Sunday, July 06, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 17 "Temporal Trouble in Paradise"

  "Brigham? Did you put the potato salad away?" yelled the founder of the LDS church. Joseph Smith was wearing his red, white and blue barbecue apron, and trying to scrub away the sooty remains of Jack Parson's terrifying firework display from the patio area. Their July Fourth parties were legend in these parts.

  "What do you think? You think I want us to throw up for a week like Fourth of July, 1956? That was fun" came the gruff reply from the open kitchen doors.

  Nº. 49 Isaiah Way didn't usually stand out from the thousands of other mini-mansions that made up the stucco metastases that was Mountain Meadows. But, for the last week it had been festooned with red, white and blue bunting, and a huge, inflatable reproduction of the Declaration of Independence had stood puffed up on the front lawn. Missionaries had been scuttling about, cleaning and bringing in loads of food from the Costco just off the Zion Parkway in anticipation of the crowd to come.

  Of course, Joe had the missionaries to clean up for him, but they never really did it right. Besides, he was full of nervous energy and cleaning always helped. Even though it was always a big production, he always felt a bit happier to have their home filled with so many people, even if they weren't blood family.

  "Did you see what happened to that clown Hubbard? He's finally surfaced!" growled Brigham. He was looking the news on his iPad and making sandwiches from some party leftovers.

  "What can't you get down from the cupboard?" yelled Smith from the back yard.

  "I said Hubbard goddammit! Hubbard! Did you see what happened to him?" Brigham said with no small amount of exasperation. They had been together 24 hours a day for the last two weeks planning the party. He needed some time away. Maybe he could join Fred Remington and Gertie Stein at Fred's lodge near Yellowstone for some hunting and a few shots of whiskey this summer. He loved Joe, but sometimes . . .

  "Oh, goodness, I was wondering what happened to him. Does he seem to be getting anywhere with his progression?" yelled Joe from the deck.

  "Not from the looks of it" said Brigham, taking a huge bite of his ham and cheese sandwich. "I guess he's been running into some fairly irate characters since we sent him off with Mo. The followers are tough to deal with, but it's always the family that stabs the hardest."

  "Are you talking with your mouth full again? I can hardly understand you. And sit up straight when you eat, you know you get indigestion otherwise" said Joe primly, as he entered the kitchen carrying the the last few stray glasses from the yard.

  Brigham just sat there, in mid-bite, fuming. His light complexion reddened to match the bloody curse on his skin. Joseph was just about to say something else when Brigham snapped, "Well, if you'd actually listen to what I'm saying maybe I wouldn't have to repeat every goddamn word!"

  The bustling missionaries scattered like cockroaches exposed to light.

  "Is it so wrong that I try to maintain a few scraps of civilization around here? We're dead, but we're not savages! I try to keep a nice home for you . . ." Joe's lip was quivering.

  "Oh, fuck, here come the waterworks. I gotta get the hell out of here. Here's your fucking sandwich!" He pushed the plate across the island toward Joe, spun around and barked for his missionaries. "Darcel! Azer! We're outta here . . . now!"

  The two young men appeared from the hallway and waited nervously by the front door. When he reached the entry, Brigham turned back to Joe. "I was trying to tell you about how yer boyfriend Hubbard was doing, but you're at me! You're always at me! It's my manners, or my drinking, or my smoking, or I'm tracking in dirt! Leave me alone, Joe! Just leave me the fuck alone! Go find Hubbard! He probably likes that kind of hell!" And with that, he pushed his minions out the front door and slammed it behind him.

  Joe could hear the garage door opening, then the house shook with the rumble of the exhaust from Joe's H1. He always took the Hummer when he was angry. Joe listened as the huge SUV roared off for parts unknown. "Manners! The man has no manners!" he said to himself, as he compulsively cleaned the dust from the wainscoting in the hallway. "He'll be back after a few days of living like a savage . . . he always comes back." He composed himself as he walked back to the kitchen, saying to whichever missionaries remained in hiding, "Come out, come out, wherever you are! It's alright now, the show's over boys! Get back to work, and remember, that bunting needs to be rolled, not folded!"

  Joe looked at the sandwich sitting on the counter. Brig had decorated it with a tiny American flag on a toothpick. He could be so sweet. He wiped a tear from his cheek. Joe hated it when they fought. It was probably his own fault . . . again. Maybe he was too controlling after all, but the coarseness, how despised the coarseness . . . and the dirt . . . on his nice carpets. He looked at his phone sitting on the granite countertop and thought about calling Brigham to apologize. But, next to the phone was Brigham's iPad, still open to the story about Hubbard's abduction by his eldest son. The image was dramatic! Joe loved gossip and this was too good to ignore. He pushed the fracas to the back burner of his mind, then sat down to read the article and eat the sandwich Brig had made for him.

  This particular story was harrowing, and a bit thrilling if he was to be honest. Revenge, fire, monsters and ultimately the transcendence of the wronged. Oh, the first encounters with those that one had wronged could be potent and transformative. On the other hand, they could lock one even more firmly into delusion. That was always painful. Ron would learn . . . eventually. And what of Sid? It had been months of waiting. What happened to him in that fiery abduction? The pictures showed an awful scene. Just as he was thinking this, there was a chirping from his phone. Unsurprisingly, it was Sid. That's how things worked in this place. He picked up the phone. "Well, Mr. Lokavid, I was just thinking about you!" he said knowingly. "How are you doing?"

  "To be honest, I've had better weeks, I assume you've seen the news?" he said in his perfectly lilting voice.

  "Mmm hmmm, yes, I certainly did! And what a rowdydow that was, and right after seeing Jess? Does he know what happened to you? I'm sure he's concerned not hearing from you and all." There was a twinge of bitterness when he mentioned Jess. The man he'd built an empire for wouldn't so much as give him the time of day. He hoped Sid couldn't sense that. Joe continued, "so, my friend, how can I help?"

  "To be perfectly honest, I don't really remember everything that happened yet. Things don't seem to be lining up. I've read some reports, and the last one had Hubbard heading back to R6 City. I have no idea why." Sid paused and added "He's a tough nut to crack. There are a lot of people who want a piece of him right now."

  "Well, Sid, intersectionality being what it is, he could be anywhere. We'll just have to see how the winds blow. Is there anything we can do?" Joe really wanted in on this. He wasn't so sure Sid was up to the task.

  "Hard to say, Joe. What does Brigham think?" Sid waited for the reply, but there was silence. "Joe, is everything alright? Did you two have another row?"

    "It's okay . . . really. It was just one of our silly quarrels. The usual. He's off to drink or shoot something or wrestle a buffalo. He always comes back." Joseph tried to sound confident and breezy about the whole thing.

  "Disharmony is so unpleasant, but so much of the fabric of our lives is woven from it, no?" Sid said wearily. "And speaking of our lives, what is the date, anyway? How long was I out?" Regeneration could wreak havoc with timelines.

  "It's July fifth. You missed our party. Why?" said Joe.

  Four months. He'd been out for four months. "Oh, dear. Temporal dislocation." Sid said uncomfortably.

  "Really? How exciting! When are you?" asked Joe.

  "It should be March 19 or 20, or so I thought." Sid had been through this with a few of his "deaths" and this sort of thing could be so messy.

  In a reality in which things could grind on with a deadly dull sameness, Joe was always thrilled when something unusual occurred, "Oh, my goodness. Well, when is Hubbard? Did he get pulled along with you?"

  "Well, there is precedent for that sort of thing, Hubbard and I have been in the flow as it were. I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if from his perspective, he's still just a week into this reality. I won't know until I find him however. I hate to cut this short, but I really must do a bit more research and see if I can find Hubbard. You see what you can do on your end and call me if you find out anything. I do hope things work out with Brig. They always seem to. Cheers, my friend." And with that, the Buddha from five months ago ended the call.

  'Who to call? Who to call . . .' thought Joe. He punched the button on his phone to summon Siri.

  "What can I help you with, Joe?" asked the cybernetic voice.

  "Call Mo, mobile."

  "Calling Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib, mobile." said the voice, utterly mangling Mo's full name.

  The call went directly to voicemail. Mo was probably on the line with Sid. That would figure. The two of them were always enviably close. Of course, they were two of the big players here. He was small potatoes in comparison. Joe didn't want to seem too desperate or needy, so he thought about who else he might call that had connections to this case. Maybe his best bet was to find someone whose rage and intersectional proximity to Hubbard would take them right to him. He pulled his copy of Barefaced Messiah out of the bookshelf and opened it to one of the many post-its sticking out of it.

  He summoned Siri one more time. "Call Sara Northrup Hollister, home," he said with an ever-so-slightly wicked smile.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 16, "On The Seventh Day"

  Ron thought that if he was going to keep running into his own fictional characters, he'd really rather have them be adventurers like Ol' Doc Methuselah or Johnny Goodboy Tyler, not these two fawning monuments to the man he never was. Tom Esterbrook was the name he'd given an academic author he created to review his own books, glowingly, of course. He was really glad Sid wasn't here to raise one of his judgemental eyebrows.

  "What should we do next, sir?" Esterbrook asked, looking about anxiously.

  "Let the man breathe, egghead!" snapped Snake. "Go make yourself useful. See if you can find some shelter, it'll be night soon." Snake took of his bomber jacket and pulled out a tin of tobacco, stuffing some some into his cheek as he surveyed the situation.

  "I . . . I'm afraid that I really don't know where we are, Commander Thompson. I'm not too sure how I even got here, to be perfectly frank." While the thing known as Esterbrook was fully sentient, he had no memories of anything beyond a few hours before, when he had found himself among the group of Commodores Messengers looking for Snake. "Maybe some of these girls might be a better choice?" he offered pleadingly.

  "Fercrissakes, grow a spine!" Snake barked at the tweedy gentleman, who looked like he might burst into tears at any moment. "Oh, never mind." Snake spit some tobacco in disgust and turned away from Esterbrook. "Girls!" Snake barked to the messengers attending to Hubbard. "You! The tall drink of water, yeah, you honey." The tallest CM peeled away from their master to huddle with Thompson who was kneeling with a stick. He drew a map in the dirt, "Alright babe, you take two girls with you and head this way, send the other two in this direction, and see if you can find some shelter, or at least some dry burnable wood. We'll need some warmth come sundown." 

  "Yes sir! I'm on it!" The Messenger took two girls aside, they met for a minute or so and then began to fan out in search of supplies or cover.  

  Snake turned toward Hubbard, who was still surrounded by a wall of white hotpants and halter tops. "Lemme through ladies, lemme through!" The messengers parted obediently. He kneeled next to the supine Hubbard whose head rested in the lap of a Messenger. "What's it gonna be, Commodore? What are your orders, sir? You've gotten out of tougher scrapes before."

  Hubbard had been receiving what he assumed were touch assists from his messengers. Unlike the touch assists he'd received in life, these were actually doing something, delivering zings of electricity into his body. He felt much better than he had just a half an hour ago when he was pulled from the crumbling compound that lay smoking in the distance. For a brief moment, he let the bitter irony sink in that Scientology seemed to actually work here in this strange reality, but then again, everything he'd ever made up, no matter how ridiculous, seemed capable of coming to life here. He sat up with the help of a messenger. And speaking of things he'd made up, Snake still gave him the creeps, but he figured he'd better make the best of things. For a fictional character, the guy really got things done.

  "So, what's the situation, Commander?" Hubbard asked with a tone of theatrical gravity.

  "The enemy is nowhere to be seen and the castle is in flames. The car is a total loss and we have no food or shelter. We're in a field surrounded by forests on three sides with a stream and low hills on the other. It could be a cold one tonight." Snake ended the report by putting another pinch of tobacco into his mouth. He proffered the tin to Hubbard.

