands, and all together, we acknowledged the cheering crowd.  Once things started to settle down, Merle shuffled Latsis and me off the court rather quickly.  He said that we had to keep moving, and he ushered us into another room, just behind the basket at one end of the court.   

It was a mid-sized room, with five chairs, similar to the chairs on Merle’s little ship, and a large screen of some kind on one wall.  Moments after we entered the room, a panel opened in the opposite wall, and in strode two familiar figures.  “Clotro!  Atropha!”  I shouted.  I had certainly come a long way in my feelings towards the three time-savers, and I was so glad to be in the same room with Merle, Clotro, Latsis and Atropha. 

“It’s great to have the band back together, isn’t it?” Merle asked.    

Atropha came up to me and gave me a big hug.  Just a few days prior, I would have been terrified to see her come at me like that.  Now, it simply felt like the natural thing to do.  It felt wonderful, in fact.  Next came big hugs from Clotro and Latsis, also amazingly wonderful, and we took a few minutes to talk and reminisce about “old times”.  I caught a little teasing about my budding relationship with Kim, and of course they asked how L.C. was doing.  Then Merle gently interrupted the conversation, and I knew it was time for the time-savers to leave. 

Saying good-bye to the three girls was very hard, and I had a final round of heartfelt hugs, as I got to thank each one of them, individually, for all they had done.  I was particularly touched when Latsis whispered in my ear, “remember I said that I would help you.” 

“You sure did,” I said.  “And I’ll never forget it.” 

And with that, they began to simply fade away, each with a blissful smile on her face.  The last thing I heard, as they completely dissolved out of view, was Atropha speaking.  Compared with the shrieking roar she once eviscerated me with, this time her voice was a calming purr.  “Good-bye, Ken.  We’re glad that you’re the one that was chosen.  You’re going to be just fine.” 

That was the last I ever saw of the time-savers.  I still think about them, though, just about every day.  I’m holding out hope that they are circling the Earth, even now, biding their time before they stop by some day to pay me another visit.  For me, it might be another fifteen years; for them, maybe a few hours, or a week or two at most, probably.      

Now, just Merle and I remained in the room.  He was standing over by the large screen on the wall, and he motioned me over.  “I have some people who would like to say hello, Ken.  This transmission is on a bit of a delay, though, so it won’t be a two-way conversation.  When they’re finished, we’ll have our chance to respond.”  

He put his hand near the screen, and a still image came up.  There was a lady standing there, with the bright orange hair of an Akeetheran, but without the usual pebbly skin.  She appeared to be in her 80s or so, and wearing a shimmering golden outfit, with emerald green accents.  Even with the hair and the otherworldly clothing, she looked almost human, really.  Behind her was a lush assemblage of exotic, leafy, twining plants in a variety of colors- primarily green, blue and orange.  On the wall, behind a large central opening in the arrangement of plants, was a portrait of another Akeetheran, a male.  He looked to be in his 20s, also with bright orange hair.  He wore a shimmering black and silver outfit, and he had the pebbly skin texture typical of the Akeetherans I had seen on the ship.    

“Who is this, Merle?  And whose picture is on the wall?” 

“The picture is me, just after I graduated from the academy.  And the lady is my mom.” 

“Your mom!?  She looks almost human!” 

Merle smiled at my “almost human” comment.  “Well, let me tell you a quick little story about that.  You see, I’m not the first member of my family to have visited this planet.” 

“What?”  This was astonishing news to me.              

“It’s true.  In fact, I was named after one of my ancestors who visited this planet about 1500 years ago.  The time-savers actually knew him, and spent some time with him, back then, which is amazing to me! 

“Much more recently, my father had a mission on this planet, in the summer of 1952, on the West Coast.  One day, near the end of his mission, he was walking alongside a river path when he happened to be the only witness to a young woman who accidentally tumbled off the edge of the path, and into the river below.  When my father ran over, she was down below, screaming for help in the water.  Then she started to sink down under the surface of the water.  My father jumped into the river to help.