  "Uh, no thanks, Snake. You have any of the smokeable kind?" The Commodore was getting to his feet, he felt better than he had all week.

  "I think you have some in your boiler suit, sir." Thompson gestured toward the breast pocket of Hubbard's tattered, gray overalls.

  Sure enough, he could feel an unopened pack of Kools in his pocket, but, of course, no matches. He looked toward the burning wreckage of his son's citadel. He was thinking that he could walk over and get a light there. But, just as he was thinking this, another large section of the smoldering structure collapsed. He would need another plan. Ron held the cigarette at arms length, but remembered what happened last time he tried this. He would do it differently this time. The Commodore concentrated on lighting it, but nothing happened. 'Relax old boy, use command intention' he thought to himself. He let his arm down, held the cigarette as if he were smoking it, and said "light," with a casual air.

  With that, one of his messengers stepped forward with an elegant, silver lighter and lit his Kool.

  "Well, that worked pretty nicely." He took several deep drags and let the menthol saturate his lungs. With the instant comfort provided by the cigarette, his mind cleared and he found another idea was hatching. He concentrated for a moment, then relaxed and said with nonchalance, "where's my car?"

  The CMs froze in place for an instant, followed by a buzz of activity as the girls passed looks between themselves, almost like they were calculating. Then, they parted to reveal a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham lumbering across the field with a messenger at the wheel. She wore a white chauffeur's uniform.

  "Well, that's more like it, don't you think?" Hubbard muttered, mostly to himself. He walked up to the car as the gaggle of nearly identical girls vied to be The One to open the door. "Ladies, ladies. No need to fight over me," Hubbard said grinning widely. The winner opened the back door of the silver car and Hubbard snugged down into an interior overflowing with burgundy velour. "Ah, she's just like I remember her." The huge Cadillac was exactly like the first car he bought for United Churches of Florida, and it remained one of his favorites.

  "Well?" he looked expectantly at the young woman who opened the door. She looked at him curiously. "Close the fucking door already!" 'Is she deaf or stupid?' he wondered to himself. Esterbrook looked gobsmacked, wearing a 'what about me?' expression.

  Once the door was shut, he lowered the window and gestured to one of his messengers. "You! The one with my smokes. Get in front. Come on! Let's go, chop, chop!" He wanted to put as much distance between him and his two golems as possible and everyone seemed to be dawdling. The young woman slid into the front passenger seat as Hubbard said "Driver! Window! Now!" His window slid closed immediately.

  "Alright, Leadfoot Lucy, let's get the hell out of here. Take me back to my hotel, the one I woke up in last week, I have some papers to go through." And with that, the chauffeur slid the gear lever into D, and launched the big Caddy back across the meadow toward the road that had once led to Nibs' fortress. He thought about looking back on the odd group waving goodbye in the field, but thought better of it. "They're not even real." he said.

  "Oh, I am so honored to have even been in his presence. What a humanitarian—a towering genius." gushed Tom Esterbrook as he watched the car making its way to the access road. He was sorry to not have been included in the great man's plans, but after all, he was just a lowly scribe and he knew it. What he didn't know is that he was about to turn off, forever. He popped out of existence, as did the remaining CMs, one by one. That left Commander Thompson alone in the meadow, hands on his hips, looking around with a satisfied expression. "My work here is done" he said with noble grit. "The great man is safe. I suppose I'll be disappearing, too." But he didn't. There were evidently other intersections for him to explore. There was a man coming toward him waving. The rather animated gentleman was walking from the direction of the burning ruin. At first, Snake couldn't quite make out who it was, then he noticed the cigar and black spectacles. A smiled spread across his face in recognition, knowing that he was in for quite the stimulating conversation. If nothing else, Sigmund always had the best cigars.

  The silver Cadillac wafted along the road as it wound its way through the heavily forested foothills of . . . well, wherever they were. The sun had set behind the towering hardwood forest and the sky was a beautiful, deepening violet. "So, driver . . . do you know where we're going?" Ron asked stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray. Cigarette girl was already dispensing his next, pre-lit Kool over the seatback.

  "Yes sir!" she replied crislpy. "We're going to The Bulgravia Arms Hotel in R6 City. We should be there in a few hours, sir."

  "Right, right, but where is that?" he said taking a drag off his latest smoke. "Where are we? I think I was in Pennsylvania yesterday, so where am I now?" Ron asked, in genuine confusion. If he was going to get the hang of this place, he'd have to learn all of Sid's tricks.

  "It's hard to explain, sir. It involves local hyper-duality and eleven-dimensional, intersectional quantum 'branes. The physics is quite daunting" the driver said trying not to sound condescending.

  "Try me. You know, I was quite the physicist at one time . . ." as usual, when referring to his imagined expertise, the smugness was palpable.

  "Well, sir, I'll try" said the driver. She then launched into an exquisitely detailed explanation of what she called multidimensional, poly-quantum, dual-field physics, complete with elaborate formulae that seemed to involve more Greek letters than numbers. After about ten minutes of being totally baffled, Hubbard put his hand on her shoulder, "Thank you dear, thank you. That's, um, uh, very interesting. Good to get caught up on the latest stuff. I see what you're getting at there. Yes, yes, the quantum foam coalescing and so on, and the uncertainty. Yes. Very interesting, indeed." There was a pregnant silence. Finally he said. "How about you turn on the hi-fi and we have some nice music?" He'd had absolutely no idea what what the driver had been talking about and hoped she couldn't read his mind like the others had. The Messengers did seem very loyal after all, but they might be sniggering behind his back. He'd have to keep an eye on them.

  Then Cigarette Girl said "The radio? You want music? I'll get it". She rummaged around in the glove compartment for a bit, then turned up the volume. There was music alright, but it was horrible. A sort of thumping, dissonant jazz that sounded like it was recorded at the bottom of a very large barrel.

  After a few bars he barked "Turn it off! Good God, what the hell is that supposed to be? Whatever it is, it's not music."

  "Uh, well, that's . . . you, sir" said Cigarette Girl timidly. "There was a tape of your album in the glove box. I thought you'd want to hear it." She ejected the 8-track and handed it to Hubbard.

  "Let me see that . . ." he said snatching the tape from Cigarette girl. 'Apollo Stars' it said on the huge cartridge. God, it was his music after all. "Oh, right, well I was just kidding, you know. We had quite a time out there on the old Apollo, quite a time. We were very avant garde. Very modern, and so forth . . ." he said unconvincingly. An old saying ran through his head, 'The gods punish us with answered prayers.'

  They rode on in silence for an hour or so when he felt an odd vibration on his thigh. It felt a bit like the touch assists he'd been given by the girls back in the meadow. There it was again. It was something in  the zippered pocket on his thigh. It was the phone that Alisa had given him. How did it get there? He pulled it out of the pocket. It had stopped buzzing, but there was a box that had 'Missed Call' written in it. He remembered about the thing inside the phone, Surry or whatever its name was. He remembered how Alisa had taught him to summon the thing and held down the only button on the otherwise featureless face of the phone. There was a chime.

  "What can I help you with?" asked Siri.

  "Uh, hi there, this is . . ."

  "Ron Hubbard. Yes, I know who you are. What can I help you with?" the phone queried.

  He thought she sounded slightly annoyed with him.

  "Well, I, um, let's see, someone called me just now?" he was flustered.

  "That was a call from an unknown number, there was no message" the disembodied woman said in her vaguely nordic accent. She seemed to put the wrong emphasis on most syllables. Strange.

  "Oh, so, no message from Sid?" he asked hopefully.

  "S. G. Lokavid is offline, would you like to leave him a message?" said the phone.

  "Uh, sure, okay." she made him really nervous, like he was doing something wrong.

  "Okay, leave your message at the tone." There was a silence then a beep.

  "Well, uh, Sid this is Ron Hubbard and I was, uh, wondering if you were . . . well, what are you doing? Is everything okay? Will I be seeing you sometime soon? Okay then, uh . . . bye now." Was he supposed to press a button or something. He hit the only real button again and the screen went blank.

  The messenger in the front seat was watching him. She whipped around when she realized he saw her staring. "Oh, don't worry about it. I don't know how the goddamn thing works either."

  She smiled sheepishly and they rode on in silence for a while. "A fresh Kool, sir?" she asked proffering a cigarette.

  "Don't mind if I do".

  She lit the cigarette in her mouth and passed it back to Hubbard who made a sour face. The girl looked mortified. "Oh, I'm so sorry Commodore. I don't know what I was thinking." She lowered the window and threw the offending smoke out, a tiny, brief meteor in the gloaming. She handed him a fresh cigarette and he used his cigarette lighter in the armrest to light it himself. She looked miserable.

  "Oh, don't worry about it" he said. "Just don't let it happen again." He winked jovially. He was back in a good mood again, the feelings that constantly battled in his head were quiet now. He stretched out in the backseat and smoked in a moment of relative contentment. When he felt expansive and important, he loved to spin tales, and so, he told the girls stories. Stories about his past, his barnstorming, his years at George Washington and his time in China. He even threw in some past lives and exteriorized explorations of space for good measure. He must have been talking for two hours straight, when suddenly there was an explosion from the right front of the car and the tire began to deflate. The chauffeur pulled over skillfully, bringing the listing luxury car to a stop. They were still in the woods, but it was less hilly and a bit more open. There were fireflies darting about among the trees, lending the scene a magical quality. What wasn't so magical was the high, chain link fence with razor wire along the top of it running with the road as far as he could see.

  The chauffeur and her lieutenant got out of the car to appraise the damage. Hubbard lowered the window, the night was muggy and humid. The girls headed around to the back of the car and popped the trunk open. He could hear them rummaging with tools and the spare tire. What was taking so long? Couldn't they get on with it?

  Annoyed that he hadn't thought of it earlier, he figured he'd try some more of his newfound powers. "Wait a minute girls. I've got this, I think." He concentrated on the tire being inflated and whole then, in his best conjuring voice, said "repair." He closed his eyes and waited a few seconds, then stuck his head out the window and yelled for the girls to check the tire.

  The driver came back to the window and said, "Nope, still flat Commodore. We'll get the tire changed in a jiffy. You just relax."

  He sat back and sulked. Why didn't his powers work the same way all the time? He stubbed out one Kool and lit another, as Cigarette Girl had given him the pack upon exiting the car. After a few minutes the driver returned to the window, her face had fallen. "I'm so sorry Commodore, but the spare is flat, too." 

  He tried his newfound power over MEST a few more times before giving up in disgust. "What the hell good is this voodoo if you can't use it all the time?" he raged, "Goddammit!" He was exasperated and tired.

  Cigarette Girl tried to sound positive, "Well, this fence must belong to something, we'll follow it up a ways and see what we find, you stay here in the car, sir. And lock the doors." 

'Some hero you are' Hubbard thought to himself as he watched the scantily dressed Messengers slowly vanish into the night from the safety of his velour cocoon.


  He sat there for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only an hour or so, but it made him nervous to be out there alone. He pulled out the phone, maybe the Surrey thing would keep him company. He pushed the button, but nothing happened. It wouldn't even light up. "Battery must be dead" he said to the night. Well, at least the doors were locked, so he settled into the heavily draped fabric and eventually dozed off.

  Hubbard awoke with first light. The windows were all steamed up. He wiped the condensation away. He could see quite a ways down the road in both directions. No sign of the girls. He had an odd thought, he still couldn't get used to never having to take a piss. That was such a morning ritual. He actually missed it. Such a strange place, this was. He was stiff from sleeping in the seat, and thought he'd better get out and have a look around, maybe he'd have more success in the light of day.