“Just as he was about to reach her, about 20 feet below the surface, my father was momentarily caught up in a large tangle of discarded fishing line and aquatic plants that he hadn’t noticed in the murky water.  By the time he got himself free, and was able to reach the woman, who was also tangled up, they were both at the end of their oxygen reserves.  With my dad being so far under water, his base ship had a harder time than usual getting a lock on him.  Plus, he was holding onto this woman, which complicated things even further, especially considering that she was as close to death, or closer, than my father. So the base ship did what they had to do, and transmitted both of them, together, back to the ship.” 

“Wow!” 

“Wow, indeed.  But things got even more interesting after that.  My father and this woman spent several days in the Medical area together, recuperating, before she was ready to go back home.  But there were a couple of problems.” 

“Problems?  What kind of problems?”  

“The first problem was, the woman felt no great compulsion to return.  As it turns out, she had lost both parents when she was in her teens, and now she had very little family left- just a single aunt that had moved to Montana many years prior.  It was hard for a young single woman, with no family, back in the early 50s.  And she was very pleased with the quality of life aboard the ship.” 

“And what was the other problem?”

“The other problem was, while they were recuperating together in the Medical area, this woman and my father fell in love.”    

“What?” 

“They fell in love.  My dad loved this woman, and she loved him and the sacrifice he had made for her.  She wanted to stay on the ship, but there was another problem.” 

“Which was…”

“The other problem was that the ship was about to leave, in a few days, back to Akeethera.  And their regulations forbid them from bringing back a native of this planet.” 

“So what happened?” 

“What happened was, my father found a loophole.  The day before the ship departed, my father married this woman in an Akeetheran marriage ceremony.  She took a new name, “Hannah”, for her new life on Akeethera.  Now that they were husband and wife, she was allowed to stay with the ship, and come back to Akeethera, regardless of her previous status.” 

“What was her original Earth name?” 

“That, I cannot tell you.  I’ve probably already told you too much,” said Merle. 

“So this lady in the transmission is-?”

“My mother, Hannah.” 

Well, you could have pushed me over with a feather, at that point.  “Merle, how can you be the child of an Earth mother and an Akeetheran father?  How can that work, biologically?”

“I’m not their biological child.  Biologically, I am the son of my father’s sister.  But, when I was about three weeks old, about two months after my father returned to Akeethera with his new wife, Hannah, I was orphaned in a very tragic accident at the spaceport, where my parents both worked.  My Akeetheran father and Earth mother could not have children, biologically, and they agreed to adopt me and raise me as their own.  So they are the only parents I have ever known, other than my first few weeks of life.” 

“Wow, Merle!  Unbelievable!”

“I know.  So I’m literally the only person on Akeethera who has a mother from Earth.  I suppose that’s why I’ve always been so very interested in this planet.  Truthfully, that probably did help me get a spot on this mission, as well.”         

“So where is your father now?” 

“He’s still working for the academy.  Right now he is traveling, on his final mission before he retires, as a matter of fact, and he wasn’t able to get in on this transmission.  I will see him in a few months, though.  Speaking of the transmission, we’d better get on with it.”                

One thing that I deeply regret is that I never did get the name of Merle’s father.  Oh, I have many regrets of questions left unasked, believe me.  Although time is endless in the universe, there just never seems to be enough of it, when you get right down to it. 

Merle was gazing at his mother’s image on the screen.  “I can’t believe how much she’s aged, since I’ve been gone.  It’s been quite a few years, back home, compared to my own time frame.  I’ve actually been afraid my mom wouldn’t be there anymore, when I got back home.  She encouraged me to do this, but I’ve sure missed her.” 

We stood there and stared at the image for close to a minute, before Merle snapped out of his reverie.  “OK, Ken.  Are you ready for the transmission?” 

“Sure.” 

“Here we go, then.”  Merle put his hand up near the screen again, and Merle’s mother began to speak to us. 

One thing that I noticed, when Merle’s mother began speaking, was her pronunciation of Merle’s name.  The way she said it was more like “Mur-ell”, than “Merle”, quite definitely.  That’s OK, though.  I’m still going to stick with “Merle”, myself.  Merle will always be Merle Akeetheran, to me. 