  The sky was threatening rain, but still, it was pleasant enough, balmy and humid. The girls had walked in the direction they had driving when the flat happened, so he figured that wasn't the best way to go. He decided to follow the fence back the way they had come. Maybe they'd been so enmeshed in his sagas that they missed some landmark in the dark. He'd been walking for about fifteen minutes, when he came to a gate in the fence. It was quite large with stone and brick pillars. There was a brick guardhouse and the gate was wide open. Nobody was there, but at least there was civilization. There was another inner fence with barbed wire along the top of it and groups of brick buildings in a large compound. These gates were also wide open. Was this a military base? There were no signs on the buildings, just numbers.

  "Hello! Is anybody around?" he called. Nothing. The wind was picking up now, there was the crack of thunder in the distance. He thought he'd better get inside. He tried the door of the nearest building. It was open. He headed inside past a lobby with a thick, security glass window. Nobody home. He turned around to leave, but now the door was locked. He'd have to find another way out. There was another door to the right of the window which was open, but it made him nervous. It led further in the building. He stepped into the next room and there was a sight that made his blood run cold. It was sliding iron bars. This was a cell block. This was a prison. There was another loud thunderclap and he could hear the rain start to come down.

  This place gave him the fulll-on creeps. Something was up. This all meant something, but he couldn't remember what. What he did remember was terror of confinement. Hubbard had gone to great lengths to avoid incarceration in his lifetime. His last ten years on earth were more or less spent in hiding. He thought of the poor bastards locked up in tiny cells like he'd seen in the movies, but this wasn't quite like that. It was more like a dormitory or a hospital ward. No bars on the cells, just metal doors. The rooms were empty, but immaculate. Someone had to have been cleaning them. He looked down the long, broad hallway. All the doors were open. He heard nothing. Saw no one. He had to find a way out, so just kept walking down the hall. It was nothing but room after empty room. As he walked, his sense of foreboding faded with each vacant chamber. 

  Just as he was feeling more relaxed, there she was. She was sitting in a metal chair, at a metal table, wearing her Sea Org dress whites, reading a very dog-eared HCO Manual of Justice. She looked up over the book with the saddest expression Ron had ever seen.

  "You never even wrote me a letter," said Mary Sue Hubbard.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 15 "The Son Also Rises"

Ron (the senior's) stomach dropped a few floors as the bulk of the Psychlo started to make a move toward him. Ron (the son) put his hand up ever-so-slightly and the huge space beast froze in place. It let out a disturbed, deflating sort of sound from its face plates, beady eyes fixed on its prey.

  "Don't worry, he won't hurt you. He's just my . . . helper. This won't take long." Ron DeWolf adjusted his glasses and limped forward unsteadily. He clutched a cane in his left hand to steady him on his false leg. He advanced toward his father.

  "Do you like our little place here? Not bad, is it? This is from my imagination by the way, not yours" he said with a mixture of anxiety and bitterness. "Other people have imaginations too, you know. Other people can make things up." More intensely now, "Do you like what I've made up for you? Do you Pop?" Ron DeWolf had been waiting for this moment for what seemed like an eternity. He'd had a lot of time to think. To make things up to his heart's content.

  "Nibs. Son. I . . . I think we can talk about this like . . ." but Hubbard was interrupted.

  "Nibs! Nibs? 'His Nibs' is what you call the spoiled child! The pampered brat. How dare you call me that! Better you call me Rover or Fido, 'cause that's what I was from the word go, your dog, your servant. Your means to an end. I can't believe what you put me and Alexis through, your cast-offs. Did it even occur to you to ask how I died? About my well being?"

  The father struggled theatrically to talk "My nose . . . it . . ."

  "Your nose? Fuck your goddamn nose! I've been trapped here for 23 years, planning for this moment, so I'm gonna make the most of it . . . 'Dad'."

  Senior's stomach growled loudly.

  An exaggerated look of pity any mime would have been proud to produce washed across Junior's face, "Oh, no! Daddy's hungry!" He turned to the vertical shag rug behind him. "Terl. Daddy is hungry, what should we do?"

  The fur covered slab shifted back and forth on its huge feet and let out another series of wheezing noises through its faceplates. Was it excited? Angry? Senior had never really thought about it before, the face was basically expressionless, he hadn't really thought about how a Psychlo would express emotions.

  "What was that?" Junior said theatrically, "We should feed him?" Nibs spoke to the monster like it was a giant toddler. "What a good idea Terl! Go get Daddy some food . . . lots of food. He looks real hungry." His face lost all expression as he finished the last sentence. He turned back to his captive and put on a new expression. Senior couldn't tell if it was a smile or a grimace.

  Junior adjusted his glasses and got nose to nose with Senior. He was seething with rage now, "Well, it looks like it's just junior and dear, old Dad. Together again. Just like in by-gone days." He made a motion as if he was going to squeeze his father's ruined nose. Senior winced in anticipation and a calm smile spread across Nibs' face. "I wouldn't do that, daddy. I'm not you." With that, Nibs turned away and walked into the shadows to the left of the door. He threw a switch and searing lights blazed down from above.

  Hubbard the senior gasped and winced again, as though he'd been physically struck. The light, emitted by a grid of twenty, buzzing halogen lamps hanging at 2 foot intervals, was blinding.

  "Oh, my, but those are bright!" Junior began patting his lab coat pockets dramatically. "Where are my goggles? Why, I can hardly see" he said as though he were acting in a bad junior high school play. He found a large wrap-around pair of sun-glasses and fit them over his black framed spectacles. "There! That's much better. But, poor daddy, I bet that's so bright for you . . ." he was making the universal 'so sad' face that a normal parent would made when their child skins a knee.

  Senior was shaking now. He really never knew this kind of fear in his living years. Paranoia yes. Fear of retribution. Yes. He'd braved a few bad storms at sea, but nothing like this. This was a real, visceral, gut-churning fear. This was about feelings. This was about emotions, his lifelong nemeses.

  That he'd been a bad father was an understatement. Absent, self-absorbed, vain, arrogant and prone to rage, he knew that his children had no love for him. Especially Junior. He knew exactly what he'd put Nibs through over the years, especially since he'd blown Scientology. The disconnection. The dead-agenting. The subtle dirty tricks guaranteed to make his life and the life of his offspring a living hell.

  Through his squinted eyes, he could see that Nibs had now walked around behind him, and his anxiety spiked again. "Is that too bright for my poor daddy?"  Then, sudden blackness as a plastic bag was pulled over his head and tightened around his neck.

  Unable to move and in terrible pain, the panic was unbearable. He was hyperventilating and just as he was about to lose consciousness, off came the bag, and inches from his face, a face so like his own raged, "That's how I felt every fucking day around you. Suffocated! Choked! Strangled! I would be a big hero one minute a worthless piece of shit the next depending on what drug you were on, or what your crazy, fucking brain was doing!" Nibs backed up to catch his breath, unsteady on his prosthetic leg. "And Mommy! What you put her through, you cowardly piece of shit! All your wives! Hell, every woman you fucked and fucked-over! Be glad that Lexie is still alive, or I'm sure she'd be here with me, tag-teaming your sorry ass!"

  Hubbard the elder was actually relieved when he saw that the hirsute giant had returned, pushing a cart bearing an overabundance of what appeared to be haute cuisine. On the crisp, white tablecloth were a dozen platters of food, a frosty pitcher of ice water, four cartons of Kools and a pristine ashtray.

  "Oh, Daddy. Look what Terl has brought you!" said Nibs with a flourish. "I hope you enjoy . . . looking at it." He was trying to look serious, but a nervous giggle burst out, unbidden. "C'mon big fella, let's let Daddy enjoy his treats."

  And with that, Nibs and his hulking friend left the room, the door sliding back into place behind them. The light would have been bad enough, but Hubbard was also hungry and thirsty. Then there were the smokes. Even through all the chaos since he'd left his flophouse in R6 City, the need for nicotine was never far from front and center. Surely this was just the beginning of the torture. He'd really stepped in it this time.

 •

  Mr. S. G. Lokavid came-to in his apartment on the 35th floor, overlooking what any living person would swear was the San Francisco Bay Bridge. He knew the drill after he'd survived several "deaths" here in the afterworld. It was always like waking up from a dream. A really, really awful dream. The memory of the fire and his burning flesh was all too real to him, but the details were a fog. Sometimes they actually were dreams. It took corroboration from someone else to prove otherwise. When you were revived from an incident, you were always restored to wholeness. Sid was as he had been before, tall, handsome and thirtysomething, lying naked in his huge bed overlooking the simulacrum of the bay. He stretched and thought about getting out of bed. He remembered a strange man from the dream, and he remembered some trouble. It was all sort of fuzzy. Were the memories of the last few days part of a dream or memories from the continuum? This would require tea. He looked to his left, and there on the sleek wenge side table was a steaming cup of darjeeling. Maybe the man he remembered was real and actually was in trouble. Well, whoever he was would have to wait. The journey of a thousand miles begins with tea . . .



  Nibs watched his father, by turns desperate and fulminating, on a huge screen from his lab on top of his compound. He'd had years to think about how he would get his revenge on that fat bastard. From time to time, he worried that the plotting and planning would make him deranged, unhinged like his father. Immediately after his own death, he was visited by his mother at his grandparents. They showed him great affection and sympathy. They showed pictures of their farm in a very lovely universe 'just next door' as his mother put it. But he couldn't go there yet, he had to engage his father in order to be released from this place. Evidently there were rules. There were always rules. He hated that. It was out of the frying pan into the fire as far as he was concerned. This afterlife business was for the birds. It was just another org. More rules. More bullshit. But there was an upside. Sometimes, when you really focused, you could make almost anything happen.

  The trouble was, the more Nibs watched his father struggle and fret, the more awful he felt. He hated violence when he was alive, though he was forced into it on many occasions in the service of Clearing the Planet. He was a creative at heart, and that heart hurt watching the man who had so abused him and his siblings in life. This wasn't what he'd hoped for. It wasn't fun. He felt empty. After everything he'd been through it came down to wanting one thing: for his father to love him. And with that realization, his rage and anger sublimated to grief and loss and with that came a deep, mournful sobbing. Wave after wave of pain and release. After a while he felt a huge hand on his shoulder, it was the inhuman creature he'd created to scare his father, it had crouched down to make itself less threatening. The creature's facial vents whistled softly as it stroked Nibs' back. Terl's face couldn't really express emotion in a readable way, but the care expressed in this simple touch made Nibs cry all the harder. Monsters were more loving than his own father.

Many hours had passed and Hubbard the elder was delirious, but through his delirium, he could see and hear the large metal door when it began to slowly slide upward. His son walked in the doorway, his furry companion shambling just behind him. But something was different. He looked younger than he had before and he was walking normally, without a cane. He looked almost excited. "Ron. Dad, I think I finally get what it is that I . . ." But before he could finish his sentence, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, Jr. vanished into thin air.

  The hulking creature that had been the son's constant companion for more than two decades let out a sound like a low steam whistle. He looked around for a moment then he too, disappeared. The crazy, mad scientist sound effects fell silent and Hubbard could hear nothing but his own heartbeat drumming in his ears. "Nibs! Goddammit Nibs, what the hell am I supposed to do here? You fucking little bastard! Nibs!" His voice echoed dramatically in the room and long hallway beyond. He was trapped. Utterly and completely trapped.

  He struggled. He pulled. He strained until his flesh was raw where the chair held his wrists and ankles. Exhausted, he began to cry in sheer frustration. "Open!" he screamed at the restraints.

  And open, they did.

  Ron struggled to his feet, his injuries from the crash were healing, but his body was in agony from thrashing for god knows how long on that metal throne. He lunged his way across the room to where Nibs had turned on the lights. He found the switch and the sudden darkness seemed almost total at first. His eyes were semi-blind from the glare. Then he turned to face the food cart that had tormented him so. It was still there, but the food had all gone bad, the stench was awful. At least there were Kools. He ripped one of the cartons open and inhaled the fresh, menthol smell. But there were no matches. Well, he'd gotten the best of the locks when he put his command intention to work, so he tried commanding the cigarette he'd placed in his mouth to light, but nothing happened.

  "Sonofabitch" he muttered to himself. He tried again, this time holding the cigarette at arms length, focusing his attention on it and saying "fire!" Something happened this time. Something was burning, but it wasn't the Kool at the end of his arm. He could see a flickering of firelight coming from the hallway just as the smell of smoke reached his nose. "Well, that's not good" he said to nobody in particular. He looked out into the hallway only to see a wall of flames coming toward him from his right. That left straight ahead or left as his only options. He chose straight ahead and made a run for it.

  His body ached in all kinds of ways, but fear does funny things to a person. He found himself in a four way intersection of impossibly long hallways. The decision as to which way to go was made for him as the halls on either side of him burst into flames. He ran until he came to another junction. It was the same  wall of fire on either side, and now the flames were behind him as well. The smoke was getting serious now, and breathing was difficult. He kept moving and all at once the hallway opened into a cavernous great room with large windows that must have been fifty feet tall. He thought he'd break one to escape but he miscalculated their scale. As he reached them he realized that they began some 20 feet above the ground. His one hope was the two-story, wooden door at the end of the chamber, but when he reached for the iron handle, it was locked and wouldn't budge. The fire was now emerging from the hallway and was climbing the huge tapestries that hung on the stone walls. It leapt from one to the other roaring up to the timbers that made up the ceiling.

  L. Ron Hubbard was about to give up hope when he heard it, a crash against the door. The great door shook. There was a muffled revving of an engine, a screech of tires, and once again the door shook, this time splintering and buckling a bit more. He heard an ominous crack as the flaming timbers of the ceiling began to give way. Sparks rained down from the clouds of smoke above as one by one, huge chunks of the former ceiling crashed to the stone floor. There was one final crash and the door broke into flinders and in with the brilliant light of day came the very smashed snout of an orange Rolls-Royce driven by one Snake Thompson. Once again, the man Hubbard invented stood through the open sunroof and yelled "get him girls!" Before he knew what was happening he was surrounded by his Commodore's Messengers, who ushered out into the fresh air. The last of the passengers in the now burning car escaped and the crowd moved quickly to put distance between themselves and the now fully engulfed complex.

  There was a huge fireball as the car's fuel tank ignited, turning the front wall of the towering facade into a pile of rubble.

  "Looks like you owe me one, you old sonofabitch!" laughed Thompson who pushed his way through the crowd of fussing, fawning messengers to clap Ron on the back heartily. Then, behind Snake came another man Hubbard didn't recognize. He was bearded and dressed neatly a tweed coat with patches on the elbows and a wool cap. The unknown man approached Ron with awe and deference.

  "Oh, Dr. Hubbard! Dr. Hubbard! This is an honor, a complete and total honor!" said the nattily dressed stranger.

  "I'm sorry, but do I know you?" asked a decidedly confused Hubbard.

  "It's I who am sorry, I should have introduced myself, but I'm sure you'll know my name. I am Tom Esterbrook, and I am your loyal servant."

  "Great" Hubbard muttered to himself, "another one."

Monday, June 09, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 14, "Trouser Snake"

  Even though he had recently met Jesus, Mao, Joan of Arc and was currently riding around the afterlife with Avalokiteshvara himself, Ron was officially freaked out by the grinning man chomping on a cigar emerging from the orange Rolls-Royce.

  There, coming right at him, larger than life was Commander 'Snake' Thompson, just as he had always described him. Problem was, he was a fiction. Like so many things in the ripping yarn that was his life story, Snake was a fake. He was a compilation of a few interesting characters he'd met on voyages with his parents when he was in his early teens. The long ocean crossings he made were fairly tedious and Ron's mind never sat still for a minute. As he had always done, he would just make up characters to keep himself company. However, that wasn't usually the end of it. Thrilled with the imaginative discussions that he'd have with his phantom friends, he would regale real people with his exploits with his "friends" as if they were fact. He always felt more important with an interesting story to tell, and the truth be damned.

  Sid was staring at him now, one eyebrow raised expectantly. "Won't you introduce me to your friend, Ron?" he said slyly.

  "Oh, for god's sake Sid, go ahead. Tell me what a big, goddamn liar I am, let's get it out of the way. What's next? Will good old Snake tell me to be glad I had so few followers? That can't be too far off, can it?" Hubbard turned and started to walk back toward the barn where Jesus had taken Fred. 

  "Ron Hubbard, you'd better not be turnin' your back on your old pal Snake, now!" boomed the apparition of a life-long lie. "Hell, you turned out to be quite a renaissance man Ron! Aviator! Navigator! Map Maker! Physicist! Adventurer! Musician! Philosopher! I knew you were special when I met you on the USS Grant in, what was it? 1923? You beat me at chess every damn night on that tub!"

  "Why, Mr. Hubbard, I didn't know you played chess. We really must have a game some night." Sid's tone was coy. He turned his attention the Snake. "Commander Thompson, I am Mr. S. G. Lokavid, a recent acquaintance of our friend, here. Ron has gone on at length about you and your influence on his precocious mind."

  "Well, I'd certainly met my match in the boy, let me tell you. Barely a thing I could teach that one. Well, there was one thing, I recall . . ." Snake made the universal sign language of jacking off as he said this, only to break out in a braying laugh. "Aw, come on Ronnie, everybody does it! Am I right, Sid? Am I right?" Howling at his own joke, he was now elbowing a grimacing Sid in the ribs.

  "Quite right Commander, the lure of the lingam is universal." said the Buddha.

  Hubbard continued toward the Tesla wishing his reanimated id would just shut up. He reached the car but the door handles that would emerge automatically stayed flush with it's sheet metal.

  "Ron, you're going to need this. It won't open without it. Catch!" Sid threw the black key fob to Ron with amazing accuracy. 

  The fob landed in Hubbard's hand perfectly. As he caught it, the door handles slid smoothly out from their bays. He pocketed the tiny homunculus of the Tesla and got into the driver's seat. "Come on Sid, we're getting out of here!" he barked. "Now!"

  Sid and Thompson looked at each other in astonishment. Snake looked a bit crestfallen that he wasn't exactly given a hero's welcome. 

  "Look here, Commander. I'm sure he'll warm up to you. Do you remember how you got here?" asked Sid with genuine concern.

  "Uh, well, I was . . . in that car there . . . I think. I can't say as I remember how the hell I got there though. Little skinny fellow in the back seat with me kept rattlin' on about how 'anybody that gives you a belief system is your enemy' and suchlike. Strange little fellow, that." Snake trailed off, he looked lost in thought.

  "Well, Commander. He's gone off that way with his well armed ladyfriend. I do believe they're going to have a bit of a do with quite a few interesting people. It could be fascinating . . . from a purely psychological perspective, of course." Sid placed his hand on Snake's shoulder as they walked. "Ron's still a bit high strung from his trip here. It was harrowing." 

  "I can only imagine. Storms. Gunmen. Scorpions. The guts of that guy are really something else, eh?" Thompson looked to be a bit in awe.

  "Oh, yes, Commander. He has some kind of gut's alright. I'll give him your fondest wishes. Do enjoy yourself tonight." And with that he sent the somewhat bewildered golem off to whatever Osho and friends had in store for him.

  "So, then Ron. Where are we off to?" Sid said settling into the bullet peppered passenger seat. Don't you think we might want to find a place for the night and get the car fixed?"

  "Look, Sid. I just want to get the hell away from that . . . thing. How does . . . I mean, what the hell is he? You know I made him up, right?" Ron was visibly agitated.

  "Are you afraid of who you might run into here? I don't blame you. You had quite the imagination." 

  "I just feel . . . I feel . . ." Hubbard struggled for his words.

  "You . . . feel? Yes?" Sid looked at Ron like a parent with a child on the verge of his first step.

  "Oh, never mind. I'm so goddam hungry I could eat a skunk's asshole." Hubbard had totally switched gears. 

  Sid's face dropped. He sighed and composed himself for a moment. He was really hoping for a breakthrough. "Well, then, on that appetizing note, let's see about finding a place to stay. Then we can get a bite to eat and get this poor thing fixed up a bit, shall we?

  "So, how does this thing work again?" Ron looked at the key fob. It was shaped like the car, but featureless. 

  "There's no key. You just push the start button, there. That's your gear selector, and the car will let you know how many miles are left in the charge. Do you know where we're going?" asked the light of Asia.

  "I haven't a clue. That way." Ron said pointing down the long drive to Jess's compound.

  "Good. I love an adventure" Sid added enthusiastically. 

  And with that, the car slid silently down the drive and into rays of the late afternoon sun.

  After about ten minutes of driving toward downtown Nazareth, Hubbard pulled over onto the shoulder and turned off the car.

  "What's all this about?" Sid asked lightly.

  Hubbard just stared straight ahead.

  Was he going back into his loop again? It certainly wasn't common, but Sid had seen it more than a few times in the two millennia he'd been in this place. The recently deceased leader overwhelmed by coming face to face with the misdeeds of a lifetime. It happened. Hubbard did seem quite disturbed by running into a living, breathing example of his own compulsive imaginings.

"Ron, is everything alright?" the Buddha asked a little more forcefully.

  Nothing for another few minutes, then "My grandfather . . . Lafe. I always . . . I always."

  "You always? Always what, Ron?" Maybe this would be the breakthrough Sid sensed was coming.

  Hubbard turned to Sid with a look of near panic, "With my grandfather I alway felt . . . " There was the rising roar of a diesel engine and a sudden, sickening impact from behind. The car shot forward and into the trunk of a huge lyriodendron, buckling the front of the Tesla past the front wheels. Everything went white. Multiple airbags had deployed, filling the car with limp fabric and mist from the propellant. Hubbard's head slumped toward the wheel, his nose dripping blood down his shirt. He was unconscious.

  Sid could hear the ominous clattering, roar of a diesel behind them, it's turbocharger's whistle rising with each rev. There was a grinding of gears, another roar and a crushing impact as the bumper of the car joined the rear wheels a few feet ahead of where it usually sat. Sid tried to open his door, it wouldn't budge. He fumbled for his seatbelt latch, but he couldn't get to it through all the airbag fabric around him. The air filled with a hot, acidic, chemical tang. Outside, someone was yelling through a megaphone, but his eardrums were blown, he couldn't make out a word of it. All at once there was a tearing of metal as the driver's door was ripped from its hinges. Sid watched helplessly as two inhumanly huge hands reached in and pulled Hubbard from the car like a rag doll.

  Then there was a pause.

  Now, Sid knew he couldn't "die." He'd tried to kill himself more than once, the first time was just two days after the start of his 253rd year in this place. That was only one of several unfortunate incidents. There was no sweet release of death here, but there was pain. Pain was real enough alright. A severed limb, a terrible fall, or a bullet hole, these things might resolve themselves after a time, but when they were happening, they hurt just as much as if you were living on Earth. No, he was not scared of death, but he was scared just the same. It wasn't the roaring truck or the giant hands or the hissing heat he could feel growing under his feet. It was the pause.