“Hello, Merle,” Hannah said, in English.  The smile on her face reflected both relief and concern.  “I hope you’ve had a great time on Earth.  It looks so beautiful in all the pictures and videos you’ve sent!  Just like I remembered!  I envy you, but I don’t think I could have gone through all that you did to get the commission…  We’re so much looking forward to having you back here on Akeethera, and we’ve heard that your mission has been a great success.  Many congratulations, to you and all your crew mates.  We’re very proud of all of you, and your many years of very hard work.  We’re all awaiting your return with great anticipation.   I missed you so much, and I love you very much, Merle.” 

I looked over to Merle, and saw him silently mouth his response, “I love you, too.”  He looked very happy, but then again he looked like he might be on the verge of tears, as well. 

Merle’s mother continued.  “And Ken, I’ve been looking forward to finally getting to thank you, personally, for watching over Merle and helping to keep him safe.  Merle has told me how very fond he is of you personally, and all the people there.  I was very concerned, with him traveling all that way, and spending so much time on a planet he is not totally familiar with.  Then, after he was attacked, I couldn’t even sleep, for quite a few days.  But I feel so much better, knowing that he is with you.  As for your mission of spreading the word about the hyper-dimensional universe, I’ll be cheering you on all the way, as will everybody on Akeethera, and many more people, throughout the galaxy.  Friends forever, Ken.”

I turned to Merle and flashed him a big smile.  “Me, keeping you safe?”  Merle pointed back to the screen. 

Merle’s mother continued, “I have another person, here, who’d like to say hello.  You’ve already met him before, Ken, several years ago.” 

As soon as she said that, she stepped aside, and a male alien came into the picture, also with bright orange hair and pebbly skin.  I immediately knew who it was by simple deduction, if not some hints of his appearance.  “Magu!” 

“Hello, Ken.  Hello, Merle,” Magu said.  “Ken, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you, again, for saving my life.  I owe everything that I now enjoy to your selfless quick thinking.  I will never, ever forget what you did for me, Ken, and how you risked your own life to do so.  I wish you full success on your mission, and I want you to know that we are all behind you, 100 percent.”  He held his hand up towards the screen.  “Friends forever, Ken.” 

Magu said something to Hannah, who was off screen, that I couldn’t quite hear, and then he turned back towards the screen and continued talking.  “As for you, Merle, my friend, I am looking forward to reminiscing together, about our experiences on Earth.  Be safe on your long journey, and we will soon see each other again, in person.” 

With that, the transmission ended.  I looked at Merle, and he looked at me.  There is no doubt that it was a powerfully emotional message for us both, and we took a few moments to gather ourselves.  Then, Merle put his hand up to the screen again.  “Ready to respond?” he asked me. 

“Sure.” 

The screen turned from dark to a light blue, and Merle began to speak.  “Mother, it is so very gratifying to see you, and to know that we will be together again soon.  My experience down here has been more incredible than I could have ever dreamed of, and I’ve enjoyed this planet completely, as you had predicted.  Still, it’ll be so very great to see you again, and to be home again.  I’ve missed you, also, and I love you, also, very much. 

“As for Magu, my friend, the groundwork you laid for my mission has proven to be very fruitful.  Your suggestion of choosing Ken as our contact was the one single most important contribution that anybody made to our mission.  There were plenty of doubters, but you were proven to be quite prescient in your judgement.  I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures on this planet with you, when I return.  We’ll enjoy many great conversations, maybe over a few glasses of fluzle.”

At that, Merle turned to me.  “Now I will give Ken, here, a chance to say hello as well.” 

With no time to gather my thoughts, I guess I just spoke from my heart.  “Hello, Hannah… I’m very happy, and honored, to meet you.  Your son… is a great person.  He has worked so hard, and traveled so far, to help my planet, and I’ve enjoyed my time with him, more than I’ve ever enjoyed anything.  He’s opened my eyes to so many things about the universe, and my own planet, which I had never even considered before.  I’m going to do my best to make him proud, and to complete the mission after he has left.

“And Magu, it’s so great to see you again.  I still think about that night, with the car, and I wonder what would have happened had one of us been five feet farther ahead, or behind, on the sidewalk.  I’d given up hope of ever seeing you again, and it’s so amazing to meet you under these circumstances.  This whole experience has been life-changing for me.  I feel like I will be completing the mission you started… I will never forget you, Magu.”

At that, Merle began to put his hand up towards the screen, but I waved him off so that I could add one final comment.  “Hannah, Magu… friends forever.”   

And with that, Merle put his hand up near the screen, and the blue screen again went black.  Merle turned back to me.  “Well, Ken, they have me set up on a very fast ship, with a direct route back home, cleared for some very fast hyper-dimensional travel.  I will be home before my mother ages much more than another two months or so.”    

“That sounds great, Merle,” I said.  But I was thinking it sounded horrible, as far as I was concerned.  I was still having difficulty with the thought of Merle going back home. 

                                                            44     

“Our time is drawing near, Ken.  Do you have any final thoughts or questions?”

“There is one question I’ve wanted to ask.  Well, there are a thousand questions, but one in particular.” 

“And what is that?” 

“Well, what exactly is going on with quantum entanglement?” 

Merle was greatly amused with my comment.  “Ha!  Quite a final question there, Ken!  You do get your money’s worth, don’t you?”   

Quantum entanglement was a mysterious phenomenon of quantum mechanics, where fundamental particles, and even larger objects, appear to maintain a physical relationship with each other, in terms of spin direction, for example, even when separated by distances- even substantial distances on the macrocosmic scale.  It was a big mystery of physics, and I had hoped I would be able to ask about Merle about it. 

“Do you have time to talk about it, Merle?”

“I can give you a brief summary, Ken.” 

“OK, sure.”

“Quantum entanglement typically involves something that is spinning at relativistic velocities- like a spinning photon.  It can also work with very rapidly vibrating or oscillating objects.”     

“OK.”

“So, in terms of interaction with the space-time continuum, what is the main difference between a non-spinning object, and an object like a photon, that spins or vibrates or oscillates very fast?”

I saw where he was going with this.  “Well, Merle, the photon can interact with any incoming portion of the space/time continuum, from just about zero velocity to nearly 2c (twice the speed of light).  A non-spinning object, though, is limited to only interacting with space/time at exactly c, and nothing else.”

“That’s right.  The photon is a trans-dimensional object, whereas a person, for example, is limited to a single dimensional frame of space/time.”

“OK.” 

“So, for example, let’s imagine that you and I manage to entangle the spin of two objects which are spinning at relativistic velocities—in other words, they both are trans-dimensional objects.  If we change the plane of spinning of one of the objects, the plane of spin on the other object has to change, in response.”

“OK.” 

“While they are here, in front of us, you and I interact with the space-time continuum only at one velocity- c.”          

“OK.” 

“But our two objects are spinning at relativistic velocities.  So they can interact with the continuum at the full range of velocities that you have described.” 

“Just like the analogy of the bicycle wheel.” 

“Exactly, just like that.  Now, if we allow one of our spinning objects to leave, at nearly the ratio of space to time, we would be observing both objects in terms of our own slice of space/time, at c.”

“Right.” 

“Relative to us, the object that is still in front of us interacts with space/time at the full range of velocities from 0 to 2c, as you described.”

“OK.”       

“But the second object, now traveling at nearly c, interacts with space/time at c to nearly 3c, relative to us.” 

“That makes sense.  It’s shifted almost a full dimension, basically.” 

“Exactly.  So the two objects now share a range of the continuum from c to 2c, relative to us.  That is where their respective physical frames of reference overlap.  It’s only half the range than what it was when they were motionless to each other, but it is still quite a large range, in comparison to how we experience the space/time continuum.  That means they still have a very powerful connection.”

“OK, that makes sense.”

We see the two objects only as they exist at our slice of the continuum, which is at c, relative to us.  From our perspective, they are getting farther and farther apart, so it seems mysterious that if we change the spin of our remaining object, it will still affect the spin of the second object.  They seem to be much too far apart, now, for that to happen.” 