  The universe, Sid had observed, has a rhythm, a sort of ebb and flow. What really bothered him was the pause, the moment when he felt an eerie quiet envelop him. Any child who grew up watching the classic Looney Toons would recognize the pause instantly. It's that moment where the coyote hangs in the air before falling into the canyon. It's Yosemite Sam's plaintive look at the camera, just before the anvil hits. In this case, it was the moment right before dozens of overheating, shattered lithium-ion batteries exploded into a searing white fireball. For Mr. S. G. Lokavid it was, once again, terrible pain fading into a familiar, temporary oblivion.

  Unaware of the passing of time, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard woke up with a headache. A bad one. He had forgotten what real pain was. His nose was an agony of smashed cartiledge and his left knee sprained and throbbing. He was cuffed to a metal chair at the wrists and ankles, in a darkened cell of some sort. As he came-to, more details of his surroundings came into focus. The walls were smooth metal. The room seemed to be about twenty feet on each side. The door, however, was crazy tall. He couldn't even see the ceiling, the room just went up into blackness. There was a shaft of greenish light from a window a couple of stories up, casting a distored version of itself on the opposite wall. 'Very film noir,' he thought to himself.

  There were also sounds.

  The whole place throbbed with a low, pulsing hum of power punctuated by the random crackling of electrical discharge. There was grinding and clanking, and there also were distant, distorted voices, pinched and small, as if they were coming through cheap speakers. Most disturbing were the screams. They would pierce the gloom every now and again sending chills through Ron's aching body. He wondered what had happened, the last thing he remembered was having a memory of his father's father. Sid asked him something, then . . . he woke up here.

  And where was Sid? He always seemed to know what to do. But, as usual, Ron wondered what was going to happen to him next. Just as he was beginning to panic at the thought of being abandoned here, there was a metallic clattering of gears and the whine of servo motors coming from the impossibly tall door. The massive, metal panel slid slowly into the gloom above. And now, the real moment of terror and recogntion, for in the doorway were two, disparate figures. One was an impossible monster. He knew immediately what it was. A towering, shaggy figure, nine or ten feet tall with an inhuman face. But that featureless face, with its tiny, sunken eyes and bony plates was as familiar to him as his own. He'd written that very face into existence. It was Terl, the Psychlo overlord from his novel Battlefield Earth. However, it wasn't the hulking Terl that frightened him. Not by a long shot. That terror was reserved for the slightly paunchy, diminutive figure with the red hair and thick glasses that Terl stood protectively over. It was the sight of his firstborn son that filled him with dread.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 13, "Luthier In The Sky With Demons"

  'Great. Crying and a child' thought Hubbard. This kid was serving up two things Ron could barely tolerate during the best of times, all in one noisy, snotty package. "So, what do we do now? Don't tell me we're going to . . ."

  Sid shot him a freezing glance. "No time for your grumbling now. You can stay in the car if you want. Or, perhaps you'd like to get out and see how you do on your own?"

  Hubbard looked like a giant, petulant child himself, arms crossed in the back seat.

"Do try to be an adult, Ron. He needs our help." Sid had stopped the car and was getting out as he spoke.

  Hubbard sighed and followed suit. The two of them stood looking at the boy. "He died so young" said Ron "I'm guessing he was hit by a car or something while playing in the street." It seemed like a logical assumption.

  "No. Didn't you see the old man? They're one and the same, and I know him. We've been dreading this one's arrival for some time now. He's in his loop now, see how his crying is repetitious, almost rhythmic? Sometimes newcomers simply can't face themselves and what they've done in their time on Earth. These people panic, and often manifest as children or the elderly. I'm guessing he changed his mind about staying old, too easily recognized. We've got to get him somewhere safe before they get to him." Sid said. The child wailed on.

  "Now, just a second" Ron said, grabbing Sid's arm, "What do you mean 'before they get him?' That doesn't sound too good, Sid."

  "Ron. Everyone is different. Each arrival is distinct. This man was a bit of a petty monster in his day. Most likely he suffered from a personality disorder. He brutalized his wife and family. Built a following. He too saw gold in starting a religion, and his became a church of hate and fear. If the mob gets hold of him it will only make things worse. He has to be cogent and aware to free his followers and victims . . ." Sid had reached the wailing boy and kneeled before him. "Can you hear me, Fred?"

  Nothing. The wailing continued like a broken record from hell.

  The Buddha waved his hand before the boy's eyes. No response. He looked up at Hubbard who was pacing in front of the car. "He's in his loop, alright. Grief. Maybe rage. I can't tell." he stood, brushing his dusty pants off "Open the back door, we need to get him to someplace safe."

  Hubbard grumbled his way to the back door and held it open as Sid steered the weeping child toward him.

  Sid helped the boy into the back seat and looked at Hubbard expectantly. "Well? Get in!" he said gesturing to the back seat.

  "Oh, no. Not me brother, that's not gonna . . " and before he knew it Sid pushed him down with surprising strength. Hubbard fell back into the seat and the door slammed solidly.

"Hey! That's not . . ." Ron cut off in mid-sentence. He'd turned to yell at Sid as he walked behind the car. That's when he saw them.

  A crowd was coming down the road behind them and they didn't look too happy. He made out soldiers in fatigues and body armor. There were also civilian women and men and what appeared to be a few outlandishly dressed women in huge wigs and heels. There were hundreds of people in the crowd. "Uh, Sid, I think we'd better get out of here" he said, tapping frantically on the glass.

  Sid had stopped behind the car, facing the oncoming mob. He had his hands raised and seemed to be  trying to talk to the people, but they clearly weren't interested in stopping. Hubbard couldn't hear what he was saying over the boy's caterwauling. They mob moved inexorably nearer.

  Hubbard was looking around the cabin to see if he could find something to use as a weapon when the driver's door opened suddenly, and Sid jumped in, hit the starter button and and the car began its theatrical starting sequence.

  "Hurry up. Hurry up! Yes, yes, we know you're a Tesla . . . just fucking start!" Sid yelled as his hands pounded the steering wheel.

  Then there was a sudden thud on the trunk followed by a popping/crunching sound as the rear glass gave way. Sid could see two legs in camo fatigues standing where the window had been.

  Hubbard bolted forward and tried to wedge himself into the front seat but was thrown back by the sudden surge of acceleration.

  "In the name of Avalokiteshvara, Ron. The boy! Protect the boy!" Snapped Sid.

    Hubbard righted himself and looked back, the soldier was gone, evidently thrown off the back as the Tesla leapt forward. The boy was unharmed save for some safety glass diamonds in his flaxen hair. He didn't notice the mayhem around him, his crying sounded no different than it had before.

  "Aw, he's fine! I threw the bastard out!" Hubbard snapped.

  "You most certainly did not, Ron Hubbard. It was simple physics." Sid said firmly. "Let's not start prevaricating so early in the game."

  With the crowd receding in the distance, Hubbard sat back and tried to ignore the mewling kid to his left. They drove for about a mile until they were in the middle of farm fields. With no angry mobs in sight, Sid stopped the car. He turned to scold Hubbard.

  "Now, look here, Ron. Try, for once in your miserable existence to think of another soul, will you?" Sid had turned around to confront Ron directly. "Really. That poor, twisted creature next you could use a bit of compassion. Ron? Ron, what's the matter with you, now?"

  Hubbard was frozen and stared straight ahead, past Sid. "Sid. Are the doors locked?" he asked calmly.

  "Yes, yes. They lock automatically. Really, Ron there's nobody for a mile in any direction."

  "Then who's bleeding down the windshield?"

  And with that there was a sudden dimpling of the ceiling panel and a report of gunfire. Three shots and three small explosions of leather and foam from the front passenger seat.

  Sid hit the accelerator and Hubbard was thrown back in his seat yet again. There was another thud as the soldier tumbled off the back of the car in a heap. He then stood slowly, taking careful aim. The receding figure began firing, bright blossoms of muzzle fire bloomed. Bullets pop, pop, popped into the rear deck of the car.

  "Is anyone hit?" Sid yelled over the howling wind and roar of the tires.

  The boy continued to cry in exactly the same pattern as he'd been in since he'd started.

  "I'm OK, I'm OK" said Hubbard checking himself for holes. He was hyperventilating.

  "Those poor souls" Sid said. "They're going to be here a long time until this one is capable of facing what he did and releasing them."

  "Now, just a second! Maybe they were supposed to get their revenge on the little bastard if he was so goddamned awful." Hubbard said defiantly.

  "Well, then, shall I drop you off at the next bus stop? I'm sure there are a few others like Lisa who might want to spend some quality time with you . . ." Sid stared back at him in the rear view mirror.

  Nothing from Hubbard. "I didn't think so" Sid muttered under his breath.

  The shattered car drove on. Time was crawling. Hubbard plugged his ears. Fred cried unrelentingly. Sid drove intently. They went like this for about an hour, until they came to a two lane highway, then a six lane freeway. The landscape changed from farms to industry and back. Sometimes it looked like a movie, unreal. Hubbard would start to doze, only to awaken to Fred's grinding, ceaseless weeping. It was as if the boy were alone. It was really unsettling. Ron was having feelings again. As usual, they confused him. He thought of little Derek Greene, the four year-old boy he'd locked up in the Apollo's dank, cold chain locker for chewing on a telex. He remembered the boy's piteous crying, how it went on for two days and nights. Where was he now? Would that boy come after him at some future point the way Lisa had? It was chilling. There were probably myriad others with grudges. Was he supposed to be sorry about everything he'd done? Regret was so low toned. So weak.

  "Having trouble sleeping Ron?" Sid shouted over the roaring wind noise.

  "Oh, no. I'm just ducky." he said bitterly. "I wish I could cry like this one" he gestured at Fred. "Where are we going, anyway?" Ron asked with just a hint of annoyance, his reddening hair whipping about his face.

  "I have a friend with whom our young charge will be in good hands." Sid replied. "He's not far now."

  They were driving through lush green countryside now. Somewhere on the east coast from the looks of it. Hubbard saw some signs. Evidently they were on Pennsylvania 33. Sid began pulling off onto Industrial Boulevard. They continued through the green countryside until Industrial Boulevard became East Lawn and signs of a small town started to appear.

  "Just when are you going to inform me of our destination?" Hubbard was tired, hungry and ready to strangle young Fred.

   "We're almost there boys. Just down this lane." Sid slowed the battered car and turned down a narrow dirt road, just past a sign that read 'Creations in Wood by J. St. Claire'.

  At the end of the shady lane was a neat, compound of farm buildings set amidst the towering hardwood trees. In the middle of it all large barn with a metal-sided workshop building adjacent to it. There was a huge, crew-cab pickup truck with the 'Creations in Wood' logo on the doors, a sort of crude fish with arms and legs holding a hammer. The truck's bed filled with 6x6 timbers. Hubbard and Sid got out of the car. The boy sat sobbing in the back seat, his shirt now soaked with tears. Sid's once pristine Tesla looked like it had lost the war. Bullet holes riddled the back, the deck lid and roof were dented and scratched. Dried blood added a final gruesome touch.



   They stood regarding the ruined car when from behind came a booming voice. "Sid, ya crazy bastard, what brings you to Nazareth, P.A?" said a stocky, dark complected man in a thick New Jersey accent. He looked to be in his thirties. The man was muscular, with a thick five o'clock shadow and had wood shavings in his curly black hair. His hands were calloused and meaty. He embraced Sid. "What the hell happened to yous two? Shit, Sid, who'd you piss off this time?" the swarthy man said looking out at the car. He had a dazzling white smile.

  "Jess, I know you've been dreading this, but . . . he's here." said Sid somberly.

  "Who? This guy?" said Jess said, appraising Ron.

  "No. No . . . I'm afraid it's Phelps."

  The man's smile evaporated. "Aw shit. Really? And I was just getting caught up around here, too."

  "He transitioned this morning, but he bolted right into a childhood loop. We just happened upon him as we were leaving L'enfant this morning." Sid said picking glass out of his hair.