Yes, that’s what makes it so impossible.  Or so strange, I guess.  Somehow I guess it is possible.”   

“Of course it is possible.  These two objects do not just interact with each other at our own slice of space/time, which is c.  They interact with each other all the way up to 2c, relative to us, which we don’t even perceive.”    

“Oh…  OK.”

“Now do you get it, Ken?”

“No, not really.”

“How would we, here, perceive that reference frame, at nearly 2c, if we could, somehow?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, the second object is nearly keeping up with our expanding frame of space-time reference.  So what does that mean in terms of length contraction?”

“It would have a length of just above zero, from our perspective.” 

“That’s correct!  So what would that mean in terms of distance traveled, in that dimension?  If the length of the object itself is just above zero, in that dimension, relative to us, then how far has it actually traveled in that dimension, relative to us?”

“Not much more than zero?” 

“There you have it, Ken!  In that dimension, which we cannot even perceive, our two objects are still just about right next to each other.  That’s why we can still affect the spin of the second object by altering the spin of the first object!  That’s why quantum entanglement requires that the objects be spinning, or even oscillating, in some way, and why it can act over what appears to us as large distances, in our own physical dimension.  In one dimension—our dimension—they are far apart.  But in another dimension, they have never really significantly drifted apart.  They are still quite close together, in that other dimension.  This trans-dimensional linkage is why the connections are so powerful between many of the fundamental particles- they are connected over an entire dimensional range, which is a much stronger connection than one involving a single dimensional frame, as we are used to in our experience.”

I was sort of stunned, again, by this idea, and I didn’t say anything as I stood there, thinking about it.  I was thinking of how close I was to never even asking that question, and therefore not getting the answer.  Afterwards, though, I realized that I should have been able to figure the answer out on my own, based on what I had already learned.  In retrospect, there were probably a hundred other questions I dearly wish I had asked, instead, for my final question, but what’s done is done.  I am very grateful for anything and everything that I did learn from Merle while he was here.  Luckily, he offered up one final tidbit, unsolicited.    

So, Ken, do you have a new appreciation for the mass/energy equivalence equation now?” 

“The mass/energy equivalence equation?” 

“Yes, e equals mc squared.” 

“What about it?”  I was a little confused, as usual. 

Merle smiled at me.  “It’s all the same,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, energy is interchangeable with mass, in the equation, is it not?” 

“Yes.  Mass is just energy in another form, really.” 

“And what about space-time?”   

“What about it?” 

“It’s the other part of that equation, Ken– the ‘c’ part; the ratio of space to time in the universe.  Space-time itself is imbued with a type of energy, Ken, isn’t it?  Call it the vacuum energy, or what you will. It is energy that interacts with matter in the form of a wave, at c.  It causes change—entropy, really– via the passage of time.  So, essentially, time is just energy of a different stripe.  Time is non-quantum energy, whereas mass-energy is quantum energy.” 

I nodded my head at Merle, as he spoke.  I didn’t want to miss anything, and I had a strong feeling that time was getting tight now.    

“So you see, Ken, within a matrix of relativistic three-dimensional space, everything in the universe is energy, really.”  He then moved closer, within inches of my face, and looked me right in the eyes before delivering the kicker, in a loud whisper.  “Whatever energy is!”  And with that, Merle broke out into a most tremendous grin, along with his now very-classic “case closed” wink.  He turned towards the screen, chuckling out loud just a bit.      

Merle waved his hand in front of the screen again, and it suddenly became a window to the outside world.  Far below us was the Earth, in all its living glory.  I walked over by the screen to look more closely. 

“There it is, Ken.  Glorious, isn’t it?”

“Heck yes.  Majestic.”  I was looking at my own portion of the planet, this time, including most of North, Central and South America.   

“Yes, it is majestic.  My memories of this planet will fill flash upon my inward eye for the rest of my days.” 

Merle turned to face me more directly.  “Your planet has been circling this star, and spinning on its axis, for almost five billion years now, and it will continue to do so for a very long time to come, Ken.  I just want you to remember that your life involves much more than this mission, and the physics that we have discussed.  Remember the other important things that we discussed in the park this morning.  If you continue to do all those things, you will have greatly succeeded, in my eyes.      

“As far as the physics goes, if you struggle to find anyone with ears to listen, and they are too stubborn to broaden their minds with new ideas, and you find nothing but a brick wall in your path, the world will continue spinning on its axis, and orbiting the sun.  Life will go on, and hopefully your planet will still find its share of successes and positive outcomes.  Perhaps, someday, someone else will come along who may have better success in elucidating the idea of a hyper-dimensional universe to a wide audience.  You cannot force people to open their minds, or to unlearn what it is they have already learned.  All you can do is try your best to persuade them, Ken. 

“To me, from what I have seen, you are already well on your way to a successful mission.  If you can somehow enlighten your world to the realities of the hyper-dimensional universe, that will be the cherry on top, as they say.  But if you are unable to, don’t let that destroy your own happiness, or your ability to be a respectful person.  Those things are much more important than understanding how the universe works, when you get right down to it.  Those are things that you can do, by yourself, and you can always find pleasure and satisfaction in your life, if you do those things.” 

Merle stopped talking, so I took my eyes off Earth, and looked back towards Merle.  “OK, Merle.  I’ll try to do my best, and I’ll try not to be too upset if I can’t get anybody to listen about the physics.  But I will try my hardest to get them to listen, somehow. ” 

“Good, good, Ken.  That’s a great approach.  And now, I have a parting gift for you.  You can keep the basketball jersey, as I said, but I have a little something else for you.  Something I’d love for you to have.”  Merle walked over to one of the chairs in the room, and reached behind it.  He pulled out a silvery bag, similar to a shopping bag, and reached into it.  He pulled out an old fashioned vinyl record album.  I saw the familiar prism on the black background on the front cover, and I couldn’t let him do it. 

“Merle, no!  You can’t give me your copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’!  That is your most prized possession!  You told me that yourself!” 

Merle gave me that beatific smile of his.  “Don’t you see, Ken?  That’s why I want you to have it.  Besides, I don’t have a record player, anyhow.” 

“You think I have one?  I don’t!” 

“That’s OK, Ken.  It belongs with you, not me.  Besides, I have something else to remember you by.”  He reached into the same bag and pulled out the set of blueprints that Professor Jonmur had given him.  “You have a copy of these, and I have a copy, too.  This is now my most beloved possession, Ken.”  He reached out, physically opened up my left hand, and placed the “Dark Side of the Moon” album in my hand.  “Please, Ken.  This will make me so happy.  I will cherish the thought that you have the album, now.  You’ll have the only copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on Earth that has traversed over 250 light years through space.” 

I literally didn’t know what to say.  I was choked up with emotion at the magnitude of the gift, and I have to admit some tears were welling up within me.      

We were now face to face to each other, and Merle put his right hand upon my left shoulder.  “Friends forever, Ken.” 

I did the same, placing my right hand upon Merle’s left shoulder, so that we were connected together, each of our right arms on the other’s left shoulder.  “Friends forever, Merle.” 

Then came the now familiar brief darkness, and suddenly I was standing in my kitchen, holding the album in my hand.  I dropped the album on the floor, and fell down to my knees on the tiles, as my legs involuntarily gave out from under me.  Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to adjust my position a bit, so I didn’t land on the album with my knees.  I knelt there, for a good minute or more, holding my head in my hands, until L.C. came over, and rubbed up against me.  I regained my composure, and put the album—fortunately undamaged—on the counter.  Then I took L.C. up into my arms, and went over to the couch.  I gave her the best petting she ever had, and she purred, even more loudly than when Atropha had petted her.        

 

                                                            45

Four years have now passed, on Earth, since Merle went back home to Akeethera, and so much has happened during that time.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe it’s only been four years. 