  "Really? Fuckin' Fred Phelps bought the fuckin' farm? You're right, I have been dreading this Sid, goddamn dreading it." He gestured in the direction of the Tesla. "So that's him, eh?" Jess walked around to the back of the car. He made a pained face. "Aw, shit. It's so hard when they're little like that. The kids always look so cute, but you know they're full of all the shit they did in life." The stocky man stood there with his hands in his overall pockets, squinting and scrutinizing the boy through the car window.

    "Fuck, Sid. This is messed up. How long you think this loop will last?" Jess asked.

  "To be honest, I haven't a clue. You should have seen the mob that showed up for him. He wouldn't have had much of a chance in his state. It was providential that we rounded the bend when we did. So many bound and tied to him by his hate and fear. I don't envy you, but I'm afraid he's your problem, old boy." Sid looked genuinely sorry.

  The woodworker was looking down at his dusty work boots, when he noticed Hubbard standing there, "I'm sorry, buddy, I didn't get your name . . ."

  "Uh, Ron . . . L. Ron Hubbard." He held out a hand to Jess.

  "No shit? L. Ron Hubbard? Really?" he looked at the Buddha, "Sid, this guy is a class-A schmuck. You read about his scam?"

  Sid nodded solemnly. Hubbard just stood there, hand out, waiting to be shaken.

  "Well I sure did. I read all about your Xenu character and all the money people had to pay. All the outer space shit you made up. Dude. Implant stations? Seriously? But, hey! You got one thing right, and it was about me!" said Jess. He was smiling that dazzling smile again.

  This was going to be bad. Hubbard just felt it in his bones. Might as well get it over with. "And, uh, what was that, if I must ask?"

  "Now, it's not gonna be an exact quote since I heard the recording a long time ago, but I think it went something like, 'the man on the cross, there was no christ.' Long story short, I was a piece of fuckin' R6 put together by mad men. Am I right? Am I ringin' any bells here?" Jess laughed.

  Could the day get any worse? Hubbard didn't know where to even look.

  "No, no, Ron, I'm fuckin' with you!" He took Ron's waiting hand and pumped it vigorously. "You were actually right about that. I was no god, no Christ. Just a radical Jew with an attitude. Add a finely tuned sense of injustice and a gift of gab and that's me. I've learned a lot since those days. The world I left has changed, and so have I." He smiled and put his hand on Ron's shoulder. They walked toward the car again. "You're here at a key time, my friend. This asshole in the car, your snotty little pal there? He's one of the worst monsters to ever twist my words, and I've met some doozeys. His church was small, but man, he made a lot of noise." Jess's joviality had turned gray, like a storm brewing on the horizon.

  "I don't know anything about the kid, or who he was" said Ron, hoping that would be the end of the conversation. It wasn't.

  "Oh, Ronnie. Let me tell you, I am one misquoted bastard. I'm like a fuckin' spiritual Rorschach test. Ladies and Gentlemen, which Jesus do you follow?" he was doing a fair imitation of the classic carnival barker now. "In this tent, Jee-zus Kee-rist, the Prince of Peace, forgiving and kind!" he put his hands together and looked upward. "In this tent, see the angry, vengeful Son o' God! See him flippin' tables, drivin' the money changers out of the temp-le!" Jess was smiling again, but you could feel the darkness underneath.

  "So one minute I'm the lamb of god, meek and mild and then, next thing you know, some assholes have me airbrushed on a tailgate, totin' old glory and a fuckin' rifle! Me! A fuckin' weapon! Who does this? All the hating? Hating! In my name. But this guy Phelps . . . he took the fuckin' cake! This is one broken human being, projecting his damage on to me! And I'm used to it Ron. I've heard it all." Jess was growing more agitated with every second. "My words are constantly twisted like a two thousand year game of telephone. I start out with 'Love everyone as yourself" and somehow that gets changed to 'kill the fags.' It's fucked up, Ron. Seriously fucked up. Me, the original hippy! A shit-stirrer Rabbi. I taught love, my friend. Unconditional love. Sharing. Kindness. I imagined a god of kindness. Our father. Right? Now, I'm the poster boy for every bloated, rich, self-absorbed, self-righteous, hate-filled douchebag in the US of A." Jess paused and fumbled in his pockets. "I need a fuckin' cigarette, hang on, bro."

  "May I join you, Jeez . . . uh, Jess?" Hubbard didn't really know what to call him.

  "Oh, sure, yeah, no prob. Here." he said handing Hubbard an unfiltered American Spirit and a lighter.

  Jess took a deep drag and continued, "Yeah, the whole projection thing? Get used to it, bro. I'm sure they do it to all of us. Sid's got some cray-cray action there for sure. And poor Mo, he's got problems galore, but not like me! Everyone thinks they know me! I'm their personal fuckin' savior. Thing is, I really am just a carpenter, Ron. I just want to make my guitars and cellos and the occasional bureau or chair. I see the people I'm bound to as they show up. I set 'em free. I take my lumps. We all move on. But this Phelps guy. I haven't seen his like since that fucker Torquemada."

  "Well, not everyone is that bad, are they?" asked Ron, hopefully.

  "No. No. Not at all! There are beautiful people in the world, Ron. Beautiful people. But they don't come here as a rule. It's just us, and those we broke in our ignorance. Only the broken show up here. The demons we created and those they wronged in our names. The pissed. The wounded. After two thousand some-odd years, I just want to build my stuff and set these poor bastards free. But, my friend, shit happens. Unintended consequences. I got work to do Ron. Lots of work. Be glad you only had a handful of followers."

  Hubbard was too exhausted to be annoyed, but this theme was beginning to get old.

  Jess walked up to the Tesla and opened the back door. He crouched down and looked at the weeping child in the back seat. He reached out and touched the boy's head. Fred stopped crying immediately, he stared impassively ahead. Jess looked at Sid and said "this isn't gonna be easy Buddha boy, not easy at all. He's pretty far gone, like Koresh was."

  "Oh, Jess, I don't envy you this task, my friend" said Sid, softly.

  Jess took the boy's hand and said quietly, "Freddy, you gotta come with me. We got things to talk about . . . when you're ready." The boy got out of the car, his red-eyed stare was unnerving. But the crying had stopped. This was a good start.

  "How do they get so broken Sid?" Jess looked down at the comatose boy. "Sometimes it's the brain doesn't work quite right. Sometimes a beating, or simple neglect. How can I look at this and say there's a god? Two thousand years and change, and I still don't know, my friend. I just don't know."

  Jess embraced Sid and shook Hubbard's hand. "You got a tough row to hoe, Ron. All of us do. Don't resist the feelings, my friend, 'cause that's hell for real." And with that, he guided Fred into the workshop and slid the door shut with a clang.

  "Well, I suppose our work here is done" said Sid straightening out his torn lapel.

  Ron just stared at the door where Jess and the boy had disappeared. He couldn't quite wrap his head around who he'd just met. Nobody here was like he imagined they would be. "I had so many questions . . . " Ron trailed off.

  "Well, Jess isn't going anywhere. He's really quite approachable. You'll cross paths again, I'm certain of it." Sid was looking past Ron now. "Oh, my goodness, Mr. Hubbard. I do believe we're about to have more company" Sid remarked dryly.

  The lane that led to Jess's place was about half a mile long and it was filling up . . . with Rolls-Royces. The lead car was being followed by at least fifty or sixty of the opulent sedans in various colors and years. They appeared to be mostly from the '70s and '80s. The first car made its way to where they stood and began the long slow arc around the circle of pacasandra at the center of Jess's compound and headed out into a freshly mowed field to park. The cars kept coming, and there seemed to be people in all of them, but Ron couldn't really see faces. After a while the last few cars brought up the rear, and Ron could see the final car in the parade was painted a brilliant orange.

  The garish luxury car pulled up to stop where Hubbard and Sid stood. A stern looking woman clad in clothing that was the same shade as the car emerged from the driver's door. She had short cropped hair and wore a hard expression. She looked around as if there might be some kind of danger. She reached into the car and pulled out an AK-47, shouldered it and walked around to open the rear passenger door. Out stepped a slight, short man with large, limpid eyes and a gray beard. He seemed to be some kind of guru. He also seemed a little disappointed at the turnout. The two of them took no notice of Sid or Hubbard. The little guru shrugged at the woman with the rifle, and she led him into the field where all the other cars were disgorging their passengers. But it wasn't the small figure holding the bouquet of white flowers that had Hubbard's attention. It was the ruggedly handsome man in a navy flight jacket and Ray Bans who was now standing up through the Rolls' sunroof.

  "Ron Hubbard! I heard tell you were in town, you flame-haired bastard! How the hell's it hangin, son?"

Snake Thompson always did know how to make an entrance . . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 12, "The Long Ride"

"Really Ronald, we do have to go" Sid said calmly.

  Hubbard remained unmoved, locked in his own gaze. Sid thought the man might actually drool. Hoping to gain Hubbard's attention, he slowly slid a huge vase of flowers toward the edge of the plinth on which it stood. Reaching its tipping point, the crystal vase and its cargo hung there for a moment, then crashed to the ground, shattering, and along with it, Hubbard's trance-like state.

  "What the fu . . ." Hubbard stopped in mid-word when he noticed Sid standing there, wearing a slightly bemused expression. "I, uh, well, I was looking at this, uh . . . nevermind, what was it you were you saying?"

  "I said we really should be leaving for the keynote. Remember? We dropped Steven off at the Convention Center to prepare?" he said, one perfectly shaped eyebrow arched for effect.

  "That seemed so long ago, but I guess it was only . . ."

  "Yesterday. It was just yesterday." Sid interrupted.

  "I'll never get used to this place." Hubbard said, shaking his head.

  "Oh, trust me Ron, you will. You will." Sid put his hand on Ron's shoulder as they walked, "But first you'll go quite mad. I certainly did. One can only meditate for so long, believe-you-me. You try everything to stem the creeping madness, really. Suicide doesn't work. It all hit the fan for me right around 250 years in, give or take a decade. You really have no idea how long that is. I've been here ten times that. You'll come out the other side with fresh perspective if you can keep your wits about you, but it can be a hell of your own making. The thought that this might last forever still haunts me from time to time. I mean, the universe has to end sometime, heat death and all that, but what if we're outside it somehow? Intriguing, don't you think? Ron? Hello?" He waved a hand in front of his now frozen companion's face.

  A fear gripped Ron unlike any he'd ever known. He'd always gone on about billions and trillions of years in his space operas and colorful yarns about the whole-track, but he knew this was different. Sid was talking about going crazy after just a couple of hundred years. This was impending eternity, and it felt like standing on the edge of a bottomless chasm, it made him feel sick.

  "Oh, but I seem to have alarmed you. I do apologize. How incompassionate of me. Come along Ron, that lovely car of mine is just across Pierce Street." They stepped out into the simulacrum of a brilliant, Florida day.

  "I half expected that we'd be back in Vegas once we passed through that door." Hubbard said, trying to be funny, but he was still shaken.

  "The journey of a thousand miles, Ron . . ." said the Buddha with mock profundity.

  "Yeah. Right." Ron grumbled.

  Ensconced once again in Sid's sleek car, they cruised through the streets of Clearwater. Unlike his recent car rides, there seemed to be normal traffic here. Hubbard tried to peer into the cars to see who was in them, but the other vehicle's windows were all tinted, or slightly mirrored.

  "It all seems so real. Is there even anyone in those cars?" Hubbard asked, betraying more than a little discomfort in his voice.