Charles and I are just about to have our Fourth Annual Cleanup of Streamside Park.  It’s really gone much easier than I had expected, especially with so much help from Kim and Mr. Teakurk.  Tommy Marnel came through with a lot of volunteers, too, like he had promised me he would, and Harold has been the hardest worker of anybody, especially in terms of dragging debris out of the creek.  The first year was sponsored by The Enterprise and the waste disposal company owned by Mr. Teakurk’s brother in law, as well as the accounting firm that Kim was interning at, but we have an additional ten sponsors lined up for the Fourth Annual Cleanup, which helps.    

We’ve also made some real progress towards getting some substantial improvements made to the entire setup of the park, per Maximillian Jonmur’s original plans.  By next summer, we hope to begin new construction, to reverse some of the channelization of the stream that was made so long ago.  Charles is very confident that we can get it all done over the next five or six years, which would be incredible.  The Park District has even agreed to partially rebuild the southern portion of the park, and to shuffle some of the playing fields back to that side, especially since several of the fields were due for major upgrades, anyhow.  The county was able to procure some federal funding for the project also, so we could bring in some of the heavy equipment needed.     

Ronny and Eva got married, as I had mentioned earlier, and they have their first child on the way.  I’m very happy to announce that they won’t be alone in their matrimony, since Kim and I are engaged now.  We’re going to be married in the spring. 

Neddie moved in with Kim’s aunt before last winter, and I’ve been renting the house from Neddie since then.  L.C. was included in the deal, as had been promised, and I am very much enjoying having her as a pet again.  Neddie still stops by from time to time, more to see L.C. than for any other reason, I think, although she says she’s just making sure that everything is fine with the property. 

Kim works in Rundle Heights, and I work in the next town over, so after Kim and I exchange vows, we are going to purchase the house from Neddie.  We joke around that it’s only so L.C. won’t have to move.  It will be nice living next to Walter, and my parents are really happy about it.  It’s very sweet of Neddie to hold back on the sale of her house, and to help us carry out our plan, as she has.  She is very excited about the wedding, too, and she has even been helping Kim’s mom with some things.                   

As far as the physics goes, Merle was correct in thinking it might be like beating my head against a brick wall.  Even when I have managed to get a physicist to at least listen to me, usually they are too busy to give me much more than the time of day.  The few physicists that I was able to talk to at any length have all said the same thing:  my theory is way too big, and I need to choose only one aspect at a time in order to have a chance at getting it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  The problem is that hyper-relativity doesn’t fully make sense unless you look at the entire scheme of the thing.  If I tried to only publish any one portion of the idea, it would automatically be rejected as being “impossible.”  If I tried to publish the entire theory at once, it would be automatically rejected as being “too large.”  The whole thing is an incredibly frustrating Catch-22 situation.    

It was Charles who recommended that I choose a different tack, and present the idea of hyper-relativity in the form of a reality-based novel.  After giving it much thought, I agreed that it was worth a try.  Everybody seems to want to classify it as “science fiction”, though, due to the Merle angle. 

I know this for certain:  I am not going to give up!  I will try, try, try, and try again, for the rest of my life, if necessary.  If I never succeed, the Earth will keep on spinning, and orbiting the sun, and life on our planet will go on– hopefully successfully, as Merle had suggested. 

I still frequently visit Streamside Park, to clear my mind and enjoy the natural goodness of our world, as Merle had suggested I do.  Sometimes I park on the street, like we did that first day, and sometimes I park in the soon-to-be demolished lot, where a couple of great adventures in Merle’s “car” began.  It’s a special treat if I see a cicada, or a monarch, or a crow, or children playing, or a game out on the basketball courts.  Sometimes I stop by the courts to say hello to Tommy, if he’s out there.  A lot of the times Harold is out there, too, and we never fail to reminisce about that amazing day when Merle showed us all a thing or two about Earth basketball.        

What I always look for, though, when I am out at the park in the summer months, are crickets.  If you ever see somebody at the park who is kneeling on the sidewalk, or in the grass, and he is sobbing out loud while weeping profusely, then that is probably me, looking down at a Spring Field Cricket. 

But those are not tears of pain, or tears of desolation.  Those are tears of pure joy, and gratitude.  Those are the tears of my Enlightening.    

                                                              The End

  

        

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