  "You never know in this reality, Ron. In a way, we're each of us, alone here. There is interaction with other realities. Intersectionality as I prefer to call it. Karen, Lisa, and Shelly, for example. They weren't leaders as you were. They had no followers in their time. They were peripheral to you. Others like them can intersect with you, but they don't necessarily dwell here. 'Where' the others go is still a mystery to me after more than two millennia. Do they live other lives? There's no shred of evidence that reincarnation exists. I wish it did." Sid looked almost wistful. "I mean, I can tell you it was quite a blow to my ego to end up here. Others react differently. Poor Ayn, she just hated the fact that she survived death. She'd made such a big deal of being an atheist and a materialist. Chris Hitchens won't come out of his hotel room. He's not in a loop either. He simply refuses to see anyone. He was clearly wrong about materialism, but atheism? Well, I'm not so sure. Two thousand years and I haven't seen so much as one god. Not even a small one. We all have a lot to learn, Ron, but for what purpose, if any, I just don't know."

  This kind of philosophizing would have thrilled Ron at one point in his life. Now he just felt panicked and slightly nauseated.

  Sid's phone gonged in the console. The words "Call from Steve Jobs" appeared on the big screen between them. "Answer call" said Sid. There was a moment while the phone connected and then Sid went on, "Hello, Steven, how's the talk coming?"

  "Fine, I suppose. I'm still writing it. I'm nervous. I never used to be nervous about a talk. I wasn't a nervous guy, Sid. I don't like this." Jobs said. He sounded as sour as ever. "Oh, by the way, is he coming with you?"

  Ron leaned into the console as though Steve might actually be in there somewhere, "Yes I am, and don't ask me why, I'm just along for the ride these days."

  "Sid, am I on speaker? What the fuck, Sid? Really?" The man in the phone sounded incredulous.

  "Now Steven, calm down, we're all in this together. I think you two have a great deal to learn from each other. Really, I do." Sid said soothingly.

  "Right. Whatever. I mean, you're the Big Bad Buddha, right? Just let me know next time, OK? I was going to say 'I don't have time for this shit,' but I guess that's all I really do have." There was a long pause on the line, a sigh, then, "See you when you get here." The phone chimed and went silent.

  "Is he always like that?" Hubbard said making a face. "I mean, what the hell did I do to him?" Hubbard was not used to non-deferential treatment.

  "The man only recently died, Ron. And he died relatively young and unnecessarily. He was a man in control. He thought he was the king of the world, and in some ways, he was. He always thought he knew better than the next man . . . until he didn't. And now, all he can do is watch that world moving on without him, so he feels a bit let down by things. His wife moves on. His children grow. His yacht sails without him. He really loved that yacht."

  Hubbard snorted and rolled his eyes.

  Really Ron, I'd think an old sea dog like you would have a bit more compassion about that. Well, I imagine he'll cover it all in his keynote." Sid touched the screen in the middle of the dashboard. It had become a map of Clearwater again, a tiny, pulsing dot representing their progress.

They were now on the Campbell Causeway headed for Tampa. Hubbard could see that the bridge disappeared into fog bank dead ahead. The sea fog that rolled in from the Gulf could be formidable. He found himself wishing that Sid would slow down a bit. But instead he heard the motor whine and felt the car make a great leap forward as they shot into the soupy gray.

  "Uh, say Sid, don't you think we might want to slow things down a bit in this fog?" He was really nervous now. He could see the digital readout passing 100 miles per hour. The car was still accelerating with an eerily quiet smoothness.

  "Alarming, not being in control, isn't it?" Sid said casually. There was no menace in his voice. He looked over at Ron with the faintest trace of a smile, and then, he took his hands off the wheel.

  Ron was tempted to grab the controls, but for some reason, he thought better of it. Sid just looked at him. He was hypnotically calm. Ron sat back in his seat and looked straight ahead. He could see nothing but gray. It didn't even seem wet. He could see no road. The speedometer read zero. The clock was all zeroes. The map still showed a pulsing dot, but in a featureless background. No guard rail. Nothing but a gray void. "What the hell is this?" he asked.

  "A little shortcut I know" The Buddha said casually.

  Some time passed, or did it? It's hard to tell time in a void.

  "Are we even moving anymore?" Hubbard wondered aloud.

  "Were we ever?" Sid smiled at him and opened the sunroof above them.

  Nothing.

  No wind. No roar of the tires on pavement. Hubbard put his hand out tentatively. No discernible temperature to speak of. It was deeply disturbing. Then . . .

  BAM! A blast of pressure on his hand! A roaring of wind and road, a cold damp and the sense of movement once again.

  "How the hell did you do that!?" Hubbard was agog. "Can I learn how to do that? And speaking of learning, what about all this mind reading stuff that goes on here? And don't say . . ."

  "All in good time?" Sid interrupted.

  "Yeah. That. Don't say that!" This guy could be really maddening.

  "It really comes to you when it comes. Look at how quickly you managed to manifest what you desired. Clothing and your fine watch. Food. Drink. Old friends . . . and foes. I heard about what happened at the party."

  "Oh, that. Well, I, uh . . ." Hubbard's face reddened.

  "We all have our faults, Ron. All of us. Did it surprise you to see Alisa after all these years?" Sid asked.

  "Uh, sure. Yes, but not so goddamned much as her introducing me to Lenin! A goddamned communist . . . the goddamned communist!"

  "Were you jealous? What did you feel when you saw her?" Sid probed.

  "I . . . I get mixed up with  . . . feelings, you know. I've never been good with that sort of thing" Ron blustered.

  "And your son? How was it seeing him again?" Another question.

   Silence. Then, "I don't want to talk about him! I won't talk about it! You can forget about that whole thing, mister! It's done with and that's all there is to it!"

  "It hurt, didn't it? Our trespasses are terrible to deal with" Sid said compassionately.

  "I'll be the judge of that" Ron mumbled.

  "The only judge, Ron. The only judge. And one with many verdicts over time."

  They drove in silence until it grew dark. Hubbard figured they had to be in Alabama or Georgia by now. Then Hubbard remembered the last drive they took. Who could say where they were? The fog had lifted and they were driving on a featureless highway. No roadsigns. No other cars. Just a ribbon of asphalt reeling in at a tremendous rate of speed.

  "So, Sid, why aren't we there yet? Hell, why are we driving at all when you can just whisk me from Vegas to Clearwater in the blink of an eye? Torture?"

  "I didn't whisk you. You did. You run things up to a point and then . . . well, intersectionality rears its head. Besides, there are things to see, Ron. People to meet. Comings. Goings. We'll be there on time. But first, I'm rather hungry, aren't you?"

  Hubbard was hungry, and tired.

  "How do you feel about French food, Ron? I've grown to love it. There's a little place I love to stop in at once and a while. We can have a fine meal and get a couple of charming rooms for the night."

  "Sure. Swell, let's just get there in one piece, please." Hubbard was getting irritable at this point.

  "Café Enfant de la Lune it is, then." And with that Sid began decelerating and after about a quarter mile, he flicked the right turn signal on and they started down a long, dirt road. There seemed to be crops growing on either side of them. Fireflies flickered in the dark between the trees. Once again, moonless moonlight illuminated everything in a soft, blue/white glow. After a passing a few tumbledown, sharecropper shacks, Ron saw lights up ahead. The illumination was coming from a collection of a dozen or more old mobile homes arranged in a circle with hundreds of light bulbs strung festively between them. 'What a dump' Hubbard thought. Glowing above the crazy assemblage on a tall, metal pole was a neon sign depicting a small child fishing from a crescent moon with six stars arranged around him. It said "Café Enfant de la Lune" in yellow cursive neon. A more ramshackle destination Hubbard could not have imagined. Still the scene before him did seem like it could have an odd sort of charm. Under the lights were picnic tables with candles and checkered tablecloths These were full of chatting diners all enjoying each other's company on what appeared to be a warm, summer evening.

  "This is where we're going?" Ron asked incredulously.

  "Really? I thought you'd find it rather homey, Ron. Don't fret, old boy, I think you'll enjoy yourself once you tuck into Jean's ratatouille. It's simply divine!" Sid parked the car and the two travelers got out and stretched in the warm night. The Buddha thought about what one might pair with ratatouille and produced a bottle of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac 2004, from a leather Gladstone on the back seat. Ron fixed his hair in his reflection in the door window and then the two travelers made their way to what looked like the office of this tatty little enclave. 

  They entered the shabby trailer and stepped over two sleeping Tick Hounds to approach what Hubbard assumed was the front desk. The desk, if you could call it that, was a home-made affair comprised of fake wood paneling and formica. On that counter, next to the cash register there was a gold, plastic Buddha, a Virgin of Guadalupe votive, and a chipped coffee mug that said 'Nixon's The One in '68!' in red and blue letters. Behind the desk, there was what appeared to be a plump, middle aged man in a wifebeater, sweatpants and slippers dozing in a ratty Barcalounger in the corner. He had a deer-stalker cap pulled over his face and an enormous Maine Coon sleeping on his belly. The man's recliner was in front of an old television and surrounded by massive stacks of books. Hardcover. Paperback, Illuminated manuscripts. Magazines. There were several TV trays with scraps of paper and piles of notebooks on them, plus one that seemed to be expressly for beer. Man and cat were bathed in the blue static leftovers of the Big Bang.

  "Máo!Rúhé dìyù, nǐ hǎo ma?" said Sid in what sounded to Hubbard like perfect Mandarin.

The sleeping man snorted violently and tried to roll over unsuccessfully. The cat shifted to compensate, yawned and went back to sleep. The man had one arm hanging over the side of the chair with a cigarette lodged between his index and middle finger. The ash hung precipitously over an overflowing pie tin of butts. 

"Shàngshēng! Dìguó zhǔyì zhě zài ménkǒu!" the Buddha said forcefully.

  It was with those words that several things happened. The man's cigarette ember finally reached his fleshy fingers. The searing pain caused him to scream out, launching the formerly dozing cat into the beer tray-table sending empty cans clattering to the ground. The can cacophony roused the seemingly dead Tick Hounds who scrambled unsteadily to their feet and began stomping about in circles baying at the two strangers in the makeshift lobby.

  "Well, Sid, I'm still waiting for the charming part." Hubbard said snidely.
  
  Now the portly man who had been so soundly asleep, began to shuffle toward them. "Gǔn kāi, gǒu! Gǔn kāi, gǒu!" he yelled at the dogs, swatting at them over the desk with a sheaf of note paper that had been on his lap. His black hair was a greasy mess but his face was utterly unmistakable, this was Mao Zedong, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party. 'What was this? Commie Day in the afterlife?' Hubbard wondered to himself.

  "Shut. Up. Fucking. Dogs!" Mao roared coarsely, followed by a splendid belch. The dogs ignored his admonishment and kept baying with gusto. "Sid! You madman, what the hell are you doing here? Who have you brought us this time?" the Chairman said looking over his reading glasses at Hubbard.

  "Zedong, old man, how the hell are you?" Sid said shaking Mao's hand vigorously over the desk. "Where's your better half?

  "In the kitchen. Where else?" said Mao with a gesturing with his thumb toward the saloon doors to his right. "Jean mon amour, nous avons plus de bouches à nourrir" he hollered in perfectly accented French.

  Bursting through the double doors with a loud "what now?" came a vibrant, beautiful woman in her forties. She had short cropped hair and bright blue eyes lined with care and kindness. Her sudden smile was radiant. She was practically bursting with glee upon seeing Sid. She rushed around the counter, past Hubbard and embraced the Buddha heartily, taking care with the large Sabatier knife in her right hand.

  "Goodness me, I'm glad you're on my side!" Sid laughed as he held Jean out at arms length to have a look at her. "Beautiful as ever."

  "You've been gone so long! We miss you when you're on the road!" the woman said with a strong French accent. "But, forgive me, who do we have here? A new friend?"

   Sid took the woman's hand and turned to Hubbard, "Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, Madame Jean de Vouthon and Mao Zedong, the proprietors of this happy establishment. I believe you would have known of Jean by her more common name, Joan of Arc."

  More historical figures. "Well, why not?" Hubbard said, extending his right hand to the chef, who was busy wiping her right hand on her well-used apron. "Enchanté" he said, bowing slightly.

  "So, what am I, chopped liver?" said the founder of the People's Republic of China.

  "Oh, uh, sorry, there. Mao, is it?" Hubbard said, shaking his hand.

  "'Great Helmsman' is fine with me, we don't stand on formalities here. Not anymore." There was an uncomfortable silence and then Sid and Jean burst out laughing. Mao rolled his eyes. "You forget jokes already?" He was a master of the deadpan reply. "Anybody see where Shao Qi went? My cat? He ran off." 

  "Don't look at me, I'm just along for the ride." Hubbard said.

  Then the Maid of Orleans said, "Chien! Silénce!" The dogs stopped barking instantly and went outside. "Ze, mon amour, get these two dangerous looking rogues some rooms and set them a table, they must be famished. Tonight you're in luck, we're serving ratatouille!"  

  Mao rolled his eyes again and said wearily "we only serve ratatouille. Nobody is surprised my dear."

  "Well, if it's any consolation, I'm surprised." Ron said, always eager to earn some kind of points he might redeem in a future pinch.

  "Just get them set up, you? I have to get back to my kitchen. Sid! I love you! So glad you're back, and Lafayette, welcome. Eat up and enjoy!" And with that, she banged through the saloon doors and began shouting instructions in French at some unseen kitchen help.

  Mao sighed and pulled out a ledger book for them to sign-in and gave them each a key to a trailer. "We got no bellhops. You get your own bags." And with that he shuffled off, scratching his ass and looking for his cat.

  The two Tick Hounds escorted Ron and Sid back to the car where bags had materialized in the trunk. They made their way, two men and two hounds, walking single-file through the crowded dining area and over to trailers 4 and 5 which were opposite the office/kitchen trailer. Using his suitcase to block a particularly persistent hound from entering, Ron found that the accommodations were surprisingly homey and comfortable. He unpacked, ran a comb through his thickening hair and headed back out to find Sid. 

  The two travelers met at a table where an aproned waiter beckoned. The server pulled out Hubbard's metal, folding chair and placed a large, plastic covered menu in his hands. It had one word typewritten on it: "Ratatouille." He flipped it over and there was a mimeograph of a drawing of the Enfant de la Lune sign under which they sat. 

  "Well, I suppose I'll have the ratatouille" Hubbard said ironically.

  "Mais oui, a superb choice!" the waiter said enthusiastically writing down the order on a pad. "And for you sir?" he asked Sid.
  
  "Oh, I don't know, what do you recommend?" said the Buddha with no hint of sarcsm whatsoever.

  "May I suggest the ratatouille? It's magnifique!" said the garçon with no small amount of pride.

  "How can I say no to that?" replied Sid with a bemused look. The waiter dashed off to put in their order.

  "Alright now, what kind of cockamamie place is this?" Hubbard was in no mood for nonsense at this point.

  "Really Ron, just a place for weary travelers and friends to meet up, eat some ratatouille and rest on the road. Nothing more."

  Ron just gave him a suspicious look and they sat listening to the laughter and happy conversations around them for a while. Their officious waiter had reappeared with water and wine glasses for the bottle that Sid had brought to the table. He uncorked the wine and decanted it ceremoniously. He bustled off to return moments later with a hot baguette and olive oil. Then came a beautiful consommé followed by the Ratatouille. It wasn't a let down. It was simply fabulous—one of the most delicious things Hubbard could ever remember eating. 

  He was just about done cleaning his plate, swabbing up the last of the ambrosia with a piece of the freshly baked baguette when Hubbard noticed their host shuffling toward them through the crowd of diners. He had been stopping at various tables to chat with diners. Mao had found his enormous cat who he was cradling as if it were a baby. Ron hoped he would pass them by, but sure enough, he made his way to their table, pulled up a rusty folding chair and sat next to Hubbard. 

  "So, Ron, I been reading about you" Mao said with a knowing tone. He set the cat down, which wandered off to beg for scraps. "Very interesting business you had there. Very interesting. I never heard of you, but Jean told me a little bit about you and I thought I should definitely read up. I do love books, you know."

  "Well, no, actually. I didn't know how you felt about books. I'm afraid I don't have a terribly high opinion of you, sir, if truth be told. I know all about what you folks did." Ron said in his best haughty tone.

  "Smoke?" Mao said pulling a pack of Chinese cigarettes out of the breast pocket of the plaid shirt he'd thrown over his wifebeater. "I know you like a good smoke, Ronnie."

  Ronnie. Nobody ever called him Ronnie. "Look here, Mao . . . " 

  "No! You call me Zedong! We're brothers now, you and I," Mao said ingratiatingly. "We're brothers in the celestial kingdom." He gestured upward grandly, staring intently at Hubbard.

  "Well, whatever your name is, I'm not your brother! Wherever we are." Hubbard ratcheted up the dudgeon.

  "Oh, I think we have more in common than you like to admit, Ronnie." Mao took a deep drag off his cigarette. "I have to live with what I did." The chairman was punctuating each line by pointing his cigarette toward Ron. "The lives lost to my greed and self-importance, they're beyond counting. I spent a decade in my loop writing down name after name after name of those lost in the terror I created. You have no idea, Ronnie. No idea. But you! You called us evil! You were the big, bad commie fighter! Then what do you do? You copy us! You used some of our most insidious mind-control on your people. The thought stopping exercises. The cruelty of 're-education,' the horrors of jiǎntǎo, the self-criticism. You say I'm a monster, and I was, Ronnie, I was. I'll spend the rest of my time here trying to wrestle with what I did. We're all monsters here Ronnie. So, what are you? Why are you here? What are your crimes, Ronnie, what are your crimes?

  Mao's rage abated. Slowly transforming into a strange calm. The chairman rose, smiling that beatific smile that still beams out over Tienanmen Square to this very day. "Who knows?" he said leaning into Ron's face. "Maybe you thought I was doing a good thing, after all weren't there 'too many chinks?' in China Ronnie?" He stood back and walked away, laughing bitterly and shaking his head, "too many chinks, what an asshole."

  Ron sat frozen. A mass of conflicting emotions flew around inside him like panicked birds. They fluttered and they darted and kept banging into the walls he'd erected in his psyche until they finally lay unconscious and unfelt inside him. Then he noticed it. He was alone. Sid was gone, as were all the diners and revelers that had been there moments ago. He looked toward Nº.5 and saw warm light emanating from Sid's trailer. The Buddha was inside, getting ready for bed. As he scanned his surroundings he noticed that he wasn't entirely alone; Jean was sitting on the deck in front of the office. She was drinking out of a bottle, smoking a cigarette and petting one of her Tick Hounds. She gestured for him to join her. He really was tired, but there could be advantage in having an ally—points he could cash-in at some future date.

  He walked over and sat next to her on the steps. "So, what are we drinking?" he said picking up the bottle to examine the label. An Islay single malt. It smelled of peat and smoke.

  "Take a swig Ron. Would you like a smoke?" Jean said offering him a crumpled pack of Galloise.

  He pulled out one cigarette and she drew his hand close to her and lit it with her own. He took a big drag and coughed violently. He washed it down with some whiskey and coughed even harder. They both laughed.

  "Strong medicine, no?" she said. 

  Jean was really quite radiant, Hubbard thought. Not especially pretty, a little mannish actually, but simply radiant. 

  "Zedong gave you some strong medicine too, I hear." she said. 

  Hubbard just looked off into the distance.

  "I know Ron. It's hard. Awful at times, examining what we've done. Zedong suffers greatly. I know you don't see it. But I do. When I found him in his loop, his hand was calloused and twisted from writing down the names. Millions and millions of names of those who died as a direct result of his policies. His edicts. He thought he was so right about everything. He still did when he came-to. He didn't even know what he'd been doing for almost ten years. Much like your own loop. I hear tell you were typing. Do you know what you wrote?"

  He had no clue. "I think it might be in folders I have" he said seriously. "Back at the hotel. I suppose I should read it." He really didn't want to.

  "Did you notice the other diners tonight?" Jean asked.

  He hadn't, other than the din of their conversation and laughter. He was usually hyper-vigilant. He really didn't give them a second glance. "No, not really." he said sheepishly.

  "If you had, you'd notice that they were mostly Chinese. Remember the young woman, Lisa that you encountered the other night?" Then, more intently, "do you remember her Ron?"

  "Sure, sure. Remember? That's not something I'll ever forget." He was getting used to everyone knowing everything about him by this point.

  "Well, imagine that times a few tens of millions. Zedong has a lot on his conscience. They're not all that intense, some connections are more direct, others very distant. But for them to be free, they need to intersect with him, Ron. Like you did with Lisa. We don't know where they go, if anywhere. But we think it's freeing for both parties." She took a swig from the whiskey and a slow drag on her Galloise, blowing a long plume of smoke up at the stars. "So, we serve them, Ron. His people and mine, too. I have a body count as well, mon ami. People died in my god-fueled mania. Be glad you have so few followers, Ron. You should be able to get through this fairly easily. It begins with acceptance. Accepting what you've done."

  Was that another dig at him? 'Be glad you have so few followers.' He wanted to protest, then he thought better of it. Jean seemed to look right into his core. It was very uncomfortable. She gripped his hand tightly and said "I know of what I speak, Ron Hubbard. And now, I'd better get some sleep. That ratatouille isn't going to make itself, you know." And with that, she picked up her whiskey bottle and said something to her dog in French and they disappeared into the office trailer.

  The neon sign and the strings of lights all switched off in random order as he made his way back to his trailer. He laid down on the bed, fully intending to get up after a few minutes and prepare for bed, but the next thing he knew, it was morning. There was a rap at his door. He opened it and there was Sid in a beautiful celadon green silk shirt and pleated, creme, wool trousers with matching pigskin belt and loafers. He had his suitcase in hand and a straw trilby at a rakish angle on his head.

  "Well, I guess we're leaving" Hubbard said wearily. "I'll get my things." He turned around to grab his bag. 

  They walked across the circle of trailers and loaded the bags into the trunk of the Tesla. 

  "Should we say goodbye?" Hubbard asked.

  "No, I don't think so. They usually sleep-in. They only do lunch and dinner here. We'll pick up something on the way." 

  Hubbard was going to mumble something about coffee, when he noticed there were two steaming travel mugs in the console of the car. 'Plusses and minuses' he thought to himself regarding his new situation.

  "Plusses and minuses, indeed" Sid said thoughtfully as they made their way back down the country road to the highway. They were in some rural area, lightly wooded, the road was dirt and the shacks he had seen by moonlight were even more dilapidated in the light of day. 

  They were coming around a corner when Sid suddenly slammed the breaks on to avoid hitting two people in the middle of the road. A little boy stood over an old man who was in a fetal position in the road. The boy was crying inconsolably, trying to rouse the old man.

  "What did I do? What did I do?" wailed the little boy. 

  Sid and Ron emerged from the car to see what they could do. Sid tried to comfort the boy, but he ignored Sid, unwilling to leave the old man, whose body was now beginning to decompose right before their eyes. Hubbard watched in horror as the corpse turned to ash, leaving just a windbreaker, jeans and cowboy boots behind. A stick poked through a pile of ash that had once been a gripping hand, on the stick was a colorful sign on which was printed in big black block type, "GOD HATES FAGS